Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.
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“Where the Sidewalk Ends,” Will Sommer, Washington City Paper
The chitlins were making Alex Dennis sick. Dennis, a 20-year-old with dreadlocks that graze his shoulders, found himself getting nauseous in his apartment while his uncle and aunt cooked soul food for Thanksgiving.
Dennis walked outside to get some air, but ended up right in the grasp of the Metropolitan Police Department.
Stepping outside an apartment for fresh air doesn’t draw police attention in, say, Georgetown. But Dennis doesn’t live there. Instead, he lives on Buena Vista Terrace SE, a grim stretch of low-rise apartments pushed up against the Maryland border. And on Buena Vista Terrace, just standing outside can get you in trouble.
“When Chicago Cops Shoot,” Steve Bogira, Chicago Reader
On January 7, 2013, shortly before 2 PM, Chicago police officers Kevin Fry and Lou Toth were driving westbound on 75th Street, in a poor, African-American section of the South Shore neighborhood. They were in plainclothes in an unmarked Crown Victoria. As they approached Essex Avenue, a silver Dodge Charger, northbound on Essex, cruised through a stop sign and turned left on 75th, not far in front of the officers. The driver was alone in the car.
Fry and Toth noticed the Charger rolling through the stop sign, and also that the car had Wisconsin plates. Toth, who was driving, followed it for several blocks, while Fry ran its plates on a computer. The Charger came up clear: there were no records indicating it had been stolen or was connected to any crimes. Fry and Toth were tactical officers, whose job was combating serious crime, often gang related; they weren't generally expected to write tickets. When the Charger came up clear, Toth took a left at the next street.
Almost immediately, a call came over the officers' radio of a battery in progress at 76th and Essex. Moments later, the call was updated to a robbery in progress. Then it was updated again, to a carjacking—involving a silver Charger.
“Voices of the Walmart,” Matt Ray Robison, The Morning News
Every Walmart in America answers the phone with the same woman’s voice. It is a slow and emphatic and tired-sounding voice: the voice of a mother being firm to her child. She does not say hello. What she does is very patiently thank you for calling Walmart. Then there are no more than three short rings, followed by the voice of the operator.
This new voice is precisely the opposite to the last: fast-talking, alive, often ornery and difficult to understand. This person’s job is maybe the most stressful out of anyone in Walmart. After all, the phone operator receives and directs every call in what is an enormous complex made up of a dozen different departments. Any given Walmart Supercenter—America has 3,421 of them, as of February 2015—takes up about 182,000 square feet, and sells everything from shotguns to prescription medicine to freshly baked bread. If all the Walmarts were somehow combined into one space, that store would be roughly the size of Montana.
“The $295 Million Mall Taxpayers Bought Kansas City,” Sandy Smith, Next City
The last time Kansas City, Missouri, had one of its major league sports teams in a championship game, it was 1985 and there wasn’t much of anywhere to go to mark the occasion.
The city’s fixed that.
Last fall, when the Royals again gave a championship-starved public something to cheer about in baseball’s World Series, thousands of jubilant Kansas Citians filled KC Live, a massive entertainment complex at the heart of the city’s resurgent downtown.
Occupying an entire city block with restaurants, bars, nightspots and shops, KC Live is the shiny center of the city’s Power & Light District, a popular destination on the edge of downtown. Packed with families and young adults during the weekends and on game days, the district would have been unimaginable in Kansas City 15 years ago. “The area was a ghost town then,” recalls Yael T. Abouhalkah, an editorial writer for the Kansas City Star and former local news reporter. “People didn’t go there and they had no reason to. … [now] it gets a lot of suburban people to come downtown, which is not something we had before.”
“Inside a Secret Basement Powering the New York Subway’s Pioneering Wireless Network,” John Paul Titlow, Fast Company
For a moment, it feels like I'm being lured into a trap. Normally, when I arrive to meet somebody for an interview, I'm not required to weave through a maze of parked vans behind a nondescript building in an unfamiliar part of Queens. But today is different. I've been asked to keep the location of the interview secret, and for good reason.
Upon entering the building, I'm surrounded by rows of routers, wireless connectivity equipment, and fiber-optic cables. The room has a low hum and the feel of a mini data center, but it's not storing bits. Instead, this secluded basement is pushing mobile broadband and Wi-Fi service to 30 different subway stations throughout Queens. Currently 84 stations across the subway system has at least a Wi-Fi hotspot; within three years, my guide reports, every underground subway station in New York City will have cell and Wi-Fi signals powered by one of these base stations.