There's been a lot of talk in this election cycle about "average Americans" and "real Americans". In a piece for FiveThirtyEight, Jed Kolko used age, education, and race & ethnicity to find the city most demographically similar the US as a whole. Here's his top 5:
1. New Haven-Milford, CT
2. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
3. Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT
4. Oklahoma City, OK
5. Springfield, MA
See, he used 3 variables: race, education, and age, to proxy for "normalcy." His method looked at how typical a given "race" group in a given city was on educational/age factors, and a given educational group in a given city on race/age factors, etc. In other words, he didn't truly ask "What city is most normal?" He asked "In what city is each group of people most typical of that group of people nationally?" That's a cool question, but it's totally not "normalcy." The reason is simple: as best I can tell, Jed doesn't fully capture the role of aggregate composition. He's trying to get specific and avoid calling a place "abnormal" just because it has one weird demographic lump; he wants cell-specific abnormality. But nobody cares if Graduate-Degree-Holding Native Americans happen to be much younger in St. Louis than elsewhere. We care if St. Louis has a weirdly large number of Graduate-Degree-Holding-Native-Americans. Composition of the population is the most important measure of normalcy, and one that Kolko's method will tend to under-emphasize.
Stone ran his own analysis with that in mind, using 20 different demographic variables, and came up with a different list of the most normal places in America:
1. Oklahoma City, OK
2. Tulsa, OK
3. Jacksonville, FL
4. Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA
5. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ
The above table shows the places with the lowest weirdness-scores. Two of them are in Oklahoma. I'll talk about them together. Oklahoma City is less than 1 standard deviation from the mean on every single variable. It is exactly the mean for the poverty rate, and almost exactly the mean for educational attainment. It's biggest oddity is housing costs compared to income, which are a bit high, and the percent of households with a car, which is also just a teentsy bit high. Other than that? If you're looking for "Normal America" then look to Oklahoma City. Tulsa's story is the same, except it also has a bit of a low share of civilian government workers.
Among the weirdest places on Stone's list? San Jose, NYC, and Jacksonville, NC.
New York is up next. Again, a large foreign-born share makes New York weird. But the real weirdness is actually in New York's transit access. New York's car-ownership share is a whopping nine standard deviations below the national average. New York's housing costs also make it weird, as does the percent of people who are renting. In other words, New York is weird because it's just so darn urban.
As part of the Interstate Highway System project, expressways were run right through the heart of many American cities, disrupting neighborhoods and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
The 48,000 miles of interstate highway that would be paved across the country during the 1950s, '60s, and '70s were a godsend for many rural communities. But those highways also gutted many cities, with whole neighborhoods torn down or isolated by huge interchanges and wide ribbons of asphalt. Wealthier residents fled to the suburbs, using the highways to commute back in by car. That drained the cities' tax bases and hastened their decline.
So why did cities help build the expressways that would so profoundly decimate them? The answer involves a mix of self-interested industry groups, design choices made by people far away, a lack of municipal foresight, and outright institutional racism.
Here's some homework: think about Uber/Lyft and the coming self-driving cars (Tesla, Apple, Google, Ford, etc.) in the context of the highways' effect on the American city. Who benefits most from these services? (The wealthy? Huge companies?) How will they affect the funding and use of public transportation? What will happen to cities? To urban sprawl? To the economically disadvantaged?
When Jane Jacobs published The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961, she was a lone voice with no credentials speaking up against the most powerful ideas in urban planning. Fifty-five years later, on Jacobs' 100th birthday (honored in today's Google Doodle), urban dwellers are all living in her vision of the great American city.
The Death and Life of Great American Cities was a reaction to urban planning movements that wanted to clear entire city blocks and rebuild them. Jacobs argued this ignored everything that made cities great: the mixture of shops, offices, and housing that brought people together to live their lives. And her vision triumphed.
Fun and sorta weird fact: neither The Death and Life of Great American Cities or Robert Caro's The Power Broker (about Jacobs' foe Robert Moses) is available in ebook format.
If I were running a school, I'd have one standing assignment that would begin in the first grade and go on all through school, every week: that each child should bring in something said by an authority -- it could be by the teacher, or something they see in print, but something that they don't agree with -- and refute it.
Caro: If you're publishing on the Internet, do you call them readers or viewers?
Robbins: Either, I think.
Caro: How do you know they're reading it?
Robbins: There's something called Chartbeat -- it shows you how many people are reading a specific article in any given moment, and how long they spend on that article. That's called "engagement time." We have a giant flatscreen on the wall that displays it, a lot of publications do.
Caro: What you just said is the worst thing I ever heard. [Laughs]
Caro: Moses came along with his incredible vision, and vision not in a good sense. It's like how he built the bridges too low.
I remember his aide, Sid Shapiro, who I spent a lot of time getting to talk to me, he finally talked to me. And he had this quote that I've never forgotten. He said Moses didn't want poor people, particularly poor people of color, to use Jones Beach, so they had legislation passed forbidding the use of buses on parkways.
Then he had this quote, and I can still hear him saying it to me. "Legislation can always be changed. It's very hard to tear down a bridge once it's up." So he built 180 or 170 bridges too low for buses.
We used Jones Beach a lot, because I used to work the night shift for the first couple of years, so I'd sleep til 12 and then we'd go down and spend a lot of afternoons at the beach. It never occurred to me that there weren't any black people at the beach.
So Ina and I went to the main parking lot, that huge 10,000-car lot. We stood there with steno pads, and we had three columns: Whites, Blacks, Others. And I still remember that first column -- there were a few Others, and almost no Blacks. The Whites would be go on to the next page. I said, God, this is what Robert Moses did. This is how you can shape a metropolis for generations.
Robert Moses had always displayed a genius for adorning his creations with little details that made them fit in with their setting, that made the people who used them feel at home in them. There was a little detail on the playhouse-comfort station in the Harlem section of Riverside Park that is found nowhere else in the park. The wrought-iron trellises of the park's other playhouses and comfort stations are decorated with designs like curling waves.
The wrought-iron trellises of the Harlem playhouse-comfort station are decorated with monkeys.
And now I am filled with regret at never having read The Power Broker. I started it a couple times, but could never find the time to follow through. I wish it was available on the Kindle...a 1300-page paperback is not exactly handy to carry about and read. The unabridged audiobook is 66 hours long...and $72.
Economist William Easterly and some of his colleagues built a site that focuses on the economic development of a single block in NYC, Greene Street between Houston and Prince. In the past 175 years, use of the block has gone from wealthy residential to sex work to garment manufacturing to artist galleries to luxury retail.
133 Greene Street, for example, has been part of the large Bayard farm, a grand residential home, a brothel, a garment factory, part of a slum, an art gallery, and is today the home of luxury co-op residences and a Dior Homme store.
Many of these shifts took only a decade and could have been very difficult to anticipate.
By 1870, the Greene Street Block contained 14 brothels, the highest concentration of any block in the City. Just as surprising was the sudden end of prostitution on the block. Brothels still abounded in 1880, but during the next decade entrepreneurs demolished and rebuilt almost the entire block as castiron factories and warehouses, and what was left of the red-light district moved up town.
The site is a little confusing to navigate, but is worth checking out in detail. For instance, check out how quickly the garment manufacturing industry shifted from downtown to the present-day Garment District.
Shuttered storefronts. Abandoned retail locations. Small businesses that fall like the House of Cards & Curiosities on Eighth Avenue. These are the signs of urban blight we usually associate with economic downturns or poor, forgotten neighborhoods. But these shuttered storefronts are in one of America's wealthiest neighborhoods; NYC's West Village. As The New Yorker's Tim Wu explains, some urban blight emerges when economic times are too good and rents get too high. And we're not just talking about mom and pop here. Even Starbucks is closing some Manhattan locations due to rent hikes.
In 2011, Louisville converted two one-way streets near downtown, each a little more than a mile long, back to two-way traffic. In data that they gathered over the following three years, Gilderbloom and William Riggs found that traffic collisions dropped steeply -- by 36 percent on one street and 60 percent on the other -- after the conversion, even as the number of cars traveling these roads increased. Crime dropped too, by about a quarter, as crime in the rest of the city was rising. Property values rose, as did business revenue and pedestrian traffic, relative to before the change and to a pair of nearby comparison streets. The city, as a result, now stands to collect higher property tax revenues along these streets, and to spend less sending first-responders to accidents there.
For decades, American cities have been built around the automobile and getting them and their passengers through cities as quickly as possible. This research suggests slowing the pace of the city results in increased safety, decreased crime, and higher property values. (via mr)
Ok, April Fools' is still idiotic, but this is pretty cool: you can play Pac-Man in any neighborhood on Google Maps.
NYC's West Village is a fun place to play. See also Pac-Manhattan, a real-life game of Pac-Man played on the streets of Manhattan in 2004 by a group of ITP students, including Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley.
You've got to get out and walk. Walk, and you will see that many of the assumptions on which the projects depend are visibly wrong. You will see, for example; that a worthy and well-kept institutional center does not necessarily upgrade its surroundings. (Look at the blight-engulfed urban universities, or the petered-out environs of such ambitious landmarks as the civic auditorium in St. Louis and the downtown mall in Cleveland.) You will see that suburban amenity is not what people seek downtown. (Look at Pittsburghers by the thousands climbing forty-two steps to enter the very urban Mellon Square, but balking at crossing the street into the ersatz suburb of Gateway Center.)
You will see that it is not the nature of downtown to decentralize. Notice how astonishingly small a place it is; how abruptly it gives way, outside the small, high-powered core, to underused area. Its tendency is not to fly apart but to become denser, more compact. Nor is this tendency some leftover from the past; the number of people working within the cores has been on the increase, and given the long-term growth in white-collar work it will continue so. The tendency to become denser is a fundamental quality of downtown and it persists for good and sensible reasons.
If you get out and walk, you see all sorts of other clues. Why is the hub of downtown such a mixture of things? Why do office workers on New York's handsome Park Avenue turn off to Lexington or Madison Avenue at the first corner they reach? Why is a good steak house usually in an old building? Why are short blocks apt to be busier than long ones?
It is the premise of this article that the best way to plan for downtown is to see how people use it today; to look for its strengths and to exploit and reinforce them. There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. This does not mean accepting the present; downtown does need an overhaul, it is dirty, it is congested. But there are things that are right about it too, and by simple old-fashioned observation we can see what they are. We can see what people like.
Overseen and designed by its residents until its destruction by the Hong Kong government in 1993, Kowloon Walled City was once the most densely populated place on Earth. Before demolition, a group of Japanese researchers scoured the city, documenting every inch of the cramped settlement, resulting in a book full of dense drawings of the city. Here's just some of the detail from one of the drawings:
With colleagues, Ulm began analyzing cities the way you'd analyze a material, looking at factors such as the arrangement of buildings, each building's center of mass, and how they're ordered around each other. They concluded that cities could be grouped into categories: Boston's structure, for example, looks a lot like an "amorphous liquid." Seattle is another liquid, and so is Los Angeles. Chicago, which was designed on a grid, looks like glass, he says; New York resembles a highly ordered crystal.
I love this. It's like Jane Jacobs + the materials science research I did in college.
So far, Ulm says, the work has two potential applications. First, it could help predict and mitigate urban heat island effects, the fact that cities tend to be several degrees warmer than their surrounding areas-a phenomenon that has a major impact on energy use. (His research on how this relates to structure is currently undergoing peer review.) Second, he says that cities' molecular order (or disorder) may also affect their vulnerability to the kinds of catastrophic weather events that are becoming more frequent thanks to climate change.
And just so you can get a sense of how large these drawings are:
Here's a peek at his process:
Reminiscent of Stephen Wiltshire's work. And every time I see something like this, I think about when I went to the Met a few years ago and noticed the sketchbook of this guy working the membership desk. It was filled with beautifully intricate drawings of NYC-style city streets. I chatted with him about them briefly, but I wish I'd asked if he had put any of it online. Would have been neat to share his drawings with you. (via waxy)
Kate Ascher, author of the great The Works: Anatomy of a City, has a new book out about transportation. The Way to Go explores how global transportation works, from how car engines work to the ocean routes travelled by huge cargo ships. Slate has an excerpt.
Focusing on the machines that underpin our lives, Ascher's The Way to Go also introduces the systems that keep those machines in business -- the emergency communication networks that connect ships at sea, the automated tolling mechanisms that maintain the flow of highway traffic, the air control network that keeps planes from colliding in the sky. Equally fascinating are the technologies behind these complex systems: baggage tag readers that make sure people's bags go where they need to; automated streetlights that adjust their timing based on traffic flow; GPS devices that pinpoint where we are on earth at any second. Together these technologies move more people farther, faster, and more cheaply than at any other time in history.
Mini Metro is an upcoming game in the style of Sim City, except you're only building subway lines.
Mini Metro is an upcoming minimalistic subway layout game. Your small city starts with only three unconnected stations. Your task is to draw routes between the stations to connect them with subway lines. Everything but the line layout is handled automatically; trains run along the lines as quickly as they can, and the commuters decide which trains to board and where to make transfers.
However the city is constantly growing, along with the transport needs of its population. How long can you keep the subway system running before it grinds to a halt?
Oh man, this is great fun for transportation nerds. Site says it'll be out in "early 2014" for PC, Mac, Linux, iPad, and Android. You can play an early version on the site or d/l an alpha version for OS X, Windows, or Linux.
We have discovered the most realistic thing about Mini Metro: If you want to win, think of these "trains" as buses.
In real rail transit systems, you cannot simply abandon a rail line and build a new one -- certainly not just to handle an overcrowding problem. But to do well in Mini Metro you must revise the network repeatedly, and the last phase of the game you'll deploy lots of one-time-only temporary lines In fact, for best results, make sure you also have a spare tunnel, so that if you have to get a train quickly to a station on an island, you can build a temporary line to a destination across the water, deleting it after use.
To a rail engineer, all this is ridiculous, but to a transit network designer, it's the game's most realistic feature.
Build a subway line to run one train once, then tear it out? No, this is not how rail transit works, but it's very much how buses work, and it's good thing, too. That's why buses provide a much better sandbox for network design thinking. When you build powerful networks with buses, mistakes cost thousands rather than billions, so they're more likely to be repaired. Real-life transit networks do need to evolve, usually from radial beginnings to more gridlike structures.
Constructing our cities around cars is one of the biggest mistakes of the 20th century and we're still paying for it. As Kaj Pindal cleverly depicted in his 1966 Oscar-nominated short film What On Earth!, it often seems like cars and not people are the Earth's dominant life form.
The demographic term "NORC" was first coined in the 1980s by Michael Hunt, a professor of urban planning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He defined NORCs as neighborhoods and housing developments, originally built for young families, in which 50 percent of the residents are 60 years or older and have aged in place. Over time, this threshold definition has been adjusted by communities and policymakers to reflect local residential patterns.
Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly in an age where government funding of any social program is greeted with derision, NORCs are eligible for funding at local, state, and federal levels to provide support for services for the elderly. For instance, in 2010, there were 27 offical NORCs in NYC.
What counts as a "sizeable elderly population" varies from place to place (and from one level of government to the next), but NORCs are important because once a community meets the respective criteria, it becomes eligible for local, state, and federal funds retroactively to provide that community with the support services elderly populations typically need. These include (but are not limited to): case management and social work services; health care management and prevention programs; education, socialization, and recreational activities; and volunteer opportunities for program participants and the community.
Love this use of funding to support bottom-up behavior. Reminds me of using desire paths to place permanent sidewalks in parks and public spaces.
All New Yorkers are gentrifiers. Say you're of Jewish extraction: your forebears gentrified some Irish right out of L.E.S. around the turn of the century. Or maybe you're Irish, and your ancestors were responsible for gentrifying the marginal land around the Collect Pond in Five Points. Or maybe your family goes all the way back to New Amsterdam and Peter Minuit, the original gentrifier, who gentrified the poor Native Americans right off Manhattan island. No New Yorker, no matter how long their tenure, has the right to point fingers and say to anyone else "the problem started when you arrived here."
Citi Bikes thus also seems particularly well-suited for a sort of Hunger Games-style future: 1) The economy crashes utterly 2) poor, hungry people compete in hyperviolent Citi Bike chariot races at Madison Square Garden, now renamed Velodrome 17.
A trundling Citi Bike would make sense in just about any post-apocalyptic or dystopian book or movie. In the post-humanity 1949 George R. Stewart classic Earth Abides, about a Berkeley student who survives a plague, the bikes would have been very practical as people rebuilt society across generations, especially after electricity stopped working. And Walter M. Miller Jr.'s legendary 1960 A Canticle for Leibowitz, about monks rebuilding the world after "the Flame Deluge," could easily have featured monks pedaling around the empty desert after that deluge. Riding a Citi Bike (likely renamed something like "urbem vehentem") would probably have been a tremendous, abbot-level privilege, and the repair manual would have been an illuminated manuscript. It's gotten so that when I ride a Citi Bike I invariably end up thinking of all the buildings with their windows shattered, gray snow falling on people trudging in rags on their way to the rat market to buy a nice rat for Thanksgiving.
Waring also dressed the workers in white, and even his wife said, 'What, are you crazy?' But he wanted them to be associated with notions of hygiene. Of course, those in the medical profession wore white, and he understood, quite rightly, that it was an issue of public health and hygiene to keep the street clean. He also put them in the helmets that the police wore to signify authority, and they quickly were nicknamed the White Wings.
These men became heroes because, for the first time in anyone's memory, they actually cleaned the city. It was a very bright day in the history of the department. Waring was only in office for three years, but after he left, nobody could use the old excuses that Tammany had used to dodge the issue of waste management. They had always said it was too crowded, with too many diverse kinds of people, and never mind that London and Paris and Philadelphia and Boston cleaned their streets. New York was different and it just couldn't be done. Waring proved them wrong. Rates of preventable disease went down. Mortality rates went down. It also had a ripple effect across all different areas of the city.
Now, NYC is not the cleanest city in the world, not by a long-shot, but it used to be so much worse. In the early 1890s, the streets were literally covered in trash because the Department of Street Cleaning (as it was known then) was so inept; look at the difference made by a 1895 reorganization of the department:
A new study from the New York Department of Transportation shows that streets that safely accommodate bicycle and pedestrian travel are especially good at boosting small businesses, even in a recession.
NYC DOT found that protected bikeways had a significant positive impact on local business strength. After the construction of a protected bicycle lane on 9th Avenue, local businesses saw a 49% increase in retail sales. In comparison, local businesses throughout Manhattan only saw a 3% increase in retail sales.
And that's just one of the many tidbits from a NYC DOT report released last November (right around the time of Hurricane Sandy, which is probably why no one noticed at the time); read the whole report here:
Among them: "retail sales increased a whopping 172% after the city converted an underused parking area in Brooklyn into a pedestrian plaza", and traffic calming in the Bronx decreased speeding by ~30% and pedestrian crashes by 67%. (via @lhl)
The Morning News has a collection of maps showing the neighborhoods that New Yorkers might want to move to in a variety of cities around the world. Probably lots of generalizations to argue about here...have fun!
Prenzlauer Berg = Park Slope. Among the first neighborhoods to be gentrified after the Wall fell, Prenzlauer Berg (the locals shorten it to Prenzlberg, which isn't all that much shorter, but whatever) is populated by the same desperately, tragically hip mothers and fathers as Park Slope. But American yuppies have nothing on their German counterparts, who will invade a coffee shop, block the door with strollers, and turn it into a temporary romper room.
That's from a series called Darkened Skies by Thierry Cohen; he photographed various cities (NYC, Paris, Tokyo, SF) and matched them up with starry skies from more remote places like Montana, Nevada, and the Sahara. New Yorkers can see Cohen's work at the Danziger Gallery starting March 28.
Scarry moved to Switzerland in 1968, and if nothing else, Swiss architecture permeates the old town center of What Do People Do All Day. The Town Hall of Busytown on the cover is nothing if not Tudor. There is a small gate through which a small car is driving. Something to note about the vehicles in Busytown is that they are all just the right size for the number of passengers they carry. The Bus on the cover is full, with a hanger-on. The taxi holds one driver in the front and one passenger in the rear. The police officer (Seargant Murphy) is riding a motorcycle. When he has a passenger, the motorcycle always has a sidecar. Similarly, each window in town has someone in it, sometimes more than one person. Of course, this is a busy town, so the activity makes sense. The cover of this includes the grocery store, butcher, and baker (no supermarkets in 1968 Busytown), one block in front of Town Hall. One thing to note about the Butcher is that he is a pig, and clearly butchering sausages.
Nonetheless, Busytown is a place that works. Literally, in that it appears to enjoy full employment, and also in the sense that it has few obvious social problems. The police force, consisting of Sergeant Murphy, Policeman Louie and their chief, is charged with 'keeping things safe and peaceful' and 'protecting the townspeople from harm', which appears to largely consist of directing traffic, ticketing hoons and apprehending the town's notorious thief, Gorilla Banana [sic].
Now of course one could opine that it's in fact diffuse surveillance and self-surveillance that keep such remarkable order. All those open windows and doors, all that neighbourly cheerfulness, have a slightly sinister edge to them, if you're inclined to look for it, as do the lengths that some of the citizens will go to in order to promote proper behaviour amongst children.
Traffic officer reported busiest traffic jam ever at intersection of Main and Hippopotamus. Gridlock started when a peanut car stalled in the intersection and the elderly cricket driver was unable to restart the vehicle. Officer and several drivers assisted the elderly cricket in moving his vehicle to the side of the road, where it was then struck by an alligator car driven by a female rabbit. Officer reported smelling alcohol in the female rabbit's breath and placed her in handcuffs until backup arrived. Officers then cleared the jam with the aid of two tow trucks.
I moved to the West Village in 2002 and, after a few stops in other neighborhoods around the city, moved back a couple years ago. Walking around the neighborhood these days, I'm amazed at how much has changed in 10 years. Sometimes it seems as though every single store front has turned over in the interim. (via @kathrynyu)
Sliced wrapped bread first appeared in 1930, and that became the sandwich standard right away. They had the slicing technology before then, but they didn't have the wrapping technology and the two had to go together.
Before sliced bread, the lunch literature is full of advice on social distinctions and the thickness of bread in sandwiches. You slice it very thick and you leave the crusts on if you're giving them to workers, but for ladies, it should be extremely, extremely thin. Women's magazines actually published directions on how to get your bread slices thin enough for a ladies lunch. You butter the cut side of the loaf first, and then slice as close to the butter as you possibly can.
Economist Jason Barr and his colleagues measured the bedrock depth in Manhattan and correlated it with building height. In doing so, they busted the long-held belief that there were no skyscrapers between Midtown and the Financial District because of insufficient bedrock.
What the economists found was that some of the tallest buildings of their day were built around City Hall, where the bedrock reaches its deepest point in the city, about 45 meters down, between there and Canal Street, at which point the bedrock begins to rise again toward the middle of the island. Indeed, Joseph Pullitzer built his record-setting New York World Building, a 349-foot colossus, at 99 Park Row, near the nadir, as did Frank Woolworth a decade later.
If you've ever been to downtown Minneapolis, you've likely used the large network of above-grade covered walkways that now stretches into nearly every corner of the downtown area. I'd always assumed they were built to help downtown workers and residents avoid cold weather during the winter, but that's not the case.
Rather, the skyway system originally emerged from a twofold desire. First, planners in the 1940s and 50s were very concerned about managing increasingly dense pedestrian flows, and viewed skyways as a way to maximize the use of urban space for both people and automobiles (Byers 1998 154). Second, business owners were interested in maximizing their property values, and saw the skyways an opportunity to double the amount of valuable retail space in their downtown buildings (Byers 1998 159).
I used to work in downtown Minneapolis, and the skyways were great in the winter. To be able to take a walk and get lunch without having to bundle up in coat, hat, mittens, scarf, etc. was almost like living in a warm climate...and that's no small thing during a long, dark Mpls winter. (via ★than)
After 36 years, Shoup's writings -- usually found in obscure journals -- can be reduced to a single question: What if the free and abundant parking drivers crave is about the worst thing for the life of cities? That sounds like a prescription for having the door slammed in your face; Shoup knows this too well. Parking makes people nuts. "I truly believe that when men and women think about parking, their mental capacity reverts to the reptilian cortex of the brain," he says. "How to get food, ritual display, territorial dominance -- all these things are part of parking, and we've assigned it to the most primitive part of the brain that makes snap fight-or-flight decisions. Our mental capacities just bottom out when we talk about parking."
There are, certainly, ample reasons for redoing downtown--falling retail sales, tax bases in jeopardy, stagnant real-estate values, impossible traffic and parking conditions, failing mass transit, encirclement by slums. But with no intent to minimize these serious matters, it is more to the point to consider what makes a city center magnetic, what can inject the gaiety, the wonder, the cheerful hurly-burly that make people want to come into the city and to linger there. For magnetism is the crux of the problem. All downtown's values are its byproducts. To create in it an atmosphere of urbanity and exuberance is not a frivolous aim.
A couple years ago, I pointed to a 10-minute clip of a longer documentary called The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Some kind soul has put the whole thing up on Vimeo:
This witty and original film is about the open spaces of cities and why some of them work for people while others don't. Beginning at New York's Seagram Plaza, one of the most used open areas in the city, the film proceeds to analyze why this space is so popular and how other urban oases, both in New York and elsewhere, measure up. Based on direct observation of what people actually do, the film presents a remarkably engaging and informative tour of the urban landscape and looks at how it can be made more hospitable to those who live in it.
Dr. Munshi-South and his colleagues have been analyzing the DNA of the mice. He's been surprised to find that the populations of mice in each park are genetically distinct from the mice in others. "The amount of differences you see among populations of mice in the same borough is similar to what you'd see across the whole southeastern United States," he said.
I spoke to Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban development, and asked him about these surveys. "I've been to Copenhagen," (Monocle's Number 2) he tells me "and it's cute. But frankly, on the second day, I was wondering what to do." So, if the results aren't to his liking, what does he suggest? "We need to ask, what makes a city great? If your idea of a great city is restful, orderly, clean, then that's fine. You can go live in a gated community. These kinds of cities are what is called 'productive resorts'. Descartes, writing about 17th-century Amsterdam, said that a great city should be 'an inventory of the possible'. I like that description."
Joel Garreau, the US urban academic and author, agrees. "These lists are journalistic catnip. Fun to read and look at the pictures but I find the liveable cities lists intellectually on a par with People magazine's 'sexiest people' lists."
Ricky Burdett, who founded the London School of Economics' Cities Programme, says: "These surveys always come up with a list where no one would want to live. One wants to live in places which are large and complex, where you don't know everyone and you don't always know what's going to happen next. Cities are places of opportunity but also of conflict, but where you can find safety in a crowd.
"We also have to acknowledge that these cities that come top of the polls also don't have any poor people," he adds. And that, it seems to me, touches on the big issue. Richard G Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's hugely influential book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (2009) seems to present an obvious truth -- that places where the differential in income between the wealthiest and the poorest is smallest tend to engender a sense of satisfaction and well-being. But while it may be socially desirable, that kind of comfort doesn't necessarily make for vibrancy or dynamism. If everybody is where they want to be, no one is going anywhere.
The researchers have shown, in fact, that with each doubling of city population, each inhabitant is, on average, 15 percent wealthier, 15 percent more productive, 15 percent more innovative, and 15 percent more likely to be victimized by violent crime regardless of the city's geography or the decade in which you pull the data.
Remarkably, this 15 percent rule holds for a number of other statistics as well - so much so that if you tell Bettencourt and West the population of an anonymous city, they can tell you the average speed at which its inhabitants walk.
Scientists call this phenomenon "superlinear scaling." Rather than metrics increasing proportionally with population - in a "linear," or one-for-one fashion - measures that scale superlinearly increase consistently at a nonlinear rate greater than one for one.
"Almost anything that you can measure about a city scales nonlinearly, either showing economies in infrastructure or per capita gains in socioeconomic quantities," Bettencourt says. "This is the reason we have cities in the first place. But if you don't correct for these effects, you are not capturing the essence of particular places."
Using this method, cities like LA, New York, and Houston are average while San Francisco and Boulder are above average.
Over the course of more than fifteen years, architect and critic Michael Sorkin has taken an almost daily twenty-minute walk from his apartment near Washington Square in New York's Greenwich Village to his architecture studio further downtown in Tribeca. This walk has afforded abundant opportunities for Sorkin to reflect on the ongoing transformation of the neighbourhoods through which he passes. Inspired by events both mundane and monumental, Twenty Minutes in Manhattan unearths a network of relationships between the physical and the social city.
Here's a chapter listing:
145 Hudson Street
Robert Campbell, the architecture critic for the Boston Globe, says of the book:
Not since the great Jane Jacobs has there been a book this good about the day-to-day life of New York. Sorkin writes like an American Montaigne, riffing freely off his personal experience (sometimes happy, sometimes frustrating) to arrive at general insights about New York and about cities everywhere.
For a piece called Metropolis II, artist Chris Burden is building a huge track and put 1200 Hot Wheels cars on it...the noise is deafening when they're all circulating.
It includes 1,200 custom-designed cars and 18 lanes; 13 toy trains and tracks; and, dotting the landscape, buildings made of wood block, tiles, Legos and Lincoln Logs. The crew is still at work on the installation. In "Metropolis II," by his calculation, "every hour 100,000 cars circulate through the city," Mr. Burden said. "It has an audio quality to it. When you have 1,200 cars circulating it mimics a real freeway. It's quite intense."
But the service also helps city leaders detect patterns that might otherwise have escaped notice. After the first survey of 311 complaints ranked excessive noise as the number one source of irritation among residents, the Bloomberg administration instituted a series of noise-abatement programs, going after the offenders whom callers complained about most often (that means you, Mister Softee). Similarly, clusters of public-drinking complaints in certain neighborhoods have led to crackdowns on illegal social clubs. Some of the discoveries have been subtle but brilliant. For example, officials now know that the first warm day of spring will bring a surge in use of the city's chlorofluorocarbon recycling programs. The connection is logical once you think about it: The hot weather inspires people to upgrade their air conditioners, and they don't want to just leave the old, Freon-filled units out on the street.
The 311 system has proved useful not just at detecting reliable patterns but also at providing insights when the normal patterns are disrupted. Clusters of calls about food-borne illness or sanitary problems from the same restaurant now trigger a rapid response from the city's health department.
Not discussed in the article is an assertion by my pal David that exclusive access to 311 data gives incumbent politicians -- like, say, Michael Bloomberg -- a distinct advantage when it comes to getting reelected. For instance, when campaigning on a neighborhood level, the incumbent can look at the 311 data for each neighborhood and tailor their message appropriately, e.g. promising to help combat noise in a neighborhood with lots of noise complaints or fix the streets in a neighborhood with lots of calls about potholes.
In Singapore, many apartment buildings have empty open-air ground floors called "void decks" that get put to a variety of uses: day-care, weddings, bicycle parking, small stores, etc.
More than 80% of Singapore's population lives in public housing, in buildings designed to government specifications. And Singapore's government ensures that every apartment building mirrors the country's ethnic mix, with Chinese, Malays, and Indians living as neighbors in proportion to their share of the population -- 77%, 14%, and 8% respectively. The void deck ensures that everyone gets to know each other, and each other's cultures. As the Times puts it, its pleasures are actually "part of Singapore's strictly enforced social policies aimed at ensuring harmony among the races in a region often torn by religious and ethnic strife."
As a diverse city that supports countless industries and maverick interests, New York excels at creating those eclectic networks. Subcultures and small businesses generate ideas and skills that inevitably diffuse through society, influencing other groups. As the sociologist Claude Fischer put it in an influential essay on subcultures published in 1975, "The larger the town, the more likely it is to contain, in meaningful numbers and unity, drug addicts, radicals, intellectuals, 'swingers', health-food faddists, or whatever; and the more likely they are to influence (as well as offend) the conventional center of the society."
In 1916, Kennard Thomson, consulting engineer and urban planner for New York City, wrote an article for Popular Mechanics in which he advocated (among other things) filling in the East River to merge Manhattan with Brooklyn.
By Dr Thomson's estimates, enlarging New York according to his plans would cost more than digging the Panama Canal - but the returns would quickly repay the debt incurred and make New York the richest city in the world. He then goes on to describe how he would reclaim all that land. The plan's larger outlines: move the East River east, and build coffer dams from the Battery at Manhattan's southern tip to within a mile of Staten Island, on the other side of the Upper Bay, and the area in between them filled up with sand. This would enlarge Manhattan to an island several times its present size.
Proximity and easy access to the new Battery would increase the total land value of Staten Island from $50 million to $500 million. "This would help pay the expenses of the project," Dr Thomson suggests.
The project would also add large areas of land to Staten Island itself, to Sandy Hook on the Jersey shore just south of there and create a new island somewhere in between. The East River, separating Manhattan from Queens and Brooklyn, would be filled and replaced by a new canal east of there, slicing through Long Island from Flushing to Jamaica Bays.
Bikes can and should behave much more like cars than pedestrians. They should ride on the road, not the sidewalk. They should stop at lights, and pedestrians should be able to trust them to do so. They should use lights at night. And -- of course, duh -- they should ride in the right direction on one-way streets. None of this is a question of being polite; it's the law. But in stark contrast to motorists, nearly all of whom follow nearly all the rules, most cyclists seem to treat the rules of the road as strictly optional. They're still in the human-powered mindset of pedestrians, who feel pretty much completely unconstrained by rules.
The result is decidedly suboptimal for all concerned, but mostly for the bicyclists themselves. New York needs to make a collective quantum leap, from treating bicyclists like pedestrians to treating bicyclists like motorists. And unless and until it does, bike relations will continue to be marked by hostility and mistrust.
This car/pedestrian duality in the manner in which bicyclists behave is also why the City's Summer Streets initiative is becoming almost unusable by pedestrians. We tried walking on the last Summer Streets weekend, but the cyclists were going way too fast, were routinely weaving in and out of pedestrians, pretty much refused to stay in their lanes, and there were just too many for the width of the street. We bailed out after several blocks. There will likely be even more bikes next year because the word's getting out: it's just too dangerous for walking.
Again. You could argue that the arguments we have about the cognitive effect of reading for the web are largely a replay of the upheaval surrounding mass urbanization at the turn of the century. Continuing our Metropolis theme, pull up Georg Simmel's 1903 essay "The Metropolis and Mental Life" [PDF]. (Simmel's German word is "Grosstadt," which literally means "big city"; Lang deliberately used the slightly stranger, Greek-derived word to make his city feel different.) Simmel saw big cities as a tremendous economic and informational engine that fundamentally transformed human personality:
Lasting impressions, the slightness in their differences, the habituated regularity of their course and contrasts between them, consume, so to speak, less mental energy than the rapid telescoping of changing images, pronounced differences within what is grasped at a single glance, and the unexpectedness of violent stimuli. To the extent that the metropolis creates these psychological conditions - with every crossing of the street, with the tempo and multiplicity of economic, occupational and social life - it creates in the sensory foundations of mental life, and in the degree of awareness necessitated by our organization as creatures dependent on differences, a deep contrast with the slower, more habitual, more smoothly flowing rhythm of the sensory-mental phase of small town and rural existence.
And cognitive scientists have actually begun empirically verifying Simmel's armchair psychology. And whenever I read anything about the web rewiring our brains, foretelling immanent disaster, I've always thought, geez, people -- we live in cities! Our species has evolved to survive in every climate and environment on dry land. Our brains can handle it!
But I thought of this again this morning when a 2008 Wilson Quarterly article about planner/engineer Hans Monderman, titled "The Traffic Guru," popped up in my Twitter feed. (I can't even remember where it came from. Who knows why older writing just begins to recirculate again? Without warning, it speaks to us more, or differently.)
The idea that made Monderman, who died of cancer in January at the age of 62, most famous is that traditional traffic safety infrastructure--warning signs, traffic lights, metal railings, curbs, painted lines, speed bumps, and so on--is not only often unnecessary, but can endanger those it is meant to protect...
Traffic engineers, in Monderman's view, helped to rewrite [towns] with their signs and other devices. "In the past in our villages," Monderman said, "you could read the street in the village as a good book." Signs advertising a school crossing were unnecessary, because the presence of a school and children was obvious. "When you removed all the things that made people know where they were, what they were a part of, and when you changed it into a uniform world," he argued, "then you have to explain things."
In other words, information overload, and the substitution of knowledge for wisdom. Sound familiar?
I'll just say I remain unconvinced. We've largely gotten rid of pop-up ads, flashing banners, and the <blink> tag on the web. I'm sure can trim back some of the extra text and lights in our towns and cities. We're versatile creatures. Just give us time. Meanwhile, let's read some more Simmel:
[These changes] reveal themselves as one of those great historical structures in which conflicting life-embracing currents find themselves with equal legitimacy. Because of this, however, regardless of whether we are sympathetic or antipathetic with their individual expressions, they transcend the sphere in which a judge-like attitude on our part is appropriate. To the extent that such forces have been integrated, with the fleeting existence of a single cell, into the root as well as the crown of the totality of historical life to which we belong - it is our task not to complain or to condone but only to understand.
The next film in Gary Hustwit's design trilogy (after Helvetica and Objectified) is Urbanized, an investigation of urban design.
Who is allowed to shape our cities, and how do they do it? Unlike many other fields of design, cities aren't created by any one specialist or expert. There are many contributors to urban change, including ordinary citizens who can have a great impact improving the cities in which they live. By exploring a diverse range of urban design projects around the world, Urbanized will frame a global discussion on the future of cities.
Locals and Tourists is a set of maps showing where people take photos in various cities around the world. The results are broken down into tourist photos and photos taken by locals. Here's NYC:
Blue points on the map are pictures taken by locals (people who have taken pictures in this city dated over a range of a month or more). Red points are pictures taken by tourists (people who seem to be a local of a different city and who took pictures in this city for less than a month).
A 22-yo architecture student from The Philippines has "beaten" Sim City 3000 by building a city with the largest possible population that sustains itself for 50,000 years. The city, called Magnasanti, is not somewhere you would want to live.
There are a lot of other problems in the city hidden under the illusion of order and greatness: Suffocating air pollution, high unemployment, no fire stations, schools, or hospitals, a regimented lifestyle -- this is the price that these sims pay for living in the city with the highest population. It's a sick and twisted goal to strive towards. The ironic thing about it is the sims in Magnasanti tolerate it. They don't rebel, or cause revolutions and social chaos. No one considers challenging the system by physical means since a hyper-efficient police state keeps them in line. They have all been successfully dumbed down, sickened with poor health, enslaved and mind-controlled just enough to keep this system going for thousands of years. 50,000 years to be exact. They are all imprisoned in space and time.
The Bloomberg administration is considering splitting 34th Street into three parts: an westbound-only section from the Hudson to 6th Ave, an eastbound-only section from 5th Ave to the East River, and a pedestrian-only section from 5th to 6th Aves.
Buses would still operate in both directions, and through the pedestrian plaza as well, but in dedicated lanes separated from passenger cars by a concrete barrier. [...] A city study showed that only one in 10 people travel along 34th Street by car, including taxis; the rest walk or use mass transit. Faster buses would benefit "the majority of the people who are actually using the street".
Twilight of the American newspaper tells the story of San Francisco and its newspapers. And in that tale, a glimpse that we might be losing our sense of place along with the newspaper.
We will end up with one and a half cities in America -- Washington, D.C., and American Idol. We will all live in Washington, D.C., where the conversation is a droning, never advancing, debate between "conservatives" and "liberals." We will not read about newlyweds. We will not read about the death of salesmen. We will not read about prize Holsteins or new novels. We are a nation dismantling the structures of intellectual property and all critical apparatus. We are without professional book reviewers and art critics and essays about what it might mean that our local newspaper has died. We are a nation of Amazon reader responses (Moby Dick is "not a really good piece of fiction" -- Feb. 14, 2009, by Donald J. Bingle, Saint Charles, Ill. -- two stars out of five). We are without obituaries, but the famous will achieve immortality by a Wikipedia entry.
The population [of Rome] during the Renaissance was miniscule (yet it was still a global center), when Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel it was considerably smaller than a town like Palo Alto is today (60K); Rome at its nadir was about the size of Google (20K employees); the growth of Rome during the Industrial era is much greater than the rise of Ancient Rome.
David, you should check out The Inheritance of Rome; I'm about 100 pages in and pretty interesting so far. Also, it would be instructive to do the same graph but Rome's population as a percentage of world population.
If a city doesn't have sufficient density, as in L.A., then strange things happen. It's human nature for us to look at one another -- we're social animals after all. But when the urban situation causes the distance between us to increase and our interactions to be less frequent we have to use novel means to attract attention: big hair, skimpy clothes and plastic surgery. We become walking billboards.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the idea of moving walkways was in vogue. After successes in Paris and Chicago, plans were drawn up for a three-speed moving sidewalk across the Brooklyn Bridge to alleviate traffic on the crowded bridge.
With the Brooklyn Bridge walkway, Schmidt upped the ante. This time he envisaged a loop system at each end of the bridge, with a series of four ever-faster walkways. Passengers moved from one to another until finally taking a seat on the benches aboard the fastest, which whisked them across the bridge at 16 km/h [~10 mph]. Because the system ran constantly, there would be no waiting and little momentum lost on stops and starts.
At best, it would take 167 inbound lanes, or 84 copies of the Queens Midtown Tunnel, to carry what the NYC Subway carries over 22 inbound tracks through 12 tunnels and 2 (partial) bridges. At worst, 200 new copies of 5th Avenue. Somewhere in the middle would be 67 West Side Highways or 76 Brooklyn Bridges. And this neglects the Long Island Railroad, Metro North, NJ Transit, and PATH systems entirely.
Kinda puts the subway in perspective, doesn't it? And don't miss the map at the bottom that shows the size of the parking lots needed for all those cars.
Who pays for this? Everyone. The cost of building all that parking is reflected in higher rents, more expensive shopping and dining, and higher costs of home-ownership. Those who don't drive or own cars thus subsidize those who do.
Of Wrestling with Moses, the story of how Jane Jacobs took on Robert Moses and his plans for two Manhattan freeways, Tyler Cowen says:
The parts of this book about Jacobs are splendid. The parts about Moses are good, though they were more familiar to me. I believe there has otherwise never been much biographical material on Jacobs's life.
Writing about the city remained her passion. She often went up to the rooftop of her apartment building and watched the garbage trucks as they made their way through the city streets, picking the sidewalks clean. She would think, "What a complicated great place this is, and all these pieces of it that make it work." The more she investigated and explored neighborhoods, infrastructure, and business districts for her stories, the more she began to see the city as a living, breathing thing -- complex, wondrous, and self-perpetuating.
Geoffrey West of the Santa Fe Institute and his colleagues Jim Brown and Brian Enquist have argued that a 3/4-power law is exactly what you'd expect if natural selection has evolved a transport system for conveying energy and nutrients as efficiently and rapidly as possible to all points of a three-dimensional body, using a fractal network built from a series of branching tubes -- precisely the architecture seen in the circulatory system and the airways of the lung, and not too different from the roads and cables and pipes that keep a city alive.
The CBC has a clip of Jane Jacobs talking about Toronto and Montreal from 1969. In it, she makes the distinction between the two urban organizational forces at work in Toronto, a sort of "civil schizophrenia": the vernacular spirit ("full of fun") and the official spirit ("stamp out fun"). I also found a video on YouTube about Robert Moses and his difficulties with Ms. Jacobs which concludes with a cheeky update of Arnold Newman's iconic photo of Moses.
Ann Wark tries to summarise it: "Here, you go out every night. You'd never do that back home. You see people all the time. It's great. You have lots of free time. You have maids and staff so you don't have to do all that stuff. You party!" They have been in Dubai for 20 years, and they are happy to explain how the city works. "You've got a hierarchy, haven't you?" Ann says. "It's the Emiratis at the top, then I'd say the British and other Westerners. Then I suppose it's the Filipinos, because they've got a bit more brains than the Indians. Then at the bottom you've got the Indians and all them lot."
As for "all them lot"? Not so much.
Sahinal Monir, a slim 24-year-old from the deltas of Bangladesh. "To get you here, they tell you Dubai is heaven. Then you get here and realise it is hell," he says. Four years ago, an employment agent arrived in Sahinal's village in Southern Bangladesh. He told the men of the village that there was a place where they could earn 40,000 takka a month (£400) just for working nine-to-five on construction projects. It was a place where they would be given great accommodation, great food, and treated well. All they had to do was pay an up-front fee of 220,000 takka (£2,300) for the work visa - a fee they'd pay off in the first six months, easy. So Sahinal sold his family land, and took out a loan from the local lender, to head to this paradise.
As soon as he arrived at Dubai airport, his passport was taken from him by his construction company. He has not seen it since. He was told brusquely that from now on he would be working 14-hour days in the desert heat - where western tourists are advised not to stay outside for even five minutes in summer, when it hits 55 degrees - for 500 dirhams a month (£90), less than a quarter of the wage he was promised. If you don't like it, the company told him, go home. "But how can I go home? You have my passport, and I have no money for the ticket," he said. "Well, then you'd better get to work," they replied.
In 1879, Brooklyn papermaker Robert Gair developed a process for mass producing foldable cardboard boxes. One of the paper-folding machines in his factory malfunctioned and sliced through the paper, leading Gair to the realization that cutting, creasing, and folding in the same series of steps could transform a flat piece of cardboard into a box.
Gair's box, a cheap, light alternative to wood, became "the swaddling clothes of our metropolitan civilization," Lewis Mumford wrote. Eventually, the National Biscuit Compnay introduced its first crackers that stayed crispy in a sealed paper box, and an avalanche of manufacturers followed. Gair expanded to ten buildings on the Brooklyn waterfront. Massive migration from Europe to the United States created a manufacturing workforce in Brooklyn, to curn out ale, coffee, soap, and Brillo pads -- and Gair made boxes right beside them.
Gair's concentrated collection of buildings eventually led the area between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges to be called Gairville. That area is now known as Dumbo and, in addition to tons of residential space, the neighborhood is home not to manufacturing but to architecture firms, web companies, and other creative industries.
The Gair Company's most iconic building was also its last: the Clocktower Building, also known as Gair Building No. 7. I tracked down several of the other Gair buildings and put them on this Google Map.
This was true for me, at least, while I was making these; Hand erasing buildings through SoHo, TriBeCa, and the LES was an eery experience as I tried to imagine what these places would really look like if my brush was a bulldozer.
Dennis Crowley is making a successor to Dodgeball called Foursquare. It's an iPhone app that treats nightlife like a video game.
Users rack up points based on how many new places they visit, how many stops they've made in one night and who else has been there. You become a "mayor" of a hot spot if you're there often. [...] "People get kind of competitve about this." There's a "Leaderboard" which lists the most adventurous users with the most points.
Right or wrong, How the Crash Will Reshape America, Richard Florida's analysis of how different areas of the United States are going to be affected by the current financial crisis, is full of fascinating bits.
The University of Chicago economist and Nobel laureate Robert Lucas declared that the spillovers in knowledge that result from talent-clustering are the main cause of economic growth. Well-educated professionals and creative workers who live together in dense ecosystems, interacting directly, generate ideas and turn them into products and services faster than talented people in other places can. There is no evidence that globalization or the Internet has changed that. Indeed, as globalization has increased the financial return on innovation by widening the consumer market, the pull of innovative places, already dense with highly talented workers, has only grown stronger, creating a snowball effect. Talent-rich ecosystems are not easy to replicate, and to realize their full economic value, talented and ambitious people increasingly need to live within them.
But another crucial aspect of the crisis has been largely overlooked, and it might ultimately prove more important. Because America's tendency to overconsume and under-save has been intimately intertwined with our postwar spatial fix -- that is, with housing and suburbanization -- the shape of the economy has been badly distorted, from where people live, to where investment flows, to what's produced. Unless we make fundamental policy changes to eliminate these distortions, the economy is likely to face worsening handicaps in the years ahead.
Others have written about it elsewhere, but the few paragraphs Florida devotes to Detroit are stunning. (thx, peter)
The clip shows an analysis of the plaza of the Seagram Building in NYC and what makes it so effective as a small urban space.
A busy place for some reason seems to be the most congenial kind of place if you want to be alone. [...] The number one activity is people looking at other people.
The video was adapted from a book of the same name by William H. Whyte, who is perhaps most well known as the author of The Organization Man. The video is largely out of print -- which is a shame because that clip was fascinating -- but I found a DVD copy for $95 (which price includes a license for public performance). (via migurski)
Although it seems counterintuitive, officials believe the move will actually improve the overall flow of traffic, because the diagonal path of Broadway tends to disrupt traffic where it intersects with other streets.
The streets will become pedestrian malls instead. Love this.
Short of opening a Radio Shack in an Amish town, Dubai is the world's worst business idea, and there isn't even any oil. Imagine proposing to build Vegas in a place where sex and drugs and rock and roll are an anathema. This is effectively the proposition that created Dubai - it was a stupid idea before the crash, and now it is dangerous.
What's the biggest problem with Dubai? It doesn't have the cultural bedrock needed to support a destination city.
It looks like Manhattan except that it isn't the place that made Mingus or Van Allen or Kerouac or Wolf or Warhol or Reed or Bernstein or any one of the 1001 other cultural icons from Bob Dylan to Dylan Thomas that form the core spirit of what is needed, in the absence of extreme toleration of vice, to infuse such edifices with purpose and create a self-sustaining culture that will prevent them crumbling into the empty desert that surrounds them.
The Places We Live features panoramic photos of slums, narrated by the people who live there (through translators). Really really engrossing. To access the stories in the restricting Flash interface, skip the intro, click on a city, and then on one of the households in the upper left corner. There's a book too. (via snarkmarket)
Oddly, this most suburban American invention was supposed to evoke a European city centre. Hence Southdale's density and its atrium, where shoppers were expected to sit and debate over cups of coffee, just as they do in the Piazza San Marco or the Place Dauphine. Gruen exiled cars, which he thought noisy and anti-social, to the outside of his mall. Most contemporary critics thought Gruen had succeeded in bringing urbanity to the suburbs. Southdale was "more like downtown than downtown itself", claimed the Architectural Record. Another asserted, in a rare example of journalistic hyperbole that turned out to be absolutely right, that the indoor shopping mall was henceforth "part of the American way".
He revisited one of his old shopping centers, and saw all the sprawling development around it, and pronounced himself in "severe emotional shock." Malls, he said, had been disfigured by "the ugliness and discomfort of the land-wasting seas of parking" around them. Developers were interested only in profit. "I refuse to pay alimony for those bastard developments," he said in a speech in London, in 1978. He turned away from his adopted country. He had fixed up a country house outside of Vienna, and soon he moved back home for good. But what did he find when he got there? Just south of old Vienna, a mall had been built -- in his anguished words, a "gigantic shopping machine." It was putting the beloved independent shopkeepers of Vienna out of business. It was crushing the life of his city. He was devastated. Victor Gruen invented the shopping mall in order to make America more like Vienna. He ended up making Vienna more like America.
Update: Whoa, lots of email about this one, especially from Seattlites. There's a bit of controversy that I was unaware of concerning the first mall...here's a list of contenders. (thx, todd)
Much of a modern depression would unfold in the domestic sphere: people driving less, shopping less, and eating in their houses more. They would watch television at home; unemployed parents would watch over their own kids instead of taking them to day care. With online banking, it would even be possible to have a bank run in which no one leaves the comfort of their home.
In a deep and sustained downturn, home prices would likely sink further and not rise, dimming the appeal of homeownership, a large part of suburbia's draw. Renting an apartment -- perhaps in a city, where commuting costs are lower -- might be more tempting. And although city crime might increase, the sense of safety that attracted city-dwellers to the suburbs might suffer, too, in a downturn. Many suburban areas have already seen upticks in crime in recent years, which would only get worse as tax-poor towns spent less money on policing and public services.
Silver Towers is the first post-war urban renewal superblock development in New York City to be landmarked. While such urban renewal projects rarely receive high marks for design, Silver Towers is considered a watershed moment for one of the late 20th century's most respected and influential architects. The design won awards from the American Institute of Architects and the City Club, was dubbed "one of ten buildings that climax an era" by Fortune Magazine, and was cited as a basis for which Pei received the 1983 Pritzker Prize -- the most prestigious award for architects -- for his body of work up to that time. Landmarking Silver Towers not only helps preserve an eminently livable place and honors a great work of architecture, but it also acknowledges the importance of our city's past efforts to create affordable housing and public art.
These may or may not be great buildings, but that whole complex is just this big sucky void between the Village and Soho that no one can get rid of now. Blech.
This slim booklet has been sitting on my bookshelf for ages, and I finally decided to give it a shot yesterday. Here is New York is amazing book, perhaps the most succinct and apt description of New York City ever put on paper. In the hands of E.B. White, NYC is at once a city of inches and multitudes, of loneliness and excitement, of riches and squalor, of permanence and transience. The particulars of the city have changed, as White himself admits, but the first half of the book could well have been written yesterday instead of 1949. With apologies to Mr. White and his publishers, an extended excerpt:
New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation; and better than most dense communities it succeeds in insulating the individual (if he wants it, and almost everybody wants or needs it) against all enormous and violent and wonderful events that are taking place every minute. Since I have been sitting in this miasmic air shaft, a good many rather splashy events have occurred in town. A man shot and killed his wife in a fit of jealousy. It caused no stir outside his block and got only small mention in the papers. I did not attend. Since my arrival, the greatest air show ever staged in all the world took place in town. I didn't attend and neither did most of the eight million other inhabitants, although they say there was quite a crowd. I didn't even hear any planes except a couple of westbound commercial airliners that habitually use this airshaft to fly over. The biggest ocean-going ships on the North Atlantic arrived and departed. I didn't notice them and neither did most other New Yorkers. I am told this is the greatest seaport in the world, with six hundred and fifty miles of water front, and ships calling here from many exotic lands, but the only boat I've happened to notice since my arrival was a small sloop tacking out of the East River night before last on the ebb tide when I was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. I heard the Queen Mary blow one midnight, though, and the sound carried the whole history of departure and longing and loss. The Lions have been in convention. I've not seen one Lion. A friend of mine saw one and told me about him. (He was lame, and was wearing a bolero.) At the ballgrounds and horse parks the greatest sporting spectacles have been enacted. I saw no ballplayer, no race horse. The governor came to town. I heard the siren scream, but that was all there was to that -- an eighteen-inch margin again. A man was killed by a falling cornice. I was not a party to the tragedy, and again the inches counted heavily.
I mention these merely to show that New York is peculiarly constructed to absorb almost anything that comes along (whether a thousand-foot liner out of the East or a twenty-thousand-man convention out of the West) without inflicting the event on its inhabitants; so that ever event is, in a sense, optional, and the inhabitant is in the happy position of being able to choose his spectacle and so conserve his soul. In most metropolises, small and large, the choice is often not with the individual at all. He is thrown to the Lions. The Lions are overwhelming; the event is unavoidable. A cornice falls, and it hits ever citizen on the head, every last man in town. I sometimes think the only event that hits every New Yorker on the head is the annual St. Patrick's Day parade, which is fairly penetrating -- the Irish are a hard race to tune out, and they have the police force right in the family.
And a smaller bit from near the end of the piece:
The subtlest change in New York is something people don't speak much about but that is in everyone's mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sounds of the jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.
White was referring to the nuclear threat from the Soviet Union but he could easily have been talking about 9/11, or even the current financial crisis threatening to take down one of the city's most prominent institutions.
If you live and work in Los Angeles and have an average commute, you spend 72 hours a year in traffic. That's enough time to read War and Peace once, get through Wagner's The Ring Cycle almost five times, or watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy almost eight times. The page includes stats for other cities too.
Update: A closer read, a bit of arithmetic, and several emails have convinced me that the 72 hours is not the overall commute time but the time spent sitting motionless in traffic. (thx, everyone)
In the last 25 years, the city's population has increased by a million people, and another million will be here 25 years from now. The question is not whether to make room for them but how. We could, in theory, rope off most of Manhattan to new development and push new arrivals to the city's fringes. Had we done that years ago, we would have created a museum of shabbiness. Even doing so now would keep the city in a state of embalmed picturesqueness and let the cost of scarce space climb to even loonier heights than it already has. In its 43-year existence, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has tucked more than 25,000 buildings under its protective wing, which seems about right. Protect every tenement, and eventually millionaires can no longer afford them.
If you can't take all the text, read it Playboy-style...there are over fifty great before-and-after photos of various new buildings around town, just keep scrolling down.
In the past three decades, Chicago has undergone changes that are routinely described as gentrification, but are in fact more complicated and more profound than the process that term suggests. A better description would be "demographic inversion." Chicago is gradually coming to resemble a traditional European city -- Vienna or Paris in the nineteenth century, or, for that matter, Paris today. The poor and the newcomers are living on the outskirts. The people who live near the center -- some of them black or Hispanic but most of them white -- are those who can afford to do so.
Update:The WSJ wrote about this issue a couple of weeks ago.
"Paris, and France, are definitely having an identity crisis," says Christophe Boicos, a gallery owner and art professor for several American universities. "They have been living off their 19th- and 20th-century heritage for a long time. At the opening of the 21st century, they need to redefine themselves."
Artists looking for the buzz go to London or Berlin, or further afield to New York, rather than Paris, says German art historian Wilfried Rogasch. "Paris is in stagnation. Talented people from around the world go to Paris. But they don't go there for stimulation, they go to see Paris."
I've said this before, but Paris -- the central part of it anyway -- seems like a giant museum. We've thought of living there for a year or two but after a recent one-day trip there, that doesn't seem like such a good idea anymore. (via vqr)
Since Ms. Harrison started the Gramercy Park Block Association in 1994, after her son was attacked and beaten up in front of their apartment building at 34 Gramercy Park, she has effectively remade the area in her own image.
She has added to a list of regulations (no dogs, no feeding of birds, no groups larger than six people, no Frisbees or soccer balls or "hard balls" of any kind) that, in turn, have served to dictate how the park is - and is not - used. Most recently, she helped pave the way for Zeckendorf Realty to redevelop a 17-story Salvation Army boarding house on the south side of the park, and for the company's plan to convert the 300 rooms into 14 floor-through apartments plus a penthouse duplex. The company would not confirm the transaction.
What a bunch of elitist horseshit. Ms. Harrison sounds like a Grade A wanker. (via anil)
In 1970, the year that Congress voted to create Amtrak by consolidating the passenger operations of freight railroads, the airlines were about 17 times larger than the railroads, measured by passenger miles traveled; now they are more than 100 times larger. Highway travel was then about 330 times larger; now it is more than 900 times larger.
Today Amtrak has 632 usable rail cars, and dozens more are worn out or damaged but could be reconditioned and put into service at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars each.
Train travel, particularly high-speed train travel, should be *the* way to get anywhere on the East Coast, mid-to-southern California/Vegas, and between moderately large cities clustered together (Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Detroit; Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston; Florida; Kansas City, St. Louis, Omaha, Tulsa; Portland, Seattle, Vancouver; etc.).
It isn't possible to quantify the extent to which society and culture are indebted to Bohemia. In every age in every successful country, it has been important that at least a small part of the cityscape is not dominated by bankers, developers, chain stores, generic restaurants, and railway terminals. This little quarter should instead be the preserve of -- in no special order -- insomniacs and restaurants and bars that never close; bibliophiles and the little stores and stalls that cater to them; alcoholics and addicts and deviants and the proprietors who understand them; aspirant painters and musicians and the modest studios that can accommodate them; ladies of easy virtue and the men who require them; misfits and poets from foreign shores and exiles from remote and cruel dictatorships. Though it should be no disadvantage to be young in such a quartier, the atmosphere should not by any means discourage the veteran.
In Oklahoma City, the interstate will be moved five blocks from downtown to an old railroad line. The new 10-lane highway, expected to carry 120,000 vehicles daily, will be placed in a trench so deep that city streets can run atop it, as if the highway weren't there. The old highway will be converted into a tree-lined boulevard city officials hope will become Oklahoma City's marquee street.
Several other cities have done (or are planning to do) similar highway tear downs.
"Highways don't belong in cities. Period," says John Norquist, who was mayor of Milwaukee when it closed a highway. "Europe didn't do it. America did. And our cities have paid the price."
No mention of Boston's Big Dig, perhaps the most high-profile example of this trend.
A woonerf, which is surfaced with paving blocks to signal a pedestrian-priority zone, is, in effect, an outdoor living room, with furniture to encourage the social use of the street. Surprisingly, it results in drastically slower traffic, since the woonerf is a people-first zone and cars enter it more warily. "The idea is that people shall look each other in the eye and maneuver in respect of each other," Mr. Gehl said.
Car patrol eliminated the neighborhood police officer. Police were pulled off neighborhood beats to fill cars. But motorized patrol -- the cornerstone of urban policing -- has no effect on crime rates, victimization, or public satisfaction. Lawrence Sherman was an early critic of telephone dispatch and motorized patrol, noted, "The rise of telephone dispatch transformed both the method and purpose of patrol. Instead of watching to prevent crime, motorized police patrol became a process of merely waiting to respond to crime."
Officers traveling in high speeds in cars apart from pedestrian and living areas makes it difficult for them to look potential criminals in the eye. (thx, meg)
At Windy Ridge, a recently built starter-home development seven miles northwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, 81 of the community's 132 small, vinyl-sided houses were in foreclosure as of late last year. Vandals have kicked in doors and stripped the copper wire from vacant houses; drug users and homeless people have furtively moved in. In December, after a stray bullet blasted through her son's bedroom and into her own, Laurie Talbot, who'd moved to Windy Ridge from New York in 2005, told The Charlotte Observer, "I thought I'd bought a home in Pleasantville. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that stuff like this would happen."
On a completely different note, it's been a challenge to acquire data from governments. We (namely Dan, our People Person) have been working since July to request formal data feeds from various agencies, and we've run into many roadblocks there, from the political to the technical. We expected that, of course, but the expectation doesn't make it any less of a challenge.
I believe that Everyblock will be most successful not through the utility of its site but if it can get more civic and federal agencies to release more structured data about what's going on in our cities and country. It is *our data* after all.
For cities, the motivation is twofold. All the hand-wringing over climate change has prompted more cities to do their part to contain greenhouse-gas emissions that most scientists believe are causing global warming. In the U.S., more than 700 mayors have signed an agreement to try to follow the Kyoto Protocol's goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions -- even though the Senate has rejected the treaty.
The other major motivation for cities: energy costs, which have more than doubled since 2000. Strapped for cash, municipalities are scrambling to save as much money on energy use as they can.
19.20.21 (19 cities in the world with 20 million people in the 21st century) is a nice site for an effort to undertake "a five-year study that will encompass all aspects of the phenomenon of supercities" but the real attraction are the maps of the world's largest cities through time (Menu/10 Largest Cities). In 1000, the largest city in the world was Cordova, Spain and by 1500, 4 of the top 10 were in China and one was in Nepal. (via snarkmarket)
Of course, everyone knows that art and culture help make New York a great place to live. But Currid goes much further, showing that the culture industry creates tremendous economic value in its own right. It is the city's fourth-largest employer, and generates billions of dollars a year in revenue. More important, New York has no real global rival for dominance in the culture industry. Using an economic-analysis tool called a "location quotient," Currid calculates that New York matters far more to fashion, art, and culture than to finance. To exaggerate a bit, if New York suddenly disappeared, stock markets could keep functioning, but we would not be able to dress ourselves or find art to put on the wall. Currid suggests that, in the fight among cities for business, being the center of fashion and art constitutes New York's true "competitive advantage."
New York's cultural economy has reached a critical juncture, argues Ms Currid, threatened by, of all things, prosperity. The bleak economic conditions of the 1970s allowed artists to flock into dirt-cheap apartments and ushered in the East Village scene of the early 1980s. The boom of the past decade, by contrast, has priced budding Basquiats out of Manhattan, pushing them across the water to Brooklyn and New Jersey. Studio flats meant for artists-in-residence get snapped up by bankers. The closure last year of CBGB, a bar that became a punk and art-rock laboratory in the 1970s (and whose founder, Hilly Kristal, died last month) came to symbolise this squeeze.
Ms Currid sees this expulsion of talent as a serious problem. The solution, she argues, lies in a series of well-aimed public-policy measures: tax incentives, zoning that helps nightlife districts, more subsidised housing and studio space for up-and-coming artists, and more.
With the indigenous population dwindling to less than 50,000, and the oldest average age in Europe, da Mosto worries for the future of the city, as he brings his children up in what has become essentially a theme park for the hordes of visitors that cross the bridge link into the city, or pull up in the huge cruise ships that stop-over in Venice.
The danger for a city as a theatre or theme-park is that it becomes a stage set, a backdrop. This inevitably treats citizens as actors, there for others amusement. This leads to a simulated city as Baudrillard would have it, a city of the hyperreal as Umberto Eco might tell us. What happens when the audience is not there?
I've never visited Venice, but Paris shares some of the same traits. Obviously Paris is a large cosmopolity with much more than tourism going on, but the central tourist part of the city always feels a lot like a museum to me, moreso than other large cities I've visted. The city is simultaneously Paris -- the capital of France, host to international corporations, home to an increasingly diverse 2.1 million people, cultural center -- and also Ah, Paris™, an experience comprised of a certain style of architecture, cafes spilling out into tiny streets, romantic walks along the Seine, the French waiter, macaroons, the Notre Dame, les bouquinistes, baguettes, etc. That the two identities coexist in the same space and time, one within the other (Paris as cultural hypercube?), creates the potential for some real cognitive dissonance for the frequent tourist or long-term visitor attempting to straddle both worlds.
The whole thing is ridiculous. It's the most ridiculous city in the world - but everyone who lives there knows that. No one thinks that L.A. "works," or that it's well-designed, or that it's perfectly functional, or even that it makes sense to have put it there in the first place; they just think it's interesting. And they have fun there. And the huge irony is that Southern California is where you can actually do what you want to do; you can just relax and be ridiculous. In L.A. you don't have to be embarrassed by yourself.
I'm not sure I agree, but seeing as I've only been to LA for 24 hours in my whole life, my objections don't carry much weight.
Hitotoki, short stories about New York..."short narratives describing pivotal moments of elation, confusion, absurdity, love or grief -- or anything in between -- inseparably tied to a specific place". Also available in the original Tokyo flavor.
Coming at a time of unprecedented growth and redevelopment in the city, this exhibit aims to encourage New Yorkers to observe the city closely and to empower them, with a combination of tools and resources, to take an active role in advocating for a more livable city.
The exhibit runs from Sept 25 through Jan 5, 2008.
Update:A review of the exhibition in the NY Times (slideshow). Among the artifacts at the show is a letter sent by Robert Moses to Jacobs' publisher: "I am returning the book you sent me. Aside from the fact that it is intemperate and inaccurate, it is also libelous."
My standard for verisimilitude is simple and I came to it when I started to write prose narrative: fuck the average reader. I was always told to write for the average reader in my newspaper life. The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and he needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden. Fuck him. Fuck him to hell.
Simon goes on to talk about the overarching theme of The Wire: the exploration of the postmodern American city and the struggle of the individual against the city's institutions. Many of his thoughts on that particular subject are contained in this Dec 2006 interview at Slate. But in talking with Hornby, Simon draws a parallel between these city institutions and the Greek gods:
Another reason the show may feel different than a lot of television: our model is not quite so Shakespearian as other high-end HBO fare. The Sopranos and Deadwood -- two shows that I do admire -- offer a good deal of Macbeth or Richard III or Hamlet in their focus on the angst and machinations of their central characters (Tony Soprano, Al Swearingen). Much of our modern theatre seems rooted in the Shakespearian discovery of the modern mind. We're stealing instead from an earlier, less-traveled construct -- the Greeks -- lifting our thematic stance wholesale from Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides to create doomed and fated protagonists who confront a rigged game and their own mortality.
But instead of the old gods, The Wire is a Greek tragedy in which the postmodern institutions are the Olympian forces. It's the police department, or the drug economy, or the political structures, or the school administration, or the macroeconomics forces that are throwing the lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no reason. In much of television, and in a good deal of our stage drama, individuals are often portrayed as rising above institutions to achieve catharsis. In this drama, the institutions always prove larger, and those characters with hubris enough to challenge the postmodern construct of American empire are invariably mocked, marginalized, or crushed. Greek tragedy for the new millenium, so to speak.
If you're unfamiliar with the alternate side parking shuffle that happens once or twice a week in most areas of NYC, Jen Bekman has a good description of it. I'm convinced the New Yorker would go out of business if it weren't for the shuffle...a lot of 6,000 word articles get read waiting for the meter maid to come around.
Crime in the three biggest American cities (NY, Chicago, LA) is down...and up almost everywhere else. In part, this is due to the aging of the population in those cities. "Together they lost more than 200,000 15-to 24-year-olds between 2000 and 2005. That bodes ill for their creativity and future competitiveness, but it is good news for the police. Young people are not just more likely to commit crimes. Thanks to their habit of walking around at night and their taste for portable electronic gizmos, they are also more likely to become its targets." Young people, your gizmos are hurting America!
Meant to post about this last week, but going on right now in NYC: Postopolis. "Postopolis! is a five-day event of near-continuous conversation about architecture, urbanism, landscape, and design. Four bloggers, from four different cities, will host a series of live discussions, interviews, slideshows, panels, talks, and other presentations, and fuse the informal energy and interdisciplinary approach of the architectural blogosphere with the immediacy of face to face interaction." More about the event from City of Sound and BLDGBLOG.
My short post on Nina Planck's reaction to the recent "death by veganism", as she calls it, of a baby boy is a good reminder that I don't always agree with the things I link to. My only criteria for posting a link is that it's interesting, whether I think it's right or wrong or am still trying to form an opinion about it. Anyway, I got lots of mail about this one, much of it that said that the parents' veganism was beside the point -- which the prosecutors and jury in the subsequent criminal case agreed with (thx, matt) -- and that a headline like "Death By Stupidity" was probably more appropriate. After all, you don't see "Death by Omnivorism" headlines every time a baby with a more traditional diet dies of starvation.
jkottke: Do you do anything to celebrate or recognize the changing of seasons? ELLEgirlBuddy: do you do anything to celebrate or recognize the changing of seasons? that's a tough choice. jkottke: yes, to celebrate or merely recognize. that is a toughie. ELLEgirlBuddy: yes to celebrate or merely recognize that is a toughie? i dunno. jkottke: you seem like an actual 13 year old girl. ELLEgirlBuddy: i haven't really made a decision 'bout that. jkottke: growing up is tough, isn't it? ELLEgirlBuddy: i dunno.
Are you a good liar? Most people think that they are, but in reality there are big differences in how well we can pull the wool over the eyes of others. There is a very simple test that can help determine your ability to lie. Using the first finger of your dominant hand, draw a capital letter Q on your forehead.
Some people draw the letter Q in such a way that they themselves can read it. That is, they place the tail of the Q on the right-hand side of their forehead. Other people draw the letter in a way that can be read by someone facing them, with the tail of the Q on the left side of their forehead. This quick test provides a rough measure of a concept known as "self-monitoring". High self-monitors tend to draw the letter Q in a way in which it could be seen by someone facing them. Low self-monitors tend to draw the letter Q in a way in which it could be read by themselves.
High self-monitors tend to be concerned with how other people see them. They are happy being the centre of attention, can easily adapt their behaviour to suit the situation in which they find themselves, and are skilled at manipulating the way in which others see them. As a result, they tend to be good at lying. In contrast, low self-monitors come across as being the "same person" in different situations. Their behaviour is guided more by their inner feelings and values, and they are less aware of their impact on those around them. They also tend to lie less in life, and so not be so skilled at deceit.
Baltimore is sometimes the forgotten middle child among attention-getting Eastern cities like Washington and New York. But a civic revival, which began with the harbor's makeover 27 years ago, has given out-of-towners reason to visit. Yes, there are wonderful seafood restaurants, Colonial history, quaint waterfronts and other tourist-ready attractions. But Baltimore's renaissance has also cultivated cool restaurants with innovative cuisine, independent theaters that showcase emerging talent and galleries that specialize in contemporary art. In other words, Baltimore is all grown up, but it's still a big city with a small-town feel.
Large swaths of Baltimore could be declared emergency areas subject to heightened police enforcement - including a lockdown of streets - under a city councilman's proposal that aims to slow the city's climbing homicide count.
The legislation - which met with a lukewarm response from Mayor Sheila Dixon's administration yesterday, and which others likened to martial law - would allow police to close liquor stores and bars, limit the number of people on city sidewalks and halt traffic in areas declared "public safety act zones." It comes as the number of homicides in Baltimore reached 108, up from 98 at the same time last year.
Update:An episode of This American Life from 2000 tackled the same subject, with a focus on Manhattan. "All those people you see in the middle of the workday, in coffee shops and bookstores? Who are they? Why aren't they at work? Reporter George Gurley tackled these tough questions. On four separate days, he interviewed these loafers in New York." (thx, michael)
But the real gold here is Reisner's research on baseball...a must-see for baseball and infographics nerds alike. Regarding the home run discussion on the post about Ken Griffey Jr. a few weeks ago, Reisner offers this graph of career home runs by age for a number of big-time sluggers. You can see the trajectory that Griffey was on before he turned 32/33 and how A-Rod, if he stays healthy, is poised to break any record set by Bonds. His article on Baseball Geography and Transportation details how low-cost cross-country travel made it possible for the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants to move to California. The same article also riffs on how stadiums have changed from those that fit into urban environments (like Fenway Park) to more symmetric ballfields built in suburbs and other open areas accessible by car.
The goal here is not to duplicate excellent resources like Total Baseball or The Baseball Encyclopedia, but to take the same data and present it in a way that shows different relationships, yields new insights, and raises new questions. The focus is on putting single season stats in a historical context and identifying the truly outstanding player seasons, not just those with big raw numbers.
Reisner's primary method of comparing players over different eras is the z-score, a measure of how a player compares to their contemporaries, (e.g. the fantastic seasons of Babe Ruth in 1920 and Barry Bonds in 2001):
In short, z-score is a measure of a player's dominance in a given league and season. It allows us to compare players in different eras by quantifying how good they were compared to their competition. It it a useful measure but a relative one, and does not allow us to draw any absolute conclusions like "Babe Ruth was a better home run hitter than Barry Bonds." All we can say is that Ruth was more dominant in his time.
I'm more of a basketball fan than of baseball, so I immediately thought of applying the same technique to NBA players, to shed some light on the perennial Jordan vs. Chamberlain vs. Oscar Robertson vs. whoever arguments. Until recently, the NBA hasn't collected statistics as tenaciously as MLB has so the z-score technique is not as useful, but some work has been done in that area.
Anyway, great stuff all the way around.
Update: Reisner's site seems to have gone offline since I wrote this. I hope the two aren't related and that it appears again soon.
Beyond Chron: "In San Francisco, neighborhoods that have defeated gentrification have been treated as 'containment zones,' meaning that unreasonable levels of crime, violence and drugs are tolerated so that such activities do not spread to upscale areas. The Tenderloin has long been one of the city's leading containment zones, but those days are over." Sounds a bit like Hamsterdam from season three of The Wire.
For decades, Robert Caro's The Power Broker has been the definitive account of Robert Moses and how contemporary NYC got built. The portrait Caro painted of Moses was less than flattering. Now folks are thinking that, hey, maybe the guy wasn't so bad after all. "That Moses was highhanded, racist and contemptuous of the poor draws no argument even from the most ardent revisionists. But his grand vision and iron will, they say, seeded New York with highways, parks, swimming pools and cultural halls, from the Belt Parkway to Lincoln Center, and thus allowed the modern city to flower."