Redesigning the Next American City
Cities have become the topic of a generation. As evidenced by the burgeoning genre of urban-centric media here [Flying Kite, Grid, Plan Philly, Mind TV] and nation-wide [Good, Girst, Planetizien,Urbanize], many of us believe it’s our right and duty to improve where we live.
Yet, while urban advocacy is full of creative promise--Bike-friendly roadways, business-friendly zoning, alternative energy advancement, retrofitted industrial sites, thriving public arts, clean, healthy parks, an accessible waterfront with grass and trees—the politics can prove tiring. The visions are thoroughly compelling; the hold-ups, unbearable.
So how do we apprehend the complex narrative of urban transformation? More importantly, how can we deepen our role as civic participants?
Enter Next American Cities [NAC]. The nonprofit publisher of the NAC print magazine is expanding their role as urbanist-informer by emphasizing the process of place. "A lot of the coverage you see on urban affairs is basically glorified blogging." Ariella Cohen, executive editor at NAC, explains. "Someone writes a report or it’s 'this city just announced a new program.' We’re working to connect cities and inform the people working to improve them."
The new format includes a switch to digitally-released content. Forefront, a select, in-depth report delivered weekly to subscribers via email, investigates a specific issue in a single city. By providing contextual analysis, Forefront, helps readers perceive emerging trends in urban progress. Coverage is international. Upcoming stories include pension reform in Atlanta, charter cities in Honduras and critique of the HUD/DOT/EPA Sustainable Communities partnership.
NAC is also experimenting with daily coverage available on their home-site. The traditional news model asks reporters to explain national trends by scraping together local anecdotes. NAC, however, will aggregate news directly with high-quality, hyper-local reporting from community-based “partner’ sites like The Lense in New Orleans, Greater Greater Washington and Oakland Local. The platform page, Buzz, contains some unlikely perspectives including an appreciation for town-center development, a warning against green-space, and a proposed moratorium on knit-bombing.
“We think that the people who know the most about the communities are the people who are there.” Cohen says. “[Buzz] allows us to have really relevant, cutting-edge information coming from cities around the country. And from a local voice.”
Finally NAC’s move to Brewerytown anchors their transition as urban-advocacy organization. The space isn’t a mere office, but aspiring epicenter for urban conversation and creativity. NAC encourages people to reach out for art installations, lectures and events. “We have this new, vibrant space,” Cohen says. “We want people to come to us with ideas.”
Cities are complicated, their development dependent on multiple stakeholders. But while NAC aims to “expose all voices,” as an organization, NAC isn't shy about taking a best-practices stance. Our cities are too critical to suffer "objective" reporting. As Cohen noted in a recent post, “Objectively Speaking, Bias May Be a Good Thing for Cities in Need of Reform,” Stockton California is facing bankruptcy due, in part, to journalistic conventions of even-handedness, which dampened exposure of the city’s stark financial reality. Keeping it straightforward, comprehensive, and above-all, multi-sector is key to supporting the next generation of urban leaders. “We really look at the way the various sectors of public policy effect urban spaces,” Cohen says. “We have focus areas, we have opinions on issues and we have analysis on issues. We create content where we’re giving the news but then we’re also providing analysis so that our readers can understand how to better interpret.”