A round-up of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days. Leave your picks for next week in the comments, or email email@example.com.
"The Exclusive Inside Story of the Boston Bomb Squad’s Defining Day," Brian Castner, Wired
Bomb work is usually highly methodical. In an average operation, a team of bomb techs will spend an hour or two disassembling a single device—and that’s if it proves to be a hoax. If it is live, it takes longer. Safety is foremost. As a military officer, fighting a war overseas, I was trained that no bomb was worth my life or the lives of the men and women under me. None of us ever made a blind hand entry. We worked bombs the right way, or we didn’t work them at all.
In Boston the rules changed. This attack wasn’t on the battlefield but on American soil, in the middle of a massive public event, and that forced the bomb techs to work in ways they never had before. They knew they could die but had a job to do: protect people from being killed by another device. Suspected explosives needed to be eliminated in seconds. The primary tool became a knife. Every single suspicious package needed to be checked.
"Big Mac: Fort McMurray Has Ambitions to Become More Than a One-Resource Town," Taras Grascoe, The Walrus
Not many people come to Fort McMurray, the notorious Alberta boom town on the edge of one of the world’s largest industrial developments, to commune with the great northern woods. Most are here for the overtime, for the paid vacations, for the blue-collar jobs that pay six figures, for the work. This means that all of the bad things you’ve heard about Fort McMoney are true: the traffic really is murderous, there are liquor stores (many open until 2 a.m.) in every strip mall, and the place has a depressingly large population of desperately lonely guys blowing ridiculously fat paycheques on steroids, tattoos, monster trucks, and peelers.
But one secret almost never gets out of the Mac. It is beautiful up here, like, drop-dead gorgeous, particularly come late May, when the northern hemisphere tilts sunward and brutal winter turns, with whiplash suddenness, into glorious summer. Lured out of my motel room by a sun that refuses to set (we’re at 57° north, about the same latitude as Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia), I decide to do what almost nobody here does: go for a walk in the woods.
"Mayor in the Meantime," Hailey Persinger, Voice of San Diego
As a man with three jobs — interim mayor (or iMayor, as he calls himself from time to time on Twitter), City Council president and representative for San Diego’s Council District 3 — Gloria is expected to do a lot of things, be a lot of places, give a lot of speeches.
The two women who sit just outside his office spent what seemed like an entire afternoon making calls to organizations throughout the city to let them know that either “yes, the interim mayor will be able to make it” or “I’m sorry. He’s booked already at that hour.”
He knows that “no” is a necessary part of the job for whoever takes over following next month’s election to replace former Mayor Bob Filner.
"Hidden City; New York Has More Homeless Than it Has in Decades. What Should the Next Mayor Do?" Ian Frazier, New Yorker
For baseball games, Yankee Stadium seats 50,287. If all the homeless people who now live in New York City used the stadium for a gathering, several thousand of them would have to stand. More people in the city lack homes than at any time since . . . It’s hard to say exactly. The Coalition for the Homeless, a leading advocate for homeless people in the city and the state, says that these numbers have not been seen in New York since the Great Depression. The Bloomberg administration replies that bringing the Depression into it is wildly unfair, because those times were much worse, and, besides, for complicated reasons, you’re comparing apples and oranges. The C.F.H. routinely disagrees with Mayor Bloomberg, and vice versa; of the many disputes the two sides have had, this is among the milder. In any case, it’s inescapably true that there are far more homeless people in the city today than there have been since “modern homelessness” (as experts refer to it) began, back in the nineteen-seventies.
Most New Yorkers I talk to do not know this. They say they thought there were fewer homeless people than before, because they see fewer of them. In fact, during the twelve years of the Bloomberg administration, the number of homeless people has gone through the roof they do not have. There are now two hundred and thirty-six homeless shelters in the city. Imagine Yankee Stadium almost four-fifths full of homeless families; about eighteen thousand adults in families in New York City were homeless as of January, 2013, and more than twenty-one thousand children. The C.F.H. says that during Bloomberg’s twelve years the number of homeless families went up by seventy-three per cent. One child out of every hundred children in the city is homeless.
"Why Do Certain Retail Stores Cluster Together?" Ken Steif, Planetizen
I spend much of my free time digging for old records. Philadelphia, my home, has a rich history of soul music and its countless thrift stores and flea markets offer a fiend like me plenty of opportunity. There are times however, when I prefer the efficiency of shopping at a record store, and although there are record stores in Philly, there is no better cluster of record stores anywhere on the planet then in the Lower East Side of New York City. As it turns out - this pattern can be explained by two extremely important planning-related theories, Hotelling's Law and Central Place Theory.
Stores like Good Records and A1 Records are approximately 2.5 hours from Philly via a combination of bus, subway and walking - but on occasion I will make the journey because the selection at these stores is nothing short of extraordinary. But why do they insist on locating so close to each other? Wouldn't it be more advantageous for these stores to locate farther apart so that they can each enjoy their own dedicated market area?