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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“Cities Are Not as Big a Deal as You Think,” Courtney Humphries, Undark Magazine
Last month, the journal Science published a special issue examining the challenges and opportunities of an urbanizing world. Titled “Urban Planet” and featuring an image of clouds wafting across skyscrapers in Dubai, the issue opened with an eye-catching statistic: “More than half of the world’s people now live in cities.”
Of course, that number would be even more impressive if it were actually true.
“We don’t have 50 percent of the world living in cities,” says Karen Seto, a geographer at Yale University who studies urbanization trends. “A lot of these people are living in towns and small centers.” In other words, their surroundings are more urban than a rural village, but a far cry from Dubai.
“Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City,” Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times
In the spring of 2014, when our daughter, Najya, was turning 4, my husband and I found ourselves facing our toughest decision since becoming parents. We live in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a low-income, heavily black, rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of brownstones in central Brooklyn. The nearby public schools are named after people intended to evoke black uplift, like Marcus Garvey, a prominent black nationalist in the 1920s, and Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Month, but the schools are a disturbing reflection of New York City’s stark racial and socioeconomic divisions. In one of the most diverse cities in the world, the children who attend these schools learn in classrooms where all of their classmates — and I mean, in most cases, every single one — are black and Latino, and nearly every student is poor. Not surprisingly, the test scores of most of Bed-Stuy’s schools reflect the marginalization of their students.
“Why Should We Save the National Parks?” Jeffrey Zuckerman, Pacific Standard
Last month, to close its budget gap, the National Park Service decided to begin accepting (and soliciting) corporate sponsorships. The parks need all the help they can get as park rangers and staff brace for a long summer: This year, Yellowstone National Park will likely see more than four million tourists, shattering last year’s record. Station wagons and minivans will likewise crowd every other national park across the country, including Rocky Mountain National Park, where I still remember spending many summers with my own family, sleeping in cabins and trying to catch butterflies.
These national parks are widely regarded as family destinations. They are also a family affair in a grander sense, thanks to the philanthropy of the Rockefeller family. After John D. Rockefeller Jr. toured the Grand Tetons in the 1920s, he began steadily acquiring parcels of land and donating them to the American government; his son, Laurance S. Rockefeller, eventually donated the last of the Rockefellers’ Jackson Hole properties to the government in 2001. The extended family’s efforts have been instrumental in creating or expanding at least 20 of the national parks in the United States, effectively making the Rockefellers the “first family of national parks.”
“If No-One Helps You After a Car Crash in India, This Is Why,” Preeti Jha, BBC Magazine
Kanhaiya Lal desperately cries for help but motorists swerve straight past him. His young son and the splayed bodies of his wife and infant daughter lie next to the mangled motorbike on which they had all been travelling seconds earlier.
The widely broadcast CCTV footage of this scene - showing the suffering of a family of hit-and-run victims in northern India in 2013 and the apparent indifference of passers-by - troubled many Indians.
Some motorcyclists and police eventually came to the family's aid but it was too late for Lal's wife and daughter. Their deaths sparked a nationwide debate over the role of bystanders - the media hailed it as a "new low in public apathy" and worse, "the day humanity died".
“That Little Section of the L.A. River You Inherited Might Actually Be Worth Something,” Doug Smith, Los Angeles Times
When the city of L.A. set out to build a bike lane along the banks of the Los Angeles River in Elysian Valley, there was a surprising obstacle.
Much of the river channel there doesn’t belong to the city, the county or any other government agency. For reasons lost to history, many of the industrial properties that abut the river there actually extend into the concrete channel itself.
Though it could be argued that any value in the land was long ago surrendered through flood control easements, the city offered 75 owners token payments of $2,000 for a bikeway easement.
All but one accepted.