Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

Spring 2021


The Lives and Afterlives of Urban Landscapes


Books, De Nichols, Julia Czerniak, Mike Belleme, Sara Zewde

Mise-en-Scène is an immersive exploration of the social lives of urban landscapes—the actors and actions that compose the daily theater of urban life. Conceived as a unique collaboration between an urbanist, Chris Reed, and a photographer, Mike Belleme, the book combines photo essays, original maps and drawings, newly commissioned essays, excerpts from historical writings, and interviews with residents. The result is a rigorous and artful examination of the social, cultural, environmental, and economic challenges of life in American cities today.

Richly illustrated and designed to appeal to a broad audience of architects, designers, photographers, and general public interested in the contemporary city, the book is centered around seven visual case studies depicting life in seven American cities: Los Angeles, Galveston, St. Louis, Green Bay, Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Boston. Each case study combines black-and-white photography—take from street level, often in intimate detail—with annotations and drawings that highlight urban forms. An inherent interconnectedness across geographies, scales, and situations emerges throughout the book. Reed and Belleme demonstrate how a celebratory moment can be felt equally in Green Bay’s compact downtown or amidst the chaos and sprawl of Los Angeles, and how while the tensions present in the redevelopment of previously inundated waterfronts in Boston or Galveston can be understood in parallel with an urgent set of conversations on race and identity in St. Louis.

Six essays by a diverse and interdisciplinary group of contributors prompt further reflection on the visual case studies. Chris Reed writes on the social lives of cities, designer Sara Zewde on the image of the city, artist De Nichols about social equity and identity, ecologist Nina-Marie Lister on the climate imperative, curator Mimi Zeiger on cities and culture, and architect Julia Czerniak on design practice.

Through this thoughtful exploration of everyday moments and the urbanism that supports them, Reed and Belleme present new opportunities for creating direct interaction between citizens, and propose an ecological and social focus for city-building around a concept of common ground.