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Imagining the Housing of the Future: Best #Cityreads of the Week

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

Dawn Ellner/CC BY 2.0

The Future of Neighborhoods: 5 Projects That Show How We’ll Live,” Adele Peters and Jennifer V. Cole, Fast Co.Exist

When a new housing development called ReGen Village opens as early as next year on the outskirts of Amsterdam, residents won’t have to rely on external sources to provide most of their energy, waste management, or even food. The village is designed to operate as a closed-loop system, meaning it meets most of its needs from within. "We are redefining residential real estate development by creating regenerative neighborhoods," says project mastermind James Ehrlich, a California-based developer and senior technologist at Stanford. "It’s very much attuned to the cycles of nature."

Though self-sufficiency is not a new idea—communities survived for centuries before there even was a grid from which to disconnect—Ehrlich hopes ReGen will serve as a testing ground for a concept that could help reduce global dependence on unsustainable resources. The village’s 200 homes and apartments will house about 600 residents. ReGen has partnered with Danish architecture firm Effekt to design the futuristic houses, which Ehrlich sees as a modern take on traditional Scandinavian aesthetics, featuring clean lines, lots of glass, and tall, steep roofs.

Though the Amsterdam ReGen community is aimed at luxury buyers, the idea is to eventually expand the closed-loop concept to the developing world, where self-sufficiency could have an even more profound impact by providing reliable sources of food and water. Ehrlich plans to use the proceeds from the first village to build similar towns for low-income residents in sub-Saharan Africa and rural India.

A Story of Racial Cleansing in America,” Patrick Phillips, Longreads

Though it would take weeks before reports reached Atlanta, in the days after the attack on Crow a nighttime ritual began to unfold, as each evening at dusk groups of white men gathered at the crossroads of the county. They came with satchels of brass bullets, shotgun shells, and stoppered glass bottles of kerosene, and sticks of “Red Cross” dynamite poked out through the tops of their saddlebags. When darkness fell, the night riders set out with one goal: to stoke the terror created by the lynching of Edwards and use it to drive black people out of Forsyth County for good.

In 1907, W. E. B. Du Bois had put into words what every “colored” person in Georgia knew from experience, which was that “the police system of the South was primarily designed to control slaves. . . . And tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of that police.” In the first decade of the twentieth century, the days when all white men had been legally empowered to pursue and arrest fugitive slaves were only fifty years in the past, and the fathers and grandfathers of many locals would have been part of such posses in the days of slavery.

So it must have seemed natural to many whites when, each night around sundown, a knock came at the door and the adult men of the family were summoned to join a group heading out toward the clusters of black cabins scattered around Forsyth—along the Chattahoochee out in Oscarville, in the shadow of Sawnee Mountain north of Cumming, and south, toward Shakerag and Big Creek. It would take months—and, in a handful of cases, years—before the in-town blacks of Cumming were finally forced out, since many lived under the protection of rich white men, in whose kitchens and dining rooms they served. Instead, it was to the homes of cotton pickers, sharecroppers, and small landowners that the night riders went first, and it was these most vulnerable families who fled in the first waves of the exodus.

Detail from a map of Cherokee territory over time. The green line designates their territory at the point of their forced removal. Red towns were Cherokee towns. (Courtesy of University of Texas Libraries)

Detroit’s American Dream,” Michael Snyder and Alie Saloum, Eater

The line that divides Detroit and Dearborn, coterminous cities in the sprawling grid of roads that traverse southeast Michigan, is invisible — but it's almost impossible to miss. On one side, there’s a city that lost a quarter of its residents between 2000 and 2010, is home to tens of thousands of vacant buildings, and is at its smallest population since 1850. On the other, there’s a suburb where the number of businesses on its main commercial corridor has doubled in the last decade, the median income is nearly twice Detroit’s, and housing demand has seen bidding wars for single-family homes end over a hundred thousand dollars above asking prices.

One of the first things you see when you follow Warren Avenue out of Detroit and into Dearborn is a boxy concrete building just across the road from an ominous water treatment facility. Home of the Ford Motor Company, Dearborn has been a factory town for nearly a century, but this houses a different kind of factory: Inside, cardboard boxes spill mounds of pulverized cashews onto stainless steel workstations, each outfitted with a metal tub of clarified butter, bubbling and fragrant, while heavy machinery churns out threaded dough to be entwined around whole nuts, deep fried, and sliced. The final products fill tray after tray destined for Shatila Bakery; the trays are cut, wrapped, and sealed as 90 or so workers, the majority of them women wearing hairnets over hijabs, move around the factory through air that smells like sugar and baking pastry.

Riad Shatila opened his first bakery in 1979 on a very different Warren Avenue in a very different Dearborn. That shop occupied just a thousand square feet, with a glass case up front and a modest bakery operation in the back. At the time, there were virtually no other stores around — the town's Italian and Polish population had largely flocked to homes near shopping malls in the fancier suburbs farther west — and certainly there were none selling Lebanese sweets. Haider Koussan, who in 1993 started Dearborn's Greenland Market grocery chain with his brothers in a small storefront on Warren Avenue, described the area even in the eighties as "a ghost town, all rundown buildings." The city-block-sized space that’s now Super Greenland, the largest of Koussan’s five stores, was an abandoned, asbestos-filled movie theater called Camelot. "It was scary," Koussan remembered. "There was nothing there."

Al-Ameer Restaurant in Dearborn, Michigan. (Edsel Little/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Fine Dining: Encountering New Orleans’s Racial Undertones One Meal at a Time,” Maurice Carlos Ruffin, VQR

It’s a cool fall night, and I am at my alma mater’s law-review banquet. Our setting, the Audubon Tea Room, is every bit as posh as it sounds. Tropical centerpieces erupt from tables like floral fountains. Silk curtains tease hardwood floors. The swooping, vaulted ceiling, with its internal buttresses, reminds me somewhat of the beastly ribs that prop up the east wing of Notre Dame Cathedral. After a few speeches, our entrées arrive: succulent beef tournedos for some, trout for others, fresh root vegetables, and a dollop of buttery mashed potatoes. And as has become commonplace for me at celebratory events such as these, I feel a subtle, but substantial, lump in my stomach: indigestion brought on by my old companions, anger and shame.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m aware that I’m sitting on my own shoulder again. That I should just slip myself into the moment like the others seated at my table. Call it navel-gazing. Call it whining. Call it what you will. But that’s the problem of double consciousness.

The annual event honors my former-school’s best. If you made it onto law review, then you’ve been granted admission into the upper reaches of the legal community. In this grand room, there are perhaps 280 of us, representatives from as far back as the Class of ’57 to the baby-faced graduates of ’10, ’11, and ’12. But that’s not what causes the flare-up.

Jackson Square Alley, New Orleans (Lauren Mitchell/CC BY 2.0)

Japan Forces a Harsh Choice on Children of Migrant Families,” Minami Funakoshi, Ami Miyazaki, and Thomas Wilson, Reuters

Gursewak Singh composed his first letter to Japan’s justice minister when he was 10 years old. Almost seven years later, he is still writing. In all, he has written more than 50 letters.

He has yet to get a reply.

The letters, all written in Japanese, have become more eloquent as Gursewak has grown up. But the message is unchanged – a plea to the Japanese authorities to recognize him and his family as residents in a country where he and his younger twin siblings were born and his parents, natives of India, have lived since the 1990s.

Gursewak Singh at his home in Matsudo, Japan. He has written to the justice minister and immigration officials more than 50 times seeking visas that would allow his family to live and work legally in the country. He has yet to receive a reply. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

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