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May 8, 2015

A subway imposter, aimless wandering, and the world's first skyscraper

By City Monitor Staff

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

The man who loved transport

Back in 2002, Harper’s magazine ran the story of Darius McCollum, who at the time was 37 and had spent a third of his life in prison. His crime? Repeatedly impersonating New York City Transit Authority workers.

Yes, really. 

McCollum had always had an interest in trains, but started disappearing into the subway for days at a time after a childhood injury. Later in life, he acquired an NYCTA uniform and forged documents which enabled him to turn up for “work” on the subway system. You can read the rest of his bizarre and compelling story here

The death of the ramble

May is, as we’re sure you’re already aware, National Walking Month in the UK. Walking, besides being good exercise, has been proven to have links to creative thinking – but only if you’re able to let your mind wander, and aren’t focussed on a phone, music or a map the whole time. This BBC article looks at the decline in purposeless walking, and suggests that, for maximum benefit, we should walk further, with no fixed route and no distractions. 

Skyscraper zero 

This month and last, Guardian Cities has been compiling a history of cities as told through the stories of 50 key buildings. They’re up to 30 so far, and highlights have included America’s first shopping centre and the citadel of Aleppo. Our favourite, though, is the world’s first skyscraper, Chicago’s Home Insurance Building, designed by William Le Baron Jenney. From the piece: 

Legend has it that Jenney, an engineer by training and an École Centrale Paris classmate of Gustave Eiffel (designer of the eponymous tower), first suspected that an iron skeleton could hold up a building when he saw his wife place a heavy book atop a small birdcage, which easily supported its weight.

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This opened a new chapter in the history of towers, helped by the Great Chicago Fire (in which more than three square miles of the mostly wooden central city burned to the ground in 1871), and by Chicago’s surging 1880s economy.

As a result of the fire, the Home Insurance company wanted a tall, light, fireproofed building for their new headquarters; and so they went ahead with Jenney’s controversial design. 

Showdown in Baltimore

If you’ve been following that news source we like to call “the internet” over the past few weeks, you may have come across the name Marilyn Mosby. She’s the attorney prosecuting the officers accused of killing Freddie Gray, a 25 year old African-American man, who died in police custody last month last month.

Mosby earned celebrity status through her decision to prosecute for a range of charges including manslaughter and second degree murder. But will she win her case? The Atlantic interviewed a Baltimore law professor who runs through the possibilities. 

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