Kansas City's Google Divide and Cleveland's 'Poverty of Ambition': The Best #CityReads of the Week

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

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Our 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.

"In One City, Signing Up for Internet Becomes a Civic Cause," John Eligon, The New York Times

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With Google’s promise last year to wire homes, schools, libraries and other public institutions in this city with the nation’s fastest Internet connection, community leaders on the long forlorn, predominantly black east side were excited, seeing a potentially uplifting force. They anticipated new educational opportunities for their children and an incentive for developers to build in their communities.

But in July, Google announced a process in which only those areas where enough residents preregistered and paid a $10 deposit would get the service, Google Fiber. While nearly all of the affluent, mostly white neighborhoods here quickly got enough registrants, a broad swath of black communities lagged. The deadline to sign up was midnight Sunday.

The specter that many blacks in this city might not get access to this technology has inflamed the long racial divide here, stoking concern that it could deepen.

“This is just one more example of people that are lower income, sometimes not higher educated people, being left behind,” said Margaret May, the executive director of the neighborhood council in Ivanhoe, where the poverty rate was more than 46 percent in 2009. “It makes me very sad.”

"Mr. 'Shrink the City' goes to Washington," Greg Hanscom, Grist

Barring some bizarre political mishap, Dan Kildee will be settling into a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 3. He’s a shoo-in for Michigan’s fifth congressional district — the well-liked Democratic candidate in a majority blue district, and the nephew of the guy who has held the seat since 1977.

Kildee is one of the few candidates this election season who isn’t afraid to talk about giving U.S. cities a leg up. The longtime treasurer of Genesee County, Mich., home to the moribund auto town of Flint, he is best known as the leader of the “shrink the city” movement, a cadre of city planners and academics who argue that the best way to save shriveling manufacturing towns is to bulldoze abandoned neighborhoods to make way for parks and urban gardens — and new development when the economic tide turns.

Kildee created the Genesee County Land Bank, which gathers vacant or abandoned properties and either sells them or rips them down. The bank also gains control of valuable property in the suburbs, then sells or rents it, using the proceeds to invest in the city proper.

"Franchising Neighborhoods: Can IKEA Sell Urban Design?", Jimmy Stamp, Smithsonian

IKEA has long been the go-to retailer for budget-savvy designers and design-savvy budgeters. I just moved to New York and the post-graduate school savings account hasn’t left me with many options when it comes to furnishing my new place. With the notable exceptions of a rustic brick fireplace and a couple of chairs salvaged from an architect’s office, my Brooklyn apartment looks like it was transplanted lock, stock, and Vittsjö from an IKEA showroom.

Does it look nice? Sure. But there’s something cold about it. Still, it’s hard to resist the ease, affordability, and contemporary design offered by the Swedish furniture giant. But can those qualities, which have made IKEA ubiquitous in apartments around the world, translate to a larger scale? What would a Malm building look like? Or a Billy-burg (not to be confused with Williamsburg, of course)? Would an IKEA metröpolis stay true to the tenets of the brand? Inter IKEA Systems, the complex corporate möthership that owns the IKEA “concept”, intends to answer just that question with two new developments in London and Hamburg.

"Odd Things Happen When You Chop Up Cities and Stack Them Sideways," Robert Krulwich, NPR.org

Take away the bums, the fashionistas, the food carts, the cabs, the colors, the smells, the sounds, cut it up and stack it on a table, New York's grid system seems more than a little monotonous.

"Can city life be exported to the suburbs?", Jonathan O'Connell, Washington Post

It’s Friday night, and you dash downstairs from your apartment to the street. You head to dinner, strolling down the sidewalk, past the brick storefronts and the couples sitting around the fountain. What will it be tonight: Italian or a nice steak? There are lots of options nearby, not to mention the movie theater and the bowling alley with the cigar bar in back.

It’s the life of a young city-dweller. Except this scene isn’t set in a city. It’s happening in the Village at Leesburg, a new neighborhood on Route 7 in Loudoun County. And 10 years from now, it could be taking place in more than a dozen urban settings being built around the Washington area where today there are empty fields, vacant industrial centers, parking lots and shopping malls.

Instead of building more typical suburban developments, in the past two decades builders increasingly have been bringing city life to the suburbs and exurbs. Street grids are plotted around central plazas surrounded by condos, apartments and shopping. Public transportation is arranged, parking garages are hidden from view, and all the things that people love about D.C. and cities like it are layered on: public art, sidewalk performers, outdoor movies, street festivals, block parties and food carts.

The spread of “town center” projects, particularly in the Washington suburbs, is making it harder to distinguish what makes a city a city. The urban neighborhood has become an exportable commodity.

"Cleveland: City Hall's Poverty of Ambition," Angie Schmitt, Rust Wire

The city of Cleveland’s City Hall’s reputation is, well, not too positive. But the truth is that city residents, Cleveland boosters–as we are all more or less–try to give them the benefit of the doubt most of the time. They’re generally well-meaning: we’ll give them that. They don’t have a lot of money, we all understand.

But, wow–sometimes you read something like this in the Plain Dealer and you really have to marvel at exactly how low expectations are, even at City Hall.

This weekend the PD published an article about how bicycling advocates are frustrated with the pace of progress in the city of Cleveland. The city has made some strides recently, implementing complete streets and passing a 3-foot passing law. But Cleveland is the last major city in Ohio to earn a bronze-level bike friendly community award from the League of American bicyclists. Cities like Columbus and Dayton, and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, are whizzing by, relatively speaking.

Anyway, the article was great. But the city of Cleveland’s response was, shall we say, frustrating.

Top image: Henryk Sadura/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.