September 29, 2015
"Cities can’t win. When they do well, people resent them as citadels of inequality; when they do badly, they are cesspools of hopelessness." This is the opening line to Adam Gopnik's New Yorker review of three forthcoming urban history books: Gerard Koeppel's "City on a Grid: How New York Became New York," which tells the history of the city's famous 1811 street grid plan and explores how that forever shaped life in the city; Evan Friss' "The Cycling City: Bicycles and Urban America in the 1890s," which recounts the rise and fall of bicycle culture in the late 19th century; and David Maraniss' "Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story." These very specific topics lend themselves to larger themes about the current state of our city, and in exploring these, Gopnik came out with an incredible one liner:
The things that give cities a bad conscience are self-evident: seeing the rise of 432 Park Avenue, the tallest, ugliest, and among the most expensive private residences in the city’s history—the Oligarch’s Erection, as it should be known—as a catchment for the rich from which to look down on everyone else, it is hard not to feel that the civic virtues of commonality have been betrayed.
More thought-provoking themes from the review