Michael Kimmelman Unfolds Our Understandings of Communities in Uncertain Things Podcast

The hosts and producers of the Uncertain Things podcast, Adaam James Levin-Areddy, and Vanessa M. Quirk, conduct interviews with experts with a variety of experiences to answer the question, “Now what? How did we get here and what is next?”. In this episode with Michael Kimmelman, they touch upon many interesting subjects, namely, The New York Times institution and its evolution, Kimmelman’s new book the Intimate City, and our overall understanding of communities in cities.

Michael Kimmelman is the architecture critic for The New York Times. He has written about public housing, public space, landscape architecture, and community development and equity. About a year ago, The New York Times created a new initiative, Headway, centered around investigating big global challenges through the lens of progress. The headway initiative sits outside the institution’s paywall, focusing on getting away from the 24-hour news cycle. In addition to Headway, Kimmelman recently published his latest book The Intimate City, which he wrote during the pandemic – a book that started out with a bunch of emails asking people to go on city walks with him. In each chapter, Kimmelman takes a walk with an expert in architectural urbanism, ecology, and many other fields, and discusses what they see through their eyes. Furthermore, the book is an unraveling of the embodied city and how much it represents our histories and holds our stories.

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Michael Kimmelman's new book: The Intimate City. Image © Penguin Press, 2022

The discussion then veers onto the Headway organization and unfolds its main missions, through Kimmelman’s perspective. He describes that Headway was created for the writer and the reader to get “a little mental and emotional breathing room”, cultivating meaningful engaging relationships with audiences based on community building, rather than clickbait. They speak about Kimmelman’s first case study in the sub-institution, a story confronting homelessness in Anacostia, a neighborhood in Washington D.C. The discussion revolves around the activities Kimmelman held in Anacostia, organizing local community groups with hundreds of people, and exploring how to offset the negative effects of new infrastructural developments for the entire community. Moreover, the conversation reveals the embedded change that is inside a city, claiming that this evolution is not necessarily a threat to the built metropolis. They explore the role of local governments to provide security and stability for the people in the communities that are affected by the change, and question how these changes can potentially benefit communities.  

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This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license..The New York Times Tower, Renzo Piano. Image via Wikimedia

The conversation, rooted in communities and meanings derived from cities, then goes on to investigate the true connotation of the word “community”. One of the hosts, Vanessa M. Quirk clarifies that this is a topic she has long tackled, the blurred lines of a community, and discovering who really is part of the group. Kimmelman suggests that the word “community” is a romantic suggestion that does not illustrate how layered the word truly is. Moreover, he claims that there is no such thing as an authentic voice of one group. There are instead many interests and many voices, and these can be fractured. He refers to the example of architectural preservation as another layered concept in the urbanist field. Similarly, he asserts that architectural preservation is less about builds and forms, and more about the life around these structures that means so much to the people using them. Using the Stone Wall as an example, Kimmelman explains the true depth of architectural preservation. Formerly a bar in Greenwich Village, The Stone Wall has no architectural merit whatsoever. However, due to its significance in the LGBTQ movement in the 1960s and because of what it represents, the idea of preservation becomes negotiable and valid. The bar is now a National Historic Landmark in New York. They go on to tackle the lack of definitions that have been created around architectural history and philosophy, and how it is an ever-evolving conversation that will never be fully completed, due to the complex and uncategorizable human aspect of cities.

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The Stone Wall Inn, Greenwhich Village, New York. Image © ittlenySTOCK/ Shutterstock

In conclusion, the hosts refer to Kimmelman’s new book: The Intimate City, and discuss the idea of slowness, and anti-doom scrolling culture. Kimmelman quotes Milan Kundera, “There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, just as there is between speed and forgetting”. Referring to the context of city walks and experiencing it on a time scale, he explains that this project was during covid, and it was his attempt to get away from the hour-by-hour panic that was spreading online. He explains that these walks revealed the city to be an embodied symbol of something longer lasting than us. Cities have long survived many epidemics and revolutions, they represent our greatest aspirations, and remind us of what we can potentially do to move forward.

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Cite: Nour Fakharany. "Michael Kimmelman Unfolds Our Understandings of Communities in Uncertain Things Podcast" 02 Mar 2023. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/997288/michael-kimmelman-unfolds-our-understandings-of-communities-in-uncertain-things-podcast> ISSN 0719-8884

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