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Community / Public space

Rat paths, defining gentrification and starchitecture's swan song

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

Rat race

Turns out rats have preferred routes, just like we do. In fact, you can see them: “sebum”, an oily substance on their fur, rubs off against walls as they scamper the city and build up to create dark smudges over time. 

This, and other disgusting-yet-fascinating facts on rats’ urban navigation, are laid out in a long feature from the New York Times magazine published earlier this month. From the piece:

New York is the rat’s ideal habitat. Our idea of what a park or public space should look like mirrors its native environment, which, contrary to the animal’s common name, was almost certainly the grassy Asian steppe. We mow grass, plant a few shrubs and low bushes, a line of trees.

Then we improve on nature by adding a constant source of food, our trash. Now at least two million rats live here, maybe millions more, depending on which scientist you ask. If we’d like fewer of them around, we might start thinking about how to make the city more attractive to other animals.

Priced out 

This blogpost at Channel 4 looks at the causes, definition of and rising interest in the word “gentrification”. According to Google, the majority of searches around the term come from the US, but there’s also a rising interest in UK cities like London and Leeds:

In many cases, growing tech industries and forced migration out of the city were the first signs of gentrification. 

Then, as now

A fascinating piece on Common Place, a journal on early American history, delves into Baltimore’s past for earlier examples of the protests and discontent rocking the city now. The author posits that Baltimore’s 19th century instability, at least, was down to its relative youth: 

By the time of the riots in 1835, Baltimore had little more than fifty years of existence as a city.

Those five decades had provided enough time to build an urban infrastructure, to create functioning institutions, and even to erect the nation’s first monuments to the veterans of the War of 1812 and to George Washington. But it wasn’t close to enough time to anchor Baltimore against the forces of disorder endemic to the first decades of the nineteenth century.

You can read more here

Stars in their eyes

Architectural Review has an essay this month on “Starchitecture”: those projects which look less like buildings than zany sculptures. The author argues that our current emphasis on outlandish design is unhelpful:

Nobody thought to ask the obvious question as to which of these forms might be relevant to architecture…

Particularly apt would have been to question which forms elicit relationships − with us humans, both perceptually and psychologically, as well as with other buildings and external space − and so can aggregate into satisfactory urban fabric in which we can feel at home. 

He has a point – we’re not sure how “at home” we’d ever feel in this giant pringle, just for starters. 
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