Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days.
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“Vagabond Express,” Haley Cullingham, The Awl
“I wondered what she did,” Alice Adams wrote of a fellow Greyhound passenger in the New Yorker in 1981, “what job took her from Oakland to Vallejo.” Adams had gotten on the wrong bus. She was on her way home to San Francisco from Sacramento, and instead of boarding the commuter coach, she got on the milk route instead; the woman sitting near her represented a parallel universe traveling the same line. Post-divorce, Adams was especially susceptible to this kind of imagining. Who was this woman? And what fine lines, drawn of coincidence and choice and culture, separated Adams from her?
The day after she accidentally took the slow bus home, Adams travelled to work next to a woman who boarded at the same station she did, disembarked at Adams’s destination, and went to work in a building right beside her office. She found this duality unsettling. On every bus we don’t board, a possible life drives away without us, and the romance is ruined if the possibility presented is as mundane as our own reality. Better instead, Adams decides, to wile away commuter hours contemplating individuals like the woman working in Vallejo, fellow travellers who were different: a handsome black man, a heavyset woman, someone in a sharp purple suit who says what other passengers are afraid to. At the end of the piece, Adams writes of her trips on the Greyhound, “I could meet anyone at all.”
The years following the financial crash were a good time to meet people on the Greyhound. Mother Jones reported that in 2008, intercity bus travel went up almost ten percent. In the years that bracketed the recession, I did a lot of disappearing on Greyhound buses. Lacking the wherewithal to determine what my life should look like, I worked a couple of jobs and saved up money and then spent it rumbling from coast to coast at semi-regular intervals, visiting friends, or helping them move. I was not riding for a purpose, particularly, but because motion gives shape to purposelessness.
“This 500-Year-Old Book Revolutionized How We See Cities,” Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, Fast Co.Design
Probably more than any other physical phenomenon, cities are a reflection of the incredible complexity of the modern world. And in the mid-1500s, as modern cities began to burgeon throughout Europe, cartographers and artists scrambled to depict their new shapes and sizes. In some cases, these cityscapes were considered entertainment—the first atlas of cityscapes ever published, 1572’s Civitates Orbis Terrarumor Cities of the World, was wildly popular throughout Europe for decades.
Thanks to its global trade empire, its academic centers, and its reputation for navigation on the high seas, the Netherlands was at the center of the mapping revolution in the 16th century. And Civitates was kind of like its Planet Earth: a beautiful, exotic glimpse into 450 different cities all over the world, drawn by dozens of different artists who wove together different styles of painting and cartography into images that told vivid stories about the places they depicted, and even functioned as advertising for them.
“Atlanta’s War On Density,” Joseph Hurley, Atlanta Studies
Two large tracts of land just outside of Atlanta’s central business district, Turner Field and the Atlanta Civic Center, will soon be redeveloped. While the plans have not been finalized, both areas are expected to be redeveloped into mixed-use commercial and residential sections. This move by the City of Atlanta to sell both properties for mixed-use developments represents a change in how many Americans now view cities and urban development. And, it represents at least a small semblance of the return to urban development in Atlanta, a city that for the last 60 years has supported anti-urban and suburban-influenced development within its previously urbanized areas.
These two redevelopment projects will test how committed the City of Atlanta’s leaders and private developers are to returning the city’s form to an urban environment where vehicle throughput capacity and private vehicle storage are not the dominant concerns. They can be opportunities to bring back people-centered urban spaces on land where the once thriving, walkable, connected, urban residential neighborhoods of Buttermilk Bottoms and parts of Summerhill existed.
These urban residential neighborhoods were consumed by a planning ideology that convinced nearly all segments of American society that car-focused and compartmentalized land use development in both suburban and urban areas were common sense. This ideology also convinced the American public that density and commercial activity, even small corner stores, within residential neighborhoods were fundamentally problematic.
In the decades after World War II, Atlanta lost many of its urban neighborhoods to this development ideology, which can be understood as a war on density. While some elements of this development mindset seem to be fading as mixed-use development now appears to be desirable, it still holds immense influence on how urban space in Atlanta is configured. This essay will briefly explain how Atlanta’s war on density was propagated, explore what Atlanta has lost in terms of the residential built environment, and will end by challenging Atlanta’s leaders and developers to fully abandon the war on density in favor of people-focused, urban residential development in the Turner Field and Civic Center areas.
Just a few years ago it would have been utterly inconceivable that an anarchist would be honoured by having his name given to a street in the capital. But two weeks ago Madrid City Council agreed unanimously to name a street after a man known as the Red Angel, Melchor Rodriguez Garcia.
Precisely which street will be named after Rodriguez has yet to be decided but it will be one of a number with Franco-era associations, including Caudillo Square, named after "the Chief" himself, and others commemorating infamous Franco generals.
A total of 35 street names will be changed by the end of next year to give a new "pluralistic, democratic and diverse" face to the city. The replacement names will include more women - who Madrid's culture councillor has said are almost invisible on the street map - and victims of terror.
“How Segregated Schools Turn Kids Into Criminals,” Jeff Guo, The Washington Post
The schools around Charlotte were once admired nationwide. They offered a model for successful racial integration — proof that a diverse community could raise its children with shared values and shared opportunity.
That dream crumbled in the early 2000s, when a lawsuit from some parents forced the school district to dismantle its busing and integration program. Instead, most children would attend school in the neighborhoods where they lived, neighborhoods that were divided by race and class. Almost overnight, segregation returned to the schools in Charlotte and surrounding Mecklenburg county. The number of schools that were more than 65 percent black doubled.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg district has become a cautionary tale about the consequences when a community allows its school system to separate white from black, affluent from poor.