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March 27, 2015

Housing crisis politics, disastrous subway maps, and how Richard Curtis gentrified London

By City Monitor Staff

Our weekly round-up of urban stories we enjoyed elsewhere.

Downhill from here

Fast Company magazine ran an interview this week with Massimo Vignelli, designer of the 1970s New York subway map and creator of its style guide (a reprint of which recently attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars on Kickstarter). He pulls no punches on what’s gone wrong since:  

If you look at today’s map, it’s a total disaster, with fragmentation all over the place… this is what we tried to avoid.

He does admit that his own map would have been improved by using a blank background, like the London Underground map, as the apparent relationship between the map and the city’s real-life geography only confuses users: 

If I made a mistake, it was not making the geography abstract – making the water beige and the parks gray instead of green – it was just the fact that we indicated these things when we shouldn’t have. We should have just made it blank. 

Personal and political

This week, women’s magazine website The Debrief intereviewed shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds about the UK housing crisis, and frankly found her answers a bit lacking. 

The journalist (Daisy-May Hudson, whose family was forced to declare themselves homeless after being evicted from their rented flat), concludes in the piece that politicians, many of whom are either unaffected by the crisis, or are benefiting from the higher value of their own property, still see the crisis as an abstract problem:

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With 4,000 households at risk of losing their home every week, it’s too late for small gestures. If food prices had risen at the same rate as house prices, a chicken would now cost £51.33.

Can you imagine the uproar, the questions in parliament, the headlines if the cost of a roast dinner skyrocketed like the housing market has? Yet in the face of people losing their homes, politicians are paralysed in inaction. We need to take drastic measures.

A not-so-short history of skyscrapers

Will Self has written a very long piece on the meaning skyscrapers for Guardian cities. He’s particularly funny on the recent rash of oddly-shaped skyscrapers in London: 

I accord this development – in terms of my own life at least – to be a great irony: having failed to up sticks and move somewhere exotic while I still had the necessary verve, I’ve awoken in middle age to find that Shanghai is my new neighbour.

It’s all Notting Hill‘s fault

So from explaining the housing crisis we turn to the causes of gentrification. Richard Curtis told the Independent this week that he fears he, godfather of saccharine British film, is personally responsible for Notting Hill’s gentrification. From the interview

I strongly support the campaign to try to keep Portobello Road as Portobello Road. I worry that my film [Notting Hill] was part of making that job more difficult.

Don’t be too hard on yourself, Rich.

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