Our weekly roundup of the most intriguing articles about cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days. Share your favorites on Twitter with #cityreads.
"The Real Problem with Gentrification," Inga Saffron, The New Republic
A funny thing happened in the half century since Jane Jacobs published her classic treatise excoriating the planning establishment for clear-cutting American cities and replacing eclectic neighborhoods with sterile housing towers: Her vision of urban change won the day. From Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill to Philadelphia’s Society Hill, the neighborhoods that have revived according to Jacobs’ principles became not merely livable, but immensely desirable.
The trouble is, that vision is also giving us a new kind of sterility.
"The Old Man at Burning Man," Wells Tower, GQ
The land, the very atmosphere out there, is alien, malignant, the executioner of countless wagon trains. I am afraid to crack the window. Huge dervishes of alkaline dust reel and teeter past. The sun, a brittle parchment white, glowers as though we personally have done something to piss it off. An hour out here and already I could light an Ohio Blue Tip off the inside of my nostril. One would think we were pulling into this planet's nearest simulation of hell, but if this were hell, we would not be driving this very comfortable recreational vehicle. Nor would there be a trio of young and merry nudists capering at our front bumper, demanding that we step out of the vehicle and join them. These people are checkpoint officials, and it is their duty to press their nakedness to us in the traditional gesture of welcome to the Burning Man festival, here in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.
My father and I are staid, abstracted East Coast types without much natural affinity for bohemian adventures. But we are here less for the festival itself than in service of an annual father-son ritual. Fourteen years ago, my father was diagnosed with an exotic lymphoma and given an outside prognosis of two years. When we both supposed he was dying, we made an adorable pledge—if he survived—to take a trip together every year. Thanks to medical science, we've now followed the tradition for a solid decade, journeying each summer to some arbitrarily selected far-flung destination: Greenland, Ecuador, Cyprus, etc. This year, we've retooled the concept and departed instead on a bit of domestic ethnography. We have joined the annual pilgrimage of many thousands who each year flee the square world for the Nevada desert to join what's supposed to be humanity's greatest countercultural folk festival/self-expression derby. Or it used to be, before people like my father and me started showing up.
"Barrio Logan Braces for a Slow Seismic Change," Andrew Keatts. Voice of San Diego
Barrio Logan residents and businesses have been trying for years to untangle their community plan and its mash-up of land uses.
But for all the attention given to separating residents from the potentially harmful effects of industrial businesses — an effort that's been boiled down to two proposed maps — any agreement would simply dictate the areas future development. It would not immediately usher industrial businesses to a new separate area, nor would it relocate families. Any separation would be gradual, as businesses close and reopen and new housing projects are built.
"After Sandy, Not All Sand Dunes Are Created Equal," Adam Cole, National Public Radio
Not all dunes are created equal. There are man-made dunes, and there are natural dunes. Norbert Psuty, a retired professor from Rutgers University, knows the difference better than most. He's studied dunes along the coast of New York.
"I've been working at Fire Island since 1976 and I've been through a number of storms," Psuty says. "This time I was flabbergasted. Dunes 100 feet wide, 30 feet high...were gone."
But Psuty says replacing these dunes with man-made ones is tricky. Piles of sand — even those anchored by Christmas trees — will erode much faster than natural dunes.
"What happens when the town hall goes digital?" Lydia Depillis, The New Republic
Let no one fault local governments for hiding from the networked era. Nearly every official and government agency in a major metro area uses Facebook and Twitter, and some cities have hosted app development contests to get their citizens coming up with ways to use public data for good. Local electeds can even establish their popular bona fides simply through the assiduous use of social media. Just look at Cory Booker, who gained notoriety for personally digging people out of snowdrifts when they asked for help on Twitter. If all politics are local, social media has given politicians a powerful tool: a means of constant contact with nearby residents. And all this is not just for the good of the politician: citizens, in theory, should benefit from this central, open, and accessible operation.
That ideal, however is not quite how things currently work. A whole lot of the apps and Twitter handles and Facebook campaigns are for show: Look at us! We're hip and with it! Actually improving governance using technology is a trickier problem.
"Mobile Food Hits the Corporate World," Beth Marlowe, ElevationDC
If it's Thursday and it's lunchtime, Expressway Pit Beef has set up an outpost inside of Vocus headquarters in Beltsville, Md. And owner Jason Farrell has laid out a spread: barbecue beef, barbecue pork, potato salad and all the fixings.
And Vocus employees, 700 of whom work in the corporate headquarters, are lining up in the "town square," a covered area in the center of the 125,000-square-foot office complex.
"Trust me," says Farrell. "They know I'm coming, and they're glad to see me."