Atlantic Cities

How a Song About Cheeseburgers Saved a Tiny Michigan Town: Best #Cityreads of the Week

A round-up of the best stories on urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.


Image courtesy of the Caseville Chamber of Commerce

"The Jimmy Buffett Economy," Ryan Felton, Pacific Standard

Stop for a moment and absorb the scene: Traffic is bumper-to-bumper along a three-lane road; the sidewalks are consumed by hibiscus, Hawaiian button-up shirts and plastic parrot hats; the scent of cooked burgers and summertime fills the air; Robert Palmer’s “Bad Case of Loving You” is playing nearby to fill the downtime before the next jam band takes the stage.

With dozens of people meandering around town carrying beer masked by goofy koozies, it may feel like you’ve stumbled upon a random district with no open-container law, a place where the party never stops. That’s not the case. (And the surreptitious drinking isn’t legal, either.)

You are in Caseville, a small town of 800 that sits on the edge of Lake Huron in the thumb of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

The community, one that’s quiet for the better part of the year, is in full swing for the 15th annual “Cheeseburger in Caseville” festival, a 10-day (!) celebration that honors songwriter Jimmy Buffett and his 1978 classic song “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” (An estimated 300,000 patties are grilled during the event, and there are seven Buffett tribute bands present.)


A rendering from the Eko Atlantic plan. Courtesy of Eko Atlantic.

"A Safer Waterfront in Lagos, If You Can Afford It," Alexis Okeowo, New Yorker

"Eko Atlantic will be centered on Eko Boulevard, which is more or less a reproduction of Fifth Avenue in New York," David Frame, the head of Chagoury Group’s construction division South Energyx Nigeria, told me. Eko Boulevard will have a clear view of the sea with four lanes of traffic in each direction, wide sidewalks, and high-rise buildings filled with shops, apartments, cafés, bars, and restaurants. Frame is an Englishman who has lived in Nigeria for thirty-two years, and his snow-haired appearance reminded me of Father Christmas. He listed the planned city’s amenities: clean water flowing from the tap, constant electricity from a private grid, sewage facilities. We were sitting in the sleek Eko Atlantic sales office on Victoria Island as he talked; I suddenly had fantasies of leaving my noisy generator and tepid bottled water behind for the pastures shown in the glossy photos plastered on the walls. Gleaming condo towers, smooth roads, a special genus of palm trees with no falling fruits—even the sky and water looked cleaner, somehow purer, and pollution-free. A photo of the marina, with space for more than two hundred and fifty yachts, shone under a spotlight. I wanted a yacht parking space to go with my clean tap water. On the back wall, a projector replayed a clip of a terrifying computer-generated ocean wave crashing against the sea wall, or as Eko Atlantic calls it, the "Great Wall of Lagos." But not to fear. The Great Wall effortlessly beat the wave back away from the condos. Frame snapped me out of my reverie. "We’re pioneers—I don’t think we should be shy of saying that,” he said. "And also we’re creating a blueprint of what is possible."

Maybe. Despite the exciting changes that Fashola’s government is bringing to Lagos (including Eko Atlantic), critics suspect that his vision has little consideration for the urban poor.


A general view shows damage to buildings, including a mosque, in the besieged area of Homs. (Yazan Homsy/Reuters)

"Panorama of Destruction: The Story Behind the Aerial View of Homs," Hisham Ashkar and Emily Dische-Becker, Exit Left

In a conflict where information is as heavily contested as Syria, photo agencies ought to investigate, verify and provide consumers with information about the origins of images, rather than opting for a generic disclaimer and surreptitiously cropping out indications of how an image was taken.

When basic questions surrounding an image are left unanswered, the vast destruction of entire neighborhoods in Homs, which these images uniquely attest to, is rendered contestable. ...

Critical audiences, particularly those already skeptical of western media narratives and the insufficient scrutiny with which material obtained from activists in Syria is handled, often presume that media (selectively) focus on or frame images of devastation. It is precisely for this reason that audiences would be well-served to know the actual scale of what they are seeing. Because it is that bad. And the photos deserve to be viewed as undisputed testaments to Homs’ fate.

"Electric Roads to the Hyperloop: Our Jetsons Future Starts Now," Henry Grabar, Salon

Love it, hate it or just forget about it: the Hyperloop isn’t even the most exciting transit technology of the month. (New York City had a pneumatic train back in 1870, after all.)

No, that distinction goes to a road in the South Korean city of Gumi. While Musk and company were dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s in the 57-page Hyperloop proposal, Gumi (population 375,000) transformed a common section of road into something extraordinary: a wireless charging strip for electric vehicles. They may have reinvented the road.


Courtesy of the Immigrant Learning Center

"How Goya Brought Ethnic Food to White America," Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

About a year ago, in Washington’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, an independent grocer called Bestway changed hands. The new owner is In Suk Pak, a South Korean by way of Pennsylvania. He renamed the store Bestworld, replacing the second word of the big-block letters out front. Then he rejiggered the store’s product mix to fit the neighborhood’s changing demographics, adding gourmet chips and high-end beers, and Asian items like wasabi peas and dried seaweed.

But there was one aisle he didn’t touch: Goya’s, which is festooned with blue Goya-labeled tape and features a Goya-logoed spice rack. The aisle is densely packed with sacks, cans, boxes, bottles and jars of every imaginable bean, grain, sauce, juice and spice. The Goya salesperson just tells him what he needs to fill the section, and he’s happy to take the advice.

"Two Teens Face the Odds in Oakland," Jill Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle

Over the past 10 years, 787 black boys and men in Oakland have been victims of homicide. During that same time, just 802 graduated prepared to attend either a California State University or University of California school.

In 2009, about 600 African American males started high school in the Oakland school district with Thomas and Olajuwon. Of those, an estimated 80 to 100 graduated college-ready. Another 200 were expected to get their diplomas, but not with UC or CSU admission requirements. Others took the GED, or would continue in adult school. Still others spent time in jail.

During those same four years, 31 Oakland public school students ages 11 to 19 were killed across the city. Most of them were shot and most were African American males.

After seeing these unyielding statistics for Oakland's African American males, the Oakland Unified School District decided it had to do something dramatic to try to change them. In 2010, it became the first school district in the United States to create a department dedicated to altering the fortunes of black boys.

Amanda Erickson is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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