Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days.
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”How to Live in a Micro-Apartment Without Going Crazy,” Cari Romm, New York Magazine
In just a few weeks, the residents of New York’s first micro-apartment building can move in to their new homes. And when they say micro, they mean it: The studios at 335 East 27th Street top out at 360 square feet, with some as small as 265. That includes kitchen, bathroom, a place to sleep, a place to be when you’re not sleeping, and enough open space to maneuver between the door and the sink and the bed.
But it seems that the building picked a particularly good time to open its doors — between the tiny house movement, the TV show Tiny House Hunters, and the decluttering dogma of Marie Kondo, living smaller appears to be having something of a moment.
The term micro-apartment may be a newish one, but the concept, of course, is not: Plenty of people cram together in tight spaces out of economic necessity, and they often face dire health consequences. As Jacoba Urist has reported for The Atlantic, overcrowded homes have been linked to higher rates of substance abuse and domestic violence. But even when it’s by choice, living smaller can also have a psychological downside.
“The Cult of the Detroit Coney Dog, Explained,” Whitney Filloon, Eater
Regional specialty foods are the source of endless, impassioned debate: Many an argument has erupted over Kansas City versus Central Texas barbecue, and loyal devotees of Chicago deep dish and New York-style pizza eye each other with deep suspicion. But arguably the biggest food rivalry of the Great Lakes region is focused on one brief stretch of street in downtown Detroit, and it involves a beloved foodstuff called the coney dog.
What is a coney dog?
The coney dog is a variation on the classic American hot dog; its distinguishing characteristic is a chili topping (generally referred to as coney sauce). Roadfood founders and culinary road trip warriors Jane and Michael Stern explained their affinity for the coney dog in their 2009 book 500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late: "These are not aristocratic sausages like you find on the other side of Lake Michigan, in Chicago and Milwaukee. Far from it: they are cheap tasting. But we mean that with all respect; when the craving strikes for a brace of them, no prime filet mignon can satisfy it."
The term "coneys" is used to refer to the dogs themselves and also serves as shorthand for the type of restaurants in which they’re commonly served, which are ubiquitous in Detroit. So-called "coney islands" are typically Greek-American owned diners that in addition to coney dogs, also serve an eclectic menu with everything from gyros and Greek salad to burgers and breakfast plates.
“Can India's Sacred but 'Dead' Yamuna River Be Saved?” Julie McCarthy, NPR
A fire crackles along the banks of the Yamuna River: a cremation of a young mother, struck by a car while she was fetching water.
The stench of the river engulfs the sad assembly.
Before the hissing funeral pyre, floating down the river, white blocks of what looks like detergent appear like icebergs. It is 95 degrees in Delhi this night. This is chemical waste from factories that have sprung up across the city, manufacturing leather goods, dyes and other goods.
Downstream, the living reside along garbage-strewn banks.
A colony of shacks sits beneath the Old Iron Bridge, a vestige of the British colonial era. Its tracks trundle trains across the Yamuna, on the northern edge of the city. Like the Ganges, the Yamuna is sacred to Hindu believers. The faithful dangle garlands from the bridge's hulking girders and pitch ashes and money from its railings.
“The Woman Behind the Illuminated Pigeons,” Rebecca McCarthy, The Awl
An otherwise angelic looking blond girl, Madeline Joyce was covered in pigeon shit. We were sitting in Feeney’s, a strange bar on the ass-end of Sunset Park, where the big news was its potential sale to an elusive man named George. George promised to bring new life to the place—overhaul it completely, advertise, and change the name. “Guess what he wants to call it,” she said. “What would you name your bar if you were trying to appeal to young people, but you didn’t really understand the internet?”
Grumpy Cat. George wanted to name the bar Grumpy Cat, but no one could figure out how he planned to get around copyright law, and when I checked online I could find no pending liquor licenses for the address. Feeney’s looks more like an aggressively Irish gas station than it does a bar, but Joyce is oddly attached to it. “My favorite gas station,” she said.
Joyce works for Duke Riley, a Brooklyn-based artist whose exhibitions often resemble elaborate, historical pranks. In 2007, for “After the Battle of Brooklyn,” Riley constructed a replica of the submarine that attempted to attack a British flagship during the Revolutionary War. He launched his sub in the East River and snuck up on the Queen Mary II, managing to get pretty close before Harbor Patrol picked him up. “SUB-MORON,” cried the cover of the New York Post the next morning. In 2013, he trained pigeons to smuggle cigars from Havana to Key West for a project called “Trading with the Enemy.” They were outfitted with small harnesses to carry video cameras, one of which was briefly mistaken for a bomb when the pigeon landed on a boat. His current project is sponsored by Creative Time, a non-profit known for fleeting, site-specific installations, like Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety”and Paul Chan’s “Waiting for Godot in New Orleans.” It’s called “Fly by Night,” and it comprises two thousand pigeons with L.E.D. lights attached to their ankles swooping over the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
“In Defense of Suzane Reatig and Her Modernist Buildings,” Amanda Kolson Hurley, Washington City Paper
Soon, the first tenants will move into the latest fancy-schmancy apartment building to open in Shaw, the Bailey Flats at 926 N St. NW. The building’s elevation on N Street is unassuming: two four-story bays on either corner flank a recessed central bay with a stack of balconies above the main door. The facade is (what else?) gray, with one bright note—the green of the balcony railings.
Walk around the corner onto Blagden Alley, though, and the building bursts into color. Stripes of brick in marigold, blue, and eggplant run down the wall into the alley. The bricks are actually tiles, part of a modern rainscreen hung on the building; both the component, made in Europe, and its bold color scheme are unusual to see in D.C.
Already, just from reading this, some District residents will know who designed the Bailey Flats. The architect’s name is Suzane Reatig, her buildings stand out, and they are not universally beloved. In fact, some people really, really hate them. When an early version of this design was published on local blogs in 2012, commenters called it “awful,” “hideous,” “non-contextual,” and that old D.C. chestnut: “too tall.” After the brick rainscreen went up last fall, PoPville readers were divided; their comments ranged from “Beautiful!” to “institutional looking.”