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.
"Bloom Town: The Wild Life of American Cities," Maggie Koerth-Baker, New York Times
One of America’s hottest cities and one of its coldest may have more in common than you would guess. In places like Phoenix and Minneapolis, scientists think that cities are starting to look alike in ways that have nothing to do with the proliferation of Starbucks, WalMart or T.G.I Fridays. It has to do with the flowers we plant and the fertilizers we use and the choices we make every spring when we emerge from our apartments and homes and descend on local garden centers.
"American Cities Are Dropping Like Flies," Shanna Pearson, Salon
Cities are dropping like flies. In the last several months, a string of municipal governments in states from Alabama to Rhode Island have filed for bankruptcy. Even more are likely to follow within the next year as cities reel from an end to federal stimulus dollars.
What’s going on with local governments? Their troubles stem from multiple sources, but the critical factor is, yes, after all this time, still the housing bust. City finances are almost exclusively tied to property tax revenue—indeed, most locales have no other funding source. Despite all the focus on mismanagement and bloated pensions, few cities would be in these severe dire straits had housing prices not fallen by roughly 41 percent or even greater, in some places.
"Brilliant Designs To Fit More People in Every City," Kent Larson, TEDTalks
How can we fit more people into cities without overcrowding? Kent Larson shows off folding cars, quick-change apartments and other innovations that could make the city of the future work a lot like a small village of the past.
"Twilight People: Subways Are for Sleeping," Joe Kloc, Paris Review
Every now and then I come across someone on the subway who defies easy categorization. I remember, for instance, a man who boarded the 3 train in Brooklyn a few years ago wearing military fatigues and a bandolier packed with little glass bottles of liquids. “Who is man enough to buy my fragrances?” he shouted. (When one rider replied that he wasn’t sure, the man responded, “Are you man enough to kill a hooker in Moscow with a crowbar?”)
More recently, there was a man on the uptown 6 wearing a pair of oversized New Year’s glasses—the ones where the 0’s serve as eyeholes—who played atonal jazz on his saxophone and asked for no monetary compensation in return. I could keep going, but no doubt anyone who has lived in a city for any length of time has their own mental list of these self-styled subterranean eccentrics, grouped together not so much by any particular characteristic other than the fact that they seem only to exist underground.
Top image: Workers stabilize this year's Christmas Tree, a Nordmann Fir from Dumfries, Scotland, outside the 10 Downing Street official residence of Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, in London. (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)