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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“When New York City Tried to Ban Cars—The Extraordinary Story of 'Gridlock Sam,'” Aaron Renn, Guardian
Before the eager young New York traffic department employee who would eventually become known as Gridlock Sam had begun his long war against cars in earnest in the early 1970s, he got a dull assignment: standing out in the cold weather, timing car traffic as it crossed into Midtown.
At least, it would have seemed dull to most people. For Sam Schwartz it was exciting, because it was data collection for a clean air proposal known as the “Red Zone”. Within this zone, private cars in Midtown would be banned, outright, between 10am and 4pm. Schwartz loved the whole idea. “It was just a very exciting time to be in city government,” he recalls. “There we were – going to do the first car ban.”
“Happy Sunday, Welcome to Rikers,” Alice Speri, The Intercept
Anna has made the trip to Rikers hundreds of times in the nearly six years her son has been awaiting trial. Each time, a friend picks her up early in the morning near her apartment in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and drives her out through the city, past the brick houses and manicured lawns of northwestern Queens. They park near the Q100 bus stop and sit silently in the car until the bus pulls up.
On weekends, there’s always a line pushing to get on the bus — almost all women, many with small children, most black or Hispanic. Anna doesn’t rush to the doors like the rest; she has made this trip often enough to know that if you get on last you’ll be the first off when the bus reaches its destination. It’s only one stop, anyway.
“Citizen Khan,” Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker
The first person in Sheridan, Wyoming, to learn that Hot Tamale Louie had been knifed to death was William Henry Harrison, Jr. The news came by telegram, the day after the murder. Harrison was the son of a member of Congress, the great-grandson of one President, the great-great-great-grandson of another President, and the great-great-great-great-grandson of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Hot Tamale Louie was the son of nobody knows who, the grandson of nobody knows who, and the great-great-grandson of nobody knows who. He had been selling tamales in Sheridan since Buffalo Bill rode in the town parade, sold them when President Taft came to visit, was still selling them when the Russians sent Sputnik into space and the British sent the Beatles to America.
“The Lost Secret Sign Language of Sawmill Workers,” Sarah Laskow, Atlas Obscura
When the linguists Martin Meissner and Stuart Philpott first started visiting sawmills in British Columbia in the 1970s, they thought they’d find workers communicating without speaking, probably with some simple gestures that contained technical information. There was a long history of such communication in the face of extreme noise: For centuries, American mill workers had used systems of hand signals to tell each other, across the unending roar of the saws, how to cut wood.
What they discovered, though, floored them. The researchers witnessed a sign language system complete enough that workers could call each other “you crazy old farmer,” tell a colleague that he was “full of crap,” or tell each other when the foreman was “fucking around over there.”
“In the Rural West, Residents Choose Low Taxes Over Law Enforcement,” Byard Duncan, Reveal News
Dave Daniel knew there would be days like this. OK, weeks. Hell,months like this. But he never looked forward to charging from one end of his jurisdiction to the other, knuckles white on the steering wheel, tires kicking up gravel, siren howling like an angry baby.
Yet for all his best intentions and efforts, that’s exactly what the sheriff of Josephine County, Oregon, found himself doing, once again, on a brisk morning in April 2015. A 16-year-old girl, alone at home in the sleepy town of Wolf Creek, was cowering by the phone as someone attempted to break in. Daniel, short on deputies, raced up the interstate and into his county’s thick-forested northern end. He arrived in time to secure the scene – the burglar was long gone – and summon the teen’s parents home from work.