Tag Archives: The Atlantic

The Art of Boostin’ from High-End Fashion Stores

There were cliques of black youth in the 1980s who were tomb raiders in urban jungles like New York, D.C., and Detroit. These were groups of black teenagers who were their own kind of urban anthropologists, ransacking high-end retail stores for Gucci belts and pocketbooks.

They were a bunch of Lara Crofts and Indiana Joneses invading otherwise off-limits terrains in fashion districts from Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue to Detroit’s Livernois Ave, seeking exotic items like Fendi sunglasses, to swipe off counters, and then, taking off through an obstacle course of security detectors and mall cops.

Once they made it back to their home bases, they told the stories to their peers of how they claimed their prizes, flaunting their unpaid-for wares all the while. They were … Read the rest

Meet the PHIMBYs

If you’re familiar with CityLab, you know your NIMBYs—the homeowners who say “Not In My Backyard” whenever anyone proposes constructing new housing in high-opportunity areas.

And you’ve probably met their adversaries in the “Yes In My Backyard” movement. Typically younger (and media-savvier) than their foes, YIMBYs have quite successfully framed their activism for more housing production at all income levels in opposition to NIMBY pleas for the preservation of abundant parking and “neighborhood character.”

The two sides are now facing off nationwide, but nowhere more fiercely than in California, where residents are debating SB 827, a pending, YIMBY-backed bill that would allow the production of dense housing in all areas within close proximity to frequent public transit. The bill is aimed at increasing … Read the rest

Was There a Civilization On Earth Before Humans?

It only took five minutes for Gavin Schmidt to out-speculate me.

Schmidt is the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (a.k.a. GISS) a world-class climate-science facility. One day last year, I came to GISS with a far-out proposal. In my work as an astrophysicist, I’d begun researching global warming from an “astrobiological perspective.” That meant asking whether any industrial civilization that rises on any planet will, through their own activity, trigger their own version of a climate shift. I was visiting GISS that day hoping to gain some climate science insights and, perhaps, collaborators. That’s how I ended up in Gavin’s office.

Just as I was revving up my pitch, Gavin stopped me in my tracks.

“Wait a second,” he said. “How do … Read the rest

Can We Make Green Roofs More Biodiverse?

Every time Kelly Ksiazek-Mikenas scrambled onto a new green roof, it was hard to tell exactly where she was. The city below was definitely Berlin or Neubrandenburg, but the expanse of scraggly greens ahead of her looked a lot like the green roofs in Chicago, her home.

The only difference was that the German green roofs were much older than anything found in the United States: three to nine times older. Which is why the Northwestern University Ph.D. student in plant biology spent her summer there a few years ago.

The ability of plants to absorb and evaporate storm water, reduce a building’s energy use, and clean up some air pollution makes green roofs effective as a sustainable-building technique. They also just look nice. Germany began … Read the rest

It’s Time to Regulate ‘Smart City’ Technology, Too

There’s a reason why one technology reporter compared wide-ranging questions posed by the Senate to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday to “a five-hour tech support call.” The hearing revealed a basic lack of understanding about Facebook’s data-gathering business model and consumer-facing functions.

On Wednesday, day two of Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, House members seemed to have done a little more homework. But even lawmakers who started off sharp wound up leaning on Zuckerberg for advice for regulating his own company. Their tougher questions didn’t add up to a clear picture of what’s gone wrong at the social media giant.

This was not so surprising. In the U.S., the federal government has long shied away from … Read the rest

CityLab Daily: America’s Vanishing City Accents

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What We’re Following

Long time coming: President Donald Trump’s hostility to welfare dates back at least as far back as 1973, when the Justice Department sued him and his father over alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act. Writing a decade after the racial discrimination suit, the future president explained, “What we didn’t do was rent to welfare cases, white or black.”

Trump’s hostility toward welfare culminated on Tuesday when he signed an executive order to force recipients of benefits for housing, food, and healthcare to demonstrate their employment to be eligible for aid. CityLab’s Kriston Capps writes that the move represents … Read the rest

A Five-Decade Fight to Improve Housing Choices for the Poor

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, and in Chicago, there’s a man who has spent all 50 of those years fighting to preserve and expand the vision behind it. His name is Alexander Polikoff. He’s 91 years old, and although he’s virtually unknown to most Americans, he’s been almost single-handedly shepherding one of the nation’s most consequential civil-rights lawsuits for more than half his life.

Polikoff was the lead attorney on a landmark case in the 1960s, Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority. It was the first major desegregation case concerning public housing. The lawsuit charged the Chicago Housing Authority and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with violating the Constitution’s equal protection clause and the 1964 Civil Rights … Read the rest

This Hummingbird’s Tail Whistles, and No One’s Sure Why

In early spring, people walking through the deserts of California might be able to hear a high-pitched whistle. That noise comes from a male Costa’s hummingbird, but not from his throat—it’s all in his tail.

Males woo females in a number of ways. They sing. They spread the iridescent feathers of their throats, transforming their heads into shiny, violet octopuses. And they fly up to tall perches to plummet into acrobatic dives, careening downward before pulling up at the last second. When they hit a critical speed, the back edges of their outermost tail feathers start to flutter. That’s the source of the whistle.

Christopher Clark likens that whistle to the Stuka dive bombers that Germany deployed in World War II. As these planes dove, propeller-driven … Read the rest

A Brief History of Donald Trump’s War on Welfare

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday that will force recipients of federal assistance—benefits for housing, food, and healthcare—to demonstrate their employment to be eligible for aid. The move, widely anticipated by welfare agencies and eagerly awaited by conservatives, represents a significant change to the social safety net.

The administration is also mulling a plan to require drug testing for recipients of food aid, according to a report by the Associated Press. The decisions reflect long-standing complaints that conservatives have lodged against welfare—criticisms that Trump appears to hold close to heart.

The Trump administration has explored a number of pathways to get work requirements on the books. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development floated job requirements in draft legislative changes to … Read the rest

MapLab: Airports In Abstraction

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Orient yourself: The art and science of urban structures

Cities are the frequent subject of scientific research in biology, health, environment, and lots of other mainstream fields. But the science of cities themselves—as holistic systems and networks, as “organisms” that function in particular ways—has always been a little more fringe. Also, mind-bending.

Some researchers look for the patterns that make cities grow. For example, Geoffrey West, a senior fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a distinguished professor of physics at the Santa Fe Institute, has shown that a set of simple mathematical principles, very similar to those found in nature, govern the structure and growth of cities, as well as corporations … Read the rest