A round-up of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.
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"Solving Chicago’s Murders Could Prevent More,” Alex Kotlowitz, The New Yorker
August 26th, at 3:30 in the afternoon, Nykea Aldridge was pushing her month-old daughter in a baby stroller in a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side when two men began shooting at a man getting out of a car. Some of their bullets missed their target and hit Aldridge in the arm and in the head. Aldridge, who was thirty-two years old and a mother of four, had been walking from a school where she had just registered her older children. She died forty-five minutes later in the hospital. Two things made Aldridge’s death different from most of the five hundred and nine fatal shootings that have occurred so far this year in Chicago: it received national attention because Aldridge’s cousin is the basketball star Dwyane Wade, and within forty-eight hours the police announced that they had arrested two suspects—two brothers—for the murder.
It’s the latter difference that may help to make sense of the wave of violence that has overtaken a large swath of the city. While Chicago mourned Aldridge’s death, many also asked: If the police could make an arrest in her murder so quickly, why had so many other murders been left without resolution?
This week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is scheduled to give a major address on the city’s violence. Over the years, the police have tried various tactics to diminish violence and murder, including community policing, targeting high-crime areas called “hot spots,” starting specialized anti-gang units, and, most recently, employing algorithms to predict who is most likely to pick up a gun and shoot someone. Nothing has seemed to work. In the first eight months of this year, murders have been up an unprecedented fifty per cent. The situation has become so severe that, earlier this month, one alderman proposed that all police be required to carry military-quality first-aid gear. But one issue is rarely raised: year after year, the vast majority of murders and non-fatal shootings in Chicago go unsolved. Last year, the police charged individuals in just twenty-six per cent of all murders. Of the nearly three thousand non-fatal shootings, only ten per cent of the assailants were charged, which means that you have a pretty good chance of shooting someone in Chicago and getting away with it.
“The Little Misfit Buildings That Make Cities Wonderful—and Hold Them Back,” Emily Badger, The Washington Post
The District is dotted with holdouts, properties that look like they no longer belong because the city has grown up around them, without them.
There's the little shop on Massachusetts Avenue east of the convention center: a former 1890 rowhouse, now a Le Pain Quotidien, dwarfed on both sides by modern high-rises (or what counts for such in D.C.).
Two blocks away, there's a shuttered AV repair shop on K Street, its defunct signage in Chinese characters. On both sides, a dozen stories of new high-end apartments loom over the little twinned homes, giving the block a glassy skyline that looks like it's missing a tooth.
“Trains Built Roanoke. Science Saved It.” Colin Woodard, Politico
A decade ago, the U.S. Census counted 15 people living in Roanoke’s downtown.
If the world knew anything about the city of 100,000 in southwest Virginia, it was likely because of the massive illuminated star beaming down from a nearby mountain, a sad reminder of a long-ago era when holiday shoppers, bearing paychecks from the railroad that dominated the local economy, thronged the downtown department stores.
Now Roanoke is back on the map, with people at home and away starting to talk about it in a way they haven’t since the 1880s, when the “Magic City” sprang up out of nearly nowhere around a new railway interchange like some Far West gold-mining town. The downtown has been revitalized and, for the first time in its history, has 2,000 people living in it, many of them getting to and from other parts of the city via a refurbished greenbelt. A highly competitive medical school and world-class, $77 million research institute with a top-notch neuroscience program have both sprung up near the hospital, and the institute is about to double its size. People from the outside world—attracted by the beauty of the surrounding Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains—are moving in, reversing a 30-year population decline. Schools are good, violent crime is at a half-century low, and a public broadband network just doubled Internet speeds. Passenger rail service to Washington’s Union Station is making its return, and a tourism industry is flourishing where none existed before. The latest bit of good news, Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery, the eighth-largest craft brewery in the country, announced in March that it had chosen Roanoke for the site of its $85 million East Coast hub, bringing an initial 108 jobs.
“Man v. Rat: Could the Long War Soon Be Over?” Jordan Kisner, The Guardian
First, the myths. There are no “super rats”. Apart from a specific subtropical breed, they do not get much bigger than 20 inches long, including the tail. They are not blind, nor are they afraid of cats. They do not carry rabies. They do not, as was reported in 1969 regarding an island in Indonesia, fall from the sky. Their communities are not led by elusive, giant “king rats”. Rat skeletons cannot liquefy and reconstitute at will. (For some otherwise rational people, this is a genuine concern.) They are not indestructible, and there are not as many of them as we think. The one-rat-per-human in New York City estimate is pure fiction. Consider this the good news.
In most other respects, “the rat problem”, as it has come to be known, is a perfect nightmare. Wherever humans go, rats follow, forming shadow cities under our metropolises and hollows beneath our farmlands. They thrive in our squalor, making homes of our sewers, abandoned alleys, and neglected parks. They poison food, bite babies, undermine buildings, spread disease, decimate crop yields, andvery occasionally eat people alive. A male and female left to their own devices for one year – the average lifespan of a city rat – can beget 15,000 descendants.
There may be no “king rat”, but there are “rat kings”, groups of up to 30 rats whose tails have knotted together to form one giant, swirling mass. Rats may be unable to liquefy their bones to slide under doors, but they don’t need to: their skeletons are so flexible that they can squeeze their way through any hole or crack wider than half an inch. They are cannibals, and they sometimes laugh (sort of) – especially when tickled. They can appear en masse, as if from nowhere, moving as fast as seven feet per second. They do not carry rabies, but a 2014 study from Columbia University found that the average New York City subway rat carried 18 viruses previously unknown to science, along with dozens of familiar, dangerous pathogens, such as C difficile and hepatitis C. As recently as 1994 there was a major recurrence of bubonic plague in India, an unpleasant flashback to the 14th century, when that rat-borne illness killed 25 million people in five years. Collectively, rats are responsible for more human death than any other mammal on earth.
“In India, a Rich Food Culture Vanishes From the Train Tracks,” Charukesi Ramadurai, NPR
Much like armies, train travelers in India march on their stomachs. And this was certainly true when I was a child, growing up in the 1980s, in the southern city of Chennai. My most vivid memories of summer vacations are of overnight train journeys to Hyderabad, to visit my maternal grandparents. The trips were defined by food.
As soon as the train left Chennai station, my mother would open a container of munchies for the evening – perhaps a homemade snack like murukku (a crunchy fried snack made from lentil and rice flour) or thattai (savory crisps made of lentil flour) or boiled peanuts tossed with onions, cilantro and mild spices. She would wash this down with a cup of tea bought from the passing chai wallahs (tea vendors), who hopped on and off at the small stations on the way.
While I didn't care for chai, I waited impatiently for the calls of a different vendor, one selling carbonated beverages. His arrival would be announced by the mellifluous metal-meets-glass trrring of the metal bottle opener being dragged across lukewarm bottles of cola, followed by the singsong call of "Cooldreengs! Cooldreengs!" (his rendition of "Cold drinks! Cold drinks!"). These journeys were one of the few times my mother (my father rarely accompanied us on these trips) allowed me to indulge in a bottle of carbonated coolness.