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September 12, 2009

How Green Is My Metropolis, The Book

Tim says,

David Owen has a new book, titled Green Metropolis, that will be released next week. His 2004 New Yorker essay "Green Manhattan" [PDF] is a classic. The book looks like an extended treatment of the same idea.

Most Americans think of crowded cities as ecological nightmares, as wastelands of concrete and garbage and diesel fumes and traffic jams. Yet residents of compact urban centers, Owen shows, individually consume less oil, electricity, and water than other Americans. They live in smaller spaces, discard less trash, and, most important of all, spend far less time in automobiles. Residents of Manhattan— the most densely populated place in North America —rank first in public-transit use and last in percapita greenhouse-gas production, and they consume gasoline at a rate that the country as a whole hasn’t matched since the mid-1920s, when the most widely owned car in the United States was the Ford Model T. They are also among the only people in the United States for whom walking is still an important means of daily transportation.

These achievements are not accidents. Spreading people thinly across the countryside may make them feel green, but it doesn’t reduce the damage they do to the environment. In fact, it increases the damage, while also making the problems they cause harder to see and to address. Owen contends that the environmental problem we face, at the current stage of our assault on the world’s nonrenewable resources, is not how to make teeming cities more like the pristine countryside. The problem is how to make other settled places more like Manhattan, whose residents presently come closer than any other Americans to meeting environmental goals that all of us, eventually, will have to come to terms with.

Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:55 PM

August 24, 2009

A Constant and a Variant

Tim says,

I love stories like these, from poet Robert Creeley:

In the late forties, while living in Littleton, N.H., I had tried to start a magazine with the help of a college friend, Jacob Leed. He was living in Lititz, Pennsylvania, and had an old George Washington handpress. It was on that that we proposed to print the magazine. Then, at an unhappily critical moment, he broke his arm. I came running from New Hampshire—but after a full day's labor we found we had set two pages only, each with a single poem. So that was that.

Good enough, right? Nope:

What then to do with the material we had collected? Thanks to the occasion, I had found excuse to write to both Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. I didn't know what I really wanted of them but was of course deeply honored that they took me in any sense seriously. Pound very quickly seized on the possibility of our magazine's becoming in some sense a feeder for his own commitments, but was clearly a little questioning of our modus operandi . What he did give me, with quick generosity and clarity, was a kind of rule book for the editing of any magazine. For example, he suggested I think of the magazine as a center around which, "not a box within which/ any item." He proposed that verse consisted of a constant and a variant, and then told me to think from that to the context of a magazine. He suggested I get at least four others, on whom I could depend unequivocally for material, and to make their work the mainstay of the magazine's form. But then, he said, let the rest of it, roughly half, be as various and hogwild as possible, "so that any idiot thinks he has a chance of getting in."

Creeley goes on then to meet Charles Olson, Louis Zukofsky, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, all of the Beats... it just kind of runs on from there, a glorious march through almost all of the avant-garde poetry of the 1950s, from town to town, magazine to magazine... Just kids cranking away on their rusty old handpresses, broken arms be damned.

(Creeley's entire Collected Essays is available at the U of California press site - just follow the link above.)

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 8:00 PM

August 7, 2009

Tim Maly's thoughts: I'm voting for fake TV's. ... >>

BLDGBLOG Book Contest: Snarkmarkitecture

It has been indicated, correctly, that I am in possession of two (2) copies of The BLDGBLOG Book. How this came to pass, only Etaoin Shrdlu knows. But two copies is clearly too many for one man; the double-dose of enthusiasm and imagination threatens to consume me.

Therefore, a contest: SNARKMARKITECTURE.

The premise is simple. Imagine Snarkmarket as a physical space. What is it? Where is it? What does it look like? What does it feel like to walk through or around it?

I'm intentionally leaving this open-ended—maybe it's a gleaming HQ, maybe it's a storefront, maybe it's a feral house of Detroit. Maybe it's like one of those taco trucks...

Leave your pitch in the comments. Focus on creativity and brevity. It can definitely just be a sentence or two—though, by all means, if you want to Etaoin Shrdlu it up, I'm not going to stop you.

The contest ends Sunday, August 9 Monday, August 10 at midnight EST. (Update: I wanted to accommodate non-weekend-readers.) I'll choose my favorite comment and send its creator a copy of The BLDGBLOG Book. (Be sure to use a real email address in the comment form so I can contact you if you're the winner!)

Snarkmarket co-bloggers are not eligible to win but they are required to enter.

Snarkmarket as a physical space. Go for it.

Robin-sig.gif
Posted August 7, 2009 at 10:05 | Comments (19) | Permasnark
File under: About Snarkmarket, Cities, Collaborations, Design

August 6, 2009

Shadows of Shenzen's Future

Robin says,

20090806_morphosis.jpg

I like this proposal for a new stock exchange district in Shenzen—it's got some really cool lines. (However, it lost the competition, so those lines can only be enjoyed on computer screens.)

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:59 AM

August 5, 2009

Beyond Starbucks: Physical APIs

Tim says,

Some great ideas are sparking here, helped along by Robin's notion of a "Starbucks API." Noah Brier calls it a "physical API" (see also the smart comments) and Kit Eaton at Fast Company extends the concept (tongue-in-cheek) to Microsoft, Apple, and Twitter. But I like Drew Weilage's proposal at Our Own System the best:

The idea: create a "physical API"... of the Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic. Copy their entire way of doing business and paste it into hospitals around the country. In a nicely wrapped package deliver their systems for decision-making, integration, coordination, and expertise. Include their human resources practices, innovation efforts, and technology. Import their employment model, their bargaining power, and of course brand recognition. This is a beta release so if anything is left out, it can be included in a later version.

Mix with water. Implement. Poof! Great health care!

Just think about it, Local County Hospital, powered by the Mayo Clinic or Our Lady Health Care System, supported by the Cleveland Clinic; it's a definite brand extender.

Seriously -- this has, potentially, amazing public policy implications. My dad, who's worked in the government for-practically-ever in Wayne County/Detroit (first at the jail, then in public health, then in lots of places), always used to stun his bosses, co-workers, everybody, because whenever they ran into a persistent problem or one they couldn't solve, he would get on the phone to people he knew in Oakland County, or Chicago, or Denver, to see how they handled it, who would in turn refer him to other people, etc.

You can get these information bottlenecks even when there's no competing interests, and nothing proprietary -- it's just hard (without an API) for people to know where or how to look.

Comments (6) | Permasnark | Posted: 7:46 PM

July 13, 2009

Re-Burbia

Matt says,

We all know how I feel about suburbia. How would you redesign the suburbs?

The question is the subject of a contest from Dwell magazine and Inhabitat. I'm pretty curious how Snarketeers would answer this question.

Comments (11) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:58 PM

Meet The New Fetish, Pt. 2

Tim says,

If you want people to know what awesomely supercool books you are reading, you can use the internet to tell them.

Ezra Klein, "Can the Internet Be Your New Bookshelf?":

This is one of those spots where I imagine social networking really will save us. Back when I was using Facebook more, I was a big fan of Visual Bookshelf, which let you display what you were reading and, when you finished, let you rate and review the books. As a matter of signaling, it's quite a bit more efficient. Your friends don't have to catch you in a literary moment on the Metro. And being able to browse the collections of all my friends was a delight, and offered occasional surprises that helped me known them better: former football teammates who were now reading John Kenneth Galbraith, for instance, and libertarian friends who listed "The Grapes of Wrath" as one of their favorite books of all time.

I also found that displaying the contents of my bedside table helped counteract my tendency to get distracted 90 pages in and start something else. Now that the books were hanging out on my profile, I felt more pressure to finish them. Somehow, simply leaving books around my room didn't carry the same silent reproach. In fact, I sort of miss that pressure. Which is why I've added a little Amazon widget that does much the same thing to the right sidebar. Technology!

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 8:12 AM
Tim's thoughts: Well, I also think that Wolcott's essay eminently merits the monocle gesture. In fact, it seems t... >>

Meet The New Fetish, Same As The Old Fetish

James Wolcott laments the loss of personalized conspicuous consumption that goes with putting down a paperback and picking up a Kindle:

How can I impress strangers with the gem-like flame of my literary passion if it’s a digital slate I’m carrying around, trying not to get it all thumbprinty?

Books not only furnish a room, to paraphrase the title of an Anthony Powell novel, but also accessorize our outfits. They help brand our identities. At the rate technology is progressing, however, we may eventually be traipsing around culturally nude in an urban rain forest, androids seamlessly integrated with our devices...

The Barnes & Noble bookstore, with its coffee bar and authors’ readings, could go the way of Blockbuster as an iconic institution, depriving readers of the opportunity to mingle with their own kind and paw through magazines for free. Book-jacket design may become a lost art, like album-cover design, without which late-20th-century iconography would have been pauperized. (Try imagining the rock era without the gold lamé bravura of 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong or the modernist graveyard of the Sgt. Pepper cover or Andy Warhol’s zippered jeans for the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers—impossible.)

It's half tongue-in-cheek, sure, but Rex chops it at the root:

Argh! It's not that this form of nostalgia is unworthy of some passing historical fascination, because I'm sure digitization actually does represent a drastic change in how we perceive cultural objects. Rather, the obvious annoyance in this sentimental prose is its complete lack of awareness of just how silly the fetishized cultural object was in the first place. Shouldn't we be suspicious of anyone who thinks that showing off your CD collection was ever really the point?

I am all about passing historical fascination, so I'll stick around and dig a little bit. The first and maybe obvious answer is that the cool factor will transfer to the device rather than the book. If you're reading a Kindle DX, and I'm reading on my iPhone, and somebody else is furiously typing on a Blackberry - actually, in real life, I'd be that last guy - we've all effectively announced our identities. If that's not enough variety for you, give it time: capitalism will fill your need for an individualized brand. It's not perfect, but it is really good at that.

The second and maybe even more obvious answer is that you can still bring books on the train. This is Walter Benjamin 101: the outmoded technology gets its aura back. People still collect, and record companies still produce, vinyl records. (Some of them are actually really awesomely designed.) Actually - this may be news to Wolcott, who seems to be stuck on CDs -- people consider collecting vinyl to be kind of cool. As a friend of mine recently reported, "if you're like, a 6, collecting vinyl automatically makes you a 10."

In fact, in ten years, schlepping that beat-up paperback -- or, please, one of those coffee table books -- might make you the coolest guy on the train. It's like smoking a pipe, or wearing a monocle. Your retro aesthetic will identify you, Mr Wolcott, as exactly what you are.

,°-}

Tim-sig.gif
Posted July 13, 2009 at 4:53 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Cities, Design, Object Culture

July 11, 2009

Tim's thoughts: Maybe we should put together a selected reading list. One essay I love is Johanna Drucker's "Lang... >>

Invisible Infrastructure

Britta Gustafson, "Learning to see wooden poles":

When I’m not in a rush to get somewhere, I look up at the tops of telephone poles. I don’t know anything about electricity, but I find myself reading glossaries of linemen’s slang and technical definitions, learning how to refer to the grey buckets that transform electricity for home use (cans, bugs, distribution transformers) and how to identify several other pole features, especially different varieties of shiny ceramic insulators.

It's a really nice photo-essay, with little detours about the pleasures of walking, childhood memories of the Mister Rogers crayon factory documentary, and generally finding joy in "functional and authentic technical equipment, the more elaborate and less appreciated the better."

My grandfather was (and my uncle is) a lineman for Detroit Edison, so like Britta, I find power lines really fascinating. The general tendency of this century has been to make our infrastructure and industrial more invisible and remote, even as it becomes more individualized and less communal. (Think about riding a train versus driving a car.) Utility lines, when you notice them, spell out the lie in all that. Of course, they're most conspicuous when they stop working. (Actually, they're really conspicuous when they're knocked over in a shower of sparks and flame, but that's a special case.)

One of my favorite parts in Terry Zwigoff's documentary Crumb is when R. Crumb explains how he takes photographs of ordinary buildings and street corners - apartments, gas stations, strip malls - so he can use them as reference for adding details like telephone and electrical poles, junction boxes, gutter grates. Otherwise, he says, you forget about these things; it's as if they were never there.

Tim-sig.gif
Posted July 11, 2009 at 10:07 | Comments (8) | Permasnark
File under: Beauty, Cities, Design, Object Culture, Recommended, Technosnark

July 6, 2009

Three Thoughts On Early Cities

Tim says,

Kevin Kelly:

Cities may be engines of innovation, but not everyone thinks they are beautiful, particularly the megalopolises of today, with their sprawling rapacious appetites. They seem like machines eating the wilderness, and many wonder if they are eating us as well. Is the recent large-scale relocation to cities a choice or a necessity? Are people pulled by the lure of opportunities, or are they pushed against their will by desperation? Why would anyone willingly choose to leave the balm of a village and squat in a smelly, leaky hut in a city slum unless they were forced to?
Reconstruction of Upper Paleolithic tent from ...

Image via Wikipedia

Well, every city begins as a slum. First it's a seasonal camp, with the usual free-wheeling make-shift expediency. Creature comforts are scarce, squalor the norm. Hunters, scouts, traders, pioneers find a good place to stay for the night, or two, and then if their camp is a desirable spot it grows into an untidy village, or uncomfortable fort, or dismal official outpost, with permanent buildings surrounded by temporary huts. If the location of the village favors growth, concentric rings of squatters aggregate around the core until the village swells to a town. When a town prospers it acquires a center — civic or religious — and the edges of the city continue to expand in unplanned, ungovernable messiness. It doesn't matter in what century or in which country, the teaming guts of a city will shock and disturb the established residents. The eternal disdain for newcomers is as old as the first city. Romans complained of the tenements, shacks and huts at the edges of their town that "were putrid, sodden and sagging." Every so often Roman soldiers would raze a settlement of squatters, only to find it rebuilt or moved within weeks.

Adam Powell, Stephen Shennan, and Mark G. Thomas:

The origins of modern human behavior are marked by increased symbolic and technological complexity in the archaeological record. In western Eurasia this transition, the Upper Paleolithic, occurred about 45,000 years ago, but many of its features appear transiently in southern Africa about 45,000 years earlier. We show that demography is a major determinant in the maintenance of cultural complexity and that variation in regional subpopulation density and/or migratory activity results in spatial structuring of cultural skill accumulation. Genetic estimates of regional population size over time show that densities in early Upper Paleolithic Europe were similar to those in sub-Saharan Africa when modern behavior first appeared. Demographic factors can thus explain geographic variation in the timing of the first appearance of modern behavior without invoking increased cognitive capacity.

Jonah Lehrer:

While it's very nice to have some statistical evidence for this idea (even if I can't pretend to understand the "Bayesian coalescent inference" method used by the scientists to calculate the population densities in the late Pleistocene), it's worth pointing out that the density explanation isn't particularly new. In The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs forcefully argued against the "dogma of agricultural primacy," which assumed that farmers and agricultural innovations made civilization possible. Jacobs argued that the dogma was exactly backwards, and that it was the density of urbanesque clusters which generated the innovations that made farming possible. As Jacobs writes: "It was not agriculture then, for all its importance, that was the salient invention...Rather it was the fact of sustained, interdependent, creative city economies that made possible many new kinds of work." After all, you can't learn how to grow food until you've got a system for transmitting knowledge, which is why population density is so essential.
Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:53 PM

July 3, 2009

Ken's thoughts: Microbusiness sounds great, but someone's got to manage the overall infrastructure, no? The plane... >>

Free Book Idea: Too Big to Succeed

Tim and I had a fun Google Chat back in March about a concept for a book called "Too Big to Succeed." The window for a book on this theme to become a blockbuster is almost closed, so I figure it's time to stop hoarding the idea and make it a blog post.

The phrase "too big to succeed" has already infected the cultural lexicon this year. A quick sweep of Google shows it being applied to the banking industry, the auto industry, Twitter, big Pharma, China, and Washington, among other things.

It's a good phrase, springing up (as best as I can tell) in response to an even-more-popular recent construct: "too big to fail."

The concept of an entity or industry being "too big to succeed" deserves an extended riff. Do industries just have to congeal into tiny networks of giant institutions over time? And if so, does that tendency pretty much force the massive flameouts and market inefficiencies we've seen all over the economy recently?

I don't think this does have to happen, and therein lies the thesis of the book.

I think the era where every industry has to become an oligopoly is nearing an end. I don't think the shift towards mass institutions was a natural, inexorable network characteristic. If we look at the tape, I think we'll see that the oligopoly era was a network distortion produced by our industrial-age regulatory framework. And it's time to leave these things to a quiet rest.

In industry after industry, I think we've got an opportunity to shift our policies towards supporting nimble, durable markets that mimic real networks: diverse collections of nodes with a few particularly well-connected hubs. Let's look at a few examples:

The news industry

Over the past century, the news business went right past oligopoly into monopoly and got stuck there. Today, most of the journalism produced in every American city is an accidental byproduct of a giant, dying media conglomerate. As with all these other oligopolistic industries, the news titans are clamoring for a bailout, asking the government to prop them up and regulate away their competition.

But we can imagine a system of better, more sustainable journalism built on a robust network of independent newsrooms threaded throughout every neighborhood. Networks of editors could package this work for diverse sets of overlapping communities. In places like the Bay Area and Seattle, we're seeing the beginnings of this new model, but to thrive, it will require at least as much regulatory support as the big dogs got when they were buying their presses back in the day.

The medical industry

This was what got Tim and I started. Today, most health care is provided by big, unwieldy hospitals. They tend to cluster in these giant office parks, often far away from the inner city, where they're needed most. You walk in and have to navigate a maze of rooms, bouncing back and forth between receptionists and nurses and physician's assistants and doctors.

But the vast majority of medical care people need on a daily basis doesn't require a hospital to provide. As Tim said in our chat (punctuation mine), "There should be as many clinics as there are coffee shops, pharmacies, or copy stores. Universities do this (at least Penn does). We have a student health center; they have walk-in and appt hours, you pay a fee and it's free. They see you and administer standard care, run tests, give physicals and vaccines and such, and then refer you to the hospital or a specialist if it's more serious. You HAVE to go to the clinic if you're in Philly and it's not an emergency. And in part b/c it's a tailored operation, geared towards younger people, it's tremendously efficient."

The food industry

I just saw Food, Inc., yesterday, which might be what got me off on this riff again. If you read Fast Food Nation or The Omnivore's Dilemma, you know that Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan both identify monoculture (i.e. oligopoly and monopoly) as the primary villain in our awful global food situation. The last century saw food production shift from the local farmer to the multinational factory conglomerate. That shift is ruining our health, our environment, international diplomacy, and perhaps worst of all, our food. Meanwhile, the unbelievably obese food lobby has taken control of our government, writing intrusive laws to ensure its survival even as it crumbles under its own weight.

The movie industry

At this point, Hollywood basically exists to churn out quarterly blockbusters that each aim to repeat the formula for one blunt, universal emotion: love ("The Proposal"!), fear ("Saw XI"!), excitement ("Transformers!"), humor ("17 Again"!), etc. Nuance is lost, and art suffers. Like the food titans, the news kingpins, the health care lobbyists and others before them, the movie moguls are descending on Washington to seek protection as the twin forces of distribution implosion and supply explosion shred their profits.

But when my nephew is cooking up mindboggling special effects on his laptop, who needs Hollywood? The industry's product is unsustainable. You can't flog the formula forever. Let a universe of independent artists flourish, and overhaul the laws to help them make their magic.

Etc.

We can lay this pattern onto the energy industry, the publishing industry, banking (of course), transportation, post-secondary education, you name it. If I were editing this book, I'd make that the first third, in fact: spend the preface and first chapter making the overall argument, then spend a few chapters exploring how it plays out in all these different industries. Follow up this part with a chapter laying out the history -- how this screwed-up oligopoly system took root in the first place. Trace it back to the industrial age and beyond.

The middle third of the book (I'm taking this straight from the gChat) could be about the rules of a new, more natural network system. The role of big companies in this ecosystem, what differentiates successful lean businesses from unsustainable niche businesses, how a network of microbusinesses can collaborate and compete effectively.

The last third might address how society generally would benefit, and how it would have to evolve to support this. This is where you explore the policy piece -- how our laws have to change. It's also where you talk about the Richard Florida stuff -- our evolving understanding of how properly organized urban environments should function -- and how this shift facilitates that.

Of course, as I said, I think the moment for this book is almost gone. From last September to this past January, we had a brief interlude of just transcendent possibility. Monumental shifts in our society seemed graspable. People talked about spending a trillion dollars over just a few years to fundamentally remake our economy, and we actually passed a stimulus package that got closer than anybody imagined.

But we're seeing that ambition melt quickly. We're on the verge of historic health reform legislation, sure, but now we're choking on a price tag of $1 trillion over 10 years, regardless of how much it saves us over the long term. Our chance to achieve forceful climate change legislation is dimming by the day. And our September lust to reform the banking industry has molded over into a desire to, er, re-form the banking industry, in much the same shape as it was in 2001 or so.

There was a window where a big, Gladwellian book selling this notion of industrial transformation -- not as some sort of hippie anti-corporatism but as a breakthrough business idea -- might have made some traction. But I think that window's almost shut. So this book is, for now, a blog post.

Or maybe the next Snarkmarket collaboration?

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted July 3, 2009 at 7:32 | Comments (14) | Permasnark
File under: Business, Cities, Snarkpolicy, Society/Culture

May 25, 2009

Jake's thoughts: @Dan I agree it's a (great) think-piece, and we're still just watching the previews before the EP... >>

The Soul of American Medicine

If I ever meet Atul Gawande, I'm giving him a high-five, a hug, and then I'm going to try to talk to him for about fifteen minutes about why I think he's special. From "The Cost Conundrum," in the new New Yorker:

No one teaches you how to think about money in medical school or residency. Yet, from the moment you start practicing, you must think about it. You must consider what is covered for a patient and what is not. You must pay attention to insurance rejections and government-reimbursement rules. You must think about having enough money for the secretary and the nurse and the rent and the malpractice insurance...

When you look across the spectrum from Grand Junction [Colorado] to McAllen [Texas]—and the almost threefold difference in the costs of care—you come to realize that we are witnessing a battle for the soul of American medicine. Somewhere in the United States at this moment, a patient with chest pain, or a tumor, or a cough is seeing a doctor. And the damning question we have to ask is whether the doctor is set up to meet the needs of the patient, first and foremost, or to maximize revenue.

There is no insurance system that will make the two aims match perfectly. But having a system that does so much to misalign them has proved disastrous. As economists have often pointed out, we pay doctors for quantity, not quality. As they point out less often, we also pay them as individuals, rather than as members of a team working together for their patients. Both practices have made for serious problems...

Activists and policymakers spend an inordinate amount of time arguing about whether the solution to high medical costs is to have government or private insurance companies write the checks. Here’s how this whole debate goes. Advocates of a public option say government financing would save the most money by having leaner administrative costs and forcing doctors and hospitals to take lower payments than they get from private insurance. Opponents say doctors would skimp, quit, or game the system, and make us wait in line for our care; they maintain that private insurers are better at policing doctors. No, the skeptics say: all insurance companies do is reject applicants who need health care and stall on paying their bills. Then we have the economists who say that the people who should pay the doctors are the ones who use them. Have consumers pay with their own dollars, make sure that they have some “skin in the game,” and then they’ll get the care they deserve. These arguments miss the main issue. When it comes to making care better and cheaper, changing who pays the doctor will make no more difference than changing who pays the electrician. The lesson of the high-quality, low-cost communities is that someone has to be accountable for the totality of care. Otherwise, you get a system that has no brakes.

Tim-sig.gif
Posted May 25, 2009 at 6:26 | Comments (6) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Recommended, Science, Snarkpolicy

May 24, 2009

Tim's thoughts: I don't mean to be too self-congratulatory (me? never!) but your description of a mental tuning f... >>

Two Visions Of Our Asian Future

Looking to the east for clues to the future (or the past) of the west isn't the least bit new, but these two recent takes (both in the NYT, as it happens) offer some interesting contrasts.

First, Paul Krugman looks at Hong Kong:

Hong Kong, with its incredible cluster of tall buildings stacked up the slope of a mountain, is the way the future was supposed to look. The future — the way I learned it from science-fiction movies — was supposed to be Manhattan squared: vertical, modernistic, art decoish.

What the future mainly ended up looking like instead was Atlanta — sprawl, sprawl, and even more sprawl, a landscape of boxy malls and McMansions. Bo-ring.

So for a little while I get to visit the 1950s version of the 21st century. Yay!

But where are the flying cars?

And Choe Sang-Hun shows us South Korea:

In the subway, Ms. Kim breezes through the turnstile after tapping the phone on a box that deducts the fare from a chip that contains a cash balance. While riding to school, she uses her mobile to check if a book has arrived at the library, slays aliens in a role-playing game, updates her Internet blog or watches TV.

On campus, she and other students touch their mobiles to the electronic box by the door to mark their attendance. No need for roll call — the school’s server computer logs whether they are in or how late they are for the class.

“If I leave my wallet at home, I may not notice it for the whole day,” said Ms. Kim, 21. “But if I lose my cellphone, my life will start stumbling right there in the subway.”

It has been a while since the mobile phone became more than just a phone, serving as a texting device, a camera and a digital music player, among other things. But experts say South Korea, because of its high-speed wireless networks and top technology companies like Samsung and LG, is the test case for the mobile future.

“We want to bring complex bits of daily life — cash, credit card, membership card and student ID card, everything — into the mobile phone,” said Shim Gi-tae, a mobile financing official at SK Telecom, the country’s largest wireless carrier. “We want to make the cellphone the center of life.”

It was easier in the 1950s for Americans to imagine flying cars than it was to imagine cashless subways. Hell, it may still be easier.

Height or distance? The billboard ad or the cellphone ad? Physical mobility or mobility of information? The skyscraper or the network?

Tim-sig.gif
Posted May 24, 2009 at 12:36 | Comments (5) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Object Culture, Society/Culture, Technosnark, Worldsnark

April 23, 2009

Tim's thoughts: This rings true, but begs the question -- do you think European or Asian countries/publics/planne... >>

Returned To The Forest Primeval

Flint, MI is contemplating shrinkage:

Instead of waiting for houses to become abandoned and then pulling them down, local leaders are talking about demolishing entire blocks and even whole neighborhoods.

The population would be condensed into a few viable areas. So would stores and services. A city built to manufacture cars would be returned in large measure to the forest primeval.

I'm always awed that when it comes to cities like Flint, EVERYTHING is thought of in near-cosmic terms. Instead of "let's replace abandoned neighborhoods with new parks" -- which is already a pretty dramatic undertaking -- it's "let's let that bitch goddess nature take back what's hers, for we can no longer maintain even the pretense of civilization."

I mean, look:

These days, crime is brazen: two men recently stripped the siding off Mr. Kildee’s old house, “laughing like they were going to a picnic,” Ms. Kelly said. Down the street are many more abandoned houses, as well as a huge hand-painted sign that proclaims, “No prostitution zone.”

Maybe this is what Flint needs:

Then again, Rome had a working economy.

NB: If it seems like I sound too callous or flippant, I should add (for the benefit of readers who don't know me personally) that I was born in Detroit and grew up in Michigan; I get wounded every time I read articles like this, and lash out with gallows humor. Watching these cities die, with nobody but the occasional national reporter to pop in like a hospice nurse to check their vital signs, is like watching a family member succumb to cancer.

This isn't dancing on Flint's grave; this is an Irish wake.

Tim-sig.gif
Posted April 23, 2009 at 6:24 | Comments (6) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Self-Disclosure

April 19, 2009

Neomedievalism

Tim says,

Do you know what was great? The Hanseatic League. Do you think we could bring that back, twenty-first century style?:

This diffuse, fractured world will be run more by cities and city-states than countries. Once, Venice and Bruges formed an axis that spurred commercial expansion across Eurasia. Today, just 40 city-regions account for two thirds of the world economy and 90 percent of its innovation. The mighty Hanseatic League, a constellation of well-armed North and Baltic Sea trading hubs in the late Middle Ages, will be reborn as cities such as Hamburg and Dubai form commercial alliances and operate "free zones" across Africa like the ones Dubai Ports World is building. Add in sovereign wealth funds and private military contractors, and you have the agile geopolitical units of a neomedieval world. Even during this global financial crisis, multinational corporations heavily populate the list of the world's largest economic entities; the commercial diplomacy of emerging-market firms such as China's Haier and Mexico's Cemex has already turned North-South relations inside out faster than the nonaligned movement ever did.

Wait -- ninety percent of what, exactly? Innovation units?

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 7:57 PM

April 5, 2009

Star-Eyed Idealists Burning The House To The Ground

Last week, Jack Shafer called out the idea that newspapers are essential to enlightened democracy as a big bunch of self-deluded hooey:

Until the current newspaper crisis, you rarely heard politicians or activists bleating about how important newspapers were to self-government. They mostly bitched about what awful failures newspapers were at uncovering vital data. The only group that holds a consistently high opinion of newspapers is newspaper people. They're the ones who do the bragging about how newspapers enrich democracy by uncovering pollution, malfeasance in office, abuses of power, and unsafe consumer goods...

The insistence on coupling newspapering to democracy irritates me not just because it overstates the quality and urgency of most of the work done by newspapers but because it inflates the capacity of newspapers to make us better citizens, wiser voters, and more enlightened taxpayers. I love news on newsprint, believe me, I do. But I hate seeing newspapers reduced to a compulsory cheat sheet for democracy. All this lovey-dovey about how essential newspapers are to civic life and the political process makes me nostalgic for the days, not all that long ago, when everybody hated them.

Me, I think journalism is (among other things) good for democracy, and newspapers are a pretty good way to read things in print. So I took Shafer's rant as half a useful corrective and half an enjoyable self-contained bit of contrarian crankiness.

But then I read this striking juxtaposition in LISNews, and I thought -- hmm: maybe something less wholesome is going on with all this hymn-to-democracy talk:

At the end of last week, the New York Times Company threatened to close down the Boston Globe unless the employee unions agreed to $20 million in cuts. This comes on the heels of comments by NYT executive editor Bill Keller speaking to an audience at Stanford in which he stated "saving the New York Times now ranks with saving Darfur as a high-minded cause." (He clarifies his statement to relate it to the relative level of interest in the survival of the Times, not as a human rights intervention. This doesn't change the extraordinarily poor choice of comparative terms.)

Ouch.

See also Brian Tierney, publisher of the now-bankrupt Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News, who made a whole lot of noise about the virtues of a locally-owned paper while taking on a ton of debt, extracting pound-of-flesh concessions from labor, and awarding himself raises and bonuses before it all kinda fell apart.

So to review:

  1. Sometimes when people are going on-and-on about how virtuous and essential their industry is, they're actually trying to Mickey-Finn you into letting them do whatever they want;
  2. A lot of people who really like the idea of good local journalism and even really like newsprint in their hands really don't like their local newspaper -- either because of what they read (or don't read) or because of what they know the paper is doing or has done, in many cases to people they know. We can't lose sight of that.
Tim-sig.gif
Posted April 5, 2009 at 10:01 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Journalism, Snarkpolitik

April 1, 2009

Every Library Is A Lighthouse

Bad times do strange things to free, public places, especially those with internet access:

Urban ills like homelessness have affected libraries in many cities for years, but librarians here and elsewhere say they are seeing new challenges. They find people asleep more often at cubicles. Patrons who cannot read or write ask for help filling out job applications. Some people sit at computers trying to use the Internet, even though they have no idea what the Internet is.

“A lot of people who would not normally be here are coming in to use the computers,” said Cynthia Jones, a regional branch manager in St. Louis.

“Adults complain a lot about kids just playing games and you know, ‘I need to do a résumé, or ‘I need to write, I need some help,’ ” Ms. Jones said. “There’s a bit of frustration.”

Ms. Jones instructed her staff to tread carefully. “You don’t want to upset people,” she said. “You don’t know what might set somebody off.”

Philadelphia recently had a long and torturous go-round over proposed library closings. The idea I floated among my small and relatively uninfluential circle was to keep the libraries open and move other public/social services into space at the libraries and close THOSE buildings.

I still think this is a good idea, especially once you grant the notion that libraries are a place to access public information of all kinds, not just those found in books. If libraries are where people are coming for help, then that's where we should go to reach them. Every library is a lighthouse, a city's or town's beacon to guide the way in the night.

Tim-sig.gif
Posted April 1, 2009 at 7:38 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Cities, Snarkpolicy

March 30, 2009

So Much News With No Paper To Report It

Tim says,

Auugghh. Gavin at Wordwright links to more bittersweet news about my (and Robin's) hometown:

Maybe once a year, a city has a news day as heavy as the one that just hit Detroit: The White House forced out the chairman of General Motors, word leaked that the administration wanted Chrysler to hitch its fortunes to Fiat, and Michigan State University’s men’s basketball team reached the Final Four, which will be held in Detroit.

All of this news would have landed on hundreds of thousands of Motor City doorsteps and driveways on Monday morning, in the form of The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News.

Would have, that is, except that Monday — of all days — was the long-planned first day of the newspapers’ new strategy for surviving the economic crisis by ending home delivery on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Instead, on those days, they are directing readers to their Web sites and offering a truncated print version at stores, newsstands and street boxes.

We're all going to have to get used to using "news about Detroit" rather than "news from Detroit" more often.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 8:05 PM
Marco's thoughts: We don't have much choice, non?... >>

A New Birth of Freedom

We will rebuild America the same way we built the Brooklyn Bridge:

When Brooklyn and New York’s population was booming at the end of the 19th century, the best way to get to and from Brooklyn was via ferries. As solutions were considered, I’m sure there were those who simply thought, “More boats!” These ardent defenders of the status quo were not engineers — they were the business. Their goal was not to build something great, but to make a profit.

It was an engineer named John Roebling who proposed a suspension bridge. We take bridges for granted now, but back in the 1800s, bridges were in beta. They fell. One out of every four bridges… fell. He convinced them by designing a bridge half again as big as any before it that was six times stronger than he estimated it need to be. Roebling designed the complete specification for the bridge in a mere three months and then died of tetanus from an injury he received surveying the bridge site...

We are defined by what we build. It’s not just the engineering ambition that designed these structures, nor the 20 people who died building the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s that we believe we can and decide to act. I’m happy to report our new President agrees when he says,

“In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”

Someone, sometime soon is going to start describing the climb out of this impressive hole we’ve dug for ourselves, and they’re going to call it “America 2.0”. Clever, yes. We need a new version of ourselves and that’s going to involve bright, unexpected ideas from those we least expect them from, and they’re going to strike you as impossible. All you need to do to understand these terrifyingly ambitious ideas is to look back at what we’ve already done to understand what we can do.

I don't know what version of America we're on. But this is a heartening idea. And the fact that we've built and rebuilt ourselves not just once, but many times over, is heartening too.

Tim-sig.gif
Posted March 30, 2009 at 7:38 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Design, Recommended, Snarkpolitik

March 29, 2009

Wikipediopolis

Metaphors, particularly of the "A is B" variety, are best when they can teach you something you didn't know or fully recognize before -- about either A or B. I think Noam Cohen's "Wikipedia is a City" conceit does the job.

For instance, he tackles the anti-Wikipedia movement:

People don’t treat ineffectual inventions as taboo — that is reserved for things like evolution, alcohol or, yes, cities. And just as the world has had plenty of creationists, temperance societies and ruralists, there is a professional class of Wikipedia skeptics. They, too, have some seriously depraved behavior to expose: Wikipedia represents a world without experts! A world without commercial news outlets! A world lacking in distinction between the trivial and the profound! A world overrun with facts but lacking in wisdom!

It’s all reminiscent of the longstanding accusations made against cities: They don’t produce anything! All they do is gossip! They think they are so superior! They wouldn’t last a week if we farmers stopped shipping our food! They don’t know the meaning of real work!

My favorite, though, is his analysis of one of the Wikipedia core principles, "Assume good faith":

Wikipedia encourages contributors to mimic the basic civility, trust, cultural acceptance and self-organizing qualities familiar to any city dweller. Why don’t people attack each other on the way home? Why do they stay in line at the bank? Why don’t people guffaw at the person with blue hair?

The police may be an obvious answer. But this misses the compact among city dwellers. Since their creation, cities have had to be accepting of strangers — no judgments — and residents learn to be subtly accommodating, outward looking.

Why isn't "assume good faith" a working assumption for the entire internet? Because, you know, people in cities are actually pretty nice. And people on the internet, especially in forums and discussion groups outside of Wikipedia, are often not as nice as they ought to be. The relative civility of Wikipedia should be touted more often as one of its primary virtues.

H/t to Rex at Fimoculous.

Tim-sig.gif
Posted March 29, 2009 at 4:40 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Technosnark
Tim's thoughts: No, Robin -- I think you're right! It's true! Most people don't know how compensation works, and ... >>

The Bonus Armies

Brian Tierney - PRSA International Conference ...

Image by hyku via Flickr

Hilzoy figures out why folks are so p-oed about executive bonuses. It's not totally about the douchebags who ran AIG into the ground (even if they were hard-working, profitable, probably actually fairly competent douchebags). It's about the douchebags who ran the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News into the ground (and hundreds of other major businesses like it.

Philadelphia Media Holdings CEO Brian Tierney and his two underlings both got raises and bonuses just before the company declared bankruptcy and just after the papers' unions voted to give back raises to help keep the company solvent. They still laid off hundreds of people and even stiffed the government by failing to turn over the payroll taxes, insurance premiums, and union dues they collected from their employees.

On top of that, Tierney went batshit crazy:

According to Newspaper Guild representative Bill Ross, Tierney once shook up a management meeting by barking "I will not lose my f*cking house over this!" And Ross says a couple of people emerged from a private meeting with the CEO claiming that he'd spoken to them, in his 12th-floor office, with a baseball bat in his hands. Ross also adds that in January, Tierney took to patrolling the parking garage, watching to see what time employees were arriving to work and asking managers about those who were late. "That’s what I'm getting calls about now," says Ross. "He’s walking around the parking garage. If he gets hit by a car, it'll be his own fault."

You know, I live in this town, and I never heard any of these stories until now. Obviously, my two local newspapers didn't report them.

I think Hilzoy has a real point, though; outrage over lucrative bonuses paid to executives of companies in trouble IS in part a transference of anger coming from other places. But it's not just general anger about the economy or plebeian ressentiment. It's anger about this, about looting the store while pleading empty pockets.

Tim-sig.gif
Posted March 29, 2009 at 2:54 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Language, Snarkpolitik

March 28, 2009

Change Comes To Manhattan (Brooklyn, Too)

Tim says,

Rents in New York are falling, and credit and other requirements are becoming less strict, even for desirable neighborhoods in Manhattan. The Times even uses the word "bubble" to describe the old world order, which suggests that it's not just the economic downturn but a realistic reevaluation of inflated prices. We've noticed something similar in Philadelphia; people are offering more for less. We might even be able to live somewhere where cabs come, and good restaurants will deliver! Yay.

The story about NYC also includes what I'm pegging as a very artful non-description of a Manhattan brothel: "an acupuncture parlor down the hall that stayed open very, very late and served a male clientele."

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:21 AM

March 24, 2009

Hidden Heroes of the Cold War's End

Historian of Europe Karl Schlögel on the molecular movements of history:

The grand moments with which history usually preoccupies itself are inconceivable without the molecular events that make them possible. And the Europeans who make a career out of standing and speaking for Europe are nothing at all without the unknown Europeans whose stories are never told. We all know the stages of Brussels, Strasbourg, Paris or Maastricht, upon which "Europe's representatives" play their parts. It's not enough that that we're kept up to date on all their entrances and declarations. It's always the same names, the same faces, the same gestures. In 1949, a group of townspeople from Aachen, Europeans of the first hour, created the Charlemagne Prize for "persons who have advanced the ideas of European understanding in political, economic, and spiritual relations."

In the list of those honoured since 1950, one more or less finds all the great Europeans, from Count Coudenhove-Kalergi to Vaclav Havel, from Jean Monnet to the Euro. One can extrapolate this line and list easily and without a great deal of imagination. But one could also award the prize to people who were indispensable to the Europe that has evolved since 1989. There are more than a few claimants for these honours: the transportation ministers and the engineers who built the bridges, streets, and rails that paved the way to a new Europe and brought Europeans closer to one another. The shippers and logistics experts who have made careers out of shortening distances and creating a sense of proximity should also be eligible. Nor should one leave out the transportation companies and founders of discount airlines who have radically altered the map of Europe in our heads. Now, we not only know where Palermo is, but also Tallinn; not only Lisbon, but also Riga and Odessa. They have established lines of transit between the Rhein-Main area and Galicia, between Warsaw and the English Midlands, between Lviv and Naples. The discount airlines have made Berlin a neighbour of Moscow and contributed to an increase in cosmopolitanism. Krakow now has a connection to Dublin.

Entire economies can no longer function without this flow of traffic. The renovation of apartments, the care for pensioners and for the infirm in cities - even those located far from the border - now lie in the hands of personnel crossing over our borders. The Aachen Prize Committee could easily get an idea of the eligibility of candidates by looking at their timetables, price lists, and bookkeeping methods. They would determine that there's not a place in Europe that can't be looked up. Every act of research would become a joyous virtual journey to the New Europe.

One of the arguments that Schlögel makes is that the fall of the Berlin Wall mattered less than the mid-1980s institution of an express train line between Moscow and West Berlin, connecting the Communist states to the allied "island" in West Berlin, enabling all sorts of traffic of black-market goods, ideas, and people across what had seemed like impermeable borders. "To this day, there is no memorial for the anonymous black marketeers of Patrice Lumumba University at the Zoological Garden railway station. Instead, a freedom memorial is being planned for the exact spot where absolutely nothing happened."

I really like this idea that a city is not only a place, or a set of people, but also a mental/kinetic map of all the places, people, and things connected to that place -- a perpetually unexhausted, evolving set of possibilities.

Tim-sig.gif
Posted March 24, 2009 at 11:09 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Language, Snarkpolitik

March 23, 2009

King of New York

Tim says,

Nancy Franklin on the not-so-secret geography of NBC's Kings:

Watching the show, you feel a tension as you try to decide whether it's holding a mirror up to the present or whether it's making an argument about where the world may soon be headed. We have already noticed, in the aerial establishing shots of Shiloh, that "Kings" is filmed in Manhattan, and that the city isn't just a film location. It's never stated, but it's clear that Shiloh was New York City, before it was destroyed to the point where even its name disappeared. There are inconsistencies that give you pause: the Time Warner Center is still standing -- in fact, it's the home of the King's court -- but the Empire State Building, I noticed with an actual start, is gone, as is the Chrysler Building. A tall building that resembles the planned Freedom Tower is (thanks to special effects) in midtown. The exterior of the palace is a well-known apartment building, the Apthorp, on the Upper West Side, a block from Zabar's and H & H Bagels. (We don't see those emporiums in the show, but I'm going to assume that they still exist in the world of "Kings"; otherwise, let me tell you, there is real cause for despair in the realm.)

I like the show, but it might be a bad sign for its longevity that even I, who made a point of watching and actually liked the pilot episode, missed the broadcast of episode two last night (and rewatched Lost online with my wife instead). Oops.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 9:29 AM

March 18, 2009

Tim's thoughts: More lessons from Athens to democratic readers: "First, they would receive an emphatic re... >>

Democracy As An Information Technology

Sparta had a great army, lots of places had great olive oil, and plenty of city-states had plebiscite democracy. So why was life in Athens so great?

[Josiah] Ober's hypothesis is that Athens's participatory institutions essentially turned the city into a knowledge-generating and knowledge-aggregating machine, and also supported the effective deployment of useful knowledge over time. Athenian institutions and culture functioned so that the right useful knowledge made it to the right people at the right time, resulting in the production of consistently better-than-average decisions. Athenian institutions and culture also functioned to provide an effective balance between innovation, on the one hand, and, on the other, learning or routinization, which brings efficiency. To overcome the problem of dispersed and latent knowledge, the Athenians used "networking and teaming." To overcome alignment problems, they built up stores of common knowledge through extensive publicity mechanisms and an emphasis on "interpresence"--frequent and large public gatherings--and "intervisibility" in public spaces, the capacity of all members of an audience to see each other as well as the speaker; and these stores of common knowledge worked particularly well to sustain systems of reward and sanction able to motivate ordinary citizens. To minimize transaction costs in areas such as trade, they standardized rules and exchanged practices and widely disseminated knowledge about them. The Athenians invested more resources than did their competitors in ensuring that their laws did not contradict each other, and in archiving and widely publishing final versions.

One particular example that the reviewer Danielle Allen (aka The Smartest Classicist I Know) examines is a ship-building competition authorized by the citizens of Athens: not only did public competitions like these encourage innovation in building, but since they were publicly judged, they helped disseminate expert knowledge throughout the populace, as the people learned what made one ship better than another.

Allen also looks long at what lessons American democracy can learn from Athens; one big (if obvious) conclusion is that the polis is a lot more nimble than an empire or even a republic, but from the interconnected micropolitical structures of the polis, one might actually be able to sustain a the macropolitics of a democratic republic:

As Ober notes, the immediate usefulness of the Athenian model pertains not directly to nation-states that are vastly larger than the city-state of Athens, with its population of approximately 250,000, but to the wide variety of smaller scale organizations that make up the sub-units of any given nation-state. To unleash the full value of participatory democracy at the level of the nation-state, a citizenry would do best to focus on tapping participatory democracy at the local level and throughout the variety of organizational types that make up modern society. Then there would be the further question of how well each of these sub-units is connected to the rest. If participatory democratic practices on a smaller scale and in various contexts do indeed increase the knowledge resources of the citizenry of a nation-state as a whole, then the structures of representative government, too, should function better.

It's a very Athenian conclusion, that democracy is a function of knowledge (and vice versa), but I think it's a welcome one.

Tim-sig.gif
Posted March 18, 2009 at 6:39 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Journalism, Recommended, Snarkpolitik

March 15, 2009

The New Haussmann

Tim says,

Nicholas Sarkozy wants to remake "Le Grand Paris":

The challenge however is not to reshape Paris, but rather to extend its inherent beauty to its outskirts, les banlieues -- a web of small villages, some terribly grand and chic (Neuilly, Versailles, Saint Mandé, Vincennes, Saint Germain-en-Laye), others modest and provincial-looking (Montreuil, Pantin, Malakoff, Montrouge, Saint Gervais) and others still, socially ravaged and architecturally dehumanised (La Courneuve, Clichy-sous-bois). And also to link them. But how do you bring together so many different styles and the city's "enormous disparity", as Richard Rogers calls it, into one Grand Paris -- especially when the city is so clearly defined geographically by its gates, shadows of former fortifications, and now le périphérique, the circular road encasing Paris? The simple answer is: by being bold. But also by understanding the fabric of French society and its psyche...

As a Parisian born and bred, I thought the most convincing presentation came from Parisian architect and sometime presidential candidate Roland Castro. He seems the only one to really understand the Parisian mentality, the importance of architecture and politics, grandeur and charm, poetry and citizenship. He not only suggests moving the Elysée Palace to the tough north-eastern suburbs, but also proposes to create new cultural landmarks and governmental buildings, together with a New York-style Central Park on the grim housing project of La Courneuve. The idea is to inject grandeur (as conveyed by the cultural and official institutions) and if possible, beauty, to Paris's many environs.

Via io9.com. You can read about the actual Haussmann here.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:38 AM

March 8, 2009

Tim's thoughts: This time, the NYT's got my back.... >>

Better Bike P.R.

Robert Sullivan in the New York Times, has some suggestions to remedy the venial sins of cyclists:

NO. 1: How about we stop at major intersections? Especially where there are school crossing guards, or disabled people crossing, or a lot of people during the morning or evening rush. (I have the law with me on this one.) At minor intersections, on far-from-traffic intersections, let’s at least stop and go.

NO. 2: How about we ride with traffic as opposed to the wrong way on a one-way street? I know the idea of being told which way to go drives many bikers bonkers. That stuff is for cars, they say. I consider one-way streets anathema — they make for faster car traffic and more difficult crossings. But whenever I see something bad happen to a biker, it’s when the biker is riding the wrong way on a one-way street.

There will be caveats. Perhaps your wife is about to go into labor and you take her to the hospital on your bike; then, yes, sure, go the wrong way in the one-way bike lane. We can handle caveats. We are bikers.

NO. 3: How about we stay off the sidewalks? Why are bikers so incensed when the police hand out tickets for this? I’m only guessing, but each sidewalk biker must believe that he or she, out of all New York bikers, is the exception, the one careful biker, which is a very car way of thinking.

NO. 4: How about we signal? Again, I hear the laughter, but the bike gods gave us hands to ring bells and to signal turns. Think of the possible complications: Many of the bikers behind you are wearing headphones, and the family in the minivan has a Disney DVD playing so loudly that it’s rattling your 30-pound Kryptonite chain. Let them know what you are thinking so that you can go on breathing as well as thinking.

As a pedestrian and transit rider, I heartily concur -- cyclists shouldn't believe themselves incapable of doing harm just because they are marginally less sucky than motorists. And longtime readers, if you're wondering, yes -- I am still pissed off at Will Wilkinson.

Hat tip to LF, Hong Kong Snarkorrespondent.

Tim-sig.gif
Posted March 8, 2009 at 9:04 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Society/Culture, Sports

North by Northwest, Then West Some More

Tim says,

New York to San Francisco in one week on an Amtrak sleeper car. My wife forwarded me this email with one sentence: "This is my dream trip."

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 7:47 AM

March 5, 2009

Cologne, Drezden, Grozny

Tim says,

The incomparable Eileen Joy, on rebuilding modern ruins:

Some time yesterday afternoon, the six-story Cologne Archives, housing documents dating as far back as the tenth century, as well as the private papers of writers such as Karl Marx, Hegel, and Heinrich Böll, and also all of the minutes taken at Cologne town council meetings since 1376, collapsed as if hit by a missile, only there was no missile, but rather, some sort of structural flaw that caused the building to start cracking and tumbling down. Most visitors, plus some construction workers on the roof, were able to get out in time, although two or three persons may be buried underneath the rubble. Ironically, the Archives contained many documents that had been recuperated from library buildings destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War, and a small nuclear bomb-proof room that had been constructed in the basement to house the most rare materials was, at the time of the building's collapse, only being used to store cleaning materials.
Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:58 PM

March 2, 2009

The Suburbs Strike Back

Tim says,

Andrew Blauvelt, at Design Observer:

The mutual dependency of city and suburb is both physical and psychological. City dwellers and suburbanites need each other to reinforce their own sense of place and identity despite ample evidence that what we once thought were different places and lifestyles are increasingly intertwined and much less distinct.

The revenge of the suburb on the city wasn't simply the depletion of its urban population or the exodus of its retailers and office workers, but rather the importation of suburbia into the heart of the city: chain stores and restaurants, downtown malls, and even detached housing. If the gift of urban planners to suburbia was the tenets of the New Urbanism, it has been re-gifted, returned to cities not as tips for close-knit communities but as recipes for ever more intensive consumer experiences.

Suburbia has returned to the city just as most suburbs are experiencing many of the things about city life it sought to escape, both positive and negative: congestion, crime, poverty, racial and ethnic diversity, cultural amenities, and retail diversity. At the same time, cities have taken on qualities of the suburbs that are perceived as both good and bad, such as the introduction of big box retailing, urban shopping malls, and reverse suburban migration by empty nesters, who return to the city to enjoy the kind of life they lived before they had kids to raise.

For every downtown Olive Garden there is an Asian-fusion restaurant opening in a strip mall; for every derelict downtown warehouse there is an empty suburban office building waiting to be converted into lofts; the Mall of America is the largest shopping center in the country, but SoHo may be the nation's largest retail neighborhood; and everywhere we have Starbucks.

Blauvelt's exhibit on suburbia, Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes, is at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis -- in the Target Gallery. Where else?

Comments (4) | Permasnark | Posted: 7:45 AM

February 12, 2009

Unlocking the Cash Economy

It turns out that there is more money in the inner city than we thought:

In its 2004 report on the city of Cleveland, Social Compact detected a residential population that was 24 percent higher than 2000 Census figures indicated. In studying the new immigrant hub of Santa Ana, Calif., for a 2006 report on that city's disadvantaged communities, Social Compact found an average household income 40 percent larger than that captured in the 2000 Census -- a discrepancy Social Compact says can be partially explained by a thriving informal economy many traditional economic models don't capture.

In an interview with Miller-McCune.com, Social Compact CEO John Talmage attributed the difference in the numbers to his organization's mining of data from a variety of sources -- including tax rolls, utility accounts and credit companies -- rather than relying on computer models based on incomplete or unreliable data. The approach tends to emphasize the economic opportunity -- rather than the poverty and deficiency -- to be found in low-income neighborhoods.

America's inner cities, according to ICIC's Web site, represent $122 billion worth of retail purchasing power.


... Read more ....
Tim-sig.gif
Posted February 12, 2009 at 6:14 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Cities
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