“Why did he burn the churches down?”

Divine punishment is an ever recuring theme in urban disasters. However, sometimes the situation does not quite fit the morals. In 1906 an earth quake hit the San Franscisco region. Fires broke out in the city, 3.000 citizens lost their lifes and 80% of the city’s buildings were destroyed. One of the buildings that were saved was the warehouse of Hotaling & Co., a local liqour company. Hotaling printed a postcard with the image below on one side and this short poem on the other:

If, as they say, God spanked the town
Because it was so frisky,
Why did he burn the churches down,
And saved Hotaling’s whiskey?

Old Maps of Future Floodings

There are many projects for the visualisation of the effects of rising sea levels. The US-American company Climate Central presents dozens of photo-realistic images of potentially flooded areas. Like the flooded Super Bowl Stadium in Florida:

They even offer animated gifs and other before-after-imagery. In this example a section of Hamburg in Germany now (left side) and 50 years from now (right).

A different approach is the speculative cartography by designer Jeffrey Linn. His “retrofuture” maps appear like antiques but depict future scenarios. In this case, a partially flooded San Francisco Bay. His work is for sale here

USA; 21. Century; Christian; Photography, Maps, Illustration; Cities: San Franscisco, Hamburg

The City as Jungle

In the US-American 2014 movie Godzilla, the cityscape – in this case the coastal city San Francisco – experiences an interesting reversal of the culture-nature-dichotomy. The city here is not the place of culture and humanity, but the battle site of a fight between two animal species (Godzilla and the Mutos) – a jungle where creators fight one another mercilessly. In this first image, the soldiers with their parachutes are descending from heaven like fallen angels. The imagery implies, that the city is in fact the underworld, hell.

Once the fight is over and nature has had it’s way (Godzilla killed the Mutos while apparently dying herself too) the shape of Godzilla’s body on the ground morphes with the ruins of the city. Animal and city appear as one. But the image also quote another deaster, that was caused by humans and NOT nature: 9/11.

The monster Godzilla is originally a Japanese creation and has been adapted by Hollywood. Gojira, as she is originally called, is part of the extraordinarily rich cultural heritage of desaster metaphors and narratives in Japan, reflecting the seismic instability of the islands and the long experience in dealing with natural desasters and extreme weather events. The US-american movie shows how the trope is adapted to a different cultural setting.