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Covering the Issues

If you lived here...  In the 1950s and 1960s, many neighborhoods were demolished to create public housing. Over the past decade, many of those large housing projects have met the wrecking ball, too. In “The Last Tower: The Decline and Fall of Public Housing” (Harper’s, May 2012), Ben Austen examines the most infamous public-housing complex, and the most ambitious wholesale transformations: Chicago’s Cabrini-Green. As Jane Jacobs once described the social networks in “slums” such as Boston’s North End, Austen talks with people displaced by public housing’s demise, shedding light on the important support systems that have now been fractured. The unrealized promise of public housing has been followed by the unrealized promise of its renewal.

Apocalypse soon...  Popular Science presents a series of articles on “Building a Better World” (July 2012). A few moments induce pause, such as the suggestion that New York City’s — and Boston’s — subways are more than 100 years old; a century from now, much of these systems will be underwater. Similarly, if global warming continues at the present rate, “half of Earth’s currently occupied land [will be] uninhabitable” by 2300. Much of the architectural territory is familiar: plan for sea-level rise now, urban density and mixed use is good, smaller dwellings are needed. But did you know that climate scientists receive regular death threats? Sadly, political scare tactics have entered the realm of science. Their work is more necessary today than ever.

London calling...  In one of many special reports to coincide with this summer’s Olympics, The Economist’s “On a High; London’s Precarious Brilliance” (June 30– July 6, 2012) explores the intersection of money and policy; of transportation, demographics, and housing. The editors argue that London, radically reinvigorated since its doldrum days a generation ago, is presently the most dynamic city in Europe. Meanwhile, planes, trains, and automobiles flood infrastructure past capacity, while local preservation policies help make housing even more expensive. What will the post-Olympic years bring? Although the long-term viability of facilities like the velodrome is unclear, even larger questions surround the everyday built environment. The editors make an impassioned call for close attention to the effect of national British policy on local urban centers.

It’s a mad, mad world...  Futurama, the General Motors– sponsored utopian vision at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, included “‘floating’ airports,” “radio-controlled traffic,” and 500,000 miniature buildings in the largest animated model ever built to the tune of $91 million (in today’s dollars). In “Colossal in Scale, Appalling in Complexity; Norman Bel Geddes and the Surprising Genesis of the Most Iconic World’s Fair Exhibit of All Time” (The Believer, May 2012), B. Alexandra Szerlip explains that a young sick-at-home designer created a miniature, operating race track on his drafting board as an amusement, which quickly grew into a wildly popular weekly parlor game in Geddes’ basement, complete with real betting and visits by the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Ethel Barrymore. Geddes’ War Game followed and, eventually, the World’s Fair, in this odd, obsessive, truly fantastic tale of man and model.

Reboot...  Next American City has been reinvented as an online-only journal, with Forefront as its new flagship long-form essay series, updated weekly, and a daily blog. Josh Stevens launched issue one with “Out of Cash: The End of the Nation’s Largest Redevelopment Program” (posted April 13, 2012), an investigation into the demise of redevelopment funding in California. (The Boston Redevelopment Authority’s funding is entirely different, but the discussion around runaway power and insufficient oversight sounds familiar.) Marked by thoughtful, thorough reporting, Forefront has so far touched on issues from the transformation of Rio’s favelas to Providence, Rhode Island, after the highway to smart growth in Wyoming. Noticeably more comprehensive and lively than its quarterly print predecessor, Next American City may finally become an influential urban voice.