Urban imperialism: lessons from city boosterism of the 19th century for urban renewal today

Creede, Colo. in 1880

Metropolitan boosters — men employed in the late 19th century to encourage Americans to move west to burgeoning cities — have been of interest to me lately.

I’m interested in how that concept can be brought to modern concepts or urban renewal. I came across a portion of an essay in ‘A companion to the American West,’ collected by William Francis Deverell [p. 513]:

Integral to the hinterland and ‘instant city’ models of nineteenth-century western urban history has been the figure of the urban booster. Cities in the west have been promoted, hawked and downright lied about on a scale rarely matched elsewhere in the nation. Boosters in cities on the make — Chicago in the mid-nineteenth century, San Francisco in the 1860s, Denver in the 1880s, Seattle in the 1900s, Los Angeles and Oakland in the 1920s — spared little effort in luring the investment capital, industry and residents necessary to ensure sustained economic development. Western boosters and their allies engaged in what one historian calls ‘urban imperialism,’ an endless quest for control of the markets and economic bonanzas that guaranteed real estate profits. Booster scholarship has tended to focus on the art of promotion and to see cities as products less of social construction than of capitalist fantasies. But behind boosters is the most interesting feature of western cities: urban growth as an end in itself, an economic logic fundamental to capitalism, was elevated by western boosters to the level of civic religion. In some cities, for instance, space was rarely scare but capital was. In places like Los Angeles and later Dallas and Phoenix, this led boosters to cultivate real estate markets and encourage an urban morphology that spread development horizontally across vast distances. In other cities, an opposite geography was at work, and a great deal of scare capital went into creating very expensive space. In Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, immense amounts of capital were devoted to filling tidelands and wetlands that allowed the cities to grow…

History Channel: America, The Story of Us

Happy Fourth of July.

A couple weekends ago, while filing a lot of copy, I was engrossed in the 12-part History Channel documentary called America: The Story of Us.

It reminded me of what the History Channel does best. In a world where the access to information is endless, the context of that information was powerful.

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“Being a reporter is only lately a respectable occupation:” Calvin Trillin

Former Time and New Yorker journalist Calvin Trillin on why there is less drinking in journalism. He references this New York Times story on the changing face of big name journalists.

“Being a reporter is only lately a respectable occupation.”

Former New York Times reporter Gay Talese telling a story about drinking in his old newspaper days

Reading: ‘Remembering Kensington and Fishtown’ by Ken Milano

My neighborhood has a historian: Ken Milano.

The author of several books and speeches, a friend gave me his cherished Remembering Kensington and Fishtown: Philadelphia’s Riverward Neighborhoods, which, of course, has lots of focus on my neighborhood and, even, my own block.

Living in a neighborhood named for its fishing communities, notably of the shad of Delaware Avenue, perhaps one of my favorite take aways from the book was an old local fisherman’s rhyme [Page 37]:

When the Lord made shad,
The Devil was mad,
For it seemed such a taste of delight,
So to poison the scheme,
He jumped in the stream,
And stuck in the bones out of spite.

The 128-page book is full of interesting stories, but, below, I share some of my other favorites:

Did William Penn’s Treaty with the Leni-Lenape Take Place? [Page 17]

Earliest Known Use of the Name ‘Fishtown’ [Page 76] — 1808

Edgar Allan Poe Reports on Kensington in 1840 [Page 80] — On the Kensington railroad riots

USS Alligator, first submarine of the United States Navy [Page 82] —

Cohocksink Creek, Kensington’s Historical Border [Page 91] — Discusses Kensington and Fishtown boundaries

West Street Burial Ground [Page 96] — Across the street from my house was a graveyard

Changing ways in which society collects information

marketflow1

The way we have gained information has apparently changed in the past 200 years, according to a really interesting and insightful graphical analysis of those trends by online magazine Baekdal.com.

The graphic analysis, as depicted above, aims to give some sense of the how the sources of information developed in common society. It suggests that in the next 10 years, we’ll find more and more news and information via social networks, with declines in TV, general Web sites and blogs.

After a few hundred years of newsletters, pamphlets and other written news sources known of in Europe and perhaps present elsewhere, the idea of a regularly published, verifiable collection of news source was developed in the United States in Boston, New York and Philadelphia in the mid-18th century. Leading to that turn of the century, more than 50 newspapers of varying stripe were bubbling in the colonies, leading to the idea of “freedom of the press” when the 1791 Bill of Rights were ratified.

This graphic and its explanation — well worth your time — gets the history down, if briefly, but I can’t say I agree with all its prognosticating about the future of news gathering.

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Who is Tom Ferrick's heir: the best Philadelphia newspaper columnists

Philadelphia was long a breeding ground for some of the most meaningful metro columnists in the country.

Some say the newspaper columnist is dying, but it isn’t dead.

So who’s the next columnist of record in one of the oldest newspaper cities in the world?

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The History of the Philadelphia Inquirer

The history of the Philadelphia Inquirer mirrors the path of all the big gray ladies in the United States.

While putting together suggestions for the Inquirer months ago, I came across some interesting reading on the third oldest newspaper in the country, which is nearing its 180th birthday. Follow it and the path of your own hometown paper.

But why isn’t the Inquirer already cashing in on its historical brand? It seems it may be moving that way, but I want to see more and as a means to develop, sustain its brand and monetize it.

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In Washington D.C. for Obama inauguration, Franklin birthday

I am going to the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington D.C. tonight, to get settled and look around town, where I will be covering the inauguration of Barack Obama on Tuesday.

More on that to come.

Obama left yesterday from Philadelphia to head to D.C., also making a stop in Delaware. Leaving from Philadelphia is a historic nod to past presidents, like Abraham Lincoln, and fittingly landed on the 303rd anniversary of the birth of Philly’s favorite founding father: Ben Franklin.

Celebrate that below.

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Geronimo surrenders on this day, go jump in a pool

Two hundred twenty-two years ago today, famed Apache chief Geronimo surrendered to U.S. and Mexican forces after 25 years of fighting. Now in mainstream culture his legend is reduced to jumping into pools or otherwise inanely leaping.

Do you want to make up for the brutal repression of a people and hundreds of years of neglect by learning why Geronimo is such an important historical and revolutionary – albeit ultimately unsuccessful – figure? Of course you do.

Oh, I’m sorry, did you say quote Wikipedia at length? Alright:

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What is Labor Day?

Enjoying your day off and the end of summer but have no idea why?

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. [Source].

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