The Five Worst Cities in America

Cities are “back,” as you might have heard, following a long period when urban America was viewed by fearful observers in the suburbs as dangerous, dysfunctional, and generally addicted to crack.  We welcome the renaissance of many American cities—who could not applaud declining murder rates (well, at least until this year and, you know, all the time in Chicago), and the rise of a younger generation less wedded to cars, sprawl and fossil fuels? Even if cities are officially back, though, there are a few cities we wish would go back to wherever they came from.  We love New York and San Diego and, uh, Albuquerque, but there are some places in America so pretentious, unfriendly, boring, racist … [Read more...]

Vietnam and the 1968 Democratic National Convention at Middle Age: Policing, Protest, and Urban America

Though perhaps more famous for his role as recovering drug addict and Narcotics Anonymous mentor Walon from The Wire, Steve Earle first came to prominence as a dissident Nashville outsider/cult country star. Over the past three decades, Earle has been poking holes in both Southern stereotypes and tropes about masculinity while crafting a hard left critique of American history. On the title track to his 1988 album, Copperhead Road, Earle plays the role of rural marijuana kingpin John Lee Pettimore, “same as my dad and his daddy before.” Pettimore hailed from a long line of bootleggers, Grandad would “buy a hundred pounds of yeast and some copper line/Everybody knew that he made moonshine,” … [Read more...]

Chance the Rapper Bum Rushes the Mainstream with a Fistful of Acid

ToM Best of 2013 Did any album capture the contradictions of 2013 better than Acid Rap? The second release by 20-year-old Chicagoan wunderkind Chance the Rapper landed on numerous lists of the best albums of the year, despite being a freely released digital download that fits uneasily alongside more traditional releases like Vampire Weekend’s (admittedly excellent) Modern Vampires of the City.  It arrived in a year when new technologies (such as Netflix and its acclaimed original productions like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black) upset the old-line media and showed what could be done through new channels of distribution. But Chance’s mixtape also tapped into the euphoria and … [Read more...]

Taking Chances on Chicago’s South Side: Acid Rap and Summer 2013

Good God this summer’s been hot! Anyone living in the Midwest, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, or Southeast knows the debilitating feeling of walking out the door to work at 8:30 A.M. only to be slapped around by 90% humidity and taunted by temperatures that rival blast furnaces at full capacity.   Despite the considerable heat produced by the weather alone, this summer’s been scalding in emotional ways.  Violence in Chicago – where over one weekend gun violence felled 21 people, five fatally – and the Trayvon Martin – George Zimmerman court ruling seemed to have raised emotions to their boiling points. The sweat on our collective brows joined by a cauldron of resentment and mistrust.  Undoubtedly, … [Read more...]

Waters of Community, Waters of Hostility: The Messy History of Urban America and the Municipal Pool

[Editor's Note: Just in time for summer heat waves, this is the first in a series of posts in the upcoming weeks on the swimming pool in American life.  For those interested in cultural history of the backyard pool, check out ToM's RR via @KCETDepartures - "A Dive into the Deep End: The Importance of the Swimming Pool in Southern California"] “Caddy Day,” read the Bushwood Country Club Swimming Pool sign in the 1980 comedy Caddyshack, “Caddies welcome 1:00 – 1:15.”    In the roughly five minute scene, the Bushwood Country Club grudgingly hosts its lowest rung of employee: the caddies.  As the motley crew of lower middle and working class white kids, the group’s ethnic population … [Read more...]

Debunking the Mythical Discourse Surrounding Public Housing: Part IV of the UHA 2012

In ToM's final installment of its 2012 UHA coverage, our correspondents present a detailed report regarding one of the conference's perpetually most popular subjects: public housing. With a packed house in attendance, the UHA’s six roundtable presenters provided a coherent and compelling argument against prevailing myths regarding public housing.  Considering the success of documentaries like The Pruitt Igoe myth in recent years, new interpretations of public housing’s legacy have come to the fore. Leading figures in urban housing including Kenneth Jackson and Alexander Von Hoffman among others attended, making for a lively post presentation discussion.   From Le Corbusier influenced … [Read more...]

What’s Really at Stake in the Teacher Strike

In the last week Chicago's teacher strike has galvanized debate nationwide about schools, labor, and the so-called "education reforms" championed by both the right and liberals in the Obama administration.  These reforms include tying teacher pay not to seniority but to various metrics (primarily standardized test scores) and privatization schemes such as semi-public charter schools and vouchers.  Besides the immediate issues of pedagogy and policy, the Chicago strike is occurring in a political context in which Republican governors across the country, most notably Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Ohio's John Kasich, have worked assiduously to strip public workers of their bargaining rights and … [Read more...]

Rahmbo v CTU: A Bruising Battle for the Heart of the Democratic Party and School Reform

The unions cannot strike in Chicago. . . . They will never be able to muster the 75 percent threshold. -- Johah Edelman, Executive Director Stand for Children on Illinois legislation Senate Bill 7 It’s like like the Mos Def lyrics in Mathematics, 'Why did one straw break the camel's back? Here's the secret: the million other straws underneath it - it's all mathematics.' -- Interview with a striking Chicago grade school teacher, 9/12/2012 To some ears, Senate Bill 7 sounds like an obscure punk band out of Venice Beach.  One can just imagine concert posters with a toothy caricature of Bill Clinton in punk garb surrounded by six dour Senators equally as dismal in their appearance as … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Political Boss and Midwestern Pharaoh: Richard J. Daley’s Chicago Legacy

Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago (1971) and American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley - His Battle for Chicago and the Nation (2001) Few cities outside of New York have drawn the kind of critical attention like the capital of the American Midwest, Chicago. The Windy City, the City of Big Shoulders, the Second City, and numerous other titles have sought to capture the essence of Chicago. Though far younger than New York, Chicago’s historiography covers numerous ethnic and racial groups, changing as the city’s face has changed over the course of the 20th century. Harold Gosnell’s Machine Politics: The Chicago Model provided one of the clearest takes by a political scientist regarding the … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Robert Caro’s Controversial Portrait of Robert Moses and New York

“Surely the greatest book ever written about a city.” - David Halberstam Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, 1974 Since its initial 1974 publication, rarely has book dominated a subject the way Robert Caro’s The Power Broker has. Caro defined Moses as an overbearing, racist, once idealistic public servant who became an obsessed power mongering city planner single handedly undermining New York’s neighborhoods and communities through massive highway and public works projects. Under Caro’s watchful eye, Moses crafted cities much as Le Corbusier might have decades earlier, all flow and no people. Minority and low income communities found themselves at the … [Read more...]