Charting the Planet’s Path to 100% Renewable Energy

How quickly could the majority of planet wean itself off of coal, oil, and gas? For $124.7 trillion, perhaps within just a few decades.

That’s according to the latest research by the Stanford University professor of civil and environmental engineering Mark Z. Jacobson. In a study published in the new peer-reviewed scientific journal Joule, Jacobson and a slew of co-authors detail “roadmaps” for 139 countries to move toward 100 percent renewable, clean energy sources by 2050—that is, all wind, water and solar power, for all energy purposes. From Albania to Zimbabwe, the authors show how electrifying heavy-emitting sectors through renewables could help avert catastrophic global warming, prevent millions of deaths, and increase access to energy worldwide.

This paper builds on earlier work by Jacobson demonstrating … Read the rest

Bangkok’s Street Vendors Are Not the Enemies of Public Space

For a moment, it seemed like Bangkok was going to lose the very street food culture that’s defined the city for decades. Local newspaper The Nation reported last Tuesday that the city was planning to ban food stalls in all 50 of its districts as part of an effort to “clean up” the streets and “return the pavements to the pedestrians.” All would disappear by end of this year—the sweet and sticky aroma of coconut (a staple Thai ingredient), the sizzle of noodles hitting the wok as vendors fire up an order of pad thai, and the chaotic charm that draws some 20 to 30 million international tourists to the city each year.

After a public outcry, garnering media attention across the globe, Thailand’s chief of … Read the rest

Anatomy of the 7 Train

The 7 train is known for more than just rogue subway surfers. It’s a key line on the New York City public transit network, and arguably, the most diverse commute in the country. And this year, it marks its 100th year in operation.

Nicknamed the “International Express,” the 7 kicks off on Main Street, in Flushing, Queens; cuts through East Asian, Latino, South Asian, and other immigrant locales; and terminates in Hudson Yards, Manhattan. In 1999, the White House Millennium Council deemed it a National Millennium Trail for being a testament to the immigrant experience.

The route of the 7 train and the Flushing catchment area (Courtesy of Columbia University Press)

A new book by urban sociologists Stéphane Tonnelat and William Kornblum sketches a … Read the rest

This Magic Dutch Traffic Light Helps Bicyclists Avoid Stopping

Springlab

Red lights are the momentum-sucking bane of any bicyclist—they add time to the trip and kill your physical efficiency (just ask a physicist!). But thanks to some weird, animal-based technology in the Netherlands, riders may soon be able to sail through the city on a magic wave of green lights without having to worry about stopping for cars.

Flo, a traffic system that went into place last week in Utrecht, is a tall, blue kiosk abutting a bike path. Using sensors, it determines cyclists’ speed from hundreds of feet out and displays several kinds of symbolic advice. If cyclists need to speed up to catch a green light at the next intersection, they get a hare (not to be confused with a rabbitRead the rest

The Invisible Network That Makes Cities Work

Do you trust your neighbor? With your spare keys? With your dog? To not look when you change clothes with the blinds open? And has that behavior changed?

As patterns of communication, social interaction, and economic exchange shift, so too does the nature of trust. You can’t see trust. You can’t touch it. But like the copper below city streets and the wires above them, a network of trust undergirds urban neighborhoods and communities. And it’s undergoing something of a revolution.

Economists who write about trust love behavioral game theory experiments that measure the risk-reward premium of trust. The Trust Game, a version of Daniel Kahneman’s famous Dictator Game, allows counterparts to loan or give each other money … Read the rest

The Hopes and Fears Around Ben Carson’s Favorite Public Housing Program

When Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren asked Ben Carson what he would do as HUD secretary to address the condition of U.S. public housing, Carson enthusiastically singled out one program for praise—the Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD), a five-year-old federal initiative that has gone largely under the radar. He said he’s “very encouraged” by RAD’s early results, and “looks forward to working with Congress to expand this worthy program.”

RAD works by transferring public housing units to the private sector, so that developers and housing authorities can tap into a broader range of subsidies and financing tools to rehab and manage the units. Given Congress’s refusal to adequately fund public housing and the billions of dollars needed for backlogged repairs, supporters say RAD is the best available … Read the rest

Singapore, City of Sensors

This post is part of a CityLab series on open secrets—stories about what’s hiding in plain sight.

Armed with a deep pool of tech entrepreneurs and startups—not to mention a government that’s eager to make the most use out of them—the island-nation of Singapore offers a wealth of urban innovation.

Today’s Singapore provides free WiFi inside subway stations, and it’s paved the way for its first driverless taxis. With limited access to fresh water, the city-state has also developed technology to catch rain and desalinate some 100 million gallons of seawater a day. Even its fabled fancy bus stops get a dose of high technology.

Then there are the sensors, cameras, and GPS devices. They’re on trains, … Read the rest

Yes, Elite Women’s Clubs Still Exist

This post is part of a CityLab series on open secrets—stories about what’s hiding in plain sight.

The Sulgrave Club is an elite women’s organization that has occupied its location—a tan brick mansion in the tony Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Dupont Circle—since 1932. That year, the widow of a millionaire gentleman farmer from upstate New York, who earlier in the century had used the house as her winter residence, sold it to a group of similarly privileged D.C. women for their new club.

Inside, all is tastefully upholstered in pale greens, yellows, and subdued floral patterns. Large spaces, including a ballroom, and smaller chambers with couches and chairs arranged for conversation, serve, as the website notes, … Read the rest

Naked Germany, Straining at the Seams

This post is part of a CityLab series on open secrets—stories about what’s hiding in plain sight.

Tourists making their initial visit to Germany sometimes do a double-take the first time they they see a naked person.

Germans think nothing of stripping to sunbathe. They do it on on beaches, by lakes, and in heavily frequented urban parks in Berlin and Munich. It’s not unheard of to see unclothed people on regular park lawns or topless on balconies. The country is one of the few places in the world where naturism occurs not just in secluded areas, but in the heart of major cities. German-style public nudity, known as Freikörperkultur (or “free body culture,” and usually shortened to FKK), dates back to the 19th … Read the rest

Learning From Two Months of Illuminating Abandoned Homes

For two months last fall, Breathing Lights wove through New York’s Capital Region. Using gently pulsing lighting to humanize abandoned buildings, it was frequently perceived as a celebration, a sales pitch, or a call to action, but rarely as just art.

The installation literally shed light on an awful problem—abandoned and collapsing buildings in poor neighborhoods—for which solutions have not surfaced. It also gave the sad properties some TLC just briefly, only to return them to darkness.

“The lights had to be short lived to draw attention to the longer-lasting things,” says Adam Frelin, the upstate New York artist who Read the rest

Chasing London’s Cloud of Feral Parakeets

“My Secret City” is a collaboration between CityLab and Narratively, a digital publication featuring extraordinary stories of ordinary people, told through video, text, photo essays, comics journalism and more.

They started on the margins and colonized the centre. First they were seen in Kingston upon Thames, a leafy suburb on London’s southwestern fringe. Then they moved to neighboring Richmond and squatted the gardens of Hampton Court Palace—the former residence of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Charles I—before migrating northward into London proper. Soon they were in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, clamoring around Big Ben, massing in Parliament Square. Then they were in the grand Victorian cemetery at Highgate. Then they were up Primrose Hill. Then they were crowding East London’s canals. Then they were … Read the rest

When Cars Fly

Look at just about any celebrated imagined futuristic city—The Jetsons! Star Wars! Back to the Future! Blade Runner! What do we see? Flying cars.

And the decades-old dream of soaring over the gridlock seems to be within reach. We have autonomous cars. We have electric cars. And we have electric drones flying around all over the place. Surely, the great lift-off is almost upon us.

Several companies claim to have prototypes coming to market. Andrew Hawkins at The Verge reports that Metro Skyway, a subsidiary of the Tel-Aviv company Urban Aeronautics, just unveiled a “CityHawk” that might fly rooftop to rooftop by 2022. AeroMobil, a Slovakian company, just started taking pre-orders for 2020 for their flying car. German … Read the rest

Why Is Affordable Housing So Expensive?

In many cities, affordable housing has a problem: it’s not affordable. California Governor Jerry Brown made that point again, emphatically, with his new state budget. He’s said that won’t put any new state resources into subsidizing affordable housing until state and local governments figure out ways to bring the costs down. Last year, opposition from labor and environmental groups blocked the governor’s proposal to exempt affordable housing from some key regulatory requirements. Brown had offered $400 million in additional state funds for affordable housing if that proposal was adopted. Now that money is off the table, as Brown said in his budget speech: “We’ve got to bring down the cost structure of housing and not just find ways to subsidize it.”

But the costs are substantial. … Read the rest