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Giving Penn Station Its Glory Back: Best #Cityreads of the Week

A round-up of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.

The old Penn Station was demolished in 1963. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Penn Station Reborn,” Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times

Train stations are more than just a bunch of platforms for getting places. They’re portals. New York used to have two of the world’s most ennobling entrances, announcing the city in all its ambition and glory, Grand Central Terminal and the old Pennsylvania Station. Half a century ago, it lost the latter to the wrecking ball, getting a shameful rat’s maze instead.

The governor of New York, Andrew M. Cuomo, channeling his inner Robert Moses, has lately been promising to remedy what ails the city’s crumbling transit hubs. And this week he announced a plan to revamp Penn Station. Still entombed beneath Madison Square Garden, it has become the hemisphere’s busiest train station, serving 650,000 riders a day, three times the number it was conceived for — a figure equivalent to the population of Boston. They must stagger through crowded, confusing subterranean passageways to find the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, the subways and Amtrak.

The governor’s initiative prompted editors of The Times’s Op-Ed page to approach Vishaan Chakrabarti, who founded Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, a New York architecture firm. Mr. Chakrabarti, who explains his plan in detail below, ran the Manhattan office of the Department of City Planning under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and he is a veteran of earlier Penn Station refurbishment proposals. The challenge: Can we go further than what the governor is doing? What would it take to truly transform Penn Station?

Baltimore vs. Marilyn Mosby,” Wil S. Hylton, The New York Times Magazine

A little before 7 the other night, the prosecutor Marilyn Mosby stopped by my house in Baltimore for dinner. She was coming straight from work in one of her customary gray pantsuits, and because I was already nursing a beer, she took off her jacket with a sigh and poured herself a glass of white wine. Then we stepped onto the back deck to throw a few burgers on the grill. This being a September evening, you might imagine the yard in raking light and breezy autumnal aspect, but it was actually pretty swampy, the oppressive tonnage of summer humidity not yet given way to season’s end, so as soon as the burgers looked about done, we ferried them inside and settled at the island in my kitchen to eat. After a few minutes, Mosby’s husband, Nick, who sits on the City Council, knocked on my front door, let himself in and wandered through the house to join us. He took a seat two chairs down from Marilyn, leaving an empty one between them.

“Hey, Marilyn,” he said quietly.

“Hey, Nick,” she said. “How are you?”

“Fine,” he said.

“How was your meeting?”

“What meeting?”

“Didn’t you have a Council meeting?”

“Oh,” he said. “That was a long time ago.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Then where are you coming from just now?”

“I was waiting for you at home,” he said.

Now she looked annoyed. “I called you at 6:07,” she said. “You didn’t answer.”

“Which number?” he asked.

“Your cellphone!” she said.

There was a long silence as Marilyn stared at Nick, who stared at the table. “Well,” he said, shaking his head. “I was at home.”

I relate this bit of conversation not because it offers a perfect window on the Mosbys and their marriage, but just the opposite: because it’s important to understand from the outset that what you are about to read is a narrow but intimate view. A couple in the midst of a public ordeal is not excused from life’s usual bothers, and what is striking when you find yourself in proximity to a crisis isn’t always the soaring arc of the fall but the way it touches against, grazes and refracts all the familiar daily torments on the way down.

City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby departs the courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. on June 23, 2016. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

Transportation Secretary Foxx Moves to Heal Scars of Urban Renewal,” Sam Ross-Brown, The American Prospect

Pittsburgh’s Hill District has been at the nexus of African American cultural and economic life for decades. As the Great Migration kicked off after World War I, the neighborhood became a destination for blacks escaping the inequality and violence of the Jim Crow South. Beginning in the 1920s, the area became known as “Little Harlem” and “the Crossroads of the World” for the eclectic jazz clubs and theaters that were essential stops for superstars like Earl Hines, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne. It was also home to one of the most prosperous African American communities in the country, boasting dozens of black-owned businesses. Because of these stories, a lot of people consider the Hill District home,” says Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corporation. “It was the place where their family connected with the city, where they landed. It was the figurative and literal heart of the city.”

But the glamour faded by the late 1950s. City officials labeled the low-neighborhood a slum and slated it for “urban renewal” and highway construction projects. ...

But the Hill District may rise again. Next summer, construction will begin on a federally funded, three-acre park above I-579. The $19 million project will reconnect the Hill District to the city’s downtown core for the first time in five decades, and represents a small but significant shift in federal policy spearheaded by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. The ambitious former mayor of Charlotte made repairing the damage caused by decades of urban highway construction a federal priority. By strategically connecting the department’s discretionary funding to its bully pulpit, Foxx has helped refocus transportation policy on issues of equity, accessibility, and justice.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Do Driverless Cars Favor Urban or Suburban Life?”Henry Grabar, Slate

Here are two competing theories of how the coming transportation revolution could impact American life.

One possibility is that easy mobility—driverless cars, on-demand deliveries, and the like—will dull the pains of suburban life. The long commute, the wasted driving time, the difficulty of running out for a carton of milk—the inconvenience and expense of the subdivision will be melted away by hot new technology. Milk by drone, what a concept!

Another is that easy mobility produces greater advantages in the city. Carless living is better than ever. NIMBY battles don’t happen because parking and congestion aren’t problems. Wasted auto infrastructure, like lots and curbside parking and garages, is converted towards better uses like housing and restaurants. Maybe a central highway, once evidence of a city's essential unpleasantness, becomes a park.

The Boho-drain: Bohemians Say Goodbye San Francisco, Hello LA,” Rory Carroll, The Guardian

Once upon a time it seemed San Francisco artists visited Los Angeles only on condition they were tripping on LSD, or some other hallucinogen.

How else to survive the concrete landscape and endless traffic, the airheads and flakes, the tinsel and hustle and sheer vapidity of a metropolis which considered la-la-land a compliment?

So the beat poets and hippies and all the other bohemians would make fleeting forays south before returning to their foggy bay area sanctuary with tales of sun-frizzled vulgarians.

Then everything changed.

Ken Lund/CC BY-SA 2.0

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