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Americans Aren't as Mobile as You Think: Best #Cityreads of the Week

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

A migrant family leaves Muskogee, Oklahoma. July 1939. (Lee Russell/Library of Congress)

The Increasingly Mobile U.S. is a Myth that Needs to Move On,” Claude S. Fischer, Aeon

In 1971, the great Carole King sang: ‘So far away/ Doesn’t anyone stay in one place anymore?’ Thirty years later, the editors of The New York Times explained that families in the United States are changing because of ‘the ever-growing mobility of Americans’. And in 2010, a psychologist argued that ‘an increased rate of residential mobility played a role in the historical shift’ toward individualism. It’s a common US lament that human bonds are fraying because people are moving around more and more. Americans fear the fracturing of communities that constant moving seems to bring.

Yet when King sang, Americans had been moving around less and less for generations. That decline was even more obvious when the Times editorial appeared in 2001, and it has continued to decline through the 2010s. The increasingly mobile US is a myth that refuses to move on.

One might imagine that the documented increase in settling down would have relieved Americans of their anxieties about transience and the loss of community. But it has not, because most Americans believe that residential mobility is accelerating and that it is a source of social ills. In truth, neither lament nor celebration of this growing rootedness is in order, because the ramifications of a more settled US are not all to be valued. But first of all we must recognise that the US is in the midst of a great settling down – and not breaking apart by never staying put.

The One-in-Six Rule: Can Montreal Fight Gentrification by Banning Restaurants?” Matthew Hays, The Guardian

In Montreal’s Saint-Henri neighbourhood, the hallmarks of gentrification shout loud and clear. Beautiful old brick buildings have been refurbished as funky shops, niche food markets and hipster cafes. Most notably, there are plenty of high-end restaurants. More than plenty, say some local residents – many of whom can’t afford to eat in any of them.

Earlier this month, the city council agreed enough was enough: the councillors of Montreal’s Southwest borough voted unanimously to restrict the opening of new restaurants. The bylaw roughly follows the “one-in-six” rule, with new eateries forbidden from opening up within 25 metres of an existing one.

“Our idea was very simple,” says Craig Sauvé, a city councillor with the Projet Montreal party. “Residents need to be able to have access to a range of goods and services within walking distance of their homes. Lots of restaurants are fine and dandy, but we also needs grocery stores, bakeries and retail spaces.”

Sand’s End,” Josh Dzieza, The Verge

Past the towers of downtown Miami and over Biscayne Bay sits the city of Miami Beach. Perched on the tip of a narrow barrier island, Miami Beach is a resort community of just under 100,000 people, though its population swells with a steady stream of tourists. Through the wall of hotels that line its shore is the city's central draw: the wide, white stretch of Miami Beach's beach.

The beach is the centerpiece of the city’s promise of escape — escape from cold winters or college classes or family, where you can drink goblets of bright green liquor and cruise down Ocean Drive in a rented tangerine Lamborghini before retiring to the warm sand. To the casual observer, the beach may look like the only natural bit of the city, a fringe of shore reaching out from under the glass and pastel skyline. But this would be false: the beach is every bit as artificial as the towers and turquoise pools. For years the sea has been eating away at the shore, and the city has spent millions of dollars pumping up sand from the seafloor to replace it, only to have it wash away again. Every handful of sand on Miami Beach was placed there by someone.

That sand is washing away ever faster. The sea around Miami is rising a third of an inch a year, and it’s accelerating. The region is far from alone in its predicament, or in its response to an eroding coast: it’s becoming hard to find a populated beach in the United States that doesn’t require regular infusions of sand, says Rob Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University. Virginia Beach, North Carolina’s Outer Banks, New York’s Long Island, New Jersey’s Cape May, and countless other coastal cities are trapped in the same cycle, a cycle whose pace will become harder to maintain as the ocean rises.

Miami Beach, Florida. (Javier Galeano/Reuters)

Squash, Rice and Roadkill: Feeding the Fighters of Standing Rock,” Kim Severson, The New York Times

On any given night, supper lines here at the dusty prairie camps near the Missouri River where the last piece of a 1,170-mile pipeline is set to be placed might include young Navajo women from Arizona who have never camped in the cold, and older white women for whom chaining themselves to a fence for a cause is nothing new.

There are protest tourists in new boots, Lakota elders who spend hours in prayer, parents from the suburbs who have dragged the children away from their video games.

They have all driven for hours — sometimes days — to join hundreds of protesters at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. And they all need to eat.

A person walks past smoke from a cooking fire at an encampment during a protest against the Dakota Access pipeline on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)

Public In/Formation,” Shannon Matters, Places Journal

It took less than a year for New Yorkers to lose sidewalk internet privileges. Much of the city cheered last winter when hundreds of sad, squat payphones were replaced with futuristic monoliths offering free phone calls, device charging, and superfast internet. 1Tourists could check maps, locals could access municipal services, schoolkids could download homework assignments. (Never mind the poster-size ads and data tracking.) But not all the neighbors were thrilled. Soon came the reports of people gathered for hours around these digital campfires, streaming music or watching movies and porn.

“We know that some users have been monopolizing the Link tablets and using them inappropriately,” officials said in September. “The kiosks were never intended for anyone’s extended personal use.” LinkNYC disabled web browsing and promised to work with “the City and community” to find a solution. Two months later, it’s not clear when access will be restored. The mayor himself delivered the eulogy, describing curbside internet as “a good idea that ended up having a real unintended consequence.”

Unintended, maybe, but hardly a surprise. An eighth grader could have called it. Which raises the question: How can you roll out digital infrastructure at this scale without anticipating the “tragicomedy of the commons”? Were there no librarians on the team? Librarians have managed internet access and guided patrons through new digital terrain for decades. They have raucously debated how to accommodate all kinds of online behavior, and have developed tools for promoting free speech and open access while discouraging illegal activity and shielding patrons and staff from offensive images. They have tested policies and procedures — time limits, download caps, and content filters — for ensuring that resources are shared fairly. The information commons is messy, and negotiating such issues is part of living in a robust democracy. What works in the public library can work on the street.

Delaware Division of Libraries staff assemble a 3D printer. (John Abella/CC BY 2.0)

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