A round-up of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.
"Thermal Waste May Be the Next Thing Heating our Cities," Adi Robertson, The Verge
Cities are polluting the air, ground, and water around them with heat. Roads and rooftops absorb sunlight, and swapping trees for pavement removes shade. Add all these factors together, and you get something called an "urban heat island," an air temperature increase of up to 22 degrees Fahrenheit as you get closer to a large city. While the average human is more likely to feel this in the air, these changes also create a well of heat below the ground — and that heat, ironically, can be used as renewable energy even as it changes the ecosystem. Now, thanks to a study from Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, we know just where most of it’s coming from, and how it could be better harnessed to replace traditional heaters and air conditioners.
"My City: Life as a Blind Architect in San Francisco," Alison Prato, TED Blog
On St. Patrick’s Day in 2008, Chris Downey, an architect, planner and consultant who lives in Piedmont, California, some 10 miles east of San Francisco, reported to the hospital for surgery to remove a brain tumor. The procedure was a success. But two days later, his sight started to fail. On the third day, it was gone.
Remarkably, Downey managed to get back to work within months — and, he says, he never once thought of giving up his work in architecture. In his current role, as a consultant to architectural practices in San Francisco and beyond, he commutes to the city via public transportation four days a week. On the fifth day, he heads to UC Berkeley, where he teaches accessibility and universal design.
"Secret City Design Tricks Manipulate your Behavior," Frank Swain, BBC
When Selena Savic walks down a city street, she sees it differently to most people. Whereas other designers might admire the architecture, Savic sees a host of hidden tricks intended to manipulate our behaviour and choices without us realising – from benches that are deliberately uncomfortable to sculptures that keep certain citizens away.
Modern cities are rife with these “unpleasant designs”, says Savic, a PhD student at the Ecole Polytechnique Federerale de Lausanne in Switzerland, who co-authored a book on the subject this year. Once you know these secret tricks are there, it will transform how you see your surroundings. “We call this a silent agent,” says Savic. “These designs are hidden, or not apparent to people they don’t target.” Are you aware of how your city is manipulating you?
"The Fruits of Providing Cash Incentives for Healthy Eating in San Diego," Randy Dotinga, Voice of San Diego
Local advocates for the needy have warned for years about “food deserts” in poor communities that make it difficult for some residents to find affordable fruits and vegetables. Now, there’s a dose of good news: A new study says San Diego-area low-income residents got a big boost from a government program designed to encourage healthy eating and support farmers markets in poor neighborhoods like City Heights.
Thousands of local residents who get government assistance enrolled in the program and received vouchers to buy nutritious foods like produce, meat, bread and eggs at farmers markets. The participants spent about $330,000 from 2010-2011, or about $93 per person.
There are some caveats. No one knows whether any area residents actually became healthier as a result of the program, which has dwindled from its high point of serving several communities because of funding woes. And participants are only allowed to spend the extra money at farmers markets. They can’t use it to buy food at supermarkets, chain stores like Target or Costco or corner shops.
"Why Run a Slum If You Can Make More Money Housing the Homeless?" Andrew Rice, New York Magazine
Homelessness is a perpetual crisis in New York. Since a judge’s decision created a legal right to shelter in 1981, the city has consistently struggled to find appropriate shelter for its poorest citizens. During Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure, the homeless population metastasized, reaching a record level of 52,000 in September. There are many possible explanations, including policy decisions, such as the elimination of rental-subsidy programs. But the most compelling one is familiar to all: It’s harder than ever to find an affordable lease in New York. Market-rate rents have risen sharply, even as incomes have shrunk and the number of rent-regulated apartments has declined. (And stabilized units can cost as much as $2,500.) This viselike dynamic has squeezed one out of every 150 New Yorkers onto the streets.
Bloomberg’s critics—including Bill de Blasio—have cited this figure as one of the mayor’s most profound failures. To a few, though, it has represented an opportunity. The city will spend almost $800 million on shelters this year, $200 million more than in 2010, and it relies heavily on outsourced providers. “Any of us can look at the data pretty simply,” said one shelter operator, “and say it’s a growth business.”