Carlos Barria/Reuters

A lesson in an essential element of summer.

With a mid-week holiday coming up in the U.S., we’ve all got summer on our minds. So we’re trying something a little different for the CityLab Daily this week, exploring the essential elements of summer in the city. Find our latest stories at the end, and as always, let us know what you think at hello@citylab.com.

Keep up with the most pressing, interesting, and important city stories of the day. Sign up for the CityLab Daily newsletter here.

***

The Fourth of July can be a real scorcher in cities across the U.S., but that doesn’t stop Americans from celebrating by playing with fire. From fireworks and sparklers to grills and campfires, the day is a good reminder of the power that comes from harnessing the flame. “Without it, of course, we would never have achieved civilisation in the first place,” The Guardian observed in 2014, after the first blaze of the Glasgow School of Architecture in Scotland. It’s always been a two-way street: The invention of the hearth brought a safer way to keep warm indoors, but great fires have also wiped out entire cities in a matter of hours.

Even now that we can better prevent those kinds of infernos, they still invisibly shape how we live. As that same story observes, “the interplay between the need for free space and its restriction for safety exerts a subtle but major force on the form and structure of our cities as a whole.” That interplay turns inside-out during summer, where fire serves as a community gathering place rather than a home hideaway. Whether or not you listen to your mayor’s best warning, be careful out there. And who knows, maybe your city is switching to a burn-free alternative to fireworks. If you’re going to a drone show tomorrow, we’re dying to know if it packs the same patriotic punch. Drop us a line to let us know how it compares: hello@citylab.com.

Burning thoughts


Summer Icon: The Grill

A photo of a grill is pictured.
(Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

Summer is peak grilling season, but its legality for city dwellers is conspicuous, as open-flame cooking runs up against close-quarters living. Back in 2015, CityLab examined whether you can grill on your apartment balcony, and while the International Fire Code set a clear 10-foot rule for avoiding combustible materials, cities otherwise have highly varied rules for grilling.

In New York City, for example, charcoal grills have to stay in terraces or backyards. Electric grills can go on balconies and roofs, though, and propane is a no-go anywhere other than single- or two-family dwellings. But other cities have totally different regulations. Another option is to use a public park station, but beware of the dangers of the wire grill brush if you want those lines on your brats and burgers.


Significant Digits

$885 million: Amount U.S. consumers spent on fireworks in 2017

7.8 million: Acres burned in last year’s wildfires in the United States

$2 billion: New York City Fire Department budget for 2018

66 seconds: How often fire departments responded to a structure fire in the U.S.

1.3 million: Fires reported in the United States in 2016


More on CityLab

Lyft Just Became America’s Biggest Bikeshare Company

By acquiring Motivate, Uber’s chief rival will take over the docked systems in New York, D.C., San Francisco, and more.

Andrew Small

The Dark Side of the Silicon Gold Rush

Acclaimed urban geographer Richard Walker puts the Bay Area’s tech boom into historical and social context in his new book.

Richard Florida

The Math Behind 'Bus Bunching'

Once a bus gets behind schedule, it tends to get later and later, until the bus behind it catches up. But new real-time tracking tools might offer hope.

Vikash V. Gayah and S. Ilgin Guler

The Data Brigade of Tulsa, Oklahoma

The city’s Republican mayor was elected on a platform to govern by data. Now, he's deploying volunteer analysts to execute on his vision.

Sarah Holder

Congress Considers a Lifeline for Struggling Towns on Route 66

Naming the highway a National Historic Trail would bring federal funds for preservation, development, and promotion. Could it also mean economic revival for towns along the road?

Daniel Milowski

An Action-Packed Guide to Houston’s Public Services

Before the law finally came down on him, an infamous Harris County commissioner proudly explained how he was spending taxpayer funds.

Mark Byrnes

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    Elizabeth Warren’s Ambitious Fix for America’s Housing Crisis

    The Massachusetts Democrat introduced legislation that takes aim at segregation, redlining, restrictive zoning, and the loss of equity by low-income homeowners.

  2. Equity

    Why Affordable Housing Isn’t More Affordable

    Local regulations—and the NIMBY sentiments behind them—are a big driver of costs of low-income housing developers. Why don’t we know exactly how much?

  3. Transportation

    Why Did America Give Up on Mass Transit? (Don't Blame Cars.)

    Streetcar, bus, and metro systems have been ignoring one lesson for 100 years: Service drives demand.

  4. A large factory in the desert
    Life

    Some Rural Counties Are Seeing a Job Boom, Too

    Economic growth is a mixed bag in urban and rural counties, large and small.

  5. Barack Obama hugs Rahm Emanuel as Michelle Obama looks on.
    Design

    After Rahm, What Comes Next for the Obama Library?

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to step down may give critics of the library plan more time and room to negotiate.