CityLab

  • Ready or Not, Blockchain-Based Mobile Voting Is Getting Closer
    This election season, the option to vote remotely via blockchain is coming to overseas voters from nine new U.S. cities. West Virginia became the first state to pilot the technology last year, with Denver following in May as the first city. In this August’s local elections, far-flung voters from Utah County, home to the city of Provo, will be able to log their votes on a mobile application, too.At its core, the technology is meant to make voting easier and increase primary turnout, which is historically lower than that of general elections. About 20 percent of registered voters cast ballots in midterm House of Representatives races last year—a huge leap from 2014’s turnout rate of 13.7 percent.“Given that the average primary turnout is 12 to 15 percent, 12 to 15 percent of people dictate most of our policies on the left or the right,” said Bradley Tusk, the startup-consultant-turned-philanthropist who is supporting the pilots, which are administered by the Boston-based technology company Voatz. “How do you get turnout to 60 or 70 percent?”In his work in 2011 as an early-stage Uber consultant, Tusk thinks he found one answer: Let people vote on their phones. When Uber wanted cities to legalize ridehailing, the company asked riders and drivers to indicate their support via texts and online petitions. They did, in vast numbers, and the rest is history.“If you want to change the outputs, you’ve got to change the inputs,” Tusk said. “Everybody has technology in their pocket.” Tusk Philanthropies—funded in part by the equity Tusk was given by Uber as payment for that consulting work—has covered the costs of administering and auditing each Voatz election so far.When Utah County, population 60,000, presented its proposal to the state to be the next Voatz site, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox said he was intrigued. With its significant population of internationally based military officers and missionaries who vote absentee, Utah has long been interested in online voting, but hadn’t cracked the key to doing it securely.“You have to guarantee a private vote, and people have to be able to vote anonymously and that, by definition, makes it impossible to audit,” said Cox. “It’s not that someone actually has to hack an election. They just have to claim they did, and if you can’t claim otherwise, you’ve undermined the foundation of our democratic republic.”Blockchain could unlock that potential by serving as an online database of transactions—in this case, votes—that are stored securely online. By logging the votes multiple times on multiple machines across what’s called a “distributed ledger,” election officials are able to verify that the votes haven’t been altered without having to tie the vote back to the voter.“The purpose of doing this trial is to have a small, controlled group that we can monitor very closely, so we can ensure the integrity of the election,” said Cox. “We think we’ll see a significant increase in returned ballots.” In Utah County, 84 voters are eligible to vote overseas county-wide, and 53 of them are in ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Tuesday, July 23, 2019By Sarah Holder
    7 hours ago
  • CityLab Daily: Should Electric Vehicle Drivers Pay Per Mile?
    What We’re FollowingCharges may apply: Since 1956, the United States has collected a federal fuel tax to contribute to the Highway Trust Fund, pairing money to help build and maintain roads with the gasoline and diesel that vehicles burn on them. But the tax has stayed flat as cars have become more fuel efficient, and the growing number of gasoline-free cars threatens to further deplete the fund, which has been running a shortfall for many years. How will the feds fund future road repairs? California, Washington, and Illinois are each mulling a “mileage tax,” where drivers pay based on the miles they drive rather than the gas they consume. That raises a dilemma, though: Charging electric vehicle drivers a mileage fee might slow the adoption of EVs at a time when cheap gas is fueling a climate catastrophe. Does it make sense to make these drivers pay up? CityLab’s Laura Bliss reports on a new attempt to weigh the tradeoffs: Should Electric Vehicle Drivers Pay Per Mile?Andrew SmallMore on CityLab The Skyline-Shaping Architecture of César Pelli The Argentine architect, who has died at age 92, created striking projects like the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. CityLab Staff How Freeway Revolts Shaped U.S. Cities Urbanites who battled the construction of the Interstate Highway System in the 1960s saved some neighborhoods—but many highways did transform cities. Linda Poon Reading the Story of London’s Hindus Through Temple Architecture Ranging from adapted historic buildings to ornate cultural centers, London’s Hindu temples tell of waves of immigration to Britain and increasing visibility. Erica X Eisen A Small Town Decides Parking Can't Be a Bargain Anymore Nevada City, California, used to advertise its “bargain” parking meters. Now they’re getting more expensive to protect the town against an existential threat. Laura Bliss The Hidden Winners in Neighborhood Gentrification A new study claims the effects of neighborhood change on original lower-income residents are largely positive, despite fears of spiking rents and displacement. Kriston Capps What We’re ReadingNashville residents blocked ICE from arresting their neighbor (Washington Post)Was the automotive era a terrible mistake? (New Yorker)My frantic life as a cab-dodging, tip-chasing food app deliveryman (New York Times)Is Chicago finally ready to reckon with its 1919 race riots? (Block Club Chicago) Why am I scared to ride a bike? (The Nib)Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to hello@citylab.com. ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Tuesday, July 23, 2019By Andrew Small
    11 hours ago
  • How Freeway Revolts Shaped U.S. Cities
    In 1955, the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads released the “Yellow Book”—a national blueprint to build out the 41,000-mile Interstate Highway System. The series of maps laid out the proposed routes for this massive project, which was set to be completed by 1969.In the beginning, things went smoothly enough: Highway engineers encountered little opposition from communities in the rural areas. But then builders tried to expand the network into major cities—and the age of the freeway revolts began.Most famously, in New York City the writer and urban visionary Jane Jacobs took on Robert Moses, rallying community opposition to his grand plan for the 10-lane Lower Manhattan Expressway that would have destroyed parts of Little Italy and SoHo. Similar eruptions of resistance stymied highway builders in many other cities. In the greater Washington D.C. metro area, lawsuits filed by residents not only canceled some highway construction, but diverted part of Interstate 66 connecting D.C. to Virginia from its original route. One (brief) survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation between 1967 and 1968 recorded 123 separate highway revolts and road-related protests.A recent working paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia looks at how the freeway revolts shaped the current Interstate map—and how that, in turn, shaped today’s cities. Using data on U.S. cities and neighborhoods from 1950 to 2010, economists Jeffrey Brinkman and Jeffrey Lin also detailed the negative local effects of the highways that did get built—something that Lin says often gets overlooked by policy makers.Opposition from residents diverted much of Interstate 66  away from the initial route planned in the 1955 Yellow Book. (Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia)“Highways allowed better transportation between cities and more people access to opportunities in cities—but there are costs,” he tells CityLab. “I think you really need to balance the benefits at a national scale against these local effects.”The report measures the growing influence of public resistance during the Interstate-building era. The closer to city centers highways were planned, and the later they were built, the less they resembled the routes mapped out in the Yellow Book. Those in the suburbs were more likely to be built according to the original plan. And while freeways constructed between 1955 to 1957 most resembled initial plans, by 1993, the correlation between planned and built highways fell from 0.95 to 0.86, falling especially low among routes in neighborhoods near city centers.The paper also puts the success of the freeway revolts into perspective. Despite celebrated wins like the unbuilt Lower Manhattan Expressway, the Interstate system was still constructed mostly according to plan, says Lin. The revolts did help usher in federal policy changes that prioritized local input, historical preservation, and the environment. But in most cities, highways came anyway. And when they did, they disproportionately affected those living in communities of color and neighborhoods with lower education attainment: By the mid-1960s, white neighborhoods with more affluent, better educated residents had more success putting new policies to use and keeping highways at bay.Those protests initially came as ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Tuesday, July 23, 2019By Linda Poon
    11 hours ago
  • Should Electric Vehicle Drivers Pay Per Mile?
    More than 1 million electric cars are now zipping (quietly) around the United States. That’s still a tiny fraction of the nation’s 260 million-strong vehicle fleet, but EVs hit a sales record of 208,000 registrations in 2018. As more mass-market plug-in models hit the showrooms, more charging stations pop up, and the menace of “range anxiety” fades, new EV drivers are born every day.But are all those Bolts, Volts, Leafs, and Teslas paying their fair share for the asphalt they drive on? The Highway Trust Fund, the federal government’s purse for road maintenance, depends on the 18 cents per gallon U.S. motorists pay in gasoline taxes. But it’s nearly insolvent, in part because Americans drive more fuel-efficient machines than before. So states like California, Washington, and Illinois are mulling a “mileage tax,” where drivers pay a fee based on the number of miles driven, rather than the amount of gas they burn. Oregon, where a pilot program asks participants to pay 1.7 cents per mile in lieu of paying a gas tax, is the example to follow.Yet the question of getting plug-ins to pay up may be trickier than it seems. In a new working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Lucas Davis, a professor of business and technology and a director of U.C. Berkeley’s Energy Institute, and James Sallee, a professor in the school’s department of agricultural and resource economics, estimate that while the U.S. does indeed forgo millions in tax revenue thanks to EVs, instituting a special tax on electric vehicles might produce unwanted side effects.Two maps show where the impact of lost gas tax revenue is felt the most. (NBER)First: Just how much is the highway piggy bank losing because of the rise of EVs? Davis and Sallee estimate about $250 million a year, based on vehicle substitution trends and average miles driven. That’s a fairly modest hit, but per EV, it seems weightier: $318 annually, according to their estimates. This impact on tax revenues is concentrated in a small number of states where EVs are most popular and gas taxes are highest: In California, where 7.8 percent of all new car sales are hybrids or electric, the state is surrendering $90 million in annual revenue.What’s more, Sallee and Davis estimate that two-thirds of those foregone resources comes from households that make more than $100,000 in annual income, since EVs tend to be more expensive to purchase than conventional cars and are disproportionately driven by more affluent people. This suggests that the under-taxation of zero-emissions cars has a “regressive” effect—it hurts poorer Americans more than rich folks.So, should EV drivers cough up, and how much? Facing this question, the researchers consider some key economic tradeoffs. On the one hand, even though EVs help reduce carbon emissions and local air pollution, these virtuous vehicles still contribute to road congestion and collisions as much as anyone else. And we’ve seen that the federal coffers could use some support. Perhaps some tax is in order.On the other hand, ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Tuesday, July 23, 2019By Laura Bliss
    14 hours ago
  • Reading the Story of London’s Hindus Through Temple Architecture
    I’m still several blocks away when the white towers of BAPS Sri Swaminarayan Temple come into view, gleaming in the sunshine I’m lucky to have coincide with my visit. Completed in 1995 in Neasden, a district of London, the structure is the first purpose-built Hindu temple in the U.K. and describes itself as the first “authentic” Hindu temple in all of Europe. At the time of its construction, it was also the largest Hindu temple outside of India, requiring almost 5,000 tons of limestone and marble for its ornate carvings.The BAPS Sri Swaminarayan Temple in Neasden, northwest London. (VOJTa Herout/Shutterstock)  Today, over half of the United Kingdom’s more than 800,000 Hindus live in London, and there are especially sizable communities in the northwest of the city (where the BAPS Sri Swaminarayan Temple is located). Walking or taking the bus around my neighborhood there, it’s not uncommon to come upon a temple unexpectedly. They range from plain brick buildings to lofty-towered structures in traditional Indian architectural idioms.In examining the history of these temples—and why their appearances can differ so radically—we can also trace the history of Hindus in the U.K.Although the Indian community in Britain dates back to the 1600s, the first major wave of South Asian immigration to the U.K. did not come until after World War II. The countries of South Asia remained part of the Commonwealth after independence, meaning that the 1948 British Nationality Act, which bestowed British citizenship and the right to settle in the U.K. upon Commonwealth nationals, applied to people from modern-day India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Between the peak immigration years of 1955 and 1975, tens of thousands of people from the subcontinent, especially the Punjab and Gujarat, traveled to Britain to pursue economic opportunity at a time when the U.K. was facing major labor shortages.Hindu immigrants to Britain at this time would have been hard-pressed to find a place to worship. London in the 1950s had no official Hindu temples, and prejudices against South Asian art and architectural styles remained. (Until the 1960s, the British Museum maintained a secret room for works it deemed “obscene,” the most prominent among them a Sri Lankan statue of the bare-breasted Hindu-Buddhist deity Tara.) As a result, Hindu immigrants at this time often had to improvise spaces of worship in private, converting homes and offices into temporary worship halls.While South Asian immigrants to the U.K. had difficulty getting an official house of worship going, Western counterculture figures who became enamored of Indic religion faced fewer obstacles. In the 1960s, popular fascination with a romanticized notion of “the East” led in part to the rise of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, better known as the Hare Krishnas. Their Radha Krishna Temple, the lease of which was co-signed by George Harrison, opened in the 1960s near busy Oxford Street, a location chosen for optimum proselytizing.A vegetarian restaurant (which is run by the temple) and the Radha Krishna Temple on Soho Street in London. (padmak/Shutterstock)Radha Krishna Temple was housed ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Tuesday, July 23, 2019By Erica X Eisen
    17 hours ago
  • The Skyline-Shaping Architecture of César Pelli
    César Pelli, an architect whose soaring towers defined the skylines of cities around the world, died on July 19 at the age of 92. A versatile designer, Pelli penned museums, airport terminals, and hospital campuses. But he was best known for his skyscrapers, which departed from strict modernism in their integration of historic forms and broad palette of materials.Pelli at the inauguration of his Torre Iberdrola in Bilbao, Spain, in 2012. (Vincent West/Reuters)Born in 1926, Pelli was raised in San Miguel de Tucumán, the capital of the Tucumán province in northern Argentina, and graduated from university there before obtaining a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1954. He then spent a decade working for the great midcentury designer Eero Saarinen, offering significant creative input on projects such as the TWA Flight Center and Ezra Stiles College and Morse College at Yale University.Not unusually for an architect, Pelli was a late bloomer. He worked for two large corporate firms, DMJM and Gruen Associates, before starting his own practice at the age of 50 with partners Diana Balmori (his wife until 2001) and Fred Clarke. He remained at the helm of the New Haven-based firm—called Pelli Clarke Pelli since 2005—for 40 years and continued to teach at Yale after his deanship ended in 1984. In 1995, Pelli received the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal, its highest honor for an individual.Below are six of Pelli’s best-known buildings, all of which had a dramatic impact on the cities around them.Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles(Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock)  Pelli designed the first phase of the Pacific Design Center—Center Blue—in the mid-1970s while still at Gruen Associates. The big, blue-glass building caused a stir in Los Angeles, where locals compared it to a whale. He designed the complex’s second and third phases, Center Green (shown here) and Center Red, a decade later. Architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne called Center Blue “architecture as abstract geometry … symbolic of that quintessentially Los Angeles building type: the sideways skyscraper.”Winter Garden, Brookfield Place, New York CityThe Winter Garden atrium pictured in 2007. (Mary Altaffer/AP)Pelli’s World Financial Center (now Brookfield Place), consisting of four office towers and completed in 1988, was the first big piece of Battery Park City in Manhattan. Its glass-vaulted, palm-tree-planted Winter Garden is the centerpiece of a popular shopping mall and an example of Pelli’s lifelong interest in designing public rooms. “Unlike American architects, I believe that public spaces are more important than private spaces,” he once said.One Canada Square, LondonOne Canada Square, seen through a glass dome elsewhere in Canary Wharf. (Russell Boyce/Reuters)When it opened in 1991, Pelli’s 50-story skyscraper in London’s Canary Wharf district was the tallest building in the United Kingdom; it’s now the second tallest, having been outstripped in 2012 by Renzo Piano’s Shard. Clad in stainless steel and topped by an illuminated pyramid, the tower does not count Prince Charles among its fans: “I personally would go mad if I had to work in a place like that,” he ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Monday, July 22, 2019By CityLab Staff
    1 day ago
  • CityLab Daily: Everyday Architecture Deserves Respect
    What We’re FollowingAll the small things: Architecture isn’t just about big buildings. Daily life is full of small spaces that might not even register as structures that have been intentionally designed: Think subway entrances and bus stops, kiosks and gas stations, fountains and phone booths. They might not make grand design statements, but they have an underrated charm and nobility. The fiberglass K67 kiosk (Courtesy of Museum of Architecture and Design, Ljubljana)Unlike the architecture of the powerful, these little works of architecture often have to justify their continued existence in a commercial or functional way. To be preserved, they either have to gain iconic status or adapt to new uses. Today on CityLab, Darran Anderson writes there is “a danger of supposing” that such small structures “are unworthy of maintaining:” Why Everyday Architecture Deserves RespectAndrew SmallMore on CityLab Youngstown Loses its Newspaper, and a Lot More The closing of The Vindicator, Youngstown’s daily paper, means that this long-suffering Ohio city won’t have the ability to shape its own narrative. Sherry Linkon and John Russo How ‘Corn Sweat’ Makes Summer Days More Humid It’s a real phenomenon, and it’s making the hot weather muggier in the American Midwest. David Montgomery Here's What the Heat Island Looks Like in East Coast Cities Maps of urban heat islands show where residents can find pockets of cooler air in Boston, Philadelphia, Richmond, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. Linda Poon How to Make Transit More Accessible to the Visually Impaired New signage and NaviLens technology have been rolled out in Barcelona, Madrid, and Murcia city to help visually impaired people navigate public transportation. Aisha Majid What Restaurant Reviews Reveal About Cities Where official census data is sparse, MIT researchers find that restaurant review websites can offer similar demographic and economic information. Linda Poon What We’re ReadingHow much is a view worth in Manhattan? Try $11 million (New York Times)What Seattle learned from having the highest minimum wage in the country (Vox)Why did Kamala Harris pick Baltimore for a campaign headquarters? (Baltimore Sun)City planners eye self-driving cars as a chance to correct 20th century mistakes (Washington Post)Democratic candidates criticize the business model of Uber and Lyft—and keep using them (Quartz)Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to hello@citylab.com. ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Monday, July 22, 2019By Andrew Small
    1 day ago
  • Restaurant Reviews Can Tell You a Lot About a Neighborhood
    Online review sites can tell you a lot about a city’s restaurant scene, and they can reveal a lot about the city itself, too.Researchers at MIT recently found that information about restaurants gathered from popular review sites can be used to uncover a number of socioeconomic factors of a neighborhood, including its employment rates and demographic profiles of the people who live, work, and travel there.A report published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explains how the researchers used information found on Dianping—a Yelp-like site in China—to find information that might usually be gleaned from an official government census. The model could prove especially useful for gathering information about cities that don’t have that kind of reliable or up-to-date government data, especially in developing countries with limited resources to conduct regular surveys.“We wanted to explore a new way of using restaurant data to predict those very small neighborhood-level attributes like income, population, employment, and consumption, without relying on official census data,” says Siqi Zheng, an urban development professor at MIT Futures Lab with a special focus on China.Zheng and her colleagues tested out their machine-learning model using restaurant data from nine Chinese cities of various sizes—from crowded ones like Beijing, with a population of more than 10 million, to smaller ones like Baoding, a city of fewer than 3 million people.They pulled data from 630,000 restaurants listed on Dianping, including each business’s location, menu prices, opening day, and customer ratings. Then they ran it through a machine-learning model with official census data and with anonymous location and spending data gathered from cell phones and bank cards. By comparing the information, they were able to determine where the restaurant data reflected the other data they had about neighborhoods’ characteristics.They found that the local restaurant scene can predict, with 95 percent accuracy, variations in a neighborhood’s daytime and nighttime populations, which are measured using mobile phone data. They can also predict, with 90 and 93 percent accuracy, respectively, the number of businesses and the volume of consumer consumption. The type of cuisines offered and kind of eateries available (coffeeshop vs. traditional teahouses, for example), can also predict the proportion of immigrants or age and income breakdown of residents. The predictions are more accurate for neighborhoods near urban centers as opposed to those near suburbs, and for smaller cities, where neighborhoods don’t vary as widely as those in bigger metropolises.Running a model based on data from one data-rich city can be accurate enough to be applied to different cities within a country, according to the study.Together, the predictions provide urban planners with the most up-to-date socioeconomic attributes needed to “make the decisions on where to provide public services,” says Zheng. “They need to understand the demand side.” As for the private sector, predictions about daytime activity will inform them about where to set up retail or real estate markets.It makes sense that the local restaurant scene can paint a picture of the neighborhood it’s in. “It’s one of ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Monday, July 22, 2019By Linda Poon
    2 days ago
  • Youngstown Loses its Newspaper, and a Lot More
    It’s been a tough year in Youngstown. Along with the closing of the nearby GM Lordstown plant, 2019 has also seen the Ohio city lose one of its two major hospitals. Then, late last month, the community’s 150-year old newspaper, The Vindicator, announced that it would close in August.This latest body blow has left Youngstown punch drunk, struggling to regain balance. Once known for steel production, the city has since the 1970s become better known for industrial decline. Its economic plight routinely draws national attention, in part because, as we argue in our book, Steeltown USA: Work and Memory in Youngstown, Youngstown’s story is America’s story: What happens here illustrates and often predicts what will happen around the country.When reporters call us up to ask why autoworkers cling to jobs they should know are doomed to disappear, we often suggest they take a look around the empty desks of their own newsrooms. The same economic shifts that closed this city’s steel mills have also hit journalism, and not just in Youngstown. As the Columbia Journalism Review and Bloomberg have recently reported, between January and May of 2019, 3,000 journalists were laid off around the country, most in the Midwest. The toll from The Vindicator closing is 144 jobs, including 24 reporters.Just like a plant closing, the shutdown of newspaper is about far more than lost jobs. A city like Youngstown, which has a rich history of local political corruption, can ill afford to lose the watchdog role that aggressive local reporters provide. But it’s also about losing social networks. A local newspaper provides connective tissue, day-to-day knowledge that is essential to place-making. The Vindicator called itself “the people’s paper”; as former Vindicator reporter Denise Dick wrote in the Washington Post, its pages were filled with news of “seemingly mundane things”—high school sports and church food sales, local art shows and wedding announcements.The Vindicator is not the only source of this kind of information. In addition to local TV stations, both the local Business Journal and the Tribune Chronicle, the local paper for nearby Warren, Ohio, have announced plans to expand their coverage of Youngstown. Two new projects from national media organizations will also try to fill some of the much-needed public oversight gaps. The nonprofit investigative powerhouse ProPublica will create a local operation in Youngstown as part of its Local Reporting Network, and last week came the announcement that the Google News Initiative’s Compass Project, a partnership with McClatchy, will launch a local online news outlet here in August. In this way, Youngstown’s story will yet again provide a glimpse into a wider future, hosting experiments in alternative models for the production and distribution of local news.Each of these efforts can take up at least part of what The Vindicator once provided. The Warren paper can host Youngstown’s obituaries and wedding announcements, while the Business Journal will pay attention to local economic issues. ProPublica may be able to field more investigative reporting than The Vindy has in recent years, and ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Monday, July 22, 2019By Sherry Linkon
    2 days ago
  • In Praise of Small Architecture
    Architecture is not simply the stage set in which we live our lives. It is also a reflection of how we live our lives and who we are. An integral aspect to this is the unfolding of time. What happens when our needs, desires, and beliefs change, and the structures we have built no longer facilitate them?Architectural preservation is often an issue of grandeur, both in a sense of size and richness, and decay. When we think of buildings that already been lost, they are almost always imposing structures—cathedrals, skyscrapers, temples. Yet the places where we enact our daily lives, and which reflect them even more than grand architectural statements, are smaller, more seemingly trivial and thus more vulnerable.To appreciate the charms of small structures, it is useful to remind ourselves that we primarily interact with architecture from a ground level rather than the god’s-eye view employed in films and renderings. The architecture of day-to-day urban life is driven by utility and merges so integrally into our tasks that we barely notice it as architecture. There have been visionary architects who have recognized and celebrated the underrated nobility of everyday life, and there are some superlative little wonders scattered around our cities.One of Hector Guimard’s famous Art Nouveau entrances to the Paris Metro, with a modern news kiosk behind it. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)Arising to offer a service or goods, what we could see as democratic architecture is also commercially motivated. Most small buildings are trying to sell something. This is evident in Herbert Bayer’s eye-catching Bauhaus kiosks, which are their own advertising. Similarly, roadside Googie architecture, as captured in the book California Crazy by Jim Heimann, was designed to grab the attention of passing motorists and their children with structures that immediately demonstrated their functions in their forms: giant hot dogs or coffee pots (a modern form of architecture parlante, or “talking architecture”).Indeed, there is something innately childlike, or nostalgic, to our affinity with small spaces. They are perhaps an adult continuation of the child’s attraction to playhouses, dollhouses, treehouses, model villages—places of a comforting scale that offer us the illusion of Olympian-like control.Ideology can also be sold to the masses. The structures used would be cheap, easy to move and assemble, but also attention-grabbing. Following the example of Soviet agitprop trains, Gustav Klutsis designed a series of constructivist kiosks in beguiling geometric shapes to pop up and spread communist propaganda. This approach lost favor with the Russian authorities, who opted for much more gargantuan and neoclassical forms of architecture to transmit the message of Soviet superiority. Klutsis was rewarded for his efforts by being executed on trumped-up charges during Stalin’s Great Terror.  Mobility is often key to the need for and success of the small structure. It is built to capitalize on the flow of people and the rapidity with which someone acquires a newspaper or a drink. The bus stops of the former U.S.S.R., collected “from Samarkand to Yerevan” by Peter Ortner, are an example of architecture made to ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Monday, July 22, 2019By Darran Anderson
    2 days ago
  • Where to Find Relief in the Big East Coast Heat Wave
    A dangerous heat wave is sweeping across two-thirds of the U.S. this weekend, bringing some kind of heat watch or excessive heat warning to nearly 200 million people. Temperatures on Friday pushed into the 90s in several cities, from St. Louis and Chicago in the Midwest to Washington, D.C. and New York City along the East Coast.With stifling humidity, heat index values in many areas soared past 100 degrees Fahrenheit as of 1 p.m. Friday, and several cities are expected to hit record highs, according to the National Weather Service.
    Look at the impressive and widespread coverage of #heat related warnings and advisories across the Eastern two-thirds of the country. The hazy, hot and humid conditions will persist through the weekend. Be smart and stay cool! #HeatSafety pic.twitter.com/hemIJ79rOr — National Weather Service (@NWS) July 18, 2019While the heat is uncomfortable everywhere, it will be particularly dangerous for those who live in city centers, where the urban heat island effect makes it feel warmer than surrounding suburban and rural areas.The annual mean air temperature of a city with at least 1 million people can be 2 to 5 degrees warmer than its surroundings, according to the EPA. In the evening, that temperature difference can be as high as 22 degrees. Experts chalk it up to the asphalt, steel, and concrete that trap the heat better than natural vegetation, as well as the disruption of airflow by the grid-like layout of cities.Even within cities, there can be surprising differences in temperature from one area to the next. In 2017 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration enlisted volunteers to map air temperatures throughout Richmond, Virginia, to find where the urban heat island effect is most extreme. It was part of the agency’s Urban Heat Mapping Project, and in the summer of 2018, citizen scientists did the same for Baltimore and D.C. This weekend, theyre measuring temperatures across Boston. Here’s how the heat island has been mapped across those cities:Baltimore, MarylandThe hot spots of Baltimore, as mapped in the summer of 2018. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)This map, made in 2018, reveals that Baltimore’s hottest spots lie along the car-intensive stretch of Route 40 that runs across the breadth of the city’s lower midtown area. While temperatures spiked to the low 100s in some of the city’s densest developments, green and shady areas like Leakin Park, the Cylburn Arboretum, and Druid Hill Park checked in as much as 16 degrees cooler.That means visitors to Artscape, one of the nation’s largest outdoor arts festivals, won’t find much relief this weekend: The event is held in midtown Baltimore. The state of Maryland is under an excessive heat warning, with NWS warning that heat index values in the area could hit between 110 and 115 degrees.Washington, D.C.The hot spots of D.C., as mapped in the summer of 2018. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)An hour away, in the nation’s capital, the warmest spots clocked in at 17 degrees higher than the coolest spots in August 2018. Unlike ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, July 19, 2019By Linda Poon
    4 days ago
  • How ‘Corn Sweat’ Makes Summer Days More Humid
    As hot, sticky weather descends on much of the country this weekend, some of the stickiness in Midwestern cities may be due to an unexpected phenomenon: “corn sweat.”That’s right. Even if you’re in the middle of a concrete jungle, those millions of acres of corn (and other crops) in the country’s heartland are still shaping your weather in powerful—and uncomfortable—ways.“Under conditions like we have now where it’s very warm to begin with, and the atmosphere has a significant amount of moisture in it already, the crop is just adding moisture to that, making conditions feel even more humid,” said Dennis Todey, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Midwest Climate Hub.How corn ‘sweats’Plants, like humans, shed water when it gets too hot. In their case, they suck up water through their roots and then push it out through tiny holes in their leaves called stomata.“When [water] converts from that liquid form to that gas form, it takes a lot of energy with it,” said Joe Lauer, a professor and corn agronomist at the University of Wisconsin. “The upshot is it cools the leaf down.”But all that water a plant pushes out of its stomata goes somewhere: into the air.The process is technically called transpiration or evapotranspiration, analogous to perspiration in animals. When it’s corn that’s evapotranspiring, the process is often dubbed “corn sweat,” a special nickname because of the prominent effect it can have on the weather.One corn plant doesn’t make a big difference. But a full field can raise the dew point—a measure of how much water is in the air—by 5 degrees Fahrenheit. A single acre of corn can give off up to 4,000 gallons of water per day. And the U.S. has lots and lots of cornfields: more than 90 million acres.Acres of corn by U.S. county, according to data from the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture. (David H. Montgomery/CityLab)The result is a wave of humidity that rolls across entire regions, from Denver to Pittsburgh.The humidity from corn sweat is most pronounced in the cornfields themselves, but it reaches cities, too. There, it combines with the added heat from the urban heat island effect to create a particularly unpleasant stickiness.“Once that moisture’s up in the air, it kind of just blows around with the general motion of the wind and weather patterns,” said Eric Ahasic, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Minnesota.The effect can be considerable. Ordinarily, high dew points above 80 degrees are only really seen along the coasts, especially near warm seas like the Gulf of Mexico. A day passes for humid in inland climates if the dew point passes 70 degrees.“But what we’ve seen really develop recently in the last 10 [or] 20 years, we’ve seen those 80-degree dew points get up into the Midwest,” Ahasic said. “It’s actually that extra moisture being pumped out of the farm fields, and especially the corn.”Corn isn’t the only plant that transpires. All plants do, including grasses, trees, and other types of crops. “That’s why … ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, July 19, 2019By David Montgomery
    4 days ago
  • CityLab Daily: Will There Ever Be a City on the Moon?
    What We’re FollowingFull moon fever: When Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind on the moon’s surface 50 years ago tomorrow, lots of people were already dreaming about staying. Scientists and sci-fi writers imagined igloo-shaped buildings, underground cave habitations, lunar farms, and all manner of moon bases. From a technological perspective, there was nothing stopping humanity from following the Apollo missions with a permanent settlement. (NASA, Kitmacher, Ciccora artists)Of course, none of this has come to pass: Living on the moon remains an impractical fantasy. But NASA has been polishing its plans to return to the moon and establish a more lasting foothold, along the lines of Antarctic research facilities or the International Space Station. And private tech companies are plotting ways to extract profits from the Earth’s astral companion. CityLab’s David Montgomery talked to scientists and science-fiction writers about why our moon-town dreams haven’t come true so far, and what these settlements might be like if they ever do. As one astrobiologist tells him, “A lot can happen in several thousand years”: We Were Promised Moon CitiesAndrew SmallMore on CityLab Startups Are Abandoning Suburbs for Cities With Good Transit A new study finds that new business startups are choosing cities with good public transportation options over the traditional suburban locations. Richard Florida The Surprisingly High-Stakes Fight Over a Traffic-Taming ‘Digital Twin’ Why are some mobility experts spooked by this plan to develop a data standard that would allow cities to build a real-time traffic control system? Laura Bliss The Lonely Death of a South Texas Skyscraper The First Pasadena State Bank, a 12-story modernist tower inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, has dominated this small town near Houston since 1962. Kriston Capps Why London's Proposed 'Tulip' Tower Won't Bloom Sadiq Khan used his discretionary powers to cancel the Norman Foster design. Does this signal a tougher attitude to flashy development? Feargus O'Sullivan How the Volkswagen Beetle Sparked America’s Art Car Movement When the Beetle was first introduced, Americans had never seen anything like it. Among art car enthusiasts, it became the ideal canvas for self-expression. John A. Heitmann What We’re ReadingIt’s the record-breaking overnight temperatures that could make this heat wave deadly for cities (Curbed)Why Bill de Blasio is facing criticism for the Eric Garner’s case (Vox)Here’s the most complete map so far of Amazon’s camera surveillance partnerships with local police (BuzzFeed News) Op-ed: How drivers can beat Uber at its own game (New York Times)Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to hello@citylab.com. ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, July 19, 2019By Andrew Small
    4 days ago
  • The Lonely Death of a South Texas Skyscraper
    For years, the abandoned tower in Pasadena, Texas, has beckoned adventurers. Drone pilots and urban explorers have surveyed the derelict building inside and out. What was once a pledge to the future of this industrial Houston suburb is now a relic from the past.No more. Early on Sunday morning, the city of Pasadena will demolish the First Pasadena State Bank building, its one and only skyscraper. The 12-story tower is one of only a few buildings taller than a house anywhere in the city, which boasts a population of about 153,000 residents. When the bank tower comes down, those residents will lose the city’s most prominent landmark, a time-worn symbol of civic pride that some say has lost its luster.For Texas architecture, and for modernist history, the loss will sting. Built in 1962, the First Pasadena State Bank is a rare example of a tower inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright (and actually completed). The building’s architects, of the firm MacKie and Kamrath, were Wright devotees, and they made the building in keeping with his design principles. Vacant since 2002, the tower tells an unlikely story of Houston’s evergreen economy, the consolidation of American banking, and Wright’s lasting legacy—and its demolition will claim a bit of the history of all three.“The building is very distinctive in terms of not only its spatial organization, but the way in which its detailing is derived from the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright,” says Stephen Fox, an architectural historian and lecturer at Rice University.A rendering for the First Pasadena State Bank building by MacKie and Kamrath. (Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries)Karl Kamrath and his partner, Frederick James MacKie Jr., who both studied architecture at the University of Texas at Austin in the 1930s, met in Chicago. They decided to start a firm and settled on Houston, where the local economy was buoyant. MacKie and Kamrath moved to Houston cold, Fox says; but by the 1940s, they were nationally recognized as the most important modernist firm in the region.“Kamrath considered himself a significant proponent of organic architecture in Texas. He continually designed buildings that drew on Wright’s principles, without imitating his work,” says Katie Pierce Meyer, head of architectural collections for the University of Texas Libraries. “He was especially attuned to creating organic architecture that start from and correspond to the surrounding landscape, with tendencies to design horizontal structures, with attention to views, and using natural materials.”The firm’s principal designer, Kamrath, came to know Wright’s work in Chicago. Many of the firm’s residential projects followed Usonian design principles, referring to Wright’s vision for a New World architectural style that incorporated the landscape as a significant element. Surviving homes by MacKie and Kamrath in Houston’s exclusive River Oaks neighborhood have the low-slung, forest-fresh look of a Wright house. Some were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.“Kamrath had the opportunity to go to Taliesin,” Fox says, referring to Wright’s 800-acre studio, school, and home in southwestern Wisconsin. “The story that he told was that he was so warmly ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, July 19, 2019By Kriston Capps
    4 days ago
  • The Surprisingly High-Stakes Fight Over a Traffic-Taming ‘Digital Twin’
    Imagine driving through Los Angeles in the year 2040. There’s a mix of self-driving and human-controlled vehicles on Santa Monica Boulevard. A serious collision slows traffic to a crawl. But then a special orchestration of traffic signals flips on, parting the sea of cars for an ambulance to throttle through the streets.This traffic engineering fantasy may be inching to reality, as companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Google, and HERE Maps develop what’s known as “digital twin” technology. The term describes a virtual simulacra of something in the physical world—whether it’s a car engine, a casino floor, or the street network of a major city—that visualizes real changes as they occur, and is “smart” enough to model possible scenario outcomes. In the L.A. example, imagine that a downtown city worker viewed a traffic simulation seconds after the car crash and approved a recommended route for the ambulance, alerting all those connected self-driving vehicles to move aside.But if the phrase “digital twin” strikes up images of a pixelated doppelgänger dogging your commute, you’re not necessarily wrong to feel creeped out. And you might not have to wait very long to find out if any of those fears are justified: Next week, transportation officials from 13 major American cities will discuss (among other items) whether to collectively to build towards such a model.“Going forward, each city must manage its own Digital Twin, which will provide the ground truth on which mobility services depend,” states the bylaws of the Open Mobility Foundation, a new nonprofit that counts city leaders on its board of directors.Launched in late June, the Open Mobility Foundation describes itself as a “public-private forum” to help local governments gain control of their roads from private mobility companies, using big data and open-source code. A central part of OMF’s mission is to govern the the new mobility data standard, commonly known as MDS, unveiled by the Los Angeles department of transportation last year. Currently, MDS pulls in rich, real-time status information about dockless scooters and shared bikes. Many other cities, including Miami, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Austin, Minneapolis, and others that have joined OMF, have adopted it.At their first meeting this coming Monday in Louisville, board members will vote on whether to adopt a set of bylaws that were largely authored by LADOT. A section called “design principles” states that OMF’s work will be “based on the ‘digital twin’ model [...], which specifies that municipalities own and control a definitive digital data model of urban mobility.” Having a virtual replica of real-world mobility flows—for scooters and bikes now, and for ride-hailing cars, AVs, and drones in the future—would allow local governments to both trace the movements of individual vehicles, and control them to some extent.But this notion of a traffic command system is ringing alarm bells in some parts of the small-but-very-chatty world of transportation technology. For one, mobility companies aren’t all thrilled with the idea of cities achieving the power to redirect their vehicles. The concept is also serving as a ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, July 19, 2019By Laura Bliss
    5 days ago
  • How to Make Transit More Accessible to the Visually Impaired
    When you are blind or partially sighted, everyday tasks can present a challenge, not least of all finding your way around the city. Things such as locating the ticket machine in a railway station or knowing if your bus has just pulled into the bus stop can be tricky or even impossible to do without help. But since 2018, brightly colored tags have been popping up in Barcelona, and more recently in other Spanish cities to simplify navigation for people who are blind and partially sighted.Paired with a mobile phone, they are part of a system known as NaviLens developed by the Mobile Vision Research Lab at the University of Alicante and the technology company, Neosistec. Designed to be used alongside traditional sight aides such as canes and guidedogs, NaviLens aims to help visually impaired people feel more independent when moving around the city.  Following the pilot on a small section of the transport network, Barcelona is extending the NaviLens system to its 2,400 bus stops and 159 metro stations as part of broader efforts to make the city’s transport network more accessible. In 2019, public transit in Madrid also began limited use of the system, and it is also available in Murcia city.  Using a free app and the camera in their smartphones, users scan their environment to locate the tags which are strategically positioned in bus stops and metro stations by elevators, platforms, stairs, escalators, and ticket machines—anywhere a user needs to take a navigation decision or hear other useful information.The tags, which are made up of colored squares on a black background, provide users with the kind of information a sighted person would usually take for granted. For instance when approaching a metro station equipped with NaviLens, users access the app and hold up their phones to scan for a tag that will play an audible message on their device telling them at how many meters and in which direction they will find an elevator going down into the station. As they approach the elevator, the user is continually updated with their distance from it.Once inside the station lobby, a user could then wave their phone to sweep the environment for a tag that lets them know in which direction and how far to walk to reach the ticket vending machines, before scanning the space again for further tags that will help them plot a step-by-step route through to the platform they need, just as a sighted person would do by reading signboards.Forty-eight-year-old Barcelona-resident Juan Nuñez began losing his sight 10 years ago as a result of a rare, degenerative disease. “Using the metro or bus network became a big challenge. I had to learn the layout of the metro stations by heart,” he says.But an unanticipated change, such as a relocated bus stop is sometimes all it takes to throw a visually impaired person off their memorized route. A former engineer, Nuñez says he is a fan of new technologies and now regularly relies on a ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, July 19, 2019By Aisha Majid
    5 days ago