An App For Democratizing Street Design

When autonomous vehicles take over the streets, the streets will change to accommodate them: Expect special priority lanes, curbside pickup “docks,” and a massive reconfiguration of superfluous parking spaces once people no longer drive themselves.

Put in charge, how would you shape the thoroughfares of the future? A simple but intriguing tool called ReStreet invites any would-be transportation engineer to flesh out ideas. Developed and released a team of planning and design specialists at the University of San Francisco and California Polytechnic State University, ReStreet offers two template streetscapes, one urban and suburban, for reimagining.

Designate a preferred width for the street, and a use for the land sandwiching it—homes, vacant lots, a waterfront, and high-density apartments are all options. As you see fit, drag and … Read the rest

Where New York City Is Going Next

Few people have had a greater impact on the look and feel of New York City than Dan Doctoroff. As deputy mayor of economic development for the first six years of the Bloomberg Administration, he presided over the fine-grain rezoning of 40% of the City, as well as the mega-projects that have come to define 21st century New York.

This is part two of my Q&A with Dan Doctoroff, who recently published a memoir, Greater Than Ever, about his time in the Bloomberg administration. In part one, we discussed the City’s post-9/11 transformation. In this installment, we look to the future of transportation and technology, and discuss Donald Trump’s temperament.

A mantra today among urban economists is to get rid of zoning and build Read the rest

How Superstitions and Myths Affect Animal Conservation

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Caroline Ward had brought snakes back to camp with her, and the locals were not happy.

The Malagasy villagers who passed through the camp, located in Northwest Madagascar, cautioned Ward that she should kill the snakes before they killed her. (Never mind that the University of Leeds PhD student was studying the species, known locally as fandrefiala, for her conservation research.) Yet the reason for their fears wasn’t that the snakes were poisonous or aggressive—rather, it all had to do with the color of their tails. Because the fandrefiala has a tail the brick-red color of dried blood, the Malagasy believe that the snakes can transform themselves into spears, plummet out of trees and kill anything passing below them.

It was a connection that Ward’s … Read the rest

Scientists Have a New Tool for Improving Food Security in West Africa

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One of the most important crops in West Africa, the white Guinea yam, also happens to be rather challenging to cultivate. Despite that, 63 million tons of yams were produced worldwide in 2013, mostly in Africa. Scientists are turning their attention to the crop, hoping to improve the tuber and make it a more reliable food source in a changing world. Now they have a new tool at their disposal—the yam’s genome.

Yams grown in Africa are nothing like the orange, sometimes mislabeled, sweet potatoes that grace American Thanksgiving tables. They are starchier and much larger—Guinea yams can grow to nearly five feet long. They are also much more difficult to grow. The white Guinea yam’s climbing vines not only require tall supporting … Read the rest

Barbed Wire Telephone Lines Brought Isolated Homesteaders Together

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American patent clerks in the 1870s could scarcely have imagined how two inventions, filed two years apart, would together change the lonely lives of frontier Americans. In 1874, there was barbed wire, and in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell’s revolutionary telephone. Together, in an amazing display of rural ingenuity, they connected isolated homesteads to their rural neighbors and the rest of the world.

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Left to telephone companies and their bottom lines, farm people would not have had telecommunications at all. Building lines was expensive, and hardly worth the effort in sparsely populated areas. But, according to historian Ronald R. Kline, manufacturers underestimated the entrepreneurial, innovative spirit of these men and women. “Ranchers and farm men built many of the early systems as private lines to hook up … Read the rest

Lab Report: What’s Causing the Upsurge of Violent Crime in Cities?

Crime trends: Increases of violent crime and homicides in a few urban centers—including Chicago, Baltimore, and Las Vegas—have driven up the national violent crime numbers for the second year in a row, according to F.B.I. data. Police officials and criminologists are divided on the exact causes of the upsurge, The New York Times reports:

“The question really is, what is different now from 15 years ago in terms of why crime has increased?” said John K. Roman, a criminologist at the University of Chicago. “And the only thing that has changed is the distrust between heavily policed communities and local police. It’s not a coincidence that cities that have crime increases have also had problems between communities and the police.”

Tense vote: Angela Merkel’s victory yesterday … Read the rest

The Cathedral of Light

Every year, the Nazi Party used to hold large annual rallies in Nuremberg, which was at that time the center of the German Reich. These rallies were grandiose propaganda events, carefully orchestrated to reinforce party enthusiasm and to showcase the power of National Socialism to the rest of Germany and to the world.

At the designated assembly grounds, which spanned more than 10 square kilometers, hundreds of thousands of party loyalists, as well as spectators, assembled. Buildings were festooned with enormous flags and Nazi insignia. Immaculately dressed soldiers, holding flags and torchlights, goose-stepped through the streets. Adolf Hitler and other leading Nazis delivered rousing speeches, and there were magnificent fireworks displays.

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Lab Report: Flint’s Water Crisis Had a ‘Horrifying’ Effect on Fetal Deaths

Troubled waters: A new study associates the lead-poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, with a “horrifyingly large” increase in fetal deaths and miscarriages, after the city changed its public water supply in 2014. The Washington Post reports:

During this time period, residents in Flint were generally unaware of the amount of lead in their water. “Because the higher lead content of the new water supply was unknown at the time, this decrease in [the general fertility rate] is likely a reflection of an increase in fetal deaths and miscarriages and not a behavior change in sexual behavior related to conception like contraceptive use,” Grossman and Slusky conclude.

They next turned to deaths of fetuses of 20 weeks gestation and older, excluding abortions, which are reported by hospitals.

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The Mossy Lava Fields of Iceland

Moss is a common plant in Iceland. It grows abundantly in the mountainous region and is a special characteristic of Iceland’s lava fields. One of the most spectacular moss blanket is located on the southern coast of Iceland, over the Eldraun Lava Field.

The Eldraun Lava Field was created in one of the most devastating eruptions in recorded history. Over a course of eight months, between 1783 and 1784, the Laki fissure and the adjoining Grímsvötn volcano poured out an estimated 14 cubic kilometers of basalt lava and clouds of poisonous gases that contaminated the soil, killing half of Iceland's cattle and horses, and more than three-quarter of sheep. That year, nothing grew on the fields and no more fish could be found in the sea. … Read the rest

The Bad Hair, Incorrect Feathering, and Missing Skin Flaps of Dinosaur Art

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Illustrating long-extinct creatures is difficult, but important work. With no living specimens to observe, it’s up to “paleoartists” who draw, paint, or otherwise illustrate the creatures of prehistory as we think they might’ve been. Their work is the reason that when we talk about velociraptors, stegosaurs, or even wooly mammoths, we have some idea of what they looked like.

But since all we have to go on are fossils, deciding how a dinosaur would have looked is as much art as it is science. And there’s at least one paleoartist who thinks we might be getting things wrong.

C.M. Kosemen is an Istanbul-based artist and author (along with John Conway) of the 2012 book, All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric AnimalsRead the rest

Rural California Awaits Its ‘Uber’

A farmworker’s hamlet in a sea of almond trees, Cantua Creek, California sits 22 miles from the nearest grocery store, 30 miles from the hospital, and 50 miles from the courthouse. When the county bus to Fresno makes its infrequent stops in town, what would be a one-hour car ride can take three. There is no Uber here, and no official local taxi company. For the many locals who don’t own vehicles, or know how to drive, these treks can be arduous, even impossible distances.

But they’re about to get a little easier. In the coming weeks, a brand-new seven-seat Tesla Model X will be ferrying residents of this 500-person Central Valley outpost to distant towns, at what’s expected to be the cost of a bus … Read the rest