There are a lot of ways to disparage a place, but some words carry more venom—and historical baggage—than others. Some version of what the U.S. president reportedly said has been said forever; it’s been said about the place I call home.
Truth be told: It’s a pretty effective narrative. Use it, and you’re able to mark entire populations with the traits you perceive in their environments—they’re unclean, and therefore, inferior. Then, you can justify colonizing them, enslaving them, profiting from them, denying them rights, or just wiping them out altogether. And it’s a geographically flexible characterization. You can apply it to Palestine—as Winston Churchill did in back in the day—or to an inner-city neighborhood in the U.S. In either case, it absolves the entity deploying it of its own responsibility in creating difficult conditions in the places they are referring to—as if “shitholes” exist in a vacuum.
And so yet again, some of us find ourselves having to stand in defense. The places we come from aren’t perfect—neither are those of us living there—but we matter.
A photographer who documents urban murals of Martin Luther King, Jr., writes in CityLab: “It is not uncommon for Dr. King to look Latino, Native American, or even Asian.” Incidentally, Biloxy, Mississippi will celebrate its first MLK Day this year. A new Smithsonian exhibit examines how African Americans’ relationship to their cities changed after 1968.
Other stories: Is it Paris or is it Tianducheng? In Berlin, these snazzy sneakers can be your discounted annual transit pass. Bitcoin is coming to your bodega. When shipping containers are refashioned as jails. A new Apple Store will replace an aboriginal cultural center in Melbourne, Australia. Britain is planning a coast-to-coast forest. Arcade Fire is doing “disco town halls” to put the funk back into local politics.
Here’s what else we’re reading, watching, and listening to:
So apparently, the British also planted a 1,100-mile hedge in India to enforce salt taxes back when they ruled it. (My British colleague Feargus O’Sullivan, on that story:“Trust the British to use gardening as a force for oppression.”) (Atlas Obscura) ¤ Tanisha C. Ford writes the history of an address steeped in family tragedy—including her own. (Elle) ¤ “All the girls in the Harlem tenement building I grew up in wore a pair.” (The New York Times) ¤ Get ready for the National Valet Olympics! (The Atlantic) ¤ An ode to the home office. (New Yorker) ¤ Of gods and cities. (Nautilus) ¤ “In Peoria, Illinois, when my sister and I were very young, my father would sit between our beds and tell us stories of animals who fought, lied, and cheated their way through the jungle world he invented for us.” (Guernica) ¤ The secrets of the New York bagel—revealed. (Digg) ¤ Traveling while black and gay—in Japan. (Catapult) ¤ An illustrated story about the communities separated by the U.S.-Mexico border. (The Nib) ¤ West Covina, California: The star of the show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” (Los Angeles Times) ¤
Oh, and here’s an unusual recommendation from Juan Pablo Garnham, who edits CityLab Latino: He’s been enjoying the hashtag #BicicletaEnElCine, which an Internet Person has been using to tweet out scenes from famous movies that feature bikes. The clips show how frequently bicycles appear in cinema and how beautiful they are, JP says. Bike nerds, assemble!
In D.C.: “The Wolves”—a play that “explores the violence and teamwork of sports and adolescence, following a pack of 16-year-old girls who turn into warriors on the field.” (January 17 through March 4)
In New York: Don’t forget to drop by the “King in New York” exhibit at the City Museum of New York. (January 13 through June 1)
Feel free to send over upcoming events from your cities that you think I should include in future editions of this newsletter. You know where I live … on the internet.
View from the ground:
@davidrosalesb photographed the lush view from a hotel in Guatemala, @julio.a.c shot an art exhibit in Columbus, Indiana, @blythrenate looked at the clean lines of buildings in Milwaukee, and @varshasundar captured the trees and terraces of Chennai, India during golden hour.
Show us the view from your city. Tag us on Instagram with the hashtag #citylabontheground.
See you next time,
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