Category Archives: geography

Maybe Government Data Shouldn’t Always Be Free

Most cities today are operating under an assumption, which may turn out to be mistaken, that the data they collect and publish—all paid for by taxpayers—should always be available at no cost, including to business.

This assumption is part of the “open data” movement. This movement begins with noble intentions. Taxpayers have a right to transparency and to access digital assets they fund. It promotes accountability, clean government and better internal performance management. The democratic case is pretty solid for public data to be unconditionally free to NGOs, the press, or the casual civic hacktivist. But should it under all circumstances be free to a company looking to exploit a free—but valuable—resource like data for a profit?

It is often said that government lags the private … Read the rest

America Needs a ‘Metropolitan Party’

A recent Economist profile on Denver Mayor Michael Hancock had this intriguing observation:

Asked if the Democrats concentrated success in cities is itself a sort of trap, the mayor agrees. He urges the Democrats to become “the metro party.” Politics, metro-style, requires appealing to moderates, liberals and even conservatives.

Rather than just an electoral strategy, what if we took this idea—a separate Metro Party—seriously? Let’s call them the “Metropolitans.”

The United States desperately needs a new political force that resists the nationalization of partisan politics and, instead, infuses both establishment parties with the pragmatic, problem solving modus operandi of leaders at the local and metropolitan level.

There is clearly a set of issues that sane metropolitan leaders across the red-blue divide can agree on: investing … Read the rest

Kissimmee’s Monument of States

Back in 1941, after Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, a retired physician and president of a local tourist club, Charles W. Bressler-Pettis, devised an idea to erect a unique monument in Kissimmee, Florida, that he hoped would inspire American solidarity in response to the attack. He wrote to the governors of each state and requested them to send him local rocks. Soon rocks of every shape, size and type began to arrive. There were native granite, quartz, small boulders, fossils, and pieces of old buildings. These were collected by local government and civic organizations, as well as area businesses and individual residents. President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself donated a rock from his estate in New York. Pettis also added is own collection of rocks from … Read the rest

These Massive Tunnels Were Dug By Giant Sloths

Across northern South America, there are hundreds of colossal tunnels large enough for humans to walk through, but they weren’t dug by men. Nor they were formed by any known geological process. But their creators have left evidence all around the walls and ceilings—giant claw marks.

Geologists call these tunnels “paleoburrow,” and they are believed to have been dug by an extinct species of giant ground sloth.


A large paleoburrow in Brazil. Photo credit: Heinrich Frank

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A Better Way to Map Humanity’s Spread Around the Earth

As the human population grows, so does its footprint. To map these changes, researchers often turn to satellite imagery, because government-collected data can be infrequent and outdated. In particular, nighttime light images can offer a wealth of information about human activity. In fact, as CityLab’s Richard Florida has written, more than 3,000 studies since 2000 have used nighttime lights as a proxy for all sorts economic activities.

But nighttime maps aren’t perfect. “If you need to figure out how large a city is and where the boundary of a city ends, lights will spread, and a city will look too large relative to its actual size,” says Amit Khandelwal,  director of the Chazen Institute for Global Business at Columbia Business School. And there’s another problem: … Read the rest

The Potato Chip Shortage Afflicting Japan


Thanks to a series of typhoons that hit northern Japan last year, the potato crop was poor, which has led to a very big problem this year: potato chip scarcity

Look at these empty shelves, which normally would have held a full complement of flavors from Calbee (try the spiced cod roe variety), Japan’s leading potato-chip maker:

Here are more sad, empty shelves:

Potato chips, Bloomberg reports, are a “big deal” in Japan, meaning that the secondary market for tasty snacks is pretty hot right now, with some bags of chips on sale for up to 1,250 yen, or around $12. That’s six times the normal … Read the rest

Unveiled: A Giant Rubik’s Cube


A group of engineers and students at the University of Michigan have created the world’s largest freestanding, hand-solvable Rubik’s cube,* and it only took years of their lives.

Installed on the second floor of the college’s GG Brown building, the giant cube was created by a group of seven students who have come to be known as the “Sublime Seven.” According to ABC 7, the giant toy replica was created with over 1,500 pounds of aluminium and steel.

Creating the large scale plaything turned out to be much more difficult than they’d anticipated, and the four students who originally started the project actually graduated before it was finished, requiring three more students to come on and assist. The original idea came from the lead engineer, … Read the rest

All Your Favorite Vacation Spots Have Been Overrun by Feral Chickens


One day in early 2004, Armando Parra Sr. unlocked his Key West barbershop and found something menacing waiting for him: there, in the middle of the floor, was a sprung wire trap with a rotisserie chicken inside. The latest weapon in an ongoing battle to manage the island’s feral fowl population, Parra had recently been named the city’s official chicken-catcher, charged with capturing as many of the birds as he could and deporting them upstate. But not everyone wanted him to do his job.

Parra had been excited to get the gig, selling branded t-shirts and interviewing happily on CNN. “I didn’t realize it was going to be like this,” he later told the Miami Herald. He had learned the first lesson of island … Read the rest

New Delhi’s Modernist Icons Are Under Threat

Between 1969 and 1972, Indian architect Raj Rewal worked countless 18-hour days at Pragati Maidan (which translates to “progress grounds”), a site he was designing for India’s first major international trade fair, Asia 72. His nephew Arun often tagged along, perhaps laying the groundwork for his own eventual career as an architect and urban planner. He remembers those visits fondly.

“There was a carpenter who used to make these small toy cars for us. He had a place where he made models,” says the younger Rewal, who was seven when the site was completed.

But now the buildings his memories are made of are under threat, as the Indian government pushes forward with plans that would demolish Pragati Maidan’s most iconic buildings in favor of a Read the rest

Who Will Buy Baby Boomers’ Homes?

A recent report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies forecasts that the remodeling industry will remain robust over the next ten years. The growth will be driven, as ever, by the Baby Boomer generation, 80 percent of whom own homes, and two-thirds of whom have expressed a desire to “age in place.” This means that many of them are modifying their living quarters to include such “universal design” features as wider doors and hallways to accommodate wheelchair use.

Boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964—are a plentiful and relatively affluent lot; they’ve steered economic trends for decades. But as the oldest members of the generation amble into their 70s, housing analysts are wondering who will take up the mantle of remodeling—and home ownership—when they’re gone. Hopes … Read the rest