ToM in the Journal of Urban History

Although ToM has never had a single thematic focus, urbanism has always been a familiar topic in our "pages."  From the chic streets of Mexico City's Coyoacán to the Hmong communities of East Fresno and the squatter apartments of Manhattan, we have taken readers to a sweeping array of cities and landscapes. Our contributors have had their work published in the Journal of Urban History in the past -- most notably, founding editor Ryan Reft's epic 2015 essay "The Metropolitan Military" -- and the latest issue of the august journal features several notable works by our friends and contributors.  Senior editor Alex Cummings's "Brain Magnet: Research Triangle Park and the Origins of the Creative … [Read more...]

Ours to Lose: When Squatters Became Homeowners in New York City

New York City in the 1980s and ‘90s was home to a squatting movement unlike any other in the United States. Drawing on their diverse radical and progressive roots, squatters claimed and occupied city-owned abandoned building with a winning combination: a Yippie sense of drama and fun, punk rock aggression and subcultural grit, and urban homesteaders’ earnest appeals to American values of self-sufficiency and initiative. When faced with eviction they learned how to build barricades and booby traps and drum up riots from their European counterparts, and each attempt to evict Lower East Side squatters from the late ‘80s on brought newly escalated police and squatter tactics.  By the mid-1990s, … [Read more...]

From Infamous to Famous: (Re)Constructing Atlanta’s Public Housing Through Rap and Hip Hop

In a September 2010 review of the mixtape Bowen Homes Carlos for MTV’s Mixtape Daily, Shaheem Reid wrote: “Shawty Lo will continue to salute his projects until the day he goes to that upper room.” It is doubtful that Reid imagined that day would come almost exactly six years after writing those words. In the early morning hours of September 21, 2016, Carlos Walker, a.k.a. Shawty Lo or Bowen Homes Carlos, tragically died in a one-car accident on Atlanta’s I-285. Just as an image of Atlanta’s Bowen Homes public housing project lives on after its demolition in the cover art for Shawty Lo’s Bowen Homes Carlos and in the music video for “Dey Know,” the rapper will live on through his artistic … [Read more...]

Suburban Ideals vs. New Realities: Informal Housing in South Gate

"[T]he idea that movies and stars inspire people from the world's pockets of desperate poverty to undertake treacherous journeys across oceans and borders to this city of immigrants is fatuous," writes UCLA's Eric Avila. "Immigrant understandings of the city rely upon the concrete aspects of urban growth: labor markets, employment opportunities, housing availability, and preexisting networks of family and community."(1) Indeed, the hard economic realities of life drive immigration - and internal migration for that matter -- and it is the intersection of these realities and the culture of immigrants themselves. This is particularly true in regard to family structure and informal economies … [Read more...]

No Escape from New York: Revisiting Jacob Riis, New York and Urban America at the Library of Congress

Two years ago, Washington Post journalist Paul Schwartzman drove war photographer Seamus Murphy and a quiet, black-haired, “poet/musician” on a “windshield tour” of Anacostia, Washington D.C. They toured East Capitol Street “where the city had replaced a notoriously violent housing project with mixed-income townhouses, created under a federal program known as Hope VI”; took in the future Homeland Security Headquarters to be located at what had been previously St. Elizabeth Hospital, a large mental health institution; and generally explored “the darker side” of the city, Schwartzman wrote recently. Of course, that quiet, dark-haired woman in the back seat turned out to be P.J. Harvey, one … [Read more...]

Privatizing the All Volunteer Army: Gender and Families in the 1990s and Early Aughts

[Editor's note: This is the final installment in ToM's three part series on social welfare policies in the All Volunteer Army using Jennifer Mittelstadt's new book The Rise of the Military Welfare State as our guide. Parts I and II can be read here and here.] In his assessment of post-1945 army housing, the late military historian William C. Baldwin pointed out that programs aimed at increasing housing stock for military households often followed trends in private sector. So when privatization and deregulation emerged as central themes in government run housing programs and elsewhere in the 1990s, the military soon followed. For our purposes and because we will return to it later, … [Read more...]

Plains, Projects, and Alleyways: The Problem of Environmental Determinism in Architecture & History

Years ago, I saw a man at a Quaker meeting stand up and say, “Who you are begins with where you are.” To some this assertion may be self-evident, while for others it says entirely too much. One could say identity started any number of places other than place itself—in genetics, in culture, in social interaction. As such, the Friends’ meeting house provides a good point of departure for a discussion of the notion that people’s ideas and behavior are shaped by their physical surroundings. This “environmental determinism,” like so many determinisms, has been decried as too causally simplistic, for intruding too much on the ability of people to make their own world rather than being made by … [Read more...]

SACRPH 2015: The Politics (and Non-Politics) of the Unplanned City in the US, UK, and Germany

Panels at conferences often feel like a hastily assembled mishmash of different things, like a fruit salad made by Mr. Magoo. Scholars who do not know each other and know less about each other’s research work together over email to try to slap together panel proposals that seem just plausible enough to pass muster with weary conference organizers, who have papers to grade, toddlers with runny noses, and annoying emails from students to answer. (In my best John Oliver voice: If the reading is listed next to the class date on the syllabus, you read it BEFORE CLASS on that day Jeremy!) But occasionally you get to see a panel where all the papers interlock in meaningful and intellectually … [Read more...]

Redefining Asian America: Japanese Americans, Gardena, and the Making of a Transnational Suburb

Naomi Hirahara never "got" Raymond Chandler. The dark, mistrustful view of Los Angeles that Chandler's work so embodied seemed foreign to the award-winning mystery writer. "He has set a tone for stories about the darkness under L.A.'s glitz for 80 years, but I can't relate to the paranoid view Chandler had of my Los Angeles, or his fear of 'the other,' or how his loner detective Philip Marlowe navigated his investigative cases without the weight of family or community," she confessed in a recent article. Rather the Pasadena-born Japanese American writer knew a life of family and strong immigrant networks. L.A.'s sense of reinvention, not alienation, she confided to readers, was its real … [Read more...]

“Brick Mansions: it’s so dangerous, we built a wall around it.”

Warning: This post is full of spoilers. Thankfully, Brick Mansions isn’t the kind of movie you watch for the plot. Brick Mansions is the American remake of the French film District B13 (not to be confused with District 9, the Academy Award-nominated South African film from 2009). Brick Mansions tells the story of a housing project in 2018 Detroit – a project so dangerous the city literally built a 40-foot wall around it, with police checkpoints at all entrances and exits. David Belle plays Lino, a resident of the projects who uses his parkour skills to steal drugs from the dealers and then destroy them. The plot really takes off when cop Damien (played by Paul Walker in one of his final … [Read more...]