Lessons From Ancient 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.
"The Book of Antopol (or, Can We Ever Know the Past?)," Molly Antopol, The New Yorker
In December, 2000, I was living in Israel after graduating from college and wound up at a friend of a friend’s holiday party, in Haifa. I knew no one but the girl who had brought me, and, after a few minutes skulking alone by the dessert table, I ducked into the kitchen and asked an elderly woman at the sink if I could help, just to have something to do. She handed me a dish towel. She was short and wiry, with dyed red hair and skin so pale you could see the whole veiny design of her interior. It took less than a minute of chatting in Hebrew for her to tell that I wasn’t Israeli, and she asked where I was from. I told her America. “No,” she said, eying me more closely. “Where are you from?”
I said that my family was originally from a tiny village called Antopol, a few hours from Minsk, in Belarus. “But no one’s heard of it,” I said. “You can’t even find it on a map.”
She set down the bowl she was washing and stared at me, as if really noticing me for the first time. Then she said, “I’m from Antopol.”
"What Does It Mean That 1 in 4 Adults Didn’t Read a Book Last Year?" Casey N. Cep, Pacific Standard
If we are what we read, then Americans are wimpy, religious, ambitious, self-improving, and patriotic. The specific possibility that the only book any adult read last year was one of the best-selling books on the Nielson or Amazon list is perhaps more disheartening than the shapeless fact that three-quarters of the American population read only one book. But reading is reading, no matter what is read, and the Pew study looks specifically at books when no doubt most of those surveyed read something in the last year, even if it’s wasn’t books.
"Americans Have Stopped Thinking of Themselves as Middle Class," Lane Florsheim, The New Republic
In last year’s State of the Union address, President Obama mentioned the middle class eight times. This year, Obama explicitly referenced this income group less, but still alluded to the middle class a handful of times. Politicians have long been able to get away with ambiguous definitions of “middle class” since so many people have traditionally lumped themselves into this category. A recent Pew survey, however, indicates that more Americans are identifying as lower rather than middle class. This wasn’t the case ten years ago. What explains this change?
"The Day We Lost Atlanta," Rebecca Burns, Politico Magazine
What happened in Atlanta this week is not a matter of Southerners blindsided by unpredictable weather. More than any event I’ve witnessed in two decades of living in and writing about this city, this snowstorm underscores the horrible history of suburban sprawl in the United States and the bad political decisions that drive it. It tells us something not just about what’s wrong with one city in America today but what can happen when disaster strikes many places across the country. As with famines in foreign lands, it’s important to understand: It’s not an act of nature or God—this fiasco is manmade from start to finish. But to truly get what’s wrong with Atlanta today, you have to look at these four factors, decades in the making.
"15 Ancient Cities & What They Teach Us," Mary Jander, Future Cities
From sources such as Modelski's "Cities of the Ancient World: An Inventory," which lists the world's oldest known cities, complete with population figures, it's possible to glean this kind of valuable information. As long as 5,000 years ago, for instance, the city of Uruk, located in what is now Iraq, was home to 14,000 people, a figure that peaked at a population of 80,000 to over 100,000 by 2800 BCE. It featured unique districts of worship and scholarship known as the Eanna and Anu areas. Changes in government, as well as shifts in the position of the local Euphrates River, led to Uruk's decline.
Scrutinizing cities like Uruk can reveal much about how humans adapted urban areas to suit their needs. We can learn from getting "back to basics," before destructive methods of transportation, industry, and government eroded patterns that worked well.