A Call for Urban Favorites in 2010

by Peter Sigrist

Rather than posting only our favorite topics this year, we'd like to try a collaborative list. Below are five questions to answer if you'd like, and we'll post the results. Feel free to skip any of the questions. Also, your favorites don't have to be from 2010.

1. What are your favorite music videos with urban settings or themes?

2. What are your favorite places in any city?

What are your favorite depictions of urban space in books and movies?

What are your favorite designs related to cities?
(This can be anything
that has been designed and somehow relates to cities. It might be a building, a gadget, a park, a form of transportation, a website, a policy, an event, etc.) 

5. What are your favorite urban initiatives?

You can list your answers in the comments section or send them to info@thepolisblog.org.

Credits: Image from the collection of photos at CoLab Radio.


  1. #5. Next American City!

  2. 1. Depeche Mode on the World Trade Center: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rdfFroO67g

    2. Madison Square Park: http://www.madisonsquarepark.org

    3. Last Exit to Brooklyn, by Hubert Selby, Jr: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Exit_to_Brooklyn

    4. Street balconies: http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/01/5a/3b/d6/view-from-my-balcony.jpg

    5. Municipal Art Society: http://mas.org

  3. 2. Copley Mall & Prudential Center in Boston, + Newbury Street in Boston

    3. Outside Sethe's house when the neighbors come, and the clearing where they meet:

    When the women assembled outside 124, Sethe was breaking a lump of ice into chunks. She dropped the ice pick into her apron pocket to scoop the pieces into a basin of water. When the music entered the window, she was wringing a cool cloth to put on Beloved’s forehead. Beloved, sweating profusely, was sprawled on the bed in the keeping room, a salt rock in her hand. Both women heard it at the same time and both lifted their heads. As the voices grew louder, Beloved sat up, licked the salt and went into the bigger room. Sethe and she exchanged glances and started toward the window. They saw Denver sitting on the steps and beyond her, where the yard met the road, they saw the rapt faces of thirty neighbor women. Some had their eyes closed; others looked at the hot, cloudless sky. Sethe opened the door and reached for Beloved’s hand. Together they stood in the doorway. For Sethe it was as though the Clearing had come to her with all its heat and simmering leaves, where the voices of women searched for the right combination, the key, the code, the sound that broke the back of words. Building voice upon voice until they found it, and when they did it was a wave of sound wide enough to sound deep water and knock the pods off chestnut trees. It broke over Sethe and she trembled like the baptized in its wash.

  4. 1. Onda Vaga in Buenos Aires

    2. Stern Grove Park in San Francisco

    3. Chicago in The Blues Brothers

    4. Old street cars

    5. Project for Public Spaces

  5. Paris in Amelie is a good one.

  6. 2. Eastern Market in Detroit
    3. the town in Cinema Paradiso
    4. Brompton folding bike

  7. 2. Oaxaca Zócalo (http://www.tomzap.com/ozocalo.html)
    3. Dublin in Ulysses
    5. Urban Ecology (http://www.urbanecology.org)

  8. 1. Portishead's Only You
    2. Glass floor in Toronto's CN Tower
    3. Detroit in Them by Joyce Carol Oates
    4. Community Land Trusts
    5. Urban Land Institute

  9. 1.) I really loved Arcade Fire´s interactive Google Street View video for "We Used to Wait," a track off their new record, THE SUBURBS.

    Enter your childhood address and watch it happen - really cool!

    2.) Two of my favorite places in my native hometown (Los Anegels) is the Los Angeles River and the Griffith Obeservatory.

    In Barcelona, where I´m currently living, I love the Sunday flea market at the Mercado San Antoni.

    4). Design - I was just in San Sebastián and LOVED Rafael Moneo´s KURSAAL building. It reflects the color of the adjacent Urumea River and is built in the shape of sea rocks. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kursaal_Palace

    5). Creative Time (NYC) - Key to the City Project.

  10. 3. Le Ballon Rouge http://youtu.be/9JhlwaeFEVc

  11. 3. Annie Hall, My Own Private Idaho, Wild at Heart

  12. 5. Inclusive Cities @ www.inclusivecities.org

  13. - A place in a city: Bangkok's Skytrain (http://www.bts.co.th/th/index.asp); Barcelona's public markets (http://w110.bcn.cat/portal/site/Mercats/).
    - Urban setting in a book: Thomas Moore's Utopia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Utopia.jpg).
    - Urban setting in a book: Blade Runner's LA (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJrOVLEUBgw)
    - Urban development initiative: Shack/Slum Dwellers Federation (http://www.sdinet.org/)

  14. Music video: TV on the Radio, Wolf Like Me http://youtu.be/j1-xRk6llh4

    Place: Rynek Glowny, Wroclaw, Poland http://www.pps.org/great_public_spaces/one?public_place_id=926&type_id=0

    Film/book: The Conformist and The Maltese Falcon

    Design: the Kindle

    Initiative: Open Architecture Network http://openarchitecturenetwork.org

  15. 1: The People by Common (http://bit.ly/84mDhG)
    2: Old neighborhoods of Barcelona
    3. Film: Rear Window; Book: Invisible Cities
    4: San Francisco MUNI Fast Pass (http://bit.ly/dGnBso)
    5: SPARC/National Slum Dwellers Federation/Mahila Milan (www.sparcindia.org)and Slum Dwellers International (www.sdinet.org)

  16. 2. the port
    3. breaking and entering
    4. pop-up culture

  17. 1. The Suburbs by Arcade Fire (http://vimeo.com/16970228) and Born Free by M.I.A (http://vimeo.com/11219730). Strong and similar, these videos catches the true and tragic state of 2010.

    2. Centro 73, Chişinău, is the first squatted socio-cultural center in Moldova. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centro_73) Located in a landmark building presently threatened by demolition.

    3. Just Kids by Patti Smith (http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Just-Kids-Patti-Smith/?isbn=9780066211312) is a salute to a New York City and the outstanding writer and musician Smith and her former partner, late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

    4.CUP:s Affordable Housing Toolkit (http://envisioningdevelopment.net/affordable-housing) explains the term affordable housing and so empowers the New Yorkers to dare to ask the crucial question: “Affordable to whom?”

    5. Hudson River Park Greenway in New York City–– (http://www.hudsonriverpark.org) a great example of waterside renewal. Public space in the shape of beautiful green areas and splendid bike lanes.

    Mistra Urban Futures (http://www.mistraurbanfutures.se/english/startpage.4.15c2317a1266994794c8000596.html) is a new ambitious center for sustainable urban development located in Gothenbourg, Sweden.

    All from 2010.

  18. 1. Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks (http://youtu.be/fvDoDaCYrEY)

    2. Railroad Bridge in Genesee Valley Park (http://flic.kr/p/oFKPb)

    3. Kansas City by Robert Altman (http://youtu.be/dtqg36lEA1k) and Cities Back from the Edge by Roberta Gratz (http://bit.ly/fdx9HX)

    4. Eishin Campus (http://bit.ly/egiDf4)

    5. Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation (http://www.phlf.org), In Our Backyard (http://ioby.org), CoLab Radio (http://colabradio.mit.edu)

  19. 1. Old hip hop videos set in New York: Wildstyle, Grandmaster Flash (http://youtu.be/qefZczEMmjI), I Got it Made, Special Ed (http://youtu.be/iRorfjzURaI), New York New York, Dogg Pound (http://youtu.be/9X_JJeVJLFc)

    3. ASSA by Sergei Solovyov (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=909564116562715221#)

    4. DESI (http://openarchitecturenetwork.org/projects/2946)

  20. 3. Movies: Lady and the Tramp, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Metropolis, Juice, Breathless, Taxi Driver, On the Waterfront, Usual Suspects, Crooklyn, Jules et Jim, Casanova, Meet Me in St. Louis, 8 1/2, City of God, Run Lola Run, Amor es Perros, Sleepless in Seattle

  21. movie: tsotsi
    book: invisible man

  22. here are some of my favourites.

  23. 2. Subterranean tunnels and highways of Guanajuato, vacant lots and space beneath highways, Vondel Park in Amsterdam, Yarra River in Melbourne
    3. The Everglades as depicted in Adaptation (not 2010...), Those disappearing from memory in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Tarkovski's 'Zone'
    4. Often those that are unsolicited
    5. the Clean Water Act

  24. 1. Favorite music video with an urban setting or theme: Kanye's video for "Homecoming"

    2. Favorite place in any city: Tough one, but probably the streets of SoHo in the area right around Old St. Patrick's Cathedral.

    3. Favorite urban setting in a book or movie: Dot-com-bubble-era San Francisco in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius ("the white-hot center of the world")

    4. Favorite design related to cities: I'm really into the new trend toward multi-purpose, digitally-enhanced urban libraries; the "new agoras".

    5. Favorite urban initiative: NYC DOT's Plaza Program

  25. Favorite music video with an urban setting or theme: The Invisible Cities - Bulldozer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5sNeqVXGFI

    Favorite place in any city: None that actually exist. The ones that are contested, idealized, and claimed by a public, and thus in flux. (See also the latest MAS Context "Public")

    Favorite urban setting in a book or movie: The setting of ubiquitous urban warfare. Just kidding... Not "favorite" in the positive sense of approval, but the setting can be best understood through a favorite book of 2010: Stephen Graham's _Cities Under Siege_ http://www.versobooks.com/books/365-365-cities-under-siege

    Favorite design related to cities: As a dystopian critique of sustainable design, the notion of "green secrecy" by Bryan Finoki http://www.domusweb.it/en/op-ed/double-zero/ (disclosure, I've been working with Bryan as part of @Demilit).

    Favorite urban initiative: Silicon Valley DeBug http://www.siliconvalleydebug.org/

  26. Within 2010:

    1. Massive Attack - Splitting the Atom http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otY1sfvELXQ

    3. Somewhere http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9n9hP_LtL8

    5. Loveland http://makeloveland.com/

  27. 2. Lately I've been enjoying parking garages; this 2009 set of photographs from Bob Trempe at Polar Inertia does a good job of capturing the moment when the top level of a garage becomes the perfect platform for viewing the city.

    3. Don't know that I have a favorite, but I'm just finishing up China Miéville's The City and the city (I am late to this), and his invention of the twin cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma -- cities located in some unnamed Eastern European country, which share the same physical space but, through historical incident and the force of contemporary politics, are perceived by their inhabitants as separate cities -- is both clever and memorable.

    4. I've got a peculiar interest in the sort of anonymous but tremendously efficacious design work that is done by public agencies in large cities, and I can quickly point to the work of both Janette Sadik-Khan/NYCDOT and Gabe Klein/DCDOT as being transformative and progressive, as street sections and infrastructures in both New York City and the District of Columbia have been re-designed to be more accommodating to alternative modes of transportation. This is often slow, block-by-block and instance-by-instance design, and it's not nearly so iconic as a large capital project (like, to pick a contrasting example in New York, the Highline), but it is, in my opinion, more valuable and a better example of what designers can do for a city.

    5. This is more a category of urban initiatives than a particular instance, but I've been encouraged by the spread of and interest in what might be called (with a nod to FASLANYC) participatory lo-fi landscapes. From field guides for phytoremediation and wild urban plants that promise opportunities for urban gardeners to branch out beyond small-scale farming, to organizations and initiatives like Broken City Lab (Windsor, Ontario), i wish this was (New Orleans, Louisiana), Islands of LA (Los Angeles, California) or City Repair Project (Portland, Oregon) which are re-interpreting, re-imagining, and appropriating urban landscapes, both designers and non-designers are pursuing opportunities for citizens to have productive agency in shaping the landscape of the city. Though there are legitimate concerns about how these sorts of opportunities can be extended beyond the young professionals who tend to initiate them, this is tremendously exciting.

  28. music video: brown paper bag by roni size
    movies: triplets of belleville
    place?: inside a ferry, crossing the victoria harbor in hong kong
    design: urban forest by DUS architects
    urban initiatives: community wikis

  29. 1. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) by Arcade Fire. Pretty harsh burn on suburban sprawl and its one-dimensional pattern of land use. There's no official music video, but I like this one by Michael McVey, which uses old public domain stock footage from the Prelinger Archive http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCIP7VKTSYc. I think the song is really more about modern-day sprawl, so it would be nice to see someone make another version with contemporary footage, which is even more devastating.

    2. The southeast corner of Alvarado Street and Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. In Streetview: http://maps.google.com/maps?q=Los+Angeles,+CA,+USA&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Los+Angeles,+California&ll=34.057971,-118.275878&spn=0.038398,0.070295&z=14&layer=c&cbll=34.057854,-118.275951&panoid=_kZlW4zLAVAMiMpfYOhYEQ&cbp=12,120.85,,0,5
    I catch the bus here a lot, and I like it because it's just a very vibrant and diverse part of the city. It's flooded with the city's broad array of Latin American cultures, and an interesting cross-section of the city's lower and lower-middle classes. I think it's one of the better snapshots of the city as a whole -- a city often mischaracterized.

    3. The Rio de Janeiro favelas in Tropa de Elite 2 (Elite Squad 2). It's a blockbuster sequel to another Brazilian film about the real-life paramilitary police units that have been dispatched to quell violence and the rule of drug traffickers in Rio's slums. The sequel focuses more on how corruption within the government furthers this reality, but the slums are the battleground in the film. And with the recent violence and police takeovers that drew international media attention to a group of slums known as the Complexo do Alemao, the film is especially timely and relevant. Preview with English subtitles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CkVEIYRhS0

    4. The Animal-Shaped cities of Southern Sudan. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11019550 This is my favorite urban design because it is so ridiculously inappropriate and ill-informed.

    5. Los Angeles' CicLAvia. http://ciclavia.wordpress.com/ The temporary street closure on October 10 that pulled hundreds of thousands of Angelenos onto their bikes and skateboards and out into the city's otherwise car-dominated streets was easily the coolest event I've experienced in L.A. after living there for more than 8 years. It made a huge impact in the city, and changed the way a lot of L.A. people think about their city. Can't wait for the next one on April 10, 2011. For out-of-towners, this would be a great day to be in L.A.

  30. 3. Movie: Milk, Book: City Planning According to Artistic Principles by Camillo Sitte

  31. Nice idea about the posts, though the notion of favorites when it comes to something as ephemeral/sentimental as a spot in a city, music video, or urban initiative is tough. I can think of the following that I would love to contribute, however:

    1: Danny Macaskill's bmx video (not really a music video, but it is set to a song and is so wonderful)

    2. Fort Tilden in Brooklyn, NY- the combination of bunkers built into the dunes and empty beaches, all within an hour's bike ride of downtown brooklyn is perfect.

    3. John Fante's Los Angeles as described in Ask the Dust

    4. The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art Complex by Boora (the temporary installation)

    5. Grassroots Mapping