• This Wasn’t Actually a Great Week for Amazon
    We’ve read all about the top contenders for Amazon HQ2 and the long-shots; the hopeful small cities and the smug, orange-hued, big ones. We know the good, the bad, and the ugly of what those cities are willing to do to secure the mega-deal—even faced with the possibility that Amazon might end up getting more than it gives, cities still can’t resist its (incredibly wealthy) charm.Somewhat buried underneath this bidding-war news-muck, however, were two more troubling bits of Amazon news. On Tuesday, Amazon Studios CEO Roy Price resigned amid accusations of sexual harassment; and on Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that a major Amazon competitor, Walmart, has plans to launch an online retail store in partnership with Lord & Taylor. As the bidding deadline for Amazon HQ2 drew to a close Thursday night, another conceivable worst-case scenario emerged for cities vying for HQ2: the reminder that Amazon, however mighty, isn’t invincible.With an Amazon bid, cities are counting on more than just the company’s immediate capital investment in infrastructure and jobs. They’re assuming a bet on Amazon’s future is low-risk, secure, and predictable; that the company will not only survive, but continue to thrive. The company is worth more than $450 billion, its stock rose more than 40% last year. And it’s not just an e-commerce site anymore: Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, has made recent large investments in media (the Washington Post), infrastructure (Texas wind farms), and groceries (Whole Foods). Still, in recent months, Inc.’s stocks have performed worse than Facebook, Netflix, and Apple’s—down 2.6 percent since July as the others grew. Because of Amazon’s rapid and continuing expansion into new markets, however, analysts are still betting on long-term growth, “regardless of the quarterly numbers.”To deliver on this projected growth, Amazon relies firmly on its dominance in the online retail market. But its supremacy could soon be challenged: Walmart is said to be solidifying a deal with Lord & Taylor to develop its own version of an e-commerce store, hosted on The department store, which markets premium clothing towards higher income shoppers, is the latest in a string of retail partnerships Walmart has begun pursuing recently. Last year they bought the e-commerce site, which sells “basics” at low prices; followed by the lesser known brands Moosejaw, Bonobos, and ShoeBuy. The Wall Street Journal characterizes these recent acquisitions as the seeds of “an anti-Amazon coalition.”The race is far from one-sided. currently gets twice as many monthly page visitors as; and just as Walmart extends its reach into the cloud, Amazon is also racing to put down brick and mortar roots (see: Whole Foods). But as Art Rolnick, an economist at the University of Minnesota, reminded CityLab earlier this month: “markets change pretty fast sometimes, and companies come and go—even the great ones.”The likelihood that will eclipse immediately is unlikely, but it’s a sign that Amazon’s retail supremacy might have an expiration date.The concept of “future risk” exits the abstract when cities start giving Amazon ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, October 20, 2017By Sarah Holder
    2 days ago
  • Cities Take Both Sides in the ‘War on Sitting’
    Last month, after six months of construction, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority reopened the first of three rehabbed Brooklyn stations. It had new USB charging stations, large-screen digital maps, countdown clocks, and even a new mosaic.But what really caught straphangers’ attention was the leaning bar. A slanted wooden slab set against the wall at about the height of a person’s rear end, the bar was meant to give passengers a way to take some weight off their feet as they waited for the next train. What it was not, however, was a bench.“Are they trying to tell us something? Is this even for humans?” asked one incredulous Twitter user. “Is leaning the new sitting?” tweeted another. “With all the walking in NYC you need to sit occasionally.” The first Cuomo Station opens in Bay Ridge, 53rd St. biggest changes - leaning benches, charging ports, digital screens — Dan Rivoli (@danrivoli) September 8, 2017 leaning benches are a huge scam, i paid taxes for a real bench — Anthony V. (@fascinated) September 10, 2017In an email to CityLab, MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz called the leaning bar “the result of a review of best practices in transit systems around the world.” Bars take up less floor space than benches, he wrote, and serve as another option for transit riders. “They didn’t replace traditional seating in the station,” he wrote; “they supplement it.”Despite the MTA’s protestations, some New Yorkers saw the bar as the latest salvo in what could be called the War on Sitting. As cities around the world tear out benches in an effort to deter homeless people from sleeping and drug dealers from hovering, or to force loiterers to move along, pedestrians and transit users may find fewer and fewer places to sit down and take a load off, or hang out and watch the world go by—and that’s bad news not only for tired feet, but for city life itself.In the past few years, benches have disappeared from Uptown Chicago bus shelters (city officials cited concerns about loitering) and downtown Cincinnati (because “lewd and lascivious behavior” was allegedly occurring behind them). In San Francisco’s Castro, the local business association pulled seating out of Harvey Milk Plaza. The benches, it said, were being used as a “loophole” by people who wanted to avoid violating the city’s law against lying on sidewalks. In D.C., George Washington University pulled up seating outside a campus 7-Eleven after university police received complaints about panhandling and harassment. “If there are benches there, there are homeless people there,” an officer told the student paper.Earlier this year, the London Borough of Islington installed new “smart” benches with Wi-Fi, solar panels, and phone charging stations—but soon after the borough council announced it would remove them, due to a lack of planning permission and concerns that the benches presented “an opportunity for thieves travelling past to snatch phones and iPads.”Anaheim got attention in July because of officials’ decision to remove benches from bus stops near Disneyland, leading ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, October 20, 2017By Amy Crawford
    2 days ago
  • Here Are the Cities Standing Up for Women’s Health
    If you’re looking for well-funded women’s health clinics and sexually transmitted disease prevention, don’t go to Jacksonville. The Florida city scored at the very bottom of a new report by the National Institute for Reproductive Health, which ranked America’s 40 most populous cities according to the breadth of their reproductive health, rights, and justice policies.Jacksonville’s one-star rating reflects the city’s lack of numerous reproductive health protections, such as funding for abortion clinics, STI prevention campaigns, and community-based sexual education programming. Still, NIRH president Andrea Miller sees signs of hope: In February, Jacksonville passed historic legislation that prohibits discrimination against gay and transgender people. It’s last city of its size to secure such protections.“Jacksonville has taken this historic step of protecting LGBTQ people,” Miller says. “That is a remarkable move. Because they’ve proven that the kind of organizing and engagement between the community and elected officials can move us forward. That’s really what we hope people will take from this.”No city received a perfect score of five stars—meaning no city has matched each of the 37 policies tracked by the NIRH, a New York-based advocacy organization that promotes reproductive freedom. But the report, which is called the Local Reproductive Freedom Index, provides a blueprint for what cities are doing well already, and how they can increase access to reproductive healthcare for their residents—and often for the residents of the rural communities around them, too.   “Our urban centers are the linchpin for healthcare delivery for so many people,” Miller says. “Not just for their own residents, but for those who live tens if not hundreds of miles away.”Indeed, in many rural counties in the Midwest, the average woman has to drive more than 180 miles to get an abortion. In comparison, women who live closer to large cities only have to drive about fifteen miles to reach a Planned Parenthood facility or another comparable clinic.The reproductive rights ranking arrives as anxiety about reproductive health care is growing under the Trump administration. In January, the president appointed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who’s expected to be a foe of abortion rights, and reinstated the “global gag rule,” which halts U.S. funding to international NGOs that provide, or promote, abortion services. In July, the Trump administration cut the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program two years short, in the middle of a five-year funding period that supported community-based approaches to ending teen pregnancy. And in October, the president announced a new rule that allows employers to opt out of birth control coverage in their health insurance plans.Not surprisingly, it’s the progressive powerhouses of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City that sit atop of the index, with 4.5 star ratings. These cities have adopted numerous protections for women and families, such as funding for abortion and sex-ed, support for anti-discrimination policies, and a $15 minimum wage (New York City plans to raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2019). On the whole, larger coastal cities with long histories of investment in social justice causes score ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, October 20, 2017By Alastair Boone
    2 days ago
  • There’s a Smarter Way To Pick Infrastructure Projects
    The last time President Donald Trump spoke to the nation about his administration’s plan for infrastructure spending, he ended up defending the honor of violent white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. Since then, the proposed $1 trillion bill appears to have slipped on his list of priorities: Trump hasn’t tweeted about infrastructure since August.But if and when the topic of America’s crumbling bridges, leaky pipes, and outdated electrical grid comes up again, the need will outstrip whatever resources in whatever bill Congress gets around to passing—even if it’s a trillie. Prioritizing infrastructure projects to be funded turns out to be more art than science. The government could be much better at making these decision, whether it’s at the local, state, or federal level.That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Economic Policy Institute that explores ways for policymakers to tighten up the process. The report’s author, Josh Bivens, who is the organization’s director of research, sees three ways that government is falling down on the job—and one big-picture solution for making infrastructure projects work better for everyone.The first issue is one of jurisdiction. There’s a lack of efficient coordination between local, state, and federal governments, Bivens writes, and it affects the assessment of infrastructure projects. The map that shows which government body has ownership over a given asset gets blurry quickly. Jurisdiction varies from state to state, making side-by-side comparisons difficult.Moreover, blurry jurisdiction makes it harder for a government to weigh an infrastructure investment. An assessment of the benefit of an asset to a locality might not appropriately account for its benefit to the region, state, or nation. “Coordination is essential because a bigger-picture view is essential to ensuring that the benefits of regional and national spillover effects are taken into account when selecting and prioritizing projects,” Bivens writes.Problem number two, he explains, is straightforward: The country does not price carbon when it assesses the value of infrastructure investments. There is no standardized mechanism for appropriately estimating the cost of negative externalities associated with climate change in making decisions about infrastructure. The risk of literally undervaluing investments in clean energy is high.Under the Obama administration, the government took a stab at costing out carbon: Since 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies employed a social cost of carbon estimate to factor in the costs of climate change. The metric survived a court challenge brought forward by various business interests in August 2016. But it did not survive Donald Trump: The president scrapped SC-CO2 in a March 2017 executive order, and the EPA guidance page has been scrubbed from the agency’s website. The Obama-era figure was widely criticized as being too low—but it was at least not $0.Finally, some places simply need the investment more than others. Flint, Michigan, needs safe drinking water more than Kansas City needs a streetcar expansion, but communities in one state don’t necessarily weigh the needs of another community when they’re assessing their own infrastructure needs. Flint needs the jobs more than Kansas ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, October 20, 2017By Kriston Capps
    2 days ago
  • Nasty Ads Force Londoners to See Their Pollution Problem you fancy a cappuccino frosted with toxic dust? This is one of the unsettling images from a new campaign highlighting the terrible quality of London’s air. Launched by the London mayor’s office this week, the campaign uses heavily soiled everyday objects, including a baby’s bottle, to highlight the need for action over London’s terrible air quality. This comes in the run-up to the introduction next week of the so-called T-Chargea £10 ($13.20) levy for older, more polluting vehicles to enter Central London’s Congestion Charge Zone. The T-charge will have to be paid on top of London’s existing £11.50 ($15.20) congestion charge, making it prohibitively expensive to drive more polluting vehicles (typically any car built before 2006) into the zone. In effect, the charge is so high that it’s really a ban. This is in keeping with London’s policy of pricing polluters out of affordable access, as opposed to Paris’ approach of barring all older cars by law.It’s pretty much beyond dispute that some form of action is necessary to improve the quality of air Londoners are breathing. The latest figures show that London’s air is polluted beyond safe levels not just in the city core, but across almost all Greater London. The capital lies at the heart of a country where 50,000 people die due to pollution-related illnesses annually, a per capita rate exceeded in Western Europe only in foul-aired, notoriously congested Belgium. If you could see London’s air, you’d want to clean it too. Find out what we’re doing to clean up London’s toxic air — Mayor of London (@MayorofLondon) October 18, 2017Mayor Sadiq Khan is quite right to highlight these dangers to the public, given the resistance that often comes from moves to combat it—the hullaballoo from some sections of the U.K. media over the carving out of cycle lanes in London, for example, was a wonder to behold.But is Khan really doing enough to clear the air? His administration certainly seems to be aware of the urgency of action. The T-Charge is in fact an early introduction of a long-planned policy to create an Ultra Low Emissions Zone in central London next year, which will basically be a tighter more systematic version of next week’s charge. This nonetheless represents the rolling out of an existing pollution and congestion-management system—the Congestion Charge—that has arguably passed its sell-by date charge, introduced in 2003, did much initially to thin out jams in central London’s streets, but last year, congestion returned to its pre-charge levels, the private vehicles that had been discouraged having been replaced by commercial vehicles, such as delivery vans and Ubers. Without extending charging beyond the zone to create a city-wide road pricing system, it’s hard to see how things will meaningfully approve.Meanwhile, the mayor has waved through plans for a major new road tunnel channelling cars through East London. It’s a project whose potential effect on air quality is such that Britain’s national government has postponed deciding upon it for another month, revealing ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, October 20, 2017By Feargus O'Sullivan
    2 days ago
  • Montreal’s Retired Metro Cars Are Staying Busy
    Whenever a city updates the rolling stock of its subway, a familiar question emerges: What to do with all the old metro cars? You can hurl them in the ocean to make artificial reefs, or use them for emergency housing for the homeless, or sell them to North Korea, as Berlin did in the 1990s. Or, as in Montreal, you can turn them into public art installations. The Montreal Metro is currently rolling out its sleek new Azur rail cars, putting its half-century-old MR-63s to pasture. Under the supervision of STM, Montreal’s transit authority, some of the first and oldest cars are preparing themselves for new and radically different lives. Thresholds (Seuils), by artist Michel de Broin, is the first of seven winning MR-63 reuse proposals to STM. The installation debuted in the city’s Quartier de Spectacles during KM3, an outdoor urban art festival that ran from August 30 through October 15.In it, 12 lined-up sets of MR-63 doors swing open when set off by newly installed motion sensors. (“It's like controlling a steam engine with a microprocessor,” de Broin says, because the door motors are so old.) As the visitor passes through the installation, the doors slide open and closed: It’s as if the reused objects “were molded around the visitor’s body,” the artist says. The 47-year-old Montreal artist, best known for his use of radically repurposed objects, has long shown a particular interest in transportation. In Shared Propulsion Car (2007), a stripped-down 1986 Buick Regal is used as a pedal car on the streets of Manhattan and Toronto until being pulled over by police and towed. In Trial (2015), the ensuing traffic court hearing is reenacted verbatim inside a moving subway car. He has also made a bicycle that turns the rider’s energy into smoke (Keep On Smoking, 2016) and a project that explored the use of the use of a driver’s body fat as an alternative to gasoline (Reciprocal Energy, 2008).“These objects are diverted from their [original] purposes to create something that is not productive as much as it provides a means to question the [capitalist] system that initially created them,” says de Broin. “These creations are chances for the objects to revolt against the function and the discipline that inflicts them.”Thresholds by Michel de Broin, (KM3, Quartier des spectacles/Cindy Boyce)Thresholds is an example of what de Broin refers to as “technological archaeology.” He tells CityLab that the installation demonstrates a “treasure of know-how” buried in the bodywork of the retired rail cars. It makes visible and reactivates, he explains, “the technical memory of a device rendered obsolete by the arrival of new cars, but which nevertheless testify the innovations that marked their era.”The artist doesn’t know yet where Thresholds will travel next. Pending approvals, Montrealers should expect to see the other six reuse projects in the near future. Those will include: two new large-scale structures, a fire-prevention training car, a coffee shop for a polytechnic institute, and installations inside a skate park and the Jardins de ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, October 20, 2017By Mark Byrnes
    2 days ago
  • Lab Report: How Amazon Became ‘The Bachelor’ for U.S. Cities
    The Amazon reality show: The bidding for Amazon’s HQ2 turned America into “The Bachelor: Corporate Edition,” writes Slate columnist Henry Grabar, as the public groveling and courtship from U.S. cities now gives way to the “quieter, more private seduction of dozens of bids promising land and money to America’s 12th-largest company.” Grabar reflects on the irony of enthusing for the company that’s flattened local retail in cities nationwide: More striking is the lack of critical voices—among U.S. mayors, who are almost all Democrats—about Amazon’s business. Amazon accounts for 43 percent of everything that’s sold online in the United States, and 5 percent of all retail sales (excluding food, and before the Whole Foods acquisition). Bezos’ company decided years ago that it would pay sales taxes, but that’s small compensation for its brutal effect on local, independent retail. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a think tank that advocates for small businesses, estimates that Amazon’s market share has vacated more than 135 million square feet of retail, or about 700 empty big-box stores and 22,000 Main Street businesses. You may think that is a good trade for ever-cheaper consumer products at your doorstep in days or even hours—or that the American romance with small-business owners is overdone. But its consequences—starting with the elimination of customer-facing retail jobs and rise of their warehouse counterparts—will be cataclysmic. Even withdrawal letters from San Antonio and Little Rock were full of general admiration for the company. Lyft’s great week: The ride-hailing company is flying high this week, now operating in all 50 states and snagging a $1 billion investment from Alphabet, parent company of Google—which was among the early investors in ride-share rival Uber. (Smart Cities Dive, AP)Connected city: San Francisco is churning forward with plans to create a $1.5 billion city-owned fiber-optic network to connect every home and business in the city to “blazingly fast” Internet service. If it succeeds, the city will be by far the largest in the country to operate a municipal fiber network. (San Francisco Gate)See also: The Nation highlights how grassroots community efforts in New York City are filling the void that government can’t or won’t step into with bridging the digital divide. Seek out the trees: A long-term study finds that city dwellers who live near forests are more likely to have healthy brains that can better manage the stress and anxiety associated with urban life. (Forbes)Regional bike-share: A new effort in the Boston area is working to create a regional rather than city-based network for bike-sharing for as many as 16 small towns and cities surrounding—a movement that takes its cue from regional models in the Bay Area and New Jersey. (Next City)Barbers battling STDs: In St. Louis, more than a dozen barber shops and beauty salons have expanded their services to include … sex education. The “Fade Out” program, named after the popular haircut, launches from the local health department’s efforts to reduce the city’s notoriously high STD rates. (Governing)Pot tax: In Colorado’s busiest ski county, voters ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, October 20, 2017By Katie Pearce
    2 days ago
  • Seattle Has 5 Big Pieces of Advice for Amazon’s HQ2 Winner
    This post is part of Prime(d), a new podcast about “What happens when Amazon comes to your town.” It’s a partnership between CityLab and KUOW Seattle. We see you, all you cities courting Amazon. Today is deadline day for municipalities aspiring to host HQ2, the retail behemoth’s second headquarters. With that prize come gaudy economic development numbers—$5 billion in investment and 50,000 jobs—and big dreams. About 100 cities are likely to submit their bids, hoping to become the company’s newest soul mate. And then many months of anticipation await the lucky finalists.We here in Seattle remember what it was like to feel so giddy, so full of possibility. And we still feel that way sometimes.But over time our infatuation has matured into something more nuanced. We’ve learned to recognize both the good and the bad that comes with sharing our lives with Amazon.When you become Amazon’s new trophy city, things might get a little weird between us. So, while we’re still on good speaking terms, let us offer you these five pieces of advice.1: Prepare to give up a little personal spacePeople and businesses will tolerate living into a shoebox to be near Amazon’s headquarters. So build lots of shoeboxes. Go more dense. Tiny apartments and tiny storefronts near good transit will allow the largest number of people to tap into the opportunities that cluster around an Amazon headquarters.It won’t be easy. There will be fights about parking and traffic and congestion and displacement. Existing residents will have concerns about all these newcomers moving in who they perceive to be just “passing through,” without established roots in the neighborhood. But if you don’t build these tiny spaces, the Amazonians may chase everyone from fire fighters to the elderly from even the darkest corners of your rental market.Seattle learned this lesson the hard way: 57 people move here every day, but the city builds only 18 new places to live every day.And we now have the third-largest homeless population in the country.2: Start family planning nowMost of the young tech bros (and the smaller number of young women working in tech) packing into those shoeboxes you just built don’t want to live like that forever. Either they can’t stand Amazon’s famously intense work culture and wash out, or they don’t get promoted and decide to move on, or they want to start families and need more space. Some will form tech startups of their own, or perhaps artisan cupcake restaurants. (Seattle now has at least three rival artisan-cupcake chains and hundreds of doggie day cares, including one that offer blueberry facials.) Amazon lets its workers bring dogs to the office—one reason why Seattle is home to more dogs than children. (Megan Farmer/KUOW)But here’s the thing: Those ex-Amazon workers are going to want three bedrooms. If you don’t start building family-sized apartments and starter homes for them by yesterday, they’ll leave. That’s economic leakage.Amalia Leighton, a civil engineer and planner in Seattle, refers to children as an indicator species of a city’s ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, October 19, 2017By Joshua McNichols
    3 days ago
  • A Tale of Two Cities, and Two Companies
    When I was a young boy growing up in and around Newark, New Jersey, there was one company that stayed when nearly all the others left. Prudential, founded in Newark in 1875 as the Widows and Orphans Friendly Society, remained committed to Newark through all its storied economic and political travails.It stayed there when my family and many others moved out to the suburbs in the early 1960s. It remained even after the city exploded into riots a few years later. It was there when the factory where my father worked, Victory Optical in Newark’s Ironbound Section, was shuttered, a victim of deindustrialization. It stayed when Newark’s political leaders were indicted and jailed on corruption charges. And it was there still when I went to work as a summer intern for the Newark office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the early 1980s, which was housed in the Gateway Towers adjacent to Prudential’s old headquarters building.But Prudential didn’t just stay in Newark, it actively invested in it. And when the bottom dropped out on the city, it worked to rebuild it. All the way back in the Great Depression, the Prudential invested in affordable housing. In 1976, when Newark was at its nadir, it launched a multi-billion-dollar program to work with public, private, and non-profit partners to promote financial and social mobility for underserved populations, concentrating on housing, health, energy, and jobs.The relationship went both ways; people I knew in Newark loved Prudential. I heard my relatives and neighbors saying how the company kept high-paying jobs in the city when so many were disappearing. I even got to know an executive who worked there, one of the very few professional people I got to meet as boy growing up in the blue-collar town of North Arlington. He started dating, and later married, the daughter of our next-door neighbors Ernie and Eleanor Fetti. Eleanor worked in Hahne & Co. department store in Newark and would sometimes take the bus into the city with my mother, also named Eleanor, to her job taking ads at the Newark Star-Ledger. For my parents, my aunts and uncles, and their circle of friends, “The Pru,” as they called it, seemed to be the one small ray of hope left for their hometown, which had become the posterchild for urban decay.***In the late 1990s, when I was spending a sabbatical year at Harvard and MIT, a very plugged-in colleague told me about Amazon, a pioneering “” where you could buy books on-line. Before Amazon came to be, I had spent hours in the local independent bookstore in New Brunswick, New Jersey where I was an undergraduate at Rutgers, and in the original Barnes & Noble and the legendary Strand in lower Manhattan when I was a graduate student at Columbia, to build my library on urbanism. With Amazon, I could search for the latest books or even find rare, out-of-print volumes with just the click of a mouse.When I was researching and writing ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, October 19, 2017By Richard Florida
    3 days ago
  • Why Is ‘Affordable’ Housing So Expensive to Build?
    It’s a problem that isn’t going away: the so-called “affordable” housing we’re building in many cities—by which we mean publicly subsidized housing that’s dedicated to low- and moderate-income households—is so expensive to build that we’ll never be able to build enough of it to make a dent in the housing affordability problem.The latest case in point is a new affordable housing development called Estrella Vista in Emeryville, California, (abutting Oakland and just across the bay from San Francisco). A non-profit housing developer just broke ground on a new mixed-use building, about three-quarters of a mile from a local BART transit station, which will include 84 new apartments. The project also houses about 7,000 square feet of retail space. The total cost: $64 million.Assuming that 90 percent of the building is residential, that means that the cost per apartment is something approaching $700,000 per unit. While the complex provides many amenities for its residents (proximity to the BART station, a Zen garden, and sky deck), its inconceivable that we have enough resources in the public sector to build many such units.Policymakers are beginning to realize this problem. As we wrote earlier this year, California Governor Jerry Brown made that point in his state budget. He’s said that he’s not putting any new state resources into subsidizing affordable housing until state and local governments figure out ways to bring the costs down. Last year, opposition from labor and environmental groups blocked the governor’s proposal to exempt affordable housing from some key regulatory requirements. Brown had offered $400 million in additional state funds for affordable housing if that proposal was adopted. Brown took that money off the table.“We’ve got to bring down the cost structure of housing and not just find ways to subsidize it,” Brown said in is budget speech.And the costs are substantial. In San Francisco, one of the largest all-affordable housing projects, 1950 Mission Street, clocks in at more than $600,000 per unit. That number isn’t getting any lower: new units in that city’s Candlestick Point development will cost nearly $825,000 each, according to recent press reports. Brown’s point is that at that cost per unit, it’s simply beyond the fiscal reach of California or any state to be able to afford to build housing for all of the rent-burdened households. And while the problem is extreme in San Francisco, it crops up elsewhere. In St. Paul, affordable housing—mostly one bedroom units—in a renovated downtown building cost $665,000 per unit.More From How Luxury Housing Becomes Affordable The Myth of Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing Racial Wealth Disparities: How Housing Widens the Gap More broadly, the case has been made that much publicly subsidized affordable housing costs much more to build than market rate housing. Private developers are able to build new multi-family housing at far lower cost. One local builder has constructed new one-bedroom apartments in Portland at cost of less than $100,000 a unit, albeit with fewer amenities and in less central locations than most publicly supported projects. In Portland, ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, October 19, 2017By Joe Cortright
    3 days ago
  • New Orleans’ Great Bail Reform Experiment
    The U.S. is just one of two nations in the world with a money bail system (the other is the Philippines). The system means that people are held in jail while they wait for trial, unless they can afford to pay to go free. Defendants who can’t pay their way out of jail often lose their jobs, homes, children, and sometimes even their lives.Courts across the country are starting to face legal and legislative challenges to their bail systems. And New Orleans has become a key battleground, as lawmakers try to shake its legacy as “the most incarcerated city in the most incarcerated state in the world.”The bail bonds industry has argued that financial collateral is the only effective way to ensure defendants return to court for their trial. Starting in the spring, the Orleans Parish criminal district court decided to test this theory with a pilot program that came close to approximating what it would be like if the court eliminated bail altogether. It used a risk assessment tool to identify who was most likely to return to court without incident—and then it released them without making them pay.The result? People released in the pilot returned to court at roughly the same rate as defendants in other commissioners’ courtrooms, according to a new report by the civilian court monitoring group Court Watch Nola. The rearrest rate was also comparable, although somewhat higher, at 4.5% rather than 2.9%. In all, 9 people out of 201 people in the program were arrested again after they were released without bail.The findings help debunk warnings by opponents that replacing money bail will release dangerous criminals into the streets and allow fugitives to flee from justice.The Presence of Justice Beyond the age of mass incarceration Go These results were promising enough that the court expanded the program to all four commissioners’ courts in October. If implemented widely, the program could lead to a dramatic reduction in the city’s pretrial jail population.At a press conference Wednesday morning, executive director Simone Levine noted that in the year observed by Court Watch volunteers, 36% of felony defendants at first appearances in magistrate court were considered “low-risk” for release--about three times the number of high-risk defendants appearing in court.“This means that the biggest reason we are paying so much for unnecessary incarceration is to incarcerate defendants who will likely return to court and are not a danger to public safety,” Levine said.“Low risk” is defined in New Orleans by a risk assessment tool developed by the Vera Institute that analyzes data like prior missed court appearances, criminal history, age, and residency to predict the likelihood that a defendant will be re-arrested or fail to appear in court if released before their trial.Over the six months of the program, jail stays dropped dramatically for these defendants. In March, before the program began, low-risk defendants were sitting in jail for an average of twelve days--plenty of time to destabilize a life. That quickly dropped to four days. By June, ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, October 19, 2017By Aviva Shen
    3 days ago
  • In a Lonely City, Volunteer Listeners Are Here to Help
    On a recent morning in Atlanta, Georgia, Marian Davis and four volunteers set up folding chairs along a busy stretch of the Atlanta Beltline where people come to exercise, sightsee, and shop. Next to them, a sign advertised their services: “Free Listening.”Davis and her “listening team” are volunteers with a nonprofit called Sidewalk Talk, a community project that aims to dismantle loneliness, a growing public health crisis in American cities. By gathering on the street, they aim to use public spaces to foster meaningful human connections. For two hours, they sat there, eager to lend an ear to anyone with a story to tell.In the United States, loneliness—the “state of solitude” caused by a real or perceived lack of intimate connections—is pervasive, affecting nearly 40 million adults. Studies reveal it’s more dangerous than smoking, and deadlier than obesity, making us more vulnerable to illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Prolonged solitude can also trigger the body’s “fight or flight” response, spiking cortisol levels, which can cause inflammation and physical pain.Loneliness is particularly acute for people living in cities. In a crowded metropolis, heavy traffic, commute times, and longer work hours can disrupt one’s ability to build a community. For some urbanites, finding human connection has become so challenging that they’re turning to Tinder-like apps to help them turn strangers into friends.“Globally, people are hurting, which is why our volunteers offer individuals non-judgmental listening,” Davis says. “It’s an opportunity to feel heard.”After the Sandy Hook shooting, psychotherapist Traci Ruble wanted to help rebuild communities. Her colleague Lily Sloane sought to raise awareness about mental illness. Together, the San Francisco women founded Sidewalk Talk, hoping to encourage human interaction by offering strangers the kind act of listening.“I wanted to create an empathy movement that extended beyond the walls of my office,” Ruble says.In May 2015, Sidewalk Talk volunteers set up listening stations in several San Francisco neighborhoods, including the Castro, Soma, and the Financial District. Now events take place weekly in 29 U.S. cities and 10 countries, including South Africa, Malaysia, and England. In less than three years, volunteers have listened to over 10,000 people. City leaders choose safe, well-trafficked areas to set up their stations; events are listed on the Sidewalk Talk website and Eventbrite.A Sidewalk Talk conversation in New York. (Courtesy of Sidewalk Talk)At each listening station, two chairs face each other. It might resemble a DIY therapy office, but Sidewalk Talk isn’t a substitute for professional counseling. However, all chapter leaders are trained by mental health professionals and are able to recognize the signs of a psychiatric crisis. When needed, these leaders serve as a wellness bridge, connecting participants with affordable and low-fee therapy services in their local areas. Since the project began, they’ve helped around 500 people find mental health care. Participants often tell volunteers that they’ve considered therapy, but were too afraid to contact anyone. After attending a listening event, many say they’re more comfortable reaching out for professional help.Even though she’s treated hundreds of patients in ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, October 19, 2017By Juli Fraga
    3 days ago
  • Lab Report: How Amazon Changed Seattle
    Firsthand Amazon experience: As the deadline closes today for cities to bid on “HQ2,” a Seattle journalist narrates that city’s experience since Amazon set up camp in the 1990s, via Politico Magazine: Most would acknowledge the extraordinary prosperity that Amazon has brought to Seattle since Jeff Bezos and his startup arrived in 1994. But they are also keenly aware of the costs, not least the nation’s fastest-rising housing prices, appalling traffic and a painful erosion of urban identity. What was once a quirkily mellow, solidly middle-class city now feels like a stressed-out, two-tier town with a thin layer of wealthy young techies atop a base of anxious wage workers. As one City Council member put it, HQ2 may give Seattle “a little breathing room” to cope with a decade of raging, Amazon-fueled growth. A commenter on a local news site was less diplomatic: “Amazon = cancer.” Income experiment: On the outskirts of Silicon Valley, Stockton, California will become the first U.S. city to test the concept of universal basic income, with a select group of residents to receive $500 per month with no strings attached. Stockton’s young mayor is pushing the project with support from tech circles, Vox reports.Burned supply: The wildfires in Northern California have depleted an estimated 5 percent of the housing stock in the city of Santa Rosa, which already faced a crunch before the disaster. Meanwhile, there’s concerns about the displacement of undocumented immigrants who are vital to the wine country’s economy. (Curbed, New York Times)Slow recovery: Thousands of Mexico City residents have not been able to return to their collapsed or damaged homes since the Sept. 19 earthquake, and many say they haven’t yet received promised financial assistance. (AP)Highway be gone: As advocates continue to call for the removal of the I-345 highway cutting through downtown Dallas, the city explores the alternative solution of burying the 1.3-mile road underground, to cap with new uses like a park. (Streetsblog)The urban lens: This moment brought to us by Panang Curry in one hand, #shotoniphone in the other 📲 A post shared by South Bend // Jacob Titus (@jacob.wsb) on Oct 18, 2017 at 6:39pm PDT Show us your city on Instagram using #citylabontheground. ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, October 19, 2017By Katie Pearce
    3 days ago
  • Is Garbage a Product of Bad Design?
    New York City is an island of imported goods. The city’s main export, though, is trash.The Department of Sanitation (DSNY) heaves more than 12,000 tons of waste each day; private haulers are conscripted to lug some festering freight, too. Though some organics or recyclables are diverted, most of the debris ends up offloaded in landfills hundreds of miles away.But before garbage is carted off, it’s a quality of life issue on the ground. With bags heaped high, curbs and sidewalks become canyons through towering landscapes of rubbish. On humid days, an acrid, prickly smell settles on certain corners, and the festering pylons have given rise to a whole genre of gripes. The noxiousness has become a local character trait. “Hot garbage wind, and other things that smell in the summer,” one Gothamist headline declared in 2016. On a list of “22 Smells New Yorkers Will Never Forget,” BuzzFeed offered a more detailed taxonomy of the trash itself, differentiating between the maleficence of recently deposited stacks and the juicy lots that had been marinating, rotting and baking in the midday sun.Last year, a cast of collaborators, led by a team of architects and planners, wondered if the problem of trash was partly a design one. They set out to prove that the heaps weren’t an immutable part of the city’s topography, and enlisted designers and officials to engineer possible solutions. The Zero Waste Design Guidelines, released this week, are the fruits of this messy labor.The guidelines offer a preliminary and highly customizable blueprint for how New York could grapple with its daunting piles of detritus—and call on designers and architects to be at the forefront of research and policy to drive the city closer to the goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2030. That target is one tenet of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s larger “One New York” plan, which outlines an ambitious agenda for broad sustainability and resilience measures.Since landfill-clogging waste releases methane gas, it’s an obstacle to the administration’s pledge to drastically curb emissions—a commitment that officials cast as a defiant response to federal fumbling of the Paris agreement. “Better designed, more effective, and more intentional waste management
 is a necessary part of the City’s effort to meet its climate goals,” said Mark Chambers, director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, in a statement about the guidelines. And that’s where designers and architects come in: Rethinking the way people interact with waste from the chute to the street.Architects have already intervened in complex urban problems such as mobility and resiliency: They’ve adapted the street for bikes and pedestrians, and to siphon stormwater, says Clare Miflin, a partner at Kiss + Cathcart, Architects and the project’s lead author. Moreover, Miflin says, architects are already concerned about waste—both the physical castoffs generated during construction and the more abstract problems of inefficient windows, lights, and other energy sucks. But somewhere along the line, trash had slipped through the cracks. “Nobody’s applying design to waste,” Miflin says.In fact, waste is a surprisingly ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, October 19, 2017By Jessica Leigh Hester
    3 days ago
  • Los Angeles Gets the Transit Etiquette Superheroine It Needs
    On any given bus or train, Rude Dude is never too far away. For Angelenos, at least, they now have Super Kind to save them.The new superheroine was unveiled last week as part of a new etiquette campaign by Metro Los Angeles. As the transit system continues its ambitious period of expansion, it’s an especially good time to show new riders how to avoid acting like a mannerless beast.Unlike Seattle’s cartoon animals or New York’s human silhouettes, Los Angeles has put their transit etiquette campaign in the hands of a Japanese pop singer superheroine who fights off a fuzzy and inconsiderate villain. The campaign comes from the mind of video-maker Mike Diva, known for his eye-melting neon-and-pastel YouTube videos that manage to make viewers feel simultaneously delighted and horrified. Diva, whose real name is Mike Dahlquist, is most famous for his “Japanese Donald Trump Commercial” from the summer of 2016, in which a young woman obsessed with the presidential candidate enters a colorful dreamscape with her loving hero before he transforms into giant robot supervillain who flies away into outer space to blow up the Earth. Sensing that this aesthetic would be just the ticket to make Metro appeal to millennials, the transit authority approached Diva earlier this year; they already had Super Kind in mind but needed Diva’s savvy to make the character work. “They let me go nuts and do whatever,” he says. “I came up with idea of it being a Japanese ad featuring a superhero-pop star hybrid.”The campaign appears in print throughout the system but is anchored by three videos with the villainous Rude Dude committing the heinous acts of seat hogging, aisle blocking, and eating on board Metro’s buses and trains. While passengers stare at him silently and annoyed, Super Kind (played by Anna Akana) breaks into frenetic song (composed by Diva’s brother, David Dahlquist) before solving the problem at hand.Super Kind always prevails, but Diva originally had some different endings in mind. “For the original eating one, I had Super Kind uppercutting Rude Dude into the roof. And with the aisle blocking video, we had Super Kind blasting him and his bike with a laser and then flying through the roof of the metro and destroying it,” says Diva. “I liked the idea of Super Kind causing more trouble than good.”Diva lives in Los Angeles but doesn’t use Metro much. So far, he says, the feedback has been ranged from positive to confused. “It hasn’t quite hit its stride yet,” says Diva. “It’s hard to make people crazy over a public service announcement.” That being said, he’d like to work with Metro again. “I love doing commercials like this, where the challenge is to make something tame, like manners, into something fun.” ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, October 19, 2017By Mark Byrnes
    3 days ago
  • Are You Ready for ‘Evicted’ Live?
    Ever since Matthew Desmond won a Pulitzer Prize this year for his book on structural poverty and racial inequality, no mention of housing policy is complete without it. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, which also helped its author earned a MacArthur Fellow grant, traces the lives of tenants and landlords in Milwaukee. For housing advocates, Evicted is required reading.And soon it will be required viewing. In April 2018, Evicted will be the subject of an exhibition at the National Building Museum. The show promises an “immersive” experience that will draw viewers into the enormity of evictions, from dealing with courts and landlords to security teams and moving companies to exposure and homelessness, according to the museum. “We are working with [Desmond] to develop the substance and the style of the exhibition,” says Chase Rynd, the Building Museum’s director.Sarah Leavitt, a curator at the museum, is adapting the book as an exhibit. She is also responsible for “Architecture of an Asylum,” a show that explores the history of St. Elizabeth’s—a facility in Washington, D.C., that was originally named the “Government Hospital for the Insane” and opened as the first federally funded psychiatric ward in 1855. Writing in the Washington City Paper, Amanda Kolson Hurley (a CityLab contributor) called the historical survey on St. Elizabeth’s “ghostly” and “illuminating.”Leavitt pitched the concept for a show about Evicted after seeing Desmond deliver a talk in New York. The museum presentation will be heavy on infographics, featuring comparisons of eviction laws between states and data on the rise of evictions across different markets. The contrast promises to be delicious: The Building Museum boasts one of the most opulent interiors in Washington, D.C.; this show might be one of its bleakest.Inside the National Building Museum. (Daniel X. O’Neil/Flickr)The National Building Museum is better known for deep dives on building materials and splashy summer architectural follies than for covering social justice as an explicit theme. That may be changing. Other subjects of upcoming shows include the aftermath of D.C.’s 1968 riots and the secret test cities of the Manhattan Project.In her review of the book for The New York Times, Barbara Ehrenreich said that Evicted “set a new standard for reporting on poverty.” If the National Building Museum is looking to be a more woke platform, there are few better ways to start. ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, October 19, 2017By Kriston Capps
    3 days ago
  • The Side Pittsburgh Doesn’t Want You to See
    In a Citylab interview with former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon, producer of the HBO series “The Deuce” and “The Wire,” Simon was asked which cities were “doing a pretty good job.” His response: I’d say Pittsburgh. They’ve never had the same rates of entrenched poverty, never had the same rates of under-education, never had the same rates of drug abuse as in Baltimore or Philly, places like this. The last few times I’ve been to Pittsburgh I’ve been pretty impressed with what they’ve managed to achieve. Pittsburgh is streaking. Earlier this month, the city was honored with having two of its neighborhoods listed among the top ten coolest in the U.S. by Lonely Planet and’s “Money” blog. This was just the latest of several top-of-the-class rankings, accolades, and superlatives bestowed upon Pittsburgh in terms of livability. They’ve all made for a nice collection of resume enhancers the city can exploit to make its case for landing Amazon’s much-coveted HQ2 site. The thirst is so real that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shamelessly knocked several cities, including a few currently hobbled by disaster, to make its case for the Amazon prize: Pittsburgh would be a much better headquarters choice than many other likely contenders, including Philadelphia, with its East Coast weather and swaths of abject poverty; Houston, now under water; St. Louis, battered by racial strife; Chicago, with its sky-high homicide rate; or Detroit, with a labor pool nowhere near as deep and educated as Western Pennsylvania’s. Pittsburgh has good housing stock, a diverse population, reasonably good race relations, a low crime rate and an availability of land within the city and nearby. Uber and Google already have operations here. Amazon has a small presence, too, on the South Side. That part—“reasonably good race relations”—is a dubious claim at best, though, especially in Pittsburgh’s East End neighborhoods that LonelyPlanet has a huge crush on. Several incidents have happened there in recent years that undermine such honors. It was the East End neighborhood of Highland Park where unarmed African American Leon Ford was shot five times by a Pittsburgh police officer and left paralyzed in 2012—no officer has been convicted of any crime for this yet. It’s also the new East End neighborhood of Bakery Square—“the sleeper hit your hipster sensibilities have been craving,” writes Lonely Planet—where white Alt-Right, Free Speech-Truthers recently planned to rally just days after the racist unrest their followers caused in Charlottesville.It seems that those editorialists and city rankers who’ve been quick to make East End Pittsburgh all the rage perhaps haven’t lived or spent enough time there to understand all the rage that’s been bubbling beneath. But Pittsburgh-based filmmaker Chris Ivey has been exploring and documenting that rage for well over ten years now. During that time, he has used his camera to meticulously cobble together various stories from struggling East End families who have don’t fit into the “coolest neighborhood” narratives. He’s used these stories to create a series of documentaries called “East of Liberty,” which ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, October 19, 2017By Brentin Mock
    3 days ago
  • What Cities Are Doing to Fight Street Harassment
    This week, social media was flooded with #metoo, a hashtag that survivors of sexual harassment and assault used to share their experiences and demonstrate the sweeping ubiquity of the problem. Some women recounted stories about being made to feel unsafe in public spaces and their own neighborhoods. While laws attempt to tackle many kinds of harassment and assault, one of the most pervasive—street harassment—is also amongst the most difficult to legislate. Still, a number of cities in the US and abroad have attempted to tackle street harassment with laws aimed at this problem some with threats of punishment, and others with education campaigns.One of the most recent proposals is a bill introduced in February in Washington, D.C. that targets street harassment through “education, awareness, data collection, and culture change” as opposed to punishment.The bill proposes a taskforce to collect and analyze data as well as a public advertising campaign about what street harassment is and what resources exist for victims.But a key component of the bill is bystander intervention training programs for government employees, which proponents say works because it helps to change the culture rather than focusing on punishment.Jessica Raven, the Executive Director of Collective Action for Safe Spaces who aided and supported the bill’s creation,  compares the proposal’s approach to that of anti-bullying campaigns. “Bystander intervention works really well because it makes people more likely to intervene and de-escalate a situation,” she says, “but also makes them more likely to empathize and intervene.”“It’s more effective to talk to men as potential heroes than it is to talk to them as potential aggressors,” says Raven. “We don’t want to shame people about the [way] they’ve been socialized to behave.”The D.C. bill ticks all the boxes for Debjani Roy, the Deputy Director of Hollaback!, an organization that aims to end harassment. She reiterates that advertising campaigns around a city, particularly in public transit, are key. She also advocates for bystander training in schools. “We know it’s happening young,” Roy says, “I know from my own experience that this is where the behavior starts. It’s learned behavior and peer pressure: proving masculinity.” Though she is against laws that promote criminalization, Roy still believes that through campaigns and advocacy programs there is work legislators can do to make their cities safer for everyone.The bill, which had a hearing in June and is now waiting to go before the full D.C. Council, is a pivot from some prior legislation, especially in other countries, which attempted to punish harassers--typically with little success.In 2014, Kansas City passed an ordinance protecting bicyclists, pedestrians, and people in wheelchairs from “intimidation.” In 2015, Peru passed a law that could give men over a decade of jail time if they made lewd comments at women in public. Buenos Aires passed a similar law that same year. And in 2016, Manila revised its Gender and Development Code to include penalties for sexual harassment of women in public spaces.In the U.S., the legal system is a major limitation to enforcing these ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, October 18, 2017By Teresa Mathew
    4 days ago
  • Seeing Pyongyang in 360 Degrees
    In September, as tensions ratcheted up over North Korea’s nuclear program, Aram Pan was high above Pyongyang as a passenger in a tiny, buzzing microlight aircraft, his video cameras pointed down at the North Korean capital.Pan, a Singapore-based commercial photographer who has been traveling to North Korea since 2013, shot a 45-minute, 360-degree video of the city, recording a view that few outsiders have witnessed. Pan shot the video for NK News, an independent media organization with staff in Seoul and Washington, D.C.The aerial 360-degree video, which Pan believes is the first shot over North Korea, shows such Pyongyang landmarks as the colossal May Day Stadium (2:15), the atom-shaped science and technology center (5:45), and the candy-colored array of waterfront high-rises on Mirae (Future) Scientists Street (4:58), said to have been constructed in less than a year to house faculty of Kim Chaek University.Also seen: the cruise ship Mujigae (9:55), fountains spraying from the Taedong River (1:43), a smoke-belching factory (6:34), and the Yanggakdo International Hotel (4:00), where North Korean officials say University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier attempted to steal a propaganda poster. Warmbier was imprisoned for 17 months in North Korea and died soon after his release.From the air, Pyongyang is oddly beautiful; its wide Soviet-style highways are nearly empty of cars, and its vast clusters of modernist towers—the product of a recent building boom—are painted festive pastel hues. “I’m quite amazed at how much this city has grown, considering most of it was flattened in the bombing of the Korean war just a generation ago,” Pan says in an e-mail interview.This wasn’t Pan’s first flight in North Korea; he’s flown over the country multiple times in helicopters and light airplanes. He bought tickets for his most recent shoot at Mirim Air Club, which arranges tourist flights from a Pyongyang airport in ultralights.Tourists are not usually allowed to take cameras or cellphones on these flights, but Pan received permission from North Korean officials—and he says state censors allowed him to keep most (but not all) of his footage. (Some edits are clearly visible.) “Long story short, they got me approval. I could bring any camera that was strapped or tethered to me, so they wouldn’t come falling from the sky.” ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, October 18, 2017By Joe Eaton
    4 days ago
  • What Everyone Can Learn From L.A.’s Gentrification
    Los Angeles has always been an “exceedingly improbable phenomenon,” historian Wade Graham explains at the start of season two of the podcast “There Goes the Neighborhood.””It has no timber, it has no coal, it has no iron, it has no natural harbor, it has basically no water for eight months of the year,” Graham adds. “Essentially, there’s no reason for a city to exist in coastal Southern California whatsoever.”So, from the beginning, he tells host Saul Gonzalez, the city’s development has been based on real estate. These days, it’s among the most unaffordable housing markets in the country—part of the reason for the podcast.The show’s first season, a collaboration between WNYC and The Nation magazine, dug into the history, present, and future of one particular rapidly developing neighborhood in Brooklyn, with plenty of archival audio and interviews with locals and experts alike.Now, in its second season, WNYC is taking the show out west, this time collaborating with Santa Monica’s KCRW to look into Los Angeles. Gonzalez, the host, has lived in the city for more than 30 years now. He hadn’t listened to the season about East New York before the public radio station he works for approached WNYC asking to work together on a new season. Once he heard it, though, he “loved it.”“To me it was all new. Not coming from New York—except as a visitor,” he tells CityLab, ”I really loved its approach, how it got into the specifics of what was happening in East New York, and those particular neighborhoods.”But there was one thing from season one that just wouldn’t work in L.A.: the “granular level of specificity” about one part of town.“We felt here in Los Angeles, just given the nature of the city, we had to tell a wider story, at least geographically,” he says. That meant creating an arc that spans many neighborhoods, including Rampart Heights, Hollywood, and Downtown L.A.Gonzalez spoke to CityLab about the podcast so far, and what’s to come. This conversation has been edited for clarity.How have you seen Los Angeles change in the time you’ve lived there? First off, I'm glad we don't have the problems we used to have. We used to be a city with a very high crime rate. We had over 1,000 murders a year in Los Angeles in the early 1990s. We had the crack cocaine epidemic. And in a lot of ways I've seen the city really improve. There are more kind of communal spaces and civic spaces here in Los Angeles than ever before. Data from the Longitudinal Tract Database created by John R. Logan, Zengwang Xu, and Brian Stults. Maps created by Michael Bader. (Courtesy of KCRW)So we don't have the problems we once had, which is a good thing, but never have I seen so many people talk about the cost of housing and this kind of alienation that they feel living in Los Angeles right now simply because of how damn much it costs to live here. And that's ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, October 18, 2017By Gracie McKenzie
    4 days ago
  • Here’s How Cities Can Get the Most out of Their Parks
    A neighborhood park can be a powerful tool to help nearby residents lead healthier lives. According to one study, every dollar spent on creating and maintaining park trails saves nearly $3 in healthcare expenses. And America is chock full of neighborhood parks: Across the country, there are over 9,000 local parks and recreation departments and more than 100,000 public park facilities.Parks seem like an ideal place for Americans to meet the national recommendations for physical activity (an hour a day for youth and a 150 minutes a week for adults). But because neighborhood parks are rarely designed with urban health in mind, these spaces—which the study defines as anywhere from two to 20 acres—often don’t fulfill their potential as pieces of public health infrastructure. A new study by researchers from the RAND Corporation, City Parks Alliance, and The Trust for Public Land is offering some solutions.Researchers analyzed 175 neighborhood parks in 25 major American cities. From 2014 to 2016 they observed park use, park-based physical activity, and park conditions, as well as the way users felt about their local parks. The study points to tangible ways that cities can encourage residents to use parks more in general, and for physical activity in particular. Among those recommendations: better facilities, targeted programing, and more marketing.“The first thing a park needs is facilities and amenities,” says Deborah A. Cohen, a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation. “Parks used the least are ones that didn’t have anything in them. To make a playground more attractive to kids, it’s got to have lots of different features—it can’t just be swings. Kids like spinners, they also like water features. Make sure there’s something there in the park people can come and see.”Park usage varies based on different factors such as age, gender, and socioeconomic status. Poorer communities are less likely to be frequent visitors: In the study, a 10 percentage point increase in local household poverty correlated with a 12 percent decrease in park use. Research also shows that most parks are geared toward youth rather than adults. Nearly all of the parks in the study had outdoor basketball courts and baseball fields, but only a third had a walking loop. When they were present, these loops were the amenity that generated the most activity for adults and seniors. Researchers found that park usage skewed male (57 percent) and young—seniors represented only 4 percent of park visitors. However, seniors make up 20 percent of the general U.S. population; a marked effort at engaging them would increase overall park usage and likely help to make the demographic healthier.The report argues that parks should cater to the various demographics in the surrounding community. (Phil Noble/Reuters)Targeted programming is key, says Catherine Nagle, the executive director of City Parks Alliance. Parks need to “provide professional staff to organize more programming locally that serves the needs of that particular neighborhood,” she says. Nagle observes that communities with young families sometimes want yoga classes for mothers and infants, while those with older ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, October 18, 2017By Teresa Mathew
    4 days ago
  • How a Satirical Call for Bikelash Became a Real, Invective-Laden Protest
    You probably haven’t heard of internet prankster Jeremy Piatt, but you may be familiar with his work. A mock GoFundme campaign to “Get Kanye out of debt” was widely covered in the press as serious, with Kanye's camp eventually having to clarify that no, he didn't want the money.Piatt, a graphic designer by trade, recently pulled off a sequel of sorts by stirring up the hornet’s nest that is the the current bike lane debate in Minneapolis. About two weeks ago, Piatt created a Facebook event for what he thought would be a fake protest against new extended bike lanes near his home downtown.He wrote that the streets had become "congested driving nightmares" since lanes were installed, "making driving a mess." He ended with a rallying cry in all-caps: "TAKE BACK OUR CITY!But some people took his invitation seriously. On Sunday, while Piatt was nowhere to be found, a small crowd of about 15 to 25 people showed up to protest at the designated place—the intersection of 26th and Hennepin Avenue –including two city council candidates, Joe Kovacs and David Schorn. The protest was even more intense than Piatt had satirically called for: As Minneapolis’s ever-present political Twitter account, @WedgeLIVE, noted,  people carried signs that read “Mafia Lanes,” “Suck it Lanes,” and “Nazi Lanes.” For extra effect, sign posts were painted red to look like they were dripping with blood. Bike lane protest story: Now with way more Nazi! — City Pages (@citypages) October 16, 2017 A reminder to not take street safety progress for granted. Opponents of bike lanes marched today w offensive "Nazi Lane" signs. Ht @smorin10 — Our Streets Mpls (@OurStreetsMpls) October 14, 2017How did what was intended as a fake call for protest turn into an invective-laden real-life event, and one of the most extreme examples of what is known as “bikelash”?It started with the response to Piatt.After he created an event, people took the bait. with the pro-bike camp being the first to jump in."It was all cyclists arguing with nobody basically, just showing everybody how great they are and just kind of patting themselves on the back. They started sharing it, then the real people who are actually against the bike lanes started sharing it,” Piatt told CityLab.Now Piatt had an audience, and like any good internet troll, he knew what to do. “I kept fanning the flames and putting in terrible memes with comic sans,” he said.Kovacs, the Republican candidate for city council, was among those who appreciated Piatt’s meme work."It started as a joke but it's an issue people care about so it very quickly became not a joke. It was so funny because he kept putting up facts for us and our points, many of them legitimate. So maybe it was a joke but he was helping us out.”Kovacs said he figured out the event was a spoof when he got there, and chose to participate anyway. Schorn said he first learned the event’s origin from this reporter.“I ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, October 18, 2017By Jared Goyette
    4 days ago
  • Breaking Down the Many Ways Europe’s City-Dwellers Get to Work
    When it comes to public transit, the cities of the European Union are generally viewed as success stories. In the union’s larger cities, an average of 49 percent of people use transit to get to and from work. But as recent figures published by Eurostat reveal, ridership numbers vary greatly from city to city—and the same goes for people who drive, walk, or cycle to work. Recent news from Copenhagen suggesting a decline in bike commuting shows that locals’ preferred modes of transit are always subject to change. Indeed, looking more closely at the stats reveals some interesting, sometimes surprising features of Europe’s urban transit map.So where is public transit a popular choice for Europe’s commuters? The map below provides some pointers.This  map shows that levels of public transit commuting are higher in Paris and Madrid than in London or Berlin. Eurostat Perhaps what’s most striking here is how much higher the levels of public transit commuting are in capital cities than in regional cities. This might seem an obvious phenomenon—generally less populous second-tier cities seem less likely to have the sort of snarled up roads that propel commuters towards public transit. Still, some capitals post a relatively poor showing, with less than 30 percent of commuters using public transit in Lisbon, Dublin, Vilnius, and Riga.Some outliers suggest that investment, not size, is the key issue. Modestly sized Zurich (whose population is just over 400,000) shows public transit commuting rates of over 60 percent, considerably higher than the 40 to 50 percent share for far larger Rome (population 2.88 million). And the city with the highest rate of public transit commuting—Vienna, at 74 percent of all commuters—isn’t even in Europe’s top 20 metro areas. The map implies, without explicitly confirming, that it is a combination of wealth and closeness to power that gets a city endowed with a public transit system good enough to attract large majorities of workers to use them for their daily commutes.The map above nonetheless remains a blunt instrument. The Eurostar-produced table below gives a far clearer, more nuanced picture of which cities are doing well in which area. It shows commuter journeys divided by mode—note that respondents were allowed to choose more than one mode, so people who walked a distance, then took a subway, might count twice. The table reveals three clear trends.EurostatEuropean cities are not all bike paradisesAmsterdam and Copenhagen have a justified reputation as Europe’s most bike-friendly capitals. As the table above makes clear, they may also be Europe’s only bike-friendly capitals, at least to an extent. According to Eurostat’s figures, only in these two cities does bike commuting exceed 50 percent of modal share—although even this is contradicted by figures from Copenhagen Municipality quoted in Danish newspaper Politiken this week which suggest bike commuting has dropped to 41 percent.Whatever the real figure is, the jump between these two cities and their nearest competitors is perhaps more significant. Apart from the Dutch and Danish capitals, no other city surpasses a 25 percent ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, October 18, 2017By Feargus O'Sullivan
    4 days ago
  • Lab Report: Will London’s Old-School Cabbies Beat Uber?
    Taxi wars: The more than 40,000 Uber drivers in London are still allowed to drive—for now—as an appeals process plays out over the city’s surprise decision not to renew Uber’s license. But greater questions loom about the cultural battle stewing between Uber’s “techie upstarts” and the city’s immensely trained and once-revered black-cab drivers. The Washington Post reports: The Uber fight in London not only pits new ways against old, it also reveals modern-day ruptures in the labor market — such as, what is the value of a worker who knows things versus a worker who knows how to look up things online? There is also this: In multicultural London, Uber drivers are far more likely to be named Ali or Muhammad, while black-cab drivers tend to be an Ollie or a Brian. And the fight is playing out in a city where much of the white working class finds itself challenged by the forces of globalism, mass immigration and galloping technological change, all hot-button topics since Britain voted to leave the European Union. Outbreak: California’s governor has declared a state of emergency as hepatitis A wreaks havoc across cities—including the hardest-hit San Diego, where homeless people make up the majority of the nearly 500 reported cases. Efforts to curb the outbreak include vaccines, street bleaching, and new port-a-potties. (Quartz)Reproductive freedom: Casting U.S. cities as the counterweight to the Trump administration’s stances on women’s health, The Local Reproductive Freedom Index ranks the 40 most populated metros on the strength of their services. The National Institute for Reproductive Health project rates L.A., New York, and San Francisco the highest. (Fast Company)“Dear Amazon…”: In an open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, 73 civic groups from across the U.S. beseech the retail giant to forgo tax benefits and pay its “fair share” to whatever city lands HQ2, laying out a wish list that includes protection of worker’s rights and affordable housing, support for mass transit, and education programs. (Seattle Times) In other Amazon news: The company is rolling out a new network of lockers to receive its deliveries in more than 850,000 apartment buildings across the U.S. (Quartz) Conversion therapy: Urban warehouse conversions are old hat by now, but big adaptive reuse projects are getting more creative—like the prison-turned-film studio in Staten Island, or the giant textile mill adding apartments and shops to Norwich, Connecticut. (New York Times) ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, October 18, 2017By Katie Pearce
    4 days ago
  • Can Coloring Books Demystify Bike-Lane Design?
    On October 14, officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, ceremonially opened a new protected bike lane in downtown Silver Spring, a fast-urbanizing part of the 1-million-person county near Washington, D.C. Like many local government events, this one featured a ribbon-cutting, short speeches, and leaflets spread out on tables. But there was a novelty: “Color Your Stress Away,” a table sign urged. Beside it were jars of colored pencils and stacks of coloring books, with plain, line-drawn scenes of urban cycling waiting to be filled in.(Montgomery County Planning Department)The book, “Enjoy the Ride,” was the idea of Bridget Schwiesow, the communication manager for the Montgomery County Planning Department. Since 2015, county planners have been working on a bicycle master plan to increase local cycling rates. Reducing the stress experienced by cyclists and would-be cyclists on busy, high-speed suburban arterial roads is a particular focus of their efforts. “While about 70 percent of the roads in the County are already low-stress, they are often surrounded by high speed and high volume roads, effectively creating ‘islands’ of connectivity,” reads a preliminary report on the plan.Last year, county planning staff launched an online bicycle stress map, which won an award from the American Planning Association.  The map rates streets according to a measure called Level of Traffic Stress, which quantifies the amount of stress that cyclists feel based on traffic speed, traffic volume, number of lanes, ease of intersection crossings, and other variables. On a low-stress street, most people would be willing to ride their bikes; on a high-stress stretch of road, only the most intrepid would.“The whole premise of the bicycle master plan is this low-stress bike network for Montgomery County,” says Schwiesow. About a year ago, she was talking with colleagues about how to present its key ideas to the public, and she thought of an activity that, for her, was the epitome of low stress. “I personally am a fan of stress-relieving coloring books. I’m a new mom and I find [coloring] very relaxing,” she says.Producing a book that was informative as well as pencil-friendly was not so straightforward. The department started with photos and designers’ renderings illustrating different biking conditions. But the level of detail obscured the concepts. The images were “too complicated to give people a sense of a separated bike lane or an off-street trail,” Schwiesow says. They decided to strip the pictures down to simple outlines, “so we’re conveying the main themes but making it fun to color.” Many, but not all, of the settings shown in the 36-page book are within the D.C. region.Off-Street Trails: Capital Crescent Trail, Bethesda, Maryland (Montgomery County Planning Department)Separated Bikeways: Calgary, Canada (Montgomery County Planning Department)“We started making it more of an educational piece,” says David Anspacher, the lead planner for the bike plan. “Not only did we want to have images for people to color, we wanted to teach them what these bikeway types are all about, and show them how it [all] fits back into the bike plan.”It’s not uncommon ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, October 18, 2017By Amanda Kolson Hurley
    4 days ago
  • How Charlottesville Schools Are Handling More Violence
    When teachers in Charlottesville, Virginia, faced the first day of school nearly two months ago, they were reeling from the violence of the “Unite the Right” rally 11 days earlier, on August 12, when white supremacists descended on the college town to protest the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a downtown park. One demonstrator rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Dozens more were injured in that incident and others.Last week brought another protest, coinciding with the Charlottesville High School homecoming dance. Though this rally was smaller, white supremacists returned to the Lee statue, carrying torches and chanting, “You will not replace us.” At the high school, 2.5 miles away, Principal Eric Irizarry was concerned for the students’ safety. “Many of our students who were at the dance live close to the area where the rally was,” he says. “How would we get them home safely?” When the rally dispersed before the dance did, Irizarry was relieved. “I’m glad it ended without a major incident,” he says.Irizarry’s hope was that things would then calm down. But just a few days later, a man posted a threat on social media in which he spoke admiringly of the Las Vegas shooter and proclaimed that Charlottesville schools should be the next target. Officials put the city’s schools on a modified lockdown, meaning that exterior and interior doors remained locked throughout the day, and students were mainly kept in their classrooms. The FBI ultimately determined that the man who made the threat was out of state and the students were not in danger; still, Charlottesville police officers remained stationed at schools the following day as a precaution.  How are Charlottesville school administrators and teachers handling such frightening and divisive times? In August, Superintendent of Charlottesville City Schools Rosa Atkins made resources available, such as articles on how to talk to children about violence and books that are helpful for leading discussions about race.Individual teachers also tailored their curricula to address the recent events. They continue to use these materials. At Charlottesville High, the English department, for instance, has been teaching the novel The Hate U Give, about a black teenager who witnesses a white police officer shoot her unarmed, black best friend. Irizarry says that’s helping. “The novel has given a platform for students to express their feelings, whether specific to the events of August 12 or in general,” he says.Irizarry says teachers are now adjusting curricula and discussions to help students process what happened last week. The counseling team is also more visible, and is checking on students who may be particularly affected by these subsequent events. “It seemed like we were heading in a better direction, that maybe healing could begin,” says Irizarry. “But then these other events occurred.”He says that he and his fellow administrators are also adapting to a job that now requires them to keep an eye on what’s happening outside of the school, while also making sure that ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, October 18, 2017By Mimi Kirk
    4 days ago
  • Google Announces Plan to Turn Toronto Neighborhood into Living Laboratory
    Urban innovations company Sidewalk Labs and the Canadian government announced a partnership Tuesday to develop 750 acres along Toronto’s waterfront into what they envision as a high-tech living laboratory for solving urban problems. It would be the largest urban redevelopment project in North America.“We have an opportunity to fundamentally redefine what urban life can actually be,” Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff said in an introductory video at a high profile press conference in Toronto. The company, founded in June 2015, is a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company.“Sidewalk Labs will create a test bed for new technologies in Quayside,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “Technologies to build smarter, greener, more inclusive cities, which we hope to see scaled across Toronto’s eastern waterfront, and eventually in other parts of Canada and around the world.”The company, which has defined its mission as “reimagining cities from the Internet up,” considered several U.S. cities for a high-tech makeover before applying to develop the waterfront strip in Toronto. The project will be sited in Quayside, a barren waterfront plot near Toronto’s downtown. It will start relatively small; 12 acres yielding approximately three million square feet of development. However, on Tuesday, all parties involved expressed their intent for Sidewalk Labs to lead the redevelopment of the entire 750 acre eastern waterfront.This is the same area that CityLab had previously identified as a potential Amazon HQ2 location. While it is not clear how this announcement might affect the city’s Amazon bid, it does represent a major commitment to raising the city’s profile as a tech hub. Trudeau said that Google will relocate its Canadian headquarters to Quayside “to anchor this innovation cluster.” For Google, too, this moment represents the culmination of “almost ten years” of city-building aspirations, Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt said at the event.Finding innovative ways to create affordable housing, improve transportation, and live in harmony with the environment were among the other goals articulated by the project’s representatives. Over the coming year, Sidewalk Labs and city officials will consult with local residents and businesses about what they would like to see in the new development.As former Deputy Mayor for Economic Development of New York City, Doctoroff does not lack for experience in these fields. During his tenure, he presided over the large-scale rezoning of Manhattan, as well as projects like the High Line, the World Trade Center reconstruction, and Hudson Yards. As a brand new neighborhood filled with high tech sensors in the middle of an old, dense city, Hudson Yards is probably the closest analog to Sidewalk Labs’ Toronto project.Other observers have drawn comparisons between Sidewalk Labs and ongoing, ground-up smart cities like Songdo International Business District in South Korea and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. Similar to master planned modernist cities like Brasilia, these smart cities have consistently failed to meet their utopian expectations. Songdo has been unable to attract significant business attention, while Masdar City has been beset by delays and won’t even come close to its goal of being carbon-neutral.In ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Tuesday, October 17, 2017By Benjamin Schneider
    5 days ago
  • Experimental City: The Sci-Fi Utopia That Never Was
    To forestall the continuing growth of cities as “cancerous organisms,” the Minnesota Experimental City (MXC) was conceived in the mid-1960s by epochal technologist Athelstan Spilhaus. A modular settlement of 250,000 people or more, the city was to be powered by clean energy and run on public transit. Experimental City would be a tabula rasa—a place to begin anew, free from the constraints and compromises of past cities, located in the remote marshlands of northern Minnesota.Spilhaus could be gruff, but maintained a patrician air, expressed in his decades-running “Our New Age” comic strip, which confidently proclaimed science fiction to be science fact just around the corner. To advance the cause, he gathered around him a progressive cadre of experts including Buckminster Fuller and civil rights pioneer Whitney Young. The world they outlined was startlingly prescient.Spilhaus was far ahead of the day’s consensus on climate change and the necessity of minimizing waste. (One newspaper headline: “’Recycling’ to be key to experimental city.”) The MXC predicted the rise of personal computers, video conferencing, and a proto-Internet that would allow networked remote shopping and banking. They envisioned how this technology would allow people to work from home, and extrapolated the subsequent effects on transit networks and urban development.What the city might have looked like in cross section. (The Experimental City)A “dual-mode” transit network addressed the first-mile, last-mile problem with individual vehicles that can be driven independently, but then hook into a series of cars running on a track as they near the city center. No traditional internal combustion engines would be allowed. Spilhaus envisioned an almost organic process of assembly and disassembly, in which modular components of buildings would be digested into the city sub-structure and used again. His experimental city was always a work in progress, constantly making and unmaking itself to perform better.The city’s price tag was estimated at $10 billion (in 1967 dollars), mostly to be funded by private industry. (The idea was to pay for it with the war surplus saved by ending war in Vietnam.) Completion was set, rather ominously, for 1984. The venture initially received some federal funding, but enthusiasm stalled when Vice President Hubert Humphrey (a former mayor of Minneapolis and a supporter of the plan) failed in his 1968 presidential bid.Focusing their energies at the state level, backers convinced the Minnesota legislature to establish a state agency to set site criteria and find a location. They settled on 55,000 acres near the town of Swatara, Minnesota, and quickly attracted the wrath of local residents. By then it was the early 1970s, just a few years before the New York Daily News’ thunderous “Ford to City: Drop Dead” headline. The brand of the American city was wrecked; they were viewed as unredeemable hovels of crime, corruption, and unrest.Animated by both conservationism and NIMBY populism, the people of Swatara wanted no part in the MXC experiment, even though it sought to solve many of their ostensible concerns about dysfunctional urbanism. They marched more than 150 miles from their ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Tuesday, October 17, 2017By Zach Mortice
    5 days ago
  • The Problem With ‘Fast-Casual Architecture’
    There are no stop signs along the Wharf, the new $2.5 billion waterfront development that opened over the weekend in Washington, D.C. No traffic lights or pedestrian crossings, either, even though the strip stretches for more than a mile along the Washington Channel. The master plan calls for chaos. Let the cars drive where they will.That’s the free-wheeling vision of Stan Eckstut, principal of Perkins Eastman, the architecture and planning firm responsible for the master plan of the Wharf. In all, 22 different graphic design, landscape, and architecture firms worked together to erect a new mini-city in place of an old strip of dance clubs and seafood buffets in Southwest D.C.When the whole thing’s finished, the Wharf will comprise more than 3 million square feet of retail, office, marina, and residential space—and some very mixed messages about design. According to its planner, the Wharf is greater than the sum of its parts.“I see buildings as a means to something much bigger,” Eckstut says. “I really don’t think the buildings are the feature.”The Wharf, a massive new waterfront development that opened in Washington, D.C., in October. (Courtesy of Hoffman-Madison Waterfront)Like much of rapidly growing D.C. and other fast-rising cities, the new Wharf development is chock full of blocky mixed-use glass buildings—the market’s best answer yet to working under the strict costs and restraints involved with building in cities today. Call it Fast Casual Architecture—the built-environment analogue for all the Chipotles, Shake Shacks, and like-minded better-than-fast-food restaurant chains that have materialized nationwide: everywhere the same, decent value, built from a menu of common ingredients and amenities. Fast Casualism is…fine.Phase one of the Wharf opened to 6,000 fans screaming for the Foo Fighters at a new venue called The Anthem on Thursday night. More retail outlets and restaurants opened over the weekend as visitors (plus potential new residents) got a first look at a new 60-foot-wide waterfront boulevard, a recreation pier (complete with a Olympic-scale torch), fountains and water features, benches and swings, and tons more interventions designed for maximum fun.  Phase two is still underway—and it’s a complete 180. Whereas the first buildings are humble (if handsome in spots), the coming ones are high-end projects penned by some of the biggest names in architecture. Twin buildings by SHoP Architects, the firm responsible for the Domino Sugar Factory redevelopment in Brooklyn, pick up where phase one of the Wharf leaves off. Next door, ODA has designed a residential ziggurat with two wings that look like interlocking puzzle pieces: one a stair-step series of garden patios, the other a mirror-image inverse projection of balconies. It’s funky, something the city hasn’t seen before. Morris Adjmi (of Atlantic Plumbing fame) is doing an office project. Completing the set is a curving building by starchitect Rafael Viñoly, whose work—from the Walkie Talkie in London to 432 Park in New York—is as reviled as it is admired.Compare that to phase one, designed by a rogue’s gallery of national and regional firms working to all different ends. Perkins Eastman issued ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Tuesday, October 17, 2017By Kriston Capps
    5 days ago
  • Urban Lights Are Confusing Birds to Death
    Walk around any city at dawn this time of year and you’ll likely encounter a grim, feathery graveyard. Migrating birds that have crashed into windows lie stunned or dead at the bases of buildings, only to be swept up by property managers or snatched away by predators as the sun rises.Collisions with buildings and other human structures are perhaps the biggest contributor to avian fatalities in North America. Many species migrate by night and are perilously dazzled by artificial illumination, for reasons we don’t yet completely understand. Lights on skyscrapers, airports, and stadiums draw birds into urban areas, where they smack into walls and windows or each other, or flap around and eventually perish from exhaustion-related complications.We now have a comprehensive and weirdly fascinating case study of this problem thanks to researchers probing some of America’s most-famous artificial lights—the night-burning beams paying tribute to the September 11 attacks each year at New York’s former Twin Towers site. Using radar, binoculars, and acoustic monitoring, observers logged a thick frenzy of seemingly lost birds around these lights.Over seven night-long 9/11 tributes in recent years, the beams disrupted the flight patterns of more than a million birds, causing them to aimlessly loop and chirp incessantly, according to researchers from the University of Oxford, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the New York City Audubon. Nearly 16,000 birds circled the beams over the course of one night in 2015. When the lights were darkened, that number dropped to about 500.Radar images show high numbers of birds circling the 9/11 tribute lights as compared to when the installation is turned off. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)What’s going on in birds’ brains that makes them react this way? Many ornithologists think it’s related to how the creatures navigate. During migrations in the spring and fall, a large number of species chart their courses according to the position of the setting sun, the moon, and the stars. Glaring lights from human sources short-circuits this system.“Light is a powerful stimulus. Think of how powerful it can be for attracting moths, or people if you are in a dark place or a place in which some striking light installation points high into the sky above the ocean of artificial light below in a city,” says Andrew Farnsworth, a Cornell researcher and study coauthor. “Also think of ​what happens when you get very close to such a powerfully intense light—it can become disorienting to perceive much beyond the bright. It seems plausible, without ascribing human traits to birds here, that there may be similar sorts of experiences that attract and disorient birds.”Birds also have “light-mediated molecules” in their eyeballs that help them detect the earth’s magnetic field and travel accordingly, which is something light might disrupt, says Farnsworth. “Birds slow to look, or because they cannot see beyond it, they circle trying to gather information about where they are, and they start calling probably as a function of this disorientation to try to locate other individuals like or ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Tuesday, October 17, 2017By John Metcalfe
    5 days ago
  • Ai Weiwei’s Art Reaches New York’s Streets
    Ai Weiwei walked into Columbia University’s Arthur Miller Theater last week with the gait of a man who’s seen much and said little.The Chinese artist, now living in Berlin, spoke on stage with Carol Becker, Dean of Columbia’s School of the Arts; and Amale Andraos, Dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP). For just over an hour, their conversation covered Ai’s career and his participation in the Ordos 100 project, where 100 architects, including the firm workAC (co-founded by Dean Andraos) were invited to design pop-up villas in rural Mongolia. They also discussed some of his newest works, many of which were unveiled this week in New York.“Gilded Cage,” 2017 by Ai Weiwei Studio/ Frahm & Frahm. (Ai Weiwei Studio)Ai’s work first shifted to activism after he witnessed the devastating effects of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, and the 5,000 “nameless” schoolchildren who died inside a shoddily-made building. Wanting more information than the government was willing to provide, he traveled to the disaster zone to document its human and structural tragedies. This, unsurprisingly, made him an enemy of the state—and from 2011 through 2015 he was kept under house arrest, detained, imprisoned, and subjected to physical as well as emotional torture. Since his release, he’s channeled much of this experience into work that explores our humanity and responsibilities as societal spectators, as well as the role of the outsider, especially in urban spaces. As part of a controversial rotating installation, he’s been traveling through Europe, fastening thousands of life jackets collected from refugees on Lesbos, Greece, to public institutions and monuments, as an attempt to draw attention to the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.His latest project, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, is perhaps Ai’s most ambitious one yet. An homage to Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” the artist is anchoring over 300 pieces and installations throughout New York, utilizing architecture and sculpture to jostle New Yorkers into recognition of the current sociopolitical environment, both locally and abroad.“Circle Fence.” (Timothy Schenck)Many of the pieces are installed in neighborhoods historically home to immigrants, like the Lower East Side in Manhattan and Corona Park, Queens, one of the city’s most ethnically diverse areas. In Central Park, “Gilded Cage” is a series of turnstiles that conjure the physical constraints of refugees. Washington Square Park’s “Arch” enables visitors to see themselves reflected in dual metal figures united in embrace, transforming the concept of the “security fence” into a symbol of unity. “Circle Fence” plays up the symbolism of Flushing Meadows’ Unisphere by creating a low perimeter around it made out of mesh netting and metal barriers.Ai has also created 200 two-dimensional banners to appear on lampposts across all five boroughs using advertising-heavy spaces like bus stops and subways to feature images culled from his new documentary Human Flow, which was also unveiled this week. The film represents a year and a half of work during which he traveled to 23 countries and more than 40 refugee camps, meeting 600 ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Tuesday, October 17, 2017By Laura Feinstein
    5 days ago