John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Also, New York updates its list of offensive license plates, and one rebellious bureaucrat thwarts Pennsylvania's anti-gay-marriage laws.
Welcome back to our weekly look at what's been outlawed in cities across the world (past editions):
GOOGLE GLASS, IN THE U.K.
Fearing the prospect of technophiles driving while simultaneously composing a text message, entering directions into a GPS, and taking a photo of roadkill, British regulators are moving to prevent people from using Google Glass while operating a vehicle. The high-tech eyewear hasn't even debuted in the U.K, but the country's Department for Transport is coordinating with the bobbies over strategies to keep Glass out of autos by 2014, according to this report in Stuff. Here's what a spokesperson told the gadget-centric magazine:
"We are aware of the impending rollout of Google Glass and are in discussion with the Police to ensure that individuals do not use this technology while driving. It is important that drivers give their full attention to the road when they are behind the wheel and do not behave in a way that stops them from observing what is happening on the road."
Britain already has a ban on motorists yakking on cellphones that went into effect in 2003; its £60 fine would possibly carry over to Google Glass users. The exiling of the cyborg-like headgear is bound to upset many techheads, especially lovers of Elon Musk's Tesla auto. They've already created an app that allows drivers to make changes to their car with the Glass, including locking the doors, checking the battery power, and tweaking the A/C to blow warmer or cooler.
NEW GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS, IN CHINA
Pursuing some kind of national imperative called a "frugality campaign," Chinese authorities have prohibited the construction of government buildings for five years. The ban, which also covers state-owned hotels and training centers, comes after several municipalities built office compounds without permission from up high – in some cases under "the guise of building repair or urban planning," according to state-run Xinhua.
Following a series of corruption and sex scandals in both the government and private sectors – a recent investigation by China's central bank found that thousands of crooked officials smuggled $120 billion out of the country since the '90s – the ruling communists have become wary of projects that smell of luxury. Last winter, they made a public vow to basically get their stuff together and embrace austerity, which explains why this new construction order specifically bans the improvement of reception and dinner halls and "overly spacious" offices, according to Xinhua, which adds this insight:
The party also initiated a campaign in June for strengthening the party's "mass line", which refers to a guideline under which [Communist Party of China] officials and members are required to prioritize the interests of the people and persist in representing them and working on their behalf.
Professor Wang Yukai from the Chinese Academy of Governance said the ban is part of the CPC's plan to improve its work style and promote the "mass line" concept.
Wang said the move may also be related to downward pressure in the economy.
"In order to let the people live comfortably, the government has to tighten its belt and cut its own spending," Wang said.
A MAN WHO IS MARRYING SAME-SEX COUPLES, IN PENNSYLVANIA
The state of Pennsylvania does not allow same-sex couples to get hitched. But D. Bruce Hanes, who works as the county register of wills in Montgomery County north of Philadelphia, does not give a flip about that. Hanes' department has been acting as a full-speed gay-marrying machine, issuing as many as 36 marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the past week alone, reports Reuters. He explained the rebellion this way: "I decided to come down on the right side of history and the law and was prepared to issue a license to the couple."
Hanes has the support of some of his fellow bureaucrats in Montgomery, who feted him in late July for his "true courage and vision." But Pennsylvania is determined to retain its status as the only state in the northeast that outlaws gay marriages and civil unions. On Tuesday, the state's health department filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping Hanes from joining any more Bible-defying couples. Acccording to the suit, "The clerk’s actions are in direct defiance of the express policy of the commonwealth that marriage shall be between one man and one woman."
RUDE LICENSE PLATES, IN NEW YORK
The updated list of banned license plates in New York is out, and it includes some good (meaning extremely juvenile) ones. The full story is available at the New York Post, of course, but here are a few selections from the list of offensive, prohibited plates:
- BOOBS, BO0BS, B0OBS, and B00BS