What Should We Delegate?

    Halfway through my usual tizzy about AI, I stop myself and try to think logically. Is being human—the fact of it, not the ideal—so great? Machines might be more peaceable, especially if they break free from our control. So why is it so hard for me to allow various forms of being, various […]

What the Brooklyn Bridge Still Says About Us

    “Let’s walk across at sunset,” my friend suggests. I imagine the views of Manhattan, red staining the clouds and glowing on the steel cables. “Trachtenberg!” I blurt, grad school’s American studies reading list bubbling up from the depths. Brooklyn Bridge: Fact and Symbol was an iconography exploring history, metaphor, and art, making that […]

The Doting Baby Book Kept by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Mom

  You cannot read this little book without smiling. An only child, RLS has been described as “both strange looking and eccentric,” and he suffered frequent illnesses. But he had a mother who watched over him tenderly and noted each illness in his baby book, along with a list of his pet names and the […]

A Woman in a White Dress

  There is winter white, a disappointed cream just waiting to be kicked aside by linen. There is ivory, the word itself luxe, fitted for wedding gowns and trousseau satin peignoirs. But for a summer dress, simple white suffices. The appeal is so universal, I have heard more than one man rhapsodize over seeing a […]

Our Doomed Pursuit of Happiness

It always depresses me to see how accurately Alexis de Tocqueville, a twenty-five-year-old upstart, took our measure two hundred years ago. He started out admiring and found himself predicting (quite accurately, as it turns out) a sad and shallow trajectory from heroism to petulance. How sharply modern it sounds, his observation that Americans are “restless […]

They Snuck Into the Panthéon and Saved Paris

Once, in the middle of the night, six Parisian teenagers managed to get into the Panthéon in Paris. It turned out to be so easy, they woke up the next morning thinking: Okay, what next? Les UX—The Urban eXperiment—was born. Next was the Ministry of Communications—where, in the dusty basement, they found maps charting the […]

A Different Kind of Reverence

I was city through and through. And then we moved to rural southern Illinois. Pausing to check messages in a parking lot, I near dropped my phone when a rooster crowed in the back of the rusty red pickup next to me. On one of my first trips to Rural King, a horse strolled in […]

How the St. Louis Wheel Could Change the City

Glowing at the west edge of downtown, the new St. Louis Wheel rounds out the city’s geometry. We have the rectangular high-rises, the diamond points of Union Station’s red tile roof; the diagonal lines, like thumb-tacked string, of the Stan Span; the sharp angles of Lumière Place casino; the gentle arches of Eads Bridge; the […]