The Before-Times

A year after the world ground to a halt, The Usonian readies for launch

In February 2020—just over a year ago—I flew to Los Angeles to check in on an ailing grandparent. Kobe was dead, the first presidential impeachment trial in nearly two decades was just wrapping up, and on CNN LA Mayor Eric Garcetti assured viewers LAX was doing its best to contain a mysterious virus emanating from Wuhan, China.

On that trip, I paid a visit to the upscale mountainside community of Sierra Madre, a town in which I had spent my earliest years. There, the Mediterranean-climate-air and its powerful light was soothing, a salve for what seemed like another grind of a grad school semester which awaited me back in Reno. (Little did I know!)

Upon my departure, I watched Shakira and J-Lo’s Super Bowl halftime show from the lukewarm comfort of a pre-mask-era LAX terminal. As the Southwest 737 took off, the airport columns were shaded in purple and gold spotlights in honor of the untimely death of the city’s (complicated) basketball hero.

This was how the year without end began for me. In some ways, it seems that a decade has passed since that trip. Many have suffered in the pandemic. I am very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had over the years and the relative safety I have enjoyed this past year particularly. And I am committed to sharing the information and tidbits I’ve learned over time in an accessible, readable way.

That’s to say I realized that there were many subjects I wanted to engage with, but at that time I did not possess the precise platform. As a result, I have decided to create The Usonian, a bimonthly newsletter that will focus on my twin interests of storytelling and (urban/architectural) design.

I’ve got a lot planned for you. Prepare for takeoff.

Headed Your Way

In the weeks and months to come, I’m going to post two newsletters a month.

The first monthly series is The Usonian Interviews, in which I will speak to a storyteller (broadly construed) or designer and post their interview here. Episode 1 will be released March 16. I’m super excited about this series, in which we’ll hear from a variety of voices, in many different fields and from all over the world.

Most other essays will fall into the following categories:

Narrative Architecture will consider challenges and approaches to writing narratives in film, literature, and journalism.

Urban Feature will consider issues and approaches to architecture and design.

Historia will discuss tales… from the crypt / library / JSTOR. You’ll see.

On Tour will feature travel writing about interesting locations I’ve come across.

Occasionally, special “blitz” (i.e. unscheduled and unexpected) posts might announce significant publications I’ve made and place them in greater context.

In Conclusion

I’m thrilled that you’re here to take this journey with me. Various thinkers have adopted the term “Usonian” to reflect an utopian America, an updated America, one equipped to meet the challenges of tomorrow with the courage to try to understand the complexities of its past. Maybe we won’t get that far, but we will get started by talking about making stories and human spaces better.


Harrison Blackman