Latkes, Hamantashen, and Urbanism

A little pre-Purim humor (well, attempted humor anyway).

February 21, 2021, 9:00 AM PST

By Michael Lewyn @mlewyn


Mea Shearim

A Jewish child celebrates Purim in the before times. | Shutterstock

The Jewish holiday of Purim is this week—one of the few Jewish holidays that are actually more fun than solemn. On a related note, the University of Chicago has an annual tradition of the Latke-Hamantash debate. In these "debates," scholars try to make arguments (preferably ridiculous ones) about whether the latke (a potato pancake commonly eaten by Jews during Chanukah, a holiday that usually occurs in December) or the hamantash (a pastry commonly identified with Purim) is better. This year, a question occurred to me: Is there an urbanist way to do a latke-hamantash debate? 

If I had thought of this a few weeks ago, maybe I would actually structure one. But since I didn’t, I’ll just try to do at least one side of the debate in print. So here is my intentionally silly urbanist case for the hamantash:

*There are three key factors in making a neighborhood walkable: density (because dense places are more walkable), diversity (of land uses, so people can walk to shops, parks etc), and design (for example, too-wide streets are dangerous for pedestrians). Similarly, a hamantashen is triangular, which means it has three points. Coincidence? Maybe, but what about...

*Sugar vs. starch. Latkes are made of potatoes, which means that they are basically boring—like the rural areas in which potatoes are grown. Hamantashen are more fun, like cities: they are full of sugar and fruit flavors, as well as the starchiness of baked wheat. And because hamantashen are not exactly an all-natural food, they require the economic growth that goes along with urbanization. Market urbanists in particular should favor the complexity of the hamantash over the simplicity of the latke. Eco-socialists fear economic growth, and hope to limit mankind to subsistence foods like potatoes, while only the free market could create the hamantash's intricate mix of flavors.

*The story of Purim is more "urban" than the story of Chanukah. Chanukah is all about a rebellion that begins in a small town in Israel. Purim is about palace intrigue in the city of Shushan, at the heart of the ancient Persian Empire.

*Purim ideally involves drinking alcohol, which is obviously much easier in a walkable big city than in suburbs where driving is usually necessary and drinking is therefore far more dangerous.

Does anyone want to make the urbanist case for latkes?


Michael Lewyn

Michael Lewyn is an associate professor at Touro College, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, in Long Island. His scholarship can be found at http://works.bepress.com/lewyn.

Chicago Commute

Planning for Congestion Relief

The third and final installment of Planetizen's examination of the role of the planning profession in both perpetuating and solving traffic congestion.

May 12, 2022 - James Brasuell

Twin Cities

Minneapolis Housing Plan a Success—Not for the Reason You Think

Housing advocates praise the city’s move to eliminate single-family zoning by legalizing triplexes on single-family lots, but that isn’t why housing construction is growing.

May 13, 2022 - Reason

Single-Family Housing Construction

New White House Housing Initiative Includes Zoning Reform Incentives

The Biden administration this morning released a new program of actions intended to spur housing construction around the United States.

May 16, 2022 - The White House

Complete Street Vancouver

Study: Most of Vancouver Is a ‘15-Minute City’

A large majority of Vancouver residents can access a grocery store in 15 minutes or less by bicycle or on foot.

May 20 - Vancouver Sun

Montreal, Quebec

Urban Design, Transport, and Health

The Lancet medical journal published a series of articles that explore how to evaluate and guide urban planning decisions to create healthy and sustainable cities. Live long and prosper!

May 20 - The Lancet - Urban Design, Transport, and Health

MoGo Bikeshare Bikes

Detroit Bike Share Celebrates Five Years

In its five years of operation, Detroit’s MoGo bikeshare has added electric and adaptive bikes to its fleet of more than 600 bikes.

May 20 - MoGo

HUD’s 2022 Innovative Housing Showcase

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Expanding HUD’s Eviction Protection Grant Program

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

New Updates on The Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.