GOAT Salon: Q&A with Nancy Levinson

Our next GOAT Salon is on Wednesday, July 26th with Nancy Levinson, editor of Places Journal. Here’s some of what you can expect from her.

Tell us a little about yourself.

For the past couple of decades, I’ve been working happily at the intersection of journalism, scholarship, architecture, and urbanism. Back in the mid ‘90s I cofounded a magazine at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. In the mid aughts I moved from deep-blue democratic Cambridge to red-state conservative Phoenix to run an urban design lab at Arizona State University. A few years later I drove the rest of the way across the country and ever since I’ve been living in San Francisco and editing Places Journal.

Like many of us in this beautiful and dynamic city, I seem to spend most of my time in front of my laptop. Which is another way of saying I love my work. Here at Places we’ve got a mission: Public scholarship on the designed environment. We work with adventurous scholars and intrepid journalists who want to tell rich and provocative stories about buildings, landscapes, and cities.

And like many of us in this diverse and progressive city, I’ve lately been mainlining the news and wondering how to respond most effectively to the new political challenges — the everyday shocking realities — of POTUS45.

What will you be talking about for this upcoming GOAT Salon?

Speaking of politics: I’d like to talk about the connections between design and politics. About why so many social and environmental issues — housing, transit, energy, water, climate change, etc. — are also design issues. What can we do as design journalists — and as citizen designers — in these strange times?

How do you see your work tying into design or politics?

We’re always seeking to publish work that connects with design practices. A lot of time the connection isn’t direct: in our pages you won’t find how-to, practical advice. But you will find writers grappling with big issues and wicked problems — ecological health, urban inequality, technological innovation, the meaning of the public realm, etc. See, for instance, our series on inequity in U.S. cities, or on global cities in transition.

And increasingly we’re focused on politics. That interest was always there, but it’s intensified since the election. Some articles we’ve published in the past few months were in progress before the inauguration, but afterward the authors felt a new urgency. A good example is Documenting the Undocumented, about migrant deaths along the U.S./Mexico border in Arizona.

For those who are new to Places Journal, can you share a couple of your favorite articles?

As editor it’s hard to pick favorites — we bond in some degree with all our articles! But I can share some recent ones.

“The Corner of Lovecraft and Ballard” is a wonderful essay about literature and architecture by the London-based writer Will Wiles. In “A City Is Not a Computer,” Shannon Mattern, a professor of media studies at Parson, makes an argument that should be obvious but that we often forget: urban intelligence is about more than information processing. And for a theoretical/politcal analysis of the rise of POTUS45, there’s “The Demagogue Take the Stage,” by the Columbia historian Reinhold Martin.

For those who want a deeper dive, all our articles are accessible from our Explore pages.

Get your ticket for Nancy’s GOAT Salon here. Hope to see you!