A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days.
Tweet us your favorites with #CityReads.
A gentle breeze slid in the doorway of Rosa Abdu’s restaurant and escaped through the spaces in the walls. Like many structures in Yida, the largest refugee settlement in South Sudan, the restaurant was constructed from sticks bound together by homemade rope made of woven vines; they’re quick to put up, and quick to take down. Early morning sunlight slipped between the sticks in slices, but the compounding heat was kept at bay.
Rosa sat on a small stool, with her tools in front of her, getting ready to open for the day. From a small jug, she poured water onto dirty dishes, washing them with a sponge she’d fashioned from a big knot of shredded plastic. She rinsed a pink plastic pitcher and placed it on a small, heart-shaped metal table, along with a single cup. Like many restaurants in this refugee settlement, there’s just one communal cup for water. Though clean water is available at pumps throughout the camp, it has to be carried in 20-liter containers that, when full, weigh as much as a five-year-old child.
While it was cooler inside the restaurant than outside, hot coals burning on the stove sent waves of heat across the room. The stove had been made by a local handyman out of repurposed aluminum cans, cut and unrolled into flat sheets of metal. It resembled a stool: The coals rested on what would have been the seat, their ashes falling through knife-punched holes onto a shelf below. Atop the coals sat pots and pans made from tins that once held tomato paste and USAID oil rations. Now outfitted with handles and spouts, they were full of simmering stews and boiling water. I pointed to a covered pot, and Rosa slid off the lid, revealing a bubbling dish of meat and okra.
“Stoop Summit,” Sarah Goodyear, New York Daily News
The year was 1999, and Noella Cotto was just looking for a place in Harlem to call her own. When she finally found the perfect place—a brownstone, in decent shape, at 17 E. 126th Street—she had no idea that the building had played a historic supporting role in American pop culture when, in 1958, 57 of the coolest cats in jazz assembled there to have their picture taken for a special issue of Esquire magazine. Cotto, who worked as a postal cop at the time, was unaware that the famous photo, titled “Harlem 1958,” was ubiquitous around the neighborhood, or that a generation of folks who’d grown up in the so-called Cultural Capital of Black America had seen the image so often, hanging in barber shops and bodegas, that they’d long since forgotten about it themselves. Nor did she realize that the photo had gotten another close-up only five years earlier in an Oscar-nominated documentary, “A Great Day in Harlem.”
The whole audacious idea was conceived by a man who none of the musicians knew, 33-year-old Art Kane, who had made a name for himself as a magazine art director but whose passion was photography. This was his first professional shooting assignment and, with it, he ended up making history almost by accident.
“He became aware that Esquire was planning a big issue on jazz,” says Jonathan Kane, Art’s son, a musician and photographer who also manages his late father’s photographic legacy (Art Kane died in 1995). “He cooked up the idea of doing a big portrait (with) all these musicians. Art pitched his crazy idea, and they said, Do it.” There was no question about where he would shoot. “Harlem was where the jazz scene came into being and coalesced,” Kane says. “It had to be in Harlem. And he wanted a place that reflected everyday life rather than a club. This could be a street where anybody could live.”
“The Lowline is Not a Park,” Alexandra Lange, Curbed
I’m not mad at the Lowline any more. I was, for years, as I saw the same trippy renderings and the phrase "world’s first underground park" bounce around the internet pinball machine and never, ever exit. It seemed unstoppable as Kickstarter urbanism, meme-tecture, and the infrastructural sublime, with the added bonus of a High Line founder as board member and Lena Dunham as fundraiser.
It was a lot, especially for a project that is quite small: 50,000 square feet, underneath Delancey Street, adjacent to the J train. Until July, its founders didn’t technically even claim the space. Those dreamer-creator-founders, Dan Barasch and James Ramsey, haven’t had real access to the site for years. But now, the Lowline has been selected by New York City’s Economic Development Corporation as designated developer for that subterranean acre and there’s a chance that the dream might become real.
When I wrote about the Lowline in 2013, I underlined the fact that, Kickstarter "success" notwithstanding, the idea still had many bureaucratic rivers to cross. This is bridge No. 1, three years later. Barasch and Ramsey put in the work and (though they did not know this during the city’s eight-month bid process) they were unopposed. So high are the opportunity costs, no one else wants it.
“Fordlandia—The Failure of Henry Ford’s Utopian City in the Amazon,” Drew Reed, The Guardian
In 1928, northern Brazil was captivated by an enticing bit of news. The region’s residents were about to receive a new visitor, a man who came with the promise of reviving their ailing economy and introducing them to a whole new way of life – Henry Ford.
Local papers began raving about their future neighbour. Speculation ran wild: some columnists opined that Ford would be building a new railroad to the coast, or a new factory for his cars. Above all, they just wanted to know when he would be arriving.
Officially, Ford’s interest in Brazil was a business venture: the monopoly on Sri Lankan rubber maintained by Britain was driving up costs for his new Model A cars, so he wanted to find a cheap source of latex that would allow the Ford Motor Company to produce its own tyres, to cut costs.
But Ford’s vision ran much deeper.
“Why Are the Streets Always Under Construction?” Emily S. Rueb, The New York Times
Streets are both New York City’s circulatory system and its skin.
Commerce and commuters crisscross more than 6,300 miles of roadway in the five boroughs. Heavy traffic and the passage of time take their toll. But roads are also uniquely vulnerable to the elements. Water, especially during the freeze-and-thaw cycle between fall and spring, is another major irritant.
And just below the surface, there is another complication to their well-being: a labyrinth of aging infrastructure.