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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High Bridge, spanning the Harlem River and connecting Manhattan to the Bronx, is the oldest bridge in New York City. It is also an aqueduct, or used to be. Built in the 1840s, when public health officials across the country were battling cholera, it carried clean water from upstate to a growing urban population. In just a few decades, planners would build not just aqueducts but the so-called sanitary greens that today we call parks, including Highbridge Park, on the Manhattan side of the bridge. A side benefit of High Bridge was the walkway above the aqueduct that allowed Bronx pedestrians to reach Manhattan. By the 1960s, though, the aqueduct was no longer in use, and city planners, working to fight what was then called urban blight, decided to disconnect the boroughs. The Parks Department closed the old bridge, cutting off an artery.
In June, the Parks Department reopened High Bridge to pedestrians, not just resuming the flow of foot traffic but also connecting it to a more recent innovation in public health, called the Giraffe Path, which was spearheaded by Mindy Thompson Fullilove, a research psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.
”Google Is Planning to Plan Your City,” Susie Cagle, Pacific Standard Magazine
After years of mediating our digital lives, Google is formally venturing into the physical world.
Earlier this month, Google announced it would be starting a new company, Sidewalk Labs, to invent and invest in “urban technologies” that will produce, according to its founder, “extraordinary business opportunities and opportunities for improving quality of life.”
The company has dabbled in urban planning for years, but this new investment seems to indicate those projects weren’t just for fun. As more people move to cities worldwide, the business of planning, innovating, and running those cities is poised to grow too—and it’s a model in which the “user” has no choice but to opt in.
“American Recycling Is Stalling, and the Big Blue Bin Is One Reason Why,” Aaron C. Davis, The Washington Post
Tucked in the woods 30 miles north of Washington is a plant packed with energy-guzzling machines that can make even an environmentalist’s heart sing — giant conveyor belts, sorters and crushers saving a thousand tons of paper, plastic and other recyclables from reaching landfills each day.
The 24-hour operation is a sign that after three decades of trying, a culture of curbside recycling has become ingrained in cities and counties across the country. Happy Valley, however, it is not.
Once a profitable business for cities and private employers alike, recycling in recent years has become a money-sucking enterprise. The District, Baltimore and many counties in between are contributing millions annually to prop up one of the nation’s busiest facilities here in Elkridge, Md. — but it is still losing money. In fact, almost every facility like it in the country is running in the red.
“Predator Politics,” Safi Knafo, MOTHERBOARD
The quiet hamlet of Chappaqua in the Westchester town of New Castle, about an hour’s drive from New York City, seems an unlikely setting for a bitter political battle. Although it is home to three of the country’s most formidable political warriors—Bill and Hillary Clinton and New York governor Andrew Cuomo—the town’s own political history is largely lacking in drama. For years, the Democrats ran for local office uncontested. The worst you could say about the town hall meetings was they were boring.
Then the coyotes came.
People who have lived in Chappaqua for decades say they first began seeing the coyotes about ten or fifteen years ago, slinking through the woods on the fringes of their properties. At first, residents didn’t know what to make of the newcomers, or even what to call them. Among the lawyers and financiers who make up much of Chappaqua’s citizenry, wildlife identification isn’t a strong suit.
“The Perks and Pitfalls of Being a Famous Tree,” Sarah Laskow, Atlas Obscura
To be recognized as a Great Tree, in New York City, is not just a matter of having the correct heritage or coming from the right family.
There's a certain meritocracy and populism to it, although the Greats do tend to live in some of the most desirable sections of the city—Central Park, Washington Square, Prospect Park, or up in wealthy Riverdale, in the Bronx. Also, it helps to have put down roots here decades, even centuries, ago. But when the New York City Parks Department first listed the city's Great Trees, in 1986, it recognized all manner of celebrity trees—not just stately old elms and giant oaks, but trees that were associated with Jacob Riis or Boss Tweed or Revolutionary War hangings.