A round-up of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days. Tweet us your favorites with #CityReads.
"Welcome to the Permanent Dusk: Sunlight in Cities is an Endangered Species," Henry Grabar, Salon
As American cities grow taller and denser — and most everyone agrees that they must — natural light becomes a more precious commodity. Does that mean it should be regulated like one? Or would preserving current sun patterns — so-called “solar rights” — grind real estate development to a halt? Put simply: Should Americans, in their homes and in their cities, have a right to light?
"What The Simpsons Teaches Us About Rob Ford and Other Mayoral Mysteries," Colin Horgan, The Guardian
How to explain this mayoral get out of jail free card? After all, a prime minister would never survive what Quimby or Ford or Boris or Barry have done. Canada's Stephen Harper couldn't slur "Bumbaclot" in a Jamaican steak joint. David Cameron’s tenure as British PM would end as soon as he was rescued from a zip line. And if Barack Obama had been caught on tape smoking crack? Americans have threatened impeachment for much less.
But they are different kinds of leaders for a different kind of idea – that of a nation. We reserve higher expectations for this slightly esoteric concept because we don’t know it as well. We understand a city differently: as a real thing, rather than an abstraction built on patriotism. Unlike a country, which must project conceptual strength and continuity in order to hold together, cities are where we confront the chaos of human interaction.
"Here's the Right Way to Build the Futuristic Cities of Our Dreams," Adie Tomer and Rob Puentes, WIRED
To date, smart city conversations mostly trade in optimism, focusing on images of cities without congestion and smart energy meters on every building. Global publications like this one devote space to specific solutions, while television commercials offer a visual taste of how our cities could look in the years ahead. Marketers fuel the fire by estimating a multi-trillion dollar market within a decade.
At what point do we prioritize the municipality–the actual governance of the city–to make great plans?
To help push the industry forward and achieve those trillion dollar market projections, we need to spend as much time and energy creating policy blueprints as we’ve spent researching and marketing new technologies. Smart policies must match smart technologies.
"5 Times San Francisco Was Almost Destroyed," Annalee Newitz, The Bold Italic
The fire of May 3 and 4, 1851, destroyed three-fourths of the city and began with what was likely arson in Portsmouth Plaza. Despite efforts by the newly-created fire department, the flames ate through street after street. One problem was that the always-windy Financial District had elevated wooden sidewalks. They were perfect tinder for this blaze, providing fuel coupled with lots of nice oxygen underneath to feed it. Terrified, residents ran into their “fire proof” iron homes and cooked inside. Despite the horrific property damage and lives lost, workers were able to fully rebuild one-fifth of the city in just ten days. Unfortunately, this was right in time for the last of the great Gold Rush fires, which razed the city in June of that year.
Still, the city rose again – and kept booming. San Francisco's population in 1849 was estimated at about 5,000, but within roughly a decade it had grown to 50,000. By 1865, it was at almost 100,000.
"James W. Rouse's Legacy of Better Living Through Design," Jimmy Stamp, Smithsonian Magazine
[Rouse] believed that we demanded too little of ourselves and our cities. He believed that the city could be better, that we could be better. Rouse believed that cities are just too big and their impossible scale alienates us from one another, fostering an apathy and loneliness. In Rouse's view, we're at our best in smaller communities where there is a sense of responsibility to one's city and to one's neighbor. He imagined a beautiful, self-sustaining American City--a new America, really--that fostered economic, racial, and cultural harmony. The name of this new city on a hill: Columbia.