A New Book on Shade by “Writing the City” Author Sam Bloch

Left: Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, a public high school in Westlake, Central Los Angeles, by Monica Nouwens for Places Journal; Right: Sam Bloch.

We’re delighted to share the news that author Sam Bloch is in contract with Random House to write his first book, a natural and social history of shade, which will expand upon his 2019 Places article, “Shade.”

Bloch was the inaugural recipient of the “Writing the City” award, our collaboration with the Arts and Culture M.A. program at Columbia Journalism School, which offers recent graduates the opportunity to produce an ambitious work of longform narrative journalism — and to delve into an important topic that might otherwise receive scant attention. The collaboration was made possible by a special projects grant from Elise Jaffe + Jeffrey Brown, and continues with the support of the Cravens Foundation.

David Hajdu and Alisa Solomon, co-directors of the Arts and Culture program, commented that “great magazine articles tend to have the appropriate scale and rarely have the potential to yield great books. It’s a testament to both the richness of his subject and the ambition of his approach to it that Sam Bloch has been contracted to write a full book building on his work on shade for Places Journal. We are proud to have this grow out of the collaboration between Places and Columbia Journalism School.”

“Writing the City” gave me the opportunity to explore what is now a signature subject of my young career,” Bloch explains. “I knew shade was an important part of living in Los Angeles, but I never had the time or financial support to do the subject justice. However, it was not easy to write “Shade.” It’s an elusive subject—literally, because it is ephemeral. But also because, as far as I could tell at the time, shade had not been seriously reported on before—not as a natural or cultural history, nor in terms of our relationship to shade in the public realm. I often worried that readers wouldn’t care about my driving idea that, in a warming world, shade is understudied index of inequality and a new frontier for environmental justice. Fortunately, I had dedicated editors who did care. David Hajdu pushed me to own my original idea. Nancy Levinson encouraged me to seek out important sources in L.A. and beyond, and in telling the story of the city’s shade inequality, to keep the focus on shade itself, and less on the urban forces that accidentally create or destroy it. Most importantly, Josh Wallaert patiently helped me shape my jumble of ideas into a sharp, compelling story.”

“Shade” was an ambitious work of urban journalism with a powerful message: in a wide-ranging portrait of Los Angeles, Bloch argued that shade is a civic resource, a requirement for public health, an index of inequality, and a new mandate for urban designers. “The response since the article was published last spring has been tremendous,” said Bloch. “It was shared widely on Twitter by artists and architects, designers and urban planners, environmentalists, racial justice activists, doctors, journalists, writers, and politicians. It was picked up by major publications — quoted in The New York Times, and cited in The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times, and e-flux — and was the subject of episodes of the 99% Invisible podcast and KCRW’s Design and Architecture radio show. It’s also now taught on university syllabi in public health, sociology, urban studies, and architecture courses. People still reach out to me with stories or observations about shade inequality in their cities: New York, Toronto, Tel Aviv, Chennai, and Lahore among them.”

We look forward to the publication of the book in 2023.