Linda Poon is an assistant editor 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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“Hell and High Water,” Neena Satija, Kiah Collier, Al Shaw, Jeff Larson, The Texas Tribune, ProPublica
It is not if, but when Houston’s perfect storm will hit.
They called Ike “the monster hurricane.”
Hundreds of miles wide. Winds at more than 100 mph. And — deadliest of all — the power to push a massive wall of water into the upper Texas coast, killing thousands and shutting down a major international port and industrial hub.
That was what scientists, public officials, economists and weather forecasters thought they were dealing with on Sept. 11, 2008, as Hurricane Ike barreled toward Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States and home to its largest refining and petrochemical complex. And so at 8:19 p.m., the National Weather Service issued an unusually dire warning.
“ALL NEIGHBORHOODS, AND POSSIBLY ENTIRE COASTAL COMMUNITIES, WILL BE INUNDATED,” the alert read. “PERSONS NOT HEEDING EVACUATION ORDERS IN SINGLE FAMILY ONE OR TWO STORY HOMES WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH.”
But in the wee hours of Sept. 13, just 50 miles offshore, Ike shifted course. The wall of water the storm was projected to push into the Houston area was far smaller than predicted — though still large enough to cause $30 billion in damage and kill at least 74 people in Texas. Ike remains the nation’s third-costliest hurricane after Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.
”Why Cranes Keep Falling,” Tim Newcomb, Popular Mechanics
On February 5, a windy day in Lower Manhattan, a 565-foot crane collapsed and killed a man when it struck the parked car in which he sat. Crews had been planning to secure the Worth Steet crane because the forecast projected sustained winds at stronger than 25 mph, but they were too late.
After the collapse, Mayor Bill de Blasio required crawler cranes, the mobile type of crane that can move around a work site, to cease operation and transition to safety mode anytime there are sustained winds of more than 20 mph or gusts of more than 30 mph forecast in New York City. "No building is worth a person's life," de Blasio says. "We are going to ensure the record boom in construction and growth does not come at the expense of safety."
The fact is, though, that deadly crane crashes are far too common. Some of the largest crane collapses on record have the most devastating effects in big cities, such as a 2008 New York accident that killed seven people and destroyed buildings when a 200-foot-tall crane collapsed. Such events highlight the awesome and scary power of cranes, especially in dense urban areas where these ever-growing machines (record-holders now stand more than 300 feet tall, telescoping to more than 500 feet) work right next to pedestrians and drivers. It's a recipe for danger if crews aren't exceedingly careful.
“Welcome to Syrian Berlin: A Refugee Tour of the City,” Kait Bolongaro, Al Jazeera
Berlin, Germany - Berlin is a kaleidoscope of identities, a colourful blend of cultures and styles. It is an eclectic mix to which the latest wave of Syrian refugees have added their own customs and hopes for the future.
But the city to which they have arrived - escaping their tumultuous present - has been shaped by its own tumultuous past.
In the 20th century, the German capital barely survived two World Wars - at the end of the second it lay mostly in ruins.
The victorious American, Soviet, British and French forces carved the city into four sectors, each rebuilding their zone to their own tastes.
Berlin was then further divided into East and West, straddling two countries for more than 40 years.
So, given Berlin's diversity and complexity, how does a recently established community make its mark on the city?
We follow the stories of eight Syrians creating their own version of Berlin.
“Donald Trump Loves the Great Wall of China. Too Bad It Was a Complete Disaster.” James West, Mother Jones
Someone should tell Donald Trump that the Great Wall of China was a staggeringly expensive and deadly failure.
I've climbed the Great Wall a few times. It is, I can confirm, totally big and beautiful—to borrow words from our future wall-builder in chief. Begun around 220 B.C. as a military defense system in northern China, the wall is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and has become the country's preeminent national symbol.
During his Super Tuesday press conference in Florida, Trump repeated his promise to build a wall of his own along the US-Mexico border—something he famously wants Mexico to pay for. Trump described this task as "easy."
"The Great Wall of China, built 2,000 years ago, is 13,000 miles, folks, and they didn't have Caterpillar tractors!" Trump told the country. "They didn't have cranes, they didn't have excavation equipment."
"We have all of the materials," he said. "We can do that so beautifully."
“We Asked a Planner How to Build the Perfect Town,” Amelia Dimoldenberg, Vice
According to the experts, English people don't know how to look after themselves. The English, says the Health Survey for England, have some of the unhealthiest lifestyles in Europe, with rising obesity rates and the high number of Brits happy to drink at least eight pints in one sitting marked out as the two biggest worries.
Lucky, then, that the people paid to make us better are now advising developers on how to build towns that will make us healthier. Ten of these "healthy new towns" are going to be built around England, with the NHS acting as planning consultants in a bid to improve community health. This "cutting edge approach" includes plans to lay non-slip paving stone to reduce accidents and build 1960s-themed cafes in an attempt to make dementia patients feel at home.
This got us thinking about what it takes to build an ideal town: should pubs be on every residential corner or on the high street? How many trendy coffee shops are too many? Are libraries still a thing? We didn't have the answers to any of those questions, so we spoke to Matt Richards – a planner at property consultancy Bidwells – to find out what makes the perfect town.