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.
In Detroit, the American Dream has become an American Paradox: Corporate-backed revitalization downtown belies the continued deterioration of sprawling neighborhoods of single-family homes; a fledgling creative class masks the ongoing plight of what was once a massive working class; white newcomers trickle in by choice, just as many black natives have no choice but to stay where they are.
What’s that? It doesn’t sound like the up-from-the-ashes, post-industrial renaissance Detroit you’ve been hearing about of late? “The Post-Post-Apocalyptic Detroit,” as The New York Times Magazine described it last July.
For that matter, whatever happened to the bombed-out, font-of-ruin porn Detroit that the media endlessly eulogized just a few short years ago as a harbinger of American decline? The once-promising mayor sacked for corruption; the once-vaunted auto industry falling flat; the once-crowded metropolis given over to vacant lots and urban farms; a once-prosperous city now broke. (Several outlets, including Bloomberg, wrote about 50,000 stray dogs “replacing residents, menacing humans who remain and overwhelming the city’s ability to find them homes or peaceful deaths.” A study eventually found fewer than 3,000 canines throughout Detroit’s 139 square miles. Oh, well.)
"Austin Is Working On Its Love-Hate Relationship With Live Music," Theresa Everline, Next City
Austin’s claim to “Live Music Capital of the World” might be hyperbolic, but the city is saturated with concert venues and clubs. The concentration of those businesses downtown is part of what makes South by Southwest feel like an intimate, walkable event.
Music is important to the city’s economic health—estimates value the Austin music industry at $1.6 billion—and vital to its identity. On any night in Austin, just about every establishment from a big concert venue to a corner dive bar will be hosting a band. The city government even has a music and entertainment division.
Like many U.S. cities, Austin made a deliberate attempt to draw more residents to its core—pushing incentives for developers and more. Today more than 10,000 people live downtown, compared with 4,000 in 2000. But with that boom, music became more than a claim to fame; it became a sticking point. More specifically, sound seeping out of concerts and into homes, condos and hotel rooms was annoying people populating the neighborhoods near all those clubs.
Soon after the W Austin Hotel and Residences opened in 2010, “we started getting clobbered with residents complaining about noise,” says Don Pitts, the city’s music program manager.
"The Complications of Our Deteriorating Inner Ring Suburbs," Daniel J. McGraw, BELT Magazine
When controversy erupted in August over the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, race was at the very center of it all. And rightly so. Brown was an unarmed African-American, the officer who shot and killed him was white, and the racial tensions in an inner ring suburb like Ferguson were seen as critical to the discussion.
Ferguson was 99 percent white in 1970, and was 29 percent white in the 2010 census. Both those who believed Browns’ death justifiable and those who claimed police criminal behavior used those numbers to bolster their cases. Whites have argued that the higher black population was the cause of unruly behavior in Ferguson and that incidences like the Brown shooting were a result of that trend.
Many African-Americans looked at it quite differently, saying that the city’s police force had very few black members, and did not reflect the demographic changes in the city. In other words, the city was acting like things were as they were in the 1970s, when black citizens didn’t exist as part of the recognized community.
Of course, all these are simple explanations of a complicated case. But one of myriad factors at play in Ferguson is the role of the inner ring suburb in the American cultural narrative these days...
"Urban Ecologists Are Studying How Wildlife Have Evolved to Fit Their City Environment, Block By Block," Ferris Jabr, New York Magazine
In August, I joined a trio of scientists on an expedition to a recently recognized hot spot of evolution: Not a geologically young archipelago of volcanic islands like the Galapagos, nor some previously unexplored tract of rainforest, but a corner of Highbridge Park in Washington Heights. Jason Munshi-South, an evolutionary biologist who teaches at Fordham University, waved to me from our agreed meeting spot at the intersection of 167th Street and Edgecombe Avenue. Beside him were two of his research collaborators, Stephen Harris, a PhD candidate in biology at CUNY, and Erin Dimech, a master's student in conservation biology at Columbia.
A day earlier, they had set traps baited with birdseed. Now it was time to collect their specimens.
"How Boston Dreamed of Its Future, a Century Ago," Garrett Dash Nelson, The Boston Globe
At the beginning of every year, as we collectively assess where we’re going and how we’ll get there, it’s tempting to imagine peeking into the future. What will Boston be like in a year, a decade, a century? Will it be crisscrossed by transit lines and bike lanes, or will car-sharing systems usher in an automobile renaissance? What kinds of homes will people live in, and who will build them? What kinds of spaces will we work in, play in, and gather in as technology changes our habits?
Once, the future was the year 1915—and a peek at it cost just 25 cents. A little more than a century ago, in November 1909, Bostonians, anxious about the seemingly out-of-control forces that had transformed their city into a chaotic hodgepodge of a metropolis, lined up for admission to the Old Art Museum in Copley Square, where a special exhibition offered a glimpse at “Boston-1915...the city that is to be.”
The exhibit was the work of an influential group of civic reformers who had banded together to dream up a vision of Boston as it could look in 1915. Insisting that the city needed only to cultivate cooperation and wise planning in order to build a better world, the movement’s optimistic leaders hoped the promise of this glimmering future could unite commercial tycoons and labor organizers, clergymen and politicians, Harvard professors, and immigrant families.