Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.
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"I Rule My Own Ocean Micronation," Rose Eveleth, BBC Future
Michael Bates grew up seven nautical miles off the coast of England, on a platform made of concrete and metal. Michael, the son of Roy Bates, is the Prince of the Principality of Sealand, a contested micronation that, despite its size, has become a darling of adventurers and journalists alike. Sealand has a football team, its flag has been run up Mount Everest, and it offers personalised knighthood for a mere £99 ($145).
Today, as futurists, tech billionaires and libertarians start looking to the sea for the next stage of cities and governance, Sealand serves as a tiny example, a strange and intriguing case study of all the good and the bad of living on the waves. What can the experiences of the Bates family tell those who dream about ocean living?
"Sheikh of the Skies," Mansi Choksi, Slate
In 2010, an English-language newspaper in Dubai ran a cover story titled Pigeon Impossible: Rats With Wings. “Pigeons have become a nuisance in the city, leaving many residents exasperated,” the report said. “These birds which have been breeding uncontrollably are messing up property with their droppings.” It detailed how pigeon waste was corroding roofs, windows, machinery, car paint, and infecting air conditioning systems. A public health official lamented the “serious” problem, but said that there was no way to count the number of pigeons that were relieving themselves across the city.
The report pointed out that Switzerland had experimented with pigeon contraceptive pills, Britain had hired air gun–wielding snipers to shoot pigeons off buildings, and the United States had used plastic models of birds of prey to scare them off airport runways.
Dubai has been called “the Manhattan of the Arab world.” Over the past three decades, as the United Arab Emirates rapidly developed, it had been preoccupied with breaking world records: It now has the world’s tallest building, largest mall, longest driverless metro, and fastest steel rollercoaster. But an onslaught of pigeon droppings didn’t fit the city’s glittering public image.
"A Lot to Lose: Can a Parking Lot Be an Historic Landmark?" Aaron Wiener, Washington City Paper
On Aug. 14, 1942, the Washington Star announced the arrival of a new D.C. retail landmark, a “tastefully designed pioneer in the fast growing movement to make adequate shopping facilities available to Washingtonians in suburban sections.” Garfinckel’s, which had already established itself as the city’s premier downtown department store, was following the move of people and dollars to the suburbs, opening its first outpost on the District’s margins. In its advertising, the store promised “all the charm of old Williamsburg set down at the edge of a dark, cool forest. It’s way above the average as suburban stores go.”
The developer of the new store, the W.C. & A.N. Miller Development Co., had also been responsible, starting in the 1920s, for building much of the surrounding Spring Valley neighborhood. Just inside D.C.’s western boundary, Spring Valley did feel much like a suburb. It was spacious, it was new, and it was exclusive: Racial covenants prevented Spring Valley homeowners from selling their houses to blacks or Jews.
Fast forward 73 years. Spring Valley is no longer new and the racial covenants are gone, but it’s still exclusive. It has the city’s lowest property and violent crime rates, as of 2011, and one of the wealthiest citizenries: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average household income, measured from 2007 to 2011, was $379,276. Though D.C. is a majority-black city, the neighborhood is still just 4 percent black. (Data on the neighborhood’s Jewish population isn’t available.) In a telltale sign of its remove from the city’s mainstream, it was also the only precinct where a majority of voters opposed last year’s ballot initiative to legalize marijuana.
"How To Live Alone," Barry Petchesky, Deadspin
Late last year, for the first time in my 30-plus years of living indoors, I got my own place. No parents, no roommates, no girlfriend to share the space—just me, and the knowledge that when I come home every night, it'll be to an empty apartment. It has been wonderful, and freeing, but it can also be hard and lonely. It doesn't need to be.
Humans are social animals, a fact you never appreciate quite so acutely as when you're deprived of the sort of low-impact, unintentional socializing that cohabitation provides. Sorting out your mail, asking each other what your plans for the evening are, even listening to your housemate's crappy music bleed through the bedroom wall—all ambient reminders that you are not the only person left alive. With all that unavailable, though, there absolutely are things you can do to make sure you don't get lost in solipsistic reverie, and instead fully enjoy all the best parts of not having to put up with someone else's shit in your own home.
"One Small Town, Two Daily Newspapers," Kevin Williams, Aljazeera America
CRAWFORDSVILLE, Indiana – Many major cities are having difficulty holding on to one viable daily newspaper. Places such as Oakland, Calif; Birmingham, Ala.; and New Orleans have all seen their dailies disappear over the past few years, as news-hungry readers ditch print for phones or tablets in increasing numbers. Industry prognosticators have all but written the eulogy for print.
But some towns are delaying the funeral while hanging onto to not just one, but two daily papers. And it’s not in the places you might think.
Trenton, New Jersey, still has two dailies, as does Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, tucked away in the Keystone State’s coal country. But perhaps nowhere is finding two battling papers more startling than Crawfordsville, Indiana, population approximately 15,000.