1821: New to Town
During the course of his first aimless walk across the boulevards and along the Rue de la Paix, Lucien, like all newcomers, was much more interested in things than in people. In Paris the scale of everything is the first thing that strikes one: the luxury of the shops, the height of the houses, the affluence of the carriages, the contrast, everywhere seen, between great wealth and extreme poverty....
The New York City Department of Transportation has a resident anthropologist. Here’s what she had to say about the state of the city before widespread sanatation reform. “Going back 100, 150 years, American cities were disgusting—and New York City was notorious as the filthiest and stinkiest. We were a laughingstock. The rumor goes that sailors could smell the city six miles out to...
Reading LQ in Africa →
There’s a nice post up at The Economist about reading our City issue in Africa, in which the author finds the most similarities with Christopher Wren’s description of London. When things like this happen, I think, yeah, this is exactly how LQ should work in the world: “Africa is historically ill-equipped to build great cities—there are no reference points. The African city is...
I even gave up, for a while, stopping by the window of the room to look out at...– Philip K. Dick, 1972. From our Fall issue, The City.
In the 1600s, the English diarist Samuel Pepys believed a gentleman should own...– From “The Book Collection That Devoured My Life” by Luc Sante (via michellelegro)
A Most Horrid, Malicious, Bloody Flame
Soon as dined, I walked through the city, the streets full of nothing but people and horses and carts loaded with goods, ready to run over one another, and removing goods from one burned house to another. Having seen as much as I could now, I away to Whitehall by appointment and there walked to St. James’ Park, and there met my wife and walked to my boat; and there upon the water again, and to...
Traffic Pattern at Walden
The whistle of the locomotive penetrates my woods summer and winter, sounding like the scream of a hawk sailing over some farmer’s yard, informing me that many restless city merchants are arriving within the circle of the town, or adventurous country traders from the other side. As they come under one horizon, they shout their warning to get off the track to the other, heard sometimes through the...
After the Darkness →
“The Chilean miners may hold the record for the longest period trapped, but other people have lived in the darkness longer. On the night of Oct. 12, 1942, a group of Ukrainian Jews fled to a cave to hide from invading Nazis, who were sending the group’s neighbors to concentration camps and almost certain death. Living only on wheat, leeks, and other food they could sneak through a...
Ghetto space is wrong for America. It’s wrong for people who are the same type...– Andy Warhol, 1975. From our Fall 2010 issue on The City.
Google Maps: Babylon →
Alexandria, Athens, Babylon, Constantinople: the dimensions of ancient city walls laid over modern city maps.
For a third of a century, I got by nicely without Detroit. First off, I...– Richard Powers, from the first chapter of Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, which is excerpted in the print edition of our Fall 2010 issue on The City.
Head vs. Heart →
Park and Peterson gathered personality information on 47,369 people from the 50 largest U.S. cities through an Internet survey. They then split these traits into two categories: strengths of the head, which include creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, and love of learning, and strengths of the heart, which include gratitude, compassion, teamwork, hope, modesty, religiousness. The top ten “head”...
Braddock, PA, just outside of Pittsburgh, has...
I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless, nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple, desperate, human way. You, with all your undumb letters, would never write so elementary a phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe...
The apparent indolence and dazzling exterior of fashionable life in the city,...– From the Western Rural, c. 1877. Appearing in a populist Chicago weekly, this screed ended with a word of advice, “Young men, remain in the country.”
Ghost Towns: The abandoned and overgrown ruins of coal mining towns in the Appalachians. (via bmdesigns)
Been There, Done That
Pliny the Younger: It is astonishing how good an account can be given, or seem to be given, of each separate day spent in Rome, yet that this is not the case with regard to a number of days taken in conjunction.
Georg Simmel: There is perhaps no psychic phenomenon which has been so unconditionally reserved to the metropolis as has the blasé attitude.
Pliny the Younger: If you were to ask anyone, “What have you been doing today?” he would reply, “I have attended the ceremony of a youth’s coming of age. I have helped to celebrate a betrothal or a wedding. One has invited me to the signing of his will, another to attend a trial on his behalf, another to a consultation.”
Georg Simmel: A life in boundless pursuit of pleasure makes one blasé because it agitates the nerves to their strongest reactivity for such a long time that they finally cease to react at all. In the same way, through the rapidity and contradictoriness of their changes, more harmless impressions force such violent responses, tearing the nerves so brutally hither and thither that their last reserves of strength are spent; and if one remains in the same milieu, they have no time to gather new strength.
Pliny the Younger: These things seem indispensable at the time when they are done, but when you come to reflect that you have been doing them day after day, they strike you as mere frivolities—and much more is this the case when one has retired into the country. For then, the recollection steals over you, “How many days have I wasted, and in what dreary pursuits!” (Letter to Minicius Fundanus, c. 105)
Georg Simmel: An incapacity thus emerges to react to new sensations with the appropriate energy. This constitutes that blasé attitude which, in fact, every metropolitan child shows when compared with children of quieter and less changeable milieus. (“The Metropolis and Mental Life,” 1903)
How soon country people forget. When they fall in love with a city it is...– Toni Morrison, 1992. From our Fall 2010 issue, The City.
Architecture, or Revolution? →
“The end of World War I had this radical-puritan effect on people: the years of carnage made the comfortable self-assurance of the wealthy middle classes an obvious sham. Yet the workers had gone ahead and fought, resisting (except in Russia) all calls to revolt against their masters. So the theorists of the 1920s decreed that they were ‘starting from zero’ —which meant a...
The corpse has proved one of the most consistently bedeviling problems of the city, ancient and modern. Simultaneously sacred and polluting, the dead cannot simply be disposed of. Attitudes toward death among Romans varied, but some form of proper burial was always extremely important; only the poorest of the poor were buried in the mass graves well outside of town. Even for those who were...
I could wish that all burials in churches might be disallowed, which is not only...– Christopher Wren, c. 1710. An astronomer and founder of the Royal Society, Wren was also the leading English architect of his day. He submitted his design for the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral one week before the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed eighty-seven of London’s churches. Wren oversaw the...
The Master Architect
“Hitler was an astonishing walking encyclopedia of architecture. He carried in his head the detailed plans of most of the important buildings in Europe. Look at these sketches he gave me. This is the Pantheon in Paris and Les Invalides drawn by him from his memory of plans he studied before he’d ever seen them. And here is an outsized triumphal arch and domed hall he sketched in 1925 when even he...
Your opponent is the City. You must do battle with it from the time the...– O. Henry, c. 1910. From our Fall 2010 issue, The City.
Leaving Las Vegas →
“The nation’s gambling capital is staggering under a confluence of economic forces that has sent Las Vegas into what officials describe as its deepest economic rut since casinos first began rising in the desert here in the 1940s… And in the midst of all of this, standing as a prime symbol of Las Vegas’s taste for extravagant risk—or perhaps of a fateful misreading of a changing...