A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.
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"'The Media Doesn’t Care What Happens Here'", Matthew Shaer, The New York Times Magazine
The favelas of Complexo do Alemão, one of the largest urban slums in Brazil, spill across 700 hilly acres in the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro, not far from the city’s international airport. Bounded on three sides by bustling highways and on the fourth by a forested ridge, Alemão can no longer grow outward, and so it has grown upward instead, in increasingly unstable conglomerations of quadruple-decker concrete boxes. “The grandfather builds the first floor, the son the second, the grandson the third and the great-grandson the fourth,” residents like to say. Rebar sprouts from the rooftops, awaiting the installation of the next story and the next generation that will occupy it.
One evening last April, Arlinda Bezerra de Assis, a 72-year-old resident of Alemão, stepped out the front door of her family home and into the neighborhood’s tangle of alleyways, her 10-year-old grandson in tow. For hours, the police had been battling with drug traffickers, but the clatter of gunfire seemed to have subsided, and de Assis, who was known in Alemão by the honorific Dona Dalva, wanted to return her grandson to his mother.
Moments later, she was found lying on her back on the pavement, bleeding from a pair of bullet wounds. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where she died of her injuries. Her grandson, shielded by her body, was unhurt.
A quarter-mile away, a 25-year-old favelado named Raull received a text message from a friend, alerting him to the shooting. (For security purposes, Raull asked that I use only his first name.) He stuffed his phone into his pocket and walked to the scene of the incident. Later, the police would label de Assis’s death an accident: She had the bad luck to wander into the midst of a firefight, a commander told a local newspaper. But as Raull made his way through the crowd, he heard a different story. The fatal shots, witnesses told him, had been fired by a police officer who mistook de Assis and her nephew for gang members. Once the officer realized his error, they said, he sprinted to his squad car and sped away.
"Bikes vs. Cars: The Deadly War Nobody's Winning," Andrew Tilin, Outside Magazine
Concussion or no concussion, Steve Hill wants a new bike. Pronto.
“To be honest with you, I feel like I should have it already,” he says to the woman he’s facing, Megan Hottman, a 35-year-old personal-injury lawyer who’s taking notes on a laptop inside her Golden, Colorado, office. From where I sit, just to the right of Hill*—who is 38 and trim—he looks pretty good, considering that he suffered a concussion and whiplash in a car collision just one week ago. But as I watch him, I have to wonder if he should have even driven himself to this meeting. As a longtime rider, I’ve endured similar injuries: I once went to the ER with a concussion after a crash, and I felt the effects for weeks. Hill has already told Hottman that he’s been experiencing dizzy spells.
*Because of ongoing litigation, the name of Hottman’s client has been changed.
Talking a beat too slowly, Hill describes a big ride he’s supposed to do eight days from now. It’s a Colorado event that took place last summer and covered more than 100 miles and over 13,000 feet of vertical gain—a major undertaking.
Hottman nods. She’s a dedicated rider herself, so she knows all about the hunger to get back on the road. But Hill is in no shape for a day like that, and he’s naive to think that a lawyer can serve up a new high-end bike anytime soon.
“Almost every client sitting in that chair has some event coming up,” Hottman says diplomatically. “These accidents only seem to happen when you have something on the burner.”
"Why Counting America’s Homeless Is Both Imperative and Imperfect," Susie Cagle, Fusion
On January 29th, illustrator and reporter Susie Cagle accompanied a group of volunteers as they stalked the streets of San Francisco in an effort to quantify the city’s homeless population. San Francisco suffers from some of the worst economic inequality in the United States, and, as in other cities, services for its homeless residents are dependent on federally-mandated census taking. The problem is, the work of “counting” the city’s homeless is more imperfect than it might seem.
"How Oregon's Second Largest City Vanished in a Day," Natasha Geiling, Smithsonian Magazine
The mere utterance of Vanport was known to send shivers down the spines of "well-bred" Portlanders. Not because of any ghost story, or any calamitous disaster—that would come later—but because of raw, unabashed racism. Built in 110 days in 1942, Vanport was always meant to be a temporary housing project, a superficial solution to Portland’s wartime housing shortage. At its height, Vanport housed 40,000 residents, making it the second largest city in Oregon, a home to the workers in Portland's shipyards and their families.
But as America returned to peacetime and the shipyards shuttered, tens of thousands remained in the slipshod houses and apartments in Vanport, and by design, through discriminatory housing policy, many who stayed were African-American. In a city that before the war claimed fewer than 2,000 black residents, white Portland eyed Vanport suspiciously. In a few short years, Vanport went from being thought of as a wartime example of American innovation to a crime-laden slum.
A 1947 Oregon Journal investigation discussed the purported eyesore that Vanport had become, noting that except for the 20,000-some residents who still lived there, "To many Oregonians, Vanport has been undesirable because it is supposed to have a large colored population," the article read. "Of the some 23,000 inhabitants, only slightly over 4,000 are colored residents. True, this is a high percentage per capita compared to other Northwestern cities. But, as one resident put it, the colored people have to live somewhere, and whether the Northwesterners like it or not, they are here to stay."
"How A Winery is Transforming Cleveland’s Most Notorious Neighborhood," David Sax, GOOD Magazine
Mansfield Frazier slides a cigar into his mouth, climbs into his pickup truck, and drives it from his house, in the inner-city Cleveland neighborhood of Hough, directly across the street to his vineyard, Chateau Hough. Set on three-quarters of an acre between an abandoned home, a long-shuttered library, and a vacant corner store are 14 rows of vines breeding Frontenac (a cold, hearty Minnesota red grape) and Traminette (a floral, white varietal developed in upstate New York) on the site of a former crack house. As Frazier exits the truck, he is greeted by his crew for the day: five parolees from a nearby halfway house who are responsible for the immaculately pruned vines.
“How are they treating you up there?” Frazier, a stout African-American man in his early 70s, shouts to the pruners. Eyes roll. One man has just finished serving a year for burglary, another five years for assault with a firearm. None have even stepped foot in a vineyard before. “Well, they didn’t treat me so well when I was there, but that was a few years ago,” Frazier says.