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Posts Tagged ‘city’

The Shrinking City, Part I

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009


Growth in American cities is often just an assumed fact. For many urban regions, the most pressing question of the last several decades has been how does one handle a growing megalopolis? However, the recent economic turbulence gripping the nation has helped shed light on a slow, simmering problem in a number of former manufacturing-based cities in the Rust Belt of the Midwest and Northeast. What happens when a city shrinks?

Several factors — some dating back to the 1950’s and before — have contributed to the ongoing woes of Rust Belt cities. Manufacturing’s steadily decline as a dominant industry in America, federal policy favoring suburban migration, and the Sun Belt’s rise as a center for both industry and population are just a few of the reasons why many Rust Belt cities struggle with the hollowing-out of their cores. For example, according to the U.S. Census, from 1990 to 2008 Detroit alone lost more than 100,000 residents. The Detroit News reported that in 2008 over 3,000 homes were torn down in the city. The problem is only exacerbated by the recent mortgage crisis. RealtyTrac calculates that the number of bank owned homes and those in pre-foreclosure in Detroit currently exceeds 10,000. The result is a large amount of vacant properties or empty space throughout the city.

Detroit is not the only place facing this problem. Other cities in Michigan as well as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York (among others) are dealing with this same situation.  Some cities in the Sun Belt are also suffering due to the mortgage crisis and a recent over-reliance on the construction industry to fuel growth. One solution some are offering to counteract this crisis is to embrace and facilitate the “shrinking” of the cities in question.

To a great extent, this makes sense. Poorly maintained vacant buildings are a burden to many and can be havens for crime, environmental distress, and a general blight on existing neighborhoods. But, before one brings in the bulldozers, it would be good to think in a holistic, sustainable manner. Is it any better to simply have vast expanses of empty land, or worse, partially cleared tracts of rubble? What might be done with these new empty spaces?

Many have offered suggestions that revolve around greening the urban areas. Perhaps the former vacant blight could be reclaimed as green space while the thriving parts of the cities morph into nodes connected by light rail, rapid bus systems, and bike trails. Zoning could be changed in the existing, successful nodes to permit more infill development allowing for growth in the future while the new green space throughout the city remains untouched. Along with development as parks, some of the green space might also work well as vast urban gardens. Thinking in terms of holistic solutions, preserving clusters of structures may be a good idea. Could some of the residences be saved and offered to charitable organizations? Could creative new public/private/non-profit alignments be forged to the benefit of local government, businesses, and residents? Habitat for Humanity has already seized this opportunity in some neighborhoods.

And what about the arts?

Could artists and musicians be a part of the solution? Many cities already look to the arts as a tool for economic development and to a lesser extent, community development. Economists have noted that a crucial element in the development of successful arts communities is a lower cost-of-living. If artist-friendly public policy initiatives leveraging existing vacant housing stock were to be  greenlit in Detroit, could the city become home to a network of thriving arts districts in the next decade? What types of initiatives might be considered?

The second installment of this admittedly brief commentary will look at a successful arts-based urban redevelopment plan in a formerly blighted neighborhood. Until then, take an afternoon and examine your neighborhood, town, or city. Are there new opportunities for change? Although the Joni Mitchell song claims that you “don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone,” this time around, if we take some time to plan and be involved, we might know what we can have because it’s gone.

Michael is a doctoral student in urban planning and public policy at the University of Texas at Arlington. You can follow him on Twitter here, visit his website here, and listen to his band here.

The City Represented in Music

Monday, August 17th, 2009


The study of popular music representing the urban landscape is still a fledgling area in the discipline of geography. As the world continues to urbanize, however, more artists are writing and recording albums that serve as aural extensions of the cities in which they live. In the past few years, there have been three albums fitting this description that continue to see heavy rotation in our household while we cook, clean, or more often than not, study…

The Desaparecidos: Read Music/Speak Spanish (Saddle Creek): If there were a genre of “Urban Planning Rock,” this album would be the sole entry. On the macro level, Read Music/Speak Spanish is an incendiary analysis of America’s pre-recession crass consumerism and suburban sprawl, while on a micro level the album details the explosive westward growth of Omaha. From the physical packaging itself – an amusingly detailed send-up of a City of Omaha planning report complete with a vellum cover of tract housing superimposed over cornfields – to the songs, the album is the audio equivalent of a pitched battle between the sprawling exurban growth of west Omaha and the more urban east Omaha. The band was an all-star cast of Saddle Creek regulars fronted by Conor Oberst. Despite the folksy pedigree of Oberst and his Bright Eyes legacy, Read Music/Speak Spanish finds the band outwardly intense with the music as heavy and abrasive as the lyrical content is aggressive and biting. The resulting sentiment after the last song ends is that the kids are not alright and are going to mobilize and vote against you until you embrace more sustainable planning initiatives.

Zvuki Mu: Zvuki Mu (Opal/Warner Bros.) In order to record an album for his great, but now defunct Opal label, Brian Eno flew to Moscow in the late 80’s to produce Zvuki Mu. In doing so, he captured a sound that is wholly unlike most modern rock music. Disjointed musical references and time structures appear side-by-side on the project: ambient-skronk guitar, hotel lounge keyboards, strings, atmospheric synthesizers, near-military drumming patterns, disco beats, etc… The key to appreciating this song construction is to understand how time itself can be manipulated in urban environments. In New York City, socio-economic forces have bred the concept of a “New York Minute,” while in Communist-era Moscow, the absence of almost all personal control over one’s future provided for a more laissez-faire reaction to time. It was not unusual, Eno noted, for a musician to schedule a meeting on a Tuesday, but not show up until Saturday without much concern. He opined, when one has little control over the outcome of the future, the present is a much more fluid and a less structured concept. Along with Moscow’s plodding present-tense and seemingly non-existent future, a limited accessibility to popular music recordings left artists with a juxtaposition of influences from differing decades and genres. This serves to further confuse the sense of time on the album. Was this a hippie collective left-over from the 60’s playing Sun Ra and Zappa inspired psychedelic rock songs? Was this recorded in a 70’s underground Moscow discothèque, then slickly remixed in the 80’s?  From the first song to the last, Zvuki Mu instantaneously transports the listener to a Moscow that encased its citizens in magnificently crumbling architecture and denied them access to a fully realized temporal structure. Despite this oppression, the members of Zvuki Mu still manage to create an insightful and personal document of their lives, passions, and longings in a city seemingly lost in time.

Nortec Collective: The Tijuana Sessions, Vol. 1 & 3 (Palm) This is the sound of modern Tijuana, Mexico. Although many north of the border may still think of the city as an unsavory border town, Tijuana is in fact a large and dynamic city with a healthy arts scene and an economy thoroughly intertwined with that of the United States. The Nortec Collective is a small group of DJ’s and producers representing a much larger artistic movement in Tijuana encompassing graphic designers, fine artists, architects, and filmmakers – not unlike the Reykjavik, Iceland scene in the early 90’s that spawned the similarly aesthetically complete Gus Gus. The Nortec Collective’s sound fuses the booming tuba notes, pumping accordions, nylon stringed guitar flourishes, and hyperkinetic snare rolls of traditional Norteño with modern bass-heavy, groove-oriented electronic soundscapes and beats. The resulting effect gives the listener a brief glimpse into the dichotomy of growing-up in a border city where one could hear Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk tracks waft through the airways from San Diego while the extended family dances to Cumbia in the backyard.

Okay, I’ve told you about what’s been playing in our household, now it’s your turn. Feel free to use the comments section to post about your favorite album that evokes an urban landscape.

Michael is a doctoral student in urban planning and public policy at the University of Texas at Arlington. You can follow him on Twitter here, visit his website here, and listen to his band here.

Rock Concert AND Bake Sale

Monday, August 3rd, 2009


My wife and I came up with an idea by accident a few years ago that has turned into a great way to make new friends, enjoy music, support your community, and throw down in a culinary way. Bored with playing the usual show format, Jen (my wife and co-conspirator in Shiny Around the Edges) thought that it would be grand fun to host a bake sale and maybe play some songs with our friends during it. After discussing a bit further, we thought… why not get a lot of our friends – who are all in bands – to join us and donate the evening’s proceeds, both door and bake sale, to a local food bank. So the first “Rock Concert AND Bake Sale” was born. We invited five other bands to play half hour sets and provide a bake good so as to ensure a tightly packed night of music and tasty treats.

Well, we didn’t expect what happened next. People came streaming into the venue and the bands brought baked goods that were expertly and lovingly prepared (some with signs giving detailed histories of their origins). In every case, the bands provided way more than the requested one baked good per band and then completely rocked-out in supreme fashion on stage. We unwittingly raised several hundred dollars for the local food bank and had an absolute blast.

The next year, we attempted the same thing and lo and behold, things went off even bigger…. with an odd competitive spirit emerging. Once again, we chose five other bands of varying genres and experience levels (intrinsic for fostering new friendships and developing a sonically diverse evening) and asked for corresponding baked goods. For whatever reason, this time normally stoic and kind friends were shepherding unassuming patrons in a cutthroat fashion to their baked goods on the main table in a competitive bid to “win” the bake sale. This mirrored the growing near-anarchy on stage wherein all of the bands seemed to let loose with reckless abandon. A searing post-riot grrrl band ended the night with a set that included heavy bass lines, swimsuits, cowboy hats, walls of guitar chaos, and the inadvertent near-destruction of everything on stage. All of this causing Jen and I to exclaim, “This is the best bake sale ever!” And, indeed, it was. The next morning we, as a community of musicians, were able to give several hundred dollars more than the previous year to the local food bank.

This is something that anyone can do, anywhere, in any town or city. This is something YOU can do. Baking, like playing music, is a fun social activity that can serve as a catalyst to help others in your community. Gather your friends together, hit up the local club or house venue, and start baking. Who knows, maybe at the end of the night, the kindest, gentlest musician you know will forcefully and triumphantly state to all in earshot that he is, in fact, “King of the Bake Sale!!!” This happening right before the band on stage melts down in a Grace Jones meets Stooges frenzy leaving everyone wanting more and hungry for cupcakes.

And really… who doesn’t want a cupcake?

Michael is a doctoral student in urban planning and public policy at the University of Texas at Arlington. You can follow him on Twitter here, visit his website here, and listen to his band here.

City Review: An Earnest/Dead-Serious Love Letter to Crouch End, London

Friday, March 20th, 2009

So London, the calm between two storms. The first of which was a month spent touring up one side of the UK and down the other. The storm to come was a grueling month in Europe with the noble savage Jamey Bainer. (Another time.)

I had a week off in London and it was just what I needed. Rain on the cobbles. Eating Turkish pide bread or chips wrapped in pita and staring up at old buildings or out the second-story window at the buses and taxis and scooters racing by. There were walks through Highgate Woods, rare sunny hours on the back balcony, and long afternoons alone in the house drinking red wine and listening to Ben demo new F**k Buttons songs from upstairs.

Old Crouch Station by Dave Bosher

Old Crouch Station by Dave Bosher

I came to Couch End in the London borough of Haringey broke and unsure of myself and tired of pretty much everything you can be tired of. The tour took it out of me—the whole year did. I was homesick and I was unhealthy and generally superstitious, pessimistic, and scared to death of the new year ahead. I left feeling centered and right with myself. This is what a good place can do for you.

Crouch End sprung up in the 1300s but wasn’t a legit town until the railroads made it accessible for commuters 500 years later. According to A True History of Crouch End (out of print) “Many years ago, the Crouch was a wide sleepy river winding gently through wooded hills and peaceful valleys on its long journey south from the Watford gap to the Thames. On its way, it passed through a quiet vale bounded by meadows, where a small community of shepherds and farmers tended the land and their flocks, occasionally, but unsuccessfully, fishing in the river or hunting for deer or bear in the hills.”

Clock Tower on Broadway from iknowlondon.com

Clock Tower on Broadway from iknowlondon.com

The place had a quiet history until money came into the equation. Says A True History authors Brian Price and Roger Hayman, centuries later “the area became famous—or infamous—as the location of the first recorded gold rush in Britain. A grizzled peasant called Cedric was looking for a stray ram in the Muswell Hills when he discovered several small nuggets of gold in the gravel on the bank of the Crouch … [however] the gold found by Cedric was [eventually] revealed to be fillings from the teeth of an ancient monk, slaughtered by one of the many bands of marauding Vikings.”

Crouch End is my favorite part of London because it doesn’t feel like London. It’s not hectic or crowded and you don’t feel trapped in on all sides by bodies and cars and buildings and motion. The place I stayed was a nice spacious flat above a Turkish shop. It had a claw-foot tub, a big lounge, good lighting, and rooms full of people doing impressive things at all hours of the day and night. Besides myself, it was Al English, the guitarist from my tour-mates Youthmovies, his brother James who works with Al at ATP, Sim who also works for ATP and runs the label I’m on, and Ben Power who’s one half of F**k Buttons. There was always someone to sit and watch Hollyoaks (terrible) with and there was always somebody to talk me out of working to go walk around the city with them.

James and Ben on the back veranda, photo by Andy Jackson

James and Ben on the back veranda, by Andy Jackson

But I got work done nonetheless. With Al and James off doing ATP label stuff, Sim meeting with Nick Cave to plan ATP’s Australian festival, and Ben flying out to do one-off shows in Greece and Northern Europe, I had a lot of time to sit on the couch and write or take down tablature, or just stand at the big windows, zone out at the neighboring rooftops and plan my 2009. New president. New start. New life.

Al English and Natalie Judge by Zach Dilgard

Al English and Natalie Judge by Zach Dilgard

It’s the alone time I remember best—a good part of it I spent walking around Crouch End and falling in love with its hilly twisting streets and the general feeling of being anonymous and small and caught up in someone else’s world for a while. I rode a lot of buses and trains and I took a lot of long walks into the rich part of town where all the houses are palaces and noblesse oblige reigns high.

The city was busy around rush hour, but mostly it was slow and mellow and easy to disappear into. I had the feeling of being in old London, London before technology and congestion and a surging population made it into the beast it is now.

The Crouch from bedroomsinlondon.com

The Crouch from bedroomsinlondon.com

There were wild times too. On my final night in town a bunch of got together and proclaimed big toasts over fake champagne and drank wine like Vikings and celebrated our brotherhood by throwing bottles out the window at Pizza Hut’s shop windows across Broadway.

Me and Al by Bill Breaker

Me and Al by Bill Breaker

The final bit of joyous mindlessness came when I talked Al and James into legally changing their names over the internet. Sixty quid out of my merch bag later and James became “James Quintessentially English” and, his brother, “Alan Broken English.” A good way to end my stay.

Alan Broken English and Sim

Alan Broken English and Sim

All told, Crouch End and I got along well. We’re buddies, deep down. I love its kebab shops and I love the Henry Reader Williams memorial Clock Tower. I love its ethnic markets and the gentle slope of the hill, and the top spires of St. Mary’s in Hornsey.

When you travel a lot you tend to find second homes and I’m claiming the Couch—here and now—as mine.

Crouch End Notes:

1. From Wikipedia: “In the 1990s Dave Steward of the Eurythmics had a recording studio on Crouch Hill. According to legend, he invited Bob Dylan to drop in any time he felt like it. Bob took him up on his offer, but the taxi driver dropped him off on the adjacent Crouch End Hill. Bob knocked on the door of the supposed home of Dave Stewart and asked for Dave. By coincidence, the plumber who lived there was also called Dave. He was told that Dave was out, and would he like to wait and have some tea? Twenty minutes later the plumber returned and asked his wife whether there were any messages. ‘No’, she said, ‘but Bob Dylan’s in the living room having a cup of coffee’.”

2. Crouch End is supposedly a huge minor celebrity watching place. I asked who everybody’s seen and couldn’t place any of the names besides Simon Pegg who shot Shawn of the Dead in the neighborhood. Ho Chi Mihn supposedly spent some time in Crouch End a million years ago which would’ve been an interesting run-in. Would you recognize Ho Chi Mihn if he walked past you on the street totally out of context? Think about it.

3. David’s Supermarket on Broadway is the greatest mini-market/shop/grocery I have ever been to. A small sampling of the things I needed and found at David’s: a pocket-size sewing kit, clear packing tape, scotch tape (they gave me their own roll from behind the counter), Italian red wine, Turkish bread, challah bread, shoelaces, BiC lighters, miniature bananas, best stuffed grape leaves I’ve ever had, best stuffed cabbage leaves I’ve ever had, pomegranates, marinated canned eggplant, a small pair of scissors, industrial-size garage bags, Walker’s potato crisps, roasted cashews without peanut oil, Purdey’s (see below), and legit hummus in multiple flavors.

4. Crouch End is the one place in England I could consistently find my favorite drink, Purdey’s Rejuvenation, a spiced fruit juice full of ginseng, damiana leaf extract, and other strange revitalizing magics. I drank about fourteen a day and felt like a champ.

BIO: Adam Gnade's (guh nah dee) work is released as a series of books and records that share characters and themes; the fiction writing continuing plot-lines left open by the self-described "talking songs" in an attempt to compile a vast, detailed, interconnected, personal history of contemporary American life. Check out recent writing here and songs here. Contact: adam@asthmatickitty.com

Edible Prague!

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

When my husband and I traveled to Prague recently, a pattern to our days quickly emerged: walk and eat, walk and shop, walk and go to a museum, and repeat. Before the trip, I imagined shaking off my shy coat and boldly clanking glasses of pivo (Czech for beer) in slow motion with new found friends, the beer’s froth spilling onto the floor of a neighborhood pub with wide wood floors and leaded windows.

It may not have felt especially Bavarian, but the closest we came to finding a dream-pub was the excellent Pivovarsky, (Krizikova 17) a microbrewery with about 200 beers to boot. I’m not a big beer fan (I’d pivo pivoprefer a Lillet with a twist any day, thank you very much). But Drew, a home brewer, saw the hundreds of beer bottles lining the wall and went into some other dimension. To find Pivovarsky, we followed a fuzzy map and kept walking until things looked unbearably seedy (a real neighborhood!) and there it was, warm and bustling. The staff was jovial and the food looked bountiful—the place gives you a whole loaf of bread with each order. Too bad the by the time we arrived, we’d already eaten at Perfect.

Thankfully, Prague remained largely in tact after World War II. The apartment we stayed in was touching a building Kafka lived in later in life on Bilkova Street. There’s history everywhere, and walking around it’s easy to feel like you’re part of a very old bedtime story. Inside, many of the city’s buildings have been gutted, swept repeatedly, filled with mod furniture and painted bold colors. The restaurant Perfect pulled this aesthetic off with heart, creating the right balance of intimate ambiance with homey kitsch. The food was straightforward, fresh and memorable. My plate, spinach and smoked chicken gnocchi, was simple and honest-to-goodness one of the most glorious things I’ve ever tasted. The only thing better was my salad—bitter greens with cranberry compote and baked goat cheese.

Still full from dinner and drinks the night before, we stopped for coffee and pastry the next morning at Bakeshop started by an former New Yorker just off the main square. The exchange rate from dollar to euro was dreadful, but we were still tempted to carry out bags of the bakery’s flaky tarts, meringues the size of pancakes, and cherry pecan golden raisin bread (even if it did convert to about $25 dollars a loaf).


After breakfast, we felt like reading the newspaper, so we trekked to Globe, an ex-pat haven that first opened in 1993. It’s smoky, creaky, and a little hippie-dippie. With an English-language book and periodical shop in front, Globe is the kind of writing and reading place I dreamt finding in my college town. Patrons are intentionally scruffy; men with bed-heads and women with berets, drinking swimming pool-sized au laits.

After a full day of wandering around parks and exploring Prague Castle, relaxing with a glass of wine seemed in order. We stumbled upon the old and faithful Café Savoy, recently restored to its Art Nouveau glory after a couple of remodels. It’s easy to sip two glasses of wine and people watch here—the place was filled with an even split of eager tourists and grown up locals with sass. Drew left me to catch up on journaling while he went for a walk up Petrin Hill, and when we met up later, my stomach was empty and mind light from the wine.

Luckily, we found a gem at the venerable Cukr Kava Limonada (Praha 1 – Mala Strana, Lazenska 7), filling up with an herbed omelet and big, fresh plates of house-made taglitelle. Not sunny but warm, the cafe is decorated like the living room of your coolest Parisian aunt. Well fed, we shifted back to our apartment in the Jewish Quarter, past Tyn Church.

Near Tyn

There were merchants in the square selling metal work, painted eggs, and festive breads. Some schoolgirls dressed in traditional Czech outfits danced on a nearby stage. With Tyn looming bigger than a mountain behind us and with bellies full, “I could really live here,” Drew said. “Me too, easy,” I sigh. Trouble is, we say that about every place we travel, especially after a series of very excellent meals.

Sara Billups writes the blog Weatherspoon, a diary of living alongside the weather in the Great Northwest.

Brighton, England

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Photo by Dominic

fell in love with Brighton because of the beach and the winding streets and the old pier, which is burnt out and ruined, and the new one, which hosts a big New Jersey-style carnival with lights and people walking with ice cream cones and rides racing and whirling and clacking along their tracks.

The beach there is cobbles and it’s a steep beach. When the surf rolls up it you hear the big round stones clicking, grinding, and moving forward, and when it rolls back out you hear its retreat just as loud.

Before our show we walked past an old onion-domed palace a prince built for decadent parties, went down a busy little street market, and wound up in a junk store that stretched half the block and was filled with tortoise shell buttons in mason jars and shoe boxes of discarded family photos and purple beads and accordions and flapper dresses. (I bought myself an ancient photo of two elderly bathers sitting in a tepid-looking sea that looked more Atlantic than English Channel.)

At night the city was crazy and full of noise and people out on the town. After we played, I stood outside the club (the Hope) talking with some local kids and holding a paper-towel to the gouge above my eye that the drum-riser sliced when I jumped off it.

The Brighton kids were friendly, but a little too flashy (LA?) and definitely ready for the kind of parties I was trying to steer clear of.

I ducked away, climbed on our bus, and we headed back to an empty house to record all night.

In the morning while everyone slept I got up early and paced around the house, too restless to sleep in.

After a walk through the neighborhood looking for food, I took off for the beach and found it warm and sunny with a nice balmy breeze coming from the west. All tour we’d been shivering and rained on, but Brighton was warm with a good clean blue sky and a big yellow beachball of sun.

I stood against the railing on the boardwalk and watched the waves come in by the pier. Further down the beach, as it curved around into the hook of the bay, sat a set of factory towers pumping out steam, which held in the breeze and then billowed back inland in huge gushing plumes.

It was then that I was hypnotized and snatched up from my life and put into the photo I bought in the junk store. I was there in that little world of old timey swimsuits, bathing caps, light blue water, and gentle choppy surf. I felt totally removed from my life and from the journey of traveling around playing music for people. I forgot everything for that quick second and lived this new life that wasn’t mine. It felt good and right and solid. I was centered on solid ground and I was in my place.

Five minutes later the clouds came in and the breeze shifted until it was coming straight off the Channel and it was a cold one, a big grey freezing wind. Everything went back to the way it was, back to fall 2007, back to tour-life, and I headed off to meet up with the band.

That was Brighton. My favorite place in England.

BIO: Adam Gnade's (guh nah dee) work is released as a series of books and records that share characters and themes; the fiction writing continuing plot-lines left open by the self-described "talking songs" in an attempt to compile a vast, detailed, interconnected, personal history of contemporary American life. Check out recent writing here and songs here. Contact: adam@asthmatickitty.com

Indianapolis: a brief contemporal history

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Good evening.

Contemporal history – the study of history in relation to to the entire timeline – is still a burgeoning specialty, yet cities tend to crop up more than occasionally due to the strong connection between space and time as duly noted by my colleague.

Cities like Chicago, Kyoto, Changan, Orbit 17-Fifth, New New New York, Rome, and of course the third parallel version of Blaine Wisconsin, have received numerous and extensive treatments.

Indianapolis, however, is comparatively ignored by contemporal historians. Jessica Goodwin, in her Urban Places, Urban Time, wrote of Indianapolis that it “remains remarkably average throughout its entire six centuries of existence.” Historians have even written off or ignored Indianapolis’ slightly higher than normal amount of temporal incursion. A clone of David Schuller , in “Temporal Sprawl: An Examination and Dissection,” wrote that “Indianapolis has, yes, bent the timeline more than once. But this is due more to its convenient temporal location than its notability in the main timeline.” Even others have gone as far to suggest that Indianapolis is a “a retirement collective for worn out but well-to-do time travelers.”

Yet, I suggest that Indianapolis may hold more secrets than these contemporal historians give it credit for. In making these assumptions they have largely ignored recent temporal archeology efforts, some by researcher James Ilsin who discovered that the temporal activity was not only just above average, but that it was consistently above average. This poses something of a conundrum, as typical temporal activity is marked with highs and lows, not stability. The most obvious example is that of Blain, Wisconsin, for example, which sees no temporal activity until 3022 when activity suddenly spikes for nearly five hundred years and then just as suddenly drops off. Indianapolis though, has remained nearly at the same for all six hundred years of its existence.

With this paper I use this newer research to argue that Indianapolis is not a “retirement collective,” but that its average-icity may be something else, something more strategic, something more constructed. I am using the Ilsin Papers, but am also piecing together already available liqui-diaries of several well-known time travelers who, I believe, refer back to Indianapolis. I will of course abide by the Temporal Ethical Restrictions of 112, which prevent me from narrating the future from this point in the timeline. And due to the time constraints of this panel, I will leapfrog from moment to moment of the city’s history but will be presenting this material in full at later date.

I’m basing my three primary points here on the slight spikes in the Ilsin Graph. There are eight such points in Indianapolis temporal history, but for the sake of time I have chosen just three for their notability. I should mention that these are nominal, especially when compared to activity in other cities. But the fact that they are slight spikes in what is otherwise a plateau does indicate some kind of significance. The very first spike begins shortly after Indianapolis’ inception, and with a man named Alexander Ralston.

As a city, Indianapolis was born in the center. Later known as the “crossroads of America,” this was also true in its birth. Chosen exclusively as the center of the state and therefore easier to access by its elected officials spread up to its boundaries, this city of Indiana immediately became spatially – and therefore temporally – important.

But this was just plain luck. It was an architect and planner from Scotland, Alexander Ralston, who introduced the first true temporal incursion to Indianapolis. While in Washington, DC, Ralston had worked with Pierre L’Enfant, himself an accomplished temporal journeyman and accomplished urban planner. As Levar Isington demonstrates in his 2004 A Capital Without a Center, L’Enfant designed the nation’s capital so as to be one of the most widely used temporal crosspoints throughout the entire timeline. His ambitions were grandoise to be sure. But due to his egregious use of centers and multiplying connections in the city, he failed. Instead of designing a mecca, L’Enfant created an epic disaster, one that has taken generations of temporal engineers to repair.

Ralston studied under L’Enfant while in DC, and when he moved to Indiana for a quieter life he must have realized the state’s potential for a city that would slide under the radar, yet be large and important enough to serve as a receiving station for time travelers. He cozied up to Judge Christopher Harrison, the official assigned with the duty of determining the capital’s new location, and in 1821 Ralston began surveying a spot. He quickly developed a plan for Indianapolis, called the “Mile Square,” which took the basic grid design set up by Thomas Jefferson, but applied moderated L’Enfant temporal technique. The result was a circle in the center, with 8 “spokes:” Meridian, Market, and then 4 outlaying diagonal streets.

In Christopher Kaplan’s seminal 1996 A Built Language for Time, the architect speaks to the necessity of a city’s plan to employ the act of “urban encoding” to facilitate successful time travel.Kaplan of course does not admit it, but he does pull from L’Enfant’s technique, however failed. Ralston did the same, only with much more subtlety than Kaplan.

Ralston’s own life reflected this sense of slight difference, and has the marks of someone living outside one’s own time. He lived and died a bachelor . His closest friends were of different skin colors. Citizens of Indianapolis thought his house rather strange with its unusually numerous doors and windows, but everyone thought very highly of Ralston; honest, and a gentlemen of “extreme sensibilities.” Finally, Ralston tightly maintained his position of Marion County Surveyor until his death, perhaps to make sure that the city grew according to the plan.

Ralston’s actions paved the way for the third (I’m skipping the second) temporal incursion in Indianapolis’ history: the construction of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at the Circle.

Originally planned for Crown Hill Cemetery, and on a much smaller scale, a businessman named William Hayden English corralled plans for the Civil War memorial to the Circle – and therefore close to his hotel and opera house. This was not the first time English exercised influence. He started as a lawyer and worked as a clerk in the U.S. Treasury, slowly gaining prominence until he returned to Indiana to serve as a U.S. Representative for the state. He started First National Bank in 1863, and then moved his family to the most important place in the city: the Circle. He secured controlling interest in the Indianapolis Street Railway, and then began investing in real estate on the Circle, slowly buying up lots until he owned the entire northwest quadrant.

It was English’s speculation, coupled with a sudden boom from post-Civil War business in Indianapolis, that transformed the Circle from a place of residence to a place a business. By the time the English Hotel and Opera House opened in 1880, the Circle’s lots had gone from being entirely populated by homes and one firehouse, to having only two houses left – which were quickly bought up in the 1880s.

Throughout the Monument’s entire planning stage, which took nearly a decade, English exercised influence. For example, when artists like T. C. Steel decried the inclusion of an elevator – then perceived as an amusement – and accused English of profiteering from art. English replied that everyone, orphan and widow alike, should have the right to see the city.

Of course, even brief glances through the monolithic 10,000 page design guidelines set forth by the Association for Temporal Standards and Measurements shows that the Monument almost perfectly fits the description of a “Timeline Inhibitor and Interloper.” There are of course some dissimilarities; the use of bears in the supporting spires, for example, but the lack of trees and use of racial iconography is to par effectively show that English – and whomever was working with him – designed the Monument with an intention of preventing time travel into Indianapolis. Of course, the more interesting usage of the Monument would occur not much later during the carnival celebrating the turn of the millennium in 1900, effectively undermining and even, perhaps, transforming the intention of the Monument as interloper.

The differences between Ralston and English are stark. Ralston lived simply, and despite creating one of the only equitable city plans that still exists today in the United States, lived and died without grand recognition.Ralston’s body lays unmarked somewhere in Crown Hill Cemetery.

English’s body, on the other hand, was buried by the state governor at the Capital Building, where over 15,000 people paid their respects. English has an avenue named after him, and the English Foundation in Indianapolis continues to house and support many crucial city charities, including the YMCA. English also lives on another organization he helped found: the Indiana Historical Society, which maintains his collection of papers.

For whatever reason, that same Society would generally ignore the archive and recording of Indianapolis’ most significant spike in temporal activity: that of the Dust Bowl in the 1950s Indianapolis, a makeshift basketball court which crucibled a new breed of basketball players. Located near Indiana Avenue in Lockefield Gardens, a leftover WPA project built to house 748 African American families, the Dust Bowl was a a flat, grassless vacant lot that neighborhood kids converted with their imagination into a basketball court. A huge cloud of dust would kick up every day at 3pm when nearby Cripus Atticks let out school, and kids flocked to the court, some of them using tightly wound socks as a ball for lack of a real basketball.

It was on the Dust Bowl that these players slowly transformed basketball from a gently played sport for white, collegiate farmboys, to an aggressive, direct, and distinctly urban game. It was also on the court of the dustbowl that All-Star and MVP Oscar Robertson – the Big O – learned to play, and his no-nonsense style would change the sport forever. It would also change the way people in Indiana perceived blacks. When GeorgeMcGinnis, who played for the Indiana Pacers in the 70s, saw Dust Bowl alumni Robertson lead the Cripus Atticks high school team to victory for 45 consecutive games, “"It was like a win for us," McGinnis said. "Oscar was anointed at that point. He was our prince, our standard-bearer. He was the guy every African-American kid who picked up a basketball from that point on emulated." Later, Robertson would say that the style crafted at the Dust Bowl opened up the eyes of whites. "For a long time, people said blacks were lazy," he said. "They couldn’t think. They couldn’t play. They were not good students.” The Dust Bowl proved them wrong.

In 1980, a radical restructuring of the city as part of a semi-secret group’s city plan that included the famed Unigov ordered that much of Lockefield, including the now-paved Dust Bowl, be torn down to make way for a new urban center of learning: IUPUI. The Dust Bowl is now covered by lawn.

There are two fairly obscure sources that speak directly to the Dust Bowl’s significance, and to the strange heightened Ilsin graph anomaly. One was penned by a participant in the Battle of Yuris during the Praxis-Timewars, a small and contained battle but one that ultimately effected the entire war. “I asked my old friend why we’d survived, why we were among the few. He thought for a minute, then said that as long as I stuck around him I’d be alright; he’d been through the ‘Bowl and lived to tell about it.”

One more source, a liqui-memoir from the fourth eon spilled out by a yet unidentified space-bound race, directly refers to Robertson while facing possible extinction imposed by a hostile enemy. Translated as best we can into English, it reads, “If O. [sic] of the Sphere existed here, he would know what to do. Not win, but lead. Then hide.”

That last phrase “then hide,” is crucial. It speaks directly to the nature of Indianapolis. I contend the strange existence of people like Ralston , English, and Robertson, and the seemingly unnatural plateau of temporal activity, suggests that something else is happening in this city. It is entirely possible that the median nature of Indianapolis is actually a construct, one that hides some kind of conflict or resistance that its participants wish hidden from future observers. Indeed, such places must exist as certainly as there are hidden geographies in our present world. Who is doing the constructing, who is doing the hiding, and whom they are hiding from – is beyond the current availability of sources to even speculate.

Still, writing off Indianapolis as unimportant or insignificant on this timeline may be one of the clumsiest mistakes of contemporary contemporal historians. We are skilled at studying source-rich urban environments, like New New New York, and to some degree the lower end of the urban temporal vernacular. What we are not so accomplished at is examining the median, or what is commonly identified as the “norm.” Yet it may be in the median, the average, the center, that we may uncover one of this timeline’s greatest mysteries. Indianapolis is more than it seems, and it is up to this generation of scholars to uncover its secrets.