Also: Don’t call it a YIMBY plan, and why Seattle is opening clean-air shelters.

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What We’re Following

Crank ranking: People love to comparison shop. That simple fact explains the popularity of lists that rank cities by “livability,” feeding the notion that life will be better if you just pack your bags and move to another, more idyllic place. If you follow these annual lists, the winners won’t shock you: For the most part, prosperous and modestly scaled Northern European cities like Vienna, Copenhagen, and Helsinki dominate the finalists.  

But these clicky rankings may not be the objective, data-driven reports they appear to be. Crunching the numbers on crime, weather, and housing costs can lend a sense of neutrality, but the results still project the tastes of the listmakers—and there’s a curious anti-urban slant to their outcomes. After all, how can you truly judge a city like Zurich, the serene Swiss semi-metropolis that recently topped one list, against a megacity like Beijing or Tokyo? CityLab’s Feargus O’Sullivan takes a look at what these world’s “most livable” city rankings really mean. Read his take: Death to Livability!

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

Don’t Call Trump’s Housing Order a YIMBY Plan

The president just signed an executive order calling for states and cities to pursue zoning reform. But affordable housing advocates aren’t celebrating.

Sarah Holder

Seattle Will Open Clean-Air Shelters As Relief From Wildfire Smoke

Five public buildings will get filtration systems to keep the air inside clean on days when smoke affects the city, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced last week.

Hallie Golden

Revisiting Pittsburgh’s Era of Big Plans

A conversation with the trio of authors behind a new book about the Steel City’s mid-20th-century transformation.

Mark Byrnes

Can Waze Convince Commuters to Carpool Again?

Google’s wayfinding company wants to help drivers and riders find each other on its navigation app—and ease traffic congestion along the way.

Andrew Small

Gyms Are Becoming Third Places for Type-A Millennials

With their invite-only policies and coworking spaces, high-end urban gyms aspire to be fitness studio, social club, and office rolled into one.

Sam Eichner


Sure Sign

(Pentagram)

For the past few years, there’s been a subtle shift at New York City’s parks, as the city’s department of parks and recreation gradually rebranded itself through the signs at its properties. It wasn’t easy: Years of changing rules, warnings, and regulations resulted in a messy system of ad-hoc signage at more than 5,000 properties. But  the design firm Pentagram reined them in, bringing a new typeface, logo, and structure that make it easier to communicate answers to the questions visitors may have at any given park. CityLab’s Kriston Capps spoke to Pentagram designer Paula Scher about what she learned the process. On CityLab: The Secrets to NYC Parks’ New Signs


What We’re Reading

The Green New Deal could change how America builds (Fast Company)

How vacant lots create financial strain for smaller cities (Curbed)

The unproven, invasive surveillance technology schools are using to monitor students (ProPublica)

How apartheid killed Johannesburg’s cycling culture (The Guardian)


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