John Updike once remarked, “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.” Part of this admittedly nutty insularity resides in the wonder we have for the physical New York and its beauty. Yet it can be easy to forget that the neighborhoods and plazas we explore each day are here by design. This week, we’re bringing you a selection of pieces about urban planning and changing city landscapes, including those of New York. Adam Gopnik examines the legacy of the urbanist and writer Jane Jacobs and chronicles Frederick Law Olmsted’s transition from news reporter to the architect of Central Park. In “Play Ground,” Alexandra Lange writes about the Dutch landscape artist Adriaan Geuze’s role in transforming Governors Island. Kelefa Sanneh explores the ramifications of gentrification, and Nicholas Lemann considers the impact of the city-suburb culture wars and globalization. Finally, in “The Mannahatta Project,” Nick Paumgarten reports on an initiative to try to determine how the island of Manhattan looked when the explorer Henry Hudson first arrived, in 1609. We hope that you enjoy these glimpses into the varied ways that American cities and urban neighborhoods have evolved over time.
What did New York look like before we arrived?
What the urbanist and writer got so right about cities—and what she got wrong.
How a Dutch landscape architect is reinventing the park.
What the American ghetto reveals about the ethics and economics of changing neighborhoods.
Has the celebration of cities gone too far?
How did a news reporter come to create Central Park?