Trees and Traditions

Late last year, I read an article detailing the prominent place fig trees hold in the cultural imagination of Italian-Americans and, of course, their backyard gardens. A demographer can trace the path of Italian migration in the United States by simply tracking the fig trees. They can be found in neighborhoods throughout New York City and New Jersey, including my own in Jersey City. This recent article prompted me to think differently about the conception and discourse of urban history.

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Walking: A Re-Discovered Joy

Last week, I walked to the Village neighborhood in downtown Jersey City for the first time since the pandemic began in March. Although this slice of the city is only a twenty- or thirty-minute stroll from my home, I felt as if I was embarking upon a great quest or journey. During the past five plus months, I have left my immediate neighborhood no more than a half-dozen times. Since I don’t own a car, my few trips have been on foot.

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Gentrifier: A Book Review

A trio of academics attempt an engaging and instructive experiment with their recently published book, Gentrifier (University of Toronto Press, 2017). Through their own lives, John Joe Schlichtman, Jason Patch, and Marc Lamont Hill explore and challenge the ideas and parameters of gentrification.

Although the suburbs are anything but dead, an increasing number of Americans are choosing an urban life. Many cities (and historic streetcar suburbs) provide residents with walkable neighborhoods. More Americans want to step out their front doors and walk to a grocer, a cafe, or maybe even a movie theater. Meanwhile, Americans are rediscovering the needs and joys of community. These are encouraging, positive trends.

However, a renewed desire for urban living places pressure on cities’ housing markets. This leads to changes in the urban fabric and built environment. Boosters call this progress. Critics call it gentrification. A great debate concerning gentrification rages among activists, politicians, journalists, intellectuals, and everyday citizens in many improving cities and those poised for a rebound.

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