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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“Hate Center-Facing? Take a Seat on 130 Years of 'L' Trains,” Phil Geib and Ryan Marx, Chicago Tribune
The CTA's next generation of rail cars will include a mix of forward-facing and aisle-facing seats, a pretty quick departure from the unpopular aisle-facing seats on the 5000 series. The $1.3 billion project, approved in March, will replace half of the CTA's train fleet with newer 7000 series cars to be built over 10 years. The first cars will hit the rails in 2019.
Since wooden train cars of the early 1890s, about a dozen different series of cars have traveled on the "L," an 130-year evolution in the experiences of commuters. Here are highlights.
“When You Can't Get Back on the Bike,” Dan Whitworth, BBC Magazine
Thousands of cyclists are injured, many of them seriously, each year in U.K. road accidents. Radio 1 Newsbeat's Dan Whitworth describes getting back on his bike after a crash—with the help of the driver who hit him.
It was 06:20, about 300m from my home in suburban south-east London. The spring morning was dry, bright, and clear. Even though the sun was already up, I had on my usual outfit of helmet, high-vis jacket, high-vis bag cover as well as front and back lights.
As I cycled up a slight hill on a main road with very little traffic, everything was fine. Until a car slowed, but didn't stop, at a give-way junction. In fact, it didn't stop until it pulled out into the main road and hit me. Then everything wasn't fine.
My back wheel caught the worst of it—and before I could blink I was off my bike, flying through the air and then hitting the tarmac several metres away. I was on my back in the middle of the road, struggling to take in what had happened.
I guess it must have hurt—but with first adrenaline and then shock kicking in, I can only say that I don't remember feeling that much pain.
“How These Wooden Fences Became A Symbol Of Gentrification Across Los Angeles,” Jonny Coleman, LAist
If you're driving through residential sections east of, say, Western Avenue or on the westside in Mar Vista or Venice, do you see these everywhere you go?
You're not alone. These horizontal wooden slat fences are everywhere. Once you see it, you can't unsee it.
There's not necessarily one way to pin a slat, but there are common variations on the theme:
It's not clear where or when this wooden slat revival started exactly, but it was roughly a decade or so ago and has been creeping through Los Angeles like kudzu ever since. In decades to come, it'll be a signifier for the exhaustive pace at which the city has changed in the past 5 to 10 years—for better or worse. And even though it can be spotted throughout the greater L.A. area or other markets entirely, architectural designer Marc Cucco finds the slat to be "specific to Eastside L.A. There's a variation in other 'hot' markets, like Austin or Denver. But the speed at which prices surged in northeast Los Angeles, as compared to the rest of the country, means that the aesthetic look is the result of a 'process' designed to provide quick curb appeal to properties which have been thinly, and cosmetically, updated."
Over the past decade we have a dominant theme in American cities: neck-snapping rates of (depending on your ideological slant) development/gentrification/transition as many parts of our cities have become desirable again. In so many ways, L.A. looks very different than it did a decade ago, and the wooden slat fence—a.k.a. the hipster fence or the flipper fence—will be the defining architectural symbol of an L.A. and the desire to own one in this period.
“Why Is an Old Billboard a Treasured Symbol but a New One Is an Eyesore?” Mary Beth Quirk, Consumerist
If someone told you today that a new, brightly lit neon sign was going up across the street from where you live, you might react with disgust at the thought of such a commercial eyesore invading the skyline of your community. Yet when some older sign or billboard is threatened, everyone is suddenly up in arms, rushing to its defense. How does something as mundane as outdoor advertising grow to become considered an essential piece of the urban fabric?
Take, for example, the recent news that the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission bestowed landmark status on a neon, 147-foot-long Pepsi-Cola sign dating back to 1936. The sign, made by a company called Artkraft Strauss, once sat atop a Pepsi bottling plant in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City, and it is widely accepted as an important aesthetic element of the community, having been saved multiple times already.
It was first put up for landmark consideration in 1988, the New York Times reported then, and was reconstructed by PepsiCo in 1993 after it was severely damaged in a storm.
When Pepsi sold the plant in 1999, the company included a stipulation that the sign would remain, carving out a chunk of land on the East River front for it to occupy. In 2013, the development company behind a new residential tower took the sign into considering while designing the new building, making sure that there was space provided for the sign to keep its place on the waterfront.
Why go through all this effort to preserve this Pepsi ad? It doesn’t appear to arise out of any overwhelming affection for the beverage.
“Death by GPS,” Greg Milner, Ars Technica
One early morning in March 2011, Albert Chretien and his wife, Rita, loaded their Chevrolet Astro van and drove away from their home in Penticton, British Columbia. Their destination was Las Vegas, where Albert planned to attend a trade show. They crossed the border and, somewhere in northern Oregon, they picked up Interstate 84.
The straightest route would be to take I-84 to Twin Falls, Idaho, near the Nevada border, and then follow US Route 93 all the way to Vegas. Although US 93 would take them through Jackpot, Nevada, the town near the Idaho state line where they planned to spend the first night, they looked at a roadmap and decided to exit I-84 before that junction. They would choose a scenic road less traveled, Idaho State Highway 51, which heads due south away from the I-84 corridor, crossing the border several miles to the west. The Chretiens figured there had to be a turnoff from Idaho 51 that would lead them east to US 93.
Albert and Rita had known each other since high school. During their 38 years of marriage, they had rarely been apart. They even worked together, managing their own small excavation business. A few days before the trip, Albert had purchased a Magellan GPS unit for the van. They had not yet asked it for directions, but their plan wasn’t panning out. As the day went on and the shadows grew longer, they were not finding an eastward passage. They decided it was time to consult the Magellan. Checking their roadmap, they determined the nearest town was Mountain City, Nevada, so they entered it as the destination into their GPS unit. The directions led them onto a small dirt road near an Idaho ghost town and eventually to a confusing three-way crossroads. They chose the one that seemed to point in the direction they wanted to go. And here their troubles began.