Paint the town red (and green and blue)
We’re all used to seeing public art in its usual forms: statues, memorials, sculptures, murals, and so on. Now Jessica Stockholder, a multimedia artist based in Connecticut, has thought up a new approach with “Color Jam,” an art installation at the intersection of State and Adams streets in Chicago. Rather than creating art at the human scale, she’s done so at the city’s, by coating the streets, crosswalks, and buildings in vivid colors.
The goal, she explains in a press release, is to animate the “mundane everyday surface of the street corner” with a “parade of shifting color relationships.” As pedestrians and cars pass through the intersection, it becomes a
Global metropolis smackdown!
Boston vs. New York, Paris vs. London, L.A. vs. San Francisco. These sorts of “city vs. city” arguments are usually just fun and games. But perhaps we should take them more seriously.
In “The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age,” the political scientists Daniel A. Bell and Avner de-Shalit argue that cities really are very different—and that, in a globalized world, those differences are part of what makes them matter. Increasingly, people all over the world are sharing the same global culture, and cities, with their distinctive outlooks, are providing the world with important islands of heterogeneity.
It might sound like an old cliche to say that Paris is romantic, New York ambitious, and Oxford intellectual. But those identities, they find, are actually becoming more distinct over time, as the architecture, geography, culture, and even self-marketing of cities reinforce one another. And the distinctive “ethos” of a city, they argue, is more than just a curiosity. Each city is like a laboratory in which we can see the consequences of a certain way of life unfold—for better and for worse. New York is a city of optimistic, dynamic, independent strivers—but it’s also characterized by a tough, callous, and sometimes hubristic sense of individualism. That’s why, today, it’s a center for modern finance and for disastrous financial overreach. Jerusalem has neighborhoods built around the highest, most admirable aspects of religious faith—but it also has neighborhoods which embody, in their demographics and architecture, the most atavistic and violent aspects of religion.
Thinking seriously about the ethos of a city, they write, can help us understand a lot about its history, and about its role in the greater world. And, their book suggests, it’s also a good way to think about a city’s future. As city dwellers, we ought to be asking how we can capitalize on our city’s unique ethos, building on its strengths and guarding against its weaknesses.
The invention of lunch
It might sound odd to say that something as fundamental as lunch was “invented”—and yet that’s exactly what happened. Writing at the blog Edible Geography, Nicola Twilley talks to the culinary historians Laura Shapiro and Rebecca Federman and reports that lunch didn’t really exist until around 1850. Before then, people didn’t set aside time for a real meal in the middle of the workday. The word “lunch” meant something like “snack”; it was only when people started working longer hours in the city that lunch became its own separate meal, with its own traditional lunch foods.
The invention of lunch ushered in a range of changes. Peanut butter became popular: It started as a fancy lunch food, popular at “ladies’” lunches, until the advent of the PBJ, which pushed it to the kids’ table. Social mores were loosened as women began eating lunch alone in crowded cafeterias. And an automated, antiseptic approach to food sprang up in the form of the Automat: The vending-machine-like arrangement was reassuring to pioneering lunchers, who were icked out by the idea of eating food prepared by someone outside the home and family. Lunch’s place at the table was finally guaranteed when school lunches were introduced in 1908.