The Bahá'í House of Worship in Delhi, India Wikimedia Commons

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

Tweet us your favorites with #CityReads.

"Houses of the Holy," David Shariatmadari, Aeon Magazine

Think of a building that is special to you. What does it evoke? Try to pinpoint the feeling. Is it contentment, joy, or awe? Does it relate to a particular point in time? When I perform the experiment, I think of two 13th-century turrets, part of the cathedral close wall that enclosed the grounds of my first school. They are built of honey-coloured limestone and partly veiled in ivy, their battlements pierced by arrow slits. The entrance to the western tower is barred by an ancient-looking wooden door. The eastern one gapes open into a sooty blackness, a staircase dimly visible inside. My friends and I would dare each other to set foot over the threshold, but we knew it was out of bounds, and what is more, terrifying – home to the ghosts of knights and maidens. Thinking about these towers now reminds me of being a child, playing happily outside and learning about the culture in which I grew up.

These memories are potent and extremely complex and, whenever evoked, they stir increased activity in the limbic system at the centre of my brain. Here, an almond-shaped structure called the amygdala stores autobiographical memories that are particularly important to our sense of self, infusing them with emotions such as joy, fear and sadness. It buzzes into life with every rite of passage, awakening the hypothalamus, which, in turn, charges up the autonomic nervous system, resulting in increased heart rate, sweating, and dilation of the pupils. If, as in this case, the memories are pleasurable, they will be accompanied by the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to reward. As a result I might return to these memories, or be motivated to return to the place where they were created, again and again.

"Inside San Francisco's Housing Crisis," Tracey Lien, Vox

On a typical day, St. Anthony's, a soup kitchen in San Francisco, serves up to 2,400 meals. Though the city is in the midst of an economic boom, the line for the dining room is often so long that guests have to wait in a nearby auditorium.

The people coming through St. Anthony's are increasingly diverse. When the soup kitchen first started serving free meals in the 1950s, most of the clientele consisted of middle-aged white men, many of whom were recovering from experiences sustained during the Great Depression and World War II. Today, people young and old of all ethnicities stand in the dining room line. Some carry iPods and smartphones, others come in suits. There are moments throughout the day where the dining room resembles a shopping mall food court — the only giveaway is that everyone has the same tray of food.

"We had a friar who said the dining room line is a social barometer," says Karl Robillard, St. Anthony's senior manager of communications. "You will know what part of the social and economic safety net is missing by standing outside that line."

A homeless man begs for money in the Financial District in San Francisco.  (REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

London’s first red light district was on the south side of the River Thames, in the marshy, damp soils of the borough known as Southwark. There, in lands outside official London city limits, taverns, theaters, brothels and bear-baiting “amuseuments” flourished as popular forms of entertainment during the Medieval era. Today, the South Bank is known for gleaming office towers, and well-appointed cocktails bars and gastropubs, as tourists flock to the Tate Modern museum in a repurposed power station, take in Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre and admire the South Bank’s redevelopment. But the seamier side of Southwark history is recognized there too, in a small lot at the corner of Redcross Way.

Though rusted, the iron gates surrounding Cross Bones graveyard are festooned with ribbons, feathers, beads and other tokens commemorating those buried there. A plaque honoring “The Outcast Dead” was added in 2006, a more permanent version of a plaque said to have originally been placed on the gates by a group of Londoners in 1998. And every year since then, right around Halloween, these Southwark pilgrims re-enact a ritual drama to remember those whose final resting place is in Cross Bones, particularly the many prostitutes who are said to have been buried there during the Middle Ages.

The decorated gates of the Cross Bones Graveyard in London. (Wikimedia Commons)

"In the Big Easy, Food Vendors Create a Little Honduras," Laine Kaplan-Levenson, NPR

Thanks to a quirk of history — and a love of bananas — New Orleans has had a Honduran population for more than a century. But that population exploded after Hurricane Katrina, when the jobs needed to rebuild the city drew waves of Honduran immigrants. Many of them stayed, and nearly a decade later, they've established a thriving — if somewhat underground — culinary community.

Signs of that community abound, if you know where to look.

You can see it in the lunch lines that form weekdays outside Taqueria La Delicia, a food truck, or lonchera, run by a Honduran immigrant. The lonchera sets up shop near a Lowe's Home Improvement store where day laborers congregate most days, looking for work. On weekends, you'll find vendors cooking up pollo con tajadas, a traditional Honduran dish, alongside a city soccer field while an all-Latino league plays.

"A Tiny House Divided," Andrew Lapin, Washington City Paper

D.C.’s tiny houses are the architectural equivalent of that perfect couple you used to envy on Facebook: ultraphotogenic, cultured (they hosted a series of one-act plays last month), and so much quirkier and more interesting than anything going on in your bloated apartment. But now the status has flipped: The tiny houses are divorcing.

After two years of living on their Stronghold lot and inspiring a national housing conversation with their 140-to-200-square-foot homes, the three members of the Boneyard Studios tiny house showcase are breaking up. It’s not amicable. The novel, communal lifestyle presented in Pinky Swear Productions’ Tiny House Plays is absent as the end unfolds—a forced eviction gone public following months of internal squabbling.

On Aug. 19, two of the three trailer owners, Jay Austin and Lee Pera, announced on the community’s website that they would be leaving the lot and taking the Boneyard name with them. (For the purpose of the District’s zoning laws, the houses are technically trailers—they each have wheels, and cannot serve as permanent residences.) The third member, lot owner Brian Levy, would not be joining them in their to-be-determined new location in D.C.

Austin set the scene on his personal blog. “I left behind my tiny house community in May and came back in August to find it in ruins, the short-sighted work of a friend-turned-landlord, landlord-turned-slumlord,” he wrote in a Sept. 25 post. “I’ll soon find myself part of a tiny house community-in-exile, and I’ve spent a lot of time grappling with that: the uncertainty, the loss, the betrayal.”

Boneyard Studios open house time-lapse from Jay Austin on YouTube.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A man and a woman shop at a modern kiosk by a beach in a vintage photo.
    Design

    Why Everyday Architecture Deserves Respect

    The places where we enact our daily lives are not grand design statements, yet they have an underrated charm and even nobility.

  2. a photo of a small fleet of electric Chevrolet Bolts cars.
    Transportation

    Should Electric Vehicle Drivers Pay Per Mile?

    Since EV drivers zip past gas taxes, they don’t contribute to the federal fund for road maintenance. A new working paper tries to determine whether plug-ins should pay up.

  3. a photo of Los Angeles in 1962
    Transportation

    Mapping the Effects of the Great 1960s ‘Freeway Revolts’

    Urbanites who battled the construction of the Interstate Highway System in the 1960s saved some neighborhoods—but many highways did transform cities.

  4. A chef prepares food at a restaurant in Beijing, China.
    Life

    What Restaurant Reviews Reveal About Cities

    Where official census data is sparse, MIT researchers find that restaurant review websites can offer similar demographic and economic information.

  5. A crowded street outside in Boston
    Life

    Surveillance Cameras Debunk the Bystander Effect

    A new study uses camera footage to track the frequency of bystander intervention in heated incidents in Amsterdam; Cape Town; and Lancaster, England.                            

×