A round-up of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.
"One Man, 1.7 Million Square Meters" My day in the world's biggest building—a Chinese mall you've never heard of," Christopher Beam, The New Republic
The slogan of the New Century Global Center, the recently completed largest building in the world by floor space, sounds at first like a Chinglish-y misfire: “The One of Everything.” But as I spent a day wandering around the structure, located in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, the catchphrase started to take on a kind of brilliance. It captures the building’s comprehensiveness: It really does have one of everything, from a shopping mall to an Intercontinental Hotel to a 14-screen IMAX theater to a water park to a fake church to a McDoniqloGAPbucks to an ice skating rink—everything, that is, except restraint. The building also is the one of everything; of everything, it is the one. It’s the biggest/gaudiest, the bravest/most brazen, depending on your point of view. Maybe that’s why it’s called the Global Center, as in, the center of the globe. The slogan also nods to the pop-Buddhist concept that everything in the universe is one, with a commercial twist. The Global Center doesn’t distinguish between East and West, high and low, rich and poor, tasteful and tasteless. There is only the one … of everything.
I wanted to swallow it whole. I therefore set aside a full day to experience as much of the Global Center as I could, to browse its wares, to float in its waters, to ride its escalators and skate its rinks, to get to know each of its 1,700,000 square meters—a maximalist approach to a maximalist structure. The Center invites absurd size comparisons: News reports tell us it could fit 20 Sydney Opera Houses, four Vaticans, or three Pentagons. The Center is also, along with a raft of business conventions and a railway line to Poland, part of Chengdu’s bid for top-tier city status. (It’s China’s seventh-largest city by population, and lacks the name recognition of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.) Still, I wanted to know: Why? Building the largest free-standing structure in the world is impressive, but not quite as inspiring as building the tallest. It’s like setting the world record for fastest 100-meter power walk. Then again, of course the largest building in the world is now Chinese; it’s strange that it wasn’t before. What, if anything, does this latest entry into the eyesore arms race say about Chengdu—and about China?
"Why is the act of urban walking so revolutionary?" John Rogers, New Statesman
Urban walking is now promoted as a leisure pursuit, with posses of rambling groups herded on to sanctioned routes and heritage trails that double as cycle highways. Although paths such as the Greenway in London give city-dwellers a chance to stand outside the urban soup to float atop like a toasted crouton, sooner or later they sink back into the mire.
The reality of the street is what we need to confront, as increasing proportions of the public realm are quietly transferred to private ownership. Whereas there was a long and hard-fought battle to establish the right to roam over private land in the countryside, a fellow urban rambler, Andrew Stevens, remarked to me recently that there is no comparable right to roam in the city. Take Mais’s and Maxwell’s advice to “constantly trespass” and you’ll soon find yourself pursued by members of the expanding army of private security guards.
"Flipping Supreme," David Shapiro, The New Yorker
Inside a run-down mall off of Elizabeth Street in Chinatown, down an escalator to the basement and past a raft of empty storefronts, is a minuscule store, the size of a walk-in closet, that's quietly at the center of a peculiar global fashion empire. It has no sign and it's not on the mall directory. It’s impossible to find on Google.
The enterprise, which its owner refers to as Unique Hype Collection, is in the business of buying clothing from the skate-inspired men's fashion brand Supreme at retail prices, waiting until the items have sold out at Supreme's physical stores and online shop, and then putting those items up for sale in the mall and on eBay at significant markups. Much of its merchandise goes to Japan, where Supreme goods can cost twice what they do here at retail. On a recent Friday afternoon, a cap that had gone on sale on Thursday at Supreme for forty-eight dollars was on the shelf at Unique Hype Collection for eighty-five dollars, where teen-agers were eyeing it jealously. The store even uses authentic Supreme shopping bags, recycled from purchases made at Supreme.
"I’ve brought in seven figures a year for the last two years," said Peter, the owner of the store, a thirty-year-old who refused to give his last name or be photographed. "I can’t show my face—I’m under a lot of eyes," he said, sitting on a stool inside Unique Hype Collection last week. (Peter was actually under only four eyes: two posters of Lady Gaga looking at the camera while modelling a Supreme T-shirt hung on the ceiling above him.) "I do everything myself. With the eBay store, I even pack it and ship it myself," he said, before pausing and thinking about this for a second. "Actually, I don’t drive myself. I have a driver."
"More Of Boston Gentrified Than New York City In the Early Aughts," Bill Bradley, Next City
Love it or hate it, gentrification improves property values. And, between 2000 and 2007, 26 percent of Boston was gentrified outpacing the rest of America’s cities, according to new analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
Daniel Hartley, a research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, explored the spread of gentrification in America’s 55 largest cities from 2000 to 2007 by analyzing which census tracts were primed for gentrification (those with below median home value) and how the housing prices, rents and income levels changed in those tracts over the seven year period.
"New China Cities: Shoddy Homes, Broken Hope," Ian Johnson, New York Times
HUAMING, China — Three years ago, the Shanghai World Expo featured this newly built town as a model for how China would move from being a land of farms to a land of cities. In a dazzling pavilion visited by more than a million people, visitors learned how farmers were being given a new life through a fair-and-square deal that did not cost them anything.
Today, Huaming may be an example of another transformation: the ghettoization of China’s new towns.