Archives For NYC


[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”0674545060″ locale=”US” src=”” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”221″]Thoughtful, Committed Citizens Changing the World
A Brief Review of 

Battle for Bed-Stuy: The Long War on Poverty in New York City
Michael Woodsworth

Hardback: Harvard UP, 2016
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Reviewed by Leslie Klingensmith
Too often, we learn history as an impersonal set of dates, geographic locations, and the names of the major players.  While those academic facts are important, our collective past can potentially be much more alive to us in the present and, therefore, more helpful as we seek solutions to the social ills that affect us all.  Historical writing is most effective when it is able present people and scenarios from the past in a way that humanizes those who were there and shows us how decisions made “at the top” actually changed the lives of ordinary people.

Michael Woodsworth, in his book Battle for Bed-Stuy:The Long War on Poverty in New York City, makes a credible attempt to look at one community through a period of decades.  He analyzes Bedford-Stuyvesant’s (“Bed-Stuy”) efforts to combat poverty and remain a safe, vibrant, appealing place for people to live.  Battle for Bed-Stuy is especially useful for learning how President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty legislation and its programs played out in a real community populated by people committed to improving their surroundings and their lives.

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“Manhattan, The City that Never Dies”

A Brief Review of

Zone One: A Novel
by Colson Whitehead
Hardback:  Doubleday, 2011.
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Reviewed by Chris Enstad

Zombie fiction has been experiencing something of a, ahem, rebirth in the last few years… if it was ever really dead at all.  From the monster movies of the 50’s to the Sam Raimi classic of 1981, Evil Dead, to the Woody Harrelson film Zombieland to the recent bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or the latest runaway AMC TV show The Walking Dead there is just something about zombies that seems to resonate in our blood.

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“A Wholistic View of Place”

A review of
Genius of Place:
The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted.

by Justin Martin

Review by Mark Eckel.

[ Read an excerpt from this book … ]

GENIUS OF PLACE - Justin MartinGenius of Place:
The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted.

by Justin Martin
Hardback: De Capo Press, 2011.
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There is something innate in the heart of humanity for planning, pruning, and producing.  Our creational, kingship responsibilities continue to prompt our cutting lawns, painting houses, planting crops, fixing roads, in short, establishing order.  It is foolish, for instance, to think that all creation must always remain pristine, without human investment or intervention.  When I pull weeds out of my garden, I do so because I want to eat tomatoes in August.  Obviously there are places that should and must remain as they are, without human interdiction.  National forests, monuments, and wildlife parks exist for us to explore.  In some cases, I just want to pull up a chair and gape in wonder.  At the same time—it should be obvious—there are deep concerns about how humans live in God’s world.  How much do we create or recreate along with creation?

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Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop of Canterbury

The wise Anglican priest who instructed me in how to go about hearing confessions closed his lesson with some memorable words: “I’ve never thought less of someone after hearing their confession.”

If only it were generally the same for biographies. Some people’s lives have a priestly dimension. That is to say, their struggles have an elevated quality—they are struggles on behalf of us all; their example inspires far beyond the circle of people who directly identify with their circumstances. In short, when the bell tolls for them it tolls for us too—somehow even more than when it tolls for us alone. Rowan Williams is such a person. And the astonishing thing about this biography—this confession, if you like—is that Williams emerges from it with a reputation that is, if anything, more positive than it already was.

It’s a commonplace that Williams’s job is one you wouldn’t wish on your most antagonistic blogger. What is the archbishop of Canterbury for? He’s there to represent the life of faith, more specifically the historic catholic and reformed Christian faith, at the heart of the English nation; to be a figurehead guiding the Church of England, its bishops, its institutions and its people; and to be a unifying influence on the worldwide Anglican Communion. When Williams was ap pointed, there was widespread joy that here was a man who could do these three things like no one else imaginable—a person who epitomized the grace, wisdom, faith and generosity to which Anglicanism aspires. And yet his first seven years in office have seen him beleaguered by controversial events, a constant demand for him to exercise executive power, and a standoff of mutual incomprehension between his office and the secular press.

Read the full review:

Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Rupert Shortt.

Hardback: Eerdmans, 2009.
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Wrestling With Moses:  How Jane Jacobs Took On
New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City

For those of us who care about cities and why they flourish or fade, the accepted wisdom boils down to this: Robert Moses bad, Jane Jacobs good.

Moses lives in urban lore as the ruthless New York bureaucrat who forced highways through neighborhoods with no regard for real lives in the way. Jacobs is his antithesis, the Greenwich Village everywoman who enshrined the virtues of messy vitality in her still-potent The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Now there’s a book that shows how these mythic characters shaped each other’s work and reputations – a volume that leaves me wishing there was some way today to combine the best traits of both.

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Wrestling With Moses:
How Jane Jacobs Took On New York’s Master Builder
and Transformed the American City
Anthony Flint.

Hardback: Random House, 2009.
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 The NYT Review of The State of Jones:
The Small Southern County That Seceded From the Confederacy

The Civil War was not a simple collision of opposites. There was internal dissent on each side: Northerners who wanted to placate the South, Southerners loyal to the Union, and thousands of deserters from both armies.

In The State of Jones, Sally Jenkins, a Washington Post reporter, and John Stauffer, a Harvard historian, recreate the life and times of the bold Southern dissenter Newton Knight. An indigent farmer in Jones County, Miss., the flinty, blue-eyed Knight was conscripted into the Southern army in 1862 and soon deserted. He organized a small band of neighbors that used guerilla tactics and swamp hideouts to fend off pursuing Confederate troops. Knight’s vastly outnumbered group became a thorn in the side of the South, which was preoccupied with the invasions of Grant and Sherman.

Knight and other Jones County residents aided the North during Reconstruction. Although Knight was married to a white woman and had several children by her, he simultaneously had a long-term liaison with a former slave of his grandfather, named Rachel. At a time when most Mississippi blacks did not own land, he deeded farmland to Rachel, with whom he had a number of children who worked side by side in the fields with their white siblings.

Read the full review:

The Small Southern County That Seceded From the Confederacy
Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer.

Hardback: Doubleday, 2009.
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A Brief Review of
The Curious Garden.
Written and Illustrated by Peter Brown.

Hardback: Little, Brown, 2009.
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Reviewed By Chris Smith.

For the last couple of years, I have been starting to explore what an urban naturalism might look like here in Indianapolis.  Unbeknownst to me, in New York City, Peter Brown was at the same time fleshing out a similar vision in the form of a picture book, The Curious Garden.  This little volume, published earlier this year and filled with Brown’s own rich color illustrations, traces the story of a young boy, Liam, whose home city begins as a dull, dreary place, “without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind.”  In contrast to most of this city’s children who spent their days cooped up inside, Liam loved to be outdoors, splashing through the rain and exploring the urban terrain.  One day, in the midst of his explorations, Liam stumbles upon an old elevated railway bed that is no longer in use (which, as Brown notes in his afterword, is loosely based on NYC’s High Line).  Liam finds that up on this railway bed, there is the very tiniest in-breaking of color, in the form of a few wildflowers and other plants.  He feels compelled to begin nurturing these few plants, and as he cares for them – a trial and error process – they begin to spread along the railway, thus beginning a process that will ultimately transform the city out of its dreary darkness into a vibrant green and multi-colored locale.  Brown has taken a minimalist approach to the text here and much of Liam’s story is told simply and creatively through the illustrations.  In reading and re-reading The Curious Garden, I was struck by Brown’s idea that the transformation of the city is already at work in nature and that our job as humans is to seek out these burstings forth and to nurture them as they expand.  This fruitful combination of attentiveness and diligent care provides a solid foundation, I believe, for the practice of an urban naturalism.  The Curious Garden is, by far, the best book for children (of all ages) that I have found this year, and with time it will undoubtedly reign – with Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, Robert McCloskey’s Make Way For Ducklings and a handful of other books – as one of the finest ecological picture books of all time.