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.
"Stockton Is Broke, But Is It Bankrupt?" Scott Detrow, KQED
Stockton, California, lays claim to a lot of undesirable superlatives: it’s America’s foreclosure capital, an annual contender on the Forbes “Most Miserable” list, and the United States’ largest bankrupt city.
But the city might lose that last claim, depending on the outcome of a federal court hearing scheduled to begin Monday. Stockton would still be broke if a judge rules against it. It just wouldn’t be officially bankrupt. A group of bond insurers is arguing Stockton didn’t do everything it could to balance its books before declaring for Chapter 9 protection last June. Therefore, they say, it violated state bankruptcy laws. The insurers want the city to raise taxes and cut pension payments, among other steps.
How the federal judge rules – and how the city pays off the hundreds of millions of dollars it owes – will provide clues for how other financially stressed municipalities across California and the country will deal with pensions and employee benefit programs they can no longer afford.
"Is It Too Late to Fix DC's Suburbs? The trouble with urbanizing Beltway sprawl," Alec MacGillis, The New Republic
It’s been a rough week for the much-touted urbanization of the Washington DC suburbs. As much as any place in the country, they have emerged as a major test of whether municipalities can redeem the planning and development sins of the second half of the 20th century. "Remaking America's sprawling suburbs, with their enormous footprints, shoddy construction, hastily built infrastructure and dying malls, is shaping up to be the biggest urban revitalization challenge of modern times,” declared urbanist guru Richard Florida in 2010.
But then came word on Monday that the extension of the Washington Metro to Tysons Corner, Virginia—the first leg of an extension all the way to Dulles Airport—has not yet transformed the car-dependent, soul-numbing edge city into a walkable, vibrant downtown, as its planners were hoping.
"Welcome to Scottsdale. Now, Watch the Doors," Matt Flegenheimer, New York Times
For several weeks, riders in Manhattan have witnessed the fruits of the Arizona city’s daring gamble: that a $225,000 investment in an advertising campaign will lure perhaps the nation’s most skeptical audience — the grouches and hucksters of the New York City subway — to the American Southwest.
"New Yorkers are just so busy," said Caroline Stoeckel, the vice president of marketing for the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We’re embedding that seed of ‘Hey, maybe I’ve never considered Scottsdale before.'"
"Mean Streets: Evan West on His Own Indy Neighborhood," Evan West, Indianapolis Magazine
I was walking the cracked and crumbling sidewalk along the street where I grew up, on the near-east side of Indianapolis, with my dog, a basset hound named Roscoe, when we heard two muffled claps. Someone in the neighborhood occasionally sets off makeshift, window-rattling bombs for fun, at odd intervals throughout the day. So we’re used to bangs. But this clap-clap was different, as if a pair of heavy wooden doors had fallen flat on a bare floor. The dog stopped, perked his ears a little, and then walked on. It was just after lunchtime on a cold Wednesday in December 2009. I had moved back into my old neighborhood a little more than a month before and had already settled into a fairly regular routine. Self-employed and working from home, I often walked Roscoe after lunch through Spades Park, a serene patchwork of grass and trees that flanks Pogue’s Run creek west of Rural Street. Or, as on that day, we would go up the street to my old house, the one my dad and mom bought nearly 40 years ago, and Roscoe would sniff around the backyard, where the sandbox and swing set used to be.
When we arrived at Dad’s, he was in his garage, rummaging around in boxes and coffee cans. My neighbor from across the way, a longtime friend named Maciej Zurawski, was there, too. A few days earlier, Maciej’s home, a quaint Arts and Crafts bungalow atop a steep hill, on an enviable double lot obscured by soaring pines, had been burglarized. He was going to install a new steel security door and came to my dad for drill bits and screws. We chatted as my dad dug through hardware. This, I thought, this is why I moved back to a neighborhood otherwise plagued by blight and crime. I had family on this street, and friends, the kind of neighbors a guy can pop in on, hit up for hardware, and, from time to time, crack a few beers with.
"Big-Project Binge Fueled Motor City’s Meltdown," Edward Glaeser, Bloomberg
When I hear free-spending national leaders call for more infrastructure investment, I think of Detroit’s absurd People Mover monorail gliding above empty streets. That’s unfair, I know. Yet the city’s epic tragedy, which entered a new stage last week when Mayor Dave Bing lost financial control, provides broader perspective on the potential consequences of mixing economic distress with bad policy making.Here are five somewhat contradictory lessons from the Motor City’s sad history that relate to the larger national debate about America’s future.
"Why Spec House Snobbery Has to Go," Mary Fialko, CrossCut
A couple weeks ago, in a Carbon Efficient Cities UW graduate class I'm taking, one of the other students referred to modern high-density Seattle housing developments as 'monstrosities.' As someone who spent a year and a half designing, project managing, permitting, and planning for these homes at Alloy Design Group as an intern, and then as a junior designer, I have a slightly different view.True, many of our clients were developers. True, the houses did not conform to the existing rules of one arts and crafts home per 4000- 7000 SF lot. True, the homes are taller than many of their counterparts, and true, they often exploit the changing zoning codes for density to add homes where many thought the existing density would last forever.