Edible planning

I’ll take your gingerbread house and raise you a neighborhood. Start your ovens!


New York in the movies

I’ve been on a bit of a Barbra Streisand kick lately, and this song’s New York setting is a fine excuse to share it. Even if you don’t like Barbra (or simply don’t know her yet), watch it for the cavernous train shed at 0:44 and the wonderful Statue of Liberty shot at 2:15.

The city’s living room

On this rainy weekend, Seattle is grumping itself out of bed and dreaming of summer over breakfast. We want to live in a city with sun where days are lived outdoors, in clear view of the mountains and the Sound, and everyone is friends. No more huddling alone under umbrellas! This summer city will be glorious, what we’ve been waiting for. And if we’re lucky, and we will be, someone will make a public coffee table where we can meet and talk about the (what else?) weather.

Learn more about this excellent placemaking project here.

Lay of the land (part 2)

Just what you’ve been waiting for, the nation as it was, direct from the archives of the highly reputable U.S. Geological Service.

Here’s my brother’s neighborhood in East Austin, 55 years before he bought his house and started dismantling and reconstructing it piece by piece. Now, he’s creating his own topography on a domestic scale: a bigger bathroom to hold a clawfoot tub, stained concrete floors, rough plastered walls like in the country, a garden instead of a driveway.

That house didn’t exist when this map was made back in 1954, but what would eventually be neighboring houses had started cropping up. The railroad ran close by, paralleling Boggy Creek, and the Colorado River flowed to the south. Development was a mix of the 19th-century pastoral and haphazard newer development: cemeteries and a tuberculosis sanatorium were sited to the north, while gasoline tank storage, gravel pits, sewage disposal, and a drive-in theater lay to the south. And there were houses: nothing fancy, but a distinct residential community called Webberville. That’s a story for another time.

In many regards, the neighborhood is still on the edge of things today; the heat from Austin’s real estate market hasn’t reached here yet. The road that leads from major thoroughfares into the little net of streets dead-ends abruptly: 2 wide lanes, then nothing. Houses have been built and added onto in a way that doesn’t feel wholly planned, and there’s a lot more space between them than in dense central neighborhoods. As best as I can tell from Google Maps, all the cemeteries remain. Gasoline tank sites are still undeveloped. The TB sanatorium building is now a Salvation Army shelter in the middle of a big wooded parcel. It doesn’t look like the drive-in to the south is driveable anymore, but its driveway is still in use, and newer buildings ring a big field where someone has mowed or sculpted ONWARD in big letters.

Downs Field, where the Texas Negro League’s Austin Senators ran the bases, wasn’t far away. Current maps have it to the west, near Huston-Tillotson College, and that seems the likely site of baseball history. The topo maps show a Downs Field around 12th and Springdale, where an elementary school, a church, and the Yellow Bike Project now rub elbows. In either case, it was close enough – and sufficiently important enough – to claim in local history. My brother’s almost-namesake Satchel Paige played there, and the great Willie Mays too.

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So: topo maps! Go on, give ’em a spin. What did your place look like? What’s changed? Where are the obvious stories, and where do you have to dig? What stories do you find?

More on maps, Austin, and our favorite rhyming cousin Boston at Lay of the Land [part 1].

ABCs of architecture

Happy Friday!

This video was created by Federico Gonzalez. It surfaced in my browser thanks to OmbĂș Architecture, which has an incredible collection of architectural eye candy from around the world. After you’ve whistled along to the video a few times, hop over and procrastinate there.

Studying – and shaping – Philadelphia

One of the best things about studying in a city like Philadelphia – full of promise and problems – is that you can make a difference even as you’re figuring out how to navigate the world. For students of preservation, the city holds surprises and potential projects around every corner. There are more potential historic landmarks and districts than you can shake a stick at, complex and ambitious policies to absorb the most ardent scholar, and a balance of development and demolition pressure that requires careful navigation – and a steep learning curve.

In the last six months, Penn students have made the news for their work to draw attention to a mid-century police station and to highlight and restore an 1876 arch designed by luminous local architect Frank Furness, who also designed the Fine Arts Library on campus. The arch restoration grew out of a conservation class report, while the Police Administration Building “Roundhouse” campaign was the focus of a second-year studio project.

The challenge with service-learning is to translate worthwhile class projects into on-the-ground projects and community causes that outlast the semester. Working with a community partner – the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust, with the Furness arch – and building broader community support, as with the Roundhouse, are steps toward that type of sustainability. And the projects – beyond their ostensible subject matter – offer students key lessons in the importance of involving allies and building relationships. Without these political skills and follow-through moxie, preservation advocates will be limited to short-lived campaigns rather than a broader movement.

Chicago in new running shoes

Awesome. Edifice Maps flaunts its city in bright neon, like the pop-rocks shoes of trendy kids and people who run faster than I do.


And it goes a step further to make those maps useful. Want to know the square footage of a building? Find it here. Better yet, look at neighborhood patterns and structures; see where taller buildings stretch more floor area into the same footprint as their neighbors.


Check out demolitions flaming up entire neighborhoods; dig into code violations and the dollars being poured into new construction. I’ve only been to Chicago twice, but I could spend afternoons on this map.


Beauty, utility, pizazz. This makes me want to move to Chicago just to dissect its streets from the ground – winters and my shivering constitution be damned.