How Detroit Really Is Like America: Best #Cityreads of the Week

A round-up of the best stories on urbanism we've come across in the last 7 days.

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

"Architecture: What Does Big Data Mean for our Cities?" Leo Hollis, New Statesman

Our lives have become data sets to be probed, charted and, once collated, analysed for efficiencies and savings.

In the new age of “Big Data”, does the same go for our cities? Just as Wolfram has reduced his life to packets of data, many urban thinkers now believe that the city is no longer just a place but a living field of information to be harvested.

Big claims are being made for this notion. Le Corbusier once called for the rationalisation of the city, making it a machine for living; today, many think that data, in the words of Assaf Biderman, the associate director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab, will make our cities “more human”.

"How Detroit Really Is Like America," Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine

Detroit’s collapse into bankruptcy has been held up by conservatives as a synecdoche for America’s future under Barack Obama. In its literal sense, this is totally wrong — Detroit’s troubles are unique in their severity. In a broader sense, though, there is some truth here. Detroit is a synecdoche for America — not America’s future, but its past.
 

Everything that happened in the United States in the middle of the twentieth century happened in and around Detroit, but moreso. The enormous mobilization of industry during World War II (“Detroit is winning the war,” said Joseph Stalin in 1945); that industry’s creation of the world’s first mass-affluent working class, a place where families lacking high school diplomas routinely had nice things; and finally the collapse of that economic paradise and the racialization of American politics that split the New Deal coalition.

 "Smile! One of You Will Be the Next Mayor of New York," Andrew Meier, New York Times Magazine

The last honest-to-God election in New York City began on the day the World Trade Center towers fell: 9/11 was Primary Day, till the voting booths shuttered that morning. And in the dozen years since, New Yorkers have witnessed a great buckling of the political landscape: three terms of Michael Bloomberg, coming after eight years of Rudolph Giuliani. Even if you stipulate, as the G.O.P. kingmakers know, that Rudy and Mike are not real Republicans, the fact remains: the most progressive city west of Amsterdam and east of San Francisco has not elected a Democrat since 1989.

New York City stands at a crossroads. Things are good for many, but not for all.

 "Spinning Its Wheels: Critical Mass' Long Ride from Relevance", Joe Eskenazi, San Francisco Weekly

The whirring of thousands of bicycle chains is a magical sound. And, not so long ago in the grand scheme of things, thousands whirred up Market Street. Male cyclists were dressed as ladies. Bikes were done up to look like boats. Another resembled a coffin, bedecked with a skull and crossbones and an inscription "warning all Supervisors of the political death that awaited those public officers who heeded not the demands of the people."

The people watched. And the people cheered. And then they attempted to flip a streetcar that a cyclist claimed nearly hit him.

Some 5,000 bicycles jammed the city's major artery, per the next day's newspapers. In San Francisco, there's a term for this: a voting bloc. "It was easily apparent that a new element had come into local politics," predicted a front-page report. "The very fact they stand together as a body proves their prominence as a public factor will be considerable."

"Two Brothers, Two Radically Different Walk Scores," Doug Kelbaugh, Congress for New Urbanism

Even though there are no full neighborhoods with a score of 100 in this or any other U.S. city outside of Manhattan, there are individual addresses that achieve the perfect score. Urban neighborhoods in cities like Boston, San Francisco and Seattle are full of such addresses. And at least one place in Ann Arbor, our downtown condo in the Armory on E. Ann St.

Top image: Andrey Bayda /Shutterstock.com

About the Author

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