Linda Poon is an assistant editor 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 past seven days.
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“How the Iowa State Fair Became a Political Rite of Passage,” Sarah Kaplan, The Washington Post
You can thank the man who gets blamed for so many other things: Herbert Hoover.
It was the summer of 1954, and a heated race toward the midterm elections was already underway. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had just announced he would be making an appearance at the Iowa State Fair, alongside his predecessor and Iowa’s native son, Herbert Hoover.
In recognition of the current and erstwhile president’s appearance, the fair’s organizers announced that they would eliminate the admission fee to the annual agricultural spectacle for the duration of the speech. But not everyone was elated at the idea that Iowans could suddenly attend the fair—and see two famous Republicans—for free.
Clyde E. Herring, the Democratic candidate for governor at the time, told the New York Times it was improper for the fair board to waive admission fees to an event that has “all the aspects of a Republican rally staged at the taxpayers expense.”
“Cool It on the AC Already,” Maddie Oatman, Mother Jones
We're just reaching the hottest part of the summer, but already much ink has been spilled over air conditioning. Recent New York Times articles wondered why the United States is so "over air-conditioned," with its frigid office buildings and archaic cooling calculations that make work unbearable for many women, not to mention terrible for the environment. Yet in a series of essays for Slate, writer David Engber has argued that the case against AC is overhyped; Americans still spend more energy heating their houses than cooling them.
But elsewhere in the world—in crowded countries where heating isn't necessary—air conditioning markets are just warming up. In late April, the Indian subsidiary of the Japanese air conditioning manufacturer Daikin Industries announced plans to open its second plant in the subcontinent, double production, and expand its existing stock of 200 showrooms to 350 by the end of 2015. India isn't the only place where AC is all the rage. As climate change nudges global temperatures upward, incomes are also rising, meaning millions more people can afford to beat the heat. Sales of home and commercial air conditioners have doubled in China over the past five years, with 64 million units sold in 2013 alone.
“’Moving Day’: How 1 million New Yorkers Used to Move House on the Same Day Every Year,” Alex Dean, City Metric
Think back to the last time you moved house: the panicking that you’ve left something behind, the cost, the sheer effort of it all. Now imagine that you had to do it at the same time as a million other people nearby. Because that’s what happened—and still happens, to an extent—in New York. It’s called “Moving day”, and from what we can tell sounds noisy, absurdly inconvenient and, also, like a bit of a laugh.
Though many cities had moving days, New York’s is probably the best example just for sheer scale. Up until World War II, almost all leases in the city would expire simultaneously on 1 May. That sounds just such a bad idea that you think it can’t possibly have happened, but sure enough, total mayhem would ensue every year as everyone moved at the same time.
Contemporary descriptions do a good job of capturing the chaos. English writer Francis Trollope described the scene in 1832 as resembling “a population flying from the plague.” New York lawyer George Templeton Strong wrote of the day in his diary: “Every other house seems to be disgorging itself into the street; all the sidewalks are lumbered with bureaus and bedsteads.”
“The Future of Work: The Water Cooler and the Fridge,” Mario L. Small, Pacific Standard
Just about any full-time faculty member will admit that among the best perks of the job, especially when one is not forced to teach during the summer, is the option to work from home. Late each spring, the minute the very last student has flung her cap in the air for graduation, I exercise this option gleefully. Working at home, alone, in long blocks of time, allows me to concentrate while writing or doing research in ways I find difficult in the flurry of meetings, phone calls, and repeated interruptions typical of today’s offices. The rise in remote work, available to white-collar workers across a growing variety of occupations, must be one of the most beloved consequences of the online revolution.
“Let's Build a New Borough,” Jon Methven, The Awl
In late 2014, reports surfaced of a floating park that would be constructed in the Hudson River. The stilted park, financed by Barry Diller, would feature paths, open spaces, and a concert venue, and would cost roughly a hundred and thirty million dollars to complete. Roughly the size of half a city block jutting out into one of the region’s oldest shipping lanes, engineers would drill three hundred columns into the floor of the Hudson River so New Yorkers could enjoy concerts in an ocean breeze venue. If it is possible, financially and technologically, to build a three-acre park in the river west of New York City, then why isn’t it possible to construct an artificial island at a higher elevation than downtown Manhattan that would serve as New York City’s sixth borough? Many of the city’s problems—real estate prices, developers purchasing blocks at a time, the astronomical cost of parking a car, or even a bicycle, even shoreline erosion—are problems of space. So why not just build more space?
The stilted park, along with the conspicuous lack of a backyard outside my apartment window, intrigued me enough to begin investigating.