Daylight Saving and Crime: The Best #CityReads of the Week

Our weekly roundup of the most intriguing articles about cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days.

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Our weekly roundup of the most intriguing articles about cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days. Share your favorites on Twitter with #cityreads.

"Phoenix's Too Hot Future,"

If cities were stocks, you'd want to short Phoenix.

Of course, it's an easy city to pick on. The nation's 13th-largest metropolitan area crams 4.3 million people into a low bowl in a hot desert, where horrific heat waves and windstorms visit it regularly. And it depends on an improbable infrastructure to suck water from the distant (and dwindling) Colorado River.

If the Gulf Coast's Hurricane Katrina and the Eastern Seaboard's Superstorm Sandy previewed how coastal cities can expect to fare as seas rise and storms strengthen, Phoenix — which also stands squarely in the cross hairs of climate change — pulls back the curtain on the future of inland empires. If you want a taste of the brutal new climate to come, look no further than the aptly named Valley of the Sun.

In Phoenix, the convergence of heat, drought and violent winds is creating an ever-more-worrisome situation. Let's take heat first. If, in summer, the grid there were to fail on a large scale and for a significant period of time, the fallout would make the consequences of Sandy look mild. Phoenix is an air-conditioned city. If the power goes out, people fry.

"Bright Lights, Safe Cities: How Daylight Saving Fights Crime," Katy Welter, Next City

Daylight Saving Time took effect this weekend, which means we traded one hour of sleep for more light in the evening, ostensibly in the interest of energy savings and traffic safety. But that’s not all: A forthcoming study from University of Virginia and College of William and Mary researchers proves, for the first time, that pushing clocks forward also happens to reduce crime rates.

Energy savings, not crime reduction, has always been the primary rationale for switching the world’s clocks twice each year. Citing the need for wartime coal conservation, the U.S. first adopted Daylight Saving Time (DST) and standard time zones during World War I under the 1918 Standard Time Act. DST has come and gone several times since, and in 2007 Congress extended DST by a month.

The extension created the controls needed for UVA’s Jennifer L. Doleac and William and Mary’s Nicholas J. Sanders to conduct the first large-scale analysis of how DST affects crime rates in the U.S., a question researchers had long wondered given the well-known correlation between season, temperature and crime rates. Using three robust methodologies to analyze hourly crime reports mined from four years of National Incident-Based Reporting System, Doleac and Sanders looked at crime rates during the three weeks before and after spring DST took effect.

In a publicly available working paper, the researchers conclude that DST reduced robbery by 51 percent, murder by 43 percent and rape by 56 percent during the “extra” hour of evening daylight. The results were consistent across methods, and the drop in crime was limited to the one-hour period affected by DST. Importantly, offenders did not simply “reallocate” crime to a later part of the day, as overall daily crime totals in the three weeks following DST also fell significantly. DST appeared to have no effects on motor vehicle theft, swindling, forgery or burglary.

"Me and My Megacommute," Rebecca Davis O'Brien, The New Yorker

I grew up in New York City, a fact that I mention not to lay claim to some innate savvy, but by way of explanation: I spent very little of my first twenty-eight years in a car.

Today, I am a “megacommuter,” one of the nearly six hundred thousand Americans who travel at least fifty miles and ninety minutes to and from a full-time job each day. We are an extreme subset of the 8.1 per cent of American workers with commutes of an hour or more, according to a recent report from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. A majority of us make the journey alone in a car.

My fifty-five-mile commute, in a 2007 Accord (I call her “Jane Honda”), takes me anywhere between seventy minutes (wildly speeding) and a hundred and twenty (stuck in traffic) each way. I know every pothole, casino billboard, and abandoned deer carcass between Princeton, where my husband and I live, and Passaic County, where I work. I have cultivated a special relationship with the anchors of the BBC World Service. I’m surprised when I’m not in a car: out jogging on weekends, I sometimes catch myself checking my side-view mirror.

"If You Rebuild It, They Might Not Come," Lydia DePillis, The New Republic

Other than the nine hours spent clinging to a rooftop, the loss of the house she'd bought in 1977, and the two and a half years spent shuttling back and forth to her daughter's home in Atlanta, Hurricane Katrina has been pretty good to 72-year-old Gloria Guy. That's because, about five years ago now, Brad Pitt built her a really, really nice house.

Guy was the first beneficiary of the Make It Right foundation, the charity Pitt started in 2007 to furnish homes for those in the already dirt-poor Lower Ninth Ward who lost theirs. These new homes were not just slap-dash replacements. Guy's mustard-yellow two-bedroom is perched on nine-foot-tall stilts, with a roof that slants upward from front to back and leans to one side like a jaunty haircut—a bizarre sight in this city of graceful Creole symmetry. It was designed by a high-end local architect and features the latest in energy-efficient technology, as well as a solar array, non-toxic finishes, and custom cabinets. 

"Baby, this was the worst disaster to have, and they did nothing," says the tiny woman hunched in a sweatshirt on her lofty porch, referring to the federal and local powers that be. "The only person who came through here and worked with the people was Brad Pitt. The Prince of Wales came down here, and boy he was in the helicopter looking at us hanging on the roof, and then he took off in a jet and kept going." 

Make It Right has managed to build about 90 homes, at a cost of nearly $45 million, in this largely barren moonscape—viewed from the Claiborne Avenue Bridge, which connects the ward to the center city, they spread out like a field of pastel-colored UFOs. But for a while now, Make It Right has been having trouble enticing people to buy their made-to-order homes. The neighborhood has turned into a retirement-community version of its former self; the ward's other former residents are dead or settled elsewhere. Construction on the cutting-edge designs has run into more than its share of complications, like mold plaguing walls built with untested material, and averaged upwards of $400,000 per house. Although costs have come down, Make It Right is struggling to finance the rest of the 150 homes it promised, using revenue from other projects in Newark and Kansas City to supplement its dwindling pot of Hollywood cash. Now, in a wrenching deviation from its original mission, the non-profit has decided to open up to buyers who didn't live in the neighborhood before Katrina.

"Public Funding for Stadiums No Easy Sell Nationwide," Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Maybe Falcons owner Arthur Blank should count himself lucky he’s on the verge of getting any public funding for a new $1 billion stadium.

The billionaire’s tentative agreement with Atlanta’s mayor for $200 million in public funds toward the construction of a retractable-roof stadium comes amid growing public backlash for using taxpayer support to finance pro football facilities.

Efforts to renovate or build new NFL stadiums in Miami, Charlotte and Minneapolis have faced the same sort of opposition that led Gov. Nathan Deal and state lawmakers to punt the debate to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Polls here and elsewhere have shown widespread opposition to the public financing of sports facilities, although Reed has said the support is much higher when only voters in Atlanta are surveyed. Yet despite the pushback, the public often ends up ponying up the money.

About the Author

  • Sommer Mathis is editor of CityLab. Previously she spent five years editing and reporting on the D.C. metro area at DCist.com and TBD.com.