Also: How the Green New Deal could retrofit suburbs, and Edinburgh wants a tourist tax.

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What We’re Following

Generic brand: Look at any piece of city marketing materials and you’ll likely see the same basic ingredients of things cities should be happy to have: bike lanes, microbreweries, streetcars, hipster coffee shops. But as recent promo videos for cities like Houston or Atlanta have tried to underline their “creative” or “innovative” qualities, you can’t help but notice how these branding efforts miss what makes each city unique.

Compare those generic identities to, say, Detroit’s Motor City or Nashville’s Music City and you realize how many urban places have become vaguely the same. Today on CityLab, Aaron Renn argues that this bland branding has tangible consequences. “A brand is really a city’s conception of itself,” he writes. “By selling itself as a facsimile of something it’s not, a city ends up turning into that reality.” Read his take: Cities, Don’t Fall in the Branding Trap

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

How the Green New Deal Could Retrofit Suburbs

The original New Deal included a bold attempt to rethink suburbia. We can still learn from it.

Amanda Kolson Hurley

How Can the Green New Deal Deliver Environmental Justice?

There’s a reason why climate-change legislation failed in the past. Environmental-justice advocates don’t want the Green New Deal to repeat those mistakes.

Brentin Mock

When Newspapers Close, Voters Become More Partisan

Without local newspapers, readers turn to their political partisanship to inform their political choices.

Joshua P. Darr, Johanna Dunaway, and Matthew P. Hitt

Why Edinburgh Wants a Tourist Tax

Scotland’s capital could charge travelers £2 per day—and don’t be surprised if other U.K. cities follow its lead.

Feargus O'Sullivan

The Conservative Backlash Against Progressive Ballot Measures

In many states, ballot initiatives on expanding Medicaid, limiting gerrymandering, and raising the minimum wage swept to victory in November. Now lawmakers are doing their best to reverse them.

Kriston Capps and Sarah Holder


Valentine Carts

(Julian Montague)

Abandoned shopping carts have long been roaming characters in urban spaces. With little reason for grocery stores to retrieve runaways, or for long-term borrowers to return them, it’s not unusual to find carts that have strayed far from their natural habitats. Now a lawmaker in the D.C. suburbs wants to pass a law requiring businesses to collect their shopping carts. As WAMU points out, that legislative effort coincides with the fact that February is “National Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket” Month. Mark your calendars.

Back in 2006, artist Julian Montague compiled a book called The Stray Shopping Carts of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. The guide is written in the voice of a character who identifies shopping carts with the intensity of the most serious birder. For the 10th anniversary of the book in 2016, Montague told CityLab’s Mark Byrnes that while people might associate shopping carts with homelessness, their nomadic lives are no indicator of economic conditions:

“I’d go to a city, I’d look at a map and go, “Where’s the water near the shopping center?” It’s all the same everywhere. Rich areas, poor areas—people want to throw shopping carts in the water.”

Read their full interview: A Look Back at the Greatest (and Only) Stray Shopping Cart Identification Guide Ever Made


What We’re Reading

Amsterdam has a tiny bike mayor (The Guardian)

The biggest economic divides are local. Just ask parents. (New York Times)

Returning to the small town Walmart left behind (PBS NewsHour)

In cities on the Great Lakes, water pipes are crumbling and poor people are paying the price (APM Reports)


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