City by City

Essays on American cities by people who live in them, edited by Keith Gessen and Stephen Squibb. Now a book.

Lessons of the Arkansas

Lessons of the Arkansas

When Kansas Took Colorado to Court

The Arkansas River forms in the Rockies near the old silver boomtown of Leadville, Colorado, then meanders east through Pueblo, Colorado; Dodge City, Kansas; and Wichita before turning southeast and moving at a stately pace through Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Little Rock, Arkansas, finally dumping into the Mississippi at Napoleon, Arkansas, a ghost town. At fourteen hundred miles, it is the sixth-longest river in America, behind the Missouri, Mississippi, Yukon, Rio Grande, and Colorado. It is the garden hose of the High Plains, sclerotic artery of midwestern commerce, and unamenable amenity in most of the towns and cities it passes through.

Los Angeles Plays Itself

Los Angeles Plays Itself

Psychologically, there are two L.A.’s. One is where Naomi Watts gets to be the sunny aspiring actress Betty and have beautiful teeth and a gorgeous lesbian relationship with an amnesiac Laura Harring. The other is where Naomi Watts is Diane, with fucked-up teeth, an unrequited romantic obsession, and a bullet in her head. They’re both the same movie, and none of it makes any sense. But it says something about how the city sees itself: things are one way, or suddenly another.

Introduction

Introduction

Introducing City by City: Dispatches from the American Metropolis

Two years into the project, the cities themselves erupted. The various city-centric iterations of Occupy—Occupy Boston, Occupy Philadelphia, Occupy Oakland—seemed to both validate our idea and move beyond it. When Occupy was done, we felt that the project, and our curiosity about the cities of our country, could expand.

Before the Bridge

Before the Bridge

The Verrazano-Narrows at 50

Fifty years ago this month, on a frigid Saturday in 1964, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island, officially opened for business. Despite the cold, the mood was celebratory. Robert Moses, Mayor Wagner, Cardinal Spellman, Governor Rockefeller, and the borough presidents of Brooklyn and Staten Island cut a ribbon on the Brooklyn side, then crossed the span in limousines.

El Paso

El Paso

By 2008, thousands of middle-class and rich people in Juarez, desperate to avoid shakedowns, murders, and kidnappings by cartel hit men, had begun packing up and fleeing to El Paso, where they bought houses and opened businesses. Their migration kept the northern side of the border economically afloat and turned Juarez into a pariah city—or worse, a ghost city that El Pasoans ceased thinking about.

Gold Rush Alaska

Gold Rush Alaska

The mayor told us that the city would be holding a special council meeting so that both production companies could pitch their show ideas to the people of Whittier. We were invited to come and watch. “A reality show could be good for bringing attention to our little town,” he said, “but it does worry me, too. I don’t want to be some Alaskan Honey Boo-Boo.”

Fresno

Fresno

My parents moved us into an apartment complex in northwest Fresno called Cobblestone Village. This was the scaffolded edge of the city, only half a mile from where the suburbs disintegrated at the sandy banks of the San Joaquin. The apartments were surrounded by acres of troweled lots. A wide pit had been dug in one with I-beams and rebar sticking out of the dirt.

Milwaukee’s Gilded Age and Aftermath

Milwaukee’s Gilded Age and Aftermath

Everything Hoan did for the city, he saw in terms of helping the workers in whose name he governed.

I spent most of my teenage years in Wauwatosa, one of Milwaukee’s oldest suburbs. In the 1960s, at the height of the city’s civil rights struggle, it was one of the hotbeds of racist resistance: when Father Groppi led a protest march into the town, he was met by Klansmen and other onlookers who waved signs reading “Keep Tosa White.” By the early 2000s, such explicit racism was rarely seen.

Lessons of the Arkansas

Lessons of the Arkansas

When Kansas Took Colorado to Court

The Arkansas River forms in the Rockies near the old silver boomtown of Leadville, Colorado, then meanders east through Pueblo, Colorado; Dodge City, Kansas; and Wichita before turning southeast and moving at a stately pace through Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Little Rock, Arkansas, finally dumping into the Mississippi at Napoleon, Arkansas, a ghost town. At fourteen hundred miles, it is the sixth-longest river in America, behind the Missouri, Mississippi, Yukon, Rio Grande, and Colorado. It is the garden hose of the High Plains, sclerotic artery of midwestern commerce, and unamenable amenity in most of the towns and cities it passes through.

Los Angeles Plays Itself

Los Angeles Plays Itself

Psychologically, there are two L.A.’s. One is where Naomi Watts gets to be the sunny aspiring actress Betty and have beautiful teeth and a gorgeous lesbian relationship with an amnesiac Laura Harring. The other is where Naomi Watts is Diane, with fucked-up teeth, an unrequited romantic obsession, and a bullet in her head. They’re both the same movie, and none of it makes any sense. But it says something about how the city sees itself: things are one way, or suddenly another.

Introduction

Introduction

Introducing City by City: Dispatches from the American Metropolis

Two years into the project, the cities themselves erupted. The various city-centric iterations of Occupy—Occupy Boston, Occupy Philadelphia, Occupy Oakland—seemed to both validate our idea and move beyond it. When Occupy was done, we felt that the project, and our curiosity about the cities of our country, could expand.

Before the Bridge

Before the Bridge

The Verrazano-Narrows at 50

Fifty years ago this month, on a frigid Saturday in 1964, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island, officially opened for business. Despite the cold, the mood was celebratory. Robert Moses, Mayor Wagner, Cardinal Spellman, Governor Rockefeller, and the borough presidents of Brooklyn and Staten Island cut a ribbon on the Brooklyn side, then crossed the span in limousines.

El Paso

El Paso

By 2008, thousands of middle-class and rich people in Juarez, desperate to avoid shakedowns, murders, and kidnappings by cartel hit men, had begun packing up and fleeing to El Paso, where they bought houses and opened businesses. Their migration kept the northern side of the border economically afloat and turned Juarez into a pariah city—or worse, a ghost city that El Pasoans ceased thinking about.

Gold Rush Alaska

Gold Rush Alaska

The mayor told us that the city would be holding a special council meeting so that both production companies could pitch their show ideas to the people of Whittier. We were invited to come and watch. “A reality show could be good for bringing attention to our little town,” he said, “but it does worry me, too. I don’t want to be some Alaskan Honey Boo-Boo.”