Last week, NPR host Steve Inskeep interviewed sociologist Eric Klinenberg about how vibrant, tight-knit neighborhoods could fare better in a disaster. Klinenberg is a professor of sociology at New York University and has been studying the fate of two neighborhoods in Chicago during the 1995 heat wave that took the lives of almost 700 people. His article on the subject, “Adaptation,” appears in the current issue of The New Yorker.
The two neighborhoods he studied, Auburn Gresham and Englewood, are adjacent. They have the same micr0-climate, both are very poor and both have a large population of older people living alone. Though the neighborhoods are nearly identical by most measures, the death rate during the heat wave was drastically different. In Englewood, about 33 per 100,000 people died. In Auburn Gresham the death rate was 3 per 100,000. That’s a drastic difference!
According to Klinenberg, what Auburn Gresham has that Englewood does not, and what caused the the drastically different death rates was the existence of a “viable social infrastructure.” Auburn Gresham “has small commercial establishments that draw older people who are vulnerable to heat waves out of their homes and into public life.” The physical environment of the neighborhood – it’s bricks and mortar shops and restaurants – facilitated the development of a community. The community aided those in need and therefore experienced far fewer losses.*
At this point, you might be asking yourself the same question Steve Inskeep asked, “So you’re telling me that if I were to live in an old-style urban neighborhood, where there’s a coffee shop down the street, where there’s a corner store, where there’s a corner dry cleaner, where people walk around and they may know the neighbors, and kids play on the street, that I am more likely to survive a disaster because of the kind of community that I’m in?”
And the answer is, in a lot of cases, yes!
Historic preservationists and people who live in neighborhoods that have retained their sidewalks and small commercial establishments have known for a long time that these simple “old-style” amenities make a huge difference in quality of life. They help people get to know their neighbors and build a sense of community. Take them away and you know longer have a “viable social infrastructure” to depend upon.
*A quick Google image search of “Englewood Chicago” and “Auburn Gresham Chicago” dramatically highlights the radically different atmospheres in the two neighborhoods. The majority of photos that result from the Englewood search show vacant lots, boarded up houses and crime scenes with a sprinkling of historical photos and photos of neighborhood people. The Auburn Gresham search, on the other hand, results in images of people enjoying community events (church activities, school activities, street fairs, etc), with only a sprinkling of derelict or abandoned property and crime scene photos.
A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation stories from around the web and in the news.
The Homes and Hovels of Literary Greats
Flavor Wire: Cultural News and Critique offered us a little virtual tourism this week. Check out their A Google Maps Tour of Famous Authors’ Homes to see where your favorite author spent his/her formative years or cooked up their tallest tales. Though not all the sites offered by the tour are historical (architecturally speaking) and not all of the buildings that sheltered our literary heroes are still standing, the tour is a fun way to spend a few minutes while you count this Friday down to the start of Labor Day weekend.
How We Threaten Our Own Legacy
A guest post on Preservation Nation by Seattle heritage writer Knute Berger points out that for-profit developers (who are often cast as the greedy antagonists in preservation sagas) are not always responsible for the wrecking ball. The government, public entities and public projects are sometimes the trouble – motivated by the misguided notion that “their will embodies an unquestioned public good” or because they are underfunded and neglect historical places under their care.
By now we’ve all heard about the botched restoration of Elías García Martínez’s “Ecce Homo.” While most of us have either reacted in horror or had a good laugh (or both – one must cope somehow!), Art historian, Stefla of Florence and the Historian wrote a great post In “Defense” of a Hack-job Restoration. She points out that the elderly woman responsible for the damage was motivated by love of the piece and it was not an out-and-out act of vandalism, that professional conservators make mistakes (sometimes out of sheer carelessness), and that this situation has brought a great deal of attention to the plight of many Spanish churches – they don’t have the funds to care for their historic frescoes and other works. Perhaps the loss of this one fresco will result in additional funds to maintain others – a blessing in (a tragically furry) disguise.
Cookie Monster Cookie Recipe
I realize that not all food can be linked to heritage and preservation, but it’s COOKIE MONSTER’S RECIPE! It does date from the 1970s so I think we can at least call it vintage. And, of course, there is a case to be made for Sesame Street as a mainstay of American culture… Regardless, I think you should on over to theKitchn and whip a batch of these over the weekend. Go ahead! You can ponder culture and heritage while you do it 😉
(PS Cookie Girl, this is for you!)
Tesla, The Oatmeal, and Preservation
My favorite story this week comes from NPR. The only remaining laboratory of Nikola Tesla, one of the greatest American inventors, was vacant and neglected but may soon be purchased so that it can be turned into a museum, thanks to an Internet campaign that raised nearly a million dollars in about a week. After Jane Alcorn, president of a nonprofit group called The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, put out an SOS for funds to purchase the dilapidated warehouse on Facebook asking her contacts to “send out the word to celebrities or people with deep pockets or anyone they thought might be able to give us assistance,” Michael Inman, a famous online cartoonist also known as The Oatmeal got involved. (Inman had previously published “Why Nikola Tesla was The Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived.) As of this writing, they campaign has raised $1,178,162, surpassing their goal of $850,000. Who knew social media and the internet could be the key to preservation success?!
Have a wonderful weekend!
Almost anyone who knows me in real life knows that I’m an NPR junkie. I listen to it constantly – in the car, in the kitchen, when I’m cleaning, when I’m getting ready every morning. My radio is rarely dialed to anything else. I can hardly have a conversation without mentioning something I heard on Morning Addition or All Things Considered. So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered NPR’s Place and Memory Project.
The Place and Memory Project began in 2009 as a Weekend Edition Summer Series. The project features several radio stories that aired on Weekend Edition during the spring and summer of 2009, a blog, and a wiki page. The project chronicles “stories of those places, long gone, that have left their mark on us so clearly—just their mention brings them instantly back to life” and invites the public to contribute. What a great idea! Contribute your own place and memory to the over 400 already collected here.
Image via NPR