How the GOP Lost Cities: Best #CityReads of the Week
Our weekly roundup of the most intriguing articles about cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days. Share your favorites on Twitter with #cityreads.
"How the G.O.P. Became the Anti-Urban Party," Kevin Baker, New York Times
A leading Republican columnist, trying to re-stoke her candidate’s faltering campaign before the first presidential debate, felt so desperate that she advised him to turn to cities.
“Wade into the crowd, wade into the fray, hold a hell of a rally in an American city — don’t they count anymore?” Peggy Noonan lamented in The Wall Street Journal. “A big, dense city with skyscrapers like canyons, crowds and placards, and yelling. All of our campaigning now is in bland suburbs and tired hustings."
But the fact is that cities don’t count anymore — at least not in national Republican politics.
"The Hollow Boom Of Brooklyn: Behind Veneer Of Gentrification, Life Gets Worse For Many," Joel Kotkin, New Geography
Few parts of urban America have enjoyed a greater public facelift — at least in prominent places — than New York’s County of Kings, home to some 2.5 million people. The borough is home to four of the nation’s 25 most rapidly gentrifying ZIP codes, notes a recent Fordham study. When you get a call from the 718 area code these days, it’s as likely to be from your editor’s or investment bankers’ cell as from your grandmother.
Yet there’s a darker side to the story. This became clear to me not long ago when driving with my wife and youngest daughter to a friend’s house in the Ditmas Park section of Flatbush, one of the finest exemplars of urban renaissance in the country. We encountered a huge traffic jam on the Belt Parkway, so we exited on Linden Boulevard. For the next half hour we drove through an expanse of poverty, public housing and general destitution that hardly jibes with the “hip, cool” image Brooklyn now projects around the world.
"Free Fall: The Struggle to Keep Houses Standing in The Ville," Tim Logan, Next American City
Battered by foreclosures, Cleveland has launched an aggressive teardown campaign. Flint, Mich. for years has knocked down old houses and banked the land. Detroit Mayor David Bing has pledged to demolish 10,000 vacant homes in his first term and has planned to reduce city services in under-populated neighborhoods.
Like those cities, St. Louis has lost more than its share of people — from a peak of 850,000 residents in 1950 to fewer than 320,000 today — and contains the desolate landscapes to show for it. Like those cities, St. Louis has torn a lot of buildings down (8,000 in the last decade). Like those cities, teardowns here are often supported by neighbors who know what trouble can reside in a rotting empty.
But unlike some of its Rust Belt cousins, there has been no talk of systematic service reduction here, no big plans for urban farming or new green space. In fact, all that demolition has happened alongside a growing push to save the city’s trademark red brick architecture, and to turn some of these eyesores into assets, anchors to help rebuild these neighborhoods before they’re gone completely.
"Behind the Race to build Utopian City-States in the Honduran Jungle," Tim Fernoltz, Quartz
What if a corrupt or ineffective government could simply be disconnected from the country and replaced with a better version, like loading a new operating system into an old computer?
Octavio Rubén Sánchez Barrientos, an adviser to Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa, had been mulling over variations on that idea since 2004. In 2009, a friend showed him a video of Paul Romer giving a TED talk. For some years now, Romer, an American development economist, has been preaching the idea of “charter cities”: small jurisdictions within a developing country that operate autonomously of the national government, their management handled by another country with stronger rule of law.
Inspired by historic examples like Hong Kong, and more recent ones like the Dubai International Financial Center, where British legal standards helped the economy flourish, Romer argues that such cities would limit corruption, provide clear legal frameworks for business dealings, and give investors certainty for the long term. In doing so they would spur growth and perhaps act as seeds for spreading good governance around the rest of the country.
"Did Police tell the Whole Truth About Zanesville, Ohio's Infamous Animal Slaughter?" Charles Siebert, The New Republic
With darkness fast descending, the carnage would soon begin and persist well through the following day’s relentless rains. Pickup trucks with flatbeds full of rifle-bearing officers and SWAT teams roamed the property and its perimeters, dropping one by one the members of what the press was soon dubbing Thompson’s “fierce menagerie,” even as a team of detectives, guarded by armed marksmen, began processing Thompson’s body. Authorities soon began stacking the bodies by the Thompsons’ house in order to keep track of an ever-mounting tally that would ultimately reach forty-nine. (The missing macaque, infected with the herpes B virus, was later presumed to have been eaten by one of the tigers.)
“It’s like Noah’s Ark wrecking right here in Ohio,” a dazed Jack Hanna kept repeating, “and all the wild animals came running out.”
In the year since the gunshots and the media blare, however, a clearer picture has begun to emerge of why Terry Thompson would go to such lengths to scuttle an ark that he and Marian had worked so long and hard to build together. And why local law enforcement may not have gone to nearly the lengths they claim they did to save at least some of the 50 bewildered beasts that were killed on that gruesome night: not fierce predators so much as an assemblage of suddenly animate and deeply disoriented oriented carousel animals whose creators had deserted them.
Top image: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock