Mencken v. American Towns

H. L. Mencken has a funny essay in which he reflects on the ugliness of the small towns between Pittsburgh and Greensburgh, Pennsylvania. Sadly, not much has changed since he wrote the piece in 1927. Looking around these blocks on StreetView is a cautionary experience for anyone who would blame Euclidean zoning laws too much for the shortcomings of U.S. development. As a bonus, the same site also has a nice Mencken quote about what drives the antics of certain university professors— also, sadly, unchanged by the progress of a century.

World Trade Center Update

The News has some recent photos from the top of One World Trade Center, and a few of them are pretty amazing. I went to a planning event on Tuesday at the Museum of the American Indian, which is located in the old U.S. Custom House on Bowling Green (an amazing building, itself). Heading back to the PATH train, my event companion and I walked along Church Street, past the Trade Center site. I was surprised to see the sudden progress that’s now been made on the other buildings. I thought I’d read somewhere that the developers were going to hold off on the second and third main-site towers until the commercial real estate economy recovered. But the tower at the southeast corner of the site, at Church and Liberty Streets, seems to have gone up overnight; while the one at the northeast corner, at Church and Vesey, now has a ground level that’s beginning to take shape. Meanwhile, the frame of One World Trade itself now appears to be approaching its ultimate height. (Seven World Trade Center, across Vesey Street from the main site, was the first to be completed.) After all the maddening time it took to plan and approve the new complex, it’s now being built very quickly.

Crashing the System

Here’s a provocative op-ed piece from Saturday’s Times, by Michelle Alexander. The gist of the article is that a new civil rights movement could be built around a simple form of protest: a wider demand for jury trials. Given the speed at which the system operates under its present crush of cases, it’s not hard to imagine the gridlock that could ensue from a sudden and significant uptick in trial demands. Would it be enough to force an examination of the prison-industrial complex?