The Case for Weird Buildings, Indianapolis Skepticism, and a Renter's Respite: The Best #CityReads of the Week

Our weekly look back at the stories you may have missed.

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Welcome to our new weekly roundup of the most intriguing articles about cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days. Share your favorites on Twitter with #cityreads.

"Weirdness for Weirdness's Sake," Aaron Betsky, Architect

Should Prentice Women’s Hospital be saved? Certainly, but maybe not because it is a great building. I have always been skeptical of Bertrand Goldberg as an architect. I know he is revered in Chicago, and I know that his corn-cob apartment towers on the Chicago River have acted well in starring roles in films such as The Blues Brothers, but should we really revere badly detailed concrete silos that impose dysfunctional round forms on the urban grid? If the answer is yes, it is only because they are such oddities, not because of any intrinsic merits.

I have not been inside the Prentice building. I have spent time on the street looking up at it, and I must say that I have never quite understood its full charms. Above a base that I would describe as an elongated Miesian box with mullions too closely spaced, with no acknowledgement to its surroundings, hover the concrete cloverleaf patient rooms. It is certainly ingenious that each of the leaves cantilevers out from the central core, but the technology seems to have necessitated an amount of concrete that leaves tiny windows in the façades, while looking up at the silos’ bottoms gives you only a view of more concrete.

"How a Texas Town Became Water Smart," Mose Buchele, KUT via NPR

Faced with a booming population and a disappearing water supply, the city of San Antonio responded by dramatically cutting consumption, pioneering new storage techniques and investing in water recycling and desalination projects. It now boasts that it is "Water's Most Resourceful City."

There are so many programs and projects that Chuck Ahrens of Water Resources and Conservation with the San Antonio Water System can hardly keep track.

"I made myself a list and I thought, 'Wow, I don't even know all of our programs.' But then I thought it would be asking a lot to remember all of our programs because we have a lot of them," says Ahrens. His list includes big money projects like desalination. But the city's greatest success is found in simple conservation.

"A Renter’s Respite: In Washington Area, Thousands of New Units to Open Soon," Brady Dennis and Amrita Jayakumar, Washington Post

The weary apartment hunters of Washington, who have been plagued in recent years by rising rents, fewer vacancies, pickier landlords and periodic bidding wars, are about to get a welcome respite.

Thousands of new rental units under construction are scheduled to open in the coming months, the first such wave of new building in the area since the financial crisis hit in 2008.

The coming surge — a whopping 6,000 new units by the end of this year — will give prospective renters a slew of new options and could even halt the upward march of monthly rental payments, according to developers, analysts and real estate professionals.

"Modern Life Is Killing Us," Will Doig, Salon

Remember all that buzz about how the length of your commute affects your happiness? “A person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office,” wrote Jonah Lehrer, God rest his soul, in 2010. (Can probably assume that wasn’t a Bob Dylan quote!) Turns out going to work not only stinks, it leaves psychological scars.

The studies were treated as a revelation, but why? We’re all well aware that our surroundings — maniacal bosses, dreary weather, cable news — mess with our heads. And yet, we haven’t historically made mental well-being a lodestar when it comes to urban design. “We’re at the point where we’re just getting people to think about the mental health implications of the urban environment,” says Lynn Todman.

"The Orchestra and the City," Sean Andrew Chen, Next American City

The 112-year-old Philadelphia Orchestra, one of the "Big Five" world-class orchestras in the U.S. and performer in Disney’s original Fantasia film, has recently emerged from bankruptcy. Citing severe fiscal problems such as rapidly growing pension payments, the orchestra became the first major orchestra in the country to file for bankruptcy when it did so in April of last year.

Despite much ensuing criticism lobbed at the orchestra’s corporate body, the decision has allowed the orchestra to renegotiate contracts with musicians, keep its home at the Kimmel Center and continue the Philly Pops program.

The story of the Philadelphia Orchestra isn’t unique. Dozens of orchestras around the country have folded, and many more face declining revenues and increasing costs. The century-old Honolulu Symphony folded in 2010, followed by the Syracuse Orchestra last year.

"Why I Don't Live in Indianapolis," Aaron Renn, New Geography

It’s no secret that Indianapolis has been a huge focus of my blog over the years. One of the biggest criticisms I get here, especially when I ding some other city, is that I’m nothing more than a mindless booster for Indy. While I like to think I’ve given the city a lot of tough love over the years, it’s definitely true that I’ve had many, many good things to say, and I have no problem saying that I’m a big fan of the city overall.

Why then, might one ask, don’t I actually live in Indianapolis?

The answer is multifaceted, but without a doubt one key reason is that I simply can’t sign up to what the city is doing in its urban environment. Indy is going one direction, I’m going another. It’s as simple as that.

Top image: Ken Cave/Shutterstock.com

About the Author

  • Sommer Mathis is editor of CityLab. Previously she spent five years editing and reporting on the D.C. metro area at DCist.com and TBD.com.