CityLab

  • Should Transit Agencies Panic?
    A transit professional can’t open a browser these days without encountering prophets of doom. “New technology is changing everything,” we’re told. “Everything you do is obsolete!” “You represent tired, old thinking.” “You are going to be left behind.” We are bombarded by messages that transit as we know it will soon be swept away by various kinds of mobility “innovation.” Often this is coupled with the notion that the private sector will now break “transit monopolies.”For a sample of this popular genre, here’s Paul Comfort, a former CEO of Baltimore’s transit agency, in the newsletter of the American Public Transportation Association. The piece is called “Left Behind: The Wave of Disruptive Technology.” Within a few years, the era of a monopolistic, taxpayer subsidized, utility-style public transit agency providing all the public transportation in a city/region will be over. These technology-driven, largely private-sector innovations to mobility will challenge our traditional model of public transportation and allow consumers a real choice for the first time. Have these coming realities sunk into the decision-making matrixes of our public transit industry? If we don’t want to be overtaken by these new and disruptive technologies, we need to put up our sails and catch the winds of change that are blowing. There is some truth here. Few transit professionals would deny that U.S. transit agencies can be bureaucratic and that they have some intrinsic features that make them resistant to change. In the area of network design, I’ve worked on those issues as a consultant for 25 years. Transit agencies must always be challenged (and supported) to be more nimble, and any impulse can be helpful for this.But we must also hear, in Comfort’s words, the eternal language of marketing. If you are trying to sell a new technology product, of course you imply that everyone who doesn’t use it is a dinosaur. And while technology is certainly bringing great new opportunities for urban transportation, that doesn’t change the fundamental skepticism that people must bring to what is obviously the language of sales.Salespeople have always played on our fear of being “left behind,” and the phrase has long been an effective way to intimidate local governments: “You must build freeways through your city, or you will be left behind.” “You must spend taxpayer dollars to build us a stadium, or you will be left behind.” “You must go easy on environmental and civil rights regulation, or you will be left behind.” And now: “You must get ready for disruptive technology, or you will be left behind.”Technology is a tool, not a goal. The job of local government—including transit agencies—is to serve the goals and aspirations of citizens. That, not fear of technological change, should be the foundation of their decisions.The tone of Comfort’s piece, and of so much writing in this topic right now, is that transit agencies are at risk of being “swept away.” The assumption is that transit agencies are like IBM’s PC business facing the challenge of Apple, or GM facing the ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Sunday, January 21, 2018By Jarrett Walker
    16 hours ago
  • Could Congestion Pricing Finally Work For New York City?
    Worsening traffic in New York City is a personal inconvenience, an environmental blight, and an economic drag—possibly to the tune of $20 billion. That’s the latest projection by the Partnership for New York City of the annual loss for the metro area over the next five years, if nothing is done to unjam cars.Congestion pricing is widely viewed by transportation advocates and researchers as an essential intervention into the city’s growing transportation crisis. It’s an idea that’s succeeded elsewhere—London’s city center has seen a 44 percent decline in car entries since it cordoned off a fee-zone in 2003. Congestion pricing was last seriously attempted under Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City in 2008, but there’s still no precedent for a true congestion pricing scheme in the U.S.That could soon change, if a much-anticipated report by Fix NYC, a traffic advisory panel appointed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in October 2017, turns into law. Released on Friday for review by the New York State legislature, the report recommends a three-phased approach towards smoother streets and more transit revenues. It suggests a charge for driving into Manhattan’s core. One possible number: $11.52 for personal vehicles.Here are the three phases:Phase One: Fix what’s brokenBetween cheaper gas prices, population growth, unreliable transit, and the rise of ride-hailing, average speeds in the central business district of Manhattan slowed by more than 17 percent in 2016, to 6.8 mph.Phase one, which the report recommends starting immediately, involves identifying improvements for transit connections between the central business district and the outer boroughs. That means restoring the subway to a state of good repair, for which no one should hold their breath. (That Herculean task could take billions of dollars and decades of work.) But there are faster and more affordable fixes, too, like improving bus service and introducing new express bus routes to poorly connected neighborhoods. The Bloomberg administration called for this when it pushed for congestion pricing. Local advocacy groups have continued to demand the same. (And—why not?—the city could throw in some streetcars, too.)Phase one also suggests reforming the city’s much-criticized placard program, reviewing parking laws for Manhattan tour buses, and stepping up enforcement by the NYPD of moving traffic violations—a potentially rich source of revenue for the city and state.(Fix NYC)Phase two: Tax Uber and LyftOn-demand vehicles are having an undeniable impact on urban mobility: Uber and Lyft are drawing riders off trains and buses, and packing more vehicle-miles traveled on city streets. Especially troubling is how many of these cars are roving free of passengers: Research by the transportation consultant Bruce Schaller, cited in the report, found that unoccupied [for-hire vehicle] hours “rose from virtually zero in 2013 to 36,500 by 2017,” resulting in a proliferation of waiting drivers and empty seats.To discourage idle driving and unnecessary trips, Fix NYC calls for a surcharge on all for-hire vehicles in Manhattan’s central business district, starting in 2018. (Chicago has already implemented a similar charge.) After a 10-month period allowing companies to install ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, January 19, 2018By Laura Bliss
    2 days ago
  • How Toronto Turned an Airport Rail Failure Into a Commuter Asset
    For years, arrivals to Toronto via its Pearson International Airport emerged into a sunless area beneath an overpass 14 miles from downtown.Until recently, anyone without a ride waiting for them outside the terminal would have to settle for a taxi, rental car, or a city bus. With downtown cab costing a fixed $53 CAD before tip, many settled for the $3 bus.Unlike Chicago, which wants a new rapid transit service between O’Hare and downtown—potentially courtesy of Elon Musk—Toronto doesn’t have a subway connection to its airport. As a result, the 192 Airport Rocket bus was just the first in a series of steps necessary to reach the city center as it dropped off passengers at the end of the subway, with a 30-40 minute ride and a transfer away from the city center.That all changed for Toronto on June 6, 2015 when the Union-Pearson Express (UPX) opened to the public. Built and operated by Government of Ontario transit agency Metrolinx, the $456-million line was the first ever direct rail link between downtown Toronto and the airport.(Metrolinx)It isn’t the “high-speed Loop” Musk’s Boring Company is proposing for Chicago, but it fills a similar gap in the market: A 20-minute service priced between the cost of a subway fare and a cab.UPX originated in the early 2000s under then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. The service was supposed to be privately built and managed without public funds. Named “Blue22” the service would use second-hand diesel trains from VIA Rail, Canada's national passenger train service. But by July 2010, plans for Blue22 had stalled. The project was taken over by Metrolinx with the expectation that it would open in time for the 2015 Pan American Games.Compared to the 192 Rocket bus, the UPX is incredibly sleek. The stations, designed with input from style expert and Wallpaper* magazine founder Tyler Brûlé, are fresh and modern with exposed concrete and wood accents, the trains arrive on time, and the end-to-end journey takes about 25 minutes—much less time than by car.The diesel train sets come with Wi-Fi, electrical outlets, and live flight information screens. There’s even a special travel magazine in the seat pockets. In the beginning, there was also a lot of extra room. The end-to-end fare on opening day was $27.90 CAD (discounted to $19 with a Presto fare card), about eight times the subway and bus fare. As a result, ridership was embarrassingly low. Only about 2,000 to 2,200 people were riding daily, well short of the 7,000 targeted by Metrolinx.“We’re trying to make this an extension of the airline experience, as opposed to a daily commuter service,” Metrolinx’s then-CEO Bruce McCuaig told the Globe and Mail in 2014. “We have other services that are intended to target the market of day-to-day commuting.”The idea of a boutique transit line didn’t sit well with people who lived along the route who had been calling for better transportation options for years. “This is, once again, a slap in the face of every resident along the corridor who ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, January 19, 2018By Chris Bateman
    2 days ago
  • Even the Dead Could Not Stay
    Editors note: Last July, Martha Park wrote about the Dumas Hotel, a revered building in Roanoke, Virginia, with an uncertain future. The hotel appeared in the The Negro Motorist Green Book from 1936 to 1967 and survived the city’s sweeping urban renewal efforts from the same period. Today, downtown is thriving. But on the other side of the train tracks, residents in historically black Gainsboro—where the Dumas Hotel still stands—aren’t so sure they’ll benefit from the boom. Below, Park retells the story of Northeast Roanoke’s urban renewal, the scars it left behind, and what today’s residents are bracing themselves for next. Further Reading:“Street by Street, Block by Block: How Urban Renewal Uprooted Black Roanoke,” by Mary Bishop. The Roanoke Times, 1995 Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, And What We Can Do About It, Mindy Thompson Fullilove, MD. New Village Press, 2004 “Roanoke’s Redevelopment Faces Tough Sledding,” by Francis H. Mitchell, New Journal and Guide, 1955 ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, January 19, 2018By Martha Park
    2 days ago
  • The 7 Stages of Amazon HQ2 Grief
    On Thursday, Amazon published a shortlist of 20 finalists for its much-desired second headquarters. In Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles, Toronto, and the 16 other (fairly unsurprising) cities that made the cut, mayors and economic development organizations jumped for joy.But in 218 other cities, it was a hard day; boosters of these left-behind towns experienced the full spectrum of grief, from shock and denial to acceptance and hope. We have documented their mourning process below.“Thank you to all 238 communities that submitted proposals. Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough—all the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity. Through this process we learned about many new communities across North America that we will consider as locations for future infrastructure investment and job creation.”  —Holly Sullivan, Amazon Public Policy1) Shock and denialTariq Bokhari, City Council member, Charlotte, North Carolina While I'm happy for Raleigh, I simply cannot understand how CLT doesn't make the shortlist for Amazon's HQ2. If you had told me the shortlist was 5 cities and CLT wasn't on it, I could understand that. I could even nod my head if you said 10. But 20... and no CLT? C'mon man... — Tariq Scott Bokhari (@FinTechInnov8r) January 18, 2018Omari Fleming, reporter, NBC 7, San Diego, California Still winning! @CityofSanDiego & @thinkchulavista may not be in running for #AmazonHQ2 but #Amazon is already growing in SD. See SD Regional EDC’s statement on HQ2 loss. pic.twitter.com/KWEMnayiBd — Omari Fleming (@OmariNBCSD) January 18, 20182) Pain and guiltJean Marbella, Baltimore Sun reporter, Baltimore, Maryland   Was it the crime, the unheated schools or the lack of decent transit (RIP Red Line) that sank Baltimore's bid for @amazon #HQ2 ?https://t.co/8ckpbRRHRc — Jean Marbella (@Jean_Marbella) January 18, 2018Abdul El-Sayed, Democratic candidate for governor, Detroit, Michigan 1/ #AmazonHQ2 choice to leave Detroit out shows that in Michigan, we're not even succeeding at @onetoughnerd goal of attracting big corporations. — Abdul El-Sayed (@AbdulElSayed) January 18, 20183) Anger and bargainingChris Brown, City Controller, Houston, Texas 1. Hey @amazon: I'm sure it's just an oversight, but I see that #Houston isn't on your shortlist for HQ2. Here are some reasons why you (or any business, organization, or family) should make Houston home: — Chris B. Brown (@ChrisB_Brown) January 18, 2018Joe Gamaldi, President, Houston Police Officers Union, Houston, Texas Thanks @amazon for considering @HoustonTX however you made a huge mistake leaving us off the short list. Greatest people, greatest city in the world #yourloss #notbitter #amazonhq2 — Joe Gamaldi (@JoeGamaldi) January 18, 20184) Depression, reflection, and lonelinessBring A to B, local Amazon courtship organization, Birmingham, Alabama Thank God for Prime. *adds to cart* pic.twitter.com/FZhLSOtQ43 — Bring A to B (@BringAtoB) January 18, 2018Calgary Economics, economic development group, Calgary, Canada We’re disappointed that Calgary was not included on Amazon’s #HQ2 short list, but we’re proud of Calgary’s bold campaign and our community for rallying around it. The global attention received will help attract other companies to come to #yyc. But in the meantime, go, Toronto go! pic.twitter.com/GdFzLvbFWN — Calgary Economic Dev (@calgaryeconomic) January ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, January 19, 2018By Benjamin Schneider
    3 days ago
  • This Year, the Women’s March Pivots from Pussy Hats to the Polls
    The sea of pink pussy hats that swarmed Washington, D.C. for the first inaugural Women’s March last January will look a little different this year.The locus of resistance is moving out of the president’s backyard and into Las Vegas, Nevada, where women and allies will stage an event elevating women and progressive candidates, called “Power to the Polls.” Unlike last year, when many women took cross-country buses to unite in one central location, this year the Women’s March organizers are placing an emphasis on organizing locally. And instead of a one-day event, the Las Vegas rally will be the first of several events held in swing states across the country, in a race to register 1 million voters.  “It would have been very easy to do an anniversary march in D.C., but we wanted people not just to think about marching for women once a year on January 21st,” said Bob Bland, co-president of the Women’s March. “We wanted women and allies and everyone who marched last year to know that activism is a thing they can do every day.”The simultaneous decentralization of the movement and the recalibration of power among its ranks is not a coincidence. The Women’s March is not about Trump anymore, nor is it really about pussies. Women’s March activists say they’re more focused on engaging women, communities of color, and new voters in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections. And just as each woman has her own reason for standing up—“The spark is usually a woman’s outrage,” says Bland—each locality has its own issues to champion.Large liberal cities like Boston, New York City, and Los Angeles are of course the ones that expect especially large turn-out again this year. But Women’s March National is not looking to build hubs, says Bland: “We want to look at races that are local—where we’ve found the most exciting examples of women and women of color who are unapologetically aligned with our unity principles.” They’ve observed the strongest organizing in red and purple states like Michigan, Iowa, Tennessee, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Utah, she says.Last year’s Women’s March on Tulsa, Oklahoma, featured indigenous speakers and local women activists. (Peggy Pianalto/ Courtesy of Tulsa Women's March)The National Mall will still host its own event, as will other cities across the country and the globe. As of this week, 290 groups have signed up to host their own marches, rallies, small meetings, and activist fairs. The same grassroots organizers that in 2017 mobilized people to the march on Washington (or organized sister marches in their own area) now helm almost 5,500 hyper-local organizing chapters.As a symbolic center, however, Las Vegas was chosen strategically. The city is teeming with domestic workers, hospitality workers, and sex workers who are fighting for workers’ rights, unions, and fair pay. The city has also been a flashpoint for immigration issues: Its expansive policies to protect undocumented immigrants were recently threatened when a petition to ban sanctuary cities at the state level was proposed ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, January 19, 2018By Sarah Holder
    3 days ago
  • Jeff Sessions and California: The Inevitable Collision
    U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has the California grizzly in his sights.In May, the Sacramento Bee wrote about how a showdown between California and the attorney general was inevitable. Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood told the Bee that federal justice officials and the liberal state were on a “collision course.” This is partly because of everything California represents to its detractors: environmental regulations, gun control, and hippies. And Sessions leans to the right not just of the state, but of many in his own party. (“He is an outlier in terms of how he thinks about drug policy even with the Republican Party,” Michael Collins, the deputy director for national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance in Washington, told The Guardian last year.)  The state of California and its cities are fighting Sessions and the Trump administration on issues across the board—and the most recent shot fired was part of a larger battle over immigration.On Tuesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that U.S. immigration officials have begun preparing for the Trump administration’s biggest immigration enforcement action yet: Federal officers will sweep San Francisco and other Northern California cities looking to arrest more than 1,500 undocumented people.The planned sweep is in response to SB-54, which California Governor Jerry Brown signed in October. It bans state and local agencies from “holding” undocumented immigrants for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and prevents local law enforcement agencies from asking about someone’s immigration status. The bill also prohibits creating new contracts or expanding old ones to use California law enforcement facilities as immigration detention centers.Although Brown wrote in a signing message that “[SB-54] does not prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security from doing their own work in any way,” the Trump administration still believed the liberal state was thumbing its nose at the federal government.Sessions termed SB-54 “unconscionable.” The move didn’t sit well with Thomas Homan, the acting director of ICE, either. Homan told Fox News that “if [Brown] thinks ICE is going away, we’re not. There’s no sanctuary from federal law enforcement … I’m going to significantly increase our enforcement presence in California, we’re already doing it.” He went on to say that “California better hold on tight.”Now, Homan and Sessions are making good on their words.In response, on Thursday the Oakland City Council voted to end all cooperation with federal immigration agents. And in a statement to the San Francisco Examiner, acting Mayor of San Francisco London Breed stood her ground. “We will not turn our backs on the people of this city because of threats from the Trump administration,” she said. “We will continue to fight in the courts to ensure that the hardworking immigrants of this city and state are protected.”It will be a fight on multiple fronts. In 2017, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office filed 24 lawsuits against the federal government, on issues ranging from education to birth control. But there are two key topics that have put the state and Sessions in ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, January 19, 2018By Teresa Mathew
    3 days ago
  • What People Mean When They Call Dockless Bikeshare a ‘Nuisance’
    Washington, D.C., is now four months into its dockless bikeshare experiment, which extends through April. This is long enough for the meddlesome neighborly gripes of D.C. residents who object to these free-range rentable bicycles to reach full bloom. It’s the response that often greets minor improvements to the way things work, and it’s currently having its high-modernist moment, its uproarious third season, its Fifth Symphony.The meddlesome neighborly gripe starts with a root-chord complaint about how bikeshare leads to a lot of sidewalk “clutter.” While there is some truth to that, a proper listserv riposte would never stop there. Beyond lay greater rhetorical heights.It’s prudent to first consider a measured irritation: Bikeshare users sometimes park their dockless bikes on sidewalks and curb cuts, making them obstacles for people who use motorized chairs or otherwise experience disabilities affecting mobility, among others. Plus, it’s just rude.“I’m very much for a livable city,” says Ian Watlington, senior disability advocacy specialist for the National Disability Rights Network, which is based in D.C. “I don’t have a problem with dockless bikes per se. It’s more of a people problem.”This issue calls for an education campaign, Watlington says. A few different efforts to that end are in the works. (More on those in a moment.) Many complaints from residents about dockless bikeshare, though, take a different tenor: An argument that paints dockless bikes as a nexus for crime and neighborhood ruin has taken hold in the civic killjoy community in certain places.Neighbors have been rehearsing their tirades about dockless bikeshare for weeks. In December, local WAMU reporter Martin Austermeuhle shared a holiday howler from the Georgetown neighborhood listserv: A resident said they aimed to call 911 to stop people from using dockless bikes. They’d even called the city on Christmas Eve. (The program’s perfectly legal.) That dispatch had some of the elements of a fine whine—abuse of city resources, the words “suspicious activity” in quotes, surreal yuletide rage—but not all the essential markers of form.Perfection arrived early in the New Year. On January 5, residents in Petworth, a neighborhood with a vibrant mix of longtime families and cocktail waystations, received a notice from their local Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative. (Think of the ANC as the local stage where not-in-my-backyard ballads are performed.) In sequence, the commissioner for ANC 4A02 hit all the expected notes: complaints about process, “unsightly presence in unusual locations,” and “criminal elements that result from [the bicycles’] presence and locations.”The obligatory dog whistle came via a bullet point about “ease of movement/escape from watchful eyes and law enforcement.” Neighborhood busybodies have not been shy about accusing dockless bikeshare users of crime (not any specific crime, just bein’ criminal). This is where I will note another CityLab story about how dockless bikeshare is finding wider purchase within D.C.’s black community, especially with youths. Just leaving that there.Then there is the core complaint, the mirepoix of any neighborhood listserv grievance: It offends me aesthetically. With respect to dockless bikeshare, this criticism comes dressed up as a ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, January 19, 2018By Kriston Capps
    3 days ago
  • The Automotive Liberation Of Paris
    For all the attention Paris gets for its transportation woes—awful smog, endless strikes, traffic jams—the city’s remarkable shift away from the car arguably deserves more.Wrap your head around this: Driving within Paris city limits has dropped about 45 percent since 1990, according to a new paper in the French journal Les Cahiers Scientifiques du Transport. Meanwhile, the share of cyclists has increased tenfold over the same timeframe. Transit’s mode share has risen by 30 percent.Vehicle-kilometers per hour, between 7 am and 9 pm, in “intramural” Paris. (Fréderic Héran)For comparison’s sake, the share of trips made by car in New York City has shrunk since the 1990s, too. But about twice as many trips still take place inside a car. Check out the graph below, from the New York City Department of Transportation, to see how their mode share shifts stack up over time.(NYC DOT)Paris’ remarkable shift did not occur on its own, and it didn’t happen overnight. Car traffic increased steadily for most of the 20th century until the 1990s, writes Fréderic Héran, the University of Lille transportation economist who authored the paper. On top of from rising global fuel prices, the factors contributing to what Héran calls the “reconquest of public space” are manifold. The city’s recent leaders have gone above and beyond their predecessors in pedestrianizing the city—but earlier mayors laid key foundations for their work, Héran writes.For example: Jacques Chirac, Paris’ famously conservative mayor from 1977 to 1995, helped encourage pedestrianism by increasing the number of bollards to prevent illegal sidewalk parking, Héran writes. Chirac also rehabilitated the Champs-Elysees into a true public promenade, with widened sidewalks, street parking eliminations, and refreshed green spaces. Chirac’s chosen successor, Jean Tibéri, came under fire for not cracking down hard enough on Paris’ air quality problems, but he does get credit for banning cars in the Place de la Concorde, one of Paris’ oldest public squares. And, in an effort to reduce traffic, he also introduced the city’s first bike plan in 1996, which established paths along the city’s main arteries and lower-speed neighborhood zones, Héran notes. Elected mayor in 2001, the socialist Bertrand Delanoë “vowed that automobile interests would no longer dominate the city and he would focus on improving public spaces,” wrote Stephane Kirkland for the Project for Public Spaces in 2014. Delanoë made good on those promises during his 13-year tenure: A number of streets were reconfigured to accommodate dedicated bus lanes. Some 400 miles of bicycle lanes were created. The banks of the Seine began to close to traffic in the summertime to make way for public “beaches.”And in 2007, the city introduced its bikeshare program, Vélib, now arguably the largest and most used such system in the West. Current Mayor Anne Hidalgo is an outspoken environmentalist who’s been responsible for “some of the most systematically anti-car policies of any major world city,” as CityLab’s Feargus O’Sullivan wrote last year. Hidalgo has implemented a ban on older cars on roads ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Friday, January 19, 2018By Laura Bliss
    3 days ago
  • Why is Pennsylvania Still Suspending Driver’s Licenses for Drug Offenses?
    Russell Harold, 52, has been missing doctor appointments he needs for treatments for his disability, and his personal finances have taken a dive because his driver’s license is suspended. Harold’s business was traveling to people’s homes to clean them, which earned him roughly $700 a week before the suspension. Now he makes only a little above that much monthly now, and he can only get to people’s homes if they transport him and his cleaning tools there. He was arrested for possessing a small amount of marijuana and the anxiety prescription drug Xanax last year, and though that arrest had nothing to do with operating a vehicle, his license was suspended for two years as part of his sentence.Pennsylvania is one of a dozen states, and Washington, D.C., that will revoke a person’s driver’s license for up to two years for a conviction in a drug-related crime, even if that crime has nothing to do with driving. Close to 150,000 people have lost driving privileges in Pennsylvania between 2011 and 2016 because of that policy. This is “irrational,” argues the legal non-profit Equal Justice Under Law, which is suing the state of Pennsylvania on behalf of Harold and another man, Sean Williams, whose employment and family responsibilities are also jammed up due to a driver’s license suspension from a drug crime conviction. The state has not responded to the lawsuit yet, and declined comment to Citylab about it.Equal Justice Under Law is arguing that these suspensions do nothing to promote traffic safety or even to drive down crime; instead, they only drive drug offenders into poverty by compromising their abilities to make a living. If anything, that kind of economic hardship, such as what Harold is now facing, ends up pushing many into a life of crime, by resorting to drug-selling or theft to make up for whatever ends they can’t meet due to their inability to drive, the lawyers argue. They also argue that the policy violates equal protection rights, largely because there is no corresponding license suspension penalty for crimes that actually do threaten road safety, such as texting and driving, failing to yield to pedestrians, and, in some instances, speeding. There’s also a racial component, as the complaint reads: Defendants’ license suspension scheme is problematic not only for how it burdens, but whom it burdens. Pennsylvania’s impoverished neighborhoods and predominantly Black neighborhoods are more likely to be policed than affluent or white ones, and Black Pennsylvanians are more likely to be stopped, frisked, and arrested for drug possession than any other group. Instead of operating a scheme that targets dangerous drivers, Defendants’ scheme is based on drug convictions — a measure that disproportionately represents people living in poor or predominantly Black neighborhoods, thus disrupting family life and making employment, healthcare, and education substantially more difficult to access for a particular subset of targeted people. In other words, the disadvantages of having no license become compounded for African Americans and Latinos of low income. New Jersey’s Department of ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, January 18, 2018By Brentin Mock
    3 days ago
  • To the People Who Want to Spend 36 Hours in Washington
    Maybe you read in The New York Times that Showtime is the best bar in Washington, D.C., for “nightcapping with the demimonde.” Sorry. That is not something we do here. That is not something anyone has done anywhere since the Civil War. Piqued and stimulated Times readers should try a different bar—I hear they have loads of demimondes in Brooklyn. For anyone else confused about when D.C. shed its longtime status as a “white male fiefdom,” or when we opened our first non–steak house restaurant, or when we started to matter as a place, consider our recent reporting. ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, January 18, 2018By Kriston Capps
    3 days ago
  • Immigration Raids, Coming To A Store Near You
    Ninety-eight 7-Eleven stores. 17 states and Washington, D.C. 21 arrests. On January 10, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents conducted what’s being called the biggest immigration crackdown on a single company since Donald Trump became president. The agency has said that these types of raids are likely to repeat in the future—and are likely to target businesses of all types and sizes.In an email statement, ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan said the raids will “send a strong message to U.S. businesses that hire and employ an illegal workforce: ICE will enforce the law, and if you are found to be breaking the law, you will be held accountable.”But what message did the raids actually send to the communities that Trump targeted? The main purpose of raids like these appears to be to instill fear in undocumented workers by communicating that they are in danger of being deported if they show up to their jobs. These workplace raids harken back to George W. Bush-era, and fit into a broader strategy that the Trump administration has embraced, which seeks to make living conditions so inhospitable that undocumented immigrants might choose to leave or “self-deport.”The outcome of the raids also shows that despite rhetoric about targeting employers, ICE may not really go after the big fish. Of the 21 arrests made last week, none were franchise owners or managers. And while it seems clear that they meant to target undocumented immigrants, the number of arrests, at 21, pales in comparison to the number of stores raided: 98 in 17 states.“ICE’s decision to send armed agents into franchises of the iconic American company 7-Eleven is a return to Bush-era immigration law enforcement tactics that spread fear throughout migrant communities, but often result in few apprehensions,” said César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, a law professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. “Indeed, [last] week’s operations shows how workplace raids are far more important symbolically than as actual tools to identify people who are violating immigration law.”During these workplace inspections, also called I-9 audits, ICE agents enter worksites and conduct interviews with employees and managers to determine compliance with immigration laws. If they find violations, they can fine employers. In some cases, criminal charges are filed by the Department of Justice. Under this administration, the employees found to be undocumented through their investigation are subject to arrest and removal.“These raids are interesting in that they are targeted at franchises,” said Mai Nguyen, an associate professor of Housing and Community Development at the University of Northern Carolina. “The corporation doesn’t need to change anything, because they didn’t target the corporation—they targeted individual owners of 7-Elevens.” This approach seems to align with the administration’s willingness to go easy on corporations. Just last December, President Trump commuted the 27-year prison sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, whose Iowa meatpacking plant—a part of a large corporation called Agriprocessors Inc.—was the target of a huge immigration raid in 2008.It’s not clear if Trump-era workplace raids will ultimately be effective in ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, January 18, 2018By Alastair Boone
    4 days ago
  • It’s Not the Food Deserts: It’s the Inequality
    Too many Americans are overweight and eat unhealthy food, a problem that falls disproportionately on poor and low-income people. For many urbanists, the main culprit has long been “food deserts”—disadvantaged neighborhoods that are underserved by quality grocery stores, and where people’s nutritional options are limited to cheaper, high-calorie, and less nutritious food.But a new study by economists at New York University, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago adds more evidence to the argument that food deserts alone are not to blame for the eating habits of people in low-income neighborhoods. The biggest difference in what we eat comes not from where we live per se, but from deeper, more fundamental differences in income and, especially, in education and nutritional knowledge, which shape our eating habits and in turn impact our health.To gauge the quality of food and nutrition by income groups and across different geographies, the study uses data from the Nielsen Homescan panel on purchases of groceries and packaged food and drink items between 2004 and 2015, which it then evaluates in terms of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Eating Index. It studies the gap between high- and low-income households: namely, those with annual incomes of $70,000 or more, and low-income households with incomes of less than $25,000 per year.The study reinforces the notion that food deserts are disproportionately found in disadvantaged neighborhoods. It finds that more than half (55 percent) of all ZIP codes with a median income below $25,0000 fit the definition of food deserts—that’s more than double the share of food-desert ZIP codes across the country as a whole (24 percent).Furthermore, the study documents the disturbing extent of nutritional inequality in America. Across the board, high-income households benefit from better, more nutritious food. They buy and consume more of the four very healthy food groups: fiber, protein, fruit, and vegetables. They also consume less of two of the four unhealthy food groups, saturated fat and sugar (their consumption of sodium and cholesterol is basically the same as that of lower-income households).Indeed, the groceries of higher-income households are considerably healthier—in statistical terms, almost 0.3 standard deviations healthier—than those of low-income households, a gap which expanded substantially between 2004 and 2015. Overall, high-income households purchase one additional gram of fiber per 1,000 calories than low-income ones, which is associated with a 9.4 percent decrease in Type 2 diabetes. They also buy 3.5 fewer grams of sugar, which correlates with a 10 percent decrease in death rates from heart disease.That said, there are some striking similarities in food consumption between high- and low-income households. They both mainly shop at grocery stores, no matter where they live. High-income households spend 91 percent of their food dollars at supermarkets. Low-income households spend just slightly less, at 87 percent.Data courtesy of Rebecca Diamond, Hunt Allcott, and Jean-Pierre Dubé. Chart by Madison McVeigh/CityLabAlso, both high- and low-income households, including those living in food deserts, travel relatively similar distances to reach grocery stores, as the chart below shows. The average American travels ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, January 18, 2018By Richard Florida
    4 days ago
  • CityLab Daily: Amazon’s HQ2 Shortlist
    What We’re Following:The first cut is the cheapest: Ah yes, Amazon has announced its first elimination round in the HQ2 city tournament, squeezing the list of 238 city applicants down to a not-so-short list of 20. The finalists range from Los Angeles to Boston, reaching as far south as Miami to as far north as Toronto. CityLab’s Sarah Holder has the developing story, and she notes that the list of mostly large cities clusters along the east coast, with multiple bids near New York and Washington, D.C.Dig deeper: Free land, free money: Here’s just how far some cities are (or were) willing to go to get Amazon. Catch up on KUOW’s Prime(d) podcast, in partnership with CityLab, about Amazon’s effect on Seattle. And don’t miss these written takeaways from the show’s hosts: Carolyn Adolph writes how HQ2 broke Seattle’s heart, and Joshua Nichols gives some advice for whoever wins the sweepstakes. Cities’ quest to woo Amazon highlights the long-term problems they’ve been putting off for too long. (WSJ) Why the world’s biggest tech companies depend on cities. HQ2, Apple? If you didn’t make it in the Amazon league, there actually might be a next time. Apple announced Wednesday that it, too, will build a second headquarters.Duly corrected: Yesterday we mistakenly used the wrong pronoun when referring to San Francisco’s interim mayor London Breed, who is female. Many thanks to the readers who caught the error.—Andrew SmallMore on CityLab The World's First Minister of Loneliness Britain just created an entirely new ministry to tackle this serious public health concern. Feargus O'Sullivan Instead of a Wall, Why Not a Binational Border Bikeshare? El Paso and Ciudad Juárez hope to open the first system to connect both sides of the Rio Grande by the end of 2018. Martín Echenique Disaster Resilience Saves Six Times as Much as It Costs A new report finds that federal disaster-mitigation grants produce an average of $6 in societal savings for every dollar spent. Benjamin Schneider How Portland Is Sourcing Hydropower From Its Drinking Water The method has little environmental impact and uses existing infrastructure. So why isn’t it more popular? Alastair Boone Could You Live Entirely on Mobile Internet? Try It for a Day Millions of Americans lack high-speed internet at home and have to rely on smartphones to connect. The MobileOnly Challenge asks more people to understand how limiting that can be. Linda Poon Going Up (Ricardo Martin Brualla)This mesmerizing time-lapse video captures three years of growth in Seattle, as seen from the Space Needle.What We’re ReadingWhat is a city street and what will it become? (New York Magazine)Travis Kalanick’s departure from Uber was weirder and darker than you thought (Bloomberg)Why cities that definitely get snow are still bewildered by it (Popular Science)Apparently Helsinki ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, January 18, 2018By Andrew Small
    4 days ago
  • The World’s First Minister of Loneliness
    On Wednesday, the U.K. made political history by creating an entirely new, untried political role: the world’s first “minister for loneliness.” The post is designed to combat what Prime Minister Theresa May called “the sad reality of modern life” for many people.With the news still fresh, it’s too soon to detail exactly what policy proposals will be made by new Loneliness Minister Tracey Crouch, who will also continue in her current role as sports minister. But the idea has clearly sparked the public imagination, leading many to speculate as to why the post is necessary and what the new minister could actually do to improve the situation of lonely British people.  The scope and effects of loneliness are unquestionably devastating. Half a million British people over 60 only talk to another person once a week or less. People who self-report as lonely are more likely to experience dementia, heart disease, and depression. When it comes to life expectancy, the long-term health effects of loneliness are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.The toll taken by loneliness is immense, but still a sense of stigma inhibits many lonely people from reaching out for help. According to research by Britain’s Campaign to End Loneliness, a majority (56 percent) of British adults say that admitting loneliness is difficult. And when lonely people seek to reach out, suitable networks aren’t necessarily available, inadvertently causing pressure on the health system. In one of the most poignant findings by the campaign, more than three quarters of British general practitioners said they saw one to five patients a day who had made an appointment (free at point of contact in the U.K.) mainly because they were lonely.So what could a minister do to ease this situation? The issues spread across a very wide range of policy areas—and that’s kind of the point. A minister for loneliness could potentially have a trans-governmental scope, pressing policy-makers, businesses, and individuals to look at a whole range of decisions through the lens of loneliness.Stronger political advocacy on loneliness could, for example, affect thinking on public transit. If a bus line is re-routed or canceled, authorities could be encouraged to consider the effect that might have in raising social isolation for people who live along the route—an effect that could potentially raise their costs elsewhere.A minister could also provide guidance and support to businesses that regularly make home visits, like plumbers or electricians. Those employees could be trained to spot signs of acute loneliness—and if possible, provide some social contact to help lessen it. The minister of loneliness could even provide guidelines on altering the layout of public space. In a country where many older people express alienation at the increasingly automated nature of British High Streets, there is room for more advocacy of simple solutions to combat this alienation, such as more strategically placed seating in public areas and stores, making them more manageable and inviting.There is a potential contradiction at work here, one that could lead to a clash between ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, January 18, 2018By Feargus O'Sullivan
    4 days ago
  • Amazon Whittles Down List of HQ2 Contenders to 20 Finalists
    We’re one step closer to finding out where Amazon’s coveted HQ2 will call home. The company has whittled down the list of 238 cities to 20, it announced Thursday morning. The list of finalists skews toward larger cities and metropolitan areas along the Eastern corridor, stretching as far north as Toronto and as far south as Miami. Below, the finalists:Atlanta, GA Austin, TX Boston, MA Chicago, IL Columbus, OH Dallas, TX Denver, CO Indianapolis, IN Los Angeles, CA Miami, FL Montgomery County, MD Nashville, TN Newark, NJ New York City, NY Northern Virginia, VA Philadelphia, PA Pittsburgh, PA Raleigh, NC Toronto, ON Washington, D.C. Amazon first announced the continental search for a new headquarters in October, setting off one of the most competitive and watched bidding races amongst cities and states to lure the job-creator. While many bid processes have been secret, Amazon has made a public event of its selection process, creating one of the most pervasive PR campaigns in recent history.Cities large and small began drafting their bids, releasing viral YouTube videos, arguing their individual merits to the press. For the economic support and reputation boost afforded by Amazon’s global brand, many cities were willing to put it all on the line.Some of the most aggressive bids that were publicly known seem to have paid off: Newark, New Jersey was able to offer up to $7 billion in tax breaks, after the state voted to give away $5 billion and the city threw in $2 billion of its own. Illinois’ state law allows Chicago to funnel $1.32 billion of Amazon employees’ income taxes back to Amazon itself; and D.C.’s list, released yesterday, hints at large personal property tax deductions, and covered corporate franchise tax exemptions.But a number of finalists made the cut without offering out-of-the-ordinary subsidies: New York, Boston, and Toronto, did not explicitly advertise enormous financial deals in their bids. For these urban centers, prime location, a talented workforce, and major airports were likely key. But while these dense metro areas have tech, talent, and transportation; high housing costs and the question of where to put 8.1 million square feet of real estate in a densely packed urban center might be prohibitive. And while Amazon doesn’t claim to be a benevolent benefactor, a city like New York doesn’t need the investment as much as a city like Philadelphia or Pittsburgh might.Cities that have long been considered mid-size favorites have also, not surprisingly, risen to the top: Atlanta is home of the busiest airport in the country, full of cheap housing, and its university system is thriving; Austin hosts the headquarters of Jeff Bezos’ recent acquisition, Whole Foods, and might give Amazon political legs in a red state; and Denver gets major quality of life points (think hiking and breweries) and already hosts a growing start-up scene. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh both made the list, which will perhaps pit the two Pennsylvania cities against each other; while Amazon has dubbed Northern Virginia a regional finalist, without bothering to split ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, January 18, 2018By Sarah Holder
    4 days ago
  • Instead of a Wall, Why Not a Binational Border Bikeshare?
    As the debate about President Donald Trump’s long-promised wall along the U.S. Mexico border drags on, plans for an entirely different kind of infrastructure project are also proceeding: The cities of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua are considering a scheme to build an integrated binational bikeshare system between the two cities.The initiative, proposed by El Paso’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) more than a year ago, was presented at the Transportation Research Board in Washington D.C. on January 7. The project has an estimated $1 million budget, most of which would be used to construct bicycle lanes and equipment on the Juárez side, and it could open as soon as autumn 2018.The system would build on El Paso’s existing bikeshare system, SunCycle, which began in September 2015. The ultimate goal: a binational system with 30 stations and 300 bicycles, all of which will be available to use on either side of the Rio Grande.A binational border-spanning bikeshare might sound like an unlikely undertaking, given the tone of the current immigration debate, but to Michael Medina, executive director of El Paso’s MPO and head of the project, it’s also eminently practical for this borderland metropolis, where American corporations have established a network of maquiladoras, or factories, on the Mexican side of the river. “A lot of people that travel to El Paso [from Mexico] are dropped off at the border,” he says. “They walk through the bridge, and then they either get the bus on the other side or someone picks them up. So we thought, what if they could get directly to their destination using a bicycle?”Biking across international borders is relatively rare, but not impossible. There has long been talk about a bike path running between Tijuana and San Diego, the busiest border crossing in the U.S., as CityLab noted in 2016. El Paso’s bikeshare plan is more ambitious, however, since it would require not only new lanes and infrastructure but additional cooperation with immigration agencies.Madison McVeigh/CityLabToday, El Paso and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have an agreement: The city reimburses the costs of deploying extra immigration officers during high peak crossing times. Medina hopes to expand that agreement to cover the bikeshare users and have a separate booth for bikers located at the Paso del Norte border crossing, one of several international bridges in El Paso. That booth would be staffed with a specially designated immigration officer, so cyclists wouldn’t even have to get off their bikes to go through immigration. (Today, cyclists who travel between Ciudad Juárez and El Paso must dismount and walk their bikes over the border.)“The next step is to work with CBP to determine the costs that this could have, and to agree on cooperation between the city of El Paso and the immigration authorities to see the times in which this booth could be operating,” says Medina. Ultimately, the system would cover all ports of entry to the United States along the Ciudad Juárez–El ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Thursday, January 18, 2018By Martín Echenique
    4 days ago
  • MapLab: Cartography Is Contagious
    Welcome to the fifth edition of MapLab. Sign up to receive this newsletter in your inbox here.Orient yourself: Influenza strikes backIt’s that most virulent time of the year: Flu is officially “widespread” in 46 U.S. states, and emergency rooms are overwhelmed. As of the end of 2017, at least 211 people had died from the disease this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The 1960s “Regmarad” update of John Snow’s map. (UCLA)Like sore throats and popsicles, disease and maps go hand in (well washed) hand. The 19th century British physician John Snow pioneered the fields of GIS and epidemiology with his famous map of cholera cases coagulating around water pumps in a London neighborhood. (The pumps turned out to be infected.) Check out a stylish 1960s update to Snow’s map, above.Just how bad will this year’s flu bout be? Not everyone goes to the doctor when they feel sick, so officials can only estimate. The CDC judges flu cases by monitoring physician records for reports of influenza-like illnesses among patients. Below, our gif depicts nationwide flu activity since October, using CDC maps. The spread of that ugly clay color is the creep of “widespread” disease.To help track and prevent disease, others have attempted to supplement CDC data through crowdsourcing: The University of Osnabrück in Germany at one point worked with IBM to couple Twitter data with CDC reports, and Flu Near You, an online app and map, asks users to self-report symptoms, which it analyzes and maps to reveal concentrations of the virus. Google famously used to approximate flu prevalence based on search trends.Crowdsourcing hasn’t yet proven a lasting solution to gathering and communicating public health data, though. Why? Most of us aren’t great at diagnosing our own symptoms, real-time flu statistics can be misleading without context, and algorithms are flawed, too. Google’s flu tracking project ended with the search giant missing the peak of the 2013 flu season by 140 percent—an “epic failure,” according to Wired, that suggested the limits of big data as a social salve.Despite all the reasons for skepticism, epidemiologists are still pursuing new ways of putting the “public” back in public health. To track how viruses spread, researchers at NYU have an ongoing study that involves citizen scientists self-reporting symptoms online and sending in nasal swab and saliva samples. Sounds slimy and promising.Compass points: DREAMers at a crossroadsSince 2012, nearly 800,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. as kids by undocumented families have been shielded against deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Now, their fate stands at a crossroads, with Congress, the White House, the Department of Justice, and district courts split on whether to eliminate the Obama-era protection.On average, DACA recipients are better educated and more highly skilled that undocumented immigrants who are ineligible for the program. Many of them have always called the U.S. home. And studies show that they contribute billions to the national economy, especially in the populous urban states where the vast majority reside. ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, January 17, 2018By Laura Bliss
    4 days ago
  • How Portland Is Sourcing Hydropower From Its Drinking Water
    Portland, Oregon—known to some as “Bridge City”—has an intimate relationship with the water that flows beneath it. During hot summer months, residents cool off by floating down the Willamette River. Its iconic bronze drinking fountains (also known as Benson Bubblers) have been gushing with cool, clean water during daylight hours since 1912. And most recently, LucidEnergy—a Portland-based startup that launched in 2007—has discovered a way to use the city’s drinking water to generate electricity without any negative environmental impacts.Since 2015, the city of Portland has been partnering with LucidEnergy to install electricity-generating turbines in its gravity-fed water pipes. A new video produced by Van Institute, in collaboration with CityLab, shows how the system works.Van Alen Sessions A short-documentary series highlighting current debates about urban infrastructure Go As water flows through the pipes freely, the turbines spin, collecting excess energy that is then purchased by Portland General Electric, and put on the city’s power grid. Portland has installed 50 feet of so-called “LucidPipes,” which generate an average of 1,100 megawatt-hours of electricity every year. That’s enough renewable energy to power about 150 homes.That may not seem like much. But according to Laura Wisland, a senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, for cities aiming to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels in a cost-effective way, every little bit counts.“If a city is making this investment because they have committed to being even more aggressive than state requirements for clean electricity, that’s a significant impact,” she said.“I think any electricity provider that’s interested in relying on carbon free electricity should diversify the types of resources they invest in as much as possible, to mitigate any potential risk that one of those supplies may not be as available as expected.”And unlike the hydropower systems that are installed in dams across the country, Portland’s system uses existing infrastructure, which allows it to avoid killing fish and other marine life, or otherwise significantly alter aquatic habitats.   LucidEnergy has also installed hydropower pipes in a few other cities around the world, including Riverside, California, and  Johannesburg, South Africa. But what’s keeping LucidPipe technology from being installed in cities across the U.S.? For one, the geography that surrounds a city determines how useful in-pipe hydropower can be. Portland sources the majority of its water from Bull Run Watershed, which sits in the mountains above the city. That means that gravity does the work of pulling the water down the pipes and dispersing it throughout the city. “It’s a net positive to generation because it doesn’t require any electricity to pump the water through,” Wisland said, “Obviously that’s not going to be the case in every single municipal water supply system.”Replacing existing infrastructure with LucidPipe also costs money, and requires coordination between a given city’s electrical and water utilities. But there are some offsetting financial benefits, too. While Portland’s hydropower project cost about $1.7 million, it is expected to produce $2 million in clean energy over its ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, January 17, 2018By Alastair Boone
    4 days ago
  • Disaster Resilience Saves Six Times as Much as It Costs
    In financial terms, 2017 was the worst year for natural disasters in American history, costing the country $306 billion. Scientists agree that hurricanes, floods, and fires are now turbo-charged by climate change, which the president and many top Republican leaders still refuse to acknowledge. But even while the federal government fails to address the root of the problem, there are ways to limit the damage from these increasingly frequent events—in property, and more importantly, in human life.A new report from the National Institute of Building Sciences finds that for every dollar spent on federal grants aimed at improving disaster resilience, society saves six dollars. This return is higher than previously thought: A 2005 study by NIBS found that each dollar from these grants yielded four dollars in savings.“A lot of things have happened since 2005,” said NIBS’s Ryan Colker, who contributed to the report. “Katrina, Sandy, and the increasing ... frequency of disasters prompted us to look at what has changed.”NIBS, a nonprofit group authorized by the U.S. Congress, took into account grants from FEMA, HUD, and the Economic Development Administration, whose staffs collaborated with NIBS to produce the report. $27 billion spent in mitigation grants over the past 23 years has yielded $158 billion in societal savings, they found. Many of the interventions the grants funded were simple, like installing hurricane shutters, replacing flammable roofs, and clearing vegetation close to a structure.Summary of the savings attributable to federal disaster-mitigation grants (NIBS)In addition to federal grants, the report also examines the financial benefits of private developers exceeding local building resilience standards. These interventions—such as elevating homes higher than required in flood-prone areas and building structures to be more rigid than required by seismic safety rules—yield four dollars in savings for every dollar spent. Unlocking these benefits is more difficult, however, since they are contingent on the decisions of private builders.“As we continue to produce information about the benefits of resilience,” Colker said, “I think you can see an increased recognition from builders that people are willing to pay for this. There’s value associated with it.”The study finds that developers accrue a small benefit from these long-term investments in disaster mitigation, but not nearly as much as tenants and property owners.Net benefits to various stakeholders for exceeding local safety requirements in new buildings (NIBS)Some regions benefit disproportionately from both federal disaster-mitigation grants and better building practices. Stretches of the Gulf Coast, for instance, see a high benefit-cost ratio (BCR) on dollars spent to elevate buildings above the legally mandated height.Benefit-cost ratio of raising new buildings above required threshold in coastal areas (NIBS)Large swaths of Southern California, Idaho, and (somewhat surprisingly) Florida derive particularly great benefits from investment in fire-mitigation efforts in new construction.Benefit-cost ratio of implementing various fire safety measures in new buildings (NIBS)Ironically, the federal grants that this study reveals to be more effective than previously thought are on the chopping block in Trump’s first budget request. Specifically, FEMA’s pre-disaster mitigation grants would be cut in half; HUD’s Community Block ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, January 17, 2018By Benjamin Schneider
    4 days ago
  • Could You Live Entirely on Mobile Internet? Try It for a Day
    You can do a lot on your smartphone these days: Surf the web, connect with friends, perhaps even run a business. But could you run your entire life with your smartphone as your only portal to the Internet?If at first that doesn’t sound like a challenge, consider 17-year-old Lilah Gagne. She’ll be the first to tell you just how much of a struggle it can be.Gagne lives Meigs County in rural southeast Ohio, where access to high-speed internet is either unavailable or unaffordable for many families. Her family depends mainly on its mobile data plan to connect to the internet, which is far from ideal for the busy high school senior. She’s had to master the art of typing essays on her iPhone, and of multitasking. “I used to do my English homework in chemistry class, while I was doing chemistry and algebra II at the same time,” said Gagne, who attends school in the nearby, well-connected city of Athens. “I remember having to take screenshots of everything on my phone so I could look back at it later.”She stays late after school to finish online assignments, or borrows internet from either her mom’s office or a friend’s house. Gagne has even gone as far as finding refuge in a Taco Bell for its free Wi-Fi after she had reached her data limit. (She now has unlimited data on her phone, but she says it has only made things a little easier.)But, hey, don’t just take her word for it; try it for yourself.That’s the call to action behind the MobileOnly Challenge, a campaign organized by advocacy group Next Century Cities. The challenge calls on people to spend a day in Gagne’s shoes—and those of the 23 million rural Americans who lack in-home high-speed internet services. For one full day in January, participants are asked to rely solely on their phones for internet access, and to share their experience on social media.The challenge arose in protest to an expected decision at the FCC to change the definition of broadband internet. The FCC’s current policy, from the Obama administration, aims to connect everyone in the U.S. to broadband internet with download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second, as well as mobile broadband. Now Chairman Ajit Pai proposes lowering that standard by more than 50 percent—to 10 megabits per second—and considering mobile broadband to be a sufficient replacement to a fixed high-speed connection at home.Critics say this is merely achieving a goal by lowering standards, and Next Century Cities aims to highlight the consequences with the MobileOnly Challenge. “My productivity is incredibly limited and I am burning through my data at a crazy rate,” said the group’s executive director Deb Socia, who participated earlier this month. “This is a good way to experience it firsthand so I can be a better spokesperson, and to share publicly how hard it was.” So far, a dozen other organizations have pledged to take the challenge, along with the FCC’s Democratic commissioners Mignon Clyburn ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, January 17, 2018By Linda Poon
    5 days ago
  • On Paris Metro, Drug Abuse Reaches a Boiling Point
    In one section of the Paris metro, drug dealing and abuse has gotten so bad that some train drivers are refusing to stop at stations. Following a bad year for accidents and assaults, the trade union that represents workers of Paris transit body RATP warned last week that the North Paris stations on Metro Line 12—notably Marx Dormoy, Porte de la Chappelle and Marcadet – Poissoniers—are now so overrun with people selling and smoking crack that drivers no longer feel safe dropping off or picking up passengers there.While regular services continue, some drivers have admitted that if fights or disturbances appear to have broken out on the station platform—or if too many addicts are massed on the platform—they will drive straight through to the next stop. It’s an occurrence they say is becoming more frequent.If the protest from employees is new, problems with crime and public order in this part of Paris are not. The area where the stations are located has been one of Paris’s poorest ever since it was built up in the 19th century—nowadays much of its population is people whose families have arrived within the past 50 years from Africa (both North and Sub-Saharan) and, in the area’s southern reaches, South Asia. Straddling the train tracks trailing out of the Gare Du Nord, the attractive but rundown streets around the Paris quarter of Goutte D’Or are one of the few pockets of Paris proper that have remained affordable—and as a result have, to residents’ chagrin, become a sort of corral for petty crime problems more rigorously combated elsewhere in the city. In fact, some residents complain that their relatively low social status has led the authorities to disregard problems with street crime that affect their safety and quality of life for too long.When it comes to public drug sale and use, something is still shifting, and conditions are getting worse. Last year, there were 850 service interruptions on Line 12, caused variously by the electric current being cut off as people crossed the tracks, pulled the alarm lever to stop the train while deals were made. With six assaults on staff in the final third of 2017, it’s understandable if RATP employees are wary. As Eric Chaplain, a driver on line 12, told French news channel LCI, it seems that a sort of uneasy truce between drug users and the transit system has broken down: Historically, Line 12 was always a hub for drug abuse, notably around Porte de la Chapelle, even after the line was extended. As that time, there was a major presence of drug users, but there was a sort of “respect” between them and RATP staff. They knew very well that they benefited from our platforms but that, at the same time, they had to respect the place, so it stayed clean and useable. But the nuisance has got worse from month to month, and from year to year. It’s this escalation that sparked last week’s union communiqué, sent to France’s Interior ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, January 17, 2018By Feargus O'Sullivan
    5 days ago
  • The (Legal) Case Against Bidding Wars Like Amazon’s
    Two states, both alike in dignity, vying for one car company.On one side of the border was Toledo, Ohio; on the other, the industrial plains of Michigan. Caught in between was DaimlerChrysler, in search of a home for its new Jeep factory. The auto manufacturer already had an assembly plant in Toledo, but the year was 1995, and they were looking to replace their old model with an updated one. The only trouble was deciding where to put it.To convince Jeep to stay, Ohio played hardball. In all, the state offered $280 million in incentives for the $1.2 billion Chrysler committed to bring in.Deals like this one are all too familiar today. Twenty years later, one of the highest-stakes economic incentive horse races is playing out before the public eye, as hundreds of cities and states vie for Amazon’s second headquarters. The tax breaks, real estate deals, and other special incentives governments are willing to offer Amazon have been characterized by critics as “corporate welfare,” offering more to the company than the community. "Amazon has proved it, probably on steroids, that when businesses like that say jump, the states will say, how high," said Jack Markell, former governor of Deleware and a vocal incentive detractor.The most ardent opponents believe they have a legal case to get rid of bidding wars altogether, arguing that offering incentives locally violates the United States Constitution’s commerce clause. “One of the things that has been clear pretty much [since the Constitution’s inception] was that states can’t use regulatory powers to discriminate in favor of in-state economic activity and against out-of-state economic activity,” said Northeastern law professor and attorney Peter Enrich.There was a time when this argument took Toledo residents to the Supreme Court, in a case against DaimlerChrysler that was later dismissed on procedural grounds. Other legal challenges raised since have not found success in front of judges. And a 1999 proposal in Congress that would have mounted federal roadblocks to these payouts never won bipartisan support. Still, economists and politicians have stood by the rationale underpinning their challenges. In recent years, scrutiny over bidding wars like the one playing out now for Amazon's HQ2 have focused on the states and localities offering the deals. But what if incentives packages could be curbed by the courts or Congress instead?***Around the time Ohio officials were scrambling to keep DaimlerChrysler in-state, Enrich published an essay in the Harvard Law Review, “Saving the States from Themselves.” It argued that the act of giving out economic incentives violated the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause, which allocates power to the federal government—and by extension, not states or citiesto regulate commerce between multiple states. The clause has been used, for example, to invalidate a Massachusetts state tax on milk that the Supreme Court said discriminated against non-Massachusetts citizens.Before the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation, states acted as sovereign entities, fighting for in-state economic development by imposing tariffs on imports from other states. “Those tariff wars were creating a great deal of ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, January 17, 2018By Sarah Holder
    5 days ago
  • Want to Make It in the Gig Economy? Emulate Romance Novelists
    When “Fifty Shades Freedopens in theaters on February 9, fans will no doubt flock to see bad boy Christian Grey (played by Jamie Dornan) bested by naughty-but-nice heroine Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson).A less racy but equally thrilling story, my research shows, is how romance writers are getting ahead in the digital era.While economists and labor scholars wring their hands over the rise of the precarious gig economy, these freelancers have developed innovative business practices over the past four decades that have set them up for success in the digital era.Romancing the gig economyAlthough few have reached the flabbergasting success of “Fifty Shades” author E.L. James, a former fan fiction writer whose net worth now totals more than $58 million, I found that the median income for romance authors has tripled in the e-book era. And more and more are earning a six-figure income.This uptick occurred as other types of writing became less profitable. During the same period, a survey of 1,095 Authors Guild members found that their median income from writing fell by at least 30 percent.Clearly, romance writers know something that other authors, and many struggling freelancers, don’t. The one-third of American workers toiling in the gig economy can learn a few lessons from them.Some 57.3 million U.S. workers freelanced in 2016, according to research firm Edelman Intelligence. Economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger found that 15.8 percent of Americans work in “alternative work arrangements” (freelancing, contracting, temp work, etc.), up from 9.1 percent in 1995. In fact, they found that all net job growth in the U.S. from 2005 to 2015 came from such work.If you’re not already freelancing, you may be soon. Edelman predicts that given current growth rates, more than half of the American workforce will freelance by 2027.Experts don’t agree whether this trend is good or bad for workers and the economy. The freedom is nice but freelancing often pays poorly.While few writers are getting rich off books alone—I found that half of romance writers earned less than $10,000 in 2014—more and more are able to support themselves. While only 6 percent earned at least $100,000 in 2008, more than 15 percent did in 2014. Most gig workers, including authors, patch together a living through multiple occupations.You might speculate that romance writers succeed because smut sells. But that doesn’t explain why romance writers are faring better than their peers with digital sales.Instead, three surprising practices set romance writers up for success: They welcome newcomers, they share competitive information, and they ask advice from newbies.Welcoming newcomersFaced with rejection and ridicule from other writing groups in the 1970s, romance writers formed their own professional association, Romance Writers of America. It now has some 10,000 members.From its start in 1980, the group embraced newcomers. Unlike other major author groups—and most professional associations—this one welcomes anyone seriously pursuing a career in the field. Newcomers may join once they’ve completed an unpublished romance manuscript.Similar groups, including the Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Wednesday, January 17, 2018By Chris Larson
    5 days ago
  • The Great Crime Decline and the Comeback of Cities
    Two of the most remarkable trends in recent years have been the tremendous decline in violent crime and the comeback of once downtrodden and written-off cities. In his new book, Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life and the New War on Violence, New York University sociologist Patrick Sharkey argues that these two trends are inextricably related. The decline in violent crime has paved the way for the urban revival, and the urban revival has in turn help to stabilize neighborhoods and make them safer and better places to live. (Full disclosure: Sharkey is my NYU colleague, and I liked the advance copy of the book I read so much that I contributed an endorsement.)But all is not well. The peace we have today is indeed uneasy. And powerful forces, from the Trump administration to conservative state legislatures, are undertaking policies that can undo it. Cities and neighborhoods must step up and lead—and foundations and private-sector actors must help—if the crime decline and the urban revival it helped to set in motion are to endure.I caught up with Sharkey over the phone about the key ideas in his new book.Can you start by telling us a little bit about the Great Crime Decline and what it has meant for cities and urban neighborhoods?Violence started to rise in the 1960s and stayed at an extremely high level from the ‘70s to the beginning of the ‘90s. That’s when violence started to fall. By 2014, the homicide rate was 4.5 per 100,000 people, and that was the lowest rate in at least 50 years. 2014 was really one of the safest years in the history of the U.S.It happened because city spaces transformed. After years in which urban neighborhoods were largely abandoned, left on their own, a whole bunch of different actors came together and transformed urban neighborhoods. Part of that was the police. Law enforcement became more effective at what they were doing by using data about where police should be stationed, where the problems were arising. They started to shut down open-air drug markets to really end the crack epidemic, which was a major source of violent crime all over the country.There were other changes, too. Private security forces expanded. Private companies started hiring private security guards. Home-owners started to install alarm systems and camera systems. Technology improved that made motor-vehicle theft much less successful. Cities started to install camera systems.So it wasn’t just the police. It was about the transformation of urban spaces, about a set of changes that took place at the same time. Part of that was a very local mobilization against violence that was driven by residents and local organizations to retake parks, alleyways, city blocks, and to confront violence in a way that communities have always tried to do but that they did in a much more systematic and comprehensive way in the early 1990s. These local organizations had a causal effect on violence and their emergence should be seen alongside ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Tuesday, January 16, 2018By Richard Florida
    6 days ago
  • Salvadorans in L.A. Brace for Change
    LOS ANGELES, CA - Evelyn Hernandez told her husband that even if she dies, she doesn’t want to leave the United States. “I want to get buried here,” she said she told him one day. “I don’t want you to send me to my country.”Hernandez is originally from El Salvador, but she’s lived in Los Angeles since she emigrated to the U.S. in 1992 at the age of 19. She has been able to live and work legally in the U.S. since 2001 because of her Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, as it is commonly known.But a week ago the Trump administration announced plans to end TPS for individuals from El Salvador, upending the lives of roughly 200,000 Salvadorans who have been living in this country since at least March 2001, if not substantially longer. These individuals now have eighteen months—until September 9, 2019—to either leave the U.S., or find an alternate means of obtaining legal residency.Hernandez, who works as a community organizer at Los Angeles’ Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), described herself as “devastated, frustrated, and angry” by the decision—but not defeated. “With all that, I turn it into energy to fight, not just for Evelyn Hernandez but for all of us with Temporary Protected Status.”A status born of disaster and war The TPS program was created in 1990 to allow individuals to temporarily remain in the U.S. when conditions in their native country would prevent them from safely returning home, most often due to ongoing armed conflict or natural disasters. TPS was granted to Salvadorans by then-President George W. Bush in 2001, after two major earthquakes a month apart devastated the small Central American nation. The Department of Homeland Security now says that ending TPS is necessary because “the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist.”But many critics argue that El Salvador, which has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, remains plagued by instability and violence—the legacy of the crippling civil war that raged from 1980 to 1992. Salvadorans make up the overwhelming majority of TPS holders, but 13 countries around the world were designated for TPS when President Donald Trump took office last January, a list that also included Honduras, Nicaragua, Syria, Haiti, and several African nations.The future of the TPS program as a whole has been on the chopping block under Trump. TPS holders like Orlando Zepeda, a 51-year-old Los Angeles resident, weren’t surprised by last Monday’s decision. “They had already decided for the other countries, and we were expecting it,” Zepeda told CityLab, referencing the fact that the Department of Homeland Security had announced plans to end TPS for Nicaraguans and Haitians in November. “But when you hear the news for you? It’s devastating.”Zepeda emigrated from El Salvador in 1984; his wife Lorena is also a TPS holder and the couple have two children, both U.S. citizens.For TPS holders, the program grants participants a kind of in-between legality: Beneficiaries are not deportable and can obtain work authorization permits, but ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Tuesday, January 16, 2018By Julia Wick
    6 days ago
  • What Could Happen to Washington’s Salvadoran Strongholds
    WASHINGTON, D.C.—Salvadorans are the largest group of immigrants in Washington, D.C., surpassing Mexicans, Cubans, and even Puerto Ricans. But that number could decline next year after the federal government’s decision to repeal the Temporary Protected Status, a benefit that since 2001 has allowed 200,000 Salvadorans to live legally in the United States, and which expires on September 9, 2019.After that date, every Salvadoran who hasn’t changed her immigration status to another kind of visa or green card could be subject to deportation. The nation’s capital is home to the largest group of Salvadoran beneficiaries of this humanitarian policy: More than 32,000 Salvadorans from who live and work in the Washington metro area have TPS.Many of these immigrants are now confronting an imminent fear of being ejected from the country. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser vowed in a statement to support these residents in whatever limited ways she can, by at least providing resources for their immigration defense. But Salvadorans in Washington, D.C., say Trump’s announcement has exacerbated other threats they face to staying in the city itself.Long before Trump’s announcement, they say, Washington, D.C., was becoming an increasingly inhospitable environment for many Salvadorans. Skyrocketing housing prices and changing demographics have been driving them out of the city and shutting down their businesses. Many Salvadorans expect that with Trump’s announcement, threats of eviction and the economic forces pushing them out are only likely to get worse, even for those who don’t face deportation. All of this is not just an existential threat to Salvadoran immigrants; it could change the face of neighborhoods like Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights whose flavor was long shaped by a heavy Salvadoran presence, and break up communities of Salvadorans built over several decades.“The change has been very drastic,” says Yasmin Romero, a Salvadoran community leader and resident of Mount Pleasant. “The landlords are evicting people all the time, raising the rent in buildings where a lot of Salvadorans live. And now it’s getting worse, as they are taking advantage of this after the government removed the TPS.”The arrival of Salvadorans in the District of Columbia was driven by immigration unleashed after the civil war, and by the low cost of living that characterized Washington during the 1980s and 1990s. At that time, the capital was an attractive city for immigrants compared to New York. The majority of Salvadorans who arrived in D.C. settled in the neighborhoods of Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, and Mount Pleasant in the 1980s, opening food businesses, remittance stores, and supermarkets of Latino products.Edith Cuevas—originally from San Vicente, a city almost two hours east of the Salvadoran capital—has been a resident of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood for 28 years. She was one of the first people to start a Salvadoran business there. Cuevas opened a distributor of books, magazines, and miscellaneous items for the Hispanic community that began to reside in the northern part of the District. “People are afraid,” she says.Cuevas has seen the neighborhood change little by little: Rents have gone up, ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Tuesday, January 16, 2018By Martín Echenique
    6 days ago
  • The Granny Flats Are Coming
    When Kol Peterson moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2010, affordable housing was a priority, as it was for many newcomers in this city’s booming real-estate market. He looked at two frequently discussed option for high-cost cities—tiny houses on wheels and communal living—but decided on another option: accessory dwelling units, or ADUs—also known as granny flats, basement and garage apartments, and the like.ADUs weren’t yet common in Portland—that year, the city issued only 86 permits for them—but when Peterson did the math he decided that building one was his best option. “I could buy a house, construct an ADU in the backyard, and live in the ADU while renting out the house,” he said. That’s what he did: He bought a home in the city’s King/Sabin neighborhood, built a tidy two-story mini-home in its backyard, and moved in. The experience, he says, has been life-changing. “Building an 800-foot ADU eventually eliminated my housing costs, and I’m living in my dream house.”Eight years later, Peterson works full-time helping others build ADUs, preaching the granny-flat gospel via classes for other Portland homeowners. The number of permits the city issues has risen dramatically; in 2016, it was 615. In Vancouver, Canada—an ADU pioneer—more than 2,000 ADUs have been built citywide in the last decade. But for most cities in North America, steep legal barriers are preventing this form of housing from taking off: Many cities ban them outright, and those that don’t often have severe restrictions on size, owner occupancy, and parking. Only a handful of cities have adjusted their regulations to encourage more ADUs—mostly on the West coast, where severe housing affordability is a growing problem. But Peterson and other ADU advocates are predicting that the country is on the verge of welcoming more of them.“By 2020, ADUs will take off in tens of cities,” he said. “This doesn’t mean there will be an explosion of them overnight, but the concept will become more popular in the next couple of years.”Peterson has now parlayed his ADU expertise into a new book, Backdoor Revolution: The Definitive Guide to ADU Development, that walks potential ADU builders through the planning and construction process, as well as tackles the social, economic, and environmental issues that relate to such housing. CityLab spoke with him recently about why ADUs are gaining traction and how to advocate for making them easy to build in your city.A converted garage apartment in Portland. (Courtesy of Kol Peterson)Why will we see more ADUs in the U.S.?   There’s a lot of single-family zoning in the center of our cities, and urban planners, civil society, and city leaders are questioning whether these zoning rules make sense. We’re missing dwellings that can house more people and are more affordable, such as duplexes, triplexes, and ADUs.I don’t think tiny houses on wheels will soon become a widespread form of housing, because they aren’t yet permittable. But media coverage of them has helped to spur more interest in small housing in general. These factors are positioning ADUs ... read more
    Source: CityLabPublished on Tuesday, January 16, 2018By Mimi Kirk
    6 days ago