Young urbanites launch journal

URBAN CHRONICLE

Future: A Baltimore resident is among leaders of a publication that takes a different look at metropolises and the suburbs.

January 09, 2003|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

ALONG WITH immigrants and empty-nesters, it is young professionals who are fueling the nascent revival of cities.

Now, a pair of these 20-something urbanites are launching a quarterly journal devoted to the future of metropolises and their suburbs.

Adam Gordon, 23, who lives in Charles Village, is editor in chief, and Seth Brown, 24, who lives in Morningside Heights in Manhattan, is publisher of The Next American City, scheduled to make its debut next month.

Former roommates at Yale University, Class of 2000, both are involved in urban issues in their day jobs: Gordon as a specialist on affordable housing for the nonprofit Baltimore Regional Partnership, Brown as a manager for The Hudson Cos., a Brooklyn-based for-profit developer of low-income and market-rate housing.

The youthfulness of the duo at the top of the magazine's masthead -- a characteristic of contributors to the first issue as well -- is one thing that separates The Next American City from more-established urban-oriented publications like the Manhattan Institute's City Journal or the Urban Land Institute's Urban Land.

"I think we do have a different perspective," Gordon said. "That was part of the reason for starting the magazine. ... It's people in our generation who are going to make choices that are going to affect the future of cities and suburbia."

Gordon says the "mystique" of the suburbs that attracted his parents' and grandparents' generations has largely faded and notes his experience growing up in South Brunswick, N.J. "Places I would go hiking in the woods are all subdivisions," he said. "What appeal does that have?"

At the same time, he recognizes that issues such as schools will become more important as his generation of city-dwellers ages. "Five or 10 years from now, when we start families, will we still be there?" he asks.

And unlike other publications, Gordon says, The Next American City offers no ideological bent and aims to be accessible to a broad audience, "from architects to teachers to someone involved in a community group."

Creation of the first issue has the feel of a cyber-collective operating on a shoestring.

Gordon has never met the art director, a professional designer from San Francisco who agreed to work for free after a friend forwarded her an e-mail about the magazine. Everything but the printing cost -- $1,500 for 1,000 copies, raised from those involved -- was donated.

"It would have been cheaper to do a Web version," Gordon said. "But to be an effective product, it's important to have a print presence."

An electronic advance copy reveals a cleanly designed, 48-page publication with charts, maps and photos.

The issue focuses on smart growth -- each issue will be centered around a single theme -- but also includes articles on education, the environment and other topics. Many of the articles will be posted online at www.americancity.org.

Gordon and Brown drew on their college connections for an advisory board that includes such notables as Paul Goldberger, architecture critic of The New Yorker and a Yale alum, and Alexander Garvin, a Yale professor and vice president of the agency overseeing the redevelopment of New York's World Trade Center site.

"I like the idea of the magazine and look forward to helping them make it a valuable resource," Garvin said in an e-mail.

Still, in keeping with its mission as the next American city magazine, the publication's authors are hardly household names. "I want to introduce new voices," Gordon said.

Perhaps as a result, the content is more uneven than the design. The highlight is Brown's lead article on "Why Building `Smart' is Hard" -- which looks at the difficulties faced in transforming a closed Denver amusement park into a mixed-use urban development.

On the other hand, an article about the impact of the growing numbers of gays in the suburbs is an intriguing idea, but one better conceived than explored.

The youthful vision is less apparent than one might expect. And the magazine draws a little too much on the Baltimore-New York-New Haven axis of its founders. "I'd like more writing coming from smaller cities in the middle of the country," Gordon acknowledges.

That's just one of the ambitions of the magazine. It plans to sponsor a panel discussion in New York next month on the planning process of the World Trade Center redevelopment, and hopes to hold forums on other topics in Washington and New Haven, Conn.

It wants to gain subscriptions, advertising and foundation support -- and influence.

"I'd like us to be seen nationally as a forum to grapple with these issues, particularly for people of our generation, to have a national conversation about what's going on with cities and suburbs," Gordon said.

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