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Poor Urban Planning in the States
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JiggyLordJr Offline
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Poor Urban Planning in the States
Recently my thoughts have drifted the to abismal state of major cities in the US. Anyone who follows this forum is aware that the majority of top-tier cities have become increasing expensive, more dangerous (SF zombies), and overall increasingly unlivable for the average inhabitant.

But these issues have already been discussed at length. I thought it would be wise to dive a little bit deeper into the blight affecting many cities, and I discovered an altogether separate problem, that being the fundamental lack of intelligent, urban planning.

Having visited Asia recently (namely, Singapore and Japan), I was shocked at how well their cities ran. The city centers were often completely walkable, giving visitors and citizens alike the freedom to soak in the impressive, aesthetic infrastructure without a car. Public transportation linked up virtually every part of the city, and on a greater scale, there were transport hubs linking the nation as a whole. It seemed so simple, yet I wondered if their connectivity was simply a benefit of recent development, as many Asian cities are relatively new, and thus able to put a lot of thought into design before pulling the trigger.

But this hypothesis somewhat lost its ground when I traveled to Europe, and found similarly impressive architecture, walkable cities, and working public transport that mirrored its neighbors' out East. This in spite of the fact that many European cities, save the ones destroyed in WWII, were hundreds if not thousands of years old. Which brings me to the big question: Despite the fact that their constructions are relatively recent, why on earth are American cities so terribly planned?

A walk through Philly, or even a world-class city such as NYC, makes these facts glaringly obvious to the layman. Public transport is often unreliable and dangerous, and more alarmingly, there exists no regional railway that connects the nation as a whole. Cities are quite often not walkable outside of a small downtown (NYC being th exception here), which means one needs a car to participate in daily life. The lack of public gathering spaces is also quite pronounced, which points to a lesser capacity for civic engagement, such as neighborhood picnics in the local park. Speaking of which, green spaces are downright rare, and when chanced upon, visually unimpressive and heavily neglected (I.e. used heroin needles strewn about, unkempt weeds sprouting everywhere). To round it off, building quality can be generally hit or miss, but I have noticed that unsightly brick buildings with few windows seem to be the norm, with abdanoned buildings ("bands") becoming increasingly more prevalent.

It seems that despite the European roots that American builders possessed when designing the cities we live in today, the penchant for ptoper urban planning has been all but lost. Both in terms of building functional, connected metropolises, as well as making them visually appealing in the process, America has quite simply fallen short. What do you suppose happened that led to this mess of a situation, and why haven't measures been taken to fix it? I've asked many of my European and Asian friends who have visited the States, and they seem to be just as flustered. Curious what you guys think about this topic, as it seems to be an uncommon, but interesting, topic of discourse.
07-07-2019 07:36 AM
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Pete Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
Boston is very walkable and has pretty good public transportation (mbta), but expensive too.
07-07-2019 08:30 AM
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spokepoker Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
How new are the cities you are comparing to the american cities?

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07-07-2019 08:31 AM
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
I've pondered this often.

I think the East coast cities of the U.S. as well as San francisco and to a lesser degree Portland and Seattle prove that higher density more walkable cities with public transport options are possible in the U.S.

But ultimately that density brings a lot of problems that the average American isn't interested in. Dense walkable cities aren't a priority for most Americans. Most are perfectly happy to make most of the their trips by car, especially in rural areas and Southern cities/ out West. Part of the appeal of America for many is the vast space avaialble and the fact that you dont have to live in a cramped city space. Moving to the suburbs or having land further out is attractive to many.

Its hard to do comparisons with the Euro cities that existed a millennia before the invention of the automobile. If you throw newer Asian cities like Singapore or Hong Kong into the mix, well obviously they had to be efficient with space and transport or it would be utter chaos. Their space is severely limited and society would cease to function if private car ownership reached U.S. levels.

That said, I do find it unfortunate that most of the areas of the world with the most desirable weather (Southern California, Canary islands, etc) practically force you to spend time in your car due to poor planning and less density, meanwhile places with comparatively terrible weather have superior urban planning that encourages you to spend more time in the elements.

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(This post was last modified: 07-07-2019 09:12 AM by azulsombra.)
07-07-2019 09:08 AM
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Lunostrelki Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
American cities were designed with cars in mind. By that metric, they are designed pretty well.

There are also historical and political factors at work.

In Europe, the cities and towns that exist now formed hundreds if not thousands of years ago, long before there were cars. OP mentioned the destruction wrought by wars in Europe, but when you look at the pictures, the basics of the cities and buildings are usually still there. European architecture was very good, and they just rebuilt it all postwar. Naturally, the automobile had to accommodate the pre-existing cities, not the other way around.

Asia is a bit different, since their ancient buildings weren't that sturdy, being made more of wood and paper than steel and stone. Tokyo was destroyed by an earthquake in 1923, then completely burned by firebombing in 1944-45, for example. Also, when countries like Japan, Korea, and China modernized, they basically copied Western aesthetics and techniques, so a lot more physical changes happened relatively speaking compared with Europe.

However, unlike the U.S., development in Asian countries happened with very strong top-down direction, especially so in China. If the government wanted a subway built, a subway would be built. Urbanization in Asia also happened way faster than in the U.S., so there were more opportunities for planners to work out how they wanted their cities to look without being bothered by as many non-governmental civil interest groups (since they didn't have the time to lay down roots yet). In the U.S. you have a ton of NIMBYs who don't want their low-density residential neighborhoods to be razed and replaced by high-rises, so the only practical option is to build further out, or in gentrified areas.
(This post was last modified: 07-07-2019 11:56 AM by Lunostrelki.)
07-07-2019 11:52 AM
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MusicForThePiano Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
Most cities still retain their planning pre-1965. Take Chicago for example. After the fire, it was mostly rebuilt to accommodate large influx of settlers, European immigrants, and industries. Detroit and the other midwest Great Lakes cities as well. Now, sprinkle on a pinch of 3rd world detritus, a dash of liberal policies, a teaspoon of white flight, and add 50+ years and you get the shithole that is modern day American cities and their surrounding neighborhoods. Reverse the policies and reset the demographics and most cities could be turned around in a few years.
07-07-2019 01:48 PM
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Foolsgo1d Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
Well for starters your old planners thought it was a stroke of genius to place highways straight through large urban centres. From there it was a case of the domino effect.
(This post was last modified: 07-07-2019 01:53 PM by Foolsgo1d.)
07-07-2019 01:53 PM
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Repo Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
(07-07-2019 01:53 PM)Foolsgo1d Wrote:  Well for starters your old planners thought it was a stroke of genius to place highways straight through large urban centres. From there it was a case of the domino effect.

I read a few articles that said auto makers essentially bribed public officials to make this the case. They conspired to make public transportation suck so they could sell more cars.
07-07-2019 02:00 PM
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Caduceus Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
Car companies and oil cartels in the USA have effectively controlled all aspects of city planning for the last 70 years.

Most US cities had excellent transport networks until the 1950s. Hard to believe but it's true. Many US cities even had zero emission electric buses and trams running on overhead cables from the 1930s to 1950s.

All these public transport networks were all either totally dismantled or left to rot by depriving them of any government funding from the 1960s onwards when the car companies and oil cartels bribed everyone in Washington DC and consolidated power.

Even in europe they tore out entire tram networks from countless different cities to make way for car sales. Only communist eastern europe resisted this destruction and that's why there are so many old tram systems still in use in eastern europe today.

The only exception in the USA was San Francisco which was able to keep some cable cars and build the BART metro transport system.
(This post was last modified: 07-07-2019 02:26 PM by Caduceus.)
07-07-2019 02:07 PM
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Vladimir Poontang Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
U.S. cities mostly consist of a very small central area with lots of tall buildings, and then miles and miles of boring urban sprawl. The best cities are in Europe.

That's not how we do things in Russia, comrade.

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07-07-2019 02:41 PM
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
(This post was last modified: 07-07-2019 07:02 PM by swuglyfe.)
07-07-2019 06:58 PM
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Lost in Transfiguration Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
It's a question of incentives. In Asia and Europe they deincentivize traveling by car or automobile. And they make it difficult to drive one in the center of the city. They also don't build up the roads in the inner city, making it a hassle to navigate this part of town. On top of it many cities now charge congestion tolls. With pollution regulations tightening, they even ban cars from the center on some days. I don't have figures here, but I would wager that these places spend more on their public transit infrastructure than comparable US cities. I know in singapore there's something like a 100 percent tax that is levied on your car before you can get it on the road. So it is not economical in a place like singapore to have a car.

Europeans have always taken an attitude that is less car friendly, so of course they demand more out of their pubic transport. But also, their cities are more dense as well. Same goes for asia. We just have a way lower population density in american cities. The only cities that approach european numbers off the top of my head are NYC and SF. The problem in the US is that there is little political or public will for mass transit modernization programs or new mega projects. So the transit resources all go to highways and cars.

As far as Asia is concerned they have more collectivist societies and people will take it in the ass because they're concerned about social harmony. I, for one, would not want to live in Singapore or Tokyo. Crammed into subways, no trash cans, etc. In singapore severe fines gum chewing, not flushing the toilet, or smoking.
07-07-2019 07:09 PM
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Dr. Howard Away
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
Here in the south there is a philosophy of keeping property taxes and government involvement as low as possible. That means no sidewalks, no streetlights, no fire hydrants unless your HOA or neighborhood association is willing to pay for them. It leads to really poor planning, but paying 1/6th the property tax as I did in the midwest is worth it to me.

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07-07-2019 07:12 PM
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TigerMandingo Online
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
(07-07-2019 07:09 PM)Lost in Transfiguration Wrote:  As far as Asia is concerned they have more collectivist societies and people will take it in the ass because they're concerned about social harmony. I, for one, would not want to live in Singapore or Tokyo. Crammed into subways, no trash cans, etc. In singapore severe fines gum chewing, not flushing the toilet, or smoking.

Come visit NYC then, where there are trash cans everywhere and yet the city is nasty and smells like piss and shit Laugh
(This post was last modified: 07-07-2019 07:51 PM by TigerMandingo.)
07-07-2019 07:50 PM
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Lost in Transfiguration Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
NYC is pretty tame by historical standards. I think its gavin mcinnes who talks about how crazy it used to be before Guiliani. NYC is a billionaire's city. I think it has the highest concentration of billionaires almost anywhere in the world. But yeah, somewhat dirty compared to Switzerland or Asia.
07-07-2019 08:02 PM
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whitewashedblackguy Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
I noticed the lack of good parks when I came back from Mexico. In the cities I was in, the parks and plazas really encourage people to hang out and relax together, and are well designed. They even let the kids swim in the public fountains. It all made for a great atmosphere for dates, day gaming, and just chilling out. I miss those places.
07-07-2019 08:14 PM
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TigerMandingo Online
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
(07-07-2019 08:02 PM)Lost in Transfiguration Wrote:  NYC is pretty tame by historical standards. I think its gavin mcinnes who talks about how crazy it used to be before Guiliani. NYC is a billionaire's city. I think it has the highest concentration of billionaires almost anywhere in the world. But yeah, somewhat dirty compared to Switzerland or Asia.

Ok......and?
07-07-2019 09:19 PM
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Lost in Transfiguration Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
(07-07-2019 09:19 PM)TigerMandingo Wrote:  
(07-07-2019 08:02 PM)Lost in Transfiguration Wrote:  NYC is pretty tame by historical standards. I think its gavin mcinnes who talks about how crazy it used to be before Guiliani. NYC is a billionaire's city. I think it has the highest concentration of billionaires almost anywhere in the world. But yeah, somewhat dirty compared to Switzerland or Asia.

Ok......and?

Point is it's no longer the backwater it once was. Billionaire's have moved in and everything has gentrified. Most people are priced out of living there anyway. to be clear, there are problems with NYC these days, but It's much tamer than it once was.
07-07-2019 09:53 PM
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JiggyLordJr Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
(07-07-2019 02:00 PM)Repo Wrote:  
(07-07-2019 01:53 PM)Foolsgo1d Wrote:  Well for starters your old planners thought it was a stroke of genius to place highways straight through large urban centres. From there it was a case of the domino effect.

I read a few articles that said auto makers essentially bribed public officials to make this the case. They conspired to make public transportation suck so they could sell more cars.

Read this as well in a book called Geography of Nowhere. Really interesting history of how the auto industry basically suppressed all public transport in favor of private auto transport.

What I fail to understand, however, is why strides haven't been made since then. After all, it's s been well over 70 years, and nary a regional rail network to be found. Hell, I haven't even seen a proposed plan floating around. Do the car companies still run shit to that degree? Because damn near everyone would benefit from mass public transit; it's insane that car and oil would suppress general welfare to that large an extent.
07-08-2019 01:18 AM
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
Short answer from my own secondhand accounts: I was good friends with a guy who had numerous connections, including coaching the mayor on public speaking, as well as having some friends who had experience in things like city planning.

The biggest reason is that a lot of municipal leadership are owned by property developers. These guys want to throw up housing at the cheapest way possible, then flip it and it becomes someone else's problem....usually the city's. In order to make that possible they throw up hastily designed city plans with the crappiest of infrastructure to make it just barely possible to support the construction. By the time the traffic problems, infrastructure breakdowns, and generally piss poor planning comes home to roost the developers have already flipped the property and are laughing their way to the bank at the expense of the suckers who bought those crappy cardboard cutout houses.


A lot of the rest is massive hubris and incompetence. Solzhenitsyn's musings on the nature of politicized, bureaucratic, stupidity in the Soviet Union adequately cover this topic and anything I could say would be repeating his writings.
07-08-2019 08:07 AM
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Foolsgo1d Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
You forget one thing about urban planning and they would straight up lie to you about being future-proof for the next 100 years. You generally see these big building companies and other Civil engineering firms tout "fulfilling the needs of the next 100 years" or 21st Century.

Its a load of shit.

You cannot predict the weather that accurately and you want to try and predict population growth? What was the number of people in the US around the 1950/60s?

Quote:1960 United States Census. The Eighteenth United States Census, conducted by the Census Bureau, determined the resident population of the United States to be 179,323,175, an increase of 18.5 percent over the 151,325,798 persons enumerated during the 1950 Census

In 2k19? Its estimated to be well over 300,000,000. You have 800k+ just this year coming from those lovely southern shit holes. Add in half of those women springing a kid or two inside 2-3 years and where is that number?

The problem with urban planning, traffic, pollution, waste etc is the number of people. We are too many and no amount of planning or genius can sort it out except to have a very prolonged and terrible pandemic or food shortage.
(This post was last modified: 07-08-2019 08:09 AM by Foolsgo1d.)
07-08-2019 08:09 AM
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
I think Indianapolis, Indiana is the worst planned out city from all the cities I've been to. They have buildings on top of buildings, malls inside apartment complexes, nice buildings next to ragiddy homeless shelters. Its like if they just put different kinds of buildings everywhere without any planning. Its like if they put the hood and nicer areas mixed in together. It was weird.
07-08-2019 09:32 AM
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Garuda Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
(07-07-2019 07:36 AM)JiggyLordJr Wrote:  A walk through Philly, or even a world-class city such as NYC, makes these facts glaringly obvious to the layman. Public transport is often unreliable and dangerous, and more alarmingly, there exists no regional railway that connects the nation as a whole. Cities are quite often not walkable outside of a small downtown (NYC being th exception here), which means one needs a car to participate in daily life. The lack of public gathering spaces is also quite pronounced, which points to a lesser capacity for civic engagement, such as neighborhood picnics in the local park. Speaking of which, green spaces are downright rare, and when chanced upon, visually unimpressive and heavily neglected (I.e. used heroin needles strewn about, unkempt weeds sprouting everywhere). To round it off, building quality can be generally hit or miss, but I have noticed that unsightly brick buildings with few windows seem to be the norm, with abdanoned buildings ("bands") becoming increasingly more prevalent.

For regional railways, there's Amtrak but its reach is rather limited in the interior of the country.

[Image: 9050bcafef1d806bc070fba90fd38ffe.png]

The lack of green spaces is usually due to the city government selling them off to pay off debts or whatever. In Minneapolis, the people voted to have the state government override the city government and create a totally separate body to oversee the parks, preventing the loss of green spaces. Thus it's one of a handful of cities that has a park every six blocks or so.
07-09-2019 12:13 AM
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JiggyLordJr Offline
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
(07-09-2019 12:13 AM)Garuda Wrote:  
(07-07-2019 07:36 AM)JiggyLordJr Wrote:  A walk through Philly, or even a world-class city such as NYC, makes these facts glaringly obvious to the layman. Public transport is often unreliable and dangerous, and more alarmingly, there exists no regional railway that connects the nation as a whole. Cities are quite often not walkable outside of a small downtown (NYC being th exception here), which means one needs a car to participate in daily life. The lack of public gathering spaces is also quite pronounced, which points to a lesser capacity for civic engagement, such as neighborhood picnics in the local park. Speaking of which, green spaces are downright rare, and when chanced upon, visually unimpressive and heavily neglected (I.e. used heroin needles strewn about, unkempt weeds sprouting everywhere). To round it off, building quality can be generally hit or miss, but I have noticed that unsightly brick buildings with few windows seem to be the norm, with abdanoned buildings ("bands") becoming increasingly more prevalent.

For regional railways, there's Amtrak but its reach is rather limited in the interior of the country.

[Image: 9050bcafef1d806bc070fba90fd38ffe.png]

The lack of green spaces is usually due to the city government selling them off to pay off debts or whatever. In Minneapolis, the people voted to have the state government override the city government and create a totally separate body to oversee the parks, preventing the loss of green spaces. Thus it's one of a handful of cities that has a park every six blocks or so.

I would never take an Amtrak train or let anyone close to me board one - it's not only prohibitively expensive for the quality of service, it's also quite dangerous to ride. I can't recall how many times I've turned on the news to see yet another Amtrak derailment.

[Image: amtrak-derailment-mos-1-reuters_121917024300.jpg]

Due to cost-cutting measures, they have not implemented a safety system that allows the trains to turn corners safely. This in spite of the fact that every other developed country has had it for 20+ years now. And because Amtrak effectively has a monopoly on transnational transit, they simply don't give a shit about upgrades or maintenance (similar to the MTA in NYC).

If you want to learn more about this I would highly recommend this two-part series on the shit state of infrastructure in the US.



(This post was last modified: 07-09-2019 12:57 PM by JiggyLordJr.)
07-09-2019 12:53 PM
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RE: Poor Urban Planning in the States
I grew up in India until I was 12. Horrendous urban planning in most cities.

When I came to the USA at the age of 12, landing at JFK, the excellent urban planning was the immediate highlight, at that time not even knowing what urban planning was.

I think western people, especially Americans don't travel or experience much outside of the west itself so they find it difficult to grasp (not logically but from a feeling/emotional perspective).

For example, for all of the lack of urban planning, in Asian or eastern communities, it leaves people closer and connected with more group identity. Something the west severely lacks and moreso due to social media. In a significant number of USA western communities, people don't even talk to their neighbors. Being who I am, I see it as cringeworthy to be honest and very regressive from a quality of life perspective even if you have nicer things materially speaking.

I think it's important to think through the socio economic as well as cultural implications of urban landscapes.

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(This post was last modified: 07-09-2019 03:09 PM by Cobra.)
07-09-2019 03:08 PM
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