Send Us Your Ideas for Dealing with Minnesota’s Rogue Bog

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Minnesota has a bog problem. After we ran writer Andrea Appleton’s story about “The wild beast of North Long Lake,” a four-acre, floating peat bog that has been causing havoc recently, our readers were eager to offer some ad hoc solutions for how to deal with the troublesome natural phenomenon. And we want to hear more!

The giant roving island naturally detached from its former home, bound to the shore near a summer camp, and has bounced around the lake. At nearly 30 feet thick in places, it destroyed residential docks and boat lifts. Though it has come to rest back at the summer camp’s swimming beach, the bog requires a more permanent solution, before it drifts off to cause more damage.

“I come right out … Read the rest

Suspiciously Black in Starbucks

Over the weekend, a video circulated on the Internet of police handcuffing and removing two black men from a Starbucks in Philadelphia last Thursday, April 12. The incident is illustrative of what pains many African Americans about the threats of gentrification: The men were reportedly charged with trespassing, and for a neighborhood like Philly’s Rittenhouse Square, where the trespassed Starbucks is located, that may have been true in the eyes of a cafe manager trying to interpret the motives of two black people sitting in the establishment without ordering something.

On VisitPhilly.com, Rittenhouse Square is promoted as “the heart of Center City’s most expensive and exclusive neighborhood.”

Even though Philadelphia has a large African-American population, Rittenhouse Square is one of its whitest neighborhoods. The charges of … Read the rest

Can Connecticut Cities Avoid a Property Tax Death Spiral?

Wall Street is warning Connecticut that its cities and towns could be in danger. An analysis released by Moody’s last week says that recent changes to federal tax law may wreck municipal finances across the state. From Stamford to Hartford, that’s not exactly a surprise to Connecticut residents.

Back in December, when Congress passed a major revision of the tax code, the bill included a cap on the state and local tax deduction. Wealthy households in high-tax states especially benefited from this provision, making the state and local tax (or SALT) deduction an easy target for a unified GOP government.

In states with high local and state taxes—due today, don’t forget!—the new dispensation could lead to stagnant property values. That, in turn, affects property tax receipts. … Read the rest

Peter Calthorpe Is Still Fighting Sprawl—With Software

The architect and urban designer Peter Calthorpe was an advocate of transit-oriented development (TOD) and smart growth long before those concepts were buzzwords. In fact, as one of the founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism and the author of the first TOD guidelines (as well as numerous influential books), Calthorpe has done as much as anyone to re-focus American urbanism on walkable, dense, sustainable, transit-rich environments.

Now, in an attempt to spread this knowledge even more widely, Calthorpe has released a new urban-planning software, UrbanFootprint, which will soon be available to virtually every city and government agency in California. (The company behind the software, which is co-led by Calthorpe and Joe DiStefano, is separate from the planning firm Calthorpe Associates.) Calthorpe compares UrbanFootprint … Read the rest

CityLab Daily: Your Building Code Won’t Save You

What We’re Following

Waiting for the Big One: As San Francisco rethinks its seismic regulations, the message from experts is clear: The building code won’t save you from the earthquakes. The New York Times maps where the biggest risk exists today and looks back to the last time an earthquake devastated the city, on April 18, 1906. The big unknown is that modern skyscrapers have yet to be tested by the unpredictable power of earthquakes. “It’s kind of like getting in a new airplane that’s only been designed on paper but nobody has ever flown in it,” one skeptic told the Times.

Cleaning up: A toxic waste … Read the rest

In Search of Affordable Housing, Barcelona Turns to Repossessed Homes

Don’t let an apartment you own sit empty, or the city may turn it into affordable housing for someone else. That’s the message this month from Barcelona, as it revives a controversial policy to force banks to do something with properties they’ve repossessed.

Indeed, Barcelona has announced that it will appropriate five empty bank-owned properties that have been unoccupied for more than two years. That’s potentially just the start of it—there are more than 2,000 unoccupied homes across the city, much of it still fallout from the 2007 financial crisis.

The homes will, pending appeal, be overseen by the city for between four and 10 years as medium-term residences for people on the public housing list. While the current list contains just five addresses, the city … Read the rest

The ‘Pedestrian’ Who Became One of America’s First Black Sports Stars

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On April 10, 1880, New York’s original Madison Square Garden was packed with sports fans. Men in the arena roared. Ladies waved their handkerchiefs. A band struck up “Home Sweet Home,” the classic 1823 American folk ballad. They had come to see Frank Hart, one of the best “pedestrians” of his day.

“I’ll break those white fellows’ hearts!” Hart, an immigrant from Haiti, vowed before the race. “I will—you hear me!”

Eighteen men competed in the race. Three of them were African Americans, including Hart. After Hart crossed the victory line, fans showered him with bouquets of flowers. His trainer handed him a broomstick to hold the American flag aloft during his victory laps.

Hart had won a “six-day go-as-you-please” endurance race. “The rules were simple,” … Read the rest

A New Urbanist Developer Gives Saarinen a Reboot

In 2007, the future looked bleak for Eero Saarinen’s Bell Labs building in Holmdel, New Jersey. Once a factory of innovation, the Bell System monopoly that sustained it had dissolved—the remnants of a mighty 6,000-person workforce gone with no replacement tenant in sight. Now, all has been saved with the building reborn as Bell Works.

Developer Ralph Zucker, President of Somerset Development, was intrigued by the building. In spite of hesitant brokerage houses and potential tenants, as well as the site’s restrictive zoning, he finally bought the building in 2013. “People said it was obsolete,” Zucker commented during a recent tour of the structure. “The building is amazing, an ahead-of-its-time, Mid-century Modern marvel. [But] the building had been zoned into obsolescence.”

Holmdel, a suburban community of Read the rest

Greening the Favela

RIO DE JANEIRO—Crawling up the side of the sweeping mountain that marks the end of Ipanema beach, Vidigal is one of Rio de Janeiro’s most distinctive favelas. When resident Carlos Augusto Graciano, an architect, got the chance to build a minibus shelter here a few years ago, he knew he wanted to do something different.

A woman stands on the terrace of her home in Vidigal. (Pilar Olivares/Reuters)

At the time, residents who rely on the minibuses to haul them up the steep hill and into Vidigal’s dense maze had to wait out in the open street, regardless of torrential rain or punishing summer temperatures. “I wanted to do something that could change residents’ lives and the city’s direction,” Graciano said. “Something that wouldn’t be common. … Read the rest