A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days.
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“What Happens to the U.S. Midwest When the Water’s Gone?” Laura Parker, National Geographic
"Whoa," yells Brownie Wilson, as the steel measuring tape I am feeding down the throat of an irrigation well on the Kansas prairie gets away from me and unspools rapidly into the depths below.
The well, wide enough to fall into, taps into the Ogallala aquifer, the immense underground freshwater basin that makes modern life possible in the dry states of Middle America. We have come to assess the aquifer’s health. The weighted tip hits the water at 195 feet, a foot lower than a year ago. Dropping at this pace, it is nearing the end of its life. “Already this well does not have enough water left to irrigate for an entire summer,” Wilson says.
“A Day in the Life of Lower Manhattan’s Last Gas Man,” Peter Moskowitz, Curbed
The pace at which change occurs in New York City makes everything feel like it could be gone tomorrow, and so the mundane actions of businesses that many people take for granted—the dry cleaners, corner bodegas, and the gas stations—become suddenly memorable. It makes Tommy Hondros’ M&M-scanning and bill-breaking and small-talking come with a kind of gravitas, like they represent something more than the everyday tasks of a gas station owner.
And they kind of do, because Hondros plans on being the last gas man standing in New York. "If I close, where are they going to go?" Hondros said. "You don’t know how many people thank me. They call me a lifesaver."
“Life and Loss on Methadone Mile,” Nestor Ramos and Evan Allen, The Boston Globe
Last night’s needles line the sidewalks at dawn along the blighted blocks where Massachusetts Avenue and Southampton Street meet. People emerge from shelters and halfway houses and trudge toward the methadone clinics that lend this place its ugly nickname.
An open-air drug market is in full swing on the corner outside a convenience store, where offers of drugs trill like music. “Clonidines-Clonidines-Clonidines-Clonidines!” “Does anybody need Xani Bars?” Phenergans, Pins, Johnnies? A man grimaces one chilly morning, unsteady on his feet. He opens his mouth to reveal a knotted bag of heroin, double-wrapped and ready to be swallowed should police wade into the crowd. “This is all I have left,” he says.
“Rio Olympics: Who Are the Real Winners and Losers?” Jonathan Watts and Bruce Douglas, The Guardian
The run-up to every Olympics is marked by anxiety and controversy, but Rio de Janeiro has arguably outdone all of its predecessors on this score. Against a backdrop of economic recession, the impeachment of Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff, a Zika epidemic, resurgent crime and water pollution, the city’s officials are not only having to fight off accusations of corruption, incompetence and unbalanced priorities, they are also battling to justify whether the Games were worth hosting in the first place.
In this polemical combat, the establishment - the Rio city government and the International Olympics Committee - argue the event boosts economic developments and raises the global profile of the host. Challenging this is an array of social activists, critical academics, political opponents, displaced residents and environmental campaigners who argue that the Olympics are disruptive, destructive and skewed to benefit a wealthy elite.
“The Civil War That Could Doom the N.R.A.,” Sarah Ellison, Vanity Fair
“After eight years of dishonesty, corruption, and failure,” [Chris Cox, executive director of the N.R.A.’s Institute for Legislative Action] continued, America had become unrecognizable. It had been “twisted” and “perverted” by the mainstream media and politicians. “Who are kids supposed to respect?” he asked the audience. “The media tells them that Bruce Jenner is a national hero for transforming his body” but ignores the veterans whose bodies have been transformed by war. He took repeated aim at Hillary Clinton and told the crowd to “get over it” if their preferred candidate in the Republican primary had not won. The most important thing was to elect a pro-gun president in the coming election, one who would fight for the Second Amendment. As he wound up and prepared to introduce the next speaker, Wayne LaPierre, the long-serving C.E.O. of the N.R.A., Cox offered this message to Hillary Clinton: “You want to turn this election into a do-or-die fight over the Second Amendment? Bring. It. On.” Cox received a standing ovation. Later in the day, Donald Trump would receive the N.R.A.’s endorsement.
“Viral Violence Hijacked Your Amygdala. Go Get It Back.” Tanya Basu, Inverse
This has been the summer of terrifying violence at public gatherings. A celebratory Saturday night at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando ended with 49 people dead. What began as a peaceful demonstration against the killings of unarmed black men in St. Paul and Baton Rouge ended in the murder of five police officers. Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France, became a target for a terrorist, who mowed down 84 people with an armored truck.
It makes rational sense that irrational fears of crowded places would proliferate. When humans see a violent event, they can’t help but imagine themselves in jeopardy. This is because fear empowers the amygdala, the part of our brain that prefers instinct to logic. Psychologists say this tendency to embrace impulsivity when under stress is natural, but can be tempered. They also say that in the current atmosphere of fear — triggered by terrorism, mass violence, and the constant documentation of both — it needs to be in order for people to avoid being trapped by their own anxieties.