Atlantic Cities

History Lessons: The Best #CityReads of the Week

History Lessons: The Best #CityReads of the Week
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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.

"The dream and the myth of the paperless city," Matt Stroud, The Verge

When Rahm Emanuel took office as Mayor of Chicago in 2011, he asked his constituents for advice. What should he change about Chicago’s notoriously opaque government? How should he balance the budget? Which technologies should he embrace? He would take suggestions on a free, public website so that savvy Chicagoans could track ideas, note which ideas made it into policy, and which ideas were ignored. Citizens made thousands of suggestions. Though most revealed political gripes rather than sound advice — “Fire 25 Aldermen/women [to] save $50 million!” “SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT SHOULD BE WORKING FOR HIS MONEY!!” “Declare Gangs as Terrorists!” — others showed keen-eyed political promise.

Kyle Hillman’s suggestion showed enough promise, in fact, to get the 38-year-old political consultant, community organizer, and actor onto the evening news. It also got him a personal call from the mayor. As it turns out, Hillman’s suggestion wasn’t ground breaking. It actually seemed like a no-brainer — an idea that cities all over the country might like to try.

He suggested that the city should digitize.

"In the Traffic of Cairo's DIY Highway Exit, an Urbanist Movement Grows," Joseph Dana, Next American City

Jamel Mubarak leans over the side of his balcony overlooking Tahrir Square and makes a simple observation: Cairo, the city of his birth, is not as pretty as it used to be.

For 40 years, Mubarak has lived in a 10-story building on Cairo’s most prominent public square. In that time, he’s watched it transform from a downtown traffic roundabout and symbol of former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime to become, last year, a ground zero for the overthrow of that same regime.

And now, nearly two years after the first protest of the Egyptian Revolution, the square has again sprung to life as a center of opposition, this time in protest over the drafting of the country’s constitution and sweeping new self-granted powers of its Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, who took power democratically after Mubarak’s fall.

Looking down at the tens of thousands of protesters filling the square below him, waving flags and chanting slogan’s against the country’s ruling party, Jamel Mubarak (no relation to the ousted leader) notes that the once-peaceful square is not likely to quiet down anytime soon.

"State tells Detroit that it's out of time to fix fiscal mess; begins emergency manager process," Matt Helms, Detroit Free Press

Out of patience with Detroit's failure to reverse its falling revenues and slash rising expenses, the state delivered an abrupt ultimatum to the city Wednesday: Move quickly toward reform, or an emergency financial manager will be appointed.

Such a move would put the city a step closer to being able to file for municipal bankruptcy, although city officials and Gov. Rick Snyder's administration say they've been working all along to avoid that option, fearing it would force far more painful cuts on city workers, city services and Detroit's creditors.

As reported first Wednesday on freep.com, the warning came from state Treasury Andy Dillon via phone calls to council members and Mayor Dave Bing, and later during meetings with city officials in small groups and individually at city hall.

Armed with alarming reports that Detroit is burning through its cash reserves far more quickly than anyone expected, Dillon told top officials that he expects to begin a 30-day review process next week to decide whether to appoint an emergency financial manager.

"American cities to Millennials: Don't leave," Haya El Nasser, USA Today

The hot pursuit of young professionals has been at the core of American cities' urban revival for more than a decade. It worked. They came, they played, they stayed.

An urban renaissance unfolded as the number of people living in America's downtowns soared, construction of condos and loft apartments boomed and once-derelict neighborhoods thrived. In many of the largest cities in the most-populous metropolitan areas, downtown populations grew at double-digit rates from 2000 to 2010, according to the Census.

Now, cities face a new demographic reality: The young and single are aging and having children. If the pattern of the past 50 years holds, they might soon set their sights on suburbia.

"Phoenix 101: The Sixties,"  Jon Talton, Rogue Columnist

 

Decades are arbitrary things. One could make the case that "the sixties" in Phoenix ran from the late 1950s through the early 1970s. In any case, it was a most consequential time, arguably the decade when Phoenix set the pattern for what it would become, for better and for worse. In the 1960 Census, Phoenix's population was 439,170, making it the 29th largest city in America and 187 square miles within the city limits. This was a startling jump from ten years before, ranked 99th with 106,818 people within 17.1 square miles. Phoenix had quickly become a big city, but unlike most others: single-story, spread out, car-dependent and populated by few natives. It had decisively surpassed El Paso as the dominant city of the Southwest. Yet, as it remains today, its power was like that of a small town.

Nineteen-sixty saw the unveiling of the Wilbur Smith & Associates freeway plan. Although its closest big-city neighbor was Los Angeles, Phoenix had only one baby freeway, Black Canyon. Over the decade, this would curve into the Maricopa Freeway but otherwise the Smith plan was mired in controversy. Phoenicians didn't want to become another LA. The Valley Beautiful Citizens Council worried that freeways would destroy an already ailing downtown. A hundred-foot high Papago Freeway with "helicoils" provoked more opposition. In the end, almost all of the 1960 plan was adopted. But surface streets carried most traffic during this era.

Downtown retail was slowly dying, as was the dense corridor on McDowell between 12th Street and 18th Street called "the Miracle Mile." This included the lush, stately Good Samaritan Hospital campus, replaced 20 years later by the brutal spaceship building that remains today. Malls were flourishing, including Park Central, Tower Plaza, Thomas Mall and Chris-Town, named after farmer Chris Harri. Many of the downtown merchant princes were dead or ailing. Others, notably Goldwater's, moved to the malls.

Keywords: #CityReads

Sommer Mathis is editor of The Atlantic Cities. Previously she spent five years editing and reporting on the D.C. metro area at DCist.com and TBD.com. All posts »

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