A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.
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“The Art of the Urban Nap: Let’s Lose the Stigma of Public Snoozing,” Leo Benedictus, The Guardian
The Japanese practice of inemuri is one that many westerners would envy with all their hearts. It describes what would be a severe faux pas in any European or North American workplace, and would be embarrassing almost anywhere.
Translated literally, inemuri means “being present while sleeping”, and indeed that describes the practice fairly literally as well, because inemuri is going to sleep in front of people while you are meant to be doing other things – which can, and often does, include sitting in a meeting room and listening to them speak.
Inemuri is not shameful, however, as it would be in the west, where sleeping on the job – let alone in a meeting – signals a loss of self-control, and therefore weakness. Instead, it is conventionally understood to mean that the sleeper is so dedicated to their work that they are momentarily exhausted by it. If carried out correctly an inemuri is an honourable kind of minor failure, like having no time to eat lunch, or 200 unanswered emails. It’s a commercial war wound to show off.
“Trees Are Latest Victims of California’s Four-Year Drought,” Haya El Nasser, Al Jazeera America
California Gov. Jerry Brown issued a stern warning when he ordered unprecedented 25 percent cuts in water use from every one of the state’s 400 urban water suppliers in April: “People should realize we are in a new era. The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past.”
Since then, green lawns have turned brown or been ripped out to heed the governor’s conservation mandate and state officials announced Wednesday that residential water use this May was down an impressive 29 percent from May 2013.
The good news is that conservation goals are being met. The bad news is that there are millions of unintended victims of this civic allegiance: Trees.
“Night Riders,” Vsevolod Mititello, The Calvert Journal
If you find yourself in Palace Square in the centre of St Petersburg one summer evening, you may notice a group of shadowy figures gathered near the brightly lit walls of the General Staff Building and the Hermitage. Aglitter among the black silhouettes — some immobile, some moving back and forth — is a multitude of red and white lights. The square is dotted with bikes. You hear the chatter of a large crowd and music thrumming from portable speakers. People flitter past. Then suddenly everything jumps into motion: the crowd of figures and lights fuses into one long neon serpent that begins to coil itself around the Alexander Column, then slithers away onto Millionnaya Street, its head disappearing round the corner. A couple of minutes later its tail flickers out of view, and, save for a few gawping passers-by, the square empties out. That’s how you might make your first acquaintance with PIN-MIX, St Petersburg’s weekly night-cycling event.
“A Question of Vision in Marfa,” Mark Lamster, The Dallas Morning News
It’s gone now, bulldozed a few weeks ago into the beige rubble into which it was gradually decomposing on its own. But before the wrecking crews arrived, before its artificially hastened demise, it had become a place where you could experience something verging on the sublime, a crumbling architectural shrine in a remote and majestic corner of West Texas.
It wasn’t created as a sacred space, and its builders remain anonymous. In all likelihood, they drew the plans for it thousands of miles away, in Washington, D.C. That was in 1921, and the creators were military architects, charged with the design of a hospital for Fort D.A. Russell, a cavalry outpost established during the years of the Mexican Revolution. Like so much military building, what they laid out was tossed up rapidly and on the cheap: a pair of bare, concrete structures not even reinforced with rebar.
But those forgotten military architects got the proportions right. Their plan, a squared-off horseshoe of wards wrapped around a rectangular clinical building, might have pleased Phidias, architect of the Parthenon. Though hastily constructed, it had a sense of generosity: a veranda ran along the interior walls of the horseshoe, a shaded space where the infirm might convalesce in comfort. In its later stages of decline, with its bones exposed to the elements and native grasses blooming between tottering walls, the complex looked like nothing so much as a classical ruin, a little bit of ancient Greece on the arid Texas plains.
“Why Did Mechanics in New York’s Worst Neighborhood Go on Hunger Strike?” Michael Ballaban, Jalopnik
Sergio Aguirre is weak, pale. Sometimes he fumbles for words, and it’s not because English isn’t his first language. He’d been on a hunger strike, and hadn’t had anything besides water and tea in four days.
We’re standing in the middle of his garage in Willets Point, an almost surreal corner of Queens. Most people, even some New Yorkers, have never heard of the neighborhood or are aware that it exists as a mass of dilapidated auto shops near the entrance to one of the city’s newest sports stadiums. When you show them pictures, on first glance they often ask if it’s in Brazil. They see the garbage-strewn streets – more rutted, soggy dirt pathways than anything else – and the corrugated metal buildings, more reminiscent of a favela than anything people tend to see in an American city.
It’s a labyrinth of mechanics, bodyshops, metal recycling, upholsters, and infamously, chop shops, and it’s really here, in the biggest and greatest city in the United States. Few people realize how close it is, though, until they see the massive shrine of consumption and commerce that is home to the New York Mets, known as Citi field, looming above it all.