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The Trouble With 'Single-Family Homes': Best #Cityreads of the Week

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

Mike Blake/Reuters

Single-Family Homes, but No Single Family,” Mia Birdsong, Pacific Standard

I was driving through the town of Alameda the other day and passed a giant advertisement for “single-family homes.” I contemplated how the ad so clearly tied together the dream of homeownership with the American ideal of family. And then I thought about all the beautiful families I know who do not fit that ideal. Like my friend who, with his wife, just bought a home where they are raising their child and where his elderly father will spend the end of his life. And my daughter’s friend and her little brother who live with their parents during the school week but with their two great aunts and cousin on weekends and summers. And two single mothers I know who moved in together to raise their kids and share expenses. These families and so many others would not fit in a “single-family home.”

Home design is among the many subtle and not so subtle indicators of cultural norms that tell us what the ideal family should look like. But more families — through choice and circumstance — are creating families in ways that don’t match up with the nuclear family ideal. In post-World War II America, marriage rates have decreased and more children are born to unmarried parents. Today there is no one family form in which the majority of kids grow up.

So You Think Your Place Is Small?” Kim Velsey, The New York Times

The first thing that people want to know about Jack Leahy’s home, a 40-square-foot cubbyhole tucked into the ceiling of a performance space a few blocks from the waterfront in Williamsburg,Brooklyn, is whether it’s legal. The second question is how much he pays.

He doesn’t know the answer to the first. As for his rent? Tell a New Yorker you pay $450 a month, and he or she becomes very, very jealous.

“But they don’t have any idea,” Mr. Leahy said. “It’s like ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ — how much did that guy pay?”

A Chinese flag flutters in front of an apartment tower in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

The Twilight of Shenzhen’s Great Urban Village,” Eli MacKinnon, Foreign Policy

Early this spring, the Chinese character for “demolish” showed up in red spray paint on a strip of shops in Shenzhen’s Baishizhou neighborhood. Wang An, 41, has been selling women’s underwear from one of these shops for the last 10 years. “When they knock it down, I guess we’ll just go home to Hubei [province] and grow vegetables,” he joked in April. The spray paint marked Wang’s shop as one of the buildings scheduled to be torn down in the first phase of Baishizhou’s renewal. He responded to the news with a buy-one-get-free sale that continued through the summer.

On Aug. 31, he received notice that his power would be cut in a week. The next day, the demolition of a swathe of buildings behind his shop began. With his shop closing in a few days, he still wasn’t sure what he and his wife would do next. Brick-and-mortar underwear stores can’t compete with e-commerce, he said, so, after taking some time to look for new opportunities, they’ll decide whether to leave Shenzhen.

The planned destruction of Baishizhou will impact its roughly 150,000 residents, many of them recent migrants looking for a new life in one of China’s most prosperous cities. But it also stands to erase a neighborhood whose dynamism rivals that of any in the world. Baishizhou is a labyrinthine dream on 0.23 square miles of mixed-use residential space, with a population density more than 20 times the city average.

The Secret Lives of New York City Rats,” Michael H. Parsons, Time

In an era when we can decode language among animals and design coatings that make military weapons virtually invisible, it may seem that there are few things science cannot accomplish. At the same time, we are surprisingly ignorant about some things that are much more ordinary. For me, perhaps the most intriguing example is city rats, which in many ways are the most important species of urban wildlife in our increasingly urbanized world.

Because rats are small, vigilant and live mainly underground, even behavioral ecologists like me know remarkably little about how they move through cities and interact with their environments. That’s a problem because rats foul our foods, spread disease and damage infrastructure. As more people around the world move to densely packed cities, they become increasingly vulnerable to rat behaviors and diseases. That makes it critically important to understand more about rats and the pathogens they carry.

Aerial view of Kaaba at the Grand mosque in Mecca. (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)

After the hajj: Mecca residents grow hostile to changes in the holy city,”Raya Jalabi, The Guardian

Millions of hajj pilgrims are preparing to head home, after five days performing ancient rites, revering a God omnipresent in the city of Mecca.

They have stoned figurative devils, they have slept in the world’s largest tent city, they have drunk water from the Zamzam well together: a heaving throng of nearly two million people from all over the world.

Circling the Kaaba, the black cubic epicentre of this sanctuary city, pilgrims would have looked up to see one of the minarets of the Grand Mosque, dwarfed by Abraj al-Bait clocktower, a much-maligned luxury hotel and commercial complex and the second-tallest building in the world.

Next year, they will see the Abraj Kudai, the largest hotel on Earth.

About the Author

  • Adam Sneed
    Adam Sneed is a senior associate editor at CityLab, focused on technology and audience engagement.