Urban living and carbon footprints


Patrick Nielsen Hayden uses an exceptionally silly Guardian op-ed about New York City as a "dangerous, intoxicating fantasy of freedom from nature" to extol big cities' environmental virtues: places where no one need own a car; where energy and resource reclamation and recirculation are common; where, in short, we all need to be.

Read the rest

Painted "bookbenches" spring up across London


The National Literacy Trust has dotted London with painted benches that celebrate classic works of literature from Paddington to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.

Read the rest

Chinese factory 3D prints 10 houses' worth of slabs in one day

A Chinese R&D shop has 3D printed 10 buildings' worth of prefab slabs using enormous fused deposition modelling printers that extrude concrete.

Read the rest

Charity collection-boxes shaped like life-sized homeless people

The Dutch homelessness charity Badt dressed mannequins as homeless people, sawed coin-slots in their foreheads, and seeded them around Amsterdam with signs soliciting donations. It's a clever campaign, but it says something a little unpleasant, in that we are apparently more willing to give money to a doll with a slot in its forehead than an actual homeless person.

Read the rest

Moscow activists step into the path of cars driving on the sidewalk

Here's a highlight reel of the adventures of a Moscow youth-group whose members physically place their bodies in the path of cars whose drivers insist on driving on sidewalks to beat Moscow's epic traffic. It's an inspiring couple of minutes of semi-suicidal bravery in the service of pedestrianism. (via Reddit)

Mapping ecotpian jungles onto Google Streetview


Urban Jungle Street View is a Google Street View mashup that pulls out the 3D information latent in the Streetview database and uses it to map lush, ecotopian foliage over the surfaces of the buildings and street furniture. You can put your own address in and see your home covered in climbing jungles and explore from there, or use great architectural landmarks as your starting point. Shown here: the Flatiron building in midtown Manhattan, where my publishers are located.

Its creator, Einar Öberg, has created a ton of other amazing mashups based on similar principles.

Read the rest

China Mieville on The Borribles

Tor.com has reprinted China Mieville's inspired introduction to The Borribles, the classic, 1980s urban fantasy young adult trilogy by Michael de Larrabeiti, recently relaunched in the UK. As Mieville points out, The Borribles are fundamentally a fractured love-poem to London, and its love-hate relationship to children:

Read the rest

Mini Metro: fun game simulates planning and running public transit system

Mini Metro is a video-game from New Zealand's Dinosaur Polo Club in which you create public transit systems in order to improve the lives of virtual citizens of an imaginary town. It does a really clever job of simulating the efficacy of your trains and the way that influences commuter behaviors. The game is in early alpha and is a free download for GNU/Linux, Mac OS and Windows.

Read the rest

Guardian Cities: how Hackney council let developers demolish the startups of "Silicon Roundabout"

I've written a guest editorial for the new Guardian Cities site about the way that the offices that house the startups of London's famed "Silicon Roundabout" are being systematically demolished by developers who are put up cheap, high-rise private student housing to take advantage of a foreign-student bubble.

(Note: this went up briefly last week by accident and came down again, apologies if you see this twice)

Read the rest

Performance artist frosts and shares cake on NYC subway

Performance artist Bettina Banayan has conducted a number of interventions on the NYC subway, but this one, in which she frosts, decorates, and shares a cake with her fellow commuters, is my favorite. Unlike the other performances, which largely revolve around making people uncomfortable (or at least discomfited), the punchline of "Subway Cake Performance 02/11/14" is a subway car full of happy people whose life in the city has been made sweeter and friendlier.

Performance - Bettina Banayan (via Neatorama)

Documenting the NYC snowpocalypse's neckdowns: latent traffic calming revealed by climate and crowds

Clarence Eckerson made a splash with a pair of videos that documented the latent traffic-calming measures lurking in New York's streets, revealed by heavy snowfall. These "neckdowns," left behind by snowplows, provide an existence proof of the ways that changes in curbs and streets would make things safer for drivers and pedestrians.

With the current NYC snowpocalypse upon us, Eckerson is back in the streets, calling on people to document and tweet the city's ice-neckdowns, tagging them with #sneckdown (they're also documenting unplowed bike-lanes). It's a marvellous example of live, networked urban theory, and shows how people can organize to build the evidentiary basis for real change to their cities.

Read the rest

Superbowls bring cities between $0 and $120M in economic activity, not $600M

Cities spend millions to court the Superbowl, offering tax-exemptions for Superbowl employees, building fancy stadiums, paying cops and municipal workers to secure the site, and more. The Superbowl claims that this is a good investment: they say a city can expect to bring in $600 million in local economic activity from the big game.

But independent economists who investigate that number find it very, very suspicious. For one thing, the majority of money spent at a Superbowl is spent in the Superbowl, or on goods that are manufactured under license from the Superbowl, and the lion's share of that money leaves town with the Superbowl. One economist, Holy Cross professor Victor Matheson, compares this to "an airplane landing at an airport and everyone gets out and gives each other a million bucks, then gets back on the plane. That's $200 million in economic activity, but it's not any benefit to the local economy."

The Superbowl's own methodology for calculating local spending sucks. Other economists put the figure at between $0 million and $120 million. Not chump change, but also a lot less profitable than previously suspected, especially when you factor in the costs to the city of putting on a Superbowl.

Still, when you compare the numbers with the absolute gouging that World Cup cities endure (Brazil will spend over $13B on theirs), the Superbowl looks positively benign by comparison.

Read the rest

LAPD declares war on downtown's pedestrians

Downtown Los Angeles's renaissance has led to a surge in pedestrian traffic, to the enormous benefit of local businesses and the neighborhood itself. The LAPD is having none of it, and have declared war on jaywalking, handing out $200 fines for infractions as minor as walking into the crosswalk after the pedestrian signal starts to blink red. Cory 55

Free houses for writers


Writeahouse is a Detroit-based charity that trains people in carpentry and related trades by having them renovate houses, then gives the houses to writers (novelists, journalists, poets), encouraging them to relocate to Detroit. Applications open in spring 2014. Writers are given a house that is 80 percent renovated, and are responsible for finishing the work and paying insurance and taxes. After two years, they are given the deed to the house, with the stipulation that if they sell the house within five years, Writeahouse gets the right to buy it back at an independently appraised value.

WRITEAHOUSE.ORG (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Vancouver's new building code bans doorknobs

The City of Vancouver -- Canada's only city with its own building code -- is mandating that new doors be fitted with lever-handles instead of doorknobs. The move is intended to increase accessibility -- a doorknob requires substantially more dexterity and strength than a lever -- but it will also make things easier for people with full hands. Doorknobs will remain in use for decades in Vancouver, of course (housing stock has a long shelf-life), but over time, they will dwindle away to historical curiosities. (via Hacker News) Cory 87