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.
Hello and welcome back to Navigator!
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about walls.
In Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives, Sarah Williams Goldhagen argues that how we embody space affects how we think about the world, and ourselves. Architecture shapes our psychology, our behavior, and our thoughts. Given that, what happens when we live in the vicinity of a particularly significant wall—say, a border wall? Especially now, when the world has more border walls than ever before in modern history, what psychological and cultural relationships do these structures forge with the people who live in their shadows?
In The New Yorker, Jessica Wapner explores research on the effect of border walls on peoples’ minds. Border walls are typically built to separate a designated “us” from a “them.” With that division often come stresses, severed connections, and surveillance. That’s why people living near the “peace lines” in Northern Ireland reported higher anxiety. One psychiatrist dubbed the rise in ambient paranoia among those living along the Berlin Wall the “wall disease.”
“It takes a siege mentality to build a wall,” Wapner concludes. “Once it’s built, those in its shadow end up feeling more besieged.”
On the other hand, the wall itself can be the physical symbol of a cultural shift—or the solidification of an existing cultural imperative, writes Francisco Cantú in a separate piece in The New Yorker. In the case of America, the impetus to erect a border wall marks the end of one of the country’s most powerful myths—the idea “of men and women seeking freedom along a vast frontier, a space for reinvention, unburdened by society, history, and one’s own past.”
What we’re writing:
Finding community at a Los Angeles LGBTQ café. ¤ Meet the UPS guy taking pictures with All The Good Dogs. ¤ On “birdwatching while black.” ¤ Who let the cats out? ¤ Preserving the legacy of black baseball in Detroit. ¤ An illustrated history of the electric taxi. ¤
What we’re taking in:
“Miriam Sutton likes to wander around her neighborhood in Northeast Washington with secrets in her pocket: palm-size handmade stickers, decorated to look like Japanese paper cranes.” (The Washington Post) ¤ Migrants in Paris express themselves through fashion. (The New Yorker) ¤ To see America, visit every Minor League baseball park. (Deadspin) ¤ “Sir, this is a garage sale. Everything here is used.” (Curbed) ¤ “In cities, as in love, there can be no substitutions.” (Popula) ¤ My landlord, Philip Roth. (Yale Review) ¤ “These days the uptown bodegas play bachata, and when I walk by I like to let it inflect the rhythm of my walking—the music I don’t have to listen to because it’s everywhere, the dance I don’t have to do because it’s always in my body.” (Longreads) ¤ Rapper Nipsey Hussle was trying to save his LA neighborhood. (Los Angeles Times) ¤ The Beijing park where elderly meet-cutes happen. (Roads & Kingdoms) ¤ LA’s rudest license plates. (Los Angeles) ¤ The public library: “a place for people.” (The New York Review of Books) ¤ “Bo launched Nguoi Viet to try to connect the day-to-day happenings of the home country to the Vietnamese starting over in their adopted country.” (Los Angeles Times) ¤ Where George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four. (Longreads) ¤