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.
"Growing An Urban Neighborhood, One Store At A Time," Leah Binkovitz, NPR
Across the country, communities stranded in food and retail deserts are asking how they can enjoy the bounty afforded to other urban centers. One Washington, D.C., community thinks it might have an answer.
Just a 10-minute drive south of the U.S. Capitol, across the Anacostia River, sits Congress Heights. The Southeast D.C. neighborhood is less than 2 miles long and home to more than 8,000 people, many in single-family houses. But if you're looking for a sit-down meal, options are scarce.
Up Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, just outside the neighborhood's boundaries, Georgena's has long been the block's only bar and restaurant. It's a former strip club that now serves a gracious soul food menu. Beyond that, your options are the liquor mart, IHOP and a couple of carryout places.
"A Plan To Replace Geographic Coordinates on Earth With Unique Strings of Three Words," Joseph Stromberg, Smithsonian Magazine
It's the rare idea that's both potentially transformative and simple enough to describe in a single sentence:
Divide the surface of the planet into roughly 57 million three-by-three-meter squares, label each one with a unique sequence of three random words (say, spouting.loves.granny or halfpipe.faster.tedious) and use these to replace the impossible-to-remember strings of numbers that comprise our geographical coordinate system.
"You cannot convey anything more effectively than with words. They're very quick to say, and have a very high verification rate," says Chris Sheldrick, CEO of what3words, the British startup that's out to replace numbers with words in the way we talk about locations. "Right now, over the phone, I could tell you 'knife.fork.spoon,' you could put that into what3words and it would give you one specific three-by-three meter square." (Incidentally, it's in North London.)
"Placebook: Here’s to Being a Walmart Town," Kristen E. Jeffers, The Black Urbanist
My silliness notwithstanding, the decision made yesterday by Trader Joe’s to not invest in Greensboro for the second time is not surprising. Honestly, it’s not the politics that I feel drove them away. It’s the inability to take risks. Stores like that, you know, the ones that have cheapish stuff, but a somewhat upscale atmosphere, I believe are only taking advantage of what they think youth or boomers with disposable income or some other magical unicorn person will buy and will buy repeatedly. Unfortunately, magical unicorns tend to not have strong political views or bank accounts that hover around or appear to hover around zero. Stores that don’t take risks don’t like cleaning up old parking lots or making sure even the folks who carry EBT cards have the opportunity to have shiny electronics or even just basic food items.
Walmart, however, goes directly after that market. We talk about the exploitation that they do, but there’s a degree of exploitation in the pretty but cheap store market too. They exploit the emotions of those of us who make just enough to spend at least $50-100 at Target each month, 60% of the cart being non-food items that may or may not be adult toys or pure junk. They make us feel better as a town when they show up promising more Salted Caramel Chocolate cookies for cheap. They allow us to buy more clothes, even though those clothes fall apart at the end of the season.
"Politicians' "Peanut Butter Problem," Alan Greenblatt, Governing
All mayors know that they can lose their jobs if they spend too much time and effort building up their downtowns and neglecting the neighborhoods. But what happens to city officials who go hyper-hyper-local, devoting time and resources to small parts of their districts?
Zack Reed, a member of the Cleveland City Council, has been trying for years to spruce up the area around a single intersection in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Where a school has been demolished, he would like to see new or expanded recreation and mental health centers, along with a library, in hopes not just of improving services but attracting private investment.
His decision to attend to one small slice of his ward hasn’t always been popular. “At first, there was some pushback, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Reed says."
"I Tracked Every Metro Trip I Made for 2 Years, and Here's What I Found," Matt Johnson, Greater, Greater Washington
When you keep track, it's funny what patterns appear in Metro trips. I've been doing it for 2 years. During that time, I have ridden 75% of the WMATA fleet, and been delayed about 2% of the time, but more so far in 2014.
In February 2012, I decided to start keeping track of a few attributes of my trips on Metro. The primary motivation was to track the cars I'd ridden on, but I also log delays, hotcars, and other information about every trip. It's important to point out, though, that this is anecdotal information. It's not a statistical sample, but rather just my experience.