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.
“Welcome to the Metastructure: The New Internet of Transportation,” Adam Rogers, Wired
Though I haven’t lived there for nearly three decades, I still consider myself a citizen of Los Angeles. Soy un Angeleño. That means, among other things, I drive. For me, a car is like a suit or a good exoskeleton. Road trips, going 100 miles per hour on a freeway, racing through Park La Brea—they’re all sewn as tightly into my DNA as ice-skating in Central Park is for a New Yorker.
Despite that heritage, I’ve been running an experiment on myself and my hometown. My last three trips there, I didn’t rent a car; it’s been nothing but taxis, Uber, and one time I borrowed my dad’s. (He still identifies as an Angeleño too, though he lives in Tarzana. Which … come on.) Point is, it worked. Not only did I move through space and time every bit as efficiently—more, if you believe that screwing around on Twitter and email is useful—I took new routes. I got everywhere I needed to go, faster than I otherwise would have, without worrying once about getting lost, finding parking, or maybe having had one last drink.
It’s starting to seem like everyone is running some version of my experiment. Driving itself is changing. Between electric and self-driving vehicles, ubiquitous sensors, network connectivity, and new kinds of transportation companies, everything is in flux: cars, how we feel about them, even roads and cities. This isn’t just hypothetical; you can use these things today. A radical phase shift is redrawing the map, literally and metaphorically.
“Phoenix 101: Wartime,” Jon Talton, Rogue Columnist
In the conventional telling of Phoenix history, World War II marks the pivot between the "old" and "new" city. The reality is not quite so neat. But the war does deserve its own niche, separate from the more expansive decade of the 1940s.
As with the Great War, the most immediate local beneficiaries of the outbreak of hostilities in Europe in 1939 (China had been fighting for its life against Japan since 1937) were the cotton farmers of the Salt River Valley. Even with America nominally neutral, Washington tilted policy toward Britain and France, and our extra-long staple cotton was critical to making tires.
But unlike World War I, the Second World War would touch Phoenix much more profoundly. It would bring military bases and new industries. Population increases would strain the city. Simmering racial hostilities would break through. One of the great injustices of American history would literally run through the heart of town.
“The Sinkhole Hunters,” David Kushner, Nautilus
One day last May, a muddy truck bound down a dirt road through the backwoods of Gainesville, Florida. It pulled up in a cloud of dust to a sprawling green farmhouse with a wide front porch, nestled among cypress trees dripping in gray Spanish moss. Horses ate from hay bales in a small stable. Situated on four acres of pasture and woods, the house was a place to spend a day in a rocking chair, sipping from a tall cold glass of sweet tea. But the owner, Bill Baxter, a graying, retired hospital administrator with a thick Southern accent, was sweating, and not because of the heat.
Baxter guided the men in the truck through his backyard and told them of the scare he’d had the other day. Abbot, his snow white 10-year-old horse, was wandering along the front lawn of the house. As the horse walked near the knotty old oak tree in the center of the yard, the earth beneath his right front hoof softened and gave way. Baxter ran from the porch of his house and freed Abbot’s hoof from the fresh hole. He gazed down into the narrow deep darkness that remained below. “This is suspicious,” Baxter thought.
He had reason to be wary. A few feet away lurked a pool-sized crater of fallen earth that was growing bigger by the year. It was a sinkhole, just one of thousands pockmarking the state, and now, Baxter feared, it was threatening to take his horses and him and his wife with it. “If this is getting worse,” he said, “how safe can it be in the house?”
“Leopards of India’s Silicon City,” Luke Dollar, National Geographic
Bangalore, a southern Indian city, has become synonymous with information technology and is one of a few metropolis in the world that hosts large wild mammals such as elephants, leopards, sloth bears and even tigers within a distance of a few kilometers from the center of the city. Among them, two species make headlines, quite often – the elephant and the leopard.
Part of the city outskirts, where rural life continues to linger despite the contrasting glitzy city reports, livestock lifting by leopards are common. Occasionally, the residents of apartment complexes in the southern side of the city report leopard sightings. When such incidents are reported, the response is a demand to relocate (translocation) the leopards. In the past five years the forest department, due to various pressures, has captured six leopards from the city outskirts, relocating four of them to various other locations.
Concerned about the leopard conflict and captures, I started monitoring the presence of leopards and conflict incidences around the country’s IT capital. From time to time we camera-trapped the areas where there were requests from local residents who were afraid of leopards lurking in their area and the government.
“The Battle Over How to Save New York's Homeless from the Winter Cold,” John Surico, Vice
For tens of thousands of homeless New Yorkers, the unusually warm start to this winter has been a seasonal stroke of luck, especially compared to last year, when storm after storm rocked the East Coast, forcing throngs of homeless to take desperate measures. Back then, some slept on subways; others stayed in "cardboard condos," hidden away under scaffolds and near major transit terminals—whatever it took to stay warm.
But with temperatures set to plunge in January, it's that time of year again for America's richest city to grapple with how to protect its lowliest citizens from below-freezing temperatures. And thanks to an executive order issued from Albany, the state capital, that task is looking thornier than ever.
On Sunday night, with a major cold front approaching his state, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an order mandating local municipalities take homeless individuals off the street when the temperature drops below the freezing mark.