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 past seven days.
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“The Suburb That Tried To Kill the Car,” T.R. Goldman, Politico
Lerner’s Curitiba master plan embraced density and development around fixed transit corridors built throughout the urban area. Its hallmark was Bus Rapid Transit—extended-length buses with their own dedicated traffic lanes and specially designed boarding “tubes” that made getting on and off as efficient as subways with just a fraction of the cost and infrastructure. Under one of the plan’s more controversial aspects, a 15-block stretch of the main downtown artery, Rua XV de Novembro, was closed to traffic and transformed in just 72 hours into Brazil’s first pedestrian-friendly mall. Taken altogether, the plan was meant to, as Lerner would say, encourage curitibanos to adopt the life of a turtle—a creature whose home and workplace is the same.
The stunning success of Curitiba’s master planning revolution, which would place it at the forefront of the global urban architecture movement alongside cities like Helsinki and Portland, Oregon, transformed Lerner into an international urban-planning celebrity. And these bold new ideas came onto the world stage just as inner-ring American suburbs like Evanston were facing their own special set of problems.
“Driven: The Story of A Deaf Chauffeur in NYC,” Dorian Geiger and Saila Huusko, Narratively
On a sunny autumn afternoon in the grungy, graffiti-splattered Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, Morgan Wang, a mobile game marketing consultant, is watching the Uber car she recently hailed pull up in front of her apartment building.
Her driver, a short and bespectacled middle-aged man, exits the vehicle and eagerly takes Wang’s suitcase, loading it in the back of his metallic charcoal Honda CR-V. Wearing a striped, grey collared shirt, he smiles and gestures towards the vehicle, all while not making a peep.
Wang, a 23-year-old California native, takes the back seat and is handed a laminated piece of paper. Dismay spreads across her face, her eyes absorbing the note’s message: Her driver is deaf.
“Definitely something you don’t see every day,” she says. “How do deaf people drive? It’s cool that they can make a living that way—in one of the most chaotic cities.”
“The Metropolis and Mental Health: Are Big Cities Making Us Sick?” Nikolas Rose and Des Fitzgerald, Gizmodo
It is often said that we are living through another period of mass urbanization—an age in which more and more people, in all regions of the world, are moving from rural towns and villages and trying to make their lives in cities – often megacities with upwards of 25m inhabitants. Indeed, the United Nations now predicts that by 2050 two-thirds of the global population will live in cities.
Policymakers have tended to concentrate on the economic and environmental consequences of this development. But there has been less attention to the effects that such a movement might have on mental health. Given that many experience urban stresses and strains—the hubbub, the noise, the competition, the density, the unnatural and frenzied atmosphere, the enforced proximity to strangers, the frequent combination of crowds and isolation—should we not be paying closer attention to the mental, and sometimes pathological, experience of city living itself?
“The Two Asian Americas,” Karan Mahajan, The New Yorker
In 1928, an Indian immigrant named Vaishno Das Bagai rented a room in San Jose, turned on the gas, and ended his life. He was thirty-seven. He had come to San Francisco thirteen years earlier with his wife and two children, “dreaming and hoping to make this land my own.” A dapper man, he learned English, wore three-piece suits, became a naturalized citizen, and opened a general store and import business on Fillmore Street, in San Francisco. But when Bagai tried to move his family into a home in Berkeley, the neighbors locked up the house, and the Bagais had to turn their luggage trucks back. Then, in 1923, Bagai found himself snared by anti-Asian laws: the Supreme Court ruled that South Asians, because they were not white, could not become naturalized citizens of the United States. Bagai was stripped of his status. Under the California Alien Land Law, of 1913—a piece of racist legislation designed to deter Asians from encroaching on white businesses and farms—losing that status also meant losing his property and his business. The next blow came when he tried to visit India. The United States government advised him to apply for a British passport.
According to Erika Lee’s “The Making of Asian America,” published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act, signed into law on October 3, 1965, this swarm of circumstances undid Bagai. In the room in San Jose, he left a suicide note addressed, in an act of protest, to the San Francisco Examiner. The paper published it under the headline “Here’s Letter to the World from Suicide.” “What have I made of myself and my children?” Bagai wrote. “We cannot exercise our rights. Humility and insults, who is responsible for all this? Me and the American government. Obstacles this way, blockades that way, and bridges burnt behind.”
“The Alluring Emptiness of the Open Road,” Lauren Hansen, The Week
In the early 1800s, the Santa Fe Trail, which stretched 1,200 miles from Franklin, Missouri, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, was a novelty. A vibrant commercial route, it connected Mexican and American traders, carried thousands of gold-seekers west, and opened the Southwest Territory up to the rest of the country.
Then, in 1880, the railroad reached Santa Fe and the trail all but faded into obscurity.
Today, the old trade route, commemorated by the National Park Service, is known as the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. The two-lane highway roughly follows the path's original route across Kansas, through Colorado, and into northern New Mexico.
Photographer Max Mikulecky learned of the route from his grandparents, who drive it every year during their trip south to Santa Fe. "At one point or another they've stopped and read just about every historical marker," Mikulecky said in an interview.