City Lights


If you've been looking at the statistics from the 2000 US Census, you've heard the news: All over the country, cities are back. New York City now tops eight million residents, all of them, it seems, on the 6 train to and from my apartment. But I'm not complaining. I love cities, have lived in several different ones, and I'm pretty much the poster child for the urban way of life. In an op-ed piece that appeared in The New York Times on March 30, Columbia University history professor Kenneth T. Jackson described the emerging new urbanites as “young, childless professionals who find Gotham's catalytic mixing of people, its narrow streets, and its hectic pace to be a turn-on … for them, density is preferable to isolation.”

Right on. But Jackson goes on to say that the continued growth of revivified cities hinges on keeping people in them once they have children. There are many factors involved in this: A stable economy. Improved schools. Reduced crime. Showcase lighting.

Well, OK, the professor didn't say that last one. One aspect of cities that inhibits future growth, though, is the dinginess of the structures within. Growing up in the NJ ’burbs in the 1970s and 80s, NYC held little allure for me — it seemed so bleak and foreboding. It wasn't just the crime, it was the grime. A good amount of it has been washed — and color-washed — away. It's not just Manhattan that's benefiting from improved illumination; Chicago, my college stomping grounds, looked gorgeous when I was there in March, and my mailbox is filling with dazzling projects from all over the urban landscape.

In this issue, we present some that caught our eye (and one, Philadelphia's City Hall, that will once it moves out of the mock-up and renderings stage). Our cover subject, the 70-year-old George Washington Bridge, lights the way ahead. Not only is its new illumination aesthetically pleasing, it's cheap to run; according to The New Yorker, the electricity cost has only been $200 per night on the special occasions it has been lit up (next is Mother's Day, May 13). To which I say, run it more frequently. Show the world the beauty lighting brings, and give the bridge's users, recently hit with a toll increase, more bang for their buck as they drive in and out of one of America's newly shining cities.