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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“China’s Eco-Cities are Often Neither Ecologically Friendly, Nor Functional Cities,” Wade Shepard, Reuters
The words ‘eco’ and ‘city’ combined together seems like an unabashed oxymoron. The term “ecological“ is the polar opposite of what we know our cities to be. Urban areas are environmental hazard zones: their concrete suffocates the soil, their power plants turn the skies insidious shades of gray, their sewer systems pump pollutants into waterways, their factories turn fertile land into unlivable fields, their traffic fills our lungs with particulate matter—how can such a place ever be ecological?
Enter eco-cities: new urban developments meant to mitigate the ecologically pernicious, unsustainable elements of the typical city. They run off of renewable energy, recycle their water and waste, engage in urban agriculture, have resource-efficient buildings and have extensive public transportation networks.
“We are having an ecological crisis, and what we do with our cities is going to be the answer,” said Anna-Karin Grönroos, the director of Ecopolis, a documentary about China’s eco-cities.
Grönroos’s statement perhaps strikes China more poignantly than anywhere else. This is a country that has urbanized faster and more extensively than any other country in history. Six hundred new cities have been created since the Communist Party came to power in 1949. By 2030, China is expected to have over a billion urban dwellers.
“How the Women Who Visit Rikers Island Navigate the Complex Dress Code,” Sonja Sharp, Vice
You can spot them almost any day of the week, clustered at bus stops around Queens with nearly identical gray sweatsuits and thermals and shower shoes stuffed into black plastic bags. They often have infants on their hips or impatient children in hand, their faces made with care that belies their sneakers and sports bras, and their undone hair.
These are the ladies of Rikers Island. Not the female inmates of the 800-bed Rose M. Singer Center, but the untold thousands whose husbands, brothers, baby-fathers, boyfriends and relatives make up the detention complex's roughly 11,000 other inhabitants, and who fill the Q100 bus most days of the week laden with clothing and other supplies for their imprisoned loved ones.
And there's a reason the women themselves all look so similar.
"I hate that shirt," cried Niesha Smith, 20, bouncing her one-year-old daughter on her lap on the Q100 bus as she described the XXL neon green "cover-up garment" female visitors like her are forced to wear if their outfits fall short of the jail's strict visitor dress code. "I want my daughter's father to see me, to see my body, that's why I came."
“How Libraries Have Embraced Their Role in the Public Safety Net,” Francie Diep, Pacific Standard
The city of Los Angeles will soon declare a state of emergency because of its growing homeless population, the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday. The number of homeless Angelenos continues to grow even as the city has invested more money in its Housing Authority. There are now 26,000 homeless people in L.A. One public service that's feeling the heat: libraries.
Librarians have long acknowledged that their places of employment act as de facto daytime homeless shelters in many cities. Libraries are, after all, public places where folks can get free access to the Internet, read, entertain themselves, learn how to get services like housing vouchers, and simply stay warm. Employees in city libraries estimate they get 680 to 780 homeless patrons a day, according to theTimes. Employees also report an increase in complaints from housed patrons. A quick look at the Los Angeles Public Library's Yelp reviews reveals the nature of those complaints. "There is a certain number of homeless and transient people lurking within," one reviewer writes. "However, that issue seemed to be controlled well by library security personnel."
“Cure for Broken Metropolises: the Insta-City,” Ryan Lenora Brown, The Christian Science Monitor
LAGOS, NIGERIA — From above, it seems Africa’s largest city is sprouting a tail.
It began appearing in 2008, and grew slowly at first—the narrow stretch of beach creeping southward from the bottom of Lagos’s upscale Victoria Island, forming a jagged appendage of sand where once there was only ocean. But by 2013, nearly 2 square miles had been reclaimed from the sea, and the island had quietly ballooned to nearly twice its original size.
But this tail dangling from the edge of Lagos is not simply a bold land reclamation effort. It is also the site of perhaps the continent’s most ambitious construction project, a futuristic private metropolis called Eko Atlantic. When it is complete, developers promise a city filled with high-rise glass condos and tree-lined marinas, where a quarter-million Nigerians will live in quiet, untroubled luxury.
“LA's Nuclear Secret,” Joel Grover and Matthew Glasser, NBC Los Angeles
Tucked away in the hills above the San Fernando and Simi valleys was a 2,800-acre laboratory with a mission that was a mystery to the thousands of people who lived in its shadow. In a place called Area IV of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), there was a secret collaboration between the U.S. government and private companies to test the limits of nuclear power.
For decades, scientists and staff at SSFL experimented with new types of nuclear reactors, advanced rocket systems and futuristic weapons. While this research helped launch Americans into space and provided a better understanding of nuclear power, years of mishandling dangerous radioactive materials and chemicals has also left a toxic legacy for generations of people living near the site. The scientists are now gone, but acres and acres of radioactive and chemical contamination remains right above the neighborhoods of thousands.