Posts Tagged ‘cities’
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 »
April 22, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Earth: it’s a neat-looking place.
Agèd. Spherical. Cerulean-ish.
Problem is, there are more than seven billion people here, gumming up the planetary works with such “advances” as “buildings,” “indoor plumbing,” and “rust-proof tension-mounted shower caddies.” Earth is so crowded with human beings that many of them live and work within mere feet of one another. It is, on Earth Day, something of a buzzkill. Read More »
December 24, 2014 | by Edward McPherson
We’re out until January 5, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2014 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!
St. Louis’s unforgettable 1904 World’s Fair.
I hand the attendant a fifty-cent piece and watch him drop it into the automatic turnstile, itself a marvel. Behind me, the murmur of moneychangers, the swish of gored skirts tapering to white shirtwaists. Beyond that, the din of St. Louis. My sack suit rustles as I stride ahead. I’m crossing the threshold of an impossible city: a manicured wonderland of symmetrical lagoons winding through sculpted gardens studded with allegorical statues. In the distance loom the massive palaces of learning, their Beaux-Arts façades harkening back to Ancient Rome and heralding a future brighter than the hundred thousand incandescent lights that line them against the night. The words of Exposition President David R. Francis ring in my ears—Open ye gates! Swing wide ye portals! Enter herein ye sons of man, and behold the achievements of your race! Learn the lesson here taught and gather from it inspiration for still greater accomplishments!—and I step into the Fair.
* * *
St. Louis is a city of gates that do not normally swing wide. The urban private street, or “private place,” is believed to be a local invention, dating to the 1850s. Private places are owned by their residents, who typically build and maintain the road, median, sidewalks, curbs, street lighting, and—most crucially—gates. Some gates were utilitarian, imposing, and plain; others were small castles, complete with clock towers, fountains, statues, gaslights, and gatehouse apartments that caretakers (and, later, college students) lived in until the 1980s. Private places offered a refuge from the ever-booming city, a world apart. Some have been razed, their gates uprooted, the neighborhoods now troubled by crime; many still stand, pockets of wealth and privilege, with boards of trustees that oversee matters of law (historic preservation, landscaping) and etiquette (street parking, book clubs, Easter egg hunts).
Nearly two years ago, when my wife and I were moving to town and looking for an apartment, we were taken aback: everywhere, gates, gates, gates. Gates that lock and unlock according to byzantine schedules publicized only to residents (thus thwarting commuters and anyone else who might try to cut through the neighborhood). Gates that open by remote control. Rolling metal gates with yellow hazard signs. Gates built for carriages that now barely fit a car. Even in less-rarified neighborhoods—with weeds in the lawns and unwashed economy sedans on the street—at the end of the block might stand a pitiful sawhorse made of white PVC pipe. A symbol that speaks to the natives. Private Street: Not Thru. Private Street: No Public Parking. No thru traffic. Private neighborhood. No smoking beyond this gate. Private. No trespassing. Keep Out.
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June 2, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Envisioning the brick-and-mortar bookstores of tomorrow: “Wide steps double as seating and lead down to a bar and a stage, where a writer performs—‘authors will become more like rock stars’—or a ‘book wizard’ explains the craft of making books. The book you make might be one by the writer on stage, something you’ve written yourself, or any other text the robots conjure up.”
- “I think poetry has really rather connived at its own irrelevance and that shouldn’t happen, because it’s the most delightful thing … We have lost the sense that poetry sits halfway between prose and music—that you can’t expect to read it like a novel. We are quite used to downloading an album and listening to certain tracks … poetry needs to be consumed in that way.”
- On Tolkien’s 1926 translation of Beowulf, which was finally published last month: “The literary landscape has changed since then in a way that Tolkien would have neither expected nor accepted: he now towers in fame over Beowulf. Last year, Penguin repackaged its Michael Alexander translation as one of five ‘classic [stories] that inspired J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit.’ but far more people will read the book for Tolkien’s sake than for Beowulf’s.”
- “Though their obsolescence has been prophesied at various points, neighborhoods remain a vital—perhaps the most vital—way of thinking about the modern city.”
- A 1959 promotional comic touts the glories of atomic energy through Reddy Kilowatt, everyone’s favorite grinningly electric asexual mascot: “I’m a real, live wire and I never tire. Yes, sir—I’m a red-hot shot. I can cook your meals, turn the factory wheels, ’cause I’m Reddy Kilowatt.”
February 16, 2014 | by Edward McPherson
This is the second in a two-part series on St. Louis and the 1904 World’s Fair. Read part 1 here.
The Palace of Agriculture is a blinding colossus in the sun. The man next to me reads from a booklet: twenty acres large, covered with 147,250 panes of glass. I have timed my visit—in one minute a giant clock made of 13,000 flowers will strike the noon hour. I am finished with the exhibits. I have seen the Missouri corn palace, the 4,700-pound cheese; I have laughed at Minnesota’s contribution, “The Discovery of St. Anthony Falls by Father Hennepin” shaped out of one thousand pounds of butter. Now a hiss of compressed air throws the 2,500-pound minute hand the final five feet, where it points to the giant numeral 12. An hourglass flips, doors open to reveal the gears of the clock—the triumph of industrial time—and a massive bell tolls the death of more agrarian rhythms.
Pyramids of fruit on a sea of china plates—the entire Palace of Horticulture smells like apples. Virginia has created a statewide shortage by sending too many to the Fair. I dip my fingers into the fountain, which gushes ice water. Farmers shake their heads at the monstrosities on display: a pineapple the size of a turkey and a mysterious dimpled fruit, said to be the unholy cross between a strawberry and a raspberry.
* * *
The company is a major employer in this city. One cannot miss its print and radio campaign: “We grow ideas here.” “We work together here.” “We dream here.” “We’re proud to be St. Louis Grown.” Its website offers videos of employees working in food banks, cleaning up after tornados, visiting Forest Park, and standing in front of the Arch. Articles rate the town’s best burger joints, as judged by company workers. The company is a major donor to local charities and institutions, including the university in which I teach. In 2013, the company’s net sales were $14.8 billion, up ten percent. Its chief technology officer won the 2013 World Food Prize. The company has 21,183 employees in 404 facilities in sixty-six countries—but its headquarters are here, where, over the years, the much-maligned Monsanto Company has worked to produce saccharin, PCBs, polystyrene, DDT, Agent Orange, nuclear weapons, dioxin, RoundUp, bovine growth hormone, and genetically modified seeds. Read More »