Brain Pickings

The Perfect City: What Does “Community” Mean to You?

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What borrowing sugar has to do with robust public life.

Last year, the wonderful Fifty People One Question offered a poetic glimpse of the soul of four communities, and last month the city of Grand Rapids demonstrated the goosebumps-inducing power of community. I’m relentlessly fascinated by cities and what it is that transforms them from shared urban space into thriving, lively communities full of shared humanity, vision and aspiration, so I was happy to take part in a think-tank event by nonprofit CEOs for Cities last fall, which assembled some of the country’s brightest minds in urban planning, design, policy, information technology and other facets of culture to dissect the elements of “robust public life” and how to best foster them in building successful, happy communities that attract and retain talent.

That’s exactly what this beautifully filmed short video explores, by asking people one simple but profound question: “What does ‘community’ mean to you?”

I’d love to be able to walk out and know everybody in my community.”

Something that kind of has a little bit of everything and access to everything, but still is quiet, so it’s not so quite so hustle-and-bustle.”

I like to pass other people who are walking their dogs early in the morning or late at night.”

A few universal needs seem to emerge: Walkability, a combination of private space and readily available entertainment, face-to-face interaction with neighbors and, more than anything, a sense of belonging.

What’s your ideal community?

via The Atlantic

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The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels: A Brief History of the Bike

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What British artisans have to do with geometry, women’s liberation and the local economy.

I’m a big proponent of bike culture and an obsessive cyclist myself. On a cultural level, we’ve seen the incredible effects the bike has had on everything from emancipating women to catalyzing subcultures to revitalizing the local economy. And while the bicycle, since its earliest incarnation, has remained a rather remarkable machine, the never-ending quest for its perfection is a relentless conduit of creativity, imagination and artisanal innovation. That’s exactly what Robert Penn documents in It’s All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels — a fantastic new chronicle of the bike’s story, from its cultural history to its technical innovation to the fascinating, colorful stories of the people who ride it.

At the heart of [the capstone of the Victorian era] was the bicycle. In 1890, there were an estimated 150,000 cyclists in the USA: a bicycle cost roughly half the annual salary of a factory worker. By 1895, the cost was a few weeks’ wages and there were a million new cyclists each year.” ~ Robert Penn

Penn, a Condé Nast Traveler writer who has traveled more than 25,000 miles on a bicycle, approaches his subject with equal parts humor, humility and authoritative intelligence as he sets out to find himself a new bike. In the process, he dabbles across industrial archeology, economic theory, design and much more, profiles bike culture pioneers, talks to artisan frame builders from the world’s most arcane bike workshops, and even entertains the conceits of Victorian society, where a fear that the bicycle might be sexually stimulating to women became a real concern.

Illustration by Tamara Shopsin and Jason Fulford for The New York Times

Penn cites novelist John Galsworthy, who eloquently captures the bicycle’s momentous impact:

The bicycle…has been responsible for more movement in manners and morals than anything since Charles the Second … Under its influence, wholly or in part, have blossomed weekends, strong nerves, strong legs, strong language … equality of sex, good digestion and professional occupation — in four words, the emancipation of women.”

Entertaining, illuminating and beautifully illustrated, It’s All About the Bike is a rare and precious portal to the heart and soul of bike culture and its surprising footprint — tireprint? — on all of culture.

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American Look: A Technicolor Homage to Mid-Century Design

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Can you identify these 49 classic pieces of mid-century design?

In February, we took a look at American Maker — a fascinating Technicolor film produced by the Handy (Jam) Organization and commissioned by the Chevrolet division of General Motors in 1960 to celebrate craftsmanship and creativity. Two years earlier, the same team produced another film, American Look, celebrating mid-century lifestyle design ranging from dinnerware to public art murals to lawnmowers. It’s Mad Men meets Eames meets Objectified meets Look at Life, an early predecessor of BBC’s fantastic The Genius of Design five-part documentary.

Now, the fine folks at The Atlantic are on a mission to identify the 49 mid-century design classics that appear in the film, which Alexis Madrigal has painstakingly screen-shot and catalogued in order of appearance. So head on over to the gallery and lend Alexis your design geekery — how cool would it be to play human Google Goggles for product design?

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