Posts Tagged ‘cities’
July 7, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- I hear you’re moving to Buffalo to pursue a more affordable, creative, authentic life in the smoldering remains of the Rust Belt. That’s neat. But what are you buying into, really? In cities like Pittsburgh and Troy, David A. Banks argues, “a ‘cool’ lifestyle is still the bait, only its terms have shifted toward more regional flavors. Cities that no longer produce physical goods can instead produce their own image as a kind of marketed product. If once they smelted steel or manufactured textiles, now they trade on the unique cultural history that is the legacy of those lost industries. The relatively cheap standard of living in places like Buffalo or Pittsburgh offer a more ‘authentic’ urban experience in terms of sampling gritty make-do entrepreneurial creativity, while also letting new residents dismiss those in more expensive cities as unimaginative dupes taken in by luxury branding … To attract new residents, cities must understand how their character can be conveyed through a smartphone.”
- In 2010, the brokenhearted and salty-cheeked could find solace only in Croatia, where a melancholy place called the Museum of Broken Relationships held the keepsakes of sundered romance. Now the Museum is coming to Los Angeles: “More than 100 exhibits range from everyday artifacts (a spare key never given to its intended recipient, a mirror that didn’t go with an ex’s decorating scheme) to signifiers of deeply troubled unions (a pair of silicone breast implants a woman got at her boyfriend’s urging). Some radiate sorrow, like the blue chiffon blouse a wife wore the day her husband told her he was moving out. All objects are submitted anonymously and come with stories explaining their significance.”
- T-shirt idea: “I majored in English because my university didn’t offer comp lit.” Jeanne-Marie Jackson argues that there’s a critical (in every sense of the word) difference between the two disciplines: “The reason that comparative literature as a discipline, and comparatists as an ad hoc community, somehow escape the intellectual trap of confusing redundant, self-congratulatory polemic with genuinely advancing thought is that, in having to build its own comparative apparatus, the discipline is forced to balance breadth against depth. It can’t escape either geographical reach or philosophical literacy. This is, at its outer reaches, a recipe for something like multicultural dignity, the kind that is achieved rather than avowed, at least in one’s reading and writing.”
- Thorsten Schütte’s documentary Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words looks at one of the few genuine iconoclasts in rock music: the man who hated both the squares and the hippies, the man who preferred to chain-smoke as he cranked out musique concrète. “Schütte’s film is a fluid mosaic of concert footage, TV appearances, and interview clips, much of them never seen before: Zappa on the Steve Allen Show in 1963 ‘playing’ the bicycle; hunched over staff paper notating music in his Laurel Canyon studio in the seventies; stalking through airports with a Mephistophelian leer; leading staggeringly well rehearsed bands … Zappa’s antidrug stance made him an oddity in the rock world, defying the idea, foisted on him by journalists and TV commentators, that someone of such profligate imagination must be on drugs. ‘They write about me like I’m a maniac,’ he says at one point. ‘I’m not … I’m forty years old, I’ve got four kids, a house, and a mortgage.’ ”
- Public service announcement: be around trees. I say this not as some kind of granola-crunching hiker-guru type but as someone with a body of hard data to back it up. A new study by Marc Berman, a University of Chicago psychology professor, “compares two large data sets from the city of Toronto, both gathered on a block-by-block level; the first measures the distribution of green space … and the second measures health, as assessed by a detailed survey of ninety-four thousand respondents. After controlling for income, education, and age, Berman and his colleagues showed that an additional ten trees on a given block corresponded to a one-per-cent increase in how healthy nearby residents felt. ‘To get an equivalent increase with money, you’d have to give each household in that neighborhood ten thousand dollars—or make people seven years younger.’ ”
June 3, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Furthering a grand tradition I like to call “strong opinions about parts of speech,” Colin Dickey has mounted a defense of the adverb, which had come under fire as early as last week. Anyone who finds adverbs imprecise doesn’t know how to use them, he writes: “Anne Carson writes of adjectives that they ‘are in charge of attaching everything in the world to its place in particularity.’ Adverbs, then, curtail and refine—but in doing so they can pick out the unexpected resonances, the hidden valences in the words they modify. An adverb, at its best, offers a sudden shift in direction or tone, all the more unexpected considering the adverb’s seemingly slavish subservience to the word it modifies … Deployed skillfully, the adverb backstabs lovingly, subverts daintily, insurrects gallantly.”
- In an equally grand tradition, “strong opinions about Russian translation,” Janet Malcolm rehabilitates Constance Garnett, whose once revered translations have fallen out of favor: “A couple named Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have established an industry of taking everything they can get their hands on written in Russian and putting it into flat, awkward English. Surprisingly, these translations, far from being rejected by the critical establishment, have been embraced by it and have all but replaced Garnett, Maude, and other of the older translations … As for the charge that Garnett writes in an outdated language, yes, here and there she uses words and phrases that no one uses today, but not many of them. We find the same sprinkling of outdated words and phrases in the novels of Trollope and Dickens and George Eliot. Should they, too, be rewritten for modern sensibilities?”
- Most of the world’s monotonous, massive, forbidding cities were built by people. Big mistake. Daniel Brown’s photography proves that algorithms can do it better: “Brown makes his images using generative design software he wrote himself. It creates enormous, complex 3-D patterns that he searches until finding something interesting … ‘I set about programming algorithms to generate an imaginary city,’ he says. ‘One that I could populate with buildings and structures without having to draw or 3-D model’ … Brown isolates the shape, and tweaks it until he arrives at something he likes. Then the program applies bits and pieces of public domain photos of 1970s apartment buildings. The result is hulking, maze-like structures that appear to go on forever.”
- Sasha Chapin became addicted to chess, which he regards as an infection of the brain: “Chess is what they call a perfect information game. At every moment, you are informed of everything taking place. There’s no bluffing. No guessing. No suspicion. If that notion doesn’t immediately excite you, take a second to consider all the imperfect information games you play all the time. I don’t mean games like poker. I mean dating, for example. Have you ever, a month into a relationship, unearthed some hidden facet of your new partner that makes you think, Holy shit, get away from me? Slowly discovering things about people is wonderful, in theory, but we often find that the mysterious reaches of the human soul contain bear traps and poison darts. Imagine if you could instantly behold the entirety of a person before you, and say, ‘Hi, let’s go to the beer location,’ with perfect confidence?”
- Need a good weekend read? Might I recommend Untangling the Web: A Guide to Internet Research by that most laureled of authors, the NSA? “This book appears to be excellent,” Paul Ford writes. “A reasoned, thoughtful overview of the Web as an entire system, written for intelligent people who had a need of expertise and mastery over the medium. The book throughout emphasizes security and privacy, and it’s as complete as possible. It tells you how to secure your Wi-Fi, and what things to uncheck in your Internet Explorer. It helps you with complex research problems. It’s granular, and dry, and exhaustive—and thus incredibly helpful.”
May 26, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
The same day I ate the hot dog—indeed, the same layover—I found myself in conversation with a group of other travelers. One commented on the crowds, and another said, “Tampa’s not a small place but it’s nothing like this,” and they all talked about the energy of the city versus the pleasures of having moved to Florida. It was very friendly. Then one woman said, “Not New York, though. I hate New York.” Then they all piled on with gusto, discussing the general crumminess that is New York, the rudeness, the filth, the overwhelming pace, and all manner of other clichés. It all happened so fast that I didn’t have a chance to jump in and defend my hometown.
I didn’t even have a defense, as such. People from other places seem to feel New York is a thing they need to have strong opinions about, like the election, or cilantro. And the truth is, most of us really, really don’t care. At least, those of us who are from here. Never having made the choice to move here, it’s akin to the affection and irritation one feels for a family member. Especially since our families are, you know, here. Read More »
March 16, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Ta-Nehisi Coates has offered a glimpse of what we can expect from his new series of Black Panther comics, and it involves, as all good stories do, a superhuman terrorist group called the People. “In my work for The Atlantic I have, for some time, been asking a particular question: Can a society part with, and triumph over, the very plunder that made it possible? In Black Panther there is a simpler question: Can a good man be a king, and would an advanced society tolerate a monarch? … The Black Panther I offer pulls from the archives of Marvel and the character’s own long history. But it also pulls from the very real history of society—from the precolonial era of Africa, the peasant rebellions that wracked Europe toward the end of the Middle Ages, the American Civil War, the Arab Spring, and the rise of ISIS … Chris Claremont’s The Uncanny X-Men wasn’t just about an ultracool band of rebels. That series sought to grapple with the role of minorities in society—both the inner power and the outward persecution that come with that status. And so it is, I hope, with Black Panther. The questions are what motivate the action. The questions, ultimately, are more necessary than the answers.”
- Take some time away from your busy day and think about the logistics of nineteenth-century feces disposal, won’t you? Adee Braun can help: “Night soil was the name euphemistically given to human waste because it was removed from privies under the cloak of darkness so that polite society would be spared from confronting its own feces as the men carted the crap away, leaving a trail of stench in their wake … Night soil collection was big business. Hundreds of men were employed in cities—mostly African-Americans and immigrants who were either independent entrepreneurs or employees of city contractors. The night men, with their ‘rude carts,’ were considered a nuisance at best. Their night work also left them vulnerable to hoodlums who sometimes stoned the men and occasionally shot their horses. At least the pay was decent, even if the work was not. The night soil men used rudimentary long-handled dippers or buckets to scoop the mephitic waste into barrels or tanks on a wagon.”
- Tim Parks continues his dissection of the politics and vagaries of professional translation, that most unsung of literary pursuits: “Does translation matter? Does the choice of translator matter? Some translators’ associations (in Germany for example) insist that a translator ought to be paid a royalty for the translation and share in the commercial success of the work, as if the individual translator had the same impact on the work as the author. This is nonsense. Umberto Eco was better translated by Geoffrey Brock and Richard Dixon than by William Weaver, but The Name of the Rose, which Weaver translated, was an infinitely better book than The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (Brock) or Numero Zero (Dixon). Why should the one translator grow rich and the others not? … To introduce royalties would be to encourage the finest translators to drop literary work altogether and concentrate on genre novels.”
- Speaking of unsung careers in the arts, I don’t spend enough time thinking about the production designers of the world, and so was grateful to learn about Ken Adam, whose set designs for Dr. Strangelove, Barry Lyndon, and Goldfinger, among others, changed the game. Adam died last week, at ninety-five: “Adam’s magnificent designs, vast and lucid and expressive but often with an undercurrent of chilling horror, transformed those films in which they were featured … He decided, he said, to ‘forget the old way of making sets—wood and paper and so on—and try to do it all for real. I had the chance to let myself go because there was nobody looking over my shoulder.’ ”
- While we’re reminiscing: Sunny Balzano, the proprietor of a bar called Sunny’s in Red Hook, Brooklyn, died last week. Tim Sultan, whose memoir Sunny’s Nights just came out, remembers his friend: “Instinctually, he was familiar with men’s inner lives, giving direction and guidance even to those he had only just met. Many came to him for this, and in his very genuine attentiveness and his gentle conversational manner he unfailingly gave it. The final destination was always this: arriving at a place where one valued oneself. Sunny had a great appreciation for each person’s significance and he reflected that worth back on us. One always seemed to feel better after a visit with Sunny.”
October 27, 2015 | by Andrew Holter
With the publication of Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York, in 1991, Luc Sante established himself as one of New York City’s most imaginative elegists. The book was a shrewd chronicle of Lower Manhattan abjection from the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries—but also a call for a more expansive sense of historical memory, one with room not just for the banking magnate and the besooted proletarian behind him but for the guy behind him, too, with the chewed-off ear and the shiv. Sante followed Low Life in 1992 with Evidence, a collection of startling and often sublime crime-scene photographs taken by the NYPD in the 1910s, a project in which Sante afforded his poor tenant-dwellers more dignity than many of them could claim in their abbreviated lives. Since then he’s contributed regularly to The New York Review of Books; written the liner notes of the Anthology of American Folk Music and translated Félix Fénéon’s Novels in Three Lines; published an autobiography of sorts, The Factory of Facts; and released a collection of essays, Kill All Your Darlings.
His new book, The Other Paris, magnifies the crime, grime, and scrappy, world-reverberating insubordination of Parisians down through history. Sante’s Other Paris is the one that belongs to le Peuple and always has—to the prostitutes, the ragpickers, the laundresses, the pickpockets, the North Africans, Roma, and Jews, the pop singers and tattooed gang members (the apaches, many of whom “had a dotted line around their necks, to guide the blade of the guillotine”), the insurgents on the barricades and the Illegalist bomb throwers, the ones who got their heads cut off and the ones who physically did the cutting. Perhaps most of all, the Other Paris belongs to the flaneurs, the original dandies in the underworld, in whose tradition Sante has followed as a first-rate observer and reassembler of Paris, making this book the most recent contribution to the venerable body of literature that has sought to capture Paris the way it really was and is, from the vantage of the street rather than the street view.
Flaneurie is a huge part of The Other Paris—you call the flaneur the “exemplar of this book.” Since flaneurs have been the truest historians of Paris, did you find the act of walking at all important to your research? For as much consideration as you give to the social consequences of the built environment, it seems like a dérive or two might go a long way toward finding the essence of Paris from “the accumulated mulch of the city itself,” to borrow a phrase from Low Life.
When I wasn’t at the movies, I was walking. I walked all over the city, repeatedly—I kept journals of my walks, which are actually just lists of the sequences of streets. Even though the city isn’t as interesting as it once was—modern construction and commercial real-estate practices have wiped out so much of the old eccentricity—there are still hidden corners and ornery survivals, and of course the topography is such a determinant. New York City is more or less flat and what isn’t was mostly leveled long ago, so it’s missing that aspect of accommodation to hills and valleys and plateaux, not to mention the laying out of streets on a human scale long before urban planning scaled things to the demands of machines. Read More »
May 21, 2015 | by Lee Bob Black
In cities, trends come, go, and come again; causes rise to prominence, fall by the wayside, and emerge repackaged; neighborhoods flourish or fall out of favor. Condos, cupcake shops, and bike lanes become signifiers; shady buyouts and racist landlords fuel arguments about whether communities are being renewed or decimated.
The word gentrification is in the subtitle of DW Gibson’s most recent oral history, but the author has trouble with it: it’s too broad, he writes, to adequately capture a wide variety of experiences, contexts, and meanings. Several interviewees in his book also seem at odds with the word. One says gentrification doesn’t describe anything in the real world. Another says he doesn’t need to be able to describe it because he knows what it feels like.
To mark the release of The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century, I spoke with Gibson, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, about bringing the human touch to the page, viewing a book as one long panning shot in a film, and the importance of using all the tools at one’s disposal, including cute daughters.
How do you make gentrification something people want to read about?
Most of the books out there are academic or have an academic feel to them. I think the way you get people to care about gentrification is to write about human beings. My goal was to show the human fabric of gentrification. People relate to people, to stories. Read More »