Tag Archives: CityLab

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

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

From Prison’s Horrors, a Work of Art

Haunted by the suffocating horror and hopelessness he witnessed in Haiti’s national prison, this artist finds solace in his work.

Accused of arson, Paul Junior Casimir spent a year there, awaiting a trial that never was scheduled. He is one of the lucky ones; others have died waiting. Freed only because aid workers recognized his talent and a non-profit organization was willing to work on his case, upon release, Casimir began frantically building an art installation that recreates the hell he experienced.

Casimir, 35, hopes the project, a traveling installation called “Enfermé, Libéré” [Locked Up, Freed] will draw public attention and help build momentum for change.

A visitor views the exhibit at the FOKAL Art Center in Port-au-Prince in February. (Jean Marc Hervé Abelard)

The exhibition, … Read the rest

CityLab Daily: Why New York Stopped Building Subways

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What We’re Following

Illustration from 'Why New York City Stopped Building Subways'
(Madison McVeigh/CityLab)

Days of our lines: New York City’s 6 million daily subway riders face constant delays, overcrowded cars, big gaps in service, and (today) rain-drenched tunnels. Yet long-promised funds and improvements never seem to come.

That wasn’t always the case. In the early 20th century, the system grew quickly, unfurling from just a single line in 1904 to a vast network hundreds of miles long by the 1920s. After World War II, that growth came to a hard stop, and the city hasn’t opened a new full-fledged line since 1940.

Why? In a gorgeous illustrated timeline, CityLab … Read the rest

Self-Driving Cars Still Have a Lot to Learn

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA—The question posed to Phil Koopman, a robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, was stark. “Where were you when you heard about Elaine Herzberg?”

He had a fitting answer: He was teaching a software safety class when one of his students raised a hand as the news showed up on their phone that a self-driving Uber vehicle had struck and killed a pedestrian. Elaine Herzberg, 49, was crossing a seven-lane road in Tempe, Arizona, when the Volvo SUV, which was operating in autonomous mode at the time, struck her.

At the Pennsylvania Automated Vehicle Summit in Pittsburgh last week, Koopman gave a talk on how to make AV testing safer for other road users. This is a question he’s been pondering for many … Read the rest