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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“System Overload,” James Surowiecki, The New Yorker
“An example for the Nation” is how President Lyndon Johnson imagined Washington’s Metro, in a letter that he wrote fifty years ago to an official involved in planning it. And so it was. When the Metro opened, ten years later, in 1976, it was acclaimed as a farsighted fusion of design and utility, a system generations ahead of those in other cities. Today, the Metro is in such a state that fixing it may require shutting whole lines for months at a time. It’s yet again an example for the nation, but now it’s an example of how underinvestment and political dysfunction have left America with infrastructure that’s failing and often downright dangerous.
From the crumbling bridges of California to the overflowing sewage drains of Houston and the rusting railroad tracks in the Northeast Corridor, decaying infrastructure is all around us, and the consequences are so familiar that we barely notice them—like urban traffic congestion, slow-moving trains, and flights that are often disrupted, thanks to an outdated air-traffic-control system. The costs are significant, once you reckon wasted time, lost productivity, poor public-health outcomes, and increased carbon emissions. As Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard Business School professor and the author of “Move,” a recent book on the subject, told me, “Infrastructure is such a dull word. But it’s really an issue that touches almost everything.”
“At Tampa Bay Farm-to-Table Restaurants, You're Being Fed Fiction,” Laura Reiley, Tampa Bay Times
The restaurant’s chalkboard makes claims as you enter from the valet parking lot. At the hostess stand, a cheery board reads, “Welcome to local, farm-fresh Boca.”
Brown butcher paper tops tables and lettuces grow along a wooden wall. In a small market case, I see canned goods from here and produce from somewhere. Check the small print: blackberries from Mexico and blueberries from California.
With the tagline “Local, simple and honest,” Boca Kitchen Bar Market was among the first wave of farm-to-table restaurants in Tampa Bay to make the assertion “we use local products whenever possible.” I’ve reviewed the food. My own words are right there on their website: “local, thoughtful and, most importantly, delicious.”
But I’ve been had, from the snapper down to the beef.
It’s not just Boca. At Pelagia Trattoria at International Plaza, the “Florida blue crab” comes from the Indian Ocean.
Mermaid Tavern in Seminole Heights shouts “Death to Pretenders” on its menu, but pretends cheese curds are homemade and shrimp are from Florida.
At Maritana Grille at the Loews Don CeSar, chefs claim to get pork from a farmer who doesn’t sell to them.
“The Most Controversial Bagel in Brooklyn,” Roberto Ferdman, The Washington Post
It's mid-afternoon, but the line still spills out the front door, snaking around the block, eating up the better part of the sidewalk, as it has since early that morning. There are young couples, clinging to each other in the cold. Mothers, standing patiently next to their anxious children. There are teenage girls, chatting in packs. And there are SLR cameras — so many SLR cameras.
"What are you all waiting for?" a passerby who lives in the neighborhood asks as she plucks an earphone out from one of her ears. She is looking at the crowd with amazement. "I see this line every day. It isn't just for bagels, is it?"
"It's the line for rainbow bagels!" a little girl yells.
She takes out her phone and opens Instagram. She holds it out so the woman can see the striped, multi-colored bagel in all its glory, accompanied, of course, by the hashtag #rainbowbagel.
The woman rubs at her eyes. She is unimpressed. She turns and walks away, shaking her head in the sort of exaggerated and prolonged way people do when they want to make sure others notice.
“Can One Woman Keep Our Cities From Sinking?” Matthew Stein, OZY
Construction on a new landfill along the Juan Díaz River was nearing completion when an unyielding figure in rubber boots, jeans and a floppy beige hat arrived to shut it down. Trailed by an entourage of colleagues and journalists, she walked purposefully onto the site, fielding a phone call from the mayor and reviewing documents along the way. Once she was in sight of several large yellow tractors, she paused, removed her hat and readied herself for the cameras.
An earlier incarnation of Raisa Banfield, Panama City’s environmentally crusading vice mayor, might have seized the opportunity to call for demonstrations against the landfill’s illegality and the flooding hazard it represented. Today, instead of tying herself to a tree, 46-year-old Banfield is using her position to ensure the environment is a top city priority. There’s small stuff — community parks, citywide bike programs, pilot recycling projects — and bigger, creative policymaking: In September and October, after heavy downpours triggered substantial landslides and inundations in parts of the city, Banfield chased down developments she thought were choking off vital waterways, and she reached out to the Dutch — replete with water-management experience — to help with a solution.
“New Evidence of the Dangers of Living Near Highways,” David Abel, The Boston Globe
For years, Russell Eng has coached high school volleyball teams at Reggie Wong Memorial Park, which is conveniently located near public transportation in Chinatown.
It’s also near the interchange of two highways and exhaust vents for Big Dig tunnels, making the park one of the most polluted places in Boston.
Now, Russell is wondering whether the risks of the pollution outweigh the benefits of the park’s location.
A new study of Boston residents who live or spend a significant amount of time near Interstate 93 and the Massachusetts Turnpike has found that their exposure to microscopic metals and chemicals spewed from vehicles increases their chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke.
The study of so-called ultrafine particles, which expands on previous public health research in Somerville, adds to the growing body of evidence of the dangers of living near highways and other busy roads.
The findings suggest that those who live within 1,500 feet of a highway have a greater likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease than those living twice as far away. More than 45 million Americans live within 900 feet of a major road, railroad, or airport, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.