A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we’ve come across in the last seven days.
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“Revenge of the Forgotten Class,” Alec MacGillis, ProPublica
In March, I was driving along a road that led from Dayton, Ohio, into its formerly middle-class, now decidedly working-class southwestern suburbs, when I came upon an arresting sight. I was looking for a professional sign-maker who had turned his West Carrollton ranch house into a distribution point for Trump yard signs, in high demand just days prior to the Ohio Republican primary. Instead of piling the signs in the driveway, he had arrayed them in his yard along the road. There they were, dozens and dozens of them, lined up in rows like the uniform gravestones in a military cemetery.
The sign man wasn’t home, but he had left a married couple in charge of the distribution. I got talking to the woman, Contessa Hammel. She was 43 and worked at the convenience store at a local Speedway gas station after four years in the military. And this was the first time she was voting in 25 years of eligibility.
I was startled to hear this — it’s rare to find voters entering the political process after decades of disconnection; in fact, I’d met a handyman in his 70s at a Trump rally on the other side of Dayton that same day who said he was voting for the first time, but I had dismissed it as a fluke.
“My Journey Into Aleppo: Watching a Moonscape of War Turn Into a Functioning City,” Anne Barnard, The New York Times
I took this video while on what often felt like a surreal bus ride through war-torn Syria. The video begins on the edge of the city of Aleppo, its western, government-held half. The area we drove through is all government held but has been intensely fought over, again and again, and has changed hands several times. The route we took connects the city to a key supply route — whoever controls the road determines if the eastern, rebel-held part of the city is besieged or not.
The destroyed buildings are in an area that was long held by rebels. The worst of the damage looks like the result of airstrikes. Only the government and, for the past year, its ally Russia have warplanes in the fight here. But some of the destruction could also be from artillery, which both sides have.
You go from this moonscape of war-destroyed buildings to a street of buses, open shops and apartments with laundry hanging from the balconies. These are areas that the government never lost, so they were never hit with the heaviest firepower. But rebel groups fire mortars; an individual strike doesn’t cause a building to fall, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t kill someone.
“Community Power: Fighting to Remain in Rural America II,” Grant Williams, CoLab Radio
Fourtee Acres is a 195-acre family farm managed by Tyrone Williams in rural east North Carolina. Tyrone’s grandfather acquired the first tract of land in 1916 and became the first in his lineage of sharecroppers and enslaved farmers to own their own property. For the last 100 years, the farm has been a key source of wealth for the Williams family, producing cotton, tobacco, soybeans, peanuts, and timber. But, in 2012, Tyrone began asking himself some key questions about the future: “What kind of legacy do we want to leave here? Our family left us the sustenance, the land, and we want to leave a roadmap for our children and grandchildren.”
Tyrone is one of many families concerned for the future of family-owned small farms and land. In this impoverished region of the Black Belt, where agriculture and timber industries dominate the economy, preserving the 1 million acres of at-risk family land is a critical strategy for local economic development and local wealth. Land loss and out-migration has plagued ancestral land across the south, with African-American-owned land decreasing from 15 million acres to 2 million acres over the last 100 years. Tyrone considers himself as one of the lucky ones: “By the grace of God, we have been able to keep the land, and it dawned on us that, the long tenure of family land wasn’t looked at as a real income-generating entity.”
The Roanoke Electric Cooperative is playing a key role in land preservation through the Sustainable Forestry and African-American Land Retention Program. This program builds a support system for landowners and provides resources for landowners to develop strategies for sustained wealth. As director Alton Perry, describes, the program allows “those who own property to demonstrate to the next generation about the capacity that this land has – whether its income, social benefits, and environmental benefits.”
“City Ground,” Stephen Graham, Places Journal
From the wooded summit in the Grunewald, a large expanse of the flat East European plain stretches out to a hazy horizon. The glitzy new landmarks of post-Cold War Berlin stud the distant panorama; the needle-like TV tower of Alexanderplatz is slightly farther away. Teufelsberg, at a height of 400 feet, is comfortably the highest spot in Berlin. An expansive and verdant peak, it might easily be mistaken for a geological feature with a history stretching back millions of years, or, perhaps, as the remnant of moraine shunted here by some primeval ice sheet.
Yet Teufelsberg is barely half a century old. Beneath its soils lie not a complex geological stratigraphy but rather the dark ruins of verticalized total war. Between the summit and the earlier surface of the land lies one-seventh of all the rubble removed from the bombed-out cities of Germany in the arduous postwar clearing and reconstruction that went on between 1945 and 1972. As the late W. G. Sebald recorded, in “The Natural History of Destruction,” by the end of World War II, “there were 31.1 cubic meters of rubble for every inhabitant of Cologne and 42.8 cubic meters for every inhabitant of Dresden.”
Teufelsberg — literally, the “devil’s mountain,” in German — was formed from the remains of a large part of pre-war Berlin, from the 50,000 burnt and bombed-out buildings that were reduced to 75 million tons of rubble. Beneath the deceptively pastoral peak, where contemporary Berliners picnic in summer and sled in winter, there rests a dead city: the grim result of the techno-industrial processes of aerial annihilation and modern warfare. It is of course perversely fitting that the dominating new peak would become, in the early 1960s, the site of one of the largest listening posts of the U.S. National Security Agency; today the tattered structures of the abandoned Field Station Berlin are a tourist attraction.
“When a City Stops Arguing About Climate Change and Starts Planning,” John H. Tibbetts, Next City
October has become the cruelest month for Charleston. Last month, Hurricane Matthew roared past the South Carolina coast, sending a 9-foot tide into the city and dumping heavy rainfall across the marshy low country. Abandoned cars stalled in downtown intersections where floodwaters lapped at their windows, and police blocked off dozens of streets.
Yet the flooding of the historic City Market downtown — built on a long-ago filled creek bed — was surprisingly shallow.
This was news — the iconic local tourist attraction had become known for the floods that overtook it in storms, so much so that kayakers would pose for memorable photos of their boat bobbing through the submerged streetscape. This time, the water had risen inches, not feet.