Wind mirrors at 20th & Market, or: feeling the microclimates of distant tectonic events

For those of you who also live in Philadelphia, you may have noticed that the intersection at 20th and Market Streets is perhaps the windiest such junction on the entire eastern seaboard. By some Luciferian inversion of urban feng shui, the empty lot on the NE corner there forms a system with the nearby railway, which forms a system with the god awful bldg on the NW corner, which works with that ridiculous overhanging outdoor lobby of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, all of which works with the quasi-maritime climate of southeastern Pennsylvania to form a kind of standing tornado in front of FedEx-Kinko's.
You can literally see plastic bags whirling in a vortex 30-feet in diameter, just whirling and whirling and then your clothes fly sideways and your umbrella pops inside-out if it's raining.
Then I was reading last night in the new "Special Edition" of *Scientific American* ("Our Ever Changing Earth") that "Tectonic events, such as the development of the Himalayas, may have influenced world climate." (This is roughly 800,000 years ago).
But think about that: there's the entire planet, and then this one little region starts to lift up. At first it's just little hills, like the Cotswolds, and maybe you can hear the wind moan on lonely nights and the local birds use the updrafts to experiment with territorial expansion.
But the hills get bigger, slowly, every year. The wind patterns begin to change. You don't even notice it at first. But seeds scatter further in thunderstorms, and forests grow in expanding rings. Flowers find themselves colonizing little plains and valleys miles and miles away from where they originated. (This could lead to the field of biogeography: or, deducing the tectonic landscape of nearby regions by the success & expansion rates of local wildflowers. In fact, I'm reminded here of an article I read about two years ago in *The Guardian*, that an Australian man began to notice strange flowers growing in his garden; it turned out that a drought on the other side of the country had led to dirt, seeds, and bits of soil being blown all over Australia. The result: in this man's garden, strange flowers did grow...).
But the mountains continue to grow. Storms themselves grow in intensity, affecting weather elsewhere, hundreds of miles away. Now entire continental wind systems have changed; there's a rain-shadow over some of the deeper gorges, and a desert begins to form. This affects regional temperature variation. Cyclical weather from the coast changes its distant land routes, moving further north or bending round the mountains and interweaving with weather from elsewhere. An island two thousand miles away now experiences harsher rainy seasons, as two previously unrelated storm systems merge and move toward it every November. This leads to heavy forestation – which leads, in a million years, to coal beds, and wars, and Halliburton...
But the mountains keep growing. Entire planetary atmospheric networks have been altering, year after year. Now a continent on the other side of the earth finds large, sea-going, migratory birds landing on its shores every winter.
Etc.
The point is that distant tectonic events produce microclimates, which in turn affect macroclimates, which in turn affect microclimates farther away.
Such as the intersection at 20th & Market, in Philadelphia. I suppose you could produce a wind-map of the Greater Philadelphia region, and here's where we leave landscape and hit architecture: what buildings could be removed, starting fifty miles away, that would change the unmoving tornado of wind at 20th & Market? Moving closer – within ten miles – which walls or fences could be built just a foot higher – or lower – to augment the effect? Does a new housing development in Montgomery County make it easier or harder to walk across 20th & Market?
Moving closer, into the intersection itself, could you actually map-out the thermal vortices and architectural directions that shape the wind within the intersection, and then build special "wind mirrors," or redirectional shields, controlled by a central computer, that, in certain positions, entirely negate, erase, eliminate, and deny the wind from forming in the first place?
You toggle the little wind mirrors until the wind disappears – and suddenly the intersection goes silent. The skirts of financial professionals flutter back to knee-height. Comb-overs stayed combed over. I stop grimacing.
Could you attach wind mirrors to every building in the city, producing an artificial microclimate specific to Philadelphia?
Could you do the same to New York City, and to Boston, and to Washington DC, and then arrange them all so that extremely high-powered, hurricane-like winds blow northeastward, destroying Halifax and grounding planes at London's Heathrow?
The Wind Gun. Or: How to weaponize a landscape.
You could rig sailing contests. Neutralize rainstorms. Assist sunbathers perturbed by the hubris of a cloudy atmosphere.
Stay tuned for a similar idea, actually... Soon.

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1 Comments:

Blogger MKinCenterCity said...

So since it is the windiest corner in the world and since we can't just use all that wind just to shut down Heathrow which is doing a pretty good job of doing that itself why don't we set up some wind turbines to generate the electricity we now make by burning oil, the bane of our western addictive society? Come on Mr. Nutter, cut the red tape and lets get those windmills up and running. They can be above the traffic so that the maurauding taxis and ignorant drivers can still sideswipe bicyclists and threaten pedestrians. We have a gold mine right here in wretched old Philly. I live at 19th and JFK. I have nearly had my nickers blown off on any of a number of corners in my neighborhood and even though that was fun I marvel that I'm the only person I know who thinks a wind turbine or ten are desperately missing from this picture. Screw the New River City, to hell with the American Commerce Center! Until I get a wind mill over the Septa tracks between my building, Kennedy House, and
30th Street Station I don't want one more ton of concrete poured. What will it take to recognize this powerful wind tunnel? Why am I the only jerk who thinks like this? Heathrow can shut itself down, British Air needs no help from us, lets just work on powering up Center City with our own FREE wind courtesy of the west wind and the path the Schuylkill River takes at this particular little quirk in geography.

April 03, 2008 1:22 PM  

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