A round-up of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.
“As the Nation’s Capital Booms, Poor Tenants Fave Eviction Over As Little As $25,” Terrence McCoy, The Washington Post
Her mother told her to always maintain poise, no matter the indignity, so she awoke early to prepare for a day she thought would be full of it. She put on a purple blouse — her favorite color — dabbed her face with makeup, then sprayed herself with a $10 perfume called Winter Candy Apple. She stepped across an apartment bereft of furniture, unsure if it would be her last morning there. Any day now, the U.S. Marshals Service could arrive, deposit her few possessions on the street and leave her homeless.
“I’m worried,” Brittany Gray told a reporter, taking a deep breath as she left Brookland Manor, a labyrinthine, Depression-era development perched along Rhode Island Avenue NE. She had arisen that morning feeling ill and didn’t know what to expect when she got to where she was going. “Do I go in there and ask for a lawyer or something?”
It was half past 9 when she reached the District’s landlord and tenant court, the city’s busiest chambers, where tens of thousands of cases are churned through every year. In a metropolis of surging rents and posh condominiums, the debts cited can easily soar into five figures.
“America’s First Medal at the Nazi Olympics Was For… Town Planning,” Jack Goodman, Atlas Obscura
The design to redevelop Marine Park, in Brooklyn, had been beautifully sketched in oil onto a large rectangular canvas. The map showed a thin canal, almost perpendicular to the South Brooklyn shoreline, which ran into a circular pool. It lay ready for inspection in a spacious exhibition hall, just outside the monumental Olympic Stadium in Berlin.
The drawings, signed in a calligraphic style on the bottom righthand corner by their creator Charles Downing Lay, were the American entry into the 1936 Summer Olympics—also known as the Nazi Olympics—for a category that seems improbable today: Town Planning.
Yes, from 1928 until 1948, town planning was an actual Olympic sport.
“Rural Electrical Cooperatives Turn to the Internet,” Jim Kerstetter, The New York Times
By the 1930s, 90 percent of urban residents in the United States had electricity. Not so in rural areas, where only 10 percent of the population had easy access to electricity. Electrical companies argued that it was too difficult to provide service to those areas and, even if they did, there was little money to be made.
The answer came in the New Deal, through new rural electrical regulations and cooperatives that did the work that big companies would not.
In 2016, a similar answer is coming to rural regions that do not have adequate broadband internet access. As Cecilia Kang writes, about 40 electrical cooperatives offer or are in the process of building networks for internet networks.
“Brazil’s Olympics Meet Its Favelas,” Alex Cuadros, The New Yorker
An Olympics opening ceremony is a chance for a country to tell a story about itself. On Friday, Brazil’s ceremony relayed a brisk, harmonious version of its history, celebrating the intermixing that has produced its beautifully diverse population. In the space of a single minute, Portuguese colonists came face to face with indigenous tribes, and African slaves arrived to work in sugar mills. Later the show turned to the nation’s favelas, the informally built neighborhoods where some fifteen million Brazilians live, and dancers performed bendy passinho moves to a soundtrack of bumping baile funk.
Favelas, with their characteristic dull-red cinder block, are a part of every major Brazilian city. They started cropping up in the late nineteenth century, as newly freed slaves fled northeastern plantations. Traditionally, favela residents hardly ever came into contact with the state. Politicians paid attention only during election seasons, when they were trying to secure votes. Police came in only to carry out raids. In Rio, where one in seven residents lives in a favela, the communities didn’t even show up on official maps until the nineteen-eighties.
To enshrine the favela in Brazil’s official Olympic narrative, then, was deeply meaningful—a recognition that a long-neglected population belongs in Brazilian society. The wild version of Carnival that Brazilians now know first emerged from the favelas of Rio. So did samba, that mashup of African drums with Portuguese mini-guitars and ballroom styles like polka. But favelas are a lot more than the sum of such cultural tropes. As Brazil’s economy grew in recent years, many favelas developed into sturdy working-class neighborhoods. I’ve met several young Brazilians from favelas who are the first in their families to attend university.
”Shrink-Wrapped Superloads and Monumental Processions,” Geoff Manaugh, BLDGBLOG
You can imagine Parisian insomniacs of the late 1970s, wandering the streets before—lo!—these oversized, monumental spans moving at a crawl through the city would come into view. It would have been as if Paris itself had somehow been caught dreaming new buildings into existence at 2am.
This same sort of awe at the mis-fit between an object’s size and its urban context arose a few years ago when a somewhat underwhelming art project by Michael Heizer was hauled, street by street, to LACMA; and it then happened again when the Space Shuttle made its slow way through Los Angeles back in October 2012.