Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days.
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“The Future of Jakarta: Urbanization Reaches a Breaking Point,” Neel V. Patel, Inverse
Since 2000, the world’s second-largest megacity, Jakarta, has seen its population swell by a staggering 34 percent. Though the city proper is home to just 10 million, the urban zone is home to 30 million and experts expect another seven million to migrate to the city over the next 15 years. Although Jakarta is translating its newfound growth into economic growth, density has a downside. The infrastructure simply isn’t in place to handle this much traffic. Also, the flooding is getting worse.
Deemed the world’s most congested city by its hometown newspaper, Jakarta’s traffic is a disaster. Drivers stop an average of 91 times per day. Public transit only serves 56 percent of trips made by commuters. The city is a parking lot.
Deden Rukmana, professor of urban studies and planning at Savannah State University in Georgia, who has studied and written extensively about what kinds of challenges Jakarta will be dealing with in the next several decades, thinks Jakarta needs to start taking cues from cities like New York or Beijing, and build an extensive subway train system that can get commuters to and from places faster and more efficiently. “Jakarta is the largest urban metropolitan area in the world without a metro,” he says. “And a metro is the most crucial element of transportation for a megacity. There’s no way it can exist otherwise.”
“The 'Gaytrification' Effect: Why Gay Neighbourhoods Are Being Priced Out,” Feargus O’Sullivan, The Guardian
Personal assistant Brenden Michaels is wondering if his days in Brooklyn are numbered. He still clings to a cheap rental flat in uber-gentrified Williamsburg, but has seen his neighbourhood’s prices skyrocket. He now laughingly suspects even the improvements he’s made to his own home may eventually come back to bite him.
“I’ve repainted everything, put plants on the fire escape and done a lot of maintenance. If I leave this apartment it will be in a far better state than when I arrived. And by that very simple step, I have almost gentrified myself out of my own building.”
In many ways, the 29-year-old’s experience is typical of a host of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender city-dwellers. Seeking both an accepting community and affordable rent, they have often flocked together in cheaper areas of inner cities, such as gay-friendly Williamsburg. Their very presence in these areas, however, has allegedly transformed them, accelerating gentrification – and in turn pricing them out.
“Crossing to Safety,” Cathy Shufro, Johns Hopkins Public Health Magazine
When we arrive at Doan Dung’s mud-and-bamboo house in the rural outskirts of Hanoi, Vietnam, she immediately takes us to her husband’s shrine—a carved wooden shelf that hangs about six feet above the floor.
It holds two blue-and-white ceramic pots with incense sticks, a small oil lamp and a row of three celadon-green rice wine cups. Doan places the mangos we’ve brought in front of the photograph of her husband, who died at age 35 while riding his motorbike to work. His face is serious, his dark eyes mild. Doan leaves my interpreter and me alone in the room. She is giving us a moment to pray.
Doan got the phone call on a September morning in 2008, soon after her husband, Duong Thu, had left for his construction job at a new factory complex. The caller had taken the same popular shortcut to work that Duong used, a dirt path that cut the trip to the construction site from eight kilometers to three. The path traversed a railroad crossing without a barrier or warning lights, and a train had struck Duong. It also killed his passenger, a 53-year-old cousin. Later that morning, Duong’s father, a farmer and wounded veteran of the Laotian civil war, went to the tracks to pick up his oldest child’s body. He keeps his son’s motorcycle helmet as a memento.
“Wild Turkey Finds a Home in Harvard Square,” Dugan Arnett, Boston Globe
CAMBRIDGE — In an urban hub filled with no shortage of odd sights and characters, the so-called Harvard Turkey has perhaps established itself as the strangest.
Since the large, black-feathered bird began stalking the bustling streets of Harvard Square at a difficult-to-pinpoint date, its presence has captured the imagination of the quirky commercial district.
The turkey currently boasts a sizable Facebook following. It has been the focus of at least one Harvard-affiliated anthropological study, and it has served as the inspiration for both conspiracy theorists — some turkey-truth-ers remain convinced that there are, in fact, multiple Harvard turkeys — and for fan fiction.
Though wild turkeys are a familiar presence in Boston and its suburbs, neighbors in Cambridge speak of the Harvard Square turkey with a combination of wonder and awe, marveling at its chutzpah (“I’ve seen him just stop in the middle of the street, blocking traffic with blatant disregard,” says Tom Chamberlain, an employee at Leavitt & Peirce in Harvard Square). And a mere sighting of the bird is enough to whip onlookers into a state of delirium.
“Forget the Rams. St. Louis Will Be Just Fine as a Two-Team Town,” Sarah Fenske, Riverfront Times
Past the desolate edge of what could reasonably be considered downtown St. Louis, tucked between the highway and the river, there is a 90-year-old restaurant with a bar built to resemble a steamboat. A mural along the wall depicts a river scene, and next to it is a fake dock with a fake body of water. Drink enough gin here, and you'd swear you were on the edge of the Mississippi on the deck of the Cotton Blossom.
In this bar, and at this restaurant, I had my first date with my husband, a guy named John I'd met in the hallway of my apartment building in the Central West End. (I was apartment 517; he was apartment 617.) Al's Restaurant is certainly an odd place for a first date – it's the sort of place you might take your mistress on a Tuesday, or your wife on Valentine's Day – but we both had our reasons for discretion that August of 2011, and the place was so charming and unusual that I promptly fell madly in love with him. The rest is history.