The City Beat

Four Urban Magazines

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Cities have always occupied an ambiguous place in the American imagination. Like all economically developed nations, we've built them, and nearly three-quarters of us live in them today. Yet, as a nation conceived in large part by plantation owners to be a democracy of landholders, we're not sure we really ought to like them, and it shows: Our inner cities have suffered decades of neglect, and further damage from people who want to 'save' city neighborhoods with sterile development plans that obliterate all trace of urban charm and pizzazz. Meanwhile, the bulk of the building that has been done over the past 50 years has been in sprawling suburban zones, which offer neither the vitality and walkability of city life nor the neighborliness and closeness to nature of country living.

But all is not lost for the American city. In the past few years a new movement of neighborhood activists, architects, environmentalists, multiculturalists, municipal officials, and other city lovers has grown up to celebrate -- and fight for -- the special strengths and pleasures of urban life. And their efforts have been boosted by a wave of feisty newsletters and magazines that make a compelling case for what we miss by turning our backs on cities.

The Urban Ecologist, the magazine of the Bay Area group Urban Ecology, is a veritable treasure chest of valuable ideas on how to make cities greener, cleaner, and more lively. I always turn first to the Ecological Development feature, which in just five pages inspires and energizes me with news of initiatives around the world. Recent issues reported that 90 percent of the homes in Brasilia, Brazil, use solar water heaters; a four-acre garden in the shadows of Chicago's notorious Cabrini-Green housing project employs 50 low-income kids growing food; and San Jose has established a green line beyond which development cannot sprawl. The same broad definition of urban ecology is found throughout the magazine as it offers details on topics ranging from ecofriendly construction materials to Toronto's secrets for urban livability.

The Urban Ecologist, Urban Ecology, 405 14th St., Suite 900, Oakland, CA 94612. Subscriptions: $35/yr. membership (4 issues).

The Neighborhood Works, a magazine published for 20 years by the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago, emphasizes solid, practical information that community organizers and neighborhood activists can put to work in their own towns. The publication does an especially good job of examining the issues of poverty, transportation, toxic waste, gentrification, and citizens
strategies to take back power in local politics, offering broad analysis but also successful examples from communities around the nation. The



The Neighborhood Works, Center for Neighborhood Technology, 2125 W. North Av., Chicago, IL 60647. Subscriptions: $30/yr. (6 issues).

Places, an environmental design journal, brings a scholarly and suprising eye to the urban landscape. Written for landscape architects but appealing to anyone interested in the subtle and sometimes marvelous ways that a city works, Places examines everything from the importance of bus stops as a community gathering spot to how a housing project in Norfolk, Virginia, was reinvigorated by an architectural makeover that encouraged neighborly sociability.