## 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. Transportation

### Paris Mayor: It's Time for a '15-Minute City'

In her re-election campaign, Mayor Anne Hidalgo says that every Paris resident should be able to meet their essential needs within a short walk or bike ride.

2. Life

### Japan’s Lost-and-Found System Is Insanely Good

If you misplace your phone or wallet in Tokyo, chances are very good that you’ll get it back. Here’s why.

3. Environment

### What Abu Dhabi’s City of the Future Looks Like Now

At the UN’s World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, attendees toured Masdar City, the master-planned eco-complex designed to show off the UAE’s commitment to sustainability.

4. Equity

### What Mike Bloomberg Got Wrong About Redlining and the Financial Crisis

Comments about New Deal-era housing discrimination made by presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg echo a familiar narrative about minority homeowners.

5. Design

### How We Map Epidemics

Cartographers are mapping the coronavirus in more sophisticated ways than past epidemics. But visualizing outbreaks dates back to cholera and yellow fever.