Boing Boing 

San Francisco ponders letting luxury property developers take away symbolic "public spaces"

Like many cities, SF asks fancy property developers to create "public spaces" in their buildings to make up for parks and other public sites they displace, and these are usually a joke, hidden away far in the buildings' depths and deliberately hidden from the public.

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Alien overlord: stop blaming me for your city's housing bubble!


Zathbog of Planet Cibwarv wants us to stop blaming him for buying up all the property in your favorite big city, ensuring that even families with solid double incomes can barely afford to rent, and will never own a home of their own; after all, you should see the hardships he endured while building up his immense off-planet fortunes in the the interstellar mining industry.

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Privatized offshore cities: the new climate apartheid


Financier-developers with ties to some of the century's most notorious war criminals are building Eko Atlantic, an offshore city near Lagos, to house the burgeoning, confiscatory millionaires of Nigeria, while in the oft-bulldozed slums of Lagos genuine, climate-resilient floating buildings are taking to sea.

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Why "smart cities" should be an Internet of People, not Things


Adam Greenfield proves again that he's one of the best writers and thinkers on "smart cities," explaining how the top-down, expensive, tech-centered approach produces unlivable corporate dystopias in which people are just another "thing" to be shuffled around -- and showing that there's an alternative, low-tech, high-touch, human-centered version of the smart city that makes resilient, thriving communities.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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)

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)

Crappy parking app design fiction

The Village presents a video design fiction (?) for "Parking Douche," an app that lets you photograph the number plates of crappily parked cars in your neighborhood (in Russia) and submit them to a database. The app then buys hyper-geo-targeted ads that block the text on the websites being read by people in the same neighbourhood as the badly parked cars. The ads can't be dismissed until you share them on social media. Basically: if you park like a dick, then everyone who lives or works nearby will not be able to read the Web until they've seen and shared a picture of your dickishness.

Parking Douche (via Kottke)

Contemplating the urban design of Lego City


Alexandra Lange sends us her "Living in Lego City," from Print Magazine: "An essay that asks and answers the question: If you built all the Lego City sets, what kind of city would you get? The city you get is one founded on the stereotype of boy busyness, a place that makes 3-D the transportation, safety, and sports obsessions we assign to boys. There's no zoo but a Dino Defense HQ, no supermarket unless you go down an age group to Duplo, no cafe unless you enter the pink and purple world of Lego Friends. It isn't just the minifigs that gender the Lego world."

Flying into Lego City on a Passenger Plane, you can see the city laid out below you in a grid: squares of green, wide roads of gray, and a tidy coastline of blue squares. It’s early, but already the Tipper Truck is out fixing the potholes and the Garbage Truck is collecting trash and recycling. At the Harbor, the crane is unloading goods onto a truck on the dock, while next door at the Marina the lifeguard is ready to go on duty. A high-speed Passenger Train is just pulling into the Train Station. And over at the Space Center, John Glenn will be happy to see that there’s a Space Shuttle awaiting its next trip to the International Space Station.

Safety is a watchword in Lego City. The Mobile Police Unit is ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice, should the Police Helicopter spot any illegal activities. It is hard to believe that any thieves could cross into Lego City, knowing the Forest Police Station is fully operational. And if the police, with their own helicopter and Jeep and a built-in holding cell, don’t catch the criminals, the bear (included) will.

But where do Lego City’s residents sleep? Eat? Shop? The green blocks are strangely empty. On the edge of town, kids are carving up the hills with their dirt bikes, thanks to the Dirt Bike Transporter, but what happens if they get thirsty? The only houses nearby (available as part of the Architecture series) are for the 1 percent: the Farnsworth House (that blue square looks awfully close) and Fallingwater.

Downtown, on the gray squares, the skyscrapers crowd closely together: the Burj Khalifa, the Empire State Building, the Willis Tower (renamed, even here). There should be a place to sit and watch the crowds at Rockefeller Center, but the scale is too small for benches or the skating rink. Down at the Marina, at least, you can relax at the Paradise Café and admire the brand-new Sydney Opera House. Now that Lego City has an opera house and a museum (the Solomon R. Guggenheim), it qualifies as a world-class city—right?

Living in Lego City (Thanks, Alexandra!)

Global subway systems converge on common topologies


A paywalled paper in the Royal Society's journal Interface argues that the world's underground rail systems are all converging on an "ideal" form. The paper, "A long-time limit for world subway networks," shows that subway systems grow "organically," in response to the needs expressed by the cities above them over the course of decades, and reveal truths about the shape of cities. In Wired, Brandon Keim describes the findings:

Patterns emerged: The core-and-branch topology, of course, and patterns more fine-grained. Roughly half the stations in any subway will be found on its outer branches rather than the core. The distance from a city’s center to its farthest terminus station is twice the diameter of the subway system’s core. This happens again and again.

“Many other shapes could be expected, such as a regular lattice,” said Barthelemy. “What we find surprising is that all these different cities, on different continents, with different histories and geographical constraints, lead finally to the same structure.”

Subway systems seem to gravitate towards these ratios organically, through a combination of planning, expedience, circumstance and socioeconomic fluctuation, say the researchers.

World’s Subways Converging on Ideal Form

Cityscapes made from schoolbooks


Liu Wei, an artist from Beijing, is currently exhibiting a show called "Foreign" at the Almine Rech gallery in Paris. Wei's art plays with cityscapes, and "Foreign" features cityscapes made from schoolbooks affixed with steel rods and clamps. To the right is Library No.4, above is Library No.6.

Almine Rech Gallery - Current (via Neatorama)

How "jaywalking" was invented

Sarah Goodyear relates the events that gave rise to the concept of "jaywalking," and describes what American life was like before the assumption that roads were primarily for cars became the norm, and when the streets were "vibrant places with a multitude of users and uses."

It wasn’t always like this. Browse through New York Times accounts of pedestrians dying after being struck by automobiles prior to 1930, and you’ll see that in nearly every case, the driver is charged with something like “technical manslaughter.” And it wasn’t just New York. Across the country, drivers were held criminally responsible when they killed or injured people with their vehicles...

“If you ask people today what a street is for, they will say cars,” says Norton. “That’s practically the opposite of what they would have said 100 years ago.”

Streets back then were vibrant places with a multitude of users and uses. When the automobile first showed up, Norton says, it was seen as an intruder and a menace. Editorial cartoons regularly depicted the Grim Reaper behind the wheel. That image persisted well into the 1920s...

The industry lobbied to change the law, promoting the adoption of traffic statutes to supplant common law. The statutes were designed to restrict pedestrian use of the street and give primacy to cars. The idea of "jaywalking” – a concept that had not really existed prior to 1920 – was enshrined in law.

The current configuration of the American street, and the rules that govern it, are not the result of some inevitable organic process. "It’s more like a brawl," says Norton. "Where the strongest brawler wins."

The Invention of Jaywalking (via Making Light)

(Image: Jaywalking, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from acidxedz's photostream)

Open-data Cities Conference in Brighton, England: turning municipal governments into open data collaborators

Adam sez, "The first Open-data Cities Conference takes place in Brighton, England next week. It's aimed at local councils and government agencies who want to open up more of their datasets, and giving them ideas and practical help on how to do it. There's some good speakers, including Tom Steinberg from MySociety and Rufus Pollock from the Open Knowledge Foundation."

The high-profile conference – the first of its kind in the United Kingdom – will focus on how publicly-funded organisations can engage with citizens to build more creative, prosperous and accountable communities.

It will be attended by more than 200 people who believe the value of public data is greatest when it is freely and openly shared. They will be leaders from the public sector, arts and cultural organisations, and creative and digital industries.

The focus will be on the opportunities to improve the lives of more than 10 million citizens in the UK’s biggest cities.

Open-data Cities Conference (Thanks, Adam!)