May 23, 2019

Do American Cities Have a "Soul?"

“Here’s a pop quiz. What do each of these have in common? The New York Yankees winning the 1977 World Series. A public art project in Enid, Oklahoma. The “bush-clad hills” around Canberra, Australia. The Champions League final in Spain. “Hyper-gentrification” in New York City.

Each one of these things is a “battle for the soul” of its city.

Once you notice it, you’ll see the phrase everywhere—from alt-weeklies to the New York Times. Often, it’s old European cities, besieged by tourists or real estate speculators or ugly new buildings, that are said to be engaged in such spiritual struggles; Paris and London and Venice are frequent soul-battlegrounds. In the United States, you’ll find battles for the souls of the Hamptons, Brooklyn, the Six Corners neighborhood of Chicago, Ann Arbor, the Minneapolis park board, New Orleans, Dallas, Austin, the Heights neighborhood in Houston, Seattle, Portland, Portland, Portland, Berkeley, Mountain View, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Francisco, San Francisco, San Francisco, San Francisco, San Francisco, San Francisco’s Chinatown, San Francisco’s Mission District, San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, and San Francisco.

Since I live in the Bay Area, a region whose soul seems to be under constant threat, I’ve become very familiar with the expression. But it still strikes me as odd. Americans live in a more-or-less secular society; lots of us don’t particularly believe that humans have souls. Why would cities have them—even metaphorically? Is it some premodern affectation, a relic of the era when trees and mountains were imbued with watchful spirits? Or does reflect something else entirely—the lure of nostalgia and the anxieties of longtime residents facing demographic and economic change?”

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"With many other countries already studying the Asian playbook, the United States and Europe could benefit from doing the same."

"Trump's cursing is one of the most straightforward parts of his appeal... Trump is not the only politician whose profanity has stood him in good stead."

"‘If we get all of this because Netanyahu wants to make Trump happy, that’s fine with us,’ says local council rep in Golan Heights as plans ramp up for ‘new’ neighborhood honoring U.S. president..."

"...there is something worth paying attention to in this latest petition from fans keen to have a creative work made the way that they want it. The comments on the petition are instructive."

"The sunny job numbers and steady growth hide the fact that most people think the economy works only for people in power."

"Like many other Americans, I now wear AirPods all day at my desk to combat the awful tyranny of the open office. Since they don’t cancel noise, they provide me with writing music..."

"The logic of attributing mental states to nonhuman animals is complicated. We cannot use deductive inference, because there are no general rules..."

"As the canon of English literature slowly, gradually opens itself up to books by women and authors of color, Modern Library and Penguin Classics have just launched two new series..."

"Egalitarian couples assume their progressive ideology will carry the day. Sociologists know that it doesn’t.... sharing child care is associated with valuing gender equality..."

"Business Booms for Sephardic Food: Women are leading the way as small businesses bring traditional recipes to the commercial marketplace..."

"With most animal populations, the niches that encase the populations are of constant size. Animal societies growing in a given niche have dynamics neatly fitted by equations with a constant limit or ceiling."

"Now some 200,000 Jews live in Germany, a nation of 82 million people, and many are increasingly fearful.... 85 percent of respondents in Germany characterized anti-Semitism as a “very big” or “fairly big” problem..."