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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.

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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:

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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

Dazzle-paint in public square in Alicante causes dizziness, triggers seizures


The ground in a Plaza de Pio XII, a square in Alicante, Spain has been decorated with a dazzle-paint-like pattern of high contrast wiggly white lines. It has caused seizures in some people with photosensitive epilepsy (20,000 people with epilepsy live in the region) and some elderly people have complained of dizziness while traversing the square. The square is centrally located, and some of its detractors argue that they have to cross it several times a day just to get around town. Here's some of the Google Translate text from the Diario Informacion piece by Alberola Pine:

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Infrastructure fiction: explaining infrastructure to artists and art to civil engineers

Paul Graham Raven's "Introduction to infrastructure fiction" is a great, 20 minute explanation of why infrastructure should matter to artists and why art should matter to civil engineers. The invisible ubiquity and vital importance of infrastructure means that it's something we should be talking about, and that we're not talking about.

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San Francisco City Hall hears horrifying tales of cops' hostility to cyclists

Dozens of cyclists attended a hearing on police hostility to cyclists at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last week. They told stories of undercover cops threatening to beat them up after cutting them off on their bikes; of cops refusing to take action against drivers who had attempted or threatened vehicular homicide; and of a systematic refusal to investigate cases where cyclists were injured or killed by drivers.

Before the inevitable, victim-blaming round of "but cyclists are so aggressive and horrible," please read this (tl;dr: statistical analysis of cyclist behavior does not bear out the caricature of the lunatic rider, who is significantly less common -- and less dangerous -- than the lunatic driver cohort).

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Kickstarting a parklet in SOMA's DNA lounge

Jamie "JWZ" Zawinski and the DNA Lounge are crowdfunding a "parklet" -- a tiny park inside a former parking-space -- out front of the DNA Lounge in San Francisco's SOMA. The DNA is a treasure, and Zawinski's plans for the parklet are ambitious and represent a significant improvement to Eleventh Street. They need $10K.

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Turning out the streetlights in "distressed" parts of Detroit

In Bloomberg, Chris Christoff reports on the city of Detroit's plan to switch off up to half of its municipal streetlights, reducing or eliminating public lighting in "distressed" areas, noting that other cities, including neighboring Highland Park, as well as Colorado Springs, have already done this:

A single, broken streetlight on the northeast side brings fear to Cynthia Perry, 55. It hasn’t worked for six years, Perry said in an interview on the darkened sidewalk where she walks from her garage to her house entrance.

“I’m afraid coming in at night,” she said. “I’m not going to seclude myself in the house and never go anywhere.”

In southwest Detroit, businesses on West Vernor Highway, a main commercial thoroughfare, have sought $4 million in private grants to fix the situation themselves. The state would pay $2.5 million, said Kathy Wendler, president of the Southwest Detroit Business Association.

Jamahl Makled, 40, said he’s owned businesses in southwest Detroit for about two decades, most recently cell-phone stores. He said they’ve have been burglarized more than a dozen times.

“In the dark, criminals are comfortable,” Makled said. “It’s not good for the economy and the safety of the residents.”

Half of Detroit’s Streetlights May Go Out as City Shrinks (via Rejectamentalist Manifesto)