Walking in the Footsteps of Andrew Wyeth

This week in North Philly Notes, W. Barksdale Maynard, author of Artists of Wyeth Country, offers his tips on taking a trip to Chadds Ford, PA to see where Andrew Wyeth and other artists of the Brandywine Tradition lived and painted.

Even with pandemic restrictions, you can still enjoy a trip to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, to see where Andrew Wyeth painted. That scenic village on the banks of Brandywine Creek lies just 23 miles from Center City, Philadelphia, and always makes for an enjoyable excursion.

Before now, no guidebook existed to the artistic history of Chadds Ford. Artists of Wyeth Country is the very first. It is filled with historic photographs, color reproductions of artwork, and two maps commissioned especially for this volume. At last you can delve deeply into the art and history of this remarkable American place.  

Why was there no previous guidebook? Partly because Andrew Wyeth was so extremely secretive. Along with his wife, Betsy, he discouraged close investigation of his artistic habits and daily routine, trying to keep his painting locales ultra-private. One well-meaning journalist seeking an interview with Andrew Wyeth was forced to wait thirty-five years.

Artists of Wyeth Country followed Andrew Wyeth’s death at age 91 in 2009, at last shedding light on exactly where the artist painted and what his motivations were, both artistic and personal. The book is a rare unauthorized biography of Andrew Wyeth, full of new discoveries and candid insights.

In a sense, it is a biography of Chadds Ford as well, a place notoriously difficult for the tourist to grasp, full of twisting roads and obscure corners. Adding to the confusion is the much-altered landscape. Where Andrew Wyeth saw rolling fields, today the views are swallowed up by young forests and tangles of invasive shrubs. This complicated place really does require a guidebook.

Trips to Chadds Ford usually include a visit to the Brandywine River Museum of Art, home to the world’s largest collection of Wyeth art, but it is closed until June 2021 for refurbishment on its fiftieth anniversary. 

Instead, follow the six driving tours in Artists of Wyeth Country and explore the countryside on your own. No longer do you need to pester reluctant waitresses at Hank’s Restaurant for directions to the Barns-Brinton House or Mother Archie’s Church—it’s all in the guidebook.

Of course, many of the locations are privately owned, so you will want to observe from your car—unless you visit Brandywine Battlefield Park or other public places listed in the book, where you can get out and walk. (Some remain closed due to the pandemic; others are open by appointment, such as the quirky, engrossing Christian Sanderson Museum.)

To an extraordinary degree, Andrew Wyeth limited his painting activities to a couple of miles of territory, from his meticulously restored colonial estate, Brinton’s Mill, at the foot of Brinton’s Bridge Road (private) to Little Africa, a former black enclave not far from the Delaware line. For seventy years he painted virtually nowhere else, except for summers in Maine. Maynard places his origins in the 1930s Regionalist Movement in painting but dubs him America’s unique Micro-Regionalist.

Andrew Wyeth’s fondness for Kuerner Farm is famous, if somewhat inexplicable. As early as the 1920s, he dreamed of painting this hardscrabble farm a short walk from his childhood home, today’s N. C. Wyeth House & Studio. Betsy assembled the famous coffee-table book Wyeth at Kuerners (1976) to solve the mystery—what did her husband see in this entirely ordinary place that sustained his artistic interest not for a week or two but for much of the twentieth century?

When the Brandywine River Museum is open, it offers tours of the Kuerner farmhouse, along with tours of the N. C. Wyeth House & Studio and Andrew Wyeth Studio. For now you can drive past Kuerner Farm, its fence lines grown scruffier lately, noting the famous Kuerner Hill that rises above it to the west. Here Andrew Wyeth tobogganed as a child, later immortalizing it in such famous paintings as Winter 1946 and Snow Hill

The latter painting shows all his favorite models, including Helga Testorf, improbably dancing around a maypole. It was at Kuerner Farm that Andrew Wyeth first met Helga, a nurse to the sickly farmer Karl Kuerner. Artists of Wyeth Country contains many insights into these famous models: in real life, Helga has a radiant smile never seen in Wyeth’s somber paintings of her, and Karl seems to have been far less cruel and frightening than Wyeth claimed. 

Not only was Andrew Wyeth secretive, he enveloped himself in a protective thicket of tall tales, some of which his authorized biographer reported as fact. Among them was the claim that the key to his art and personality lay in his undying love of Halloween. Countless books repeat this fable in lieu of deeper exploration.

Far more important than Halloween was the Battle of the Brandywine. All his life, Andrew Wyeth was engrossed by the story of the largest land battle of the Revolution, fought in and around Chadds Ford on September 11th, 1777.  

British forces surged across the Brandywine at the Wyeth estate, Brinton’s Mill. And cannon thundered from the hilltop above his childhood home. Cannonballs have been unearthed at Kuerner Farm. George Washington was nearly killed by Redcoat artillery fire near today’s Chadds Ford Historical Society

Next time you visit Brandywine Battlefield Park (currently closed due to the pandemic), don’t miss Lafayette’s Headquarters, which has unfortunately been renamed the Gideon Gilpin House by recent park administrators, blurring its key historical significance. The centuries-old sycamore tree that shades it appears in Wyeth’s early masterpiece, Pennsylvania Landscape of 1942, and was recently cloned by Longwood Gardens.

To the east, note the mansion called Painter’s Folly. It was a favorite haunt of Andrew Wyeth in his later years, partly as a hideaway from his wife Betsy and his life-companion, Helga, three corners of a vexing emotional triangle. To the startled owners of Painter’s Folly, Andrew Wyeth seemed a kind of Cat in the Hat, suddenly materializing out of nowhere, playfully disrupting their lives through long painting sessions that consumed much of their time and splattered their furniture with pigment—then disappearing without warning for weeks. Happily, Painter’s Folly has recently come into public ownership. 

Chadds Ford is filled with such interesting places as these. For the first time, Artists of Wyeth Country allows you to follow in the exact footsteps of Andrew Wyeth. Take it along with you and begin exploring.

Celebrating the Magic of Children’s Gardens

This week in North Philly Notes, Lolly Tai, author of The Magic of Children’s Gardens, explains why spring is a great time to visit Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library and the Magic of Enchanted Woods.

Great news! Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library is open during the pandemic. It is a gorgeous garden to visit year-round, but springtime is particularly spectacular. Children and families have the opportunity to come visit and enjoy the beautiful landscape filled with vast breathtaking swaths of colorful plantings. The splendor of seasonal color, texture, and fragrance is part of the experience while strolling through the garden.

Every year, I look forward to visiting Winterthur and exploring Enchanted Woods, the fairy tale children’s garden there. It is my favorite children’s garden and is featured in The Magic of Children’s Gardens. At Enchanted Woods, children can have fun discovering the enchantment in the landscape while engaging in creative and active play. The Faerie Cottage, Acorn Tearoom, Tulip Tree House, Bird’s Nest, Fairy Flower Labyrinth, Forbidden Fairy Ring, Story Stones, Gathering Green, Watering Trough and Frog Hollow are some of the elements of enchantment!  

Something new is always happening at Enchanted Woods! The Bird’s Nest has been refreshed and rewoven with new branches and vines and its wooden eggs are ready to be discovered inside. The Faerie Cottage, Tulip Tree House, and Acorn Tea Room are adorned with charming children’s furniture with whimsical squirrel- and acorn motif perfect for playing make believe. Under the Troll Bridge are hidden “treasures” that are waiting to be found. Behind the Rhododendron shrubs is a giant-sized Green Man’s Lair to be discovered. 

Visitors can enjoy a skip along the Fairy Flower Labyrinth with terrific views of the magnolias in the Sundial Garden.  They can step into the Forbidden Fairy Ring and experience the surprise of the fog filled mushroom ring. They can swing on the Gathering Green benches or dance around the Maypole among the tiny daffodils planted there. 


Spring ephemerals such as daffodils (Narcissus species), Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), and glory of the snow (Chionodoxa species) are blooming in Enchanted Woods, as well as hellebores. In the adjacent Sundial Garden, the magnolias and flowering quince are blooming. In the greater garden, Italian windflowers and bloodroot are carpeting the woodland floors in blue and white while hellebores, winterhazels, cherries, forsythia, and pieris, are blooming. The daffodils are starting with peak flowering a few weeks away. There are over 500,000 daffodils. It is really a great time to visit!

Check out the bloom reports for Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library at http://gardenblog.winterthur.org/

Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00am to 5:00pm. It is located at 5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, DE 19735. For more information, visit http://www.winterthur.org/.

Urban renewal began back in 1915?

This week in North Philly Notes, Dennis Gale, author of The Misunderstood History of Gentrification, recounts the history of gentrification (you probably don’t know).

Gentrification—the physical, economic, and social transformation of poor and working class neighborhoods primarily by middle- and upper-income people—remains one of the most controversial topics in urban studies today. A simple Google search of the term turned up nearly ten million hits. By the time that I began researching gentrification in Washington, D.C. in the late 1970s, I had already witnessed its unfolding in Boston. Like most observers, I thought that a new trend was underway. At that time, America’s cities were in crisis and millions of middle-class people were leaving them for the leafy suburbs. The conventional wisdom was that poverty, racial strife, and crime were undermining American urban life.

Although gentrification was far outweighed nationwide by neighborhood decline, it raised hopes that not all middle-class households were abandoning cities. With more research, I learned that gentrification was not a new phenomenon. In fact, its earliest U.S. origins date to about 1915. The Misunderstood History of Gentrification, reframes our understanding of this trend’s origins, its interaction with public policies, and its evolution from “embryonic” to “advanced” gentrification. The critical role played by a burgeoning national historic preservation movement is also documented.  

What we now know as gentrification first gained momentum in Boston, New York, Charleston, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. a century ago. In each city, an older neighborhood experiencing disinvestment began attracting newcomers who renovated aging housing and generated renewed interest in inner city living. Perhaps believing that this trend was a mere flash in the pan, observers referred to it variously by terms such as “remodeling,” “regeneration” or “revitalization.” Since the late 1970s, when it became widely known as “gentrification,” online searches of that word have misled people into assuming that the phenomenon itself first appeared at that time. In fact, it dates back sixty years earlier.

Gentrification confounded conventional wisdom—i.e. that once physical neglect, economic decline, and poor and minority residents appeared, older neighborhoods would inevitably spiral downward to the status of “slums.” As official thinking went, only by tearing down slums, relocating their residents and businesses, and building anew, could such places become viable communities. But early gentrification demonstrated that renovation and reuse was not only a feasible alternative, it helped create one of the most desirable neighborhoods in each of the five cities in which it first appeared. And with time, it spread to other neighborhoods in those communities. Moreover, wherever it emerged, the process evolved with little, if any, government financing or bureaucratic administration.

But there’s more. By the late 1940s Congress grappled with the urban crisis by enacting the Urban Redevelopment program. It stipulated that cities could receive federal funds if they completely demolished and cleared older neighborhoods, displaced most existing residents and businesses, and rebuilt with modern architecture and infrastructure. The subtext was clear: only by destroying a neighborhood, could it be “saved.” Gentrification’s lessons—rehabilitating older structures, retaining their historic architecture and scale, and developing a diverse mix of existing and new residents—were written off as a recipe for failure.  

Even after Congress revised Redevelopment, renaming it Urban Renewal, the insights gained from early gentrification were largely ignored. Meanwhile, over the 1950s and 1960s, gentrification was gradually spreading. And opposition to Urban Renewal and other issues led to civil unrest in dozens of cities. Reacting, Congress scrapped the program in the mid-1970s and federal funds were targeted for housing rehabilitation, neighborhood reuse, and greater socioeconomic and racial diversity in declining areas. The new policies rejected large-scale demolition and adopted others that were more compatible with the “reuse and rehabilitate” dynamics of gentrification.

The first American cities in which gentrification surfaced were all located on the East or Gulf coasts. By the 1960s and 1970s though, the trend was metastasizing to San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Vancouver. Public officials were realizing that gentrification posed one essential part of a new strategy to revitalize the nation’s cities. By that time, hundreds of millions of dollars had been misspent on Urban Renewal—money that could have been used to rehabilitate neighborhoods for a combination of new and existing residents and businesses. As The Misunderstood History of Gentrification shows, the relationship between gentrification and Urban Renewal is widely misunderstood today.  

Gentrification demonstrated that not all middle-class people were fleeing cities. It showed that some were eager to live in mixed income and culturally diverse areas. The challenge for public policy has been to find ways to build and maintain socially and economically vibrant communities. Gentrification is a necessary, but not sufficient, ingredient in the revitalization of America’s cities. President Biden, his domestic policy advisor, Susan Rice, and his nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Marcia Fudge, are well advised to heed the lessons about urban growth and change evolving over the past century. Avoid policy myopia at all costs. The story of the nation’s cities didn’t begin in 2021. In short, history (still) matters.

Considering electric vehicle initiatives

This week in North Philly Notes, Rachel Krause and Christopher Hawkins, coauthors of Implementing City Sustainability, consider the administrative complexity that local governments face to implement sustainability efforts.

Between President Biden’s announcement about replacing the federal government fleet with US-made electric vehicles, General Motors’ recent plans to eliminate the production of light-duty cars and trucks with tail-pipe emissions by 2035, and a few well-placed super bowl ads, electric vehicles are experiencing an upswing in popular attention.

This timing, which parallels the United States’ recommitment to international climate protection goals, is not a coincidence. An estimated 17% of the country’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions come from light-duty passenger vehicles, making their decarbonization essential to achieving larger mitigation efforts. A transition away from gas-powered cars and trucks, along with a simultaneous transition towards clean electricity, is considered by many to be the most feasible route to decarbonizing the transportation sector.

Articles on the future of electric vehicles frequently lead with statements of imperative and possibility only to follow with a litany of challenges that need to be overcome prior to meaningful progress. To a degree, this post follows that typical format, but focuses on a single under-examined consideration: the administrative complexity that local governments face during efforts to implement policies and integrate infrastructure supporting the widespread use of electric vehicles. For example, the setup of a relatively standard city-wide vehicle charging system would likely require on-going collaboration from members of local planning, transportation, and public works departments, not to mention the elected and top managerial leadership who establish general priorities and allocate resources accordingly. The scope of actors and complexity of their interactions would be significantly greater in cities aiming to facilitate electric vehicle integration in a manner that is broadly inclusive and equitable.

In Implementing City Sustainability, we examine the administrative challenges associated with implementing initiatives that necessitate the active input of multiple semi-independent units across an organization. Electric vehicle initiatives are one example (of many) where fuzzy boundaries of responsibility, the presence of externalities, and a potential lack of departmental buy-in can stymie progress on organization-wide goals.

In the book, a case study of the City of Oakland, California provides relevant insight around the implementation of a broad electric vehicles initiative. From the outset, it is worth noting that sustainability efforts in Oakland prioritize equity. Led by “Sustainable Oakland,” a small unit within the City’s Public Works department, programmatic priorities aim to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in ways that also address the city’s historic and racial inequities. This approach is explicitly spelled out in the city’s Equitable Climate Action Plan (ECAP). In this context, the city’s vehicle electrification policies have focused on ensuring that the approximately 60% of Oakland residents who live in rented multi-family units will have convenient access to charging infrastructure. This availability can in turn facilitate a locally robust used car market for electric vehicles, making them a financially and logistically viable option for a much larger segment of the population. 

In 2017, Oakland’s city council passed an ordinance requiring that all newly constructed multi-family and non-residential buildings include charging infrastructure for plug-in electric vehicles. Extensive conversations were held with renters, property owners, developers, and utility company representatives prior to this ordinance’s final drafting and passage. Its successful implementation, guided by the ECAP, will rely on the active cooperation of multiple city departments. Although implementation logistics and cross-departmental collaboration are often not headline-grabbing topics–at least not when they are working correctly—they are key to the achievement of many sustainability initiatives, including those related a wide-spread transition to electric vehicles.

Implementing City Sustainability delineates four paths forward that cities can use to successfully chart their way through the adoption and implementation of integrative sustainability strategies. Whether it is designing and implementing a plan to make electric vehicle charging stations available to apartment dwellers in Oakland, improving the energy efficiency of large commercial buildings in Orlando, or establishing green infrastructure in Kansas City, how cities organize their sustainability efforts to obtain cooperation from the range of involved partners is integral to success.

The News of New York City’s Death is Greatly Exaggerated

This week in North Philly Notes, Francois Pierre-Louis Jr. and Michael Alan Krasner, two of the coauthors of Immigrant Crossroads, write about immigrant groups in Queens, New York.

Since the advent of COVID-19 and the exodus of affluent New Yorkers to the suburbs, some people have predicted that New York will no longer be the city that never sleeps. Our book Immigrant Crossroads has shown the contrary, documenting and analyzing the many fascinating dynamics of community and political activism in this unique borough.

For immigrant families that had endured the four years of the Trump administration living away from their loved ones, the Biden presidency brings new hope and renewed optimism that what Queens was already showing to America will continue. That the vibrant growth exemplified by the borough of Queens and temporarily impeded will flourish again.

Since the 1990s Queens has become the urban epicenter for contemporary immigration—a place that boasts immigrants from 140 countries. While Manhattan drew millions of tourists and mega-rich condo buyers, the city’s four other Boroughs saw the influx of working- and middle-class newcomers from every continent. Places that used to be unattractive to developers and commercial interests suddenly became prime real estate and desired places for immigrants and the middle class to live. Queens led the way in this transformation from being an enclave dominated by the white working class to being perhaps the most diverse aggregation of human beings on the planet. Queens has become an epicenter of  immigrant striving, and activism, presenting an alternative to the nativist vision pursued by Trump’s  propagandists and enforcers.

Hollowed out by white flight, in the 1980s and 90s, New York City’s outer Boroughs have been revitalized with the influx of new immigrants from Asia, Latin America, Caribbean and Africa. Neighborhoods such as Flushing, Bayside, and Laurelton have emerged as the epicenter of New York City’s Asian American community. Within a decade, Flushing has become one of the city’s major commercial and banking center for the Asian community. Corona and Jackson Heights became destinations for those from Latin America, and Astoria became the home for Russians and Eastern Europeans and those from the Middle East. All across the borough of Queens, immigrants remade blighted neighborhoods into thriving communities.

As major economic developments took place, new forms of immigrant activism emerged in Queens’ other neighborhoods, a process that is remaking the social, cultural, economic, and political fabric of the city. Take the case of Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Flushing where seventy-five percent of the residents are people of color. When the City announced in 2012, that it would give away portions of Flushing Meadows Park to private developers as a way to revitalize the local economy, a coalition of community-based groups and faith-based organizations created the Fairness Coalition of Queens to fight the Bloomberg administration’s economic development agenda. Forcing the cancellation of a sterile soccer stadium and other mega projects, the Fairness Coalition asserted its own power and priorities to call attention to the need for affordable housing and the checking of rampant  gentrification.

A similar pattern has developed in national immigration politics. Drawing on a heavily foreign-born population (One-in-two residents in Queens are foreign-born, ranking it second in the nation for percentage of foreign-born residents), activist Dreamer organizations have lobbied successfully for state legislation and led the fight for similar action from the federal government. Among the first set of actions by the Biden Administration are a rash of executive orders and a far-reaching legislative proposal to not only undo Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant policies but to usher in human pathways to immigrant inclusion.

Pioneering efforts on health care accessibility, an issue made salient by the Covid crisis also began in Queens where two city-wide immigrant advocacy organizations successfully organized to pass the Language Access in Pharmacies Act in 2009 and in 2012 mandating pharmacies provide comprehensive translation and interpretation services to patients with limited English proficiency.

As these examples suggest, the true impact of the recent surge of new immigrant groups is complex, contradicting partisan stereotypes and xenophobic pandering. Serious scholarship from varied disciplines reveals the richly textured contributions that resurgent nativism has sought to obliterate. Our volume demonstrates that being an Immigrant Crossroads has led New York City to flourish and suggests a path that the entire country would do well to consider following to revive the national motto, “Out of many, one.”

Books for the Inauguration

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase a half dozen of our political science titles in honor of the inauguration.

We recommend Good Reasons to Run, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele, about women and political candidacy, because Kamala Harris became the first female vice president.

The editors and contributors to Good Reasons to Run, a mix of scholars and practitioners, examine the reasons why women run—and do not run—for political office. They focus on the opportunities, policies, and structures that promote women’s candidacies. How do nonprofits help recruit and finance women as candidates? And what role does money play in women’s campaigns?

We recommend The Great Migration and the Democratic Party, by Keneshia Grant, because it shows the political impact of Black migration on politics. (Grant focuses on three northern cities from 1915 to 1965)

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party frames the Great Migration as an important economic and social event that also had serious political consequences. Keneshia Grant created one of the first listings of Black elected officials that classifies them based on their status as participants in the Great Migration. She also describes some of the policy/political concerns of the migrants. Grant lays the groundwork for ways of thinking about the contemporary impact of Black migration on American politics.

We recommend We Decide! by Michael Menser for its investigation of and insights regarding participatory democracy.

We Decide! draws on liberal, feminist, anarchist, and environmental justice philosophies as well as in-depth case studies of Spanish factory workers, Japanese housewives, and Brazilian socialists to show that participatory democracy actually works. Menser concludes his study by presenting a reconstructed version of the state that is shaped not by corporations but by inclusive communities driven by municipal workers, elected officials, and ordinary citizens working together. In this era of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, the participatory democracy proposed in We Decide! is more significant than ever.

We recommend Democratic Theorizing from the Margins, by Marla Brettschneider, for its clear account of the lessons and theories of democratic culture

Democratic Theorizing from the Margins lays out the basic parameters of diversity-based politics as a still emerging form of democratic theory. Students, activists, and scholars engage in diversity politics on the ground, but generally remain unable to conceptualize a broad understanding of how “politics from the margins”—that is, political thinking and action that comes from groups often left on the outside of mainstream organizing and action—operate effectively in different contexts and environments. Brettschneider offers concrete lessons from many movements to see what they tell us about a new sort of democratic politics. She also addresses traditional democratic theories and draws on the myriad discerning practices employed by marginalized groups in their political activism to enhance the critical capacities of potential movements committed both to social change and democratic action.

We recommend Rude Democracy, by Susan Herbst, about how civility and incivility are strategic weapons on the state of American democracy, given how polarized our country has become.

Democracy is, by its very nature, often rude. But there are limits to how uncivil we should be. In the 2010 edition of Rude Democracy, Susan Herbst explored the ways we discuss public policy, how we treat each other as we do, and how we can create a more civil national culture. She used the examples of Sarah Palin and Barack Obama to illustrate her case. She also examined how young people come to form their own attitudes about civility and political argument. In a new preface for this 2020 paperback edition, the author connects her book to our current highly contentious politics and what it means for the future of democratic argument.

And we encourage readers to look for our forthcoming (in March) title, Furthering Fair Housing, edited by Justin P. Steil, Nicholas F. Kelly, Lawrence J. Vale, and Maia S. Woluchem. This book analyzes federal policy to advance racial equity in housing and neighborhoods.

Furthering Fair Housing analyzes multiple dimensions of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, which was the most significant federal effort to increase equality of access to place-based resources and opportunities, such as high-performing schools or access to jobs, since the 1968 Fair Housing Act. The editors and contributors to this volume identify failures of past efforts to increase housing choice, explore how the AFFH Rule was crafted, measure the initial effects of the rule before its rescission, and examine its interaction with other contemporary housing issues, such as affordability, gentrification, anti-displacement, and zoning policies.

On the highway to grandmother’s house? Lessons from early automobile landscapes

This week in North Philly Notes, Amy Finstein, author of Modern Mobility Aloft, considers how American cities used elevated highways as major architectural statements about local growth and modernization in the early 20th century.

Ah, the winter holidays; that time of the year so often defined by highway car-trips to see family and friends—at least pre-COVID-19. Even as many stay home this year, the basic idea of that pattern—easy mobility—remains a cornerstone of modern American identity, and one indebted to a century’s worth of choices about making landscapes accommodate the scale and pace of the automobile.

As an architectural historian, I wondered if there was a way to measure this automotive shift in the history of the built environment. Historians have documented the design and societal evolution of automobiles and car culture; design and planning scholars have detailed the evolution of streets, roadside landscapes, and Interstate highways as interventions supporting our collective automotive enthusiasm. However, most of these examples thrived outside of city centers. Were there architectural projects that brought the prowess of mobility to bear on the physical landscape of existing American cities?

I found part of the answer to this question in my hometown of Boston, MA. From the 1990s through the early 2000s, the city endured the famous “Big Dig,” an enormous public works project that buried and threaded a tunneled 10-lane highway beneath a still-functioning elevated highway, eventually deconstructing and replacing the elevated highway (the Central Artery) with a surface network of public parks. For the fifty years before the Big Dig, the green steel of the Central Artery had provided a mechanized and looming presence in city streets, unabashedly pronouncing the importance of car travel while simultaneously failing to meet the capacity or speed demands of its automotive users. This, I thought, was a landscape that dramatically demonstrated the arrival of automobility in Boston, and the complexities of its lasting impact. Thus, the genesis of Modern Mobility Aloft was born.

With Boston’s Central Artery as my starting point, I honed in on two other examples of constructed roadways whose physical presences and legacies varied from that in Boston: Chicago’s classically-decorated and still-in-use Wacker Drive, and New York’s West Side Elevated Highway, an Art Deco hulk torn down in the 1990s. All three of these examples were designed in the early twentieth century, but faced hurdles about aesthetics, route, and cost that delayed their implementation; and that ultimately provoked their later reconsideration. Modern Mobility Aloft argues that these constructed roads synthesized architecture and engineering at the scale of the American city, and announced the importance of modern mobility to drivers and streetgoers in prominent visual and experiential terms. The book connects debates about design and transportation across disciplines, showing how the infancy of the automobile age laid the groundwork for landscapes and challenges that linger with us still.

Here are some things that can be learned from studying early urban elevated highways:

  • Before federal highway legislation, many highway initiatives originated locally to respond to local concerns for socio-economic and physical progress.
  • Early 20th century architects, engineers, science-fiction writers, and municipal leaders shared enthusiasm for utopian visions of multi-level streets weaving between and through soaring skyscrapers.
  • The insertion of elevated highways in existing cities became one way of realizing pieces of these utopian schemes.
  • Elevated railroads foretold some of the organizational, visual, and experiential problems of elevated highways, but did not dissuade planners from pursuing them.
  • Architects design more than buildings: high-profile designers planned highway superstructures, on-ramps, guardrails, sculptural reliefs, light fixtures, and balustrades.
  • Connections matter: design and transportation consultants brought similar ideas from place to place, spreading certain patterns across diverse landscapes.
  • Architectural modernity can be conveyed by many different visual languages.
  • The examples in Chicago, New York, and Boston define a pattern that is also visible in many other American cities.
  • Early elevated highways foreshadowed patterns of automobile prioritization and social displacement that came to characterize later federal road-planning approaches.
  • Impacted cities still sport the vestiges of early elevated highways—with varying incarnations of automobile dominance, architectural denial, and visible scars defining 21st century urban landscapes.

So, in many ways, American cities served as the testing grounds for new ideas about modern transportation, architecture, and urbanism. Early elevated highways combined these concepts in singular forms. Before highways stretched across the national landscape, they soared above individual cities, providing exciting yet contradictory visions of expected futures.

Recalling public health efforts in Pennsylvania

This week in North Philly Notes, Jim Higgins, author of The Health of the Commonwealth, looks back on past epidemics.

By the last half of the nineteenth century, science began to unlock the secrets of infectious disease, most importantly that bacteria and viruses were the cause. No cures for human infectious disease emerged until the 1890s, when antitoxins for diphtheria and tetanus debuted. Even without cures for most infectious disease, public health efforts made remarkable inroads at the turn of the twentieth century in Pennsylvania and across the nation. 

As The Health of the Commonwealth neared its final edits, the new coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic was on the move. Even the barriers posed by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which I suspect millions of Americans depend upon, if unconsciously, to keep a dangerous world at bay, delayed the virus by only a matter of hours once it got aboard a transoceanic passenger jet.

 

The responses of the citizenry in the midst of an epidemic varies. Many quiet people in quiet corners cooked food for neighbors, checked on friends, took care of family, and generally soothed unsteady nerves. Most of those stories went unrecorded in our history. Most go unrecorded today, too. At the same time, there has always been resistance to modern public health measures in Pennsylvania. During a smallpox vaccination effort in 1906, parents allowed their elementary school aged children to parade the streets of Waynesboro, Franklin County with an effigy of the commissioner of health, which they kicked, spat upon, and ultimately burned.  The city council of Allentown declared in late-1918 that the flu, which was just beginning to infect people in the city, was actually nothing more than a “regular” cold. Homes, they suggested, should be kept warm to avoid catching these widespread, severe colds, even as the same councilmen were preparing that day to deal with a severe coal shortage throughout the region. Many people just tried to go about life as if nothing were amiss. Just push through it, they seemed to think, through the years and through the typhoid, smallpox, polio, and HIV tragedies. If one continues to go through the motions of life, eventually the threat will pass and (provided one survives) the stout-hearted (or delusional) person who ignores the presence of an epidemic will…what?  I’ve never been able to figure that part out. I guess the best I’ve come up with is that people who ignore epidemics satisfy a psychological need for control. Or because they are terrified. Sometimes, like now, politicians can harness an epidemic as a vehicle for meeting political ends. It happened in 1918 when Pennsylvania’s response to the flu became a major political issue in the 1918 senatorial race.    

But I’ve got news for you. The way people react to widespread disease outbreaks is nothing compared to the changes that have sometimes followed in the wake of epidemics. A single typhoid outbreak in the obscure town of Plymouth, Pennsylvania in 1885 led to the creation of the state board of health. Twenty years later, another typhoid epidemic in Butler, Pennsylvania led to the creation of the state department of health. Five years after that, Pennsylvania possessed the most aggressive and powerful state health department in the nation. 

On a broader note, the standard narrative for both prohibition and women’s suffrage is that after years of agitation, both efforts finally bore fruit nationally in the period 1919-1920. The war helped accelerate both social efforts. During the First World War, many voices demonized alcohol production because it directed labor, grain, and coal away from the war effort—and because the beer industry was dominated by people with German names. We have forgotten that in late-1918, in Pennsylvania and beyond, the alcohol industry was hit with hammer blows by public health officials who closed saloons and banned alcohol sales as an anticrowd measure in the face of the epidemic of flu. In Pittsburgh, the fight over alcohol sales involved military officials and threats of a near-martial law. The alcohol industry lost a great deal of sympathy during the epidemic. In the case of women’s suffrage, a long, bitter fight for the right to vote was pushed to a quicker successful conclusion by the war. Perhaps the flu epidemic offered national sentiment a final shove. Hundreds of thousands of women volunteered in emergency hospitals during the epidemic. Many were middle class and unacquainted with blood and pus and the sounds and sights of dying. Across Pennsylvania, newspapers, politicians, and civic leaders lauded the work of the state’s women and memorialized those who died with a prominence never before seen in American history.   

I really don’t know—nobody knows—whether the video of George Floyd would have sparked the response it did in the absence of COVID-19. But if the response to systemic racism continues, we might look back on a moment, in the midst of pestilence, when certain things changed in our society. I can’t predict exactly how America will change after COVID-19 fades, but if the history of epidemics teaches us anything, then changes are afoot.    

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by showcasing our Latino/a Studies and Latin American/Caribbean Studies titles as well as books in our Studies in Latin American and Caribbean Music series. (And EVERY Temple University Press book is 40% off until October 31. Use the code FALL4TUP at checkout.

Accessible Citizenships How disability provides a new perspective on our understanding of the nation and the citizen

Afro-Caribbean Religions A comprehensive introduction to the Caribbean’s African-based religions

Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music The life and times of one of Cuba’s most important musicians

The Brazilian Sound An encyclopedia survey of Brazilian popular music—now updated and expanded

Caribbean Currents The classic introduction to the Caribbean’s popular music brought up to date

Chilean New Song An examination of the Chilean New Song movement as an organic part of the struggles for progressive social change, deeper democracy, and social justice in Chile in the 1960s and early 1970s

The Coolie Speaks A remarkable examination of bondage in Cuba that probes questions of slavery, freedom, and race

Daily Labors Examining the vulnerabilities, discrimination, and exploitation—as well as the sense of belonging and community—that day laborers experience on an NYC street corner

Democratizing Urban Development Examining how community organizations fight to prevent displacement and secure affordable housing across cities in the U.S. and Brazil

Dominican Baseball From the author of Sugarball, a look at the important and contested relationship between Major League Baseball and Dominican player development

Fernando Ortiz on Music Selections from the influential Fernando Ortiz’s publications on Afro-diasporic music and dance—now available in English

From Puerto Rico to Philadelphia A history of Puerto Rican immigration to Philadelphia

Globalizing the Caribbean Now in Paperback—how global capitalism finds new ways to mutate and grow in the Caribbean

How Did You Get to Be Mexican? A readable account of a life spent in the borderlands between racial identity

The International Monetary Fund and Latin America Chronicling the sometimes questionable relationship between the International Monetary Fund and Latin America from 1944 to the present

Latino Mayors The first book to examine the rise of Latino mayors in the United States

Latinos and the U.S. Political System An analysis of American politics from the vantage point of the Latino political condition

Latinx Environmentalisms Putting the environmental humanities into dialogue with Latinx literary and cultural studies Read a blog entry by the editors

Liberation Theology How does the church function in Latin America on an everyday, practical, and political level?

Merengue A fascinating examination of the social history of merengue dance music and its importance as a social and cultural symbol

Música Norteña The first history of the music that binds together Mexican immigrant communities

New Immigrants, Old Unions A case study of a successful effort to unionize undocumented immigrant workers

The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation A landmark history of the New York Young Lords, and what their activism tells us about contemporary Latino/a politics

Not from Here, Not from There/No Soy de Aquí ni de Allá A lively autobiography by a community activist, judge, and public advocate who blazed a trail for Latinos in Philadelphia

Revolution Around the Corner The first book-length story of the radical social movement, the Puerto Rican Socialist Party

Selecting Women, Electing Women Offers an analytic framework to show how the process of candidate selection often limits the participation of women in various Latin American countries.

The Sorcery of Color An examination of how racial and gender hierarchies are intertwined in Brazil

Sounding Salsa Inside New York City’s vibrant salsa scene

Terrorizing Latina/o Immigrants A comprehensive analysis of changes in immigration policy, politics, and enforcement since 9/11

Observations on the anniversary of the Partition of India

This week in North Philly Notes, Kavita Daiya, author of the forthcoming Graphic Migrationswrites about global media representations of migration on the 73rd anniversary of the Partition of India.

What do the Google commercial “Reunion,” the Bollywood film Raazi (Agree), Shauna Singh Baldwin’s award-winning novel What The Body Remembers  and the oral history project 1947 Partition Archive all have in common? They all do transnational memory work and remember the mass migrations of the 1947 Partition of India.

This past weekend marked the 73rd anniversary of the decolonization and division of India, and the end of British colonialism. It also marked the creation of two independent nations: Pakistan came into being on August 14, 1947, and India became a new secular democratic nation on August 15, 1947. The partitioning of India in 1947 generated the world’s largest mass migration in under nine months: between 12 and 16 million people migrated across the newly etched borders.

Graphic MigrationsIn my forthcoming book Graphic Migrations, I describe the legacies of this pivotal moment in British and South Asian history, with a focus on migrant and refugee experiences. As such, this book uncovers the effects of this Partition on both India and the South Asian diaspora in North America. I am especially interested in how different media represent the precarity of migrants’ and refugees’ lives, as well as their descendants. I map how this precarity is memorialized across media, in ways that create empathy and solidarity for the shared humanity of migrants and citizens.

For example, I analyze South Asian American fiction by writers including Shauna Singh Baldwin and Bapsi Sidhwa as well as Hindi art films like Shyam Benegal’s Mammo; Bollywood cinema, as well as the new genre I call “border-crossing” advertising. In addition, I discuss graphic narratives from Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition, the Digital Humanities oral history project 1947 Partition Archive as well as photography by Margaret Bourke-White and Annu Palakunnathu Matthew. This book’s archive is thus eclectic and cross-media, capturing how the Partition migrations are inscribed or erased in public culture in India and its diaspora.

Graphic Migrations is poised at the intersection of Asian American Studies and Postcolonial Studies. It draws upon and extends new directions in Asian American Studies, especially Critical Refugee Studies.  These new directions take a transnational lens to understand how twentieth century conflicts and displacement in Asia have shaped Asian American history. My book’s feminist orientation means that gender is a central part of the story I tell. Talal Asad’s influential theory of the secular in Formations of the Secular is also central here, given that the Partition focalized religious difference. Central to this book’s story is the inspiration of the noted political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s brilliant analysis of statelessness, which, as she argued in The Origins of Totalitarianism, was the defining feature and product of the twentieth century.

My book considers several issues that emerge out of the 1947 Partition and its transnational impact. It explores the complexities of statelessness in India as well as South Asia, and asks: Why has this momentous displacement not been widely memorialized, until recently? How did refugees’ stories, labor, and losses shape ideas about religion, secularism, and belonging in public culture? How were female refugees’ experiences different, and with what consequences? What alternative modes of imagining community and planetary cohabitation, including ‘the secular,’ do stories about statelessness offer us today?

Graphic Migrations is timely and relevant now. More people than even before are migrating or displaced because of war, conflict, poverty, environmental devastation, and other reasons. By one estimate, there are 10 million stateless people, and there are 272 million migrants in the world today. This raises urgent issues about human rights and social justice for nations around the world, who must work together to end statelessness.

My book is a profound reminder of the contemporary stakes of studying the experiences and impact of decolonization and nation-formation in 1947 South Asia, in a transnational feminist mode.

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