Our weekly roundup of the most intriguing articles about cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days.
"Town Centers Seek Another Shot at a Bar," Heather Haddon, Wall Street Journal
Having a decent bar, it turns out, is helpful to reviving small downtowns, development experts say. So, in February, the developers came up with a novel but expensive solution, buying the Italian restaurant that owned a license and eventually transferring it to the downtown hotel. The price: about $1 million for the permit alone.
"Disney and Urban Design: The Mighty Mouse’s Public Works Department Roars," Kelley Lindsey, Public Works
"The Magic Kingdom is something of a dream as far as urban planning goes," says Laura Cole of the college’s office of marketing and communications. “It has public transportation [the monorail]; a center [Cinderella’s Castle] from which everything else radiates; a Main Street with shops, restaurants, and entertainment; a bustling economy with many job opportunities; and unparalleled coordination, from the music to building heights, color schemes, and landscaping.
"Unlike most theme parks, however, Disney has its own private government with lobbying powers that influence both state and national government."
"A City That Turns Garbage Into Energy Copes With a Shortage," John Tagliabue, New York Times
OSLO — This is a city that imports garbage. Some comes from England, some from Ireland. Some is from neighboring Sweden. It even has designs on the American market.
Roughly half of Oslo and most of its schools are heated by burning garbage. “I’d like to take some from the United States,” said Pal Mikkelsen, in his office at a huge plant on the edge of town that turns garbage into heat and electricity. “Sea transport is cheap.”
Oslo, a recycling-friendly place where roughly half the city and most of its schools are heated by burning garbage — household trash, industrial waste, even toxic and dangerous waste from hospitals and drug arrests — has a problem: it has literally run out of garbage to burn.
"African Bus Routes Redrawn Using Cell-Phone Data," David Talbot, MIT Technology Review
Researchers at IBM, using movement data collected from millions of cell-phone users in Ivory Coast in West Africa, have developed a new model for optimizing an urban transportation system.
The IBM model prescribed changes in bus routes around the around Abidjan, the nation’s largest city. These changes—based on people’s movements as discerned from cell-phone records—could, in theory, slash travel times 10 percent.
While the results were preliminary, they point to the new ways that urban planners can use cell-phone data to design infrastructure, says Francesco Calabrese, a researcher at IBM’s research lab in Dublin, and a coauthor of a paper on the work. "This represents a new front with a potentially large impact on improving urban transportation systems," he says. "People with cell phones can serve as sensors and be the building blocks of development efforts."
"Life in the City Is Essentially One Giant Math Problem," Jerry Adler, Smithsonian Magazine
Cities are particular: You would never mistake a favela in Rio de Janeiro for downtown Los Angeles. They are shaped by their histories and accidents of geography and climate. Thus the “east-west” streets of Midtown Manhattan actually run northwest-southeast, to meet the Hudson and East rivers at roughly 90 degrees, whereas in Chicago the street grid aligns closely with true north, while medieval cities such as London don’t have right-angled grids. But cities are also, at a deep level, universal: the products of social, economic and physical principles that transcend space and time. A new science—so new it doesn’t have its own journal, or even an agreed-upon name—is exploring these laws. We will call it “quantitative urbanism.” It’s an effort to reduce to mathematical formulas the chaotic, exuberant, extravagant nature of one of humanity’s oldest and most important inventions, the city.
You’re a local government. You have a mostly minority population in an impoverished post-industrial area. You’re in debt by the billions, but paying it off would require taxes that residents can't afford. But wait, you’re in luck! Or maybe you’re out of luck? Either way, get ready: You’re about to get taken over.
America right now has a case of takeover fever. To solve decades-old, intractable financial problems, larger governments are eating small governments. States are taking over failing schools. Counties are absorbing city police departments. And governors are confiscating mayoral powers.
Top image: Jack n Bills employees Tim Perruso (L) and Rob Ciliento prepare the bar for its opening for the summer tourist season in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)