The American Society of Landscape Architects has a blog post listing a bunch of podcasts about planning and landscape architecture. I have no professional training in either (actually, I have plenty of training and experience in practical water resources planning and green infrastructure, just not urban and regional planning the credentially profession), but these sound pretty broad so I might try a listen in my vast free time. Okay, realistically, if I find myself having a bout of insomnia in the near future.
Most frightening stories:
- A new oil price crunch could be on the way.
- Long term food security in Asia could be a problem.
- The drumbeat for a U.S. attack on North Korea is getting louder. Niall Ferguson says “Perhaps Trump’s Cuban missile crisis is on its way”.
Most hopeful stories:
- A new cancer treatment genetically modifies a patient’s own immune system to attack cancer cells.
- Shareholders of big fossil fuel companies are starting to force some action on climate change business risk disclosure.
- Richard Florida offers five ideas for solving poverty and what is wrong with cities: taxing land based on its improved value, massive investment in public transportation and public education, ending the mortgage interest tax deduction, and guaranteed minimum income.
Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:
- Technology is marching on, whether or not the economy and human species are. The new thing with satellites is to have lots of small, cheap ones instead of a few big, expensive ones. Even if the coal industry were to make a comeback, today’s coal jobs are going to data analysts, remote control machine operators, mechanical and electrical engineers, not guys underground with pickaxes and headlamps. But the coal can be produced with a lot less human effort (i.e. jobs) than it used to be. Iris scans like in Minority Report are now a thing.
- Ecologists have some new ideas for measuring resilience of ecosystems. Technologists have some wild ideas to have robots directly counteract the effects of humans on ecosystems. I like ideas – how do I get a (well-compensated) job where I can just sit around and think up ideas?
- Isaac Asimov says truly creative people (1) are weird and (2) generally work alone.
Some combination of the Trump news, the things I see every day on the streets of Philadelphia, and events affecting friends and family led me to question this month whether the United States is really a society in decline. Actually, I don’t question that, I think the answer is yes. But the more important question is whether it is a temporary or permanent decline, and what it means for the rest of the globe. I am leaning slightly toward permanent, but maybe I will feel better next month, we’ll see. Maybe I need to get out of this country for a little while. Last time I did that I felt that the social glue holding Americans together is actually pretty strong compared to most other places, even if our government and its approach to other governments have become largely dysfunctional. We need to get through the next couple years without a nuclear detonation, hope the current vacuum of leadership leads some quality leaders to emerge, and hope things have nowhere to go but up. There, I talked myself off the ledge!
Richard Florida has a new(ish) book out called The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class—and What We Can Do About It. You can also get the general idea from this article he wrote in City Lab. He offers five policy prescriptions, which I summarize below.
- land value tax – Tax the value of land rather than the value of the developed property on it, so that land owners have a disincentive to sit on property and an incentive to develop it to the most economically valuable use a particular neighborhood will support. (My take – I like this idea. I wouldn’t get rid of zoning and building codes, but these can focus on the “look and feel” of the neighborhood rather than restricting height or density, requiring or prohibiting a certain amount of parking, etc. There also needs to be a strategy to preserve a certain amount of public open space under a system like this, whether it is public or held by some sort of land trust.)
- invest heavily in public transportation – This decreases commute times, allowing people to live in more affordable locations and work in higher wage ones. (My take: makes sense, although we should rethink whether the same old 20th or even 19th-century ideas of public transportation and transportation agencies are going to serve us well in the 21st. I think we need flexible routes, flexible vehicles, and flexible modes that can adapt to changes in the economy, landscape and technology as they come.)
- end the mortgage interest deduction so single-family homes are not unfairly subsidized relative to multi-family rental housing. (My take: makes perfect economic sense, but this would need to be phased in over a long period of time to not be a slap in the face to today’s middle class and working class homeowners who have made their decisions under the current system.)
- Set minimum wage at 50% of median wage on a city-by-city basis – his argument is that this is essentially how the high-wage manufacturing jobs of the U.S. postwar period were created. He brings up Henry Ford and the idea that even if prices go up somewhat, a newly broadened middle class is able to afford them. (My take – I’ve always been a little skeptical of minimum wage as a policy prescription because it only redivides the pie rather than growing the pie, at least in the short term.)
- Better fund public education, including early childhood development programs. What is there really left to say about this, except it is shameful we haven’t been doing it all along?
- Guaranteed minimum income, or negative income tax. The idea is to replace the hodgepodge of housing, food and other assistance programs we have now with cash outlays to the poor, which they can then decide how to spend on market price goods. (My take – it could be done in a revenue neutral way, and should appeal to rational, logical parties of all political stripes. Of course, politics and human nature are not particularly rational or logical, especially lately.)
There’s no perfect way to get people out of a burning high rise quickly.
A review of literature related to fire evacuation in high-rise buildings was carried out with the following objectives, (1) to identify the key behavioural factors affecting the performance of people during a fire in a high-rise building, the singularities associated to this type of buildings and areas of future research; (2) to review the procedures and strategies currently adopted in high-rise buildings; (3) to review and analyse the capabilities of evacuation models by reviewing their current characteristics and applications in the context of high-rise building evacuations. The review included both findings on human behaviour in high-rise buildings and modelling techniques and tools. Different categories of building use were taken into account, namely office buildings, residential buildings and health care facilities. The individual or combined use of different egress components was analysed. Egress components include the use of stairs, elevators as well as alternative means of escape (e.g., sky-bridges, helicopters, etc.). The effectiveness of the egress components is strongly affected by the building use and the population involved. The review shows that evacuation models can be effectively employed to study relocation strategies and safety issues associated with high-rise buildings. The suitability of egress models for high-rise building evacuations is associated with their flexibility in representing different egress components and complex behavioural processes. The review highlights that there is not a definitive model to be used but that the predictive capabilities of evacuation modelling techniques would be enhanced if more than one model is employed to study different egress aspects. Future research and model developments should focus on the study of the impact of staff actions, group dynamics and people with disabilities. Given the increasing height of buildings and the gradual reduction in the physical abilities of the population, the effects of fatigue on evacuation need further studies.
Like Boston, New York, Chicago, and many European cities, Philadelphia had a plan to build a comprehensive subway system early in the 20th century. Hidden City Philadelphia describes why most of it was never built.
The “Taylor Plan” outlined creating subway lines along Chestnut, Walnut and Arch Streets, a loop to distribute riders of the Broad Street Subway around City Center, a spur into Northeast Philadelphia on Roosevelt Boulevard, and a line along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to points north. In his plan, Taylor outlined this Parkway line as an extension of the Broad Street Line, which eventually opened with service from City Hall to Olney Avenue on September 1, 1928. The Parkway-Roxborough (or Northwestern) line would have started as an subway at City Hall and then proceed below the Parkway to 29th Street, where it would have continued as an elevated line to Henry Avenue, following that road north past Wissahickon Creek…
The majority of Taylor’s planned routes never came to be nor did Philadelphia’s original transit master plan. Taylor was replaced in 1916 by a more pragmatic transit commissioner, William S. Twining, who took exception to many of Taylor’s ideas. Where Taylor saw transit as a stimulant of growth, Twinning believed that lines should only be built where there was already demand…
The last gasp of an enhanced mass transit system came in July of 1929 when Mayor Harry Mackey signed an ordinance for a ten-year transit program that included the Ridge Avenue subway line, the Locust Street subway line, and several other never-built transit routes. The Mayor authorized a $55,000,000 loan that never materialized. Unlike New York City, Philadelphia did not move forward with subway expansion projects to alleviate the city’s crushing unemployment rate during the Great Depression.
It’s a sad missed opportunity. It could still be done, and in fact it is being done throughout the developing world today. But U.S. leaders generally do not have the vision or imagination to consider even the possibility of picking up a plan like this.
Here are some best practices for sidewalk closures published by the city of Oakland, California. In a nutshell, contractors have to provide a walkway rather than make pedestrians cross the street in downtown areas, expect for very short periods. The walkways have to be ADA accessible. If the walkways take up a bike lane, there has to be a safe place for the bikes to go. Barriers have to be substantial enough to actually protect pedestrians if vehicles hit them. I could walk 5 minutes in any direction in Philadelphia and see every one of these principles violated.
3 most frightening stories
- The Doomsday Clock was moved to 2.5 minutes to midnight. The worst it has ever been was 2 minutes to midnight in the early 1980s. In related news, the idea of a U.S.-China war is looking a bit more plausible. The U.S. military may be considering sending ground troops to Syria.
- The evidence for a relationship between lead, violent crime and other social problems peaking around the 80s and 90s is looking even stronger.
- The strengthened but still inadequate financial stability regulations the U.S. put in place after the 2008 near-collapse are likely to be weakened.
3 most hopeful stories
- There are some ideas for fish food that is not made of fish.
- You can take a class on how to not be fooled by the news.
- Eliminating left turns against oncoming traffic can actually save time and fuel, not to mention lives.
3 most interesting stories
- The idea of growing human organs inside a pig, or even a viable human-pig hybrid, is getting very close. Tiny brains can also be grown on a microchip. Bringing back extinct animals is also getting very close.
- Russian hackers are cheating slot machines by figuring out the pattern on pseudo-random numbers they generate.
- From a new book called Homo Deus: “For the first time ever, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. The average American is a thousand times more likely to die from binging at McDonalds than from being blown up by Al Qaeda.”
I just realized I forgot to do a month in review post in January. Well, I had a lot going on in my personal life in January, most notably the arrival of a tiny new human being. Blog posts are not the only thing I forgot – I forgot to pay some important bills and to do some important paperwork at my job too.
3 most frightening stories
- Cheetahs are in serious trouble.
- The U.S. government may be “planning to roll back or dilute many of the provisions of Dodd-Frank, particularly those that protect consumers from toxic financial products and those that impose restrictions on banks”.
- “Between 1946 and 2000, the US and the Soviet Union/Russia have intervened in about one of every nine competitive national-level executive elections.” The “Great Game” is back in Afghanistan.
3 most hopeful stories
- The theory of island biodiversity gives us some clues on how to maximize the biodiversity that a given amount of natural land can support.
- Commercial supersonic jets may be back soon.
- You can sue your city for not designing safe streets.
3 most interesting stories
This article in Harvard Gazette is about the optimal block length for walkability. The basic conclusion is that small is generally better, but there is some minimum below which pedestrians are spending too much time crossing streets. If I were laying out a city though, I would want to err on the side of smaller because it is much easier to close streets to vehicle traffic than to create new streets where there previously weren’t any.
What exactly has IBM been up to all this time with its Smarter Cities program? It’s been hard to figure out. The marketing hype and media coverage have seemed to die down a bit. But here is an article in Cities with some research on it.
In 2010, IBM created the Smarter Cites Challenge to address critical issues of the 21st century through its digital expertise, in collaboration with city governments. Despite questions about the origin and intentions of IBM’s involvement, 130 cities from all around the world took up the challenge in the first five years. There is limited case study research available on a number of participating cities which has not been able to unpack cities’ rationale for working with IBM. This paper provides an index of all participating cities in the Smarter Cities Challenge, to understand the areas of interest in which urban governments have been seeking IBM’s consulting service. Findings present the state of smart city thinking in urban governments, and raise questions about the multidimensional integration, if any, across the areas of focus in which digital technologies are shaping contemporary cities.