LEANING CITIES

I spend a lot of time researching cities and properties through Google Maps, and I'm always delighted to find areas where Google offers 45˚ views of the landscape. Many of the larger American cities have this feature, which is created by stitching together a series of aerial photos to form a detailed composite that can be viewed from the north, south, east, and west.

Unlike the straightforward top-down view that is shot via satellite, the 45˚ view is a little less forgiving when it comes to perspective. It's pretty cool to come across the occasional inconsistencies of these intricately detailed landscapes, so I've put together a gallery of screenshots from five major American cities that give us a wild look at contorted skylines and mismatched towers.

For a great list of the best 45˚-enabled cities, check out 15 Google Maps with Stunning 45˚ Views at Condé Nast Traveler.

SUPER RARE HD VIDEO OF NYC IN 1999

I just came across this great video from WBNS-TV Columbus shot across Brooklyn and Manhattan on May 20, 1999. This was back before HD cameras were the norm, so WBNS sent a few of their videographers to New York in order to test out their new toy for the first time.

It's so evident that this video was shot in a totally different era. The pre-9/11 America that I grew up in just seems so carefree in retrospect. Of course there were problems, but it was a world of innocence when compared to the world we're a part of today. There were no constant threats, no overwhelming fear, no images of fireballs and unimaginable destruction seared into our minds. Those were the sorts of things you'd read about in books or see in films. We never anticipated it becoming part of our own realities.

I don't expect the world to ever return to this form in my lifetime, but at least we can take a moment to look back at what once was.

MTA OFFERS AMAZING PHOTOS OF SECOND AVENUE SUBWAY CONSTRUCTION VIA FLICKR

First off, let me begin by saying that I love Flickr's new redesign. Fast Company's Co.Design has a great review of the new layout, highlighting three massively important features:

  1. Death to pesky thumbnails
  2. Photos are the main focus again
  3. Free 1TB storage for everybody!

Yahoo's acquisition of Flickr in 2005 left countless photographers disappointed with the direction the website was headed, but the new overhaul seems to be a wonderful response to the long-suffering question, "why doesn't this work the way it's supposed to?" I haven't had a chance to check out all the new features in depth yet, but I like what I've seen so far.

Alright, back on the rails. Literally.

New York's MTA controls all New York City subways along with the rail lines that link Connecticut to the five boroughs. Their Flickr feed is incredible, offering photos of everything from nostalgia trains and special events to construction projects and some harrowing first-hand photos of the fallout from Hurricane Sandy last fall.

I've put together a photo gallery of some amazing Second Avenue subway construction photos, which some appropriately refer to as The Line That Time Forgot. Conceived in 1929, progress on the Second Avenue subway had been halted many times due to the Great Depression, World War II, and a stumbling economy. It appears that real progress is finally being made, and MTA's Flickr feed offers definitive proof.

[Proposed length of Second Avenue subway, 2013]

[Proposed length of Second Avenue subway, 2013]

Seen here on the right, the 8.5 mile subway line will run from 125th Street in Harlem south to Hanover Square in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan, and will be designated as the new turquoise T line.

The project is expected to cost in the neighborhood of $17B, but just the first of four total phases has secured funding. The phases are as follows:

  • Phase 1: 96th St. to 63rd St.
  • Phase 2: 125th St. to 96th St.
  • Phase 3: 63rd St. to Houston St.
  • Phase 4: Houston St. to Hanover Sq.

With Phase 1 expected to open to the public in December 2016, it's far too early to definitively predict the completion date of the full line, but the fact that so much progress is being made in the first phase is certainly encouraging right now. As you look through the photos below, it can become easy to forget that these enormous caverns lie just 100 feet below the bustling streets of Midtown Manhattan, working their way through a spaghetti maze of existing subway lines and tunnels that are constantly abuzz with traffic. 

Next time you walk through Midtown, take a moment to think about the flurry of activity happening right below your feet. For now, enjoy some construction photos from a transit authority that does a great job using technology to maintain a unique digital presence.

(Clicking any photo will open to that date's full photoset. All images ©MTA.)

"I'M A HUMAN FIRST"

I was walking through the mist to the PATCO station after a long day at work one February evening in 2012. As I scrolled through my iPhone trying to decide which Radiohead album best fit the weather, I was stopped by a woman whose mascara was running down her cheeks. 

"Can you please help me?" she asked, clutching onto her purse and doing her best to choke back the tears. She explained that she had just gotten into an argument with her boyfriend, who took her wallet and phone from her purse and left her stranded in the middle of Center CIty. She was a few inches taller than me and dressed to the nines, about 45 years old.

"I just need $13.10 for the train back to New Jersey and the bus to get home," she cried. I looked her in the eyes while others walked past, seemingly glad that she chose to talk to me and not them. This person in need was nothing more than a nuisance to so many people.

I gauged the situation and gave her the benefit of the doubt. She was older, very upset, dressed particularly well, and she knew exactly how much money she needed to get back home. I believed her and reached into my wallet, giving her $13 and telling her that I really hoped her day gets better. She thanked me several times and I left with a heavy heart. For the rest of the night I had a hard time trying to process how somebody could strand someone in the middle of a city with no way to get home. It seemed so inhumane.

A few days had passed and I couldn't stop thinking about the pain in that woman's eyes. I told a friend what had happened and she stopped me in the middle of the story. The same sobbing woman had put on the same show for her a few weeks prior.

I didn't feel angry. Didn't feel used. I just felt sad that this is the point we've gotten to as a society. I don't care what that woman did with the money I gave her. I cared about the fact that somebody is in a situation where lying and putting on an emotional show for strangers is the only way to make ends meet. I'm fortunate enough to have a home to go every night. The same can't be said for everybody.

Having spent the majority of my life in the whitebread suburbs, I never really had to face the thought of homelessness. Every so often I'd see a homeless person walking through town, but it was nothing like the problem that plagues Philadelphia today. The homeless problem is so prevalent in Philadelphia and barely anything is being done to fix it. These people need help, financially and psychologically, to get off the streets and get a second chance at life. Some are plagued by addiction, medical issues, or mental disabilities that can be treated in most cases, as long as somebody cares enough to offer a helping hand. 

No matter how you look at it, we're all human.

This is a point beautifully illustrated by Ronald Davis, a homeless man in Chicago who recently made headlines from a conversation he had with student filmmaker Andrew Messer. Working on a PBS series titled Big Questions, Messer uploaded the conversation to YouTube where it quickly gained recognition and currently has over two million views.

Nothing is said about the circumstances that led Davis to homelessness, but he brings an invaluable perspective to a broken "me first" system that does little to help those who ask for it.

You can ignore everything I've written here, but please take four minutes of your day to watch this video. It's so important to always keep in mind that we're all just people trying to make it here while we're still alive. Treat others with respect and don't assume that homeless people are just faceless beggars. Nobody's life goal is to shake a cup on a streetcorner.

Take a moment today to do something positive. Say hi to a stranger, buy somebody coffee. It doesn't have to be big but it'll seem that way.

It turns out that a crowdfunded campaign to help Ronald Davis is being hosted on giveitforward.com. As of this morning, over $13,000 has been raised. Click here to check it out for yourself.

THIS IS KENSINGTON

"Kensington is a place where troubled people go to try to find answers. Oftentimes, they end up losing their lives here."

Independent filmmakers James Sindaco, Sarah Fry, and Brad Larrison are the minds behind a series of short documentary projects called This is Kensington, which examines the brutal realities of this long-struggling Philadelphia neighborhood.

Riddled with violent crime, drugs, and broken dreams, Kensington is one of many blighted Philadelphia neighborhoods trying to make a comeback. Developers have recently begun to turn around the nearby Fishtown and Northern Liberties neighborhoods, but the same just can't be said for Kensington.

This project recently made headlines when videographers were caught in the middle of a shootout that left one man dead and another injured in broad daylight as children screamed and adults panicked at the sight of a bloodied victim hunched over his steering wheel.

Take a look at the full project at thisiskensington.com and check out the video below that begs the question, "What is Kensington?" 

HOW PHILADELPHIA BECAME THE CITY THAT BOMBED ITSELF

[Aftermath of the bombing. photo courtesy Philly.com]

[Aftermath of the bombing. photo courtesy Philly.com]

Today (May 13) marks the 28th anniversary of the bombing of Osage Avenue in Philadelphia, an effort by police to rid the neighborhood of a radical group that called themselves MOVE. Police dropped a bag of Tovex and C-4 explosives on the rooftop bunker of the MOVE headquarters, leading to the deaths of six adults, five children, and the complete destruction of 61 homes.

Needless to say, this was a gross misuse of power by the police, despite the fact that MOVE had long overstayed their welcome and were seen brandishing automatic weapons while blaring threats on the lives of city officials over a bullhorn.

After hours of research, this appears to be the first real example of a city bombing its own residents and properties. There have been other somewhat similar events since, like the sieges at Waco and Ruby Ridge that led to several deaths and loads of controversy.

Take a look at my full post on the MOVE bombing over at Curbed Philly. It'll only take a few minutes to read, and you'll reconsider the definition of 'necessary police force.'

THREE THEORIES ON URBAN DECLINE

live just a few minutes away from Camden, one of the nation's most dangerous urban disaster zones. The more I learn about it, the less I'm convinced it'll pull through. A major portion of the city's police force was recently laid off while three former mayors either have served or are currently serving prison sentences for corruption. With the exception of the waterfront, large sections of the city resemble the aftermath of nuclear fallout; bricks from crumbling structures falling into the streets and graffiti-laden plywood hanging from broken out windows. 

Camden wasn't always like this. The city once teemed with industrial prosperity in the early twentieth century, back when it was home to RCA Victor / General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Campbell's Soup Company, and the New York Shipbuilding Corporation (which was once the largest shipyard in the world). 

So what the hell happened?

Cities like Camden, Detroit, nd Baltimore that were once the backbone of the nation's industrial-based economy have transformed into havens for drug violence, murder, rape, and robbery. These cities fell victim to the post-World War II economic shift, and manufacturing jobs simply disappeared, leaving thousands without work. These issues don't seme to be getting better -- they're getting much worse. And worse yet is the fact that very little is being done to address these problems.

sugrue_cover.jpeg

So how are the wheels of dramatic urban decline first put into motion? Thomas J. Sugrue, author of The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, outlines three theories.

The "underclass" debate has moved in three - sometimes overlapping - directions. The first, and most influential, focuses on the behavior and values of the poor, and the role of federal social programs in fostering a culture of joblessness and dependency in inner cities. A variant, going back to the work of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and E. Franklin Frazier, emphasizes the role of family structure and unwed pregnancy in perpetuating inequality. A second offers structural explanations for inequality and urban poverty. Proponents of structural explanations tend to divide among those who point to the effects of economic restructuring (following William Julius Wilson) and those who emphasize the continuing significance of racial discrimination (following Gary Orfield and Douglas Massey). A third explanation focuses on politics, emphasizing the marginalization of cities in American social policy, particularly in the aftermath of the urban unrest and racial conflict of the 1960s. The "excesses" of Black Power and the rise of affirmative action fueled white suburbanization and justified a newfound white backlash against the urban poor. Implicit in this analysis is a contrast between the booming postwar years and troubled post-1960s years, urban heyday versus urban crisis.

So we're essentially looking at some pretty diverse issues:

  1. The government's social assistance programs (unemployment benefits, welfare) do not effectively foster value judgment of the citizens who depend on the services.
  2. Economic restructuring (the shift from manufacturing to service-based economy) has created a forgotten workforce that lacks a defined set of skills, and in turn leaves very few prospects for employment.
  3. Two generations removed, effects of racial tension in the 1960s are still felt today, leading to continued segregation between races who live in cities versus suburbs.

Flawed government assistance programs, a flatlining economy, poor education, and racial tension. Check back in over the next few weeks as I look at each of these issues individually. For now, what do you think are some small steps that can be taken?

Recommended reading:
     • What's the Matter with Camden? [NBCNews]
     • Camden, City of Ruins [DailyMail]

AMAZING PHOTOS OF HISTORIC BUILDINGS IN RUIN

This was a great find on Reddit -- Imgur user hcesquire uploaded a 67-photo album of various historic structures in states of disrepair and demolition. This gallery stretches to the ends of the earth and includes works from I.M. Pei, Le Corbusier, and Frank Lloyd Wright, just to name a few.

Some of these photos can make you begin to question our priorities when it comes to preservation and even general appreciation of architecture.. We live in a world where an empty field can be transformed into a largely prefabricated Walmart in a matter of three months, devoid of any architectural value and built by the lowest bidder. Maybe it shouldn't be so shocking to see some of these incredible structures relegated to a life of decay and neglect, but it gets me every time. At least we'll always have the photos as a reminder. 

Check out a few of my favorite photos below or click here for the full gallery.