Tag Archives: Technology

RUSH THE HOUR

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n 2012, the French city of Rennes, with its fast growing metro area of 700,000 inhabitants, recognized it had lost control of its morning rush hour. Between 7:40 and 8:05 a.m. on the sole subway line, tension was mounting in the overcrowded train. Some riders were getting into physical scraps while others struggled to make an exit at their respective stops. Quips were increasingly made about the public transport functioning as a moving circus container, but there was a deeper unease at play.

By some mysterious force that same year, thousands of Rennes’ local university students had their schedules moved back by 15 minutes. One year later, the city’s notoriously crowded rush hour had thinned out by 17 percent. The unlikely puppeteers were a unit of social engineers called the Bureau des Temps, France’s well-oiled and omnipresent but often invisible Office of Time.

“When it’s crowded, the first reflex for public transportation operators would be to increase the number of subway carriages, not to go talk with the people who have the ability to control the rush,” says Evelyne Reeves, manager of Rennes’ Bureau de Temps.

Determined to find a more fundamental solution, Reeves spent a year meeting with “time producers” at universities, hospitals, local businesses and administrative offices. What Reeves and her colleagues in the bureau discovered was that by staggering the start-time of 18,000 university students at the local Université Rennes-2, they could engineer an effortless commute for the citizens of Rennes. And it worked.

The Bureaus des Temps are the clockmakers of contemporary urban life in France, juggling the diverse daily rhythms of French citizens with those of government and private institutions. Many initiatives have been put into motion in France over the past ten years, crafted from these studied attempts to enable its cities to function better.

Working with local firms, the city of Lyon has developed a virtual carpooling system for employees who live and work in the same area. In Paris, the city’s 20 arrondissements were once accustomed to Saturday morning wedding jams – it was the only window in which City Hall would be open. Now, the halls stay open through the afternoon in 9 arrondissements, transforming scrums of bored and anxious intendeds into blushing brides. In the French capital, where some swimming pools now stay open until 10 p.m., the sports clubs and associations who use them become the defacto employees for a few hours. In the southern Montpellier, the public library is now open on Sundays and until 9 p.m. during the week, holding students and avid readers in its aisles of narrative and out of the rush hour.

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With time becoming an increasingly valuable commodity around the world, in parallel with the greater use of new technologies, time management has become an essential concern, evidenced by vast supply of tips, lectures and books – something more capitalistic societies have been obsessed with since the 1980’s – but without the shrouded society of clockmakers to retool the gears of the city.

Through simple data collection, the bureaus work determinedly to identify the intricacies of their respective districts in order to improve the quality of time. They are governed by the belief that such is equal to quality of life, which in turn correlates to the virtues of a city and its ability to stay relevant and prosperous. “We produce surveys to understand how much time people are taking to get around the city, how they are using their leisure time,” says Lucie Verchère, manager of Espace des Temps in Lyon, where time and space are considered interconnected.

In the wake of World War II, the French went back to work and coined a famous expression anchored to the mundanity of their daily ritual: “Métro, Boulot, Dodo”, or “Subway, Work, Sleep.” It was this way until the city passed a law that would shorten the work week, resulting in leisure time as a new commodity. “It all started with the first Aubry law on the 35-hour working week and the new work-life balance it implied. We all knew it was going to change people’s needs and lifestyles,” says Verchère. But at first, there was a general perplexity around how to manage it.

One out of 8 French citizens now works on Sunday and more than 7 percent of employees have a night job. While the city dwellers enjoy living in a high-speed society, some pinpoint a social pressure to be time-efficient all day long.

“In the 19th century, the way people were dividing their time was easy – family, working in a field or in a factory and the church” says Reeves. But as life expectancy has increased by 31 years since then, French work time has been divided by 3 and leisure time multiplied by 4. “We’ve never had so much time for ourselves,” says Reeves, “yet we are living with a constant feeling of pressure.”

The Bureau des Temps originated in 1980’s Italy where a newly emerging feminist movement started challenging the burden of a double workday. Female breadwinners with children were caught between their responsibilities at work and at home. Recognizing the stakes, city offices organized committees to find solutions and ease the pressure of time by extending hours for city services.

In 1986, a communist deputy, Livia Turco, who would go on to become the Minister of Social Affairs, suggested the idea of “a right to time.” Since 2000, every Italian city with more than 30,000 residents has to feature a Progetto Tempi della Città, or a City Time project.

Similarly, some of the French offices started with a focus on gender equality to improve accessibility to city services such as childcare for women working unusual hours. In recent years, with gender equality inching towards equilibrium in France, the root focus has shifted to reflect a more vast and intricate society.

“We went interviewing all the [Paris] mayors with concrete questions. We did not want to philosophize,” Verchère explains of a 2002 project. After meetings with parents, childcare administrators and associations, the results were more nuanced than anticipated.

Thierry Halay, one of the project’s managers, is by trade an author of books on Paris’s history and neighborhoods, and co-founder of the Association of History and the 20th Archaeology Borough (AHAV). He recalls,“We realized that residents in East Paris – which includes a significant part of low-skilled jobs – would prefer day nurseries opening early in the morning, while residents in western Paris featuring more executives asked for late-afternoon shifts.”

But extending opening hours means longer working hours for employees, which in turn often leads to collective bargaining regarding wages and working conditions. And naturally, cities are inherently full of conflicting objectives and agendas.“You get neighbors in popular nightlife areas who complain more and more about the noise, you get bar owners who complain about legal rules of closing time and liquor-licensing laws and you get night workers concerned by their safety,” explains Thierry Charlois, the nightlife project manager of the city of Paris.

Verchère refers to the early years of 2004 and 2005 as a golden age for these Bureaus des Temps, acknowledging that “… afterwards, we realized that [the subject of] time in urban public policy is a much more cross-disciplinary issue. [So] we have become an innovation lab.”

After working on mobility and flexible working hours, the main focus of her work has been set on leading new projects such as “Gare Remix” which calls on transportation users to share clever ideas on what useful or fun things people could do while waiting for their train. Meanwhile, in Paris, the focus of the Bureau des Temps has shifted towards nightlife.

Verchère concludes, asserting the importance of these near mythical collections of time makers – “Digital technologies cannot solve all issues. Most people consider the fastest way to drop one child at school and another one at kindergarten during their morning commute without the help of an app.”

Artwork by Trash Riot.

Stupid Trife Shit

The famously wry author of Go The Fuck to Sleep sketches a semi-autobiographical portrait of 90’s Brooklyn and rap dreams gone up in smoke.

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he apartment in Fort Greene was like a dynasty in the late stages of decline by the time I moved in.  When 156 Adelphi Street started getting handed down from friend to friend, it was a princely thing, an honor, to live there—and it was a direct line of descent. Guys and girls as cool as the original three—who were all musicians in a funk band that became a different funk band, then became a reggae band, then became a High Life band, then blew up—filled up the vacancies, and for maybe ten years during the lateish eighties to lateish nineties, it wouldn’t have been unusual to walk into the living room and find anybody who’d ever lived there hanging out still.

I inherited Carlos’s spot when he bounced to Williamsburg in the spring of ’97, but then I had to take a trip and couldn’t actually move in until the fall, so I sublet the room to my man Twenty-Twenty, who’d been looking for a chance to leave Boston (like every hip-hop producer living in Boston) and, more specifically, his parents’ basement. This cool-ass girl named Sue, who was most definitely in the direct line of descent and her then-boyfriend were about to occupy the big room, which had also just become vacant, and this off-brand cat named Dakar was in the middle room.

By off-brand, I mean he was nowhere near the line of descent, in terms of this particular circle of artist-musician-writer types, who had mostly attended one of two colleges uptown, some graduating and an almost-equal number dropping out. Dakar worked with Carlos at an after-school center around the way. Carlos taught the kids to paint and stuff; I never really knew what Dakar did, unless he taught them to be thieving lying scumbags, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In terms of my own lineage, I was a half-prince, maybe.  I’d arrived at college just as the dynasty’s founders were leaving, but I’d rhymed with the band a few times and briefly dated a girl who was a definite dynastic queen and a former 156 Adelphi resident herself—although dated is too strong a word.

By the time I got back to town, 156 Adelphi had been reconfigured. Sue and her man had broken away, citing “bad vibes.” A couple hundred bucks they’d left lying atop a dresser had vanished, and they blamed Twenty-Twenty—he was the guy nobody knew, after all, and an oddball to be sure: six-four, bigheaded and long-dreaded, a mumbly cat who stayed in his room making beats and smoking blunt after blunt with our other man from back home, Knowledge Born, who was living with his moms and little brother a few blocks away.

Dakar, meanwhile, had been holding down 156 Adelphi for two years, plus he had a nice smile and he worked with kids. He was Your Friendly Neighborhood Dread, and he knew how to make white people, which Sue was one of, heave invisible sighs of satisfaction when they realized that this burly, ex-college-football-playing dude was just a big ol’ teddy bear.  He dated white women exclusively (that is, the women he dated three at a time were exclusively white), and all his homeys were white too, facts which would later coalesce into supporting evidence against him—as would his tendency to bump the Wyclef Jean album while getting his ass whipped in chess by me or Twenty-Twenty, or even Knowledge Born who couldn’t play for shit.

Sue didn’t confront Twenty-Twenty or anything, she just packed up her stuff and bounced, leaving Twenty-Twenty enveloped in a cloud of suspected sketchiness but also with a vacant room to move into rather than returning to Boston when the summer ended.  So the reigning crew was me, Twenty-Twenty and Dakar, and 156 Adelphi’s illustrious past became a flickering memory.

It was an awkward situation at first, in that Dakar was on some real “Hey fellas, what’s the plan for tonight” instant-Three-Musketeers shit.

Twenty-Twenty and I had known each other since the days of jumping over our own legs at house parties, and we both came up at a time when hip hop was a participation-based, dues-paid-up-front thing. If you didn’t rhyme, breakdance, spin records or write graffiti, you weren’t shit—you were corny, a civilian. That’s what Dakar sounded like to us: a civilian trying to find out where the jam was at. He’d come hang out in Twenty-Twenty’s room when K Born visited and we did our customary freestyle-and-blunt-cipher thing, but he couldn’t flow or deejay so he just kind of took his hits and took up space.

Nevertheless, by October we’d more or less upgraded Dakar to the status of family—partly because it’s hard not to treat somebody that way if they’re already playing the role, and partly because, through a misapplication of the transitive law of mathematics, we’d decided that if you’re cribbed up with a dude, then by definition he’s gotta be fam or else you’re wack for living with a sucker. Also, to be fair, Dakar was a perfectly plausible cat to sit around and smoke and play chess and talk shit and listen to music with. He brought home more food and beer than any of us, and better weed, and he was generous with all of it. Another factor was that Knowledge Born was quickly revealing himself to have become—in the two years we hadn’t seen him much—something of a freeloading wino, although he could still rhyme his ass off. The spectacle of him crashed out on our living room futon, after keeping everybody up until 3 with one of his cokeheaded God-Body-Science slick-talk rants, tended to provide the bulk of the domestic unrest at 156 Adelphi in those days.

In hindsight, Dakar did plenty of things that, to quote your boy Arsenio, should have made us go Hmm.  Or did make us go Hmm, but didn’t form an alarming enough of a pattern for us to really say “Hold up, this bears serious investigation.” He was always conniving one or another of his waifish, none-too-brilliant girls for one thing: screwing Chickenhead A while Chickenhead B thought he was out of town for the weekend. He’d make me and Twenty-Twenty answer the phone and lie for him sometimes, and once or twice even get the door while he hid in his room. So it’s not like Dakar was fuckin’ Airtight Willie with his mack game. I know now, as a grown-ass man, that anybody so gleeful and braggadocious about dogging women will dog anyone, given the chance, but at the time I probably half-admired Dakar’s half-assed pimpology.

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ll our friends were young and idiotic and a little sleazy back then anyway. Twenty-Twenty, for instance, was so broke he’d buy a Heineken at the bodega, hide it in his jacket, and bring it into a bar so he didn’t have to buy a drink, then approach women with the same moronic line about being Puffy’s cousin over and over until he’d been categorically rejected by every female in the place—unless enough of them complained to the bouncer first, and he was asked to leave. Knowledge Born, in lieu of a job, would resell nickel bags as dimes to the outtatowners with whom his mom attended grad school.  I myself trooped up to my old college radio station at least once a month and stole as many rare slabs of vinyl as I could inconspicuously carry, then sold them to Son, You Ain’t Hip-Hop, the snotty British record spot in the Village. And I had a job.

So everybody did their little dirt or whatever. I guess it’s ironic, then, that Dakar’s squeaky-clean routine was what made us perk up our ears and be like, This dude is
full of shit.  For me, bells started clanging the day he came home from work with a zip drive (they probably go for 13 cents on Ebay now, but in ’97 they were the new computer thing) and was like, “My job let me borrow this. Can you use it?” I said no. Then a few days later it was, “My job said I could keep it. Do you know anybody who might wanna buy a zip drive?”

Maybe everything would have turned out different if I’d looked him in the eye right then and said, “Motherfucker, nobody cares if you boosted a zip drive from your job. Just say ‘Yo, I boosted a zip drive from my job’ and don’t expect me to believe your boss strolled up to you and said ‘Hey, Dakar, why don’t you take this random expensive piece of computer hardware home for a few days, even though your ass doesn’t own a Playstation, much less a computer?’”

Or the time he claimed he’d done this painting we had in the crib. It was of the metal latticework on the fire-escape door, which might sound dumb but it was actually quite a beautiful piece that kind of tied the indoors to the out, if that makes any sense. I knew for a fact that the dynastic queen I mentioned before, the one I’d semi-dated, had painted it when she lived at 156. One day when I ran into her at a party she said she’d like to have it back. I thought it was a shame to let it go, and also that it wouldn’t really make any artistic sense divorced from its inspiration, but I said cool, come over whenever, I’ll put it aside for you. So I went home and took it down, and that’s when Dakar told me he’d painted it.  That there were two versions of the same painting—she did one and so did he, and this was his.

Never mind that nobody had ever seen the dude anywhere near a paintbrush in his life.  He got me. I was like, “Okay, if you say so,” and I left it alone. Because—and this is a good lesson—the way to tell a lie is not to make it simple, like some people say, or outlandish, as others believe. The key is for the lie to appear completely unmotivated.  That will throw 90 percent of the lied-to off the trail.

Shit got heavy around February. By that time, our hip-hop thing had evolved from freestyle ciphers to actual recording sessions, albeit on a crappy-ass eight-track in Twenty-Twenty’s room. But the music was starting to come together, and a local label was offering to press our 12-inch. We’d added a fourth cat, my man Roam the Wanderer from Queens, who was keyed into the dynasty by way of rhyming in a hip-hop offshoot of the original 156 Adelphi funk band.

His living situation was a little tenuous, some murky thing involving a relationship that had ended well before the lease on the apartment he and ol’ girl shared, so Roam just started unrolling his sleeping bag on our living room floor every night. He was one of those camouflage-wearing urban-frontiersman-monk-weedhead-mad-genius motherfuckers, who traversed the city with all kinds of gear and ponchos and Wilkerson wrenches and flare guns crammed into a big Army-surplus rucksack, and he could pass out anywhere—sometimes with a lit blunt in hand or a fork halfway to his mouth. He got up before anybody, however, and used the alone time to clip his toenails on the kitchen floor, or do calisthenics in his drawers. Twenty-Twenty would walk out of his bedroom in the morning, empty tea mug in hand, see that, wrinkle up his nose and turn right back around.

It’s pretty shortsighted to be crapping where you eat when there are four dudes holding down the spot, none of them with any loyalties to you, right? I mean, if you’re Dakar and you’re move-faking on a major level, you’ve either got to truly swear you’re slick or have major psychological issues and not understand the ramifications of your actions. When all the facts were out in the open, a good case for the latter started to emerge, in light of some of Dakar’s lies being totally nonsensical—like telling us the rent was 80 bucks less than it really was.

It started with a phone bill. Dakar called Twenty-Twenty from the Verizon office, where he’d gone to get our service turned back on after we’d been sloppy and forgotten to pay, and told him that we owed another 60 bucks for reinstatement or whatever, and he, Dakar, didn’t have it. Twenty-Twenty reluctantly gave the Verizon guy his credit card number and we got our dialtone back. The next day Roam swung through and told us that when his phone got turned off there hadn’t been no 60-dollar reinstatement fee. Hmm. Twenty-Twenty called Verizon. Sure enough.

We sat on that until the weekend, knowing Dakar was going upstate to see some buddies he worked with at a summer camp or something. The minute he was gone, me, Twenty-Twenty, Knowledge Born and Roam convened a council of war. First we ransacked his room, on what you’d call a fact-finding mission. And boom, some petty you-deserve-an-asswhipping money shit became a beef you could legitimately kill or at least permanently disfigure a dude over.

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hat we found, aside from a bunch of nasty porno mags (which, oddly, featured nothing but black women) was a nightstand drawer full of the kind of overdue rent notices they slip under your door when you’re seriously fucking up. Month by month we’d been falling deeper into debt, by the amount Dakar was supposed to pay plus 80 bucks. As the ranking member of the apartment, he made it his job to collect our checks to the holding company. He’d been mailing them in, he just hadn’t been writing his own. We owed about 4,000 dollars, and they were threatening to take us to court and throw us out. Why they’d even been this patient was a mystery.

Then we found the lease and it started to make more sense, and less. I have no idea how E.B. Holding Co. managed to botch a simple document so badly, given that they’d been getting checks with people’s correct info on them all along, but damn near every name on the thing was an amalgam, a misspelling, or an outright fiction. They had Dakar as Darnell, and instead of his last name, Troutman, they had him as Fuentes—Carlos’s last name. I was Alan Mursbucci. Twenty-Twenty wasn’t listed at all, but one of the original dynasty dudes, a trumpet player named Joel who’d been gone for probably eight years, was still a lease-holder. His was the only name typed right.

Again, and maybe I’m just saying this to make myself feel better, if Dakar had sat us down, shown us the lease and said, “Fellas, none of us is legally responsible for this rent money. How ‘bout we stop paying and ride it out as long as we can?” me and Twenty-Twenty woulda been like “Bet.” Who knows, maybe Dakar figured consistent two-thirds payments would keep the holding company at bay—or maybe he figured nothing at all. As I stood in his room, sifting through this mess of sheets red-stamped with Past Due and Final Warning and Eviction Pending, I imagined Dakar sneaking to the front door early in the morning and snatching up the notices before any of us saw. Why had he kept them, though?

In the same drawer was Dakar’s phone book. Twenty-Twenty grabbed it. “I’m calling everybody in this nigga’s life,” he said. This might be the time to mention that despite his various and sundry eccentricities, Twenty-Twenty had grown up in a household where chess was important, and his end game was no joke. He saw the board the way they say point guards see the floor, he knew how to cut off the enemy’s retreat routes before commencing his attack. I looked at him then and knew that’s what he was doing. He’d already decided that Dakar was about to be homeless. Twenty-Twenty wanted to make sure he stayed that way.

None of us was ready to put a plan together yet, and confirming the breadth of Dakar’s scumbaggery seemed like a way to build up to it. I called the after-school center, got his boss on the line and told him the zip drive story, and the rent story too just for context’s sake, careful to frame my motivation as concern, not vengeance. By the time I hung up, Dakar’s job was all over but the shouting.

Knowledge Born left a detailed message for the summer camp director Dakar was so chummy with, on some very convincing think-of-the-children shit. Twenty-Twenty hollered at every one of Dakar’s girls we’d met or talked to or heard of, and even gave them each other’s phone numbers in case they wanted to cross-reference the dates and times on which they’d been two-timed. He tried to get one of them to meet him at Frank’s Lounge for a drink, too, but that’s another story. When there were no bridges left to torch, the four of us sat down over a bottle of Ray & Nephews overproof Jamaican rum and 25 dollars worth of cheap, greasy Chinese takeout and got serious.


It was Twenty-Twenty’s idea to run the portable tape recorder when we confronted Dakar, so whatever he said he couldn’t unsay. But it was me and Knowledge Born who sampled the sounds of screams and baseball bats against flesh, and made a song called “The Truth” the following afternoon. I’m listening to it right now, on a Maxell cassette labeled in black marker, and it’s some disturbing shit. Part of me is proud that we turned an ugly thing like kicking a dude’s ass and throwing him out of his house into art, but it’s some pretty ugly art.  Even though I was going through my sound-like-Rock-from-Heltah-Skeltah phase, dropping my voice about 12 octaves, you can hear the emotional rawness there, the attempt to tell a story that hasn’t been processed yet, the bravado layered over something rappers are supposed to pretend doesn’t exist—maybe remorse. The song starts with us trading off, line for line. Knowledge Born sounds like he’s still amped, like he took a quick time-out from the beatdown to step into the studio and drop a verse. I sound exhausted.

You got treated like family
Uncannily, I got suspicious
The truth shall set you free
But if you lyin’ we turn vicious
Extended the benefit of the doubt
and heard you out
your facts don’t correlate
Grab your shit and just be out
Before I have to go upside your head
to change your mindstate
When I find snakes, there’s no mistake
I’ll see you at the wake
I peep every move you make
plus I know the girl you date
She told me everything…
that’s how I know you fake

When Dakar arrived home, the four of us were sitting in the living room, waiting. Twenty-Twenty, as planned, told him, “Sit down, we need to talk to you.” Dakar’s eyes darted to me as he sank onto the futon, but I kept my face flat. Knowledge Born and Roam were on the other couch. All our weapons were beneath our seats: Roam and K Born had bats, I had a hammer, and Twenty-Twenty, standing above Dakar, was leaning on a metal cane someone had left behind.

“I called Verizon,” Twenty-Twenty said, hand on his hip. “There’s no such thing as a reinstatement fee. You owe me sixty bucks.” Dakar looked up at him—probably relieved that was all, and ready to talk his way free of it. The cane hadn’t registered yet.
“It wasn’t a reinstatement fee, dude, it was the money we owed on the bill. Plus they said they had to charge us for basic service in advance because we didn’t pay.” Dakar looked around the room, then raised his voice a little, slapped his palms against his knees and bowed his arms out from his sides. “What, you think I tried to rip you off?” he asked.

It was interesting to see how quick he played the wounded indignation card. I could see why it was so effective with people like Sue, or even Carlos: it forced your hand, made you feel guilty and unsure, yet at the same time there was a note of intimidation in it, like You’d better back off quick because even a righteous man will rise up to defend his honor, and lest you forget I happen to be a large bear-like motherfucker.

We’d agreed to pick Dakar apart point by point, try to get him to cop to the small offenses before we raised the major stuff, but that opening statement killed Twenty-Twenty’s patience. He dipped into his room for a second, Dakar still trying to clarify the phone situation to our satisfaction.
“You can call Verizon right now. Ask them if we—”

Twenty-Twenty reappeared and dropped the stack of overdue notices into Dakar’s lap. “You know what? Fuck the phone bill. Why are we four thousand dollars in debt?”

I gotta give Dakar credit. His face fell, but he picked it right back up and tried to turn the shit around.

“What the fuck were you doing in my room?” he said to Twenty-Twenty, rising off the couch a few inches.

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nowledge Born sprang to his feet. “These niggas ‘bout to get evicted!” he shouted. “You better tell ‘em something!”

“This has nothing to do with you, K Born,” Dakar said, all paternal like this was family business and if the guests couldn’t keep quiet then he’d have to ask them to step outside so the three of us could discuss matters in private.

“It’s got plenty to do with me,” I said, cold, and Dakar’s head snapped over. I reached under my seat and picked the hammer up. “Why are we four grand in debt, Dakar? Why are you hiding bills?”

The bats came out from under the couch and Dakar stood. “I can explain!” he yelled, finally starting to appreciate his situation. He sputtered for a second, just long enough not to explain, and then Knowledge Born hit him in the shoulder with an aluminum bat left over from some long departed’s softball league of yore. Roam swung next, another body blow, and then Twenty-Twenty doubled Dakar with a cane jab to the stomach. I dropped my hammer. I’d been pretty sure I wasn’t going to use it.

We all backed off, and Roam yelled, “Why are we four grand in debt?” and Dakar, balled up on the couch, said “Fuck you, you don’t even live here!” and got hit again.
We all deserve a lot of credit, in some ways. Four on one, with baseball bats and whatnot, you could easily kill a dude. We kept it civilized. Nobody hit him in the head—except once, sort of, ten minutes in, after countless starts and stops and fruitless tell-us-the-truths. Dakar was punch-drunk and leaning back against a wall while Twenty-Twenty shouted the same questions at him and swung the bat in the air to keep him at bay. For some reason, Dakar walked into the swing and got clipped in the forehead.

When all the facts were out in the open, a good case for the latter started to emerge, in light of some of Dakar’s lies being totally nonsensical, like telling us the rent was eighty bucks less than it really was.

It was scary. His eyes rolled back and he buckled at the knees, but he stayed on his feet. That’s what Dakar gets credit for—being tough as rocks. He took a ton of punishment, and he never really went down, or gave up. But he never admitted anything either, except that he didn’t really paint that painting. I threw it at his feet somewhere in between, during a bit of a lull—right after I flipped the tape over, as a matter of fact, so 45 minutes in—and was like “Who painted this shit?!” He looked up at me, groggy-eyed from being beaten, and muttered the dynasty queen’s name.

Our goal was to get Dakar out of the apartment, to convey the clear message that he was no longer living at 156 Adelphi. It was harder than it should have been. For a while in the beginning he kept trying to break for the door, but we weren’t done with him and he couldn’t get past us. By the time we were ready to throw his ass out, though, Dakar would not be moved. That was when the whole dreadlock justice thing went down.

Roam, Knowledge Born and Twenty-Twenty, all dreads themselves, decided that Dakar had forfeited his right to wear locks, and so Twenty-Twenty went to get a kitchen knife. Dakar went wild when he saw it, lifting up his tattered shirt and yelling, “You gonna fuckin’ cut me, Twenty-Twenty? Huh? Go ahead then, fuckin’ cut me!” Twenty-Twenty, in his goofy nasal voice, answered “Naw, man, I’m not gonna cut you, I’m gonna take your locks”—and that freaked Dakar out more than the thought of being stabbed. We got him on the ground, and the three of them yanked each and every last dread out of Dakar’s dome. I helped hold him down, but a white boy has no place ripping out a dread’s locks, so I took no direct part in that. Dakar was wrenching back and forth, bellowing “Take them! Take them all!”  So that was what finally broke him. When we let him up, he took off running.

You know a man has done some foul shit in his life when you kick his ass and throw him bald and bleeding into the street, and the person he runs to calls you and instead of yelling “What the fuck!”, she just sighs and says, “What did Dakar do now?” That’s what Christine, his ex-girl from up the street, asked me an hour later over the phone. I told her, and then she asked if Dakar had cheated on her while they were together. Hell yes, I said. With that girl Barbara, she wanted to know. Among others, I said. Then Christine threw him out, too.

Dakar came over the next day to get his stuff when I was the only one home. I took a knife out of the dishwasher and slid it up my shirtsleeve before I opened the door. He was twice my size and could have killed me a dozen different ways in a fair fight and I was scared to death. I only let him in because I suspected he was too humbled to attack me—not by the violence, but his own unmasking.

I was right. We smoked a blunt over the chessboard, and he begged me not to call anybody else in his phonebook, especially his mother or the camp people. He’d already lost his job, he said. I promised I wouldn’t. I didn’t tell him the light on the camp guy’s answering machine was already blinking.  He filled a duffel bag with clothes and left.
That was the last time I ever saw Dakar. For as long as I lived in Brooklyn, I kept expecting to run into him, or hear something, or get jumped on my way home and beaten senseless. But he just disappeared. When the story of what had happened at 156 Adelphi got around, all kinds of people stepped up with, “Yeah, I always knew that dude was shady” stories. None of those clowns had said the first thing by way of warning when I was moving in. That’s that hippie shit, I guess.

Knowledge Born moved into Dakar’s room, and Roam took over the futon, and we never wrote another rent check. You’d think a free crib would help cats get ahead—let them stack dough, give them time to do music—but it was the opposite.  Twenty-Twenty quit his job. Knowledge Born became a full-time drinker, and eventually killed our record deal by going to the studio hammered and belligerent one too many times and convincing the label dude that he was more trouble to work with than he was worth. The label dude was Roam’s boy, and when the deal fell through Roam and Knowledge Born came to blows in the middle of the living room. Twenty-Twenty and I broke it up, but the two of them couldn’t really be in the same room after that—not alone together, anyway.

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o more music got recorded. Cats started having arguments over who’d smoked the roach in the ashtray, who’d eaten the last of the rice, whose turn it was to go to the bodega—petty shit that only broke fools squab over. One night around two in the morning, when Knowledge Born refused to stop running his mouth, Twenty-Twenty walked across the room and just straight knocked him out, big right hand to the jaw. The next day, it was like it hadn’t even happened.

By the time E.B. Holding finally took us to court, we owed a little over ten grand. Twenty-Twenty and I put on ties and went to housing court, already talking about how much a storage unit would run us. We spent all morning listening to folks who owed five, six, seven times what we did plead their cases, and either get put on payment plans or get their two weeks notice. Our case was the last one called before lunch. E.B. Holding hadn’t bothered to show up and the judge dismissed their complaint.

I moved the fuck out of 156 a month later, one week after Twenty-Twenty pawned his eight-track and the possibility of any more music being made had vanished. Most of the furniture was mine, so when I bounced the apartment was reduced to crackhead status, two chairs and a half-broken TV. The phone got disconnected shortly afterward, so if you wanted to visit you just had to show up. Cats were always home, anyway. The doorbell didn’t work, but neither did the deadbolt, so it all evened out. I didn’t go that much, though. Blood was still smeared on the one lampshade I hadn’t taken with me, and I knew Twenty-Twenty kept Dakar’s yanked-off dreadlocks stored in a Dutchmaster cigar box in his room.

K Born and Twenty-Twenty lasted another fourteen months, running the tab past thirty grand before E.B. Holding finally threw them out. Twenty-Twenty lost it when that happened—got drunk, broke back into the apartment, and smashed every window in the place. Somebody called the cops, and he spent the night in The Tombs before migrating back to his parents’ house with nothing to show for his two years in New York but a backpack full of eight-track tapes. And like all things, the dynasty came to an end. Whoever lives at 156 Adelphi now, I don’t know them.

MOUNTAINS SHOOK

A firsthand look inside the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake.

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ibetan myth claims the Kathmandu Valley was created by Manjushree, a powerful saint who flew across the water-filled hollow and sliced the spiny Chobhar ridge in two, just south of the modern capital. With his mighty sword he opened this great fissure, allowing the water to funnel away and civilization to begin.

Geological research suggests Kathmandu was an expansive lake thirty thousand years ago. As epochs unfolded, a terrain surfaced, and the receding water unearthed a fertile valley, ideal for human settlement. These verdant plains gave rise to the Licchavi, a kingdom of northern Indian descent, whose kings would build the Pashupatinath Temple and the royal palace of Durbar Square. Later centuries saw the division of Nepal’s three kingdoms —Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Lalitpur— before Prithvi Narayan Shah, a ruler of the Ghurka people, unified this small nation in 1769.

At 11:56 am on April 25, 2015, a great force ripped through the soft layers of sediment. Its source was not mythical, instead the result of two tectonic plates sliding across one another nearly 15 kilometers below the earth’s surface. The tremor shook the small land-locked nation of Nepal for 30 seconds, from the soft valley floor to the peaks of the Himalayas, shifting the earth’s crust ten feet.

It’s been just under 24 hours in transit from Hong Kong, and I’m dozing off on a Thai Airlines commercial flight-turned-emergency relief vessel—passengers dressed for disaster separated by a handful of reporters and photographers. The pilot breaks the hours-long silence as we enter Nepalese airspace, “We are currently number eight in queue.” Three hours later, we land under the haze of light rain and get our first glance of Nepal.

In the 200-meter walk from tarmac to terminal, we pass Chinese, Indian and U.S. military aircraft. The latter, which arrived just hours earlier, lay open with personnel and supplies still littering the runway. Arriving in the hangover of a natural disaster renders one temporarily speechless; my open notebook dampens in the haze of a light rain.

The 7.8 magnitude quake had fractured and tumbled infrastructure throughout the capital of Kathmandu. The night before I arrived, thousands of people—residents and visitors alike—attempted to flee, lining the airport entrance and spilling out into the approaching road. Today, frustrated faces of those who remain are pressed up against the small terminal’s glass windows—their eyes alight with hope that the plane we’ve only just disembarked from would soon be their escape route.

At baggage claim, bags stuffed with tents, dehydration salts and instant noodles fill a conveyor belt struggling under the weight. Beside stacked flats of bottled water are camera and video cases heavily adorned with stickers and logos. Beside them, a disoriented young couple’s baby bag and stroller mark an unceremonious return
to their native Nepal.

The airport is the heart of Nepal’s disaster response, pumping much-needed resources throughout the country. American medical technicians stand beside consular staff, who stand shoulder to shoulder with Japanese relief workers, all studying the slowly rotating conveyor belt. Behind them, waves of urban search and rescue teams in bright colored helmets and matching uniforms stream down the airport’s only escalator into the crush of emergency responders now forming amid the chaos.

In Gortex, flourescence, and often Keen shoes, the groups huddle like professional sports teams waiting on equipment, their conversations consisting of anxious snippets at levels just audible over an impatient and growing din. As team members check their phones for signals and hurriedly thumb arrival messages to colleagues, I’m drawn to a backlit welcome sign in the arrival bay: Are you a tourist? Looking for a Kathmandu Tour? asks the first, with sunny photographs of Pashupatinath Temple, Boudhanath and Bhaktapur.

Only one of those three sites survived the earthquake unscathed.

“Everything is crooked.” I write on my first night on the ground, while walking the broken streets of Kathmandu. Near one of the city’s teaching hospitals, in a neighborhood called Baluwatar, I stumble across the skeleton of a five-story building, its innards spilling into a street filled with responders.

This building had housed a tax office, a fruit market and a tea shop. Just yesterday, police and rescue workers extracted six dead bodies. Now, crews are still there scraping and bending the piled debris with an industrial backhoe. Locals stand off to the side in silence, some because the last text messages sent by their loved ones lead them back to this mound of mangled office chairs and half-buried binders.

From behind the caution tape, my gaze falls upon a pile of brick and splintered wood denting in the roof of a car it had fallen upon, killing a passenger. The impact had bent the chassis with unthinkable force. As the dusk fades to darkness, I come across a dog, unseen but unsettled, baying endlessly—longingly—into the anxious night.

By morning, I’m traveling to Bhaktapur in the back-seat of a van organized by the United States Consulate, following the US Disaster Assistance Rescue Team (or DART) on one of their daily reconnaissance patrols. We pull into the ancient village—a former seat of the Newar King—and understand the term exacting damage. The Vatsala Durga Temple, built by King Jagat Prakash Malla (debated as 1672 or 1727), has been reduced to a pile of stones in the town square. Nepal’s tallest temple, Nyatapola, lay in pieces; its sculpted guardians, fused to the simple stone staircase, are all that remain.

Ducking underneath low-hanging electrical wires, I climb through countless debris-filled trenches and narrow alleyways. Every few steps I glimpse corners of a scarf, a book, a utensil. I come upon residents digging free these very fragments of everyday life, after days without assistance. The DART team members, structural engineers in tow, scour available sight-lines for evidence of voids: pockets within collapsed buildings where the living might survive for days. “There are always miracles,” Mike Davis, an urban search and rescue team leader for DART, told me earlier that morning. “This isn’t so much science as it is an art.”

Residents and experts insist the worst structural damage has occurred somewhat paradoxically in the country’s oldest and and newest construction: older structures lacked earthquake proof designs, while some of the newer had been hastily constructed with little regard for safety codes. As a result, rescue and recovery teams have spent hours trying to ensure their patrols are effectively targeted.

I walk the rubble with Sajan Timilssina, 30, who says he has counted 50 friends and family members among the missing. He speaks of the hidden impact of the temblor: the price of tents and basic food supplies had doubled in the 24 hours following the quake. Timilssina is heavy-set, his deep voice tinged with anger and disbelief. He breaks the flow of conversation often, asking—as if to some power beyond these shattered streets, How can this happen to his city? Of course, there are many people—from seismologists to development and disaster relief workers familiar with the geological underpinnings who knew an earthquake like this was not a question of if, but when.

Nepal sits on a terrible crack, one of the worst on the planet: a trough of soft silt directly above the young and active Eurasian and Indian plates. Their fault lines traverse most of Kathmandu Valley’s floor, making it vulnerable to the earth’s instability. Therein lies Nepal’s prolific history of high magnitude earthquakes.

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In 1934, an 8.4 magnitude quake killed more than 16,500 people and damaging 318,000 homes. In 1988, a 6.9 quake killed 721, injured 6,500 more, and destroyed just under 65,000 structures.

For any given year, there are roughly four earthquakes in excess of magnitude 7.5 worldwide. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, larger earthquakes can have “larger rupture surfaces” which radiate something called “long-period energy”. In these quakes, like the April 25 shock, the earthquake’s energy is spread over more time, reducing the violent shaking that often shatters foundations and topples structures.

But April’s earthquake was different: the disaster showed the “tremendous disparity in the lethality of earthquakes,” Brian E. Tucker told The New York Times. Tucker runs GeoHazards International works with officials in Kathmandu in conjunction with his other NGO, National Society for Earthquake Technology-Nepal, to improve build characteristics of schools and hospitals, steps that maybe able to curb the average death toll in an earthquake from tipping into the tens of thousands. Whether referring to the laws that control how buildings are constructed, or how city services are organized, Tucker’s implication was that the true damage of an earthquake is not tied to seismic measure, it is intimately related any country’s persistent weaknesses.

Published estimates claim 75 percent of Kathmandu’s buildings were destroyed or deemed unsafe after the 7.8 magnitude tremor. In addition, 60 percent of heritage buildings had also been badly damaged, according to Nepal’s UNESCO chief Christian Manhart. According to the Nepalese government, post-quake reconstruction would cost more than 10 billion dollars and experts warned the number of deaths might climb to the tens of thousands. By that Tuesday evening, three days after the nation shook, the number was 4,800, with more than 9,200 injured.

But none of this was a surprise, either.

In a report authored by GeoHazards International in 1997, experts noted the “seismic record of the region, extending back to 1255, suggests that earthquakes of this size occur approximately every 75 years” and that a devastating earthquake is “inevitable in the long term.” This event was already written.

Five days after the quake, I’m standing outside Kathmandu’s American Club scanning a sea of climate controlled tents fanned out across what was once the club’s baseball diamond. Two American flags hang from the chain-link fence. Team members roam freely through the dawn, refilling cups with coffee and picking out their day’s MREs.

I stash peanut butter and pretzels into my bag and set out in a smaller convoy with a canine recovery team on loan from the Los Angeles County Fire Department. When working abroad, the team is known as USAID Disaster and Relief Team, or DART, and are specifically equipped for assessment, urban and rural search and rescue.

We make a roadside stop to survey the debris of three collapsed buildings just off one of Kathmandu’s ring roads. Over the pile of rubble in front of a building precariously pitched forward at 21 degrees, the US team is walking their live scent dog, Ripley, when the call comes in.

A live victim had been found five blocks away.

Abandoning his vehicle, Andy Olivera—another urban search team leader—starts to jog. I follow, turning a corner into yet another landscape of destruction: some buildings had collapsed fully, others simply hung precariously over a dense pile of heavy debris.

In a pit that lay between the remains of two buildings, a crowd of Nepalese police had gathered around a small, dark opening: a space of inches between what had once been floor and ceiling in the seven-story building.

Off to the side, four Nepalese police were standing in a deep pit, straining to look into a narrow gap between two concrete slabs. Six days earlier, these concrete slabs had been the floors and ceilings of a seven-story office building.

Wedged between these layers, a young man had been trapped, his own body saved by a nearby motorcycle which had been caught in the collapse. The motorcycle had braced the collapsed roof, creating one of the coveted void spaces rescue teams had been searching for during the week’s patrols. In those moments, void spaces seemed little more than a euphemism for hope in a country of ruins.

Workers and rescuers flood the scene. With each team comes more material—water, power saws, back braces, battery-powered lights—even glow sticks brought in by the DART team. Some Nepalese policemen fumble with the pink and yellow phosphorescent sticks, trying to cut them in order to light them up before their American counterparts intervene in an unexpected moment of levity. Meanwhile, photographers and reporters crawl over one another on the precarious debris for better angles and new details.

Hours later, Pemba Tamang, 18, is pulled from the four-foot crevice, his body caked in red-dust. He is dehydrated and disoriented, and repeatedly asks for juice. His survival owed as much to chance as to the myriad relief teams who cut through re-enforced concrete, dulling industrial blade after industrial blade, in a race against against time.

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The rescue team carries him towards a waiting ambulance while a crowd of several hundred native Nepalese gather street side, cheering and clapping for both the rescued and the rescuers. In front of local media, the police chief is hoisted onto shoulders in a fleeting spirit of triumph, before returning to the hard work.

“We had a really good day,” Bill Berger, head of USAID DART would tell a room of reporters that night. During the seven days following the earthquake, 50 urban search and rescue teams from 23 different countries would pull 16 survivors and another 179 bodies from the wreckage. These were small victories, but victories nonetheless.

On my last day in Kathmandu I decide to return to the waters of the Bhagwati. Acrid smoke stings the back of my dry throat. This river slows to a crawl as it passes the Pashupatinath Temple, and I stand watching flecks of ash, particles of the once-living released by their beloveds, floating across the warm winds, a few flakes catching on my arm before continuing their drift. I commit a few thoughts to the page, concerned for a moment I might forget this.

Goats walk the riverside
Spare bricks crowd the footbridge
Bodies wait in garbage bags
They drop the fire into the mouth first.

Without sleep, the caffeine-fueled focus of recent days is starting to falter. I become aware of the sun’s scratching heat on my bare neck and I want to feel still in a place made nervous by sudden movement. My eyes drift downstream to the scurried activity, the din of an amassing crowd, and the light reflecting off strange new naked bodies.

AEROTROPOLIS LOST

How the former outlaw haven of Pine Barrens, New Jersey flirted with and faltered on its planned reinvention as an unprecedented American aerotropolis, leaving behind a vital blueprint for the future of cities.

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t’s hard to know exactly when you enter the Pine Barrens. There’s no clear border; instead, it’s a slow immersion, suburbs and exurbs giving way to rural spaces, and those in turn transforming into something more primal.

The forests and wetlands of southern New Jersey were once home to colonial-era industry—a place where residents of the newly independent United States could find refuge after being cast out of their communities. It’s a region whose history brings together Al Capone and cranberry farmers, supernatural creatures and early American Quakers.

This vast wilderness contradicts the New Jersey cliches of suburban sprawl, shopping malls, and industry. It almost wasn’t so. In the peak of the 1960s Jet Age, the pines were very nearly paved over to make way for an airport designed for supersonic jetliners, along with a city that, had it been built, would now be the third largest in the state. The plan presented a newfangled concept that would attract renewed interest decades later, when author Greg Lindsay would coin the term aerotropolis to describe a metropolitan sub-region where the layout, infrastructure, and economy are centered on an airport which serves as a multimodal “airport city” with a commercial core.

In John McPhee’s 1968 non-fiction book, The Pine Barrens, the author meets “pineys”—as its residents are known—on the verge of being displaced by plans to create a supersonic jetport. This development would be “connected by a spur of the Garden State Parkway to a new city of two hundred and fifty thousand people.”

By the time that McPhee began researching his book, the concept of an airport in the Pine Barrens had already been floating around for a decade. Then as now, the New York metropolitan area’s airports were overcrowded; an additional airport would, in theory, relieve some of that congestion. A January 1960 New York Times article alluded to a planned airport site in Morris County, New Jersey, also noting that a site in the Pine Barrens was also under consideration. By August, opposition to the Morris County site had made the Pine Barrens site more appealing. An article in the Times contended that the more southern location—a 40-square-mile tract that sprawls across much of eastern Burlington and western Ocean Counties—would make it ideal for residents of New York, Philadelphia, and even Baltimore. The jetport would be four times larger than Newark Liberty, John F. Kennedy, and LaGuardia airports combined.

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or a handful of days in the summer of 2009, New Yorkers focused on a particular corner of the internet had cause to panic. A group, it seemed, was advocating for the building of a new airport right in the middle of where Central Park currently exists. To say that the image of one of the largest section of green space in the middle of an increasingly-developed city being paved over for a single-runway airport caused consternation in readers would be an understatement.

The airport plan turned out to be a hoax, but one that stung, tapping into deeper anxieties and feelings of inadequacy when flying in or out of the city. “American airports are commonly seen abroad as symptoms of some deeper malaise,” wrote Greg Lindsay in a piece for Fast Company about the hoax. As co-author, with John D. Kasarda, of the book Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next, he’s a writer who’s spent a lot of time thinking about the subject. As he points out, there are aerotropolises being developed in nations abroad as we speak.

Before the end of this year, on a still-soggy tract that now lies at the creeping border of Bangkok’s suburbs, a new $4 billion mega-airport will finally open, forming the heart of a nascent city. When it’s finished, the erstwhile Cobra Swamp, now Suvarnabhumi (the “Golden Land”), will pump more than 100 million passengers a year through its glass portals, about as many as JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark airports combined. Within 30 years, a city of 3.3 million citizens—larger than Chicago now—will have emerged from the swampland.

Travel within the United States generally involves a separation between city and airport. There are plenty of reasons for this: concerns about noise and public safety come to mind. That same separation can make airports difficult to access. Portland, Seattle, and Chicago all have direct public transit connections to their local airports. If you’re in New York, however, traveling to certain airports from within the city can involve long waits in traffic or multiple transfers on public transit.

The headquarters of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission houses an archive of materials related to the planned city and airport, including several plans from consultants Herbert H. Smith Associates that date from 1962 onwards. The city, referred to simply as “New City” in the plans, was one of several proposals made in response to the question of developing the land around the airport.

Illustrations interspersed throughout the plan suggest a city both futuristic and anonymous, the kind of skylines one might see on display at a World’s Fair from decades ago. Aerial views show a modest skyline, with housing extending away from it. The plan features a dense “inner ring” surrounded by an industrial park, high schools, hospitals, a lake, and golf courses. Eleven miles away sits the jetport—convenient, but distant enough to prevent the sounds of takeoffs and landings from being overly disruptive.

Throughout the proposal, one finds passages that seem designed to boost the idea itself. “The New City concept offers a unique opportunity, unmatched in the country, to build a modern major city from a unified plan in a relatively brief period,” reads an introductory section. Elsewhere, an argument is raised to combat the notion that this idea is “a foolish scheme of wild-eyed dreamers.” The report argues that the plan, in fact, “represents a modest expansion of similar developments that are presently being effected.”

It can be difficult to read the descriptions of moving sidewalks and airports populated by supersonic airliners without feeling slightly disoriented. The day of the Concorde has come and gone, but to see charts and tables in the Pinelands Commission archives trumpeting a day in which direct flights from New City to Australia might take a handful of hours can fill a reader with regret at what never was.

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hile there was heavy and sustained opposition from local conservationist groups, there doesn’t seem to have been one decisive moment where the fates of the airport and city were sealed. (Of noted detail, the U.S. Department of Defense has since been revealed as one of the biggest land owners of the Pine Barrens, with 3,200 acres at hand.) Instead, references to it in news reports became less frequent over the years. A plan that had been taken as an article of faith by the residents who spoke with McPhee in the 1960s had become, by the time of a 1974 article, a “dead issue.” There are no massive cities or trans-Atlantic flights emerging from gleaming structures where forests once stood; New Jersey does not have its own equivalent to Brasilia. No aerotropolis–at least, nowhere in the Garden State.

The mythology of the Pine Barrens continues to trickle into the larger culture in unexpected ways: it gave one of the best episodes of The Sopranos its title and setting. It’s also home to the Jersey Devil, the state’s most famous cryptid, a possibly demonic creature that’s been the stuff of legends (and an X-Files episode) since the mid-19th century.

With or without New City, the region continues to grow, and it’s something that McPhee’s work forecast. Early in The Pine Barrens, he references “the great unbroken city that will one day reach at least from Boston to Richmond”—a nonfiction forerunner to the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis featured in the universe of William Gibson’s science fiction classic Neuromancer and its sequels.

But whether we’re creating cities in spaces that have never seen such structures, or extending metropolitan areas further and further afield, questions will need to be asked about what we’re willing to sacrifice to get to that point of progress, and whether the loss of singular spaces is worth the extension of more familiar ones. The allure of creating something new and better is hard to shake. At the same time, this is at odds with the desire to keep pristine stretches of nature viable and thriving. Decades ago, a clash between these two ideas was averted in southern New Jersey, but another manifestation of the same debate seems inevitable, and perhaps more decisive.

Image Credit: The Concorde supersonic airplane on the airport runway. ©Jean Gaumy/Magnum Photos. All archival photos courtesy of Ocean County, NJ collection.