Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
This week, something different—or perhaps, intensely familiar—via my friend and colleague Mark Byrnes:
Rockville’s White Flint Mall was a big deal in the D.C.-area when it opened up in 1977. But by the time this early-aughts Montgomery County teen was participating in the Mall Lifestyle, White Flint felt second-class to, say, the Montgomery Mall (now known as Westfield Montgomery), where the rich kids had cultivated a see-and-be-seen environment.
To me and my fellow kids, White Flint’s food court design was not much more than a slightly outdated quirk at the turn of the century (This was before a e s t h e t i c was a thing.) But in 2015, artist Signe Pierce’s love of hedonistic neon brought her to this space that we had dismissed. Its illuminated geometric columns, pastel lighting, and seductive landscape mural made the cover of her 2015 photo zine, Dead Malls Go To Heaven. A year earlier it had been featured in a Gawker story aptly titled, “I Can’t Stop Looking at This Dead Mall’s Abandoned Food Court” with photographs by a D.C.-based artist.
White Flint Mall has since been demolished, but the v i b e s of its food court have come to be appreciated since its death, in particular, by Tumblr users under 30 who listened to v a p o r w a v e during the Obama years—like myself. Recently, I was perusing videos of abandoned mall footage set to the tune of 1980s hits, edited to sound like they were echoing inside those iconic empty spaces. That’s when I came across the old White Flint food court. This time it appeared as a cover photo for a v a p o r w a v e mix on YouTube by Spliff Radio. The music, as one commenter notes, is “P E A C E F U L” and the video gives the 1980s malls of North America the half-ironic, half-sincere tribute they deserve.
CityLab created a gift guide, drawing from D.C. Metro’s new, delightfully weird gift shop catalogue. Click through to peruse Foggy Bottom yoga pants (get it?), magnets and, notably, *long* magnets, squishy stress-relieving trains, and much, much more.
Here's what else we're reading, watching, and listening to:
Sugar Hill: Where Hollywood’s black glitterati challenged racist housing practices. (L.A. Curbed) ¤ “To [Gwendolyn] Brooks, poetry was citizenship. In Chicago, her radicalism is at center stage.” (New Yorker) ¤ I got 99 problems but a floating island ain't one. (Atlas Obscura) ¤ How pop-up restaurants became a thing. (GQ) ¤ Florida wants to secede…well, only with respect to daylight savings. (Quartz) ¤ “We have seen a huge increase in the number of people traveling to places on the cusp of great change.” (New York Times) ¤ The largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River grapples with the perils and promises of a new pipeline. (Bitter Southerner) ¤ Ichiro Suzuki’s return to Seattle won’t disperse his demons. (ESPN Magazine) ¤ Behold: the era of adult dorm living. (New York Times) ¤
- Some of us are going to be at SxSW in Austin, Texas, next week, on panels about city-related stuff. Come say hi!
- Folks in D.C., keep an eye out for “Chasing Mehserle,” a play by Chinaka Hodge about gentrification and violence, scheduled to be performed at the Kennedy Center.
View from the ground:
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