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Why There Are So Many Towns Across North America

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Where towns get built throughout history may seem pretty random to the modern eye, but there’s actually a pretty simple calculus that can explain why cities develop where they do, according to a new video, spotted by Gizmodo, from the explainer YouTube channel Wendover Productions.

If each town is only 10 miles from another, people within that 10-mile radius only have to travel five miles to get to the nearest town to buy or sell goods—which was useful before cars. Rural areas that built towns before the auto age often have towns only about 10 to 15 miles apart for this exact reason.

People don’t want to walk very far to get something they buy every day, like coffee, but will venture farther to make a rarer purchase, such as new tires or a new laptop. Shops that people visit all the time tend to be more common because they don’t need as many individual customers to stay afloat. Meanwhile, specialized businesses that consumers shop at infrequently generally need to be located in areas with higher populations.

However, geographic considerations can change that model. It’s hard to build cities on mountains and move goods across ranges, but mountains can also protect against invading forces, and they can have resources like coal and gold. Cities are built on ports so merchants can move goods in and out efficiently. Rivers are necessary to provide a water source for citizens as well as a transport route to the ocean. If there are natural resources, people have historically gravitated toward them, setting up shop right where they can grow crops or build factories.

And that’s before you even consider the history of how Europe and Asia developed early empires, which one theory hypothesizes could be due to climate similarities across continents from east to west, and differences from north to south.

Watch the full video for a much more in-depth explanation:

[h/t Gizmodo]

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History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

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This Just In
What Do You Get the Person Who Has Everything? Perhaps a German Village for Less Than $150,000
TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images
TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

Looking for a gift for the world traveler who has everything? If cost isn't an issue and they're longing for a quiet country home, Fortune reports that an entire village in East Germany is up for sale. The tiny hamlet of Alwine, in Germany's Brandenburg region, is going up for auction on Saturday, December 9. Opening bids begin at $147,230.

Alwine has around one dozen buildings and 20 full-time residents, most of them elderly. It was once owned by a neighboring coal plant, which shut down in 1991, soon after East Germany reunited with West Germany. Many residents left after that. Between 1990 and 2015, the regional population fell by 15 percent, according to The Local.


TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

In 2000, a private investor purchased the decaying hamlet for just one Deutsche Mark (the currency used before the euro). But its decline continued, and now it's up for grabs once more—this time around, for a much-higher price.

Andreas Claus, the mayor of the district surrounding Alwine, wasn't informed of the village's sale until he heard about it in the news, according to The Local. While no local residents plan to purchase their hometown, Claus says he's open to fostering dialogue with the buyer, with hopes of eventually revitalizing the local community.

[h/t Fortune]

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