## A round-up of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.

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

t'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.)

Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only \$12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv

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.)

Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only \$12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv

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.)

Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only \$12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv

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.)

Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only \$12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv

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.

## Most Popular

1. Perspective

### In a Pandemic, We're All 'Transit Dependent'

Now more than ever, public transportation is not just about ridership. Buses, trains, and subways make urban civilization possible.

2. Perspective

### The Power of Parks in a Pandemic

For city residents, equitable access to local green space is more than a coronavirus-era amenity. It’s critical for physical, emotional, and mental health.

3. Equity

### These States Are Sowing Confusion About Cities’ Power to Fight Covid-19

Mixed messages on the legal concept of preemption are confusing cities that want to pass stronger Covid-19 actions, like closed beaches and shelter in place.

4. Transportation

### As Coronavirus Quiets Streets, Some Cities Speed Road and Transit Fixes

With cities in lockdown and workplaces closed, the big drop in traffic and transit riders allows road repair and construction projects to rush forward.

5. Coronavirus

### The Post-Pandemic Urban Future Is Already Here

The coronavirus crisis stands to dramatically reshape cities around the world. But the biggest revolutions in urban space may have begun before the pandemic.