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Urban design is only one of many pointless interests of mine. I must write up my findings of Soviet urban planning one day. When it comes to imagining car-free cities, or even large space habitats, some understanding of space and design is necessary.

I admit it, I am old fashioned. I remember Imperial measurements. When I was a boy land was measured in acres and I understand this in a visceral way, unlike hectares which I have to think about. I can picture an acre. This has nothing to do with understanding the mathematics and everything to do with default visual models.

Anyway, when I design large structures in my mind I use these old measures and if I have to describe it to someone else I convert it to metric to make it easy for them. My friend Simon, for example, must have everything in metric or refuses to accept the idea. This is not because he fails to understand the mathematics, but because he believes that anything short of the perfect symetry  of the metric system is a perversion.

So here is a little ditty from wikipedia that describes my favourite redundant measures: chains and furlongs. Ah, even saying the names gives me a warm nostalgic feeling inside.

The name furlong derives from the Old English words furh (furrow) and lang (long). Dating back at least to the ninth century, it originally referred to the length of the furrow in one acre of a ploughed open field (a medieval communal field which was divided into strips). The system of long furrows arose because turning a team of oxen pulling a heavy plough was difficult. This offset the drainage advantages of short furrows and meant furrows were made as long as possible. An acre is an area that is one furlong long and one chain (22 yards) wide. For this reason, the furlong was once also called an acre’s length, though of course in modern usage an area of one acre can be any shape.

The furlong was historically viewed as equivalent to the Roman stade (stadium), which in turn derived from the Greek system. For example the King James bible will use the term “furlong” in place of the Greek “stadion”, whereas modern translations will translate into miles in the main text and relate the original numbers in footnotes.

In the Roman system, there were 625 feet to the stade, eight stade to the mile, and three miles to the league. A league was considered to be the distance a man could walk in one hour, and the mile consisted of 1000 passus (5 feet, or double-step).

After the fall of Rome, Medieval Europe continued with the Roman system, which proceeded to “diversify” leading to serious complications in trade, taxation, etc. Around the turn of the century of 1300, England by decree standardized a long list of measures. Among the important units of distance and length at the time were foot, yard, rod, furlong and mile. The rod was 5½ yards or 16½ feet (= 3 feet/yard × 5½ yards), and the mile was 8 furlongs, so the definition of the furlong became 40 rods and that of the mile became 5280 feet (= 8 furlongs × 40 rods/furlong × 16½ feet/rod ).

The official use of furlong was abolished in the United Kingdom under the Weights and Measures Act of 1985, which also abolished from official use many other traditional units of measurement.

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