A round-up of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days. Share your favorites on Twitter with #cityreads.
"Apocalypse, New Jersey: A Dispatch From America's Most Desperate Town," Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
The first thing you notice about Camden, New Jersey, is that pretty much everyone you talk to has just gotten his or her ass kicked.
Instead of shaking hands, people here are always lifting hats, sleeves, pant legs and shirttails to show you wounds or scars, then pointing in the direction of where the bad thing just happened.
"I been shot six times," says Raymond, a self-described gangster I meet standing on a downtown corner. He pulls up his pant leg. "The last time I got shot was three years ago, twice in the femur." He gives an intellectual nod. "The femur, you know, that's the largest bone in the leg."
"Tall Is Good: How a Lack of Building Up Is Keeping Our Cities Down," Alissa Walker, Gizmodo
Early in Spike Jonze's new film Her, Joaquin Phoenix's character gazes out his Los Angeles window. As the camera pans, we see not a squat, sprawling metropolis, but a golden-lit landscape of skyscrapers stretching all the way to the horizon. When I saw the film last Friday night, this scene made me gasp.
It wasn't just the shock of seeing L.A. rendered as a vertical city. It was because this L.A. of the future looked like a place where I wanted to live.
This digitally enhanced, metastasized Los Angeles—an L.A. that grew up instead of out—is almost a secondary character in the film. Jonze and Her production designer K.K. Barrettconsulted with architect Elizabeth Diller on the look of L.A.'s future, which—for once—was blissfully free of those dystopian stereotypes. Even against the bleak narrative (no spoilers, don't worry!) the city around the characters is bustling, colorful, vibrant. It's a gorgeous world of tall buildings, mass transit, and busy sidewalks.
Dare I say, this movie made density beautiful.
"Who's Behind Those Tags in D.C.'s Bike Lanes?" Jonathan L. Fischer, Washington City Paper
The anonymous stencils first appeared in August.
You’d notice them at reds as you braked at the mouth of an intersection. You’d look down, perhaps as you began to creep into the crosswalk, and spy the Day-Glo words on the asphalt: “Make Us Bicyclists Look Good.” And then, maybe, you’d stay put, waiting for that green.
By the middle of August, the messages had emerged up and down 15th Street’s protected cycletrack, around the National Mall, and in bike lanes on R and T streets NW and Rhode Island Avenue. They contained affirmations like “Thank You for Biking,” “Your Bike Is Sexy,” and “Smile! You’re on a Bicycle”; cutesy reminders like “Please Bike Safely Honey. Love, Your Parents”; and cheeky exclamations like “Don’t Door Me Bro.”
These weren’t missives for pedestrians, or motorists, or anyone who wasn’t on a bike. If you don’t spend any time in bike lanes, you probably didn’t see them. But among bike commuters, they quickly punctured daily water-cooler talk. Did you see the bike-lane graffiti?
"With One Paseo, Suburban Retrofitting Comes to San Diego," Andrew Keatts, Voice of San Diego
The subject has come to San Diego by way of One Paseo, the 1.4 million square foot mixed-use project on 23 acres in Carmel Valley. Since the site is only zoned for 500,000 square feet of office space, approving the project will eventually require City Council to approve an amendment to the area’s community plan.
The "suburban retrofit" concept probably won't dissuade residents who've opposed One Paseo on the grounds it threatens Carmel Valley’s core character. A retrofit by definition means adaptation.
Carmel Valley, located 20 miles north of downtown San Diego, was designed and built after the city commissioned a master plan in 1974. It’s unquestionably a suburban area.
Urban planner Howard Blackson said there are two ways to think about One Paseo, and what it means for Carmel Valley.
"Either One Paseo is the last piece of the 20th century conventional suburban development pattern or it is the first step in rebuilding toward a 21st century mixed-use, walkable, infill redevelopment pattern," said Blackson, who has done limited consulting work on the project.
Top image: A Camden resident sits in his enclosed porch in Camden, New Jersey. Reuters