A round-up of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.
“Noise is a Drug and New York is Full of Addicts,” Susie Neilson, Nautilus
As soon as the door slams, I slide to the floor in a cross-legged position and hold my breath. The room in which I have just barricaded myself looks a bit like Matilda’s chokey; a single light bulb casts a sickly yellow glow about the room, its walls lined with triangle-shaped chunks of fiberglass straining against wire mesh. In 15 minutes I will leave this room for the cacophonous world of Manhattan. I should, theoretically, be appreciating this small respite for what it is. Even so, with every second, I feel as if I’m going deeper underwater.
I am sitting in an anechoic chamber, the only one in New York City. Nestled in the hip, angled building of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the anechoic chamber is where acoustics students, headed by the aptly-named Melody Baglione, conduct research—it’s the equivalent of a zero-gravity chamber, only in this case, the variable is sound. The room is designed to be as noise-free as possible; its chunky walls completely absorb reflections of sound waves, and insulate the space within from all exterior sources of noise. While the chamber is not exactly silent, per se—at 20 decibels, the ambient noise level is quieter than a whisper, but twice as loud as a pin drop— it’s almost certainly the quietest space in New York.
“A Strategy to Build Police-Citizen Trust,” Tina Rosenberg, The New York Times
The horrors of the last few weeks — eight police officers assassinated, at least two more unarmed black men to add to a long list of those killed by police — have produced increasingly desperate calls for unity and understanding. How can Americans build empathy and trust between their police and their minority communities? How can they stop the killings? And is there a way to do this while reducing crime?
On July 17, Eric Jones, the police chief in Stockton, Calif., spoke at Progressive Community Church, an African-American church on Stockton’s south side. On Sunday evening, people from three different churches gathered at Progressive to talk about police-community relations. The police department streamed the speech live on Facebook, where it has 94,000 followers.
Jones talked about the murdered police officers. But his real subject was black lives, not blue ones. “There was a time where police were used to be dispatched to keep lynchings ‘civil,’ ” said Jones, who is white. “The badge we wear still does carry the burden, and we need to at least understand why those issues are still deep-rooted in a lot of our communities.” And injustice continues, he said: “We know that there are disparities in arrests and shootings across the country.”
“Berlin’s Startup Hub Wants to Prove It’s More than Just a Scene,” Adam Satariano and Stefan Nicola, Bloomberg Businessweek
The Factory would feel pretty much like any big Silicon Valley headquarters, if you couldn’t see the death strip. In the 19th century, this 130,000-square-foot Berlin warehouse held a brewery. In the 20th, it was an air raid shelter, then rested in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. East German watchtower guards gunned down people trying to scramble across the border. (Hence the term “death strip.”) Today the retrofitted space is home to dozens of tech companies, including Uber and Twitter, and is the headquarters of the music streaming service SoundCloud.
Inside, the Factory is packed with all the perks of a Silicon Valley campus: nap rooms, scooters, 3D printing stations. Headphone-wearing millennials hunch over MacBooks or mill around a lounge where guitars hang from the wall near books with titles such as The Lean Startup and The Startup Game. Conference rooms are named for the regulars at Andy Warhol’s Factory. There are 700 people here; in addition to the full-time employees, a lot of individual tech workers pay €50 ($55) a month for access to a common work area.
“It’s a social club for startups,” says Factory co-founder Lukas Kampfmann, 30, wearing a T-shirt bearing the names Steve (as in Jobs), Elon (Musk), Bill (Gates), and Mark (Zuckerberg), printed in the font Helvetica like the familiar Beatles shirt. On the roof of the warehouse, with a clear view of the former death strip, Kampfmann says his community’s emulation of Silicon Valley isn’t an accident. “We admire American movies, culture, fashion, music,” he says, and this is the logical next step.
“In Phoenix, an Ambitious Plan Aims to Cover 25% of the Metropolis with Tree Shade,” WIlliam Yardley, Los Angeles Times
This Southwest capital presents a distinctive postcard: brutal heat, desert peaks, sprawling subdivisions and endless asphalt.
Richard Adkins wants to add another image: trees.
“I've heard most of the jokes and I can deal with them—‘Phoenix, really, you have trees? I thought you had cacti,’” said Adkins, the city’s forestry supervisor. “But we do have trees here.”
There may be many more in the years to come.
“The Rise of the Bourgeois Paradise,” Meghan Daum, Byliner
The days had been unremarkable of late. A slow September had folded into a slower October and November, the lack of seasons erasing any sense of urgency or passage of time. But there I was, on the first day of December, receiving a call from Sandra Bernhard, who was possibly calling because she wanted to option an obscure article I’d written for an obscure magazine, who possibly suspected I was a person whom she should get to know, who possibly wanted to be my friend, possibly very soon. There was a rightness about it all, a karmic logic, proof, finally, that things really did turn around when one was patient. This entire sequence of thoughts passed through my mind in the time it took for the phone to ring twice. I waited through the third ring to answer, preparing an air of vocal insouciance that would conceal my euphoric anticipation.
It was Blanca Castillo, my cleaning lady. She was calling to ask if she could come on Saturday rather than Friday. In my shock, I barely listened to her. I wondered if Sandra Bernhard was right there, puttering around in leather pants and Manolos while Blanca stole away to the telephone. I wondered if Sandra Bernhard was neater than I was, if Blanca preferred her to me, if Blanca worked for celebrities throughout the week and saw me as a kind of charity case, a neophyte in the realm of domestic employment. Though she’s been in this country for almost 20 years, Blanca’s English is halting and uncertain, and as she stumbled through an apologetic explanation of why she couldn’t come on Friday, I felt a chemical shift inside myself—the euphoria vanished as quickly as it had appeared. The disappointment was almost overwhelming. Sandra Bernhard had not called me. It was another Monday, another month. Soon it would be another year. Still, the sun shined.
I cannot take this anecdote any further without explaining that before moving to Los Angeles, nearly a year ago, I’d never employed outside help to clean my house. I grew up in a family whose liberal guilt collided with its Midwestern origins with such thunderous intensity that I was 30 before I ever drove into a car wash (unsure of what to do) and 33 before I considered the possibility that paying someone $20 an hour to perform services for which they actively advertise and/or take referrals is not necessarily on a par with running a sweatshop. … But if I’ve discovered anything since moving to Los Angeles it’s that the assimilation process feels a lot like the aging process: We mellow out, we settle down, we accept, as a yoga teacher might say, our possibilities and our limitations. Put another way, I could say we lose our edge, become resigned, learn not to flinch so visibly at the price of real estate. Which is to say, for better or worse, we let the tides of bourgeois culture crash over our rough spots until we’re smooth as stones. Then we hire someone to clean up all the debris on the beach.