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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“End of the Line,” Peter Yeung and Alli Shultes, AJourneyOnThe25.com
“This bus terminates here, please take all of your belongings with you,” announces the considerate, robotic voice of a woman. These words are said hundreds of times each night over London’s 51 night bus routes.
For some it is a helpful prompt, but for an increasing amount of the capital’s homeless, it’s a stark reminder of their desperate situation.
Here is the story of the number 25, the bus with the highest number of reported rough sleeping incidents in London.
“Hold the Fort,” Katherine Laidlaw, The Walrus
The first time Aleaha and Chad Frigon saw the winding roads and sprawling acreages of Saprae Creek, a suburb south of Fort McMurray’s downtown, they knew. It was eleven years ago, three days after they were married. Wedding gifts and belongings piled in their truck and trailer, the drive up was full of promise. Chad had commuted their entire relationship, flying from Edmonton to camp and back again. But the Frigons wanted to start a family, and suppers together were non-negotiable for them both. She was twenty-four years old, Chad was twenty-seven, and the couple had exactly the kind of life in mind that they wanted to build. Edmonton was always too big to feel quite like home.
For so many young couples, Fort McMurray held the promise of steady work in a booming industry, and a chance to have an impact on a city still in its blueprint stages. Sure, Aleaha had heard about the problems with drugs and excess, of rental prices skyrocketing, and the health ramifications of living so close to the oil sands. But she was excited. They were moving toward the future she’d always imagined. The Frigons were exactly the kind of family the oil companies were hoping would populate Fort McMurray at the time, who could turn it from a booming oil town to a city that would stand on its own—built on hope, expectation, incentive.
“’Canstruction’ Delivers Big for Toronto's Food Banks,” Kieran Delamont, Spacing Toronto
I’m standing in front of a large pile of yellow cans of fruit—cherries, peaches, fruit salad—that has been designed and shaped to look like something. Up close, it’s hard to exactly what that something is, but stepping back a bit, the image of a big, seated, yellow Buddha starts to become a little bit clearer. (I might add that the yellow cans bring Homer Simpson to mind.) Other canstructions (the proper portmanteau) have this same effect: it isn’t until you stand back from the structure that the design can be fully seen. In their descriptions of the structures, the architects who designed the canstructions talk a lot about capturing the essence of a thing, likely because canned goods make for a somewhat inelegant and inexact medium for realism.
It was, all things told, an impressive display at the Design Exchange on Tuesday night, where Canstruction Toronto held its 17th annual Canstruction Awards, pitting architecture and design firms against one another over who can marshal their cans into the best display of art, structural design, and pop culture whimsy.
“Unearthing the Secrets of New York's Mass Graves,” Nina Bernstein, The New York Times
Twice a week or so, loaded with bodies boxed in pine, a New York City morgue truck passes through a tall chain-link gate and onto a ferry that has no paying passengers. Its destination is Hart Island, an uninhabited strip of land off the coast of the Bronx in Long Island Sound, where overgrown 19th-century ruins give way to mass graves gouged out by bulldozers and the only pallbearers are jail inmates paid 50 cents an hour.
There, divergent life stories come to the same anonymous end.
No tombstones name the dead in the 101-acre potter’s field that holds Leola Dickerson, who worked as one family’s housekeeper for 50 years, beloved by three generations for her fried chicken and her kindness. She buried her husband as he had wished, in a family plot back in Alabama. But when she died at 88 in a New York hospital in 2008, she was the ward of a court-appointed guardian who let her house go into foreclosure and her body go unclaimed at the morgue.
By law, her corpse became city property, to be made available as a cadaverfor dissection or embalming practice if a medical school or mortuary class wanted it. Then, like more than a million men, women and children since 1869, she was consigned to a trench on Hart Island.
“Tearing Down Condemned Homes in Nairobi,” Edmund Blair and John Ndiso, Reuters
Kenya's authorities tore down a badly built residential block in a poor Nairobi district on May 17, one of more than 250 shoddy buildings that could now face demolition after a six-storey structure collapsed this month killing 51 people.
Nearby, residents of another condemned block in Mathare scrambled to wrap up utensils and other items in bed sheets and stuffed plastic bags with clothes as workers ripped out door and window frames to prepare for machinery to destroy the structure.
Kenyan authorities are stepping up evictions of poorly built buildings after a six-storey block in Huruma district - which lies next to Mathare - collapsed on April 29 after days of rain.
Officials said it had been condemned before it crumbled and said it was not clear why it had not been pulled down.