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Contributing Writers THE CITY - April 2018

Understanding Cities through Metaphors

Photo by Chuttersnap, Unsplash

Written by Max Muller

Although I have never been to an Alicia Keys concert, I imagine it must go something like this: first you excitedly wait in line, eagerly waiting for the moment you’re allowed to enter the sold-out stadium. After you and your friends have found your seats, you share some food and thoughts on her latest album. Then, the lights fade. The buzzing noise of chatting people immediately follows suit. A few seconds later, a roar from the crowd breaks the silence: she has arrived. You sing and dance your heart out to her classics, including “If I Ain’t Got You” and “No one”. You get a sore throat and you’re exhausted from the intense experience. And yet… something is missing. Until you realize she has saved her best song for the finale: “Empire State of Mind (Part II)”:

“Baby, I’m from…

New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of

There’s nothing you can’t do”

You finally find closure, as she has put the cherry on the cake.

Well, at least that’s how I imagine the experience. To me, that’s her best song. Her beautiful voice and talented piano playing notwithstanding, there is another element of the song that appeals to me. It’s the lyrics: they’re clever. The comparison of New York with a “concrete jungle” strikes me as particularly insightful.

Transformations of Meaning

In 1980, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson wrote their now seminal book Metaphors We Live By. Until their work, the role of metaphors in philosophy and linguistics had only been deemed of peripheral interest. Lakoff and Johnson made huge swathes of people realize that metaphors are not just stylistic devices to spice up a mediocre novel. They showed, on the contrary, that they’re essential ingredients for people to concoct an overarching view of reality. In other words: people largely understand the world through metaphors.

Consider, for instance, the metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR. This conception of arguments or discussions is deeply entrenched in our understanding of the concept. Our language betrays it. For us it is completely natural to say things like:

  • Your claims are indefensible.
  • His criticisms were right on target.
  • I demolished his argument.
  • I’ve never won an argument with him.

Chances are you haven’t even realized that we use ideas from wars to metaphorically speak about arguments. Moreover, Lakoff and Johnson point out that we do not just talk about arguments in terms of war. We actually win and lose arguments. The idea of war thus gives us an indispensable tool that allows us to understand the concept of having an argument.

Throughout their book (which I heartily recommend) they give countless other examples of metaphors we use to grapple with complex phenomena, including IDEAS ARE RESOURCES (“he ran out of ideas”, “don’t waste your thoughts on useless projects”), LOVE IS MADNESS (“I’m crazy about her”, “she drives me out of my mind”), and SEEING IS TOUCHING (“I can’t take my eyes off him”, “he wants everything within reach of his eyes”).

Perhaps that is why Alicia Keys’ lyrics stuck with me. Though I sympathize with her fondness for New York in particular, I think it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to view all cities as forests, or, within an even wider perspective, ecosystems.

Let’s confine ourselves a bit and stick with the metaphor CITIES ARE JUNGLES. Obviously, the buildings are trees in this regard. It is perhaps for this reason that the English expression “to climb up the stairs” exists. In addition, hints of organic perceptions of cities can be found in sentences like “these are the world’s fastest-growing cities” and “Beijing is expanding rapidly”.

The process of incoming and outgoing commuters bears some similarity to the rhythmic movements of lungs filling and releasing air. Just like photosynthesizing trees that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, the buildings of the city can breathe people in and out. Antonio Gaudi’s “La Sagrada Familia”, a church that seems to have grown organically from the ground upwards, epitomizes this conception of buildings.

Illustration by David Fleck, 1972

Baucis, the tree city from Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities” , as illustrated by David Fleck. The motif of the city as a forest also appears in Calvino’s book “The Baron in the Trees.”

Modern man has thus linguistically incorporated cities as a natural place to live, just like early humans discovered that they could find a safe haven away from the savanna and into the forest. The trees provided shelter against the rain and their height proved very useful for evading predators. The higher and bigger the tree, the more protection it could provide.

Joseph Campbell in his book The Power of Myth, points out that one can tell what’s informing society by what the tallest building is. In medieval towns, it was the cathedral. In an 18th century town, it was the political palace. Whereas in modern cities, the tallest buildings are the office buildings. We attach great significance to our centers of economic life. This is consistent with the cultural value “Bigger is Better”, which in turn is coherent with Lakoff and Johnson’s metaphor GOOD IS UP (“we hit a peak last year, but it’s been downhill ever since”, “he does high-quality work”).

Another metaphor that pervades our languages and myths is that of Mother Nature. Thus we undoubtedly attribute nature with feminine characteristics. It is a bringer of life. The ancient Greeks, who coined the term “metropolis”, highlighted the nurturing character of cities as forests in particular. The word is a combination of the words mḗtēr (mother) and pólis (city). From their perspective, the city lied at the very heart of the origins of life. Since then, cities have only become more and more important. Nowadays, more than half of the world’s population consists of urban dwellers.

If cities are so important to us, it is perhaps not so surprising that the CITIES ARE JUNGLES metaphor is not the only one that has entered our collective subconscious. Concepts that are at once important to us and difficult to understand require multiple ways of viewing them.

This is because when we focus on one aspect of the concept, we necessarily leave out or ignore many others. Take love, for instance. Not only do we take the above-mentioned metaphor LOVE IS MADNESS into consideration when we speak and think about it. We also have the metaphors LOVE IS A PATIENT (“they have a healthy marriage”) and LOVE IS MAGIC (“she cast her spell over me”) in our mental repertoire. These other metaphors enable us to look at and think about love from different angles.

Berlin is, like, a pretty cool guy

So where does that leave us with regards to our beloved cities? Again, Lakoff and Johnson provide us with a hint, as they explain that personification is a widely employed metaphorical device. We could say, for instance, “his theory explained to me how tidal movements work”. In this case, the theory of tidal movements is personified. We conceptualize the theory as a person, or perhaps more specifically as a teacher.

Cities, too, are seen as people. Each of them has its own, distinct personality. Evidence of this is found in the adjectives to describe them. We use words such as “charming”, “rebellious”, “enterprising”, and “endearing” to speak about them. In turn, they reveal how we think of these places.  

Who wouldn’t agree with me that Amsterdam is a rebellious, free-spirited, slightly scruffy but also strong, experienced, and battle-hardened guy with a mustache? He’s a man of extremes: both a party-person and a sophisticated art-lover, at once a rich business man and a poor, single father with a kid.

On the other hand we have Chartres, the medieval French town with the beautiful cathedral. She is more of a charming woman with long, brown hair and an elegant ocher dress. Whereas Amsterdam is tall and heroic, Chartres is petite and endearing. If Amsterdam is bustling and vibrant, Chartres is calm and composed.

Of course, cities are often too big to be described as having monolithic personalities. Amsterdam, for instance, is composed of a mosaic of different neighborhoods, each with its own personality traits. Amsterdam Zuid is old, rich, cultured, and of high stature. But Noord is more like the Wild West: adventurous, enterprising and experimental.

Some neighborhoods harbor multiple personalities. As a result of the quick gentrification process, the Pijp is hip, upcoming, and expensive. Its trendy restaurants and cafés act as magnets to young urban professionals hailing from all over the country. But it used to be the true Amsterdammers who lived there.

A glimpse of Amsterdam’s topographically
distributed personality types, by Nomad List

A while ago, I saw the words “Alle yuppen de Pijp uit!” (“All yuppies – young, urban professionals – should leave the Pijp!”) sprayed on a wall on the Albert Cuyp market. Viewed from a metaphorical perspective, the words signified a clash of personalities to me. It was also an expression of frustration about what kind of personality or image the neighborhood ought to have.

I hope this description of metaphors gives you some insight in the way we perceive our cities, and that it can aid you as a conceptual tool for greater understanding of all sorts of things. Considering cities in particular, we might wonder where the branches of the trees are in cities, if they are jungles. And if they are people, how do they relate to one another? How do their personalities change? Are there any other metaphors that characterize cities? I leave these questions for you to answer.

Contributing Writers THE CITY - April 2018

Who you calling a bitch?

Photo by Julian Howard

Female rappers on the sexual dynamics of street culture

Written by Dorothy Carlos

“Instinct leads me to another flow

Every time I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or a ho

Trying to make a sister feel low

You know all of that gots to go”

In Queen Latifah’s Grammy award-winning song “U.N.I.T.Y.” off her 1993 album Black Reign, she speaks out against street harassment which is pervasive in cities. In the song, she responds to being groped by a man passing her on the street by punching him in the eye. Catcalling, as well as other acts of sexual harassment, are often criticized by female rappers from the late 1980s to now. In fact, the gendered experience of the city – a field of sexuation one has to navigate – has been one of the major themes of female rap since its beginning.

Everyone from Monie Love to Roxanne Shante has explored the mistreatment of women in the streets through their music. Salt N Peppa discusses the issue on the track “Tramp” from Hot, Cool, and Vicious, warning fellow women that if they respond to a catcalling they might become a “victim of circumstance” and be subject to harassment.

The cross-street proposition of the catcall communicates little else but a crude libidinal drive. What could possibly prompt someone to pursue a romantic/sexual interest via catcalls? One couldn’t possibly expect a positive reaction from yelling at a stranger on the street.

Female rappers articulate the fundamental antagonisms of social life, both gendered and class-based. They serve as a counter to what is going on in male hip-hop culture: a hypersexualization of women in order to gain social capital. Because of the way young men from impoverished neighborhoods, especially young black men, are forced to navigate a power structure which will be largely against them, they grasp at power by means of the social domination of others via catcalls and additional forms of sexual harassment.

Personally, I don’t know any rap songs about a love that isn’t broken or perverted. Slum Village’s “Fall in Love” from 2000 is exemplary of the way love is navigated in hip-hop music and in poor neighborhoods:

“Don’t sell yourself to fall in love”. Although one could argue that love in our society, in general, has been replaced with sexuality, the vulnerability of love is not easily found in rap music, which is often an expression of the hardness and resilience of an individual who comes from a broken environment.

Photo by Robert Katzki

While there are factors that are unique to our historical epoch, such as the building and subsequent neglect of segregated housing by the US govt, this is a broader issue of capitalist modernity. In the Metropolis and Mental Life, Georg Simmel discusses the blase attitude of individuals living in cities at the beginning of the twentieth century. The manifestation of this is the reduction of social interactions to capitalistic exchanges between city dwellers. For example, in smaller communities you might have a personal relationship with someone who produces a product for you such as a baker; in a metropolis, a personal relationship is unlikely to develop because of the fact that consumers are unknown to the producers. Interactions become matter-of-fact and people of the metropolis develop a hardness towards others.

Simmel did not live long enough to see the crushing effects Robert Moses had on the socio-economic landscape of cities all across the United States, but perhaps his essay was a prophecy of what is to come for modern cities. In the 1930s the imperious approach of Moses prompted a radical reorganization of cities; concentrating poverty in housing projects as a means to abolish it from the city as a whole. Areas with housing projects, such as the South Bronx in New York City, which was directly impoverished by Moses’ construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway, are extremely underserved by the state and harassed by police.

In the aftermath of the famous Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, Northern states, where the biggest cities were located, believed the ruling did not apply to them and made no attempt to desegregate. Even though de facto segregation was just as prevalent in the North as it was in the South, there were no laws enforcing it. There were schools for black neighborhoods and schools for white neighborhoods and this was a just product of the city structure, making it easy to perpetuate the lack of support for poor neighborhoods.

In an environment where individuals with little social and economic power are constantly in survival mode trying to make ends meet, love is compromised, and sex gladly takes its place. This is obvious if one pays attention to the explicitly sexual lyrics that make up a lot of contemporary hip-hop.

Many of the more contemporary female rappers sexualize themselves as part of their rap persona—reinforcing this idea of sex as a means to gain social capital; consider rappers such as Trina, Nicki Minaj, and Cardi B, to name a few.

When asked about how to gain self-confidence, Cardi B told Hypebae: “If you feel you’re ugly just walk around the projects or something and see how many niggas holla at you.” Cardi B herself is from the Bronx and her community most likely began to experience the effects of the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway decades ago. Although parts of the female rap community have accepted the culture of sexual harassment, I believe this to be almost inevitable if you come from an impoverished, urban environment.

Within the sexual maze of the metropolis, women are caught somewhere in the middle as men try to navigate their sexuality. Because women are not as bound to heteronormative standards, they aren’t controlled by the system in the same way as men, largely due to the fact that women as a whole are often oppressed for being sexual regardless of whether or not they operate within heterosexuality. Although artists like Trina, Nicki Minaj, and Cardi B have succeeded in gaining power via their sexuality, they compromise their own identity by hyper-sexualizing themselves in order to do so. Ultimately the women caught in situations of urban poverty are oppressed by the state in the same way men are. However, when women try to grasp at power via sexual domination they are likely to face oppression from their own communities, as well.

THE CITY - April 2018 Valentina Gianera

Out of Breath

Photo by Matthias Blume

Written by Valentina Gianera

It was an everyday morning in Tehran. The sky was grey, sparked with clouds of snow and smog. Cars and motorbikes rushed in masses along the highways dividing the city into hundreds of parcels, turning it into a big, messy hive. The fruit dealer, sitting in his white plastic chair, watched over the stock of dusty oranges piled in front of his shop window. Long gone were the times when he used to clean them with his feather duster.

“It’s better to leave it than to breathe the dust,” he thought, and stayed lingering in the white plastic chair. He squinted at the missing sunlight. A few lost snowflakes were blown through the air.

Photo by Valentina Gianera

Not far from there, a middle-aged man with sparse grey hair and cloudy eyes walked into a sporadically furnished living room.

“Tea anyone?”

The students shook their heads; maybe later. He shrugged his shoulders, stepped to the only window and looked down onto the chalky street leading to his apartment.

“You’ll have noticed”, he slowly began, “that there’s no clean air in this city. We cannot breathe. Our lungs and hearts grow heavy from the dust we inhale. And while the city grows, and bears new buildings and roads, every minute we speak the people in it die. It’s the extinction of a species.”

A month earlier, in December of 2017, the municipality of Tehran had ordered the closure of all schools due to excessively toxic levels of air pollution in the city. Elderly people, children, pregnant women, and people with heart issues were advised not to leave their homes. This event was not the first. Over the last few decades, Tehran has increasingly faced some of the worst pollution levels in the world. As cooler temperatures make their way into Iran, the temperature inversion can create a layer of warm air above the city. Exhaust gases from over eight million cars and motorbikes, and other sources, are trapped by the warm air and leave the population choking under a layer of thick, yellow clouds. In 2014, air pollution left nearly 2000 people in need of medical treatment from heart and respiratory issues. In 2012, the health ministry estimated the number of premature deaths caused by pollution as nearly 4500.

Surprised by the middle-aged man’s dramatic opening, the students exchanged quick glances.

One cleared her throat and asked cautiously, “How are you, and your organization, trying to change these unbearable living conditions?”

“Change the living conditions?”, his clouded gaze quickly caught hers before continuing. “We don’t change anything… A few years back, when the government eased its grip on the NGOs, my colleagues and me, my friends, all of them artists, decided to put our efforts together to work on something that we deeply cared about. We set up this environmental organization to show our care and compassion for those we loved that aims at drawing attention to the issues this city is facing through art projects.. Still, my nine-year-old son, when walking outside, asks me to lift him up, so he can taste the air ‘up there’, he says. But the air up there is just as thick and polluted as on the ground. So no, we are not as foolish to hope that we can change the conditions that this city, humanity, finds itself in.”

To the question of whether he was a pessimist he vehemently shook his head.

“No”, he mumbled, “not a pessimist. But hope is a terrible vice. It’s good to lose hope sometimes, by losing it we can finally stall the engines of change. You see, the government runs this country to achieve maximum economic growth at all times and at all costs. They do so much and they think so little. And all of that at the expense of the environment, the nature that surrounds us. But it’s not only our government, it’s all the governments of this world. And it’s not just the governments, but the population’s striving towards limitless progress, and our reluctance to give up any of the comforts that we gained through the rapid economic and technological development we experienced.’

Photo by Valentina Gianera

Over the past 200 years, the Iranian capital has witnessed steady economic growth, swelling to become one of the biggest cities in the world. Yet, with the growing concentration of people and resources, the social and environmental issues faced by the city have been piling up as well. High living costs, lack of adequate housing, and overcrowding go hand in hand with impoverishment and social polarisation. Water, air, land and noise pollution have led Tehran to join the pantheon of the most polluted cities on earth.

“Of course, there are those pushing for change, proposing sustainable solutions – to what I call a humanitarian disaster – in order to sustain the way of life we have now. But it isn’t as simple as that. Recycling or electric cars alone are not a solution. They merely invite further consumption, hide the symptoms of capitalist destruction for a while… Changing the social structure, actively striving for political utopias is a Sisyphean task. Every change we strive for will come back to us one way or the other. We must stop wanting to change the system, and accept that we must change ourselves, our motivations and desires. And thereby, by not doing much, we would actually do a lot”, he finished with a disenchanted smile. “So no, I am not pessimistic about the future. We are at a turning point, an environmental crossroad in time. Change will come, a change of our perspectives, our comforts and desires.”

For a brief moment, a deep silence filled the living room as the students pondered the sparkle of truth that had been conveyed by this middle-aged man with the clouded grey hair. Then the first hands began to raise and some questions were asked, answered or found.

Meanwhile, the fruit vendor was sitting in his white plastic chair, following the white flocks that drifted down from the sky. Doing not much. In fact, nothing at all.

Floris van Dijk THE CITY - April 2018

E-HEALTH: The end of the urban/rural divide?

Photo by Tim Mossholder

Written by Floris van Dijk

In Aesop’s fable “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse”, a proud town mouse invites his cousin from the countryside to visit the city and get a taste of urban luxury. While sitting down to a feast, the rodents are attacked by a couple of dogs. The rural mouse decides to return home, preferring gnawing on a bean than being gnawed by the fear now synonymous with the city lifestyle.

Historically, living in a city usually meant living a shorter life. The dense population favored the spread of diseases, the concentration of industry lead to more pollution. But since the 20th century and the widespread implementation of sanitary programs, like sewer systems, the life expectancy of the urban population has surpassed that of the rural population. In the US the gap increased fivefold in the last 40 years. Despite the increased risk of pulmonary diseases that accompany air pollution, living in urban areas appears to now lead to a longer life. The cause: the unequal geographic distribution of health facilities.

With an aging rural population and the refusal on the part of the rural elderly to put an end to their current lifestyle, this becomes pressing. In just the last 8 years, the European population older than 80 has grown by one percentage point (from 4.5% to 5.5%). By 2050, the European old-age dependency ratio is set to double. Since a 100% urban population is unlikely, states have to find ways to reduce the costs of healthcare in rural areas. One promising solution for this is e-health.

E-health refers to the use of information and communication technologies to improve health and the healthcare system. E-Health has been utilized for telecare, the installation of sensor-technology, the creation of online self-help courses, education programmes and apps, and other digital tools to reduce the number of health professionals required to take care of the elderly and increasing their ability to live autonomously.

Photo by Samuel Zeller

The Dutch are highly digitalized, with 97% of Dutch households having access to the internet, and internet traffic growing 22% annually. The government clearly has the means to digitize its public services, so it did. In the Netherlands, each and every person is required to have health insurance and the process is made easy. Registration takes place online, along with the application for subsidies for low-income households, and numerous Dutch healthcare apps are available to make things even easier. The Dutch government also has grand plans to cut costs through e-health.

An important step in this reduction of costs is ensuring that each citizen has his/her own personal digital healthcare environment, allowing each to manage to a certain degree a personal health record. Although the sharing of personal data has lost of its attractiveness in the wake of the Facebook data-scandal, this could allow caretakers to know more about their patients and adapt their services accordingly.

Long-term innovation within e-health is also ensured. The Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports organize training programs to change the attitudes and behaviors of health professionals in both public and private organizations towards innovative healthcare. One example of this is the foundation of the Health Innovation School in 2017, the first of its kind worldwide. In more practical terms, the Dutch government wants 75% of the highly dependent population – the chronically ill and vulnerable elderly – to be able to independently monitor their own health by 2019, and to ensure quality by making on-screen communication with a care provider available 24/7.

Naturally, e-health is no miracle solution. Numerous sub-problems are yet to be resolved.  The obvious difficulty is training the elderly to use new technology, but a lack of public funding is another issue. The 2017 government coalition agreement stated that a mere €40 million – in a country of 17 million – will be invested in innovative e-Health projects for healthcare over the next 4 years. If the state is supposed to play a role in the innovation of its public services, then this amount is a little disappointing. Finally, and probably most importantly, the previously mentioned problem of data-confidentiality has not received a clear-cut answer when it comes to medical information. It has yet to be decided how exactly a centralized digital platform, which gives access to all medical information of virtually everyone should look like.

Nevertheless, e-health represents an opportunity. With an aging population, e-health offers a way to preserve social achievements of the healthcare systems in Western countries. Furthermore, developing countries will face a similar problem in a couple of decades as well, and with a less financial means. By 2050, China’s GDP per capita is estimated to be roughly half that of the US, yet it will allow its healthcare system to allow equal access to all, over an area of 9.6 million km².

In a word, e-health could contribute to ensuring that healthcare services can be provided to all citizens, not only citadins.

THE CITY - April 2018

The More Things Change

Photo by Douglas Sanchez

Written by Christian Hazes, Staff Writer, and Phillip Morris, Editor-in-Chief

When empires fell their cities were ransacked and rebuilt in images to the liking of the conqueror. This city was raised as a monument to digitalization’s triumph over analog. Wires, sensors, and the gadgets people wore gave the city a nervous system to regulate itself, and the people living within it. With the only exception being the bad parts of town where it was deemed a bad investment to build the cybernetic infrastructure, and where few people could afford the latest smart devices. In this blindspot the government needed to be content with using aging smartphone data and social media posts.

The most basic, and constant, function of installing such a thorough network is monitoring the ebb and flow of the city’s inhabitants. In the morning large swaths leave the residential areas for the business districts, and in the evening they return. While the system can, and does track each individual, at these peak times people can find anonymity in the crowd as their individual dot merges with many others, so that to the human eyes watching them the traffic is only a continuous stream. On the weekends the movement of the dots was a bit more random.

Jennifer was glad for this weekend, as it was the first in a long while that she didn’t need to pick up an extra shift cleaning some high rise office or hotel. On top of that, not only was she free from work, but she was free from parental responsibilities as well. Emmie had made plans to meet up with James at his new place across town. Her’s used to be the hangout house until James’ dad got a  new job and moved the family to a “nicer” part of town. Jennifer didn’t mind where she lived, there were plenty of parks and things to do, besides, she’d grown up there. The only complaint she had was the concentration of unsavory types that had come in recent years. Everyone knew that if you wanted a chance of not getting caught doing something you shouldn’t, you’d better do it in the Dead Zone. Last year a condemned apartment building collapsed on itself after a meth lab hidden inside exploded. She wouldn’t have wanted that that to happen anywhere else either, but at least if there had been some city sensors in the area it might’ve been caught before getting that far.

That incident wasn’t on her mind today though. It was such a bright and sunny day that she was determined to enjoy it in a park. She got John out of bed with a kiss and the promise of a cheeseburger for lunch.

“You can lay about in the park just as easily as you can here” she goaded him. It was always a struggle getting him to go for walks, but he knew he needed it as much as she did.

John had dragged his feet when they first left the house, but by the time they could smell the park’s fresh-cut grass even he was getting into the idea of being outside. The park was a hive of activity by the time they got there. Kids occupied nearly every climbable surface with just a few adults sprinkled here and there. It was one of the few places in the neighborhood the city had wired so most parents were comfortable letting their children play there alone.

Some kids hit a baseball in their direction and John plucked it out of the air with ease before sending it straight into the glove of the closest young player.

“I should come back here with Emilio” he said, “Get him warmed up for the season.”

Jennifer hugged his arm tightly as they continued to walked. There was a snowball’s chance they’d be out here without her pushing them out the door.

John stopped suddenly and clutched his chest.

“John?”

He tried to brace himself on her arm but his weight took them both to the ground.

“Help!” she screamed. Tears were already rolling down her cheeks, burning hotter than the yellow sun overhead.

Not much later something different was hovering over the couple. The defibrillator carrying drown had been dispatched before John had even registered he was in trouble. Miles away in a cold dark room, a computer had noted the change in his gait and vitals that statistically indicated an oncoming heart attack. The difference between life and death is often just a matter of minutes, maybe even seconds. Time is one of the most resilient adversaries, but technology had kept it at bay this day.

Jennifer accompanied her husband to the hospital when the ambulance arrived. She stayed with him even after the doctors said his sedatives would keep him asleep all night. The rational part of her brain knew that he would be alright and that there was nothing she could do to help, but irrationality is a part of being human, she was committed to staying by his side.  She called James’ parent to ask if Emmie could stay with them for the night. He could stay as long as she needed. Then she put her phone on silent so she could focus on being with her John in this moment.

The drone had got to them quick, and no lasting damage was done to his heart so keeping him sedated overnight was just a precaution, but she still remembered a time when routine hospital stays could end in death. As she looked out the window at the setting sun she was thankful those days were long gone.

She would’ve felt less at peace with how life in the city had changed, if she knew that not all technological advancements are for the people’s benefits. At least not people like her.


Photo by Josh Riemer

Cities have always benefited from a diversity in their population. Different people have different ways of thinking and those ideas intermingle to drive innovation and progress. Technology has also been a driver of progress, and those that manage this techno-, wired-, cybernetic-, smart-city believe technology is the only ingredient needed for progress.

While retirees were prone to complaining about the lack of privacy, and how they “couldn’t take a shit without the government asking if they wiped”, the majority of people in the city didn’t think twice about the tech integrated into the fabric of their lives.

Emilio was born and raised in the present era. For him, the idea of not being able to look up at least the basic details of anyone you just met was something for the history books. He couldn’t come to grips with how it would be to live in a city surrounded by total strangers.

“That must’ve been so stressful,” he said once in class while they were discussing civics.

“We didn’t mind”, his teacher told him. “When you wanted to know someone better you just had to ask them.”

Who had time for that? he thought.

That same thought crossed his mind again when James’ parents told him he’d have to spend the night because his parents were in the hospital. Who has time for that!

They tried to keep the mood light during dinner. They mentioned how Emilio’s latest growth spurt left him too long for his clothes. They promised that only very rarely did anyone die from a heart attack while in the hospital; not with the fancy monitors and algorithms double-checking the doctors. Emilio was old enough to know that rarely was not the same as never.

Emilio has made up his mind that he needed to be with his dad. Getting ice cream after dinner wasn’t enough to distract him. Neither was beating James at video games enough to calm his mind. While they were supposed to get ready for bed, Emilio told James his plan. He was going to sneak out when James’ parents went to sleep and make his way to the hospital.

Their parents might be angry with him sneaking out, “but, you know, it’s easier to say sorry than get permission.”

James didn’t try to stop him, cementing his place as the best friend, so he got into bed and pretended to be asleep while Emilio snuck out the window.

Emilio got a few blocks away before he realized he’d forgotten his phone. He knew the direction of his house, be the finer details were lost on him. He told himself he wasn’t scared to be alone in a strange part of town at night, but that’s not what the cameras saw.

The city was testing a new predictive policing strategy. After only a week it was already reducing crime in the neighborhoods it was deployed, not that there was much crime in the wired parts of the city to begin with. Still, there were much fewer calls about suspicious characters prowling around.

Emilio came to a corner that in no way looked familiar. He nervously glanced around for a clue which direction he should go. Miles away in a cold dark room, a computer picked up his nervousness and that he was suspiciously without a cell phone. It noticed him move towards the door of a house then change his mind when the front light turned off.

Emilio had just set off in what he was sure was the right direction when the police car rolled up behind him. A voice barked at him to stop. Emilio tried to explain what was happening. He told them to call his parents or James’, but the police weren’t inclined to listen. Besides, if the system told them to take the boy in that’s what they had to do.

Emilio was glad James hadn’t come with him because he cried when they put the handcuffs on. Then, to make matters worse, the police car was far from comfortable. Emilio needed to twist into awkward positions to keep from sliding around. He waited for an hour at the police station before their system synced up with the hospital’s to confirm his story.

When the officer’s escorted Emilio to his dad’s room in the hospital, his mom was asleep on a cot. Emilio would always remember how they didn’t apologize to him or her, and instead just explained how they system was still working out the bugs.

THE CITY - April 2018

Bridging the Urban-Rural Gap for Food Equity

Photo by Jean Wimmerlin

Written by Abigail Hudspeth

Picture an urban city. You might envision skyscrapers, traffic, noise, bustling people, the city is alive. Now picture a rural town. In your imaginary town you might have a single main road, a sleeping dog on the corner of a café, and an endless expanse of surrounding crop fields.  These two pictures could not be more opposed. The growing distance between rural and urban areas extends beyond our imagination. In reality, this distance has major impacts on society, especially on the way consumers value food. With the growing divide between rural and urban areas, people are losing their connection to real food and the ancient tradition of farming, generating injustices in our food system.

Rural and urban areas are separated by more than mere geographic distance. A lack of public transportation between rural and urban for instance often discourages interdependence and travel. Moreover, the two worlds are separated in economic and political terms as well. The percentage of farmers in the United States has dropped from 30% in the 1920s to 2% in 1987 and has approximately flat-lined since. Today about 80% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas. As people migrate to cities, the tax revenue in rural areas decreases and with it the quality of schools, housing, and infrastructure. This exacerbates a cycle incentivizing migration to the cities and compounding economic problems. These economic struggles have indirectly led to the rise of political divisions. Beginning in the 1980s, Republicans in the United States sought support from the white, rural, and poor voters who historically had supported the Democrats’ welfare acts. By exacerbating racial tensions, the Republican party converted many of those living in rural areas.  These physical, economic, and political barriers drive a wedge between the metropolitan and the rural agrarian.

Even though the majority of the population who lives in urban areas finds it difficult to connect with people from rural areas, the rural agriculture provides everyone with a ubiquitous resource, food.  Farming over the 20th century transformed from being many small farms to a few industrial “specialized farms in rural areas where less than a fourth of the U.S. population lives”. Because of these changes, we are losing a vital connection to the value of real food. Can you picture a peanut plant? Did you know that cashews hang from the bottom of a large cashew fruit? Or that artichokes are actually the unbloomed flowers of thistles? Some of this unfamiliarity stems from never physically seeing the crops that produce the food. As we lose connection with agriculture, we also lose the knowledge and the respect that comes with it.  

Photo by Max Pixel

Our failure to appreciate nature’s gift has warped our perception of the value of food. We demand cheap food without taking into account the negative externalities of it. Government actions have only exacerbated consumer expectations for decades. The government shells out billions every year (16 billion to be exact) to farmers in the form of crop insurance. This helps minimize the risk of farming, but it also subsidizes certain crops making them cheap. Corn and soy are often recipients of huge subsidies, hence the reason soda, candy, frozen foods, and chicken nuggets (which are all derived from corn) are cheap as well. Not only do these affordable options drive the poor into obesity, but they also skew the value of food. Cheap food diminishes consumers’ appreciation of agricultural labor. Any visible reminder that could remediate society’s error, slips away as cities alienate from the countryside.  

The price of food is never cheap enough for the ceaselessly demanding consumer. Even I constantly bemoan my grocery bill. When I see a dozen free range eggs for 6 dollars, I don’t think about the value of the farmer’s work that brought them to me. At least, I didn’t use to. After working on a rural, organic family farm in Costa Rica, I gained a fresh appreciation for the labor a dozen eggs requires. Rising before dawn every morning, I fed and watered the 400 chicken, collected dozens upon dozens of eggs, meticulously cleaned each egg of bird droppings, blood, and feathers, and cared for the baby chicks. Each carton was packed with care and filled with the product of my toils. Selling a dozen eggs for about 4 U.S. dollars suddenly didn’t seem enough. I had leapt over the divide between urban and rural, and I gained an appreciation for farmers’ hard work. On the other side of a price tag, there are rural farmers making ends meet for their families. As the distance between grocery shoppers and farmers grows, so does the inequity between them.  

Creating inequality is not the only injustice caused by the rural-urban divide. While we lose sight of the value of real food, we create a culture of waste and animal cruelty. Throwing away a half-eaten plate of food is much easier without thinking of the glaring waste of water, soil, energy, and human resources necessary to bring you your dinner. As rural and urban populations separate, this glaring guilt fades into an abstract reality disconnected from the rest of society. In a similar fashion, meat CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) with their unventilated, tightly packed, squalid conditions, are purposefully placed out of sight of urban customers in the countryside. Maintaining distance is a purposeful decision by meat processing companies; a shopper’s conscience easily buys inhumanely produced meat, when they have never seen a CAFO with their own eyes.

Appreciating food for its labor costs begins with closing the social gap between rural and urban areas. As more people move to the suburbs and out of cities, this creates an opportunity for integration. Providing incentives for farmers to buy property near suburbs is a first step towards decreasing social barriers by decreasing physical distance. By blending the suburban with the rural, we can stimulate the rural economy and begin to reverse the process of urbanization. After knitting together a patchwork of farms and towns, we must sew together the divisions of community that come from political and economic differences. Community gardens have been used for decades to foster collaboration and a sense of unity. Community gardens also raise awareness about the value of food and provide healthy alternatives to the unhealthy cheap foods that flood the processed food aisle. Not only can community gardens be used to blend suburban and rural areas, but they can also be used in cities. Since farming in cities is impractical, community gardens compromise land scarcity with community awareness of agriculture. By increasing the proximity to agriculture we can reinstall appreciation for it. Community gardens are not the only way to increase agricultural awareness and practices in the city. Indoor farming is rapidly expanding in urban areas by refurbishing old warehouses. The most profitable type of indoor agriculture, aeroponics, grows high-value leafy greens and vegetables vertically in giant stacks of soilless plants under LED light. This precise technique cuts input costs by spraying plants with a nutrient mist and reducing transportation fuel because of its proximity to stores.

Knitting together our patchwork society sew together more than the physical divisions. We need government and business intervention to focus policy on bridging these divides. Reversing a process that took decades will take decades, but more is at stake than resewing the urban-rural quilt. By integrating rural and urban communities and fostering agrarian knowledge, we are protecting the integrity of the food and farmers we need every day.

THE CITY - April 2018

What can Brown do for you?

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel

Written by Christian Hazes, Staff Writer

“A wall of bullets comin’ from

AK’s, AR’s, “ayy y’all duck!”

That’s what momma said when we was eatin’ the free lunch

Aw man, goddamn, all hell broke loose

You killed my cousin back in ‘94, fuck yo’ truce!”

Kendrick Lamar – “m.A.A.d city”

The picture painted here is the perfect epitome of how many know Compton: crime, poverty and perpetual gang violence. Aspects that are all vividly chronicled by the many rappers that the city has produced. Accommodating roughly 100,000 inhabitants, the sunbathed city just south of Los Angeles was long seen as the most dangerous city in the United States. Not surprisingly, until recently the election campaigns for mayor always consisted of the same ingredients: get rid of drugs, get rid of gangs and get rid of (police) violence.

The major point on the agenda during last year’s city elections? Fixing Compton’s pothole problem.

That’s one hell of a U-turn. Although the city still struggles with crime, poverty, and unemployment, Compton seems to be heading in the right direction under the aegis of Aja Brown; the young, black, female mayor is steering the city towards a bright future.

Here are some lessons straight outta Compton.

“It’s funny how Zulu and Xhosa might go to war

Two tribal armies that want to build and destroy

Remind me of these Compton Crip gangs that live next door

Beefin’ with Pirus, only death settle the score”

Kendrick Lamar – “The Blacker the Berry”

The seventies of the previous century were, to a great extent, the catalyst of Compton’s problems in the years to follow. Crips and Bloods gangs started selling drugs and the police department responded with military tactics, showing a fondness for excessive weaponry. On top of the problems that already existed, a vicious circle of ever-growing street violence was the result.

It is not hyperbolic to say that solving Compton’s problems was, and still is, a Herculean task. Nevertheless, there is always someone who is up for the challenge. The redeemer of Compton came in the form of Aja Brown. Her mom grew up in one of the poorest districts of the city, her grandma was killed during a gang robbery, and she became the city’s youngest mayor ever in 2013.

Dealing with Compton’s infamous gang-related problems was one of Brown’s paramount priorities. An initiative was launched which allowed Bloods and Crips to hand in their weapons to the police. The hundreds of gang members who did, received money as compensation. In addition to this, Brown managed to get prominent Bloods and Crips leaders on speaking terms. Men who had refused to speak to each other for decades were brought face to face in a municipality building. Another important aspect of her gang intervention strategy was to focus on prevention rather than cure. For example, Compton’s youngsters receive education on how to refrain from succumbing to the art of peer pressure.  

From having 36 murders in Brown’s election year the number had dropped to 13 murders two years later, the lowest in over 20 years.

“Nigga, I was rehearsing in repetition the phrase

That only one in a million will ever see better days

Especially when the crime waves was bigger than tsunamis

Break your boogie boards to pieces, you just a typical homie”

Kendrick Lamar – “Black Boy Fly”

Being born in the city called Compton used to be seen as a curse: you were trapped, doomed to fail. So social immobility had been another adversary of Brown’s.

She started by battling inequality, thus shifting the power structures that existed in the city. Instead of the predominant white masculine elite, power had to be distributed in such a way that it reflected Compton and its inhabitants. Brown focussed on combining quality with diversity, herself being the perfect personification. She has multiple university degrees in the field of social and urban planning.

Brown is aware of the fact that she forms an exception; most “Comptonians” do not hold any degree at all. Still, she set about invigorating a sense of membership, enhancing the involvement in civic activity and increased transparency between residents and the upper echelons of Compton’s leadership. Which was the catalysts for a radical political purge, a thorough redistribution of power.

The fact that Brown is the first female mayor of Compton in over 40 years, according to her, could not have been a better example of why another one of Brown’s action points with regard to emancipation is justified and indispensable. Female leadership is invaluable according to Brown and, many girls from a young age on are being involved in societal projects that teach them relevant management and leadership skills.  

Compton is currently going through a profound metamorphosis. Gang affiliation, violence, crime, and squalor kept the city from maturing. But, Aja Brown has started nurturing the city. Besides reducing crime and bridging social gaps, police departments have been reformed, budgetary deficits and unemployment have evaporated, and social housing thrived. All part of an all-encapsulating 12-point action plan, designed to elevate Compton. Compton’s status quo of being eschewed is part of history now. In fact, ample people and businesses want to move straight into Compton in 2018.

Needless to say, it is not an easy task turning one of the most notorious places in the U.S. to a Garden of Eden. Hopefully, Compton is able to complete the metamorphosis. 

It seems that Kendrick was right after all: “We gon’ be alright!”

Jurek Wotzel THE CITY - April 2018

A City Grows Up

Written by Jurek Wötzel, Head Writer

When I moved to Leipzig as a child, the city was a dead end. Now, there are few places in Germany that investors have more faith in than Leipzig. It is a city on its path to adulthood. Yet, the results of its growth aren’t all bright and rosy.

Those who took to the streets in the fall of 1989 couldn’t have foreseen what the close future of East Germany would look like. The decade to come taught the liberated citizens of the GDR a lesson about unemployment, poverty, and exploitation. As state-owned factories and businesses were shut down one after the other, the harsh realities of a sudden change to a market-based economy forced many to leave Leipzig to seek a better future in the West.

By the mid-1990s, the city had shrunk to 440,000 inhabitants, whereas in the 1960s it hosted 600,000 people. The scent of economic decline was in the air, neo-Nazi youth were patrolling the streets, and the population was aging drastically as a large number of young people fleeing the city. But Leipzig was cheap. Even in its most expensive areas, the cost for a two-room apartment would amount to no more than 400 euros. Investors could buy beautifully renovated three-story houses in the architectural style of the Founding Epoch for cheap at about 250,000 euros.

The city turned into a paradise for students, artists, and musicians. In the 2000s, a small, but dynamic alternative scene developed and brought fresh energy. A vibrant squatter scene emerged occupying a large number of old, unrenovated houses. Soon, Leipzig’s anti-fascist movement grew and managed to reclaim the streets from the nazis bit by bit. The result was that by 2010 it was the fastest growing city in Germany with an annual influx of about 10,000 people.

With the growth came the hype. Leipzig, often called ‘Hypezig’, the ‘Better Berlin’ or the ‘New Berlin’, was increasingly put in the spotlight. At the beginning of this decade, rents were still incredibly low, there was plenty of space and the cultural offer was immense for a city of its size.

Cineding: a small cinema in Plagwitz, Leipzig’s West

Leipzig was home to an abundance of free open-air raves, small ateliers, political theatre groups, cheap bars, non-profit cinemas, you name it. Before I left Leipzig in 2015, I could feel that there was movement, with a new place or event to check out each week. It was a city in puberty.

That puberty stage of a city, when there is vibrant dynamism, is maybe the most interesting time. Whether it was Amsterdam in the 80s, Berlin in the 90s, or Leipzig in this decade – the spirit of the adolescent city is unique. Like a teenager, the city tries out different paths, sometimes they turn out to be crazy, sometimes brilliant.

An atelier in the “Baumwollspinnerei”, which used to be one of Europe’s biggest complex of cotton processing factories.

Now, three years later, things have started to change. Leipzig is growing up. Living space is getting rarer, especially for groups that are ‘unfavourable’ to landlords, like students, artists, and musicians. Much of the vacancies have been bought, renovated, and sold. The squatter scene is being driven out of the city, house by house.

Everywhere there are new condos: clean, white, luxurious apartment buildings that few locals can afford. The streets are being upgraded and the boroughs polished.

This is no surprise: the market logic prevents any city from being frozen in time. At one point, capital will flow, houses will be bought and society will be commercialized.

Those spaces that made Leipzig special are being crowded out of the city. The non-profit bars and clubs, the small-scale cinemas and theatres, the neighborhood ateliers. Opportunities for self-expression beyond economic needs are getting rarer. In short, the city is losing its spirit of freedom.

Take for instance the club scene. Westwerk, a non-profit club that hosted techno events on Wednesdays for a one euro entry fee closed, because the landlord can earn more money renting the space to a supermarket chain. While the Institut für Zukunft, Germany’s second most popular techno club according to the readers of Groove Magazine, recently struggled with noise complaints from neighbors. Nightlife sounds do not fit into the working person’s schedule.

The Kohlrabizirkus: its cellar is home to the Institut für Zukunft

Leipzig has grown into a city close to adulthood. Big corporations like Porsche, BMW, DHL or Amazon have settled in, and are continuously expanding. The business climate is exuberantly optimistic. Over the years, a dynamic start-up scene established itself in the city. Tourism has led to the opening a range of new hotels, mainly large international chains such as Hotel One or Novotel.

And that is good news, given that the region used to be Germany’s poverty capital just a few years ago. In 2017, unemployment was at 7.0% compared to 10.5% in 2013, the lowest level since 1991. In 2010, 27% of Leipzig’s citizens were susceptible to falling into poverty, compared to the 14% German average. That number is slowly decreasing.

Still, I look at the rapid development with a deep ambivalence. Could it be is possible to find a way to eternal urban youth? Then, cities could preserve more of their character, more of their dynamic spirit. They could develop into a better version of themselves, rather than just another version of the standard city.

I hope that Leipzig will find a way to sustain much of what made it what it is today. In that case, it can set an example for those cities that are yet to experience similar growth.