Architecture That's Too Nice: The Best #Cityreads of the Week

Our weekly roundup of the most intriguing articles about cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days.

Image
Reuters

Our weekly roundup of the most intriguing articles about cities and urbanism we' ve come across in the past seven days.

"The Risk of Being Too Nice," Martin Filler, New York Review of Books

Despite the persistent image of the architect as a heroic loner erecting monumental edifices through sheer force of will, the building art has always been a highly cooperative enterprise. Although the parti (basic organizing principle) of a design may sometimes be the product of one intelligence, the realization of a structure of even moderate complexity depends on a broad range of expertise seldom encompassed by any individual, no matter how singularly gifted. As an artistic endeavor, present-day architecture most closely resembles filmmaking, in which the prime creative mover, the director—even the most visionary of auteurs—requires the specialized technical skills of a large cohort of indispensable collaborators.

Students outside West Philly’s Penn Alexander School. Image courtesy of Penn Alexander/Flickr

"Urban Education’s Breadline Problem," Patrick Kerkstra, Next American City

This dilemma — creating schools that appeal to the growing professional class, without entirely displacing students with lower incomes — is hardly limited to one section of West Philadelphia. Similar dramas, sans the line, are playing out in Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and in plenty of other cities with gentrifying neighborhoods.

In these communities, middle- and upper-class families with young children, families that in past decades would have fled to the suburbs en masse, are cramming into a small number of public schools that, for a variety of reasons, have been deemed acceptable.

Photo by Eduardo Munez/Reuters

"How to Make an Ironman Whimper (and Cough)," Bill Donahue, New York Times Magazine

When you watch the video from the start of last February’s Empire State Building Run-Up, an 86-story stair race, one man stands out. Thomas Dold, a 28-year-old German wearing Bib No. 1, is already a few inches ahead when the starting horn blasts. His shins are canting into a run, and with his left arm he’s pushing at the chest of a runner to that side of him. A split second later, his right arm juts up to block more runners.

The Appalachian Trail. Reuters

"The Blind Hiker: How one man used technology to conquer the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail," Sarah Trankle, Slate

The Appalachian Trail spans more than 2,000 miles across 14 states, traversing woodlands and peaks from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. It is one of the world’s longest continuous footpaths, and each year thousands of individuals attempt to hike the entire thing.
 

For any thru-hiker, making the trek is an accomplishment (fewer than 25 percent successfully complete the journey). But that’s especially true if you’re blind. Which is why it’s so impressive that Minneapolis-based attorney Mike Hanson set out along the Appalachian Trail in the spring of 2010. Using only a GPS device and trekking poles, the visually impaired Hanson plotted and completed the majority of the Appalachian Trail without outside assistance, making an important point about the power of technology and the independence of those without sight.

"Inaugural Ball Hopping: "SimCity" Comes to the Capital, and Hollywood Stays Home," Lydia DePillis, The New Republic

I could spend the night gawking at mayors-about-town Michael Nutter, Antonio Villaraigosa, and Cory Booker. Or I could pretend to be a mayor myself.

So we left the pounding party and descended to a quiet hotel suite with a SIMCITY banner and empty Red Bull cans dotting the tables. The designer, Stone Librande, sat down at a chunky laptop and walked me through the game, which hadn't been substantially updated in a decade and took nearly 100 people working for three years to produce.

About the Author

  • Amanda Erickson is a former senior associate editor at CityLab.