Great Urbanism, Bad Architecture: Best #Cityreads of the Week

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

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James Powers

A round-up of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days. Tweet us your favorites with #CityReads.

"Geologists Glimpse a Heaven Below," Sam Roberts, New York Times

The tunneling deep under Manhattan has been fraught with challenges, from disruptive blasting to vehicular congestion at street level and the stifling of retail sales. But it has been a blessing for geologists.

“This is a true moment of discovery, although somewhat inadvertent,” said Tony Hiss, the author of “The Experience of Place,” a 1990 ode to America’s physical reality. “New York’s deepest and darkest secret, its oldest and most violent and previously only vaguely glimpsed history is finally coming to light — the schist that formed three-quarters of a billion years ago, when colliding continents compressed an ancient ocean; the even more elusive amphibolite, three times harder than concrete, that’s a slow-cooked remnant of islands as big as Japan off the New York shoreline.

"Green Living in NYC Need Not Be Simple Living," Michael Sorkin, Aeon

The planet is going to hell in a hand basket. Population grows exponentially, the air is toxic, and there simply aren’t enough resources to go around. The Earth could not sustain even a third of its current population were we all to consume at American levels. This fundamental gap succinctly describes the environmental ‘crisis’ for what it is: a problem of equity. In New York, we’ve just inaugurated a new mayor, Bill de Blasio, who campaigned in opposition to what he called our ‘tale of two cities’ – the dramatic and growing levels of inequality that increasingly characterise not just New York, but the country. In fact, it’s a tale of two planets.

The only solution is to harmonise needs and resources. But whom can we trust to do this? In an era of incompetent nation states and predatory transnationals, we must ratchet up local self-reliance, and the most logical increment of organisation (and resistance) is the city.

"Two Sides of Sochi," Misha Friedman and Genevieve Fussell, New Yorker

Tonight marks the end of the twenty-second Winter Games, one of the most controversial and expensive Olympics in recent history. The photographer Misha Friedman, who travelled to Sochi, Russia, for the Games, told me that the host town felt “like two completely different places.” When he first arrived in Sochi, ten days before the opening ceremony, Friedman found a harried atmosphere, as organizers and officials rushed to finish preparations. Security was tight: nervous police officers, some armed with sniper rifles, were on patrol among colorful banners and souvenir shops, and surveillance blimps floated overhead. By the time Friedman left, however, midway through the Games, the militarized feeling had dissipated among the throngs of fans, media, and athletes. The juxtaposition of these two very different experiences stands, for Friedman, as a metaphor of modern Russia. “There is a divide between the people who criticize the current regime and the people who just accept it—people who don’t care and are very much O.K. with the system.”

"Would You Sign Into Facebook With a Map?" Paul Bisceglio, Pacific Standard

A cyber security researcher named Ziyad S. Al-Salloum believes he has a way of making online passwords easier to remember and harder to crack: He calls it the “GeoGraphical” password.

Basically, the method employs geographical data as opposed to alphanumeric characters as the building blocks of online access codes. Imagine that when you type your username into Facebook, there is no longer a simple box to the right in which you enter M!leyCyrus4LYFE93. Instead, a searchable, zoom-capable world map, à la Google Maps, appears on the screen. On this plane, you’re free to create your password by drawing any shape around any landmark you want: You could drop pinpoints to create a square around Missouri, or zoom in and circle the swimming pool in your old neighbor’s backyard. Only that specific configuration would allow you to log in.

"Changing Skyline: Mormon development combines civic-mindedness, awful architecture," Inga Saffron, Philadelphia Inquirer

The Mormons' undertaking on Vine Street, which fills a block-size parking lot and promises to help Center City bridge the chasm of I-676, presents a difficult conundrum: How do you respond to a development where the architecture is awful, but the urbanism is terrific - especially in a city routinely shortchanged in both categories?

Top image: A rendering of the Mormon's undertaking on Vine Street, in Philadelphia.

About the Author

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