A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we’ve come across in the last seven days.
“Why Republicans Don’t Even Try to Win Cities Anymore,” Emily Badger and Quoctrung Bui, The New York Times
Ronald Reagan visited the South Bronx in the summer of 1980, when Charlotte Street was still lined with vacant lots and the rubble of toppling tenements. The place looked like London after the blitz, he said, and he wanted to do something about it.
The Republican candidate for president that year, Mr. Reagan wasn’t merely mugging for the kind of photo op that unnerves white suburban voters. Earlier that day, he spoke to the National Urban League in New York. Then he flew to Chicago to meet with the editors of Ebony and Jet magazines, pillars of the black press, and Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader.
He wasn’t always greeted warmly, but it was the kind of campaign itinerary that’s hard to imagine a Republican presidential candidate even contemplating in 2016. Mr. Reagan believed he could make a genuine play for urban voters in 1980. Today, his party has all but conceded them.
“It’s Time to Think About Living in Parking Garages,” Aarian Marshall, Wired
The tower at 4th and Columbia will be the tallest in Seattle, a 1,029-foot, $290 million monument to the city’s recent, tech-flavored success. Residential units, a hotel, office space, retail, eight floors of underground parking. Standard, shiny city stuff. And, if the current plans are approved, the tower will include a quirky twist: four levels of above-grade parking, designed to someday take on new life as apartments and offices.
LMN Architects, which designed the project, wants the tower to survive 50 to 100 years. “If that’s the case, we do need to make sure—I feel we do have have the responsibility—that if the parking uses do change, we design to be able to adapt to that change,” says John Chau, a partner at the firm. (The project is still moving through the city approval process, and will not be completed for another two to four years.)
The change he’s talking about is the coming transformation to a car-free-ish future. With rideshare, bikeshare, carshare, increasing transit options, and fully automated vehicles on the horizon, cities are less eager to allocate precious space for empty, parked cars. Already, places like Seattle have adjusted parking minimums, ditching rules that force developers to include parking for new projects near public transportation nodes.
“Los Angeles is Killing Us,” Adrian Glick Kudler, Curbed Los Angeles
How can you even know you're alive in Los Angeles?
It's purgatorial, this city that came into itself as a sanatorium for the tuberculotic and a film set for the authors of the 20th century’s myths. The weather's so pleasant, you can never be sure without thinking what month or season it is. The sky might glow gold at 5 o'clock any day, or be striped in purple clouds; sometimes fires burn, sometimes the earth moves, and then everything's in pieces.
Traveling across Los Angeles at most times of the day has the helpless agony of crossing into Hades: by car, you circle seven times on the river of hatred; by train, you're rowed on the river of forgetfulness; on bike, the river of pain.
“Atomic City, USA: How Once-Secret Los Alamos Became a Millionaire's Enclave,” Claire Provost, The Guardian
In August 1945, the US army dropped a secret over Japan: fully functional nuclear bombs, which instantly killed tens of thousands of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More than 6,000 miles away, meanwhile, in northern New Mexico, one newspaper carried a headline with uniquely local flair.
“Now They Can be Told Aloud These Stoories [sic] of the Hill” blared a rushed edition of the Santa Fe New Mexican. The article revealed that Los Alamos – a mysterious settlement, built atop a picturesque mesa – had been instrumental in the creation of these new weapons of mass destruction.
Today, Los Alamos is a secret no longer: it’s a small community with about 18,000 people living in the main town and a suburb called White Rock. But the nuclear lab remains, and the city is still an island in many ways: an extraordinary pocket of wealth and privilege, surrounded by some of the poorest counties in New Mexico, one of the poorest states in America.
“In the 1850’s, the Future of American Slavery Seemed Bright,” Matthew Karp, Aeon
Southern slaveholders, like most Americans before and since, were in love with the future. In the decades before the Civil War, as the United States seized a continental empire and leapt headlong into the age of rail and steam, observers from all over the country were moved to eloquence at the prospect of America’s future greatness. Few were more rhapsodic than Southern planters. ‘All other governments and other people,’ declared former president John Tyler in 1850, were fated to be ‘but mere dependencies of this mighty Republic’.
Looking forward from 1857 to ‘the year 2,000’, another Southern essayist traced the future boundaries of the US: ‘the representative from the now unknown and far-off peninsula of Alaska,’ he predicted, ‘will set down with the luxurious inhabitant of the peninsula of Florida… A confederation then of 500 million of freemen, will give laws to an obedient world!’ Today, this seems like a rather dramatic way to describe a Senate meeting between Lisa Murkowski and Marco Rubio. But in the 1850s, Southern confidence in the course of US power was immense.
And for antebellum Southern writers, the destiny of the US was manifestly both imperial and slaveholding. Their future was a future where slavery would continue to thrive. The black slave population would reach 10.6 million in the year 1910, according to the calculations of the New Orleans editor (and later US Census superintendent) James D B De Bow. Later, an Alabama politician quoted another estimate that put 31 million American blacks in chains by 1920. The Richmond-based Southern Literary Messenger, in an 1856 article exploring ‘the condition of the slavery question in the year 1950’, offered the most grandiose prediction of all, that the US slave population would ‘amount to 100,000,000 within the next century’.