A Late Last Night at the Studio
August 26th, 2011

East of Caochangdi

Despite Beijing’s apparent density, the city is dotted with expanses of unused and marginal land. These landscapes are generally rubbish, demolished villages, or other seemingly temporary condition. Some of it is former agricultural land that villagers have simply stopped farming. During the Olympics, areas like this were often walled off with construction fencing. This was also true of the occupied urban villages that the government thought to be too unsightly for Western eyes. China’s modernization has rendered these lands, both inhabited and desolate, as by-products of urbanization—spaces obscured and thus assumed as a null condition. They are the blank spaces on the map between two places of note.
This man was coming out of a 10-acre trash dump when I encountered him just east of the village. Whether he lived there, was discarding trash, or found the poor child amid a heap of refuse (my preferred sensationalized narrative), I have no idea. After he left, I walked in to take a few more photos and was promptly kicked out by a woman that I assume was the gatekeeper. My attempt to claim ignorance on the basis of language–my default technique to continue doing something that I know I shouldn’t–didn’t get very far.

Don’t drink the water

I realize that there doesn’t appear to be any logic or unfolding narrative behind the sequence of these posts. There isn’t. If you’re one of the tens of people that have managed to find yourself on this website with any recurrence (shout out to my creators), I’ll eventually get around to our trip to the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the rest of things you want to hear about.
In the meantime, this photograph comes from the neighboring village of Nan Gao, whose name we have begun using as an adjective. In the future, if I say, “you smell like Nan Gao,” refer to the image to the right and take appropriate action.
How putrid is the creek, you ask? Up until our visit to Nan Gao, my travel companion, Jordan, had been a stalwart of digestion. His stomach exhibited an iron-like tolerance for almost everything he consumed—which is to say everything that was put in front of him, including the tap water. The morning after our trip, Jordan woke up green-faced and crampy stomached. Coincidence? Possibly. But probably not. Thankfully, I don’t share a bathroom with Jordan. I can only assume that it smells like Nan Gao.

Links (November 2, 2010)

If polls are to be believed, today’s midterm elections will be a depressing day for anyone on the left side of the political spectrum. To help you wallow in sorrow, read these links:

Thomas Friedman, NY Times Can’t Keep A Bad Idea Down
Though not normally a Friedman fan, I think he gets it right here. It remains a mystery to me why this type of succinct argument wasn’t more prevalent on the Democratic stump:

Let’s have more tax cuts, unlinked to any specific spending cuts and while we’re still fighting two wars — because that worked so well during the Bush years to make our economy strong and our deficit small. Let’s immediately cut government spending, instead of phasing cuts in gradually, while we’re still mired in a recession — because that worked so well in the Great Depression. Let’s roll back financial regulation — because we’ve learned from experience that Wall Street can police itself and average Americans will never have to bail it out.

Planner’s Dream Gone Wrong  Storm in a Teacup

Echoes my thoughts on the coming elections, with regards to the libertarian/populists roots of the Tea Party and their Democratic opposition:

When human lives are lost in bridge collapses, when congestion causes countless millions of dollars to be squandered in lost productivity and wasted fuel, and when anybody with half a brain can tell you we need to wean ourselves from fossil fuels for a host of reasons both environmental and strategic, my level of appall at the arrogance of the opposition is matched only by my disgust at the ineffectiveness of our supposed champions.

The Infrastructurist The Survival of High Speed Rail Comes Down to Tomorrow

Governors races will likely determine how the federal appropriation of high-speed rail grants are used—or not used as seems likely. The outlook is bleak in the Midwest, where Democratic candidates in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio trail by sizable margins. Republican candidates in those races have been outspoken opponents of rail projects, presumably given their federal origins. Projects at risk include $150 million for the Dearborn-Kalamazoo (via Ann Arbor) line and $230 million for the Iowa City-Chicago line. Maybe next decade.

Christopher Leinberger, The New Republic  Toronto Takes Off to a Great Walkable North
From a moderately tall building in Detroit, you can see the shores of Windsor, Canada. It is close, so close, and looking more and more appealing each day.

CPA Building, Alvin E. Harley, 1920
Detroit, MI

Huron Towers, 1960
Ann Arbor, MI

Links (September 12, 2010)


Next American City Film Industry Takes Root in Detroit

“Detroit. We’re Cheap and Easy.” Honest, perhaps desperately so. The city’s tax credits for film production (42% tax abatement) and infrastructure development and training (25%) have been bringing in major Hollywood blockbusters such as Transformers, Up in the Air, and Gran Torino, resulting in a $350 million into total revenue over the past two years.

Next American City Right Size Fits All
An interview with Toni Griffin (lecturing at the University of Michigan on September 10th) and Marja Winters on future planning initiatives in Detroit.

Palladium Boots Detroit Lives
… Apparently so does Johnny Knoxville. Who knew? An interesting three-part video series on the selective coverage of Detroit, the realities of urban decay and the opportunities of a blank canvas.


During his 21-year reign, Chicago planted more than 600,000 trees, constructed more than 85 miles of landscaped medians and built more than 7 million square feet of planted roofs—more than any other city in America.

Streetsblog Investing in Transit Could Create 180,000 Jobs, for Free
According to a report by University of Missouri-St. Louis researchers, each billion dollars spent on transit creates 36,108 jobs compared with only 30,319 jobs funded by road dollars.

The Atlantic Five Things America’s Strongest Economies Have in Common
Here’s the cliffnotes version:

1. Education and Healthcare Industries

2. Military Bases

3. State Capitals

4. Texas/Great Plains (Really?!)

5. Cheap Labor

Financial Times Suburbs Shape Up to Compete with City
Thirty percent of respondents to a Pew survey preferred to live in a small town while only 25% opted for the traditional suburb. Still, this preference seems to be manifesting itself in the form of re-engineered suburbs that allow residents to maintain their current lifestyle while frequenting superficially urban centers. Baby steps…

NY Times White House Spurns Solar Panel
I can’t think of a single reason why the White House would want to pull out an old relic from the Carter Administration. What exactly was the point of this stunt?