A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.
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"Los Angeles Renaissance: Why the Rise of Street Vending Reveals a City Transformed," Henry Grabar, Salon
From city to city, battle lines over street vending iterate with predictable certainty. “On one side are the vendors, their loyal customers, and those who are interested in the welfare of recent immigrants or the marginally employed,” writes Regina Austin, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “On the other side are city authorities concerned about congestion, sanitation, aesthetics, and property values; fixed-location merchants, who must compete with vendors whose only overhead condition is the weather; producers and distributors, who want to know how their goods wind up on vendors’ tables; and middle-class residents who prefer streets marked by order and decorum, rather than by the chaos and confusion of Old World bazaars.”
In Los Angeles, many property owners and brick-and-mortar businesses remain opposed to legalization. They’re skeptical the city is capable of regulating existing vendors, let alone handling whoever else is emboldened by the withdrawal of police pressure. This conflict is most evident around resurgent Downtown L.A., where street vendors have long thrived but storefront urbanism has recently returned.
"Grand Designs: Can a Stalinist Propaganda Park Become an Appealing Public Space?" Anya Filippova, The Calvert Journal
Built on a grand, monumental scale — like everything Soviet — VDNKh was a city within a city with its own local infrastructure. The exhibition grounds became home to some of the most important works of monumental art in the USSR: the famous Worker and Kolkhoz Woman by Vera Mukhina and Boris Iofan, the pavilion of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Friendship of the People’s Fountain, whose 16 maidens immortalised the 16 republics of the USSR. Today, the 29 surviving pavilions of VDNKh are classified as historical monuments.
In 1992 VDNKh was renamed VVC (The All-Russian Exhibition Centre) before gradually falling into decline and becoming one of the shabbiest spaces in post-Soviet Moscow. The wind would howl across its ghostly squares and every so often the semi-derelict pavilions would host some random event like a honey fair or fur exhibition, more likely to scare off Muscovites than to draw them in. The exhibition space remained in this condition until 2011, when the federal authorities passed responsibility for it over to the Moscow administration. Once management changed hands, the exhibition’s old name was restored by public consensus, with 90% of Muscovites voting in favour of VDNKh.
With the old name began a new chapter — one in which approximately 3 billion roubles ($46 million) were invested. In the blink of an eye, the scattered kiosks vanished from the grounds of VDNKh and work began on sprucing it up, with food cafes designed by the Kleinewelt Architekten bureau and white cubes bearing the Cyrillic letter Б (B) indicating book exchange points.
"Death in the City: What Happens When All Our Cemeteries Are Full?" Ana Naomi de Sousa, The Guardian
Lack of space and soaring costs are familiar problems for anyone who lives in a city. From London to New York to Hong Kong, many are crammed into micro-apartments that cost hundreds of pounds or dollars a month to rent, unsure when they will be able to afford a more permanent abode.
And it may be a similar story when they die, too.
Some 55 million people are reckoned to pass away each year (about 0.8% of the planet’s total population – equivalent to 100% of England’s). Yet urban planners and developers focus overwhelmingly on accommodating and making money from the living. Cemeteries and columbaria (burial vaults) dating back hundreds of years retain an iconic place in our towns and cities – but, partly as a result of their limited profitability, most have not been allowed to grow. Which means metropolises the world over are running out of room to house their dead.
"Shaping Water: The Design History of New York City’s Public Drinking Fountains," Makalé Cullen, Re:form
Drinking fountains are a chore, a must, a functional necessity and a fundamental distraction to landscape architects’ more poetic callings. In my interviews, I found their creative and intellectual disinterest in (and there’s no sexy way to say it) public utilities infrastructure surprising since it has been the developments in design, architecture, hydrology and engineering related to public drinking fountains and private taps — the very domestication of water — that has directed human settlement patterns globally.
What’s more, for centuries, drinking fountain design has been a coveted job. Fountain construction was well-patronized and the presence of fountains in the landscape frequently bombastic, symbolizing civic and religious power as well as a nation’s technical acumen and wealth. With just around three percent of our planet’s water being potable and our species unable to survive without it, the way we shape water’s release matters.
"A Promise Yet to Be Delivered in West Philadelphia," Kate Kilpatrick, Al Jazeera America
Change in Mantua is now undeniable. Modern student housing developments are going up alongside the area’s traditional modest row homes. According to a Philadelphia Inquirer analysis, violent crime in Mantua dropped 15 percent from 2013 to 2014, which was nearly twice the citywide decline. And as one resident explained, white college kids play basketball at the neighborhood park in the evening — something he said was unheard of just a few years ago.
But what’s unclear is whether any of these changes are direct results of the Promise Zone program. For example, the hot spot corner that Drummond pointed out is being tackled with the help of a 2012 grant from the Department of Justice as part of the Obama administration’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative. It was one of the programs already in place that boosted the neighborhood’s eligibility for Promise Zone status.
More important, as Drexel University continues expanding north into Mantua, some wonder which changes will help the longtime residents of this blighted, long-overlooked neighborhood. Neighbors worry they’re seeing not investment that will help keep them in their homes and preserve their community but gentrification that they feel is intended to push them out.