Urban high-rises under construction, Los Angeles edition

In cities across the United States, the development and construction of downtown high-rises is ongoing. This was one of my views of Los Angeles this weekend:

Who is funding such development? Who will purchase the spaces in these new buildings? How does it all fit within a metropolitan landscape marked by uneven development and residential segregation? Located near L.A. Live, Crypto.com Arena, and downtown Los Angeles, this is desirable property.

A positive on-screen depiction of New Jersey

In contrast to the typical depiction of New Jersey on TV and movies, one writer suggests a new show portrays a positive vision of the state:

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I don’t want this attention. Jersey’s bad reputation for being America’s garbage dump has done a great job of keeping people out and our blocks relatively affordable. For years, Jersey City was protected by a forcefield of bad representation. Jersey is by far America’s favorite punchline of a state. Futurama imagined America’s founding fathers dubbing New Jersey “our nation’s official joke state.” Movie after movie refers to Jersey as “the armpit of America.” Even in Marvel’s What If…?, Harold “Happy” Hogan laments the only escape from a zombie apocalypse: “Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, we gotta go to Jersey.” MTV’s Jersey Shore continues to do a fantastic job of finding the best cast to represent the state and all it has to offer folks on the outside. Snookie and J-Wow knew exactly how to lay out the red carpet. The Sopranos also knew exactly how to showcase Jersey’s finest hospitality. Come for the bar fights, stay for the gabagool.

I would argue few places are depicted well on television or in films where the emphasis is usually on character and plots rather than on places, neighborhoods, and communities.

At the same time, certain locations can acquire a particular character through the way they are depicted over the years. Viewers might see only a particular perspective on or a portion of a place.

What would the average American think New Jersey is like based on what they have seen on screen?

Modern cities and deep time

Those suffering negative consequences after earthquakes in Mexico City highlight the tensions between modern cities and deep time:

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If we consider the city a geophysical entity, we can think about being tocado as a uniquely historical form of relating with the Earth. Rather than Elena’s affliction being induced by a traumatic experience and a fear of future earthquake events, she and others fear the processes that were initiated by the earthquake: the grietas, the slumps, the leans, the fissures, the buildings collapsing years later…

This is a form of seismic time that is not only knowable through a seismic event. It’s a time that begins with an earthquake but continues through ongoing geophysical and political processes. Rather than a pathological individual condition or a culture-bound form of expression, we might see being tocado as an emergent form through which bodies, histories, legislations and earths come into relation. Deep time, in Mexico City, is resolutely present if you are compelled to notice.

Deep time might be a useful frame for contemporary analysis, a temporal literacy that places the long-term ramifications of the present moment into a deeper history. Conversely, such scales also risk subsuming deep time into the present.

Mexico City points toward something more physical, a sense of time that neither collapses the human and the geological nor holds them as irrevocably distinct. In their embodied apprehension of earthly processes, people who are tocado reveal that deep time is not only an analytic problem of scale, but a stranger temporal geometry, where homes are at once sites of security and indifferent geophysical entities. Deep time portals open in the city’s many cracks, slumps and fissures, revealing an inconceivable horizon forever rushing forward.

The modern city is often designed to avoid deep time or a deep understanding of the past. The modern city of the last two centuries often took existing land and communities and created a city on a new scale with new materials with new possibilities.

In this article, the primary point of departure from modern time are earthquakes that remind residents on what the city is constructed. Other features of cities that might do this could be other natural disasters, areas designed and established far before the advent of cars, ancient landmarks, and excavations that reveal the past.

But, I imagine many residents of such cities have limited interactions with a deep past. Take Chicago: what there would remind people of a deep past, let alone even a few hundred years before? And if residents and leaders did more regularly interact with the deep past, would they act differently in the cities that are now so important to modern life?

What is in the name of a new suburb, Calgary edition

As the suburbs of Calgary expand, how are new community names selected and who approves these names?

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Just last week, a committee of city councillors discussed a report on eight yet-to-be-approved new suburbs, including a proposed community called “Nostalgia.”…

Tuscany? No offence to residents of this northwest suburb, but it has little in common with the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance.

Walden? Yes, there’s a pond — located a short drive from the McDonald’s, TacoTime and Save-On Foods. I doubt Thoreau would find much solitude.

And don’t get me started on Ambleton, currently under construction at the far north end of the city. As in, you can “amble” past monotonous rows of houses along Ambleside Avenue and Ambleton Street and other future roads with proposed names like Amblefield, Amblehurst and Ambledale…

These bad names are a shame because Calgary is rich in history and stories. Community names, which will outlast all of us, are a chance to show this off…

Calgary has long had a naming policy. Its current version states that community names “should either reflect Calgary’s heritage or local geographic feature(s) including flora and fauna, and/or further a sense of community.”

Yet, somehow, council approved a community named Cityscape, even after a 2013 city report said that name “could imply any part of Calgary,” and can be shortened to “City,” which is plain confusing. 

The names of suburbs are indeed interesting to consider. They are marketing tools to differentiate a new community or subdivision from existing locations while also drawing from a similar playbook to not be too unusual within suburbia. They are often generic names intended to appeal to suburban values, whether that involves nature or nostalgia (perhaps literally as suggested above) or likeable destinations or middle-class values. Names can be changed later in a community’s existence, but this is not common.

It is intriguing that there is an official naming policy, even if it is applied inconsistently or could be improved. In the United States, subdivision names likely need approval from a municipality or whatever local government body approves the development. For a new suburb or community, someone considers that name. But, I have not run into written naming policies or guidelines in American contexts.

On a related note, see this name generator for Chicago area suburbs.

Alphabet’s proposed Toronto “smart city” project vs. a new development more about nature and people

A new Toronto development is in the works where Alphabet once had plans for a “smart city” project:

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In every way, Quayside 2.0 promotes the notion that an urban neighborhood can be a hybrid of the natural and the manmade. The project boldly suggests that we now want our cities to be green, both metaphorically and literally—the renderings are so loaded with trees that they suggest foliage is a new form of architectural ornament. In the promotional video for the project, Adjaye, known for his design of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History, cites the “importance of human life, plant life, and the natural world.” The pendulum has swung back toward Howard’s garden city: Quayside 2022 is a conspicuous disavowal not only of the 2017 proposal but of the smart city concept itself.

To some extent, this retreat to nature reflects the changing times, as society has gone from a place of techno-optimism (think: Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone) to a place of skepticism, scarred by data collection scandals, misinformation, online harassment, and outright techno-fraud. Sure, the tech industry has made life more productive over the past two decades, but has it made it better? Sidewalk never had an answer to this…

Indeed, the philosophical shift signaled by the new plan, with its emphasis on wind and rain and birds and bees rather than data and more data, seems like a pragmatic response to the demands of the present moment and the near future. The question is whether this new urban Eden truly offers a scenario that will rein in global warming or whether it’s “green” the way a smart city is “smart.” How many pocket forests and neighborhood farms will it take to cool the planet?

Whatever its practical impact, renderings of the new version of Quayside suggest a more livable place. The development promises something incredibly obvious that the purveyors of the smart city missed: a potential for daily life to be pleasurable. As MaRS Discovery District CEO and tech entrepreneur Yung Wu puts it: “What is the vision that inspires people to want to live here, to work here, to raise their families and children and grandchildren here? What is it that inspires that?”

“It’s not a smart city,” he concludes. “It’s a city that’s smart.”

I wrote about the earlier project here and it is interesting to see this update. I would guess the “smart city” will still come but perhaps through different forms including more incremental changes, smaller and less high-profile projects that test the concepts first, and perhaps through examples in other countries where guidelines and regulations are different.

Additionally, does this mean Alphabet and similar companies will no longer pursue such projects or will they seek more favorable conditions? Or, what happens if tech companies provide a more convincing argument that tech and nature can go together in urban forms?

At this point, it is hard to imagine tech retreating much but how exactly it continues to develop and merge with urban and built spaces remains to be seen. It is one thing to push technology through individuals or private actors but it is another level to build it in into the infrastructure from the beginning.

The billions in sales generated in a big suburban edge city

Joel Garreau defined an edge city as a suburban place with lots of office and retail space. Just how much retail activity takes place? A recent report found the edge city of Naperville, Illinois generated billions in sales in 2021:

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Naperville continues to reign as the top suburb in retail sales for the fifth year in a row, a recent report shows.

The city in 2021 recorded sales of $4.3 billion, $540 million more than No. 2 Schaumburg, according to the annual report from Chicago real estate and retail consultants Melaniphy & Associates…

For Naperville, 2021 restaurant and bar sales climbed to a record $443 million, up 34% from 2020′s pandemic plummet to $330 million after hitting $431 million in 2019…

By far the largest contributor to retail sales in Naperville is under the automobile dealership and gasoline category.

In 2021, Naperville figures rose by 33% over the previous year to $1.7 billion, which was the highest percentage increase throughout the Chicago metropolitan area, according to the report.

Some of the lead for Naperville could be tied to their large population and land area. Many suburban communities are not this big. For example, Schaumburg has roughly a little more than half the population of Naperville and about half of the land area.

But, I am more interested in the absolute figures. One suburb had over $4 billion in sales. This is a lot of money in one community. And hundreds of millions were spent in numerous categories, including restaurants, groceries, cars, and lumber, hardware, and building supplies.

Naperville has several areas that help generate these sales. In northeast Naperville, Ogden Avenue and Diehl Road (and adjacent areas) have retailers, restaurants, automobile related businesses, and more. Downtown Naperville is a vibrant food and retail scene. The Naperville area adjacent and near the Fox Valley Mall has a lot of activity. Business activity in southwest Naperville is a more recent addition.

In short, Naperville is not just a bedroom suburb with a high quality of life: it is full of retail activity even as it contains thousands of homes and dozens of subdivisions.

New “Unvarnished” exhibit on Naperville’s exclusionary past

A new project from Naper Settlement shows how Naperville – and several other communities – excluded people for decades:

https://www.unvarnishedhistory.org/local-spotlights/naperville-illinois/

For more than 80 years, Naperville was a sundown town. After working in a household, farm or factory during the day, people of color had to be gone from Naperville by sundown…

A historical look at how diversity in the city and five other U.S. towns grew despite decades historic discriminatory practices and segregation is featured in a free online exhibit spearheaded by Naper Settlement and the Historical Society of Naperville.

“Unvarnished: Housing Discrimination in the Northern and Western United States,” found at UnvarnishedHistory.org, was developed through a $750,000 Institute of Museum and Library Services Museum Leadership grant. The Naperville historical museum and five other museums and cultural organizations collaborated from 2017 to 2022 to research and present their community’s history of exclusion…

“It is our hope that this project will act as a model and inspire other communities to research, share and reflect upon their own history. It is through this process that we are able to engage with the totality of history to better understand today and guide our decision-making for the future,” she said.

In doing research on Naperville and two other nearby suburbs, I had uncovered some of what is detailed in this exhibit. However, the local histories of the community rarely addressed any of this. Instead, they focused on the positive moments for white residents, typically connected to growth, progress, and notable members of the community.

Such an exhibit suggests a willingness for Naperville and other communities to better grapple with pasts built on privileging some and keeping others out. The history of many American suburbs include exclusion by race, ethnicity, and social class. This could happen through explicit regulations and ordinances, through regular practices, or through policies and actions not explicitly about race, ethnicity, or class but with clear outcomes for different groups.

As noted in the last paragraph above, hopefully these efforts do not end with past history but also help communities consider current and future patterns. For example, decisions about development – like what kind of housing is approved – influence who can live in a community.

If Colorado wants to become home to Disney and be the anti-Florida, would all the evangelical organizations in Colorado Springs want out?

As Florida moved to revoke the local governance power granted by the state to Disney, Colorado Governor Jared Polis extended a welcome to Disney:

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Colorado Governor Jared Polis has invited Disney to relocate to Colorado after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ “socialist attacks” on the company.

“Florida’s authoritarian socialist attacks on the private sector are driving businesses away,” Polis tweeted on Tuesday. “In CO, we don’t meddle in affairs of companies like @Disney or @Twitter.”

Polis then made his pitch for a new theme park in Colorado. “Hey Disney we’re ready for Mountain Disneyland,” he continued—a statement DeSantis’s office told Newsweek was “an odd invitation.”…

Polis also invited Twitter to launch headquarters in Colorado, regardless of “whoever your owners are.”

States fight over companies and jobs regularly, even as this round includes a particular culture war dynamic.

I am interested in the possible fallout for the cluster of evangelical organizations in Colorado Springs. While Colorado as a state made have made several decisions in the last decade or so toward blue status, it has longer featured two centers of power: a more progressive Denver and Boulder and a more conservative Colorado Springs. Even though the latter center has fewer residents than the cities to its north, it is home to many evangelical organizations. The profile of the city was particularly boosted by the move of Focus on the Family from the suburbs of Los Angeles to Colorado Springs in the early 1990s and the rise of local megachurch pastor Ted Haggard to president of the National Association of Evangelicals in the 2000s.

Would a continued shift left in Colorado lead evangelical organizations to want to go somewhere else? Some of the factors that made Colorado Springs attractive in the first place might still be there but the political climate and state policies less friendly. And where would they go? There might be safer clusters. For example, one study examines three other evangelical parachurch clusters in addition to Colorado Springs – Tulsa, Nashville, Washington, D.C. Would Tulsa and Nashville be safer and/or attractive choices compared to a changing Colorado?

Some city or community might also take advantage of this. Instead of waging a Twitter and media campaign impugning the choices of another state, why not quietly offer tax breaks, a promise of limited red tap and regulations, and a welcome plus reassurance that the evangelicals of Colorado Springs would be welcome in a political environment more to their liking.

The Chicago region has a lot of human capital…and the workers have a stronger work ethic?

A recent article discusses the potential workers in the Chicago region and how hard they work:

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“Probably the strongest work ethic of laborers is the folks in the Midwest,” the Houston-based founder of SparrowHawk Real Estate Strategists said, definitely not rhyming. “They’re just, I don’t know what they put in the water there, but they’re hard workers. And so you’ve got a good labor force.”…

Illinois Manufacturing Association president and CEO Mark Denzler recalls a businesswoman who recently moved her small manufacturing operations of about 50-70 workers to Mississippi with the goal of saving on costs. She regrets the decision, he said…

“When I’m around the warehouse workers in the Midwest — Chicago and all these other Midwestern cities — they’re different than the folks in the southeast and the folks in the West Coast. They just have a different work ethic,” he said…

“It would be really hard. I’d be suspicious of anybody who said they can do it,” Bruno said. “But there is this strong experience with work in the Midwest that it’s part of your development. It’s connected to your health and well-being.”

Contrary to the final paragraph above, I bet this could be measured. But, what would it show? And how would workers in Boston or New York City or Atlanta or San Francisco respond to the argument that Chicago workers have a stronger work ethic? Or, within the Midwest and Rust Belt, how about workers in Milwaukee, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh?

This is part of a bigger narrative about Chicago. it is part of its character. Even as it is a global city with an important finance sector and many professional and white-collar workers, it imagines itself as a blue-collar city relying on manufacturing. The loss of manufacturing jobs in the last sixty years hit Chicago hard, as it did many cities, yet the narrative continues.

I would be interested in a more recent study that looks at how residents of the Chicago area think about the purported work ethic. Does the narrative hold across locations, groups, and occupations? Does the idea of “the city that works” extend throughout the region and different kinds of workers?

Imagining St. Louis as the capital of the US

It is fascinating to consider (1) a different capital in the United States in the center of the country and (2) a different center to the Midwest:

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In some ways, Arenson says, St. Louis was at the heart of these questions. Geographically, it was located where North, South and West came together. It had been a slave state, but had not seceded. It was central to many railroad lines. And it was growing at a remarkable place—it would rise from the country’s 24th most populous city in 1840 to the fourth biggest in 1870.

No one was more convinced of the importance of St. Louis than local businessman and booster Logan Uriah Reavis. Reavis was a remarkable man, with a remarkable appearance. He wore a long, messy red beard and walked bent over a cane due to a childhood illness. Born in Illinois in 1831, he failed in his early career as a schoolteacher “when the students ridiculed him ceaselessly,” according to Arenson’s book. In 1866, he arrived in St. Louis intent on starting a newspaper and elevating the image of his adopted hometown.

Reavis wasn’t the first to suggest the city as a new capital for the nation. In 1846, St. Louis newspapers claimed that the move would be necessary to govern a country that grew significantly in size after the end of the Mexican-American War. But Reavis may have been the most outspoken supporter of the cause. He presciently envisioned a United States stretching not just out to California but up to Alaska and down to the Gulf of Mexico. And he saw St. Louis as the obvious place for the government of this mega-United States: “the great vitalizing heart of the Republic.” In contrast, he wrote, Washington was a “distant place on the outskirts of the country, with little power or prestige.”…

In response, between 1867 and 1868, three House representatives from the Midwest proposed resolutions to move the capitol toward the middle of the country. As historian and educational publisher Donald Lankiewicz writes for History Net, the first two of these stalled in the Ways and Means committee. But a third, introduced by Wisconsin Representative Herbert Paine in February 1868, came to a vote on the floor. Eastern congressmen saw the proposal to move the seat of government to somewhere in the “Valley of the Mississippi” as a joke. But it shocked them with the amount of support it received, ultimately failing by a vote of just 77 to 97.

This story sounds very American: local boosters combined with an expanding frontier and disorder after the Civil War to produce a vision for a new capital in a booming city. Even though this did not come to fruition, it sounds like there was a short window in which is could have happened. And then what would have happened to Washington, D.C., one of the most important cities today?

I also cannot help but contrast this to the fate of St. Louis after this era. I recently showed my urban sociology class the documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth. This documentary puts the infamous public housing project in the context of a city that peaked in population in 1950, lost residents in white flight, and is racially segregated. Add this to the competition with Chicago for the center of the Midwest and St. Louis might be a great story of a city that did not live up to its lofty dreams.