Behind the Movement to Make Antoni Gaudí a Saint: Best #Cityreads of the Week

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

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The ceiling of La Sagrada Familia. (Wikimedia Commons)

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"Can Architecture Perform Miracles? The Quest to Make Gaudí a Saint," Alissa Walker, Gizmodo

Visiting the dripping sand castle basilica that is the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona could definitely be described as one of the most awe-inducing moments of my life. A spiritual experience? Perhaps. But is it a miracle? That's what a group of believers are trying to prove in their campaign to make its architect, Antoni Gaudí, a saint.

If named, Gaudí would, in fact, be the first architect to achieve sainthood. This would place him in a very exclusive club of individuals who have been named saints without holding a formal role in the church (like popes and bishops). But why Gaudí over someone like, say Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci, who certainly contributed a great deal of their art and design talents to the church? Or any of the hundreds of other Roman Catholic artists and architects?

"Gaudí devoted his life to God," Gabriela González-Cremona told me, a lawyer who is working with the Association of the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí. "He honored God by means of prayers and his masterpieces. Both his life and his work give testimony and intensify the faith to whoever contemplates them."

The proof, the association claims, is evident in his devotion to his architecture. Gaudí completed many influential buildings throughout Spain, mostly in the city of Barcelona. But it's his work on one particular structure, which came to consume his whole life, that's of particular interest to the church. The genre-bending Sagrada Familia is certainly one of the most famous buildings in the world—and equally famous for being perpetually under construction since 1882, with no completion in sight.

"Jon Bon Jovi Is the Most Hated Man in Buffalo," Reeves Wiedeman, New York Magazine

The uprising against Jon Bon Jovi began on the third Wednesday of May. It started in Orchard Park, a Buffalo suburb, but quickly spread throughout the city, then east to Rochester and north toward Niagara Falls, as bars and restaurants and radio stations declared themselves “Bon Jovi-free zones.” There aren’t many American cities more down on their luck than Buffalo. But if the reports were to be believed, Jon Bon Jovi, American rock star, whose most famous song details the life of a union stevedore, was trying to take away one of the few things the city could still brag about—the Buffalo Bills—and move them to Canada. All Buffalo wants, if you will, is to hold on to what its got.

The protest’s inciting incident had occurred two months earlier. In late March, Ralph Wilson, a Michigander who founded the Bills in 1960—he wanted to start a team in Miami but settled for Buffalo—passed away at 95. Wilson left behind a collection of Monets and Manets, which were nice but not nearly as rare or valuable as the football team his estate was now putting up for sale. There are 48 Gutenberg Bibles, but only 32 NFL ­franchises. Teams rarely go on sale, making ownership one of the most ­desirable markers of prestige for a certain type of American one-percenter.

"Delirious World Trade," Karrie Jacobs, Architect Magazine

A decade ago, about a year after Daniel Libeskind, AIA, was appointed master planner of the World Trade Center site, I asked him a question: “In 10 years' time, will this place look like New York City?” His charming and evasive reply: “When the famous portrait of Gertrude Stein was painted by Picasso, she said to him, ‘It’s a beautiful portrait, but it doesn’t look like me.’ And he said, ‘But it will.’ ”

Picasso’s iconic portrait, of course, cast Stein as a cubist Mona Lisa. And Libeskind, something of a cubist himself, seemed to have the idea that he was remaking not just the 16 acres nominally under his command, but New York City itself, dragging the wounded, architecturally recalcitrant metropolis into the 21st century.

Today, I’m still trying to answer the same question. Every time I’ve visited the National September 11 Memorial, since it opened in 2011, I ask myself: What is this place and who is it for? The site continues to grow and change as many of the components lurch toward completion, but what I find here isn’t exactly New York. It lacks the energy typical of the city’s best public places. That’s to be expected in a site dominated by a memorial, but it isn’t well suited to contemplation either. There are too many visitors, tourists mostly. There are endless rules: no demonstrations, no rallies, no third-party vending. No sports. No loitering, littering, or smoking. No throwing anything into the pools. No animals. But all those injunctions don’t add up to tranquility. If there is peace to be had on this memorial plaza, I have yet to experience it.

"When Cities Become Science, Where Does Art Fit In?" Adam Frank, NPR

The race has started. It's going to be run fast and hard and it won't be over for a while. It's a race whose winner doesn't matter as long as someone, somewhere makes it to the finish line.

The race I'm talking about is the push to create a new science of cities that is as quantitative and predictive as possible. It will be a science that tells us how cities grow and why they fail. It will allow us to see the factors that make some neighborhoods healthy while others leave their inhabitants stuck in poverty. It will tell us how energy and information flow through the city like blood through a complex organism. And, most importantly for a climate-changed world where 70 percent of the population will live in urban areas by 2050, it will show us how cities can become more efficient, sustainable and resilient.

One can argue that the current race began in the 1990s and early 2000s when researchers such as began adapting something called complexity theory to the study of cities. Complexity theory is a field which grew from the study of chaos, fractals and other new mathematical terrain three decades ago. More recently, the advent of big data and network theory have given researchers entirely new tools to take the study of cities forward. Now newly available, massive data sets are really getting the city science revolution moving as high-resolution records of everything from traffic to household health are opened up for exploration.

But, with all this push to quantize and characterize, there are dangers. Cities clearly are more than a new kind of physics problem. They are also creations of the human imagination and, as such, they live or die by the quality of the imagination we bring to them.

Mural by David Walker. Photo by Mark Deff. (Image courtesy WALL\THERAPY)

"How Your City's Public Transit Stacks Up," Reuben Fischer-Baum, FiveThirtyEight

After decades of planning, the Washington Metro’s Silver Line finally opened last week. The line aims to make inroads in a car-centric swath of Northern Virginia, but D.C. itself is already known for its robust public transit. How robust?

Very. To receive grants from the Federal Transit Association, transit systems of all types (heavy rail, light rail, buses, etc.) must provide monthly ridership data to the National Transit Database (NTD, data available to download here), which compiles it by census-designated urbanized areas. The measure used is “unlinked trips,” which counts transfers during the same journey as separate trips. This figure can be converted to “trips per resident” by dividing unlinked trips in 2013 by 2012 population estimates from the American Community Survey (ACS), yielding a figure that’s neatly comparable among cities of varying sizes.

The U.S. has 415 urbanized areas with populations over 65,000 large enough to get a one-year ACS estimate and 70 percent (290) of them reported data to the NTD in every month of 2013. The gaps are mostly small cities: The 54 largest urban areas were included in the data set, as were 93 percent of urban areas with over 200,000 residents (169 out of 182).

A time-lapsed ride along the Silver Line.

(Top image available via Creative Commons License.)

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