Flickr/Jeffrey Bary

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.

"Under Pressure," Brendan O'Connor, The Awl

One day at the end of August, dozens of cases of seltzer were piled in stacks that rose chest-high around a cramped warehouse in Canarsie, Brooklyn. Each case holds ten bottles of seltzer and weighs seventy pounds when the bottles are full. A small black cat slunk between the stacks. “That is Chicago,” Alex Gomberg, a twenty-seven-year-old, fourth-generation seltzer man, said. “If he bites you, I will chase him outta here.”

Alex’s great-grandfather, Mo Gomberg, a seltzer delivery man with his own route, had been filling up at a co-op in Brooklyn when he decided to open up his own shop, Gomberg Seltzer Works, on the corner of 92nd Street and Avenue D in 1953, so “he didn’t have to schlep it anymore,” Gomberg said.

At the time, there were dozens of such filling stations in the city, hundreds of seltzer men, and thousands of customers receiving cases of seltzer at their homes every week. Mo passed the business to his son Pacey, and Pacey passed the business along to his son—Gomberg’s father—Kenny. Only two of Gomberg Seltzer Works’ four siphon machines, manufactured in London in 1910, are still operational, and only one is actually in use. “We’re the last fillers in all of New York,” Gomberg said. “People don’t know it, that it exists anymore.”

"L.A. Activist Priest Follows Religion of Acceptance," Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times

Armed with a bottle of water and a baseball cap, Father Richard Estrada made his way slowly to the border in the scorching heat. After a half-hour of hiking up a steep dirt trail, he reached the massive steel fence and bowed his head to pray for the immigrants who dreamed of passing it.

Estrada, 72, had had cataract surgery the day before. Arthritis made his legs ache. But the priest wasn't one to let anything — not even his aging body— stop him from doing what he felt was spiritually right.

On this day, he wore his snow-white hair tied back into a ponytail, and a colorful stole around his shoulders. When he became a Catholic priest in 1978, he sported a handlebar mustache and combed his wiry black hair into an afro. Cesar Chavez, whom Estrada had befriended while leading grape boycotts in East Los Angeles, was a guest at his ordination ceremony.

It was an apt start for an activist priest who would become a fixture of the L.A. liberal scene and a fierce advocate for immigrants.

The Rev. Carol Been, of San Jose, Calif., left, is handcuffed at the wrist to Father Richard Estrada, of Los Angeles, as the two joined a large crowd of immigration supporters for a gathering and march on the lawn of the Capitol in March 2006. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

They did everything that Uber and its CEO Travis Kalanick didn't do.

Night School aimed to provide late-night transit service between San Francisco and Oakland, supplementing the public bus and train services that provide intermittent, if any, service after midnight. The company would use the public school buses that sit unused in parking lots on the weekends, and charge $8 per ride or $15-20 per month for unlimited service (the price points fluctuated).

The school buses seemed a little twee, but the strategy was clear and smart. And it struck a nerve. Last May, Night School received a glut of positive media coverage ahead of its imminent launch. Two weeks later, it was postponed—the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) had become involved. The state agency, a target of much start-up ire, had previously attempted to fine and regulate Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and others. At the end of 2014, Night School announced that it was no longer postponing the project—the founders were killing it.

Why were some private transit start-ups able not just to survive but thrive under current regulatory standards while Night School collapsed? And what does that mean for the future of start-up business in California?

"Living in the Shadows of Glasgow's High Rise Ghettos Before They Get Blown Up," Peter Geoghegan, Vice UK

Early last April, a letter arrived at Betty Caw's neat, pebbledash terrace house directly opposite Glasgow's towering Red Road flats. "The regeneration of North Glasgow is continuing at great pace and with that in mind I have some exciting news," began a single page on council headed paper signed by Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council. Five of the six Red Road multi-storey flats, the letter said, were to be demolished live as part of the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

But the planned demolition never took place. After a week insisting, in the face of public outrage, that blowing up the 1960s-era flats was "a bold and dramatic statement" Glasgow City council finally announced that the plan was being shelved. It was a bold and dramatic statement alright – and an amazingly crass one, the kind that would get you asked to leave a dinner party. The Commonwealth Games would not begin with a bang.

Now, more than nine months later, Betty Caw and her husband, Alec, still look out every day from their living room window at the vertiginous Red Road flats.

"No one knows when they will come down," says Betty, who spent more than two decades living in the Red Road flats. The multi-storey towers, covered in red clay coloured tarpaulin emblazoned with the Glasgow Housing Association logo, dominate the view from the couple's second floor window. "We had good times in those flats, good memories. Now I just want to see the back of them."

Glasgow's decaying Red Road flats, 2011. (Flickr/Graeme Maclean)
"Our Homeless Crisis," Anna Griffin, Oregonian

A decade ago, federal housing officials made a deal with more than 300 American communities: Let’s end chronic homelessness in 10 years.

Local leaders nationwide embraced the challenge. They drafted plans, created budgets, held public meetings and congratulated themselves on being part of a national movement to get people off the streets.

Then most failed. Miserably, in many cases.

Nowhere has that failure been more obvious or galling than the Portland region. Need proof? Step outside in practically any neighborhood or suburb, and you’ll soon find evidence of human habitation: broken-down cardboard boxes, tarps, fast-food wrappers and shopping carts.

“I’ve had other people come to this city and say, ‘Wow. This is really bad,’” said Doreen Binder, recently retired executive director of Transition Projects Inc., a nonprofit that helps homeless men and women find stability. “And we’re considered a leader.”

Top image courtesy of Flickr user Jeffrey Bary via CC License.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    The Last Daycares Standing

    In places where most child cares and schools have closed, in-home family daycares that remain open aren’t seeing the demand  — or the support — they expected.

  2. photo: a For Rent sign in a window in San Francisco.

    Do Landlords Deserve a Coronavirus Bailout, Too?

    Some renters and homeowners are getting financial assistance during the economic disruption from the coronavirus pandemic. What about landlords?

  3. An African healthcare worker takes her time washing her hands due to a virus outbreak/.

    Why You Should Stop Joking That Black People Are Immune to Coronavirus

    There’s a fatal history behind the claim that African Americans are more resistant to diseases like Covid-19 or yellow fever.

  4. photo: South Korean soldiers attempt to disinfect the sidewalks of Seoul's Gagnam district in response to the spread of COVID-19.

    Pandemics Are Also an Urban Planning Problem

    Will COVID-19 change how cities are designed? Michele Acuto of the Connected Cities Lab talks about density, urbanization and pandemic preparation.  

  5. Equity

    We'll Need To Reopen Our Cities. But Not Without Making Changes First.

    We must prepare for a protracted battle with coronavirus. But there are changes we can make now to prepare locked-down cities for what’s next.