The list of contributors to Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlasis as diverse and varied as the maps themselves. Through poignant and powerful essays and beautifully rendered maps, theypay homage to the city while also critiquing and challenging the way we see and think about New York—from its racial and economic inequality to its incubation of artists and the avant-garde. They are journalists, artists, geographers, poets, musicians, city planners, cartographers, and historians who celebrate the complexity, the unique vitality, the hidden layers, the overlooked stories, and both the ugly and beautiful aspects that shape New York.
This week we highlight some recommended books by just a few of the contributors to further your reading, and while not comprehensive or exhaustive, this is a fine place to begin as you learn about the people within the Nonstop Metropolis.
Teju Cole’s surreal and haunting 2012 novel, Open City (Random House, 2012) about identity and dislocation follows a young med student as he wanders the streets of Manhattan, “this strangest of islands.” The book garnered numerous accolades, including the Pen/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction and is a perfect accompaniment to Nonstop Metropolis.
You can find his writing in Nonstop Metropolis included in “Our City of Songs,” an essay celebrating the music about New York’s parks, corners, subway lines, and neighborhoods. His piece on Mos Def , Talib Kweli, and Common’s “Respiration,” which he says has “taught me something about how to love a city’s complicated dreams,” is not to be missed.
Brooklyn’s basketball courts are as much a part of New York’s landscape as are its regal brownstones, where each is often within close proximity to the other. Pick-up games have long been a way to get to know the neighborhood and to play and be friendly with neighbors and strangers.
At Coffey Park in Red Hook, Carmelo Anthony honed his game. Marine Park is where Chris Mullin played, and every Saturday there’s serious pick-up.
But development since the 1990s has meant more brownstones are renovated and basketball courts are removed, pointing to the loss of something that’s intrinsically Brooklyn. In fact, this last June conflict in the well-off Brooklyn Heights enclave rose when residents attributed Brooklyn Bridge Park’s basketball players—coming from as far as the Bronx and Queens—to “damaging the character of the neighborhood.” Who and what defines that character is up for discussion.
In his essay, “Empire of Brownstone and Brick,” Thomas J. Campanella traces the formation of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods and the history of its brownstones. Here’s an excerpt:
In an era when Brooklyn has become a global “brand” beloved by British celebrities who name kids for the borough, it is the iconic building type of the moraine—the brownstone—that people think of. Like New Orleans with its shotgun houses or San Francisco with its Victorian “painted ladies,” Brooklyn is among a handful of American cities essentialized in the popular imagination by a particular kind of residential architecture. The brownstone townhouse signifies Brooklyn as much as the borough’s eponymous bridge or Coney Island’s Parachute Jump—perhaps more so. . . . But the brownstone represents only old Brooklyn, the city of the terminal moraine. Outwash Brooklyn has a signature style of residential architecture all its own—the Tudor-revival home, with its faux half-timbered walls and slate tile roofs. This style may not be popular among creative-class elites who clamor for brownstones—at least not yet. But it too is saturated with significance and speaks to the varied and ever-changing ways that our homes can suggest longing at once for the future and for some imagined past.
And perhaps Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts describes Brooklyn’s development and changes best in her essay, “Freed But Not Free”:
The city, we’re sometimes told, is composed of villages. Fruits of segregation or identification, shaped by the churn of developers’ schemes and capital’s march, some of the places now called “Villages”—those cubic blocks called projects—evince the city’s old will to push those it doesn’t wish to see to the margins, where they’ll remain (unless of course those projects sit in now-rich neighborhoods and are doomed, too, to be sold off ). All sit atop settlements that came before. . . . Visiting these sites now, we’re reminded that when building on unsteady ground and stolen territory, perhaps the most important material is time, and the ability to inhabit an expanded idea of history like the one that Columbia professor Saidiya Hartman offers us when she asserts, “I, too, live in the time of slavery, by which I mean I am living in the future created by it.”
The images above and below are details from the map “Brownstones and Basketball,” which locates notable brownstones and public courts throughout Brooklyn. You can find the map and both essays in full in Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas.
Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlasis the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know and see New York City, in an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.