Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes 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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“Can the “Whitest City in America” Deliver Green Living For All?” Sara Bernard, Grist
Portland, Ore., has been ahead of the crowd on climate change for a long time. It was the first American city to develop a local climate action plan, back in 1993, when “carbon emissions” was a mere whisper in the halls of most city governments (or any kind of government, for that matter — this was four years before the Kyoto Protocol). One of just a dozen cities in the world to start cutting carbon pollution in the early ’90s, it has already reduced its emissions by 14 percent since 1990, even as its population has increased by 30 percent.
But it wasn’t until its 2009 Climate Action Plan that the city actively sought community involvement and public comment in its plan-drafting process. And among the 1,500 pieces of feedback from residents, one stood out loud and clear:Increase the emphasis on equity.
While Portland is full of bikes and urban farms, and recycles or composts 70 percent of its trash, the fact remains that low-income residents of color do not have the same access to all the things that make the city green and healthy and profitable.
“Why Are There So Many Shuttered Storefronts in the West Village?” Tim Wu, The New Yorker
At the end of this month, the House of Cards & Curiosities, on Eighth Avenue, just south of Jane Street, in the West Village, will close its doors after more than twenty years in business. It was, admittedly, not a store whose economic logic was readily apparent. Along with artistic greeting cards, it sold things like small animal skeletons, stuffed piranhas (which were hanging from the ceiling), and tiny ceramic skulls. Nonetheless, it did good business for many years, or so its owner, James Waits, told me. Its closing leaves four shuttered storefronts on just one block. With their papered-up windows and fading paint, the failed businesses are a depressing sight in an otherwise vibrant neighborhood. Each represents a broken dream of one kind or another.
The fate of the House of Cards & Curiosities is just one example of something odd that’s happening in some of New York’s richest and best-known neighborhoods—a surge in closings and shuttered shops. Consider, in particular, the West Village, the place that Jane Jacobs once described as a model for a healthy neighborhood, in her classic book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” The average per-capita income there is now more than a hundred and ten thousand dollars per year, and it retains its jazz clubs and fancy restaurants. It is both rich and vibrant, yet also now blighted with shuttered stores in various states of decay.
“With Rural Japan Shrinking and Aging, a Small Town Seeks to Stem the Trend,” Anna Fifield, The Washington Post
KAMIYAMA, Japan — At first glance, Kamiyama looks like any other rural town in Japan: shuttered stores on the main street, a gas station unencumbered by customers, hunched-over old ladies tending rice fields.
But on closer inspection, this mountain village on Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, also has many highly unusual attributes, such as wood-fired pizza, tech start-ups and young people.
As rural Japan battles the twin afflictions of a population that is getting smaller almost as quickly as it’s getting older, Kamiyama is one of a handful of towns that is bucking the trend. It’s practicing “creative depopulation” — trying to make sure it gets younger and more innovative, even as it shrinks, by attracting youthful newcomers who are weary of big-city life to work in new rural industries.
“Big Question: Why Am I a Horrible Person When I Drive?” Bryan Gardiner, Wired
HERE’S A SCENARIO that should be familiar: You’re driving along on the highway. Suddenly, without signaling, a massive SUV comes barreling into your lane from the right, forcing you to jam on the brakes and swerve out of the way to avoid a collision.“Worthless piece of %$#@,” you yell to this person you don’t know (and who can’t hear you) before embarking on a quest to teach them a lesson by tailgating them for the next two miles.
In his 1950 short, Motor Mania, Goofy plays Mr. Walker, a law abiding, kind, and courteous citizen—until he steps into his car. All of a sudden Mr. Walker undergoes a Hydian transformation, becoming Mr. Wheeler, a reckless, selfish, “uncontrollable monster.” Wrapped in his “personal armor,” Mr. Wheeler screams at other motorists, flies off the handle at the slightest perceived provocation, and through it all still considers himself a good driver.
You are Goofy. You are. But why?
“The Nation’s Stash of Lost Luggage Finds a New Life in This Alabama Town,” Rachel Nuwer, Smithsonian Magazine
The red duffel bag lies in front of me, an unwitting time capsule waiting to be unzipped. When its owner packed it months ago, she (I assume) fully intended to unpack it hours later. Somewhere along the journey, however, bag and owner became separated. It might have happened on the plane; carry-on luggage gets left behind all the time, and the bag is small enough that it would fit in the overhead bin of all but the tiniest jets. Alternatively, the airline entrusted to deliver it to its final destination might have misplaced it, or put it on the wrong flight.In any event, the bag was lost. Which is how it came to be here, at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, waiting for me to open it. Although this far-flung town has a population of just 14,800, nearly a million visitors hailing from all 50 states and 40 different countries come here each year to undertake their own lost baggage treasure hunt.
Top image courtesy of Atmosphere1/Shutterstock.com.