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

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A couple of years ago, as winter gave way to spring, Toyoda Ruff began to think about changing how she ate. Ruff had always been heavy, but her son, Tarik, a freshman honor student, had recently crossed the 300-pound mark, prompting Ruff to ferry him to appointments at a children’s weight loss clinic, 11 miles away in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood, and to document everything he ate for two months. At 270 pounds, her husband, Jermaine Harris, wanted to slim down, too. Ruff was beginning to see her family’s weekly fast-food habit and visits to Golden Corral’s all-you-can-eat buffet as a problem.

As Ruff mulled over these changes, a friend cajoled her into joining a healthy cooking class at their church. Ruff was on medical leave from her job as a probation officer due to an injury, and the break gave her time to consider her meals. The more she thought about eating healthy, the more intrigued she was by a new store: Whole Foods, which had just opened in Detroit. “It was on the news. People were talking about it at church,” Ruff said. “Everybody was talking about it.”

That included people outside of Detroit, too. As the city neared bankruptcy, national media questionedwhy a grocer derided as “Whole Paycheck”—a nod to the chain’s longstanding strategy of charging a premium for organic, local, and sustainable food—would open a store there. Whole Foods’ answer was even more surprising: The store, said company leaders, was about social equity as much as profit.

"How to Draw People on the Subway," Hallie Bateman, The Awl

In this rad comic, an expert gives you the hard facts about what to do ("Mask your natural scent") and what not to do ("Don't let them see you").

A subway sketch by Alexander Lyubavin in the Urban Sketchers Flickr group. (CC Commons)

"Aftermath of a Shooting," Wilson Dizard, Al Jazeera America

A bullet fired through the screen of a front door entered Darius Sept’s gut just after midnight on Saturday, Aug. 30. The 34-year-old staggered and then fell. He lay bleeding between the two-story buildings arranged in a U shape, closed in on three sides.

Neighbors and onlookers pulled out their cellphones, dialing 911 for an ambulance and calling friends to spread the word of what happened to Darius, still awake as the ambulance made its way to him on Racine Avenue, on Chicago’s South Side. Within minutes, texts, phone calls and social media posts cascaded through the community, until almost everyone in his life knew what happened.

One person who received a call in the confused aftermath of the shooting was Darius’ girlfriend of six years, Victoria Mayweathers, a 30-year-old mother of nine. Darius was father to three of them — 3-year-old Addarius; Corderius, not yet 2; and 9-month-old Kaiden.

The couple’s fourth child was on the way, with Victoria four months pregnant. Just prior to the shooting, Darius had been texting her about baby clothes.

“I’ll always love u me and da kids will see u soon my love no matter wat IMA be here forever lord why I love u,” read the last text he sent her before the shooting.

"How the Loft Lost Its Soul," Kyle Chayka, Re:form

I live in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, which remains one of the grungier spots in the gentrifying borough. The post-industrial blocks around my apartment are populated by coffee shops, underground clubs, and artist studio spaces that haven’t seen renovations in decades, not to mention fortune-cookie factories and chicken-slaughtering plants. But even amidst this creative-destructive cacophony, it feels like something has gone missing.

I’m talking about lofts. Once the habitat of New York’s original bohemian hipsters, known only for their lack of privacy and bad plumbing, lofts are now the privileged domain of the wealthy, a fetishized commodity marketed on New Girl. Instead of do-it-yourself renovated factories, we have pre-made townhouses with “loft-syle” floor-to-ceiling windows. Where there was once graffiti-covered brick, we have only flat gray paint.

Renters and buyers love the trendy, open-plan aesthetics of a loft, but rather than embracing its native industrial authenticity, they want it with the comfort of a luxury home. The resulting industrial Frankenstein — the condo —is killing the old-school loft by pale imitation in Bushwick and beyond.

A Brooklyn loft. (Waywuwei on Flickr/CC License)

"Needles and the Damage Done," Michael Andrews, The New Inquiry

When the first major business closed in Needles, California, local residents didn’t see it as the beginning of the end; they thought it was just a freak occurrence. In retrospect, however, the closing of Claypool’s Hardware in 2002 was an omen. Claypool’s occupied the largest building on the main drag of downtown Needles, where it has been in business for 80 years. It was a local institution. The Claypool family, which had owned and operated the store from the very beginning, didn’t publicly reveal why they decided to close; some people speculated that they simply wanted to retire. If this wasn’t the real reason, a faltering local economy didn’t seem like a plausible culprit either. The rest of Needles—a mix of locally owned businesses and national chains like McDonald’s and ­Motel 6—was humming along as it had for decades.

At the time, the fortunes of Needles—the town where I grew up—were the furthest thing from my mind. I was far away, though still in California, in my junior year at Berkeley. For me, college had been the longed-for escape from what I regarded as Needles’s suffocating boredom and closed-mindedness. In high school I wore combat boots and listened to heavy metal. I brooded, burned junk in the desert, and fantasized about living in the big city. When I went off to college, I tried to erase all trace of my small-town upbringing. I thought about Needles as little as possible, and only went back for brief visits at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Although it wasn’t clear exactly why Claypool’s went out of business, the closure roughly coincided with the opening of a Home Depot in nearby Bullhead City, Arizona, a 20-minute drive from Needles. This added to Bullhead City’s considerable stock of big-box stores, which already included a Wal-Mart and a Kmart. Needles, meanwhile, had none, even though it had just as much cheap, empty desert land. This was the result of differing regulatory regimes: California has relatively high corporate tax rates and building regulations, while Arizona has neither. So when big-box stores want to expand into the region, they always build in Bullhead City, never in Needles. What used to be the source of Needles’s fortune—its location as “the gateway to California”—has become an inexorable part of its undoing.

Welcome to Needles. (Wikimedia Commons)

(Top image via 06photo /

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