Tag Archives: CityLab

Mapping the ‘Conflict Zones’ Between Sprawl and Biodiversity

By 2030, the world is expected to add another billion people or so, bringing the total population to roughly 8.5 billion. And with humans becoming increasingly urban, sprawl will only get worse, taking up precious space that wild birds, mammals, plants, and the like can still call home.

In fact, at least 423 large cities (that is, with more than 300,000 people) across the globe are nestled inside 36 biodiversity hotspots: regions that harbor a high diversity of animal and plant species found virtually nowhere else in the world. And considering the growth trajectory of these cities—as modeled by the Seto Lab at Yale University—a staggering 90 percent of them could end up destroying the natural habitats of endangered species over the next decade or … Read the rest

Cities: Don’t Just Wait for the Feds

Last week, City Observatory’s Joe Cortright provided a caustic review of our book, The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism. In his piece, “Cities Alone Can’t Fix What’s Wrong with American Government,” Joe acknowledges the rising power of cities as problem solvers, but also argues that fighting to preserve a “competent, generous, fair and functional” national government must be the highest priority during these dangerous times. He contends that “[t]he clarion call to act locally diverts our political attention from the national stage and perhaps, unwittingly, becomes an excuse to stand by and watch these foundational programs be destroyed.”   

We have been big admirers of Joe’s work over the years and welcome his voice in the debate. We … Read the rest

Airport Communities Make a Plea for Quieter Skies

Every time a plane flies over Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, María Batayola pauses what she’s saying and lifts a finger as she waits for it to pass. This happens every few minutes, and the noise doesn’t just interrupt conversations, she says: It distracts people at work and school, and disturbs their sleep.

“I remember waking up in the middle of the night and saying, ‘Is there a war?’” she recalls.

For about three years, Batayola has been organizing Beacon Hill residents to combat noise pollution from the nearby Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The constant buzz overhead is a stressor on the community, she says—and there’s plenty of research to back her up. Studies show that airplane noise harms people’s physical and mental health, and makes it harder … Read the rest

A Portrait of Parkland

PARKLAND, Florida—Gerardo Velasco knew what he was looking for in a city: baseball fields and safety. Baseball is for his 15-year-old son, who wants to be a professional baseball player. And about security, he says it’s because he grew up in Nezahualcoyotl, a city on the outskirts of the Mexican capital. “At some point it was considered the poorest in the world and the most dangerous in Mexico,” he says. He did not want his family to live in a place like that.

Until Wednesday, when a young man entered his son’s high school and killed 17 people, he had found all of this in Parkland, Florida. “I drive an hour and a half to get to work. Every time I go on the highway, … Read the rest

Why Southern Schools Are Talking Secession

When I moved to Durham, North Carolina, in the mid-1980s, the county had two separate school systems. At its center, like a bulls-eye, was the city system, which was overwhelmingly African American and had the state’s highest dropout rate and some of its lowest test scores. Its undersized tax base, including a hollowed-out downtown, made it hard to raise enough revenue to close the gap.

Encircling it was the county system, which was whiter and more suburban, and it included Research Triangle Park, home of taxpaying giants like IBM. By raising the property tax one cent, the county could reap $30 per student, whereas the city could only reap $17. Not surprisingly, the county spent twice as much per pupil on instructional materials, and had the … Read the rest

How Seattle Is Winning the War on the Car Commute

Seattle is among the fastest growing cities in the U.S., thanks largely to Amazon’s addition of 35,000 employees since 2010. For all the economic benefits that come with growth, it has also created a variety of civic headaches, crippling traffic chief among them.

But thanks in part to considerable efforts by the region’s largest employers, the share of commuters driving solo into downtown Seattle is on a dramatic decline.

Just 25 percent of workers traveling into the center city drove themselves, according to the results of the latest annual commuter survey by the Seattle Department of Transportation and nonprofit partner Commute Seattle. This is the lowest share since the city started keeping track in 2010.

The number of cars is also trending downwards, according to … Read the rest

A Mexican Village Where Aztec-Era Agriculture Remains

As twilight hits the southern edge of Mexico City, campesinos (peasant farmers) glide through narrow canals between pastures as they make their way over the water to deliver crates of produce. It’s January, the middle of the dry season, and through the slopes of the surrounding hills and volcanoes, desiccated lettuce and spinach fill the fields amid the lagoons of Xochimilco.

San Gregorio Atlapulco, in Mexico City’s Xochimilco municipality, is the last bastion of the once great chinampa economy. During Aztec times, it functioned as the motor for the sustenance of up to 1.5 million people in the Valley of Mexico. Tenochtitlan, the island capital of the Aztecs, is where the Mexica built their pyramids in the Lake of Texcoco. It was intimately integrated Read the rest

How Structural Racism is Linked to Higher Rates of Police Violence

The question that typically pops up when black people are killed by police is whether racism had anything to do with it. Many studies do show that racism plays a part in causing police to pull the trigger more quickly on black suspects. That’s usually because of the implicit racial biases of the individual police officer involved. Law enforcement officials often try to rule out racism by arguing that you can’t tell what’s in a officer’s heart when these killings happen.

But what a team of researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health recently endeavored to find out was whether the kind of racism that’s woven into laws and policies also informs racial disparities in police violence. Their findings were released in the Read the rest

Big Data Suggests Big Potential for Urban Farming

Gotham Greens’ boxed lettuces have been popping up on the shelves of high-end grocers in New York and the Upper Midwest since 2009, and with names like “Windy City Crunch,” “Queens Crisp,” and “Blooming Brooklyn Iceberg,” it’s clear the company is selling a story as much as it is selling salad.

Grown in hydroponic greenhouses on the rooftops of buildings in New York and Chicago, the greens are shipped to nearby stores and restaurants within hours of being harvested. That means a fresher product, less spoilage, and lower transportation emissions than a similar rural operation might have—plus, for the customer, the warm feeling of participating in a local food web.

“As a company, we want to connect urban residents to their food, with produce grown a … Read the rest

Are Dockless Bikes a Cybersecurity Threat?

On a blue-sky day in Washington, D.C., dockless bikes are the ticket to ride. Key in your credit card digits into any one of five dockless bikesharing apps, locate a candy-colored two-wheeler nearly anywhere in town, and unlock it with a QR-code scan. For just a buck or two an hour, you can cruise to your heart’s content.

Meanwhile, your personal data is also taking a little trip. From unlocking to relocking, your name, payment information, geographic location and route are getting beamed, via smartphone and a chip on the bike, to company servers. Where? It depends on which company you’re riding with.

If your bike comes courtesy of the Beijing-based companies Ofo or Mobike—the two dominant dockless players, now muscling their way into … Read the rest