Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.
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“Cities Pass Cat Curfews; Cats Keep Doing Whatever They Want,” Cara Giaimo, Atlas Obscura
Curfews are usually reserved for unruly teens and convicted felons. But increasingly, governments are trying to apply them to an even more slippery target—cats.
Earlier today, felines were once again put on notice, as Australia announced its intention to encourage a curfew that would keep cats off the streets and, more importantly, out of the woods.
Australian Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews hopes to slowly impose a 24-hour curfew for roaming-prone house cats. Although the federal government can’t actually mandate this, Andrews plans to work with local and state branches and educate people until it’s an accepted practice, saying “it’s a journey that Australia has to go on.”
“The Last American Cowboys,” Driver 8, Medium
Nobody sets out in life to be a cab driver. Not the sons and daughters of cab drivers — not now, not any more. Not even the immigrants who dominate the industry: for them, driving is just something to do until they’ve saved enough money to open a restaurant, or until they’ve learned more English, or because they can’t get a job as a doctor or engineer like the one they had back home. Once upon a time, sure, driving a taxi may have been viable career option. But these days, driving a taxi is a job of last resort, a consolation prize. It’s just something people do while chasing their dreams, or because their dreams didn’t work out the way they’d planned. For me, it was the second reason.
When I first met Walter, I was in rehab. I’d managed to crash and burn my six-figure marketing job, and I needed help. Walter had been through the same program, and was invited to come back and speak to us a successful graduate. Sure, he was driving a taxi to help pay for the college degree that most people would have gotten 30 years sooner. But Walter had pride. He liked driving a cab, and he talked about it excitedly. When he showed me his gleaming chrome driver’s badge, he held it out like it was an Olympic medal. Walter made me want to have a badge like that. So, as he was getting ready to leave, I asked him to walk me through the process of getting a taxi driver’s permit, and a job. It wasn’t until much later that I realized a cab yard is the place where dreams go to die.
“The Struggle to Breathe Life Back Into Empty Schools,” Tim Lloyd, NPR
Virginia Savage lives in a part of north St. Louis, Mo., that's filled with vacant buildings, including Marshall Elementary. It has been closed for years now, and vines crawl into the building's smashed-out windows. The playground is littered with empty liquor bottles.
Savage went to school at Marshall as a young girl, and now she sees bigger problems beyond all those blemishes: "Drug dealers, drug users, eyesore. That's what I see."
In St. Louis, the student enrollment is one-fourth the size it was in the 1960s. That drop has led the district to close 30 or so schools.
It's the same story across the country in cities like Atlanta, Detroit and Chicago, where district leaders are facing the big question — what to do with all of those empty schools?
“Breaking Ground,”Amy Qin, The California Sunday Magazine
When Ma Qingyun visits Yushan, a rural town an hour outside of Xi’an, in China’s Shaanxi province, he travels in a chauffeured black Mercedes-Benz. His car speeds eastward along the newly paved roads, past fields of corn and wheat, the color of which, depending on the season, falls somewhere along a gradient of green to gold. He knows he is nearing his destination when the rugged outline of the Qinling Mountains begins to fill the frame of the passenger window, and the sky, a brownish blue even on Xi’an’s better days, suddenly, almost imperceptibly, clears up.
On an autumn day last year, farmers in Yushan laid their freshly harvested corn out to dry in front of their houses, while fruit and vegetable vendors hawked their produce along the dusty roads. The smell of freshly steamed buns and cold-skin noodles wafted from a nearby cluster of street stalls. A stray dog watched as an elderly woman hacked at a pile of wood cuttings in front of her family’s garage-door convenience shop.
When Ma was a child in the 1970s, the journey from Xi’an used to take the better part of a day. He and his brother, Jianchao, spent time every summer in the village where their father grew up, and would wait for a bus that came once daily. After they arrived in Yushan, they would walk to their family’s houses, about 18 miles away, stopping at various relatives’ homes for hot water or food.
“What University Presses Have Done for Urban Design,” Anna Clark, Next City
Think of universities as a series of ivory tower silos? Think again. Not only can urban-set institutions of higher learning be vital anchor institutions in their neighborhoods, university presses throughout the U.S. play a pivotal role in publishing game-changing work about cities. Those books, both practical and philosophical, result in real benefits to our built environments.
There are more than 130 members of the Association of American University Presses, each grounded in a particular regional landscape and with a mission to serve the public good. Thanks to Cold War-era funding for higher education, they flourished in the 1960s and 1970s; more than 10 presses were founded between 1970 and 1974. The timing coincided with a national reckoning with cities, especially in terms of inclusion, equality, preservation, violence and schools.
No wonder, then, that university presses have shouldered the urbanism genre. It’s not just because universities employ many of the tenure-seeking academics penning these books; it’s because risk-averse mainstream publishers aren’t convinced that this work is worthwhile.