A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.
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"The Subliminal Power of City Fonts," Ellie Violet Bramley, The Guardian
The electronics company Philips was to the Dutch city of Eindhoven what Rolls Royce is to Derby, or Mercedes to Stuttgart. It was founded there, and grew to become the biggest employer. But when from the 1980s on Philips began to shift its operations out of Eindhoven, culminating with the move of its head office to Amsterdam in 1997, it left a void. Like a lover scorned, Eindhoven needed to go out and get itself a makeover. Technology and design sectors blossomed, and many of the old factories became homes to creative start-ups.As part of the effort to rebrand itself, it seemed apt that Eindhoven should turn to an aspect of design – namely, typeface.
The city’s municipality and Eindhoven 365, its marketing department, embarked on a collaborative effort to commission a new city font. They created a virtual design agency, with designers from competing agencies working together. The results can now be seen all over the city.
As the original sketches were made from sticky tape, the corners of the letters in the final design are missing. The result is a slightly rough-around-the-edges typeface. That fits this once-industrial city, says Remco van de Craats, co-owner of one of the city’s design agencies tasked with coming up with Eindhoven’s typeface. Eindhoven, he says, is a city “very much in transition.”
"Seniors Take Manhattan," Debra Bruno, Politico Magazine
When you think about great places to grow old and retire, New York City doesn’t immediately spring to mind. It’s outrageously expensive. It can be particularly dangerous for the elderly: Being struck by a vehicle is the second leading cause of injury-related death for seniors. The subway, which opened its first subterranean trains in 1904, is a system mainly reached by long, crowded stairways into the underground—not exactly senior-friendly. And although the city is no longer notorious for its murder rate—annual homicides dropped from 2,262 in 1990 to just 332 in 2014, according to the New York Police Department—areas like East Harlem, with one of the city’s largest populations of low-income seniors, still have comparatively high levels of violent crime. And—to state the obvious—it gets cold, really cold.
But you won’t see Norma Negron moving to Florida or Arizona anytime soon.
Negron starts her day with a dance choreography class. That is, unless she has her Zumba workout. Or her doll-making lessons. The chatty 69-year-old retired homemaker says she would take guitar lessons, quilting and painting, but those classes conflict with her salsa group and with a multimedia workshop where she makes jewelry, greeting cards and pillows.
It wasn’t always this way. Negron fell into a deep depression after her grandson was killed, sometimes not leaving the house except to run essential errands. She was reluctant to accept a girlfriend’s invitation to visit the senior center in her neighborhood, she says, because she thought she would only find “elderly people sitting around drawing; it wasn’t going to be any fun. But when I got here, it was totally different."
"The Point of Order," Nick Pinto, The New York Times Magazine
The question of whom the police serve, and whose order they impose, is once again up for debate. But it is as old as policing itself. A political cartoon by Charles Jameson Grant, sold for a penny or two on the streets of London around 1834, depicts the British secretary of state addressing members of London’s recently formed Metropolitan Police Force. “My lads,” he says, “you are always justified in breaking the heads of the public when you consider it absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the public peace.” The assembled constables, a rough-looking crew, appear perfectly capable of such a task. “By Jasus I wish your honor would give us a few throats to cut,” one says, “for we have had enough of breaking heads.”
Just about five years old at the time, the Metropolitan Police had already earned a handful of unflattering nicknames, as noted in the cartoon’s title: “Reviewing the Blue Devils, Alias the Raw Lobsters, Alias the Bludgeon Men.” Britain’s soldiers were colloquially known as lobsters, because they wore red coats, so in an effort to quiet fears that the police would be a kind of occupying army, the Metropolitan Police wore blue instead. Many early opponents of the police suspected that the difference was only cosmetic; they worried that it would take only a little hot water for the men in blue to show their true color.
"The ATM is Dead. Long Live the ATM!" Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, Smithsonian Magazine
These first devices were not just geographically dispersed, they were technologically all over the place, too. The hurdles in creating an automated cash-dispensing device were pretty substantial, and each machine handled them in different ways. Some machines dispensed cash in plastic cartridges, rather than as individual notes; some had customers use a metal or plastic token that was inserted into the machine and kept, to be mailed back to the customer later; others issued customers stacks of paper, like a check, that were used in the same way.
Omron Tateishi’s machine used a magnetic-stripe card; Barclays machine had customers enter a PIN to identify themselves, and checked that number against what was basically a check inserted into the machine. But security was always an issue – there was no way to really ensure that the user of the token was actually the holder of the account, a fact that proto-hackers in Sweden exploited to great advantage in 1968 when they used a stolen ATM token to withdraw huge amounts of money from different machines. Then there was the fact that ATM electronics were being forced to work in all-weather conditions, resulting in frequent breakdowns. These early ATMs were big, clunky, unreliable, and not incredibly popular.
So why did banks persist in installing them?
"Where Cellular Networks Don't Exist, People Are Building Their Own," Lizzie Wade, Wired
Inside the cloud that is perpetually draped over the small town of San Juan Yaee, Oaxaca, Raúl Hernández Santiago crouches down on the roof of the town hall and starts drilling. Men wearing rain gear of various impermeabilities cluster above him, holding a 4-meter-tall tower in place. Braided wires trail from four small circles welded near its midpoint; eventually those will be bolted or tied down in order to hold the tower steady during the frequent storms that roll through this part of Mexico’s Sierra Juárez mountains. They don’t want it falling over every time it rains. Ninety thousand of the town’s pesos—a bit over $6,000—are invested in the equipment lashed to the top of the tower, in a town where many residents get by on subsistence agriculture.
The tower—which Hernández, Yaee’s blacksmith, welded together out of scrap metal just a few hours earlier—is the backbone of Yaee’s first cellular network. The 90,000 pesos come in the form of two antennas and an open-source base station from a Canadian company called NuRAN. Once Hernández and company get the tower installed and the network online, Yaee’s 500 citizens will, for the first time, be able to make cell phone calls from home, and for cheaper rates than almost anywhere else in Mexico.