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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“My White Neighbor Thought I Was Breaking into My Own Apartment. Nineteen Cops Showed Up,” Fay Wells, Washington Post
On Sept. 6, I locked myself out of my apartment in Santa Monica, Calif. I was in a rush to get to my weekly soccer game, so I decided to go enjoy the game and deal with the lock afterward.
A few hours and a visit from a locksmith later, I was inside my apartment and slipping off my shoes when I heard a man’s voice and what sounded like a small dog whimpering outside, near my front window. I imagined a loiterer and opened the door to move him along. I was surprised to see a large dog halfway up the staircase to my door. I stepped back inside, closed the door and locked it.
I heard barking. I approached my front window and loudly asked what was going on. Peering through my blinds, I saw a gun. A man stood at the bottom of the stairs, pointing it at me. I stepped back and heard: “Come outside with your hands up.” I thought: This man has a gun and will kill me if I don’t come outside. At the same time, I thought: I’ve heard this line from policemen in movies. Although he didn’t identify himself, perhaps he’s an officer.
“One Block,” New York Magazine
Before it was a block, it was a field—farmland ripe for residential development to meet demand from those German and Irish families, some of whom had live-in servants. But they were not the only early arrivals. At the turn of the past century, Bedford-Stuyvesant, then a middle-class neighborhood, was less segregated than it would soon become, and the first wave of black homeowners and renters on the block, in the 1920s and 1930s, were often from relatively well-off West Indian and Harlem families. Soon, though, the real-estate picture would change dramatically. After a federal program designed during the Great Depression to help guide banks toward safe residential investments gave Bed-Stuy a D-rating (a move known now as “redlining”), in part because it had black residents, the block saw an exodus of white families, who would sell to Realtors sometimes at a loss out of fear their property value would further decline.
By the end of the 1940s, the block was almost entirely black. And yet even as banks and city policies deprived MacDonough of investment, and the surrounding areas succumbed to crime, the block remained a haven, rich with family life and tradition. Neighbors learned to lean on each other. Talk to the children of the ’60s and ’70s, now in their 40s and 50s, like Tushawn Booker and Leatrice Hinnant, and you’ll hear stories of block parties and all-day skully games. The character of the block began to shift in the early aughts, as the city had become markedly safer and Bed-Stuy’s lower housing prices began to draw new homeowners.
“City of the Future Is Closer, Calmer Than You Think,” Marco della Cava, USA Today
SAN FRANCISCO – The city of the future has had countless fantasy blueprints, from The Jetsons’ pleasant hive of automated efficiency to Blade Runner’s dystopian tangle of urban chaos.
But the reality is the city of future is closer than you think, as tech companies and automakers floor the pedal on projects ranging from cars that drive themselves to apps that aggregate transportation options.
Conversations with mobility experts here and abroad paint a picture of an urban revolution that is already underway in a patchwork of cities from Seattle to Stockholm. “The main thing with automated and connected tech is to make sure it’s reliable first,” says Chris Hendrickson, director of the Traffic21 Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. “But the opportunities for change are impressive.”
So what could a successfully networked city of the transportation near-future look like? Picture this.
You wake up and open an app that tells you how to leverage the city’s various transit options to get to your appointment. Maybe it’s a walk to a bicycle, which you pedal to a bus. Or an autonomous taxi to the downtown perimeter to hail a ride-hailing service, driven by a human. Or borrowing a car that belongs to your apartment building’s small fleet.
“Inside Lavasa, India's First Entirely Private City Built from Scratch,” Matt Kennard, Clair Provost, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
The All American Diner plays 1950s rock’n’roll through a tinny speaker, the retro booths are traditional red and the burgers are suitably oversized. The period decor and details are all right, but it all just feels so wrong.
The restaurant is 8,000 miles away from where the “diner” was born on the northeastern coast of the United States in the late 19th century. It sits on another continent, in a city that until recently didn’t exist, and now, a decade since construction began, sits just one-fifth finished.
Outside the window, it is not small town America that is viewable, but the rolling, verdant Sahyadri mountains of western India. On an August afternoon, it’s the permanent downpour of monsoon season—not late summer sunshine—beating on the sidewalk outside. The soundtrack is a tired collection of rock’n’roll, a dozen or so songs on repeat. Smartly dressed waiters greatly outnumber their clients and watch customers’ every move like hawks. There is no folksy smalltalk. When you take a sip of water, your glass is refilled before you have the chance to set it down.
“The Sad, Sickening Truth About South L.A.'s Oil Wells,” Aura Bogado, Grist
It’s bad enough to live close to a neighborhood oil well. There’s that nauseating smell, and the toxins that cause illnesses ranging from minor eye irritation to cancer. But it’s even worse to live next to oil wells that haven’t been subject to environmental impact review.
That’s the situation youth of color in Los Angeles find themselves in. They’re suing the city, alleging that the government has systemically violated regulations meant to protect residents from urban oil fields. As a result, they claim, majority white neighborhoods have ended up with fewer and cleaner wells, whereas neighborhoods of color have been saddled with a toxic mess.
Wilmington, a neighborhood in South Los Angeles, sits atop the third largest oil field in the U.S. (outside Alaska) — and that comes with consequences for the majority Latino residents that live there. “It smells like rotten eggs. It’s really disgusting,” says Angel Ocegueda, a 15-year-old Wilmington native who says he often feels the ground shaking because of oil drills and suffers from severe migraines and respiratory problems. Ocegueda is a member of Youth for Environmental Justice, part of Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), one of three plaintiffs in the suit filed Nov. 6 against the city in Los Angeles Superior Court. The others are the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition and the Center for Biological Diversity.