The City Beat

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

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

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
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

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.

Places, Box 1897, Lawrence, KS 66044-8897. Subscriptions:
$30/yr. (3 issues).

New Urban News, a smart-looking newsletter, focuses on a
specific area of the growing consciousness about cities: New
Urbanism, an architectural movement dedicated to establishing new
developments modeled on classic city neighborhoods, with sidewalks,
narrow streets, corner stores, and garages behind the houses. While
many of these projects are built in outlying suburban areas, they
aim to create a city feel, and their success disproves the
widespread notion that people no longer want the qualities an urban
neighborhood offers. New Urban News keeps track of projects
under way in 29 states, including a number of inner-city
initiatives, and stays abreast of social, economic, and political
news that affects the movement.

New Urban News, Box 6515, Ithaca, NY 14851. Subscriptions:
$69/yr. (6 issues).

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.