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.
"How the Rob Ford Crack Scandal Could Save Toronto," Mitchell Anderson, Toronto Star
Rob Ford may be the best thing to happen to Toronto in a long time. Alleged crack-smoking and ass-grabbing aside, the political meltdown of the embattled mayor of Canada's largest city may inadvertently help undo one of the most disastrous public policy decisions in Canadian history: the amalgamation of Toronto by former premier Mike Harris. In 1998, the Harris government forced a shotgun wedding on Toronto and five surrounding suburbs, in spite of local referendum results opposing the move more than three to one . Not a single municipality affected was in favour of the merger, and all but one joined a legal challenge opposing it. The amalgamation bill was rammed through the Ontario legislature in one of the most bitterly contested battles in provincial history with opposition parties tabling 13,000 amendments over a two-week period in an ultimately futile filibuster.
"The Coming Death of Venice?" Anna Somers Cocks, New York Review of Books
Over the last thirty years Venice has become the object of so much politicized wrangling, in which the truth has been the first victim, that an arithmetical fact can be treated as a matter of opinion and most people will just shrug their shoulders. This attitude lies behind much of what is described in this article and is putting the city at risk.
"How Chicago's Housing Crisis Ignited a New Form of Activism," Ben Austen, New York Times Magazine
As hard as the foreclosure crisis hit Chicago, its force has been felt with an unevenness that can seem fiendishly unjust. The U.S. Postal Service, which tracks these numbers, reported that 62,000 properties in Chicago were vacant at the end of last year, with two-thirds of them clustered as if to form a sinkhole in just a few black neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. Currently about 40 percent of all homeowners in these communities owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, and countywide 80,000 foreclosures are wending their way through circuit court. Last spring, a nine-month study conducted by the National Fair Housing Alliance revealed what everyone in these neighborhoods already knew: After forcing out families in foreclosure, banks failed to properly market, maintain and secure the vacated homes. Thieves subsequently entered many of the properties and stripped them of copper and anything else that could be trafficked. J. R. couldn’t reconcile the idea that homes were being allowed to turn into wrecks with the fact that the city had a shortage of 120,000 units of affordable housing and some 100,000 people sleeping in shelters or on the street each year. Chicago didn’t have just a housing crisis, he offered, it had a moral crisis.
"Antonio Villaraigosa's Quest for Wall Street, Washington and Wealth," Patrick Range McDonald, LA Weekly
When Villaraigosa's mayoral run ends June 30 due to term limits, he could use not just a job but one that affords him the multimillionaire lifestyle to which he's become accustomed as a flamboyant public servant. His concerned allies have even determined how much Villaraigosa should earn: About $750,000 a year to replicate the life of luxury hotels, nomadic air travel, taxpayer-supplied Getty House mayoral mansion, thousand-dollar seats at sporting and entertainment events, SUV with Los Angeles Police Department security detail attached and innumerable evenings over fine food and wine paid for by wealthy friends and supporters.
"He doesn't have a car to drive," says influential City Hall lobbyist Harvey Englander, "he doesn't have a place to live — and he needs a lot of money."
"The Best Cities Are Ones Where You Can Make Friends," Greg Lindsay, Fast Company
In 1964, the sociologist Melvin Webber suggested the city of the future would more closely resemble Amazon’s random-access warehouses than the canyons of Manhattan. Thanks to the car and its “door-to-door, no-wait, no-transfer, private, and flexible-route service,” Webber wrote, dense urban cores would give way to what he called “community without propinquity”--settlements spread unevenly across the landscape loosely bound together by social networks and freeways rather than sheer physical proximity. The result, he believed, would be unprecedented choice in how and where to live and who and how often to meet face-to-face--effectively anyone, anytime, anyplace.
"Philadelphia is Ori Feibush’s World, We Just Live In It," Simon Van Zuylen-Wood, Philadelphia Magazine
In the span of just a few years, 29-year-old Ori Chaim Feibush has become the most influential developer in South Philadelphia’s blighted Point Breeze neighborhood, injecting it with a dose of sorely needed investment. Since 2008 he has helped develop close to 200 relatively pricey new rowhomes, attracting scores of white, educated 20- and 30-somethings to a section of town, just south of Graduate Hospital, that otherwise might never have been on their radar. But while Ori’s efforts have won him praise citywide, they’ve made him persona non grata in his own backyard—particularly among Point Breeze’s mostly black longtime residents, some of whom worry about being priced out of their homes. Put another way, Ori is a near-perfect embodiment of a new generation of brash young urban “pioneers” whose proliferation into Philadelphia’s poor and working-class neighborhoods has created a bitter tension between the promise of revitalization and the fear of displacement.
But this isn’t just the story of an iconoclastic entrepreneur thumbing his nose at the establishment, and playing Pied Piper to a generation of gentrifiers. Because Ori Feibush wants entry into another world, too. And in that world—the world of city politics—insulting public officials and breaking laws (usually) isn’t tolerated, and pissing off all your neighbors is an actual liability, because you need them to, you know, vote for you.