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Short films about imaginary tiny trash disposal operations

"Tiny Worlds" is a delightful trilogy of short films about imaginary miniature city services dealing with the small trash littering the streets and sidewalks of London. The series was created by Rushes, a Soho video production house. Above is "Tiny Worlds: Bulldozer." Below, "Tiny Worlds: Submarine" and "Tiny Worlds" Logging Truck." (via Laughing Squid)

Read the rest

Public transit times mapped

Andrew Hardin, a grad student from the University of Colorado's geography department, created an interactive map that shows how long it takes to get there from here in several major U.S. cities. A paper reveals the methodology used. [via Flowing Data]

China City of America coming to the Catskills?

Chinacity6n 6 web

Chinese developers are vying to build a massive China-themed retail center and casino in New York's Catskills. The 600-acre project is called "China City of America" and, surprise, it's highly controversial. I think it might do better in the hometown of hyperreality, Las Vegas! You can see the pitch at the China City of America site and read about it below:

"Developers pitch bringing a piece of China to Sullivan County" (YNN)

"Mysterious China-themed 'city' proposed in New York’s Catskills" (Fox News, thanks Bob Pescovitz!)

How city dwellers control the weather

Cities are the most effective form of weather control humans have come up with, writes Tim De Chant at Per Square Mile. (This is weather control we're talking about. Human-caused climate change is a different thing.) The presence of a city — from pollution particles in the atmosphere, to the heat island effect, to the way tall buildings change air currents — probably both increases rainfall and changes where that rain lands. Maggie 4

Joseph McNabb's cities, carved from wood

Fast Company's spectacular gallery of Joseph McNabb tiny (yet unspeakably vast) wooden metropolis looks like a mad, pre-computer age game of Sim City. Interviewed by John Brownlee, the sculptor demonstrates a rigorous science fiction.

The cities McNabb carves do not exist in the real world: they are fantastic cities conjured solely from his own inner world. Nevertheless, McNabb's sculptures are inspired by the activity of real cities, if not their literal architecture. ... Given the detail required to create a city skyline from scratch, a single sculpture might take McNabb upwards of three months to complete. His finished sculptures come in numerous forms, including skylines that take up every inch of surface of an entire planet (shades of Coruscant!) or a Niven-esque Ringworld. McNabb has even made a city that defies gravity on the underside of a table, each leg its own towering skyscraper.

Maker Cities

Legocitttt

Over at the Information Daily, my Institute for the Future (IFTF) colleague Jason Tester wrote about "Maker Cities," a concept that IFTF is currently exploring through on-the ground ethnography and a forthcoming forecasting game, created with BB's legendary developer Dean Putney! Jason writes:

The DIY ethos of making isn’t limited to creating physical objects—stuff. Makers are starting to reimagine the systems that surround the world around them. That is, they are bringing the “maker mindset” to the complex urban challenges of health, education, food, and even citizenship.

Makers are coming together in civic innovation hackathons to prototype new forms of citizen-led governance. Makers experimenting with new forms of community launched what would become the sharing economy, establishing new ways to measure and create value in local economies. And needing capital to make their ideas real, makers were the earliest adopters of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Crowdfunding raised an estimated $2.8 billion in 2012 to fund projects, and new specialized sites like neighbor.ly and Fundrise focus on group fundraising for municipal projects like building parks or upgrading failing infrastructure.

This last space of civic crowdfunding points to a common thread found in many of these broader examples of making—the systems being remade are often rooted in cities.

"Citizens Will Make the Future of Cities" (Information Daily)

Maker Cities game (IFTF)

(image: "Lego Chicago City View 2001" by Otto Normalverbraucher)

Buildings built by bacteria

NewImage

Over at Fast Company, our pal Chris Arkenberg wrote about how advances in synthetic biology and biomimicry could someday transform how we build our built environments:

Innovations emerging across the disciplines of additive manufacturing, synthetic biology, swarm robotics, and architecture suggest a future scenario when buildings may be designed using libraries of biological templates and constructed with biosynthetic materials able to sense and adapt to their conditions. Construction itself may be handled by bacterial printers and swarms of mechanical assemblers.

Tools like Project Cyborg make possible a deeper exploration of biomimicry through the precise manipulation of matter. David Benjamin and his Columbia Living Architecture Lab explore ways to integrate biology into architecture. Their recent work investigates bacterial manufacturing--the genetic modification of bacteria to create durable materials. Envisioning a future where bacterial colonies are designed to print novel materials at scale, they see buildings wrapped in seamless, responsive, bio-electronic envelopes.

"Cities Of The Future, Built By Drones, Bacteria, And 3-D Printers"

There is a national competition for best-tasting tap water

Top contenders this year: Louisville and Fremont, Nebraska. Time to start filling out those brackets, water fans! Maggie

The truth is stranger than data visualization

I'm honestly not sure which is weirder: That Clean Air Asia made an interactive map of air pollution that visualizes various cities' smog levels in terms of nose-hair length ... or the fact that thicker, more luxuriant nose hairs really do reduce your risk of asthma. The world is a strange place, people. Maggie

How Phoenix is becoming more like Minneapolis (and vice versa)

We talk a lot about chain stores and the way their proliferation takes away the individual character of American cities, replacing it with a homogenized urban landscape of Wal-Marts, malls, and Applebees*. But some scientists think businesses and buildings aren't the only thing making our cities look more alike.

The ecology of cities could be homogenizing, as well — everything from the plants that grow there, to the number and density of ponds and creeks, to the bacteria and fungi that live in the soils. My newest column for The New York Times Magazine explains why ecologists think cities are becoming more alike, and what it means if they're right. The really interesting bit: The effects aren't all uniformly bad.

“Americans just have some certain preferences for the way residential settlements ought to look,” Peter Groffman, a microbial ecologist with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., recently told me. Over the course of the last century, we’ve developed those preferences and started applying them to a wide variety of natural landscapes, shifting all places — whether desert, forest or prairie — closer to the norm. Since the 1950s, for example, Phoenix has been remade into a much wetter place that more closely resembles the pond-dotted ecosystem of the Northeast. Sharon Hall, an associate professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, said, “The Phoenix metro area contains on the order of 1,000 lakes today, when previously there were none.” Meanwhile, naturally moist Minneapolis is becoming drier as developers fill in wetlands.

Why does any of this matter to anyone who’s not an urban ecologist? “If 20 percent of urban areas are covered with impervious surfaces,” says Groffman, “then that also means that 80 percent is natural surface.” Whatever is going on in that 80 percent of the country’s urban space — as Groffman puts it, “the natural processes happening in neighborhoods” — has a large, cumulative ecological effect.

Read the rest of the story at The New York Times Magazine

*Or, possibly, Applebeeses.

Image: Taken by Ben Schumin, used via CC.

Meet "Big Trash"

Over the long run, keeping stuff like tree limbs and compostable waste out of landfills is good for cities. There's only so much space in a landfill and getting more land is extremely expensive. So why haven't more cities hopped on the curbside composting bandwagon, or at least banned yard waste from landfills? There's probably a lot of factors that go into those decisions, but one, apparently, is the influence of large, private companies that handle waste collection and see the diversion of re-usable waste as a detriment to their income. (Via Chris Tackett) Maggie

Inverse skyscrapers

The benefits of building cities underground. (Via Maria Popova) Maggie

When urban beekeeping gets too dense

Bees need a certain amount of nearby green space in order to find enough pollen to survive. Without that, bees can starve. They can also end up subsisting on a diet of syrup that's about as healthy for them as a diet of burgers and fries would be for you and I. London has had die-offs of bees in the past, when beekeeping got more popular than the city's limited green space could support. Some people are now worried that New York City could be headed toward that problem. (Via Hannah Nordhaus) Maggie

New life for old malls

There are too many malls in America, and too many vacancies in them. So city planners are looking for other ways to use all that square-footage. The New York Times has a neat story about some of the different ways derelict shopping malls are being repurposed: As deconstructed residential/retail centers catering to desires for a more "Main Street" environment; as churches and city government offices; and even as community gardens. (Via Dennis Dimick) Maggie

Traffic signals for the colorblind

I don't know why this never occurred to me before, but today on Twitter, several people who are attending the 2011 Accessibility Summit pointed out that traffic lights aren't, traditionally, accessible. Think about it. If you're colorblind, does red, yellow, green tell you as much information as you need, as easily and quickly as you need to know it?

Turns out, some Canadian provinces deal with this by adding shapes to the lights, as well as colors. This is an example from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Thanks to Seth Meranda for linking it!

Image: Sprocket at en.wikipedia. Used via CC.