Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days.
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“Shared Space, Where the Streets Have No Rules,” Meera Senthilingam, CNN
The future of urban roads may be one where motorists, pedestrians and cyclists act as one. Spaces where these usually segregated members of the population live—or move—by the same rules. Most importantly, these rules would be social, not formal, to befit the increasingly popular trend of “shared space.”
"Shared space breaks the principle of segregation," says Ben Hamilton-Baillie, a street designer who coined the term with the late Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman and brought these spaces to the U.K., which now hosts more than any other country.
"It defines a public space where movement is subject to social protocol and informal regulation, not traffic rules." Monderman pioneered the idea in the Netherlands claiming if traffic rules are taken away, people behave more carefully.
“Looking for Answers,” Justin George, The Baltimore Sun
As massive protest marches continued across Baltimore, the pressure was building inside police headquarters, and Commissioner Anthony W. Batts wanted answers—fast. Near midnight on a cool April night, he pressed six top commanders sitting at a conference table for details about Freddie Gray’s death.
A 30-person task force was interviewing witnesses, reviewing video and searching records in the days after Gray died, but crucial questions remained. Did Gray suffer an injury before his spine was damaged in police custody? Was he hurt while being dragged to a police van or was he malingering? Did police beat him?
Batts asked his commanders if they were aware of the growing tension downtown, where swarms of protesters had halted rush hour traffic that day. Demonstrators yelled and swore at police officers, chanting “No justice, no peace!” To handle the crisis, the Police Department had canceled vacations and ordered all officers into duty; the Maryland State Police also was called in to help.
The festival of Obon, which marks the middle of summer, is sort of like a Japanese Day of the Dead. According to tradition, the spirits of the deceased come back to our world for a few days. People return to their hometowns, light fires at night, and remember their ancestors.
In Onagawa, a tiny fishing village in northern Japan, locals celebrated Obon in a gravel lot a stone’s throw from the sea. Gathering after sunset on a breezy August night, families sat on cushions around a dozen fire pits and talked quietly. The smell of smoke filled the air as kids ran around playing with sparklers. A local food truck sold shaved ice and hot dogs slathered with spaghetti sauce.
Toshihiko Abe, a local government official with greying hair and a gravely voice, was one of the people tending a fire. “The people who have died return to the Earth for one day,” Abe explained to me. “We light the fires so the people returning don’t get lost on the way back.”
“Here’s How Uber Beat the Las Vegas Taxi Industry,” Johana Bhuiyan, Buzzfeed
On the evening of Oct. 24, 2014, swarms of tourists flooded the Las Vegas Strip, clutching massive drinks and gawking at the replica Empire State Building, replica London Eye, replica Eiffel Tower. Outside the Venetian, gondoliers in striped shirts and straw hats paddled couples down manmade canals. Everywhere, Top 40 radio pumped out indefatigably from tinny speakers, and a riot of bright lights and flashing video screens cast a blinding glow. In front of every hotel, there was a long, snaking line of people waiting for taxis.
But tonight, for the first time, there were Uber cars among the limos and cabs. One picked up a fare at Caesars Palace and embarked on what would have been one of the first Uber rides in Vegas. But before it could leave the hotel roundabout, the Uber was cut off by two unmarked cars, sirens blaring. Two men burst out, ordered everyone out of the Uber, and told the driver to put his hands on the car’s hood. They were masked and wearing bulletproof vests.
“The Story Of ‘Ghost Bikes’: How a Bike Memorial in St. Louis Sparked a Global Movement,” Madeleine Thomas, Grist
You’ve probably seen a ghost bike. Maybe its skeletal white frame, locked to a street sign on a busy corner, blended into the madness of a hustling urban backdrop. Or perhaps the makeshift memorial emanated its phantomly presence chained to a single lamppost along a lonely country highway. No matter the location, ghost bikes turn an indiscriminate patch of road into a solemn reminder: A cyclist was killed here.
These bikes represent a sobering reality. From 2000 to 2013, rates of commuting via bike have increased more than 100 percent in some parts of the country. Fatalities and injuries have increased, too. In 2013, roughly 48,000 cyclists were injured. More than 740 were killed in crashes with motor vehicles. And that’s just accidents reported to the police. Biking, be it in a metropolis or a whistle stop,can be a continuous flirtation with death if you’re not careful. Cities aren’t off the hook when it comes to making streets co-habitable for both bikes and vehicles. Ghost bikes remind city planners as well as cyclists and drivers that simple mistakes can result in dire consequences.