Also: Chasing the only electric Citi Bike in Manhattan, and Aretha Franklin’s Memphis home could be the new Graceland.

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What We’re Following

You’re grounded: How did playgrounds get so boring? An era of fear about children’s safety has sanitized them, encouraging designers to produce standard-issue plastic swing sets and slides that minimize harm but also make them dull. Recently, though, there’s been a change. A growing pushback against risk-averse thinking is giving rise to the “adventure playground,” bringing back the scrapyard vibe of old playgrounds with loose tires, blocks of wood, and rope—sometimes even adding hammers and fire for good measure.

Now architects, researchers, and childhood development specialists are weighing the importance of risk in encouraging kids’ creativity, independence, and problem-solving. But these playgrounds are just the starting point. As cities reconsider risk to children, better urban design can lend itself to play way beyond the jungle-gym. For the latest installment of our “Room to Grow” series, CityLab’s Tanvi Misra has the story on how “risky” playgrounds are making a comeback.

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

I Chased Down the Only Electric Citi Bike In Manhattan

Seeing a single bike bounce around so often over my lunch break highlighted the value of bikeshare in a way that ridership statistics can't, writes an MTA analyst.  

Lucas Riccardi

New York City’s L Train Shutdown Might Not Be So Terrible

Over the the longer term, the city’s subway, bus, and bike commuters stand to benefit from the much-feared Brooklyn train disruption.

Catesby Holmes

What’s Going on With Aretha Franklin’s Birth House in Memphis?

A community developer is hoping to turn Aretha Franklin’s birth home in Memphis into a place that honors her soul music legacy and the gospel music legacy of her father, Rev. C. L. Franklin.

Brentin Mock

Seattle Is Choking on a Cloak of Wildfire Smoke

For the third summer in a row, the Pacific Northwest city is blanketed in air pollution from massive wildfires nearby. This is the worst year yet.

David Kroman

Reclaiming Riga’s Soviet Architecture

One group is working with landlords and city officials to solidify the future of the Latvian capital’s suburban concrete relics.

Daryl Mersom


A Tree Grows in Dallas

Combined data about equity, health, pedestrian safety, urban heat, and flood risks shows where Dallas’s Oak Cliff neighborhood needs trees the most. (The Trust for Public Land)

Finding shade isn’t always easy in Dallas. With a dearth of trees in the city, the urban heat island effect has made it one of the fastest-warming cities in the United States. That’s why, earlier this year, volunteers spread out in the neighborhood of Oak Cliff, one of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, to plant more trees.

The goal is to plant 1,000 trees, but the teams behind the project want to be smart about it. Using data and GIS technology, they’re finding out how to maximize the effects of green infrastructure. They consulted maps like the one above—combining data on equity, health, pedestrian safety, urban heat, and flood risks—to find out where new trees could have the most impact. CityLab’s Linda Poon explains how the effort can cool a concrete jungle, and help vulnerable communities in the process.


What We’re Reading

California has a climate problem, and its name is cars (Vox)

“Addicts, crooks, thieves”: The campaign to kill Baltimore’s light rail (The Guardian)

Watching a real urban planner play SimCity is incredibly satisfying (Fast Company)

Amazon’s effect on grocery stores: rivals stock up on start-ups (New York Times)

What cities can learn from 4,000 housing voucher tests (Next City)


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