A couple of weeks ago I went up to the North Shore of Lake Superior for a writing retreat. I stayed at the gorgeous Naniboujou Lodge, just north of Grand Marais. No phones; no TV; no Internet — a perfect place to get some writing done.
When I needed a break one afternoon I jumped in Big Red and headed for a drive along some of the back roads in the area.
Where else are you going to see fun signs like this?
Here’s a question — is there a limit to how large a city can be and still be considered a city (as opposed to a province/state or region)? That question popped into my mind when I read an article in The New York Times recently about China’s plans to create a super-city by combining Beijing with some of its surrounding cities and provinces.
For decades, China’s government has tried to limit the size of Beijing, the capital, through draconian residency permits. Now, the government has embarked on an ambitious plan to make Beijing the center of a new supercity of 130 million people.
“The supercity is the vanguard of economic reform,” said Liu Gang, a professor at Nankai University in Tianjin who advises local governments on regional development. “It reflects the senior leadership’s views on the need for integration, innovation and environmental protection.”
The new region will link the research facilities and creative culture of Beijing with the economic muscle of the port city of Tianjin and the hinterlands of Hebei Province, forcing areas that have never cooperated to work together.
But the new supercity is intended to be different in scope and conception. It would be spread over 82,000 square miles, about the size of Kansas, and hold a population larger than a third of the United States.
So, to my original question — is a city the size of Kansas really a city?
The Temple of Heaven is one of my favorite places in Beijing. In addition to being a major tourist destination, it’s also a favorite park where locals hang out. There’s an area near the east gate where you can find people doing everything from playing cards to dancing, to singing old revolutionary songs. One day I spotted this fellow all dressed up like a Qing Dynasty official practicing his stringed instrument.
When I lived in Beijing, we often had a weather forecast that was just one word: Smoke! It was usually in the fall, when the peasants in the surrounding provinces of Shandong and Hebei were burning the fields after harvest. The city would be shrouded in smoke, with off-the-charts bad air quality until it rained or the winds shifted to the north.
On Monday it was Minnesota’s turn. Smoke from wildfires burning in northern Saskatchewan descended on our fair state, making the air quality in Minneapolis worse than in Beijing.