Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tale of Two Cities

I've just returned from Boston's South End, which is the site of Open Studios this weekend, the time when artists, well, open up their studios to throngs in the market for an oil painting or piece of sculpture. What's amazing about this exercise is that there are artists left in the South End at all. Those with cash-flow issues have long since moved to Jamaica Plain, or Haverhill. The neighborhood, where I used to live, was lively and full of people and street performers and good food and florists selling orchids --I bought a dozen to mark the launch of my wife's book, "Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born" (Grove/Atlantic) ( (Note how the Amazon "people who bought this book also bought ..." algorithm churns out my book, "This Land: The Battle over Sprawl and the Future of America" ( -- not due to a national surge of interest in both childbirth and land use, but based to date on the kind purchases of common family and friends). But when I bought those flowers at "Twig" -- mini palm-frond greens a dollar apiece extra --I couldn't help thinking about affordability in reviving urban neighborhoods. I'm convinced that people are going to start turning away from sprawl, as gas prices rise. It's going to be the worst outcome in the world if the alternatives are prohibitive. Then again, some cities would like to have a little more gentrification. Or more revival. The premiere of a new documentary film, "Cleveland: Confronting Decline in an American City," is Sept. 28 and Oct. 1 on the Cleveland public television station, WVIZ. The film is a collaboration of Northern Light Productions and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy ( -- which, by the way, is my new professional home. The Lincoln Institute is a think-tank in Cambridge that does research and holds conferences on land and development issues.