The Navigator newsletter lands in your inbox every other Saturday. Sign up here!

Hello and happy fall!

TV—and particularly, reality TV—can be an escape. Or, it can be an astute reflection of the social realities in a particular place. This week, CityLab staff writer Sarah Holder ruminates on the significance of the HGTV experience for her, and how it has changed over time:

My best childhood memories were also some of the most mundane: nights spent snuggled with my mom, watching HGTV over trays of cheese and crackers. We called the special occasions “cold-plate nights,” and they were filled with formulaic home-makeover show after home-makeover show, like Curb Appeal, House Hunters, and Design on a Dime.

Years later, Netflix has attempted to reinvent the HGTV wheel. I got back to binging, and this time I wrote for CityLab about what I saw. The show is called Stay Here, and it’s about re-doing people’s extra houses or bedrooms so they can rent them out for higher sums on temporary rental platforms like Airbnb.

But watching any kind of HGTV show feels different to me now, because I write about the intersections between housing and inequality. As an affordable housing crisis affects cities across the country, it was especially hard to watch a show that so clearly lacked self-awareness. The missing context: Airbnb appears to favor those people who already have extra rooms in their homes, or more than one home; and gobbles up vacant units that could have gone to people in need of somewhere to live, not to vacation.

It’s not just me. Natalie Y. Moore has written for CityLab about how she hate-watches House Hunters because it helps her understand segregation in Chicago. Watching TV—especially mindless TV—is supposed to be an escape. But nowadays, it seems like a master class in understanding the landscape of urban inequality.

What we’re writing:

Combating loneliness starts in classrooms. ¤ Climate change getting you down? You’re not alone! ¤ Dispatches from African artists’ road trip. ¤ Finding community on a basketball court. ¤ Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers’ mascot, “looks (and behaves) like an internet outrage come to wrathful, furry life.” ¤

What we’re taking in:

The Sears catalogue was radical during the Jim Crow era. (On the Media) ¤ How “voguing” emerged in New York. (Huffington Post) ¤ “Juarez’s story is best heard and understood at the cantinas in what is now a small stretch of the city.” (TASTE) ¤ These homeless newspaper vendors write beautiful poetry. (Poetry Foundation) ¤ China is planning to launch “artificial moons” to light up its city streets. (Al Jazeera) ¤ The “architecture populists” documenting endangered buildings. (The Baffler)  ¤ “Why die on Mars when you can live in South Dakota?” (The Week) ¤

View from the ground:

@sarah__hellman gave an inside look at Stockholm's train stations. On the subject, @kyleander2 reminded us that during rush hour, cars are no match for mass transit. @julio.a.c highlighted the beauty at the intersection of industry and environment. @vickophoto captured a vibrant and creative use of old and ugly fire escapes.  

Tag us with the hashtag #citylabontheground so our fellow Karim Doumar can shout out your #views on CityLab’s Instagram page or pull them together for the next edition of Navigator.

Until next time,

Tanvi

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. The Cincinnati skyline and river
    Life

    Maps Reveal Where the Creative Class Is Growing

    “The rise of the rest” may soon become a reality as once-lagging cities see growth of creative class employment.

  2. Design

    A First-Rate Waterfront Park Is Transforming a Historic Greek City

    Thessaloniki’s New Waterfront is the centerpiece in an effort to transform the local economy, and other cities are taking notice.

  3. Transportation

    How Utrecht Became a Paradise for Cyclists

    A new short film reveals how the Dutch city reengineered itself around the bicycle, with life- and money-saving results.

  4. A migrant laborer rides a bicycle past a residential community in Shanghai.
    Equity

    When Affordable Housing in Shanghai Is a Bed in the Kitchen

    In this sector of the city’s informal housing rental market, as many as 24 people can be crammed into a three-bedroom apartment.

  5. A one-story building with a strip-club sign above the entrance.
    Design

    The Architecture of Adult Entertainment

    Photographing strip-club exteriors from Miami to L.A. for his series “Gentlemen’s Club,” François Prost found pink stucco, flashy signs—and lots of parking.

×