Here are some of the world's most stupid time zones

This is what evolution looks like, and it most certainly ain't pretty. Image: Hellerick via Wikimedia Commons.

As citizens in the great nation of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, the Prime Meridian, and the official designated centre of the world, we Brits can forget the bizarre ridiculousness of time zones.

Time zones.

Why is it that flying west from London to Madrid results in shifting the clocks one time zone eastward – an hour ahead?

And did anyone ever give a thought to the zip wire across the River Guadiana between Spain and Portugal, where your flight across the river is so fast – at 45 miles per hour – that you land in Portugal one hour earlier than you left Spain?

Or, indeed, the one international border where stepping one foot over the mountains means you step three and a half hours back in time?

Time zones have brought strange quirks to the world ever since 26 countries – including the then independent kingdom of Hawaii – gathered in Washington D.C. in 1884 for the Meridian Conference. In the 1940s, Hitler’s sweep through Europe stopped France using GMT, and put an end to ‘Amsterdam time’, which had the Netherlands running twenty minutes ahead of London. At one point, a tiny Pacific archipelago gave the US the ultimate cold shoulder by literally moving to a different day to get away from them.

And even though it’s probably better than the alternative system, where once upon a time every town set its clock to noon when the sun was at its highest and integration be damned, the standardisation of time zones has resulted in some very strange side-effects.

So much wall, so little time. Image: Vin Crosbie.

China's one-time state

The third largest country in the world, China sprawls across the Asian continent, spanning a sixth of the world’s breadth from the 75 degrees to almost 135 degrees west, by longitude. When the sun rises on the longest day in the far eastern city of Jiamusi, it’s 7:24pm in the UK, but when it rises in the far west, in Kashgar, it’s 11:29pm.

And yet the entire country only has one time zone. I mean, I get it, you want a totalitarian state and all that, but having one part of the country where a winter’s day doesn’t start until nearly 10am seems a little illogical.

In fact, it’s so illogical that half of the city of Urumqi, in eastern China, uses its own unofficial time zone, while the other runs a working day from 11pm-7pm to account for out of kilter day inflicted by Beijing. Which is incredibly complicated – as Apple learnt when a iOS update silently put all users onto the local unofficial time zone, meaning many people’s alarms went off two hours later than they were expecting.

Pleasingly, though, the uniform time zone means that if you can negotiate the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas, you can cross over into Afghanistan and set your clock back three and a half hours – the biggest land border time-zone change on the planet. More on that later.

But in conclusion, sort it out, China.

Not actually that green. Image: Antonio Bovino.

Greenland

Greenland is another fairly big place (though its position in the far north of most map projections makes it look bigger than it really is). It's not made the same mistakes as China.

If anything, in fact, goes rather too far the other way. Almost all of Greenland runs on GMT-3, putting it four hours behind its parent nation, Denmark; but a few tiny corners insist on having things their own way.

The Thule Air Base, run by the United States Air Force in the northwest of Greenland, runs on GMT-4, while the Danmarkshavn weather station (permanent population: eight) runs on GMT. For no particularly good reason.

Meanwhile, Greenland’s 18th-largest city of Ittoqqortoormiit (yes, really), runs on GMT-1 along with pretty much nobody except the Azores and Cape Verde.

Not actually Newfoundland but the annoying French thing. Image: Ken Eckert.

Newfoundland

Staying in a similar geographic locale, the Newfoundlanders decided to screw up the orderliness of Canada’s time zones. The bulk of the country makes things simple enough, running from GMT-4 in the east, through GMT-5 in Toronto and Québec, GMT-6 in Winnipeg, GMT-7 in Edmonton to GMT-8 in Vancouver in the west.

Newfoundland, though? “Nah,” they thought. “Let’s go with GMT-3.5, because we’re cool.”

That's basically because Newfoundland was a separate colony when time zones became a thing, so it had the right to establish its own time zone. About a hundred years later in 1963, when it had been subsumed into the independent nation of Canada, the provincial government tried to click it back into sync with the rest of the Atlantic region of Canada. The move was basically thwarted by a bunch of time NIMBYs. The state of you, Newfoundland.

Though in fairness the 6,080 people of St Pierre and Miquelon, a hang-on dribble of islands from the days of the French Empire, stubbornly sticks to GMT-3 even though the nearest functioning place that uses it is… Brazil.

Afghanistan looking military. Image: United States Army.

The half-hour gang

Which brings us to the main cluster of countries where somebody decided it was vaguely acceptable to sit half an hour out of kilter with the rest of the world.

Iran runs on GMT+3½, Afghanistan on GMT+4 ½, India is on GMT+5 ½, and Burma uses GMT+6 ½.

The reasons for all of these aren’t entirely clear, although given the heavy involvement of the British Empire and its tendrils in the region, it’s highly likely that it’s all our fault.

Indeed, India’s standardised time zone, though half an hour short of being sane, isn’t as mad as it used to be before it became independent. During the Raj, the colony operated three main times: Bombay Time, at GMT+4:51 (yes); Madras Time, at GMT+5:21 (I know); and Calcutta Time, at GMT+5:54 (I’m not even making this up).

As for Afghanistan, if in doubt just blame Tony Blair and hope everybody stops asking questions.

Oh, and then there’s North Korea, which runs on GMT+8½, but that doesn’t particularly matter because nobody likes them anyway.

Good fields, though. Image: United States Department of Agriculture.

The Ne-pallingly confusing time zone

Perhaps the most screwed up entire nation in time terms is Nepal, which runs GMT+5¾. In theory, it’s because mean time in Kathmandu – aka, the approximation across the year of when the sun is at its highest at noon – is 5 hours, 41 minutes and 16 seconds ahead of GMT.

Still ridiculous, though.

Kirimati, confusingly part of Kiribati. Image: NASA.

Too close for comfort

Obviously, eventually you get so far round the world that the whole thing starts all over again. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, sit on the edge of your seat through any adaptation of Around The World In 80 Days and be amazed.

In essence, the International Date Line is the exact opposite side of the world to the Greenwich Prime Meridian, and is where you stop being ahead of London and start being behind it. In other words, in the far east of Russia they’re already starting tomorrow, but Alaska’s only just got going on today.

The problem is that although the Pacific Ocean is a handly empty place to dump a line where there are two days, it’s not totally empty, so the line strays a little.

The very far eastern island of Big Diomede in Russia runs on GMT+12, even though it’s just 2.4 miles away from the closest part of the USA at Diomede, Alaska, which uses GMT-9. The Aleutian Islands – basically, Alaska’s tail – stretch across the 180-degrees line that is the theoretical International Date Line, but all use GMT-10, because it’s just easier.


But there are two places where the line has shifted in recent history, giving rise to some strange goings-on.

In December 2011, Samoa jumped forward a day, and just missed out 30 December (nobody got their six geese a-laying that year). This was to get rid of an old hangover given to the country by its king in 1892, who moved the country east of the Date Line to bring it closer to America. This became impractical as Samoa grew closer to Australia and New Zealand, its much closer neighbours, and so the 2011 moved the country from being 21 hours behind Sydney – the nearest major business hub – to being three hours ahead of it, which made more sense.

Though, sadly for the Americans, it left American Samoa marooned, only 70km away but 24 hours apart (25 in summer).

And then there’s the Republic of Kiribati, which became independent in 1979 by combining three colonies – the UK’s Gilbert Islands, and the Phoenix and Line Islands from the US. But this was a problem, as the former ran on GMT+12, while the Phoenix and Line Islands ran on GMT-11 and GMT-10 respectively.

So they shoved the whole country over to the western side of the Date Line in 1995, creating the time zones GMT+13 and GMT+14, and dragging the whole line 2,000 miles eastward. When you remember that the Line Islands are further east than Hawaii and most of Alaska, this is pretty weird.

Most fun quirk of all of this means that for a brief moment every day (sort of) there are three days going on at once (wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… you know the drill). At 10:30am on Wednesday in London, it’s 11:30pm on Tuesday in the inhabited New Zealand-owned island of Niue, and 12:30am on Thursday in the Line Islands of the Republic of Kiribati (pronounced “Kiribas”).

What a mess.

Your brain on patriotism. Image: Phil Whitehouse.

Australia

In theory, this isn’t difficult. You take your big country, helpfully divided into states running east to west, and you give them relevant time zones.

The state of Western Australia runs on GMT+8, which is fine. Job done. The states of New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, the Capital Territory, and Queensland run on GMT+10. Which is sort of fine.

The logical thing for the middle states of South Australia and the Northern Territory to do would be to run on GMT+9, right? Especially as they almost perfectly straddle 135 degrees west, the centre of the +9 time zone area.

But no. They run GMT+9½, because there is nothing pure left in the world.

And even that’s not enough by way of complication. The southern states of South Australia, New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, and the Capital Territory use daylight saving time, but the other three states don’t.

So for half the year, Australia goes from having three time zones to having five. What a mess.

To make it worse, there’s Lord Howe Island, which is technically part of New South Wales, but is off halfway to New Zealand. During the southern hemisphere winter, it uses GMT+10½, just half an hour ahead of Sydney and the like, but in winter it uses a daylight saving time half an hour ahead – running at GMT+11. Which makes it the only place in the world that does not switch a full hour for daylight saving time.

Eucla, in Western Australia, likes to be difficult. Image: Yewenyi.

Specifically these Australians

Because some people just want to watch the world burn, there’s a tiny town of 86 people in the far east of Western Australia that decided to be quirky and just invent its own time zone.

Eucla, and a few poor stragglers nearby, uses GMT+8¾. Apparently with this time nonsense you can basically just do what you want.

Nobody tell Cornwall, they’ll get ideas.

P.S

Hey guys, remember that time Russia had daylight saving time in the summer and then just stayed there because they liked having light evenings? So relateable. Except then loads of people had car crashes in the morning so they switched it back

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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Owning public space is expensive. So why do developers want to do it?

Granary Yard, London. Image: Getty.

A great deal has been written about privately owned public space, or POPS. A Guardian investigation earlier this year revealed the proliferation of “pseudo-public spaces”. Tales of people being watched, removed from or told off in POPS have spread online. Activists have taken to monitoring POPS, and politicians on both sides of the pond are calling for reforms in how they are run.

Local authorities’ motives for selling off public spaces are normally simple: getting companies to buy and maintain public space saves precious public pounds. Less straightforward and often overlooked in this debate is why – given the maintenance costs, public safety concerns and increasingly unflattering media attention – developers would actually want to own public space in the first place.

To answer that question it’s important to note that POPS can’t be viewed as isolated places, like parks or other public spaces might be. For the companies that own them, public spaces are bound up in the business that takes place inside their private buildings; POPS are tools that allow them, in one way or another, to boost profits.

Trade-offs

In some cities, such as Hong Kong and New York, ownership of public space is a trade-off for the right to bend the rules in planning and zoning. In 1961 New York introduced a policy that came to be known as ‘incentive zoning’. Developers who took on the provision of some public space could build wider, taller buildings, ignoring restrictions that had previously required staggered vertical growth to let sunlight and air into streets.

Since then, the city has allowed developers to build 20m square feet of private space in exchange for 80 acres of POPS, or 525 individual spaces, according to watchdog Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space (APOPS).

Several of those spaces lie in Trump Tower. Before the King of the Deal began construction on his new headquarters in 1979, he secured a pretty good deal with the city: Trump Tower would provide two atriums, two gardens, some restrooms and some benches for public use; in exchange 20 floors could be added to the top of the skyscraper. That’s quite a lot of condos.

Shockingly, the current president has not always kept up his end of the bargain and has been fined multiple times for dissuading members of the public from using POPS by doing things like placing flower pots on top of benches – violating a 1975 rule which said that companies had to provide amenities that actually make public spaces useable. The incident might suggest the failure of the ‘honour system’ under which POPS operate day-to-day. Once developers have secured their extra square footage, they might be tempted to undermine, subtly, the ‘public’ nature of their public spaces.

But what about where there aren’t necessarily planning benefits to providing public space? Why would companies go to the trouble of managing spaces that the council would otherwise take care of?


Attracting the ‘right sort’

Granary Square, part of the £5bn redevelopment of London’s Kings Cross, has been open since 2012. It is one of Europe’s largest privately-owned public spaces and has become a focal point for concerns over corporate control of public space. Yet developers of the neighbouring Coal Drop Yards site, due to open in October 2018, are also making their “dynamic new public space” a key point in marketing.

Cushman Wakefield, the real estate company in charge of Coal Drops Yard, says that the vision of the developers, Argent, has been to “retain the historical architecture to create a dramatic environment that will attract visitors to the 100,000 square feet of boutiques”. The key word here is “attract”. By designing and managing POPS, developers can attract the consumers who are essential to the success of their sites and who might be put off by a grubby council-managed square – or by a sterile shopping mall door.

A 2011 London Assembly Report found that the expansion of Canary Wharf in the 1990s was a turning point for developers who now “assume that they themselves will take ownership of an open space, with absolute control, in order to protect the value of the development as a whole”. In many ways this is a win-win situation; who doesn’t appreciate a nice water feature or shrub or whatever else big developer money can buy?

The caveat is, as academic Tridib Banerjee pointed out back in 2001: “The public is welcome as long as they are patrons of shops and restaurants, office workers, or clients of businesses located on the premises. But access to and use of the space is only a privilege and not a right” – hence the stories of security guards removing protesters or homeless people who threaten the aspirational appeal of places like Granary Square.

In the US, developers have taken this kind of space-curation even further, using public spaces as part of their formula for attracting the right kind of worker, as well as consumer, for nearby businesses. In Cincinnati, developer 3CDC transformed the notoriously crime-ridden Over-The-Rhine (OTR) neighbourhood into a young professional paradise. Pouring $47m into an initial make-over in 2010, 3CDC beautified parks and public space as well as private buildings.

To do so, the firm received $50 million  in funding from corporations like Procter and Gamble, whose Cincinnati headquarters sits to the South-West of OTR. This kind of hyper-gentrification has profoundly change the demographics of the neighbourhood – to the anger of many long-term residents – attracting, essentially, the kind of people who work at Procter and Gamble.

Elsewhere, in cities like Alpharetta, Georgia, 3CDC have taken their public space management even further, running events and entertainment designed to attract productive young people to otherwise dull neighbourhoods.

Data pools

The proposed partnership between the city of Toronto and Sidewalk Labs (owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet) has highlighted another motive for companies to own public space: the most modern of all resources, data.

Data collection is at the heart of the ‘smart city’ utopia: the idea that by turning public spaces and the people into them into a vast data pool, tech companies can find ways to improve transport, the environment and urban quality of life. If approved next year, Sidewalk would take over the mostly derelict east waterfront area, developing public and private space filled with sensors.

 Of course, this isn’t altruism. The Globe and Mail describe Sidewalk’s desired role as “the private garbage collectors of data”. It’s an apt phrase that reflects the merging of public service and private opportunity in Toronto’s future public space.

The data that Sidewalk could collect in Toronto would be used by Google in its commercial projects. Indeed, they’ve already done so in New York’s LinkNYC and London’s LinkUK. Kiosks installed around the cities provide the public with wifi and charging points, whilst monitoring traffic and pedestrians and generating data to feed into Google Maps.

The subway station at Hudson Yards, New York City. Image: Getty.

This is all pretty anodyne stuff. Data on how we move around public spaces is probably a small price to pay for more efficient transport information, and of course Sidewalk don’t own the areas around their Link Kiosks. But elsewhere companies’ plans to collect data in their POPS have sparked controversy. In New York’s Hudson Yards development – which Sidewalk also has a stake in – ambiguity over how visitors and residents can opt out of sharing their data when in its public square, have raised concerns over privacy.

In Toronto, Sidewalk have already offered to share their data with the city. However, Martin Kenney, researcher at the University of California at Davis and co-author of 2016’s ‘The Rise of the Platform Economy’, has warned that the potential value of a tech company collecting a community’s data should not be underestimated. “What’s really important is the deals Toronto cuts with Sidewalk may set terms and conditions for the rest of the world," he said after the announcement in October.

The project could crystallise all three motives behind the ownership of POPS. Alongside data collection, Sidewalk will likely have some leeway over planning regulations and will certainly tailor its public spaces to its ideal workers and consumers – Google have already announced that it would move its Canadian headquarters, from their current location in Downton Toronto, into the first pilot phase of the development.

Even if the Sidewalks Lab project never happens, the motives behind companies’ ownership of POPS tell us that cities’ public realms are of increasing interest to private hands.

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