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A Florida Suburb Turns Into an Ubertown: Best #Cityreads of the Week

A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days.

Altamonte Springs, Florida (eyecmore/CC 2.0)

Welcome to Uberville,” Spencer Woodman, The Verge

My first morning in Altamonte Springs, Florida, I was faced with a dilemma: how to travel the two miles from my hotel to city hall without a car. Walking would take nearly an hour in the sweltering June heat. Taking a bus would entail waiting up to a half hour at a stop with little shelter from the forecasted thunderstorms, followed by a looping detour to the local mall. The trip could potentially take longer than walking.

I was on my way to meet Frank Martz, Altamonte’s city manager. For nearly two decades, Martz had fought to overhaul Altamonte’s transit system with a fleet of demand-responsive public busses. He called the plan FlexBus, and it would use custom-designed software to optimize routes for vehicles that riders would order from kiosks or even desktop computers. Martz saw FlexBus as the key to transforming Altamonte, a loose agglomeration of palm tree-lined strip malls and culs-de-sac a few miles north of Orlando, into a thriving and walkable destination.

Despite Martz’s persistent lobbying, bureaucratic delays and disagreements with the regional transit authority stalled the project for years, Martz says. Finally last October, the Federal Transit Administration withdrew millions in vital funding. FlexBus was dead.

But the transit landscape had changed since Martz began his quest. In the years before FlexBus was founded, some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent companies had begun offering on-demand transportation reminiscent of Martz’s vision. So just weeks after burying FlexBus, Martz called Uber. His inquiry was blunt: did the company want to make Altamonte the world’s first public transportation system based on ride-share technology?

Unbuilding a City,Planet Money, NPR

Heading back to school is a familiar fall ritual for most kids, one that's filled with excitement for the year ahead and lament for the end of summer vacation. But at the newly rebuilt Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, it'll also be imbued with the emotional weight of the shooting on December 12, 2012, that killed 20 children and eight adults in one of the worst acts of violence in U.S. history.

This fall, after razing the original low-slung 1956 brick building and receiving $50 million from the state of Connecticut to rebuild, Newtown has a new elementary school. "This is a school to nurture and grow young members of our society," says Jay Brotman, an architect managing partner at Svigals + Partners, the New Haven-based firm that designed the school. "As architects, we aspire for opportunities like this, to build a meaningful symbol that serves a community as well as a global emblem."

It’s a beautiful building. With a wavy roofline, wood-and-fieldstone cladding, large expanses of glass, and plenty of art, it aspires to be a safe, inspiring, and welcoming space that celebrates the town's natural beauty rather than to evoke one catastrophic event from its 311-year history.

The new Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut (Mark Lennihan/AP)

What a Black Lives Matter Economic Agenda Looks Like,” Janell Ross, The Washington Post

Amid all the news and noise that Trump's black voter appeal created, an umbrella operation known as the Movement for Black Lives released an economic plan.

Think of the Movement for Black Lives, also known as M4BL, like the civil rights movement: a broad, multi-pronged attempt to create social and legal change populated, fueled and driven by a wide variety of individuals and organizations committed to a common set of political goals.  M4BL also includes the formal organization known as Black Lives Matter and a loose collective of individuals, additional organizations and activists associated with it.

The M4BL economic policy paper issued this month includes some of the things that a largely black collective of activists, academics and voters think black Americans both have to lose and need to gain in coming years.

(Nicky Loh/Reuters)

When my twenty-two-year-old artist father moved into his raw loft space in SoHo in 1975, he had to pay an extra $1,000 to get basic plumbing risers installed. The floor was stained with machine grease from the bookbindery that had operated there; there were no walls or partitions, and he slept on a mattress in the corner on the floor. Trash collection was seldom, and basic groceries were a half-mile away.

For the first couple of years, a printing press still operated upstairs, shaking his entire building during business hours.“This is not an apartment!” his family cried. Yet, he never had to take a roommate to make rent. He had the entire space to himself, where he could set up his creative life: print his etchings and work on oil paintings and illustration projects. Sometimes, on breaks, he would pretend he was a baseball player, running around the 1200-square-foot space and sliding into an imaginary third base.

Even while it was still illegal, living in former factory buildings was already ascendant as a “lifestyle.” The average SoHo loft was a cavernous 2,100 square feet; taking up space was part of the radical project of loft living.

An artist’s lost at 16 Greene Street in New York City’s Soho neighborhood (Peter Comitini/CC)

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