Also: Should designers reform immigrant detention? And a “zen mode” for ride-hailing apps.

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What We’re Following

Garden mind: Philadelphia has more than 43,000 vacant lots, often overgrown with weeds and strewn with trash. As the city has scrambled to sell the lots for redevelopment, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has tried something different: turning some into parks and community gardens. These efforts aren’t just making the city greener—according to a new study, they’re also improving people’s mental health.

Where these “greening interventions” took place, residents reported feeling less depressed, especially near some of the poorest neighborhoods of the city. And it’s not just a placebo effect: The study design gets at whether that positive feeling really is because the grass is greener. CityLab’s Linda Poon has the details on the healing potential of turning vacant lots green.

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

Vacancy: America’s Other Housing Crisis

As empty homes sit in purgatory, neighborhoods fray and cities are left to pick up the bill.

Richard Florida

Should Designers Try to Reform Immigrant Detention?

Some architects believe it’s their duty to try to improve conditions for immigrant detainees in the U.S., while others urge a total boycott of such work.

CityLab

Shut Up and Drive

Would ride-hailing be better if the driver couldn’t talk?

David Dudley

Memphis Police Spying on Activists Is Worse Than We Thought

As ACLU lawyers prepare for an upcoming trial with the Memphis Police Department, the things they’ve learned about the law enforcement agency’s spying habits have “surprised” them.

Brentin Mock

The Teen Who Wanted to Fix Atlanta’s Noise Pollution Problem

In the 1970s, one local high-school girl went to some of the loudest parts of the city to see just how bad the problem was.

Karim Doumar


Lose Yourself

A circular bar chart shows how cities' streets align to compasses.
(Geoff Boeing)

Don’t lament the lost art of navigating by compass in the age of the smartphone. While some city grids make a lot of sense by cardinal directions, others were never all that intuitive to begin with. A new interactive from urban planning scholar Geoff Boeing calculates the “logic” of a city based on how streets line up to a compass and plots it on a circular bar chart. The geography technique itself is not exactly new, as CityLab’s David Montgomery explains, but the tool is a mesmerizing way of visualizing the hidden “logic” of cities.


What We’re Reading

Charlotte moves toward a car-free city center (Next City)

The life of an electric scooter can be short, nasty, and brutish (Washington Post)

Why China’s megacities have hit the limits of growth (Slate)

Seattle’s real estate boom is driving up transit costs (Streetsblog)

Five theories of why Trump is obsessed with the brutalist FBI building (New York)


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