A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days.
“The Tamir Rice Story: How to Make a Police Shooting Disappear,” Sean Flynn, GQ
The prosecutor pacing in front of the witness was holding a toy gun that looked like a real gun, which was the same kind of toy the boy had been playing with the day he got shot. A rookie Cleveland police officer had fired twice at close range, and one bullet hit the boy just left of his belly button, carved downward through his intestines and a major vein, and embedded in his pelvis an inch to the right of center.
The witness, a retired cop named Roger Clark, thought the gun was a curious prop for a grand jury. The boy was dead, and had been for more than a year. He’d been accused of no crime, ever. Why the toy? There is no need for theatrics in grand-jury proceedings. They are entirely one-sided forums. Prosecutors decide what witnesses to call and what evidence to present. They instruct the grand jurors, ordinary citizens drawn from the same pool as trial jurors, on the law. There is no defense present because the most a grand jury can do is issue an indictment, which means only that there’s enough evidence of a crime that a judge or jury should sort it out. It is a very low threshold, and it is reached as a matter of plodding routine. It also is done entirely in secret. Who was a prop supposed to impress?
“Why Highways Have Become the Center of Civil Rights Protest,” Emily Badger, The Washington Post
After activists protesting the death of Philando Castile left the governor's mansion in St. Paul, Minn., on Saturday night, they marched through the city down Lexington Parkway and then onto the highway, across all eight lanes of traffic. There, some of them sat down, a provocative gesture of civil disobedience in the face of rushing commerce.
They were occupying a highway that, a half-century ago, was constructed at the expense of St. Paul's historically black community. Interstate 94, like urban highways throughout the country, was built by erasing what had been black homes, dispersing their residents, severing their neighborhoods and separating them from whites who would pass through at high speed.
That history lends highways a dual significance as activists in many cities rally against unequal treatment of blacks: As scenes of protest, they are part of the oppression — if also the most disruptive places to call attention to it.
“Remembering Sandra Bland’s Death in the Place I Call Home,” Karen Good Marable, The New Yorker
In Dixie’s blessed semi-solitude, Mama Marable and I found comfort and common ground in cheesy Hallmark movies, after-church dinner at Cracker Barrel, and our love of cable news. So it was that, one July morning, after putting my daughter down for a nap, I turned on the television and heard a newscaster describe a video documenting an exchange between a state trooper and a black woman in Prairie View. The woman had been arrested and was found dead in her jail cell three days later.
I stood up and put my hand on my hip, as if the gesture alone could help me understand what I was hearing. Though I have lived in many places, Prairie View, a rural college town about fifty miles northwest of Houston, is the place I’ve called home for forty-five years. I lived in the same red-brick house until I was eighteen years old, when I left for Washington, D.C., to attend Howard University, or, as I described it then, “The blackest college I can find the farthest away from home.” Back then, I was ready to leave the place where I believed nothing ever happened. Now something had happened, and it was terrible.
Mama Marable joined me on the couch. Our souls were still weary from the massacre at Mother Emanuel, in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine black people in a Wednesday Bible study were killed by a young white man less than a month before. We were about to confront another incident, yet another video of another disastrous encounter between the police and a black person. So many others had come before: Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, LaQuan McDonald, Tamir Rice.
“White Privilege and Gentrification in Denver, ‘America’s Favorite City,’” Caroline Tracey, The Guardian
Immediately after I parked my car in the Swansea neighbourhood of Denver, Colorado this June, a woman in a white SUV drove by, rolled down her window and yelled: “Not for sale!”
Residents of Swansea, Elyria, and Globeville, the neighbourhoods that make up north-east Denver, are receiving stacks of postcards on their porches with offers to buy their homes. Globeville saw an increase of 67% in median home values in the last year. All three neighbourhoods are dotted with yard signs that read “My community is not for sale/Mi comunidad no está en venta.” What else would a white woman carrying a notebook be doing in the neighbourhood, but speculating?
In her novel Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver describes Denver as having “endless neighbourhoods of sweet old brick houses with peaked roofs and lawns shaded by huge maples.” The Denver of my childhood also had wide boulevards lined with 50s-era filling stations, 60s strip malls, 70s dentists’ offices. Downtown, which had some beautiful, historic stone buildings, also had plentiful surface parking – a sign that the city’s economy had not caught up with the space afforded it. The city was calm; there was a sense of community.
That Denver has now gone. Partially thanks to the work of the Colorado Tourism Board, people from all over are flocking here, and jobs are following. This year, US News and World Report voted Denver the best place to live in America. Half of the cars have out-of-state plates, and the rest have bumper stickers that read “Native-ish”.
“Detroit-made Bicycles are Taking Over Bike-Share Programs,” Tim Higgins, Bloomberg Businessweek
The Detroit Bikes factory sits on the West Side of the city near scattered abandoned homes and a junkyard full of rusted car parts. Inside, workers are taking test rides through the 50,000-square-foot facility on a fleet of freshly assembled bicycles destined for New York’s Citi Bike bike-share program. On foot, founder Zak Pashak, 36, dodges the riders, navigating a path around the chaotic floor and holding forth on the virtues of American-made chromoly steel—which, in case you’re not a metallurgist, is lighter and stronger than standard steel and is what Pashak uses in his house line. He stops and points to the loading dock, where a tractor-trailer waits to haul the bikes more than 600 miles to Citi Bike headquarters in Brooklyn. “This was my dream when we got the factory—watching semis drive away at the end of the day,” Pashak says.
When his factory opened in 2013, bicycle manufacturing in the U.S. had all but disappeared. The long, downward spiral began in the 1980s, when industry-giant Schwinn shifted work to Asia, a cost-saving move that other manufacturers such as Huffy soon copied. In 2015 only 2.5 percent of the estimated 12.6 million bikes sold in the U.S. (not including those for children) were made here, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association. “A lot of people thought it was really goofy when I first started this,” says the bearded Pashak, who describes Detroit as “a good spot for urban revitalization to take hold” and is prone to similarly grandiose talk about changing the world. If his technology weren’t 200 years old, he could pass for a startup founder.
It probably was really goofy, based purely on economics. But at a time when we want our kale organic and our beer microbrewed, manufacturing bicycles in the cradle of the U.S. transportation industry turns out to be just rational enough. Shinola, which also sells bikes, might have stolen Pashak’s thunder by becoming the face of Detroit’s rebound. Yet Detroit Bikes’ contract with Motivate, the company that runs bike-sharing programs in 12 metro areas, has helped put Pashak’s company on pace to churn out 10,000 bikes this year. It’s nice that in doing so he’ll employ 50 people in a city with 10 percent unemployment, about double the national rate. It’s perhaps more significant that without this Canadian transplant’s operation, options for how busy urbanites get from point A to point B might literally be fewer and farther between.