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Since the seminal book by sociologist E. Digby Baltzel, Puritan Boston & Quaker Philadelphia, in 1996, articles by a range of thought leaders appear episodically to remind us that Philadelphia is a city still on the edge of greatness. But a deeper understanding of Philly shows that the city is a paradox for becoming a great city and there are advantages to being on the edge.

For total population, while not as big as the Apple, LA, and Chi-Town, the City of Brotherly Love has been battling three newcomers in the Southwest and holding its own as one of the most populated cities in the US. While not the paragon of hospitality, Philadelphia gets high marks by tourist magazines for being inviting to several subgroups such as the LGBTQ community and young African American professionals. Funny thing though, as locals we may not be the best guides to the most popular sites to see; seeing the liberty bell and other sites in Old City quickly become a faint memory from grade school. We are more likely to take you to the Whispering Wall (Memorial Hall Park), to find the statue of Chief Tedyuscung in the Wissahickon, or visit the Devil’s pocket and Swampoodle blocks of Philly. More… “A City on the Edge”

Stephen F. Gambescia, professor of health services administration at Drexel, has perfect attendance at school reunions.

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green space in city
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Welcome to Anywhere, America. The houses are identical, two-story buildings covered in clapboard and pinched in by two swathes of tightly mown lawn. The streets are wide and well-maintained. The sidewalks are after-thoughts, stopping and starting at seemingly random intervals. It doesn’t matter where they go or how wide they are because their use is intrinsically marginal. Suburbs were not designed with the pedestrian in mind.

Despite their seeming ubiquity, suburbs are an experiment, just one answer to the question of how to house and organize humanity. It’s easy to forget how quickly we’ve come to this stage. Three centuries ago, the most common profession by far was sustenance farming. Most people were illiterate village dwellers. Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities while more than 90% of the world’s young adults are literate. In the past 200 years the global population has septupled. More… “Urbanism in Three Books and Three Cities”

Talon Abernathy is a Seoul based educator and free-lance writer. His writing has been featured in The Urbanist365 Tomorrows, and Medium.

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Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City is a ground-breaking look at American cities in many ways. It takes a deep and richly textured view into places that make up what we call cities and stretches the boundaries of that understanding beyond the often one-dimensional historical, economic, sociological, or political interpretations that try to explain urban environments. The authors do this by re-imagining, recreating, and retelling Philadelphia as a complicated story from the industrial past to the post-industrial present. They view the city through “layers” of the past that both speak to a bygone era, but also the possibilities for the future, seeing Philadelphia in a very nuanced way that challenges all of us to think differently of cities in the American context. On January 19, 2018, I had a chance to sit down with one of the authors, Nathaniel Popkin, to talk about the book and the broader attempt to interpret cities in the 21st century. It was a pleasure to take time to talk about their creative intellectual endeavor. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City

Daniel Dougherty is a political scientist who spends his time teaching, researching, experiencing, pondering, and talking about cities. He is Associate Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and Director of the Honors Program at Drexel University.

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I am not interested in writing about the deafening kind of noise that causes irreversible damage to the human ear. Nor in the wide range of sounds that you can hear outdoors, like the roar of surf, birdsong, or wind. What interests me far more is that elusive category in-between. Ranked highest among the sounds I find most unpleasant are: compulsive and demonstrative finger-cracking in libraries, and the high-pitched squeal of feedback from PA systems. Others can be driven insane by a dripping faucet, or even a ticking alarm clock, elevator music or in-store Muzak — noise that we have to hear whether we want to or not. My neighbor owns an admittedly quite attractive hunting dog that is genetically hard-wired to bark incessantly, or so she tells me. Why she has to keep this dog in the middle of a city is beyond me, but that’s beside the point here.

If you think you fall into the category of noise-sensitive people, you are in good company. It is known, for example, that Proust’s smoke-filled study, which doubled up as a bedroom, was completely soundproofed with cork. Hypersensitivity to noise doesn’t automatically qualify you to write masterpieces. But the renowned Frenchman knew how to tap his remarkably acute perception to be extraordinarily, even enviably prolific. Noise, in his opinion, was a kind of assassination of the senses. However, his labored breathing was beyond his control. Luckily, it was so loud that it not only drowned out the sound of his quill, but also the construction work being carried out on a bathroom a story above him.
More… “The Art of Noises”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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A young poet killed himself in Cleveland on November 24, 1968. He did it with a .22 caliber rifle he’d owned since childhood. In the years leading up to his death, the poet often demonstrated to friends how he could operate the gun with his feet and put the muzzle against his forehead, right at the spot of his “third eye.” The poet’s name was d. a. levy, as he liked to spell it (he was born Darryl Alfred Levy). He was just 26 years old when he died.

Just a year before his death, levy was arrested by the Cleveland police. He’d been indicted in 1966. The specific charge was “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” At a poetry reading, he allowed juveniles to read work deemed obscene by city officials. levy’s own poetry had its share of bad words, sex, and drugs. The poet was a public advocate for the legalization of marijuana. It all seems rather tame by today’s standard. But in Cleveland in 1968, the d. a. levy affair created quite a ruckus. His arrest brought national attention. Guys like Alan Ginsberg and Gary Snyder got involved in the case, advocating for the dismissal of the charges against levy. The call to “legalize levy” became a rallying cry at protests and on t-shirts and flyers, not just in Cleveland but around the country.

After his death, many people in Cleveland adopted levy as a kind of local hero. And there it should have ended, if history is any guide. A young poet takes his own life. A city mourns. The relentless wheel of history churns on, forgetting as it goes.

This summer, however, there is a show at the museum of contemporary art in Cleveland with the title “How To Remain Human.” That’s a line from one of levy’s poems. The poem is called “Suburban Monastery Death Poem.” It is 13 pages long. The poem is mostly a long rant about Cleveland. It is also a tortured love letter — as are most rants. It contains passages like the following:
More… “How To Remain Human”

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at morganmeis@gmail.com.

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In recent years many scientists have come to use the term “the Anthropocene” for the geological era that started when human beings began to alter the earth’s environment in a major way — defined variously as the mass extinctions produced by Ice Age hunters, the transformation of landscapes by Neolithic farmers, or more recently, with the industrial revolution. Dubbing themselves “ecomodernists,” a group of environmental thinkers associated with the Breakthrough Institute have published a new manifesto calling for a “good Anthropocene.” They write: “A good Anthropocene demands that humans use their growing social, economic, and technological powers to make life better for people, stabilize the climate, and protect the natural world.”
More… “The Case for Ecomodernism”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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When protestors in Istanbul’s Taksim Square last year refused to back down to soldiers trying to remove them ahead of a massive government-sponsored construction project, more than a few people must have nodded to themselves: I know that place, where Galip and Kemal, protagonists of Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul novels, go to the cinema, hail a taxi, have tea and pastry. But far beyond documentation, over the years Pamuk has transformed Istanbul streets and corners and neighborhoods into a kind of powerful metaphysical landscape, a character itself. The city’s history and mythology haunt the other characters, the searching humans. 

Nathaniel Popkin‘s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard. He is also the author of Song of the City, and The Possible City, and is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and co-producer and senior writer and editor of the documentary “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment.” Most of his work can… More…

The innkeeper at the Tradita Hotel set down his tea regretfully. “You want to see castle or bridge?” A mutual friend had asked him to take good care of me, but clearly he didn’t relish the role.

 

A few minutes later, four of us climbed into a dark sedan and lurched into the crowded streets of Shkodra, a city in Albania’s northwest. Heat and noise poured in the windows as Mr. Gila and his wife and brother continued what seemed to be a fractious debate in Albanian, punctuated briefly by Mr. Gila waving at various sights and shouting their identification into the back seat for me.

“There is cathedral, which Communists make into gymnasium years ago! Now crowded with Catholics again.”

“There is university!”

“Tobacco factory! Busy once, now closed.”

As the buildings became smaller and the streets… More…

What makes up the history of a city? Is it the linear timeline — the who invaded when; the who led which group into victory or destruction; the list of intellectuals, emperors, madmen, musicians, scientists, orators who came through and left their mark? Maybe it’s the physical landscape, the rivers that create trade and wealth, the mountains that provide security and shelter. And what does that history add up to — if you learn enough about a city’s history, will you finally understand what makes the city what it is, will you capture its essence on the page?

Mumbai Fables by Gyan Prakash. 424 pages. Princeton University Press. $29.95. Faust’s Metropolis: A History of Berlin by Alexandra Richie. 1,168 pages. Basic Books. George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter. 528 pages. Knopf…. More…

I’ve been living in Antwerp for the last six months with my wife, the incorrigible Shuffy. One of the things to do if you’re in Antwerp is think about Peter Paul Rubens, the great 17th-century painter who spent much of his life in this city.

 

Antwerpenaars (people from Antwerp) aren’t always so enthusiastic about Rubens. But what city doesn’t have mixed emotions about its most famous sons and daughters, about the clichés, about the touristical kitsch that surrounds and suffocates the great ones? More than twice I’ve enthusiastically related my interest in Rubens to an Antwerpenaar, only to be met with a rolling of the eyes, followed by an audible sigh. The message is clear: Only an asshole would come to Antwerp to expend time and energy on the most obvious of subjects, the most boring of all… More…