What Intersections Would Look Like in a World of Driverless Cars

OK, so first you have to accept the idea that we will one day all be in driverless cars. But the people who think about such things for a living are seriously convinced this will happen.

“The technology is pretty much already there,” says Peter Stone, a computer scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. And this was also the jarring promise of Tom Vanderbilt’s recent profile of the autonomous car in Wired. “But the question is when will it be cost-effective? When will the legal industry wrap its head around it, and the insurance industry, and when will people buy into it? I don’t know when it will actually happen. But the potential advantages are so huge that it has to happen eventually.”

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.



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The Grocery Store of the Future

As of earlier this month, commuters waiting for the next train on Philadelphia’s platforms have been able to shop for groceries by opening the Peapod app and scanning barcodes on a sign.

People do any number of things while waiting on the platform for the next subway or commuter train. Some pre-walk
to position themselves at the best station exit for their destination.
Some just mindlessly pace. The ones who used to look down the track
every few moments for the next train now look at the digital arrival
times every few moments instead. Some take pictures of rats.

And, as of earlier this month, some Philadelphians have been able to shop for groceries. The online grocer Peapod
introduced virtual storefronts at select SEPTA stations throughout the
city. While awaiting a train, users can download the Peapod app, peruse
the items in front of them, and scan the barcode of anything they’d like
to purchase. The groceries are delivered to their homes later that day.

Philly marks the idea’s American debut, but a number of international
cities already have similar services. Woolworths has placed virtual
storefronts at the Town Hall Station in Sydney, Australia, and displays from British retailer Tesco were installed last year in South Korea. If three is a trend, you just got trended..

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.


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Mapping All of America’s Illnesses

A resident of Phoenix is down with the “man flu” — the possibly mythical condition in which men experience illnesses more painfully than women.

This drippy, wheezy intelligence, possibly accurate or possibly not, comes courtesy of SickWeather, a website that attempts to crowdsource the health of cities around the world. (Motto: “Say It, Don’t Spray It”). Co-founded by former U.S. Census crime-trend mapper Graham Dodge, the site presents a near-real-time map showing outbreaks of various illnesses as vast colored polygons; zoom in, and you can see the specific neighborhoods where people are kvetching about being laid out.

Hypochondriacs can spend a half hour or so filtering the results by malady. There are the usual suspects: common cold, stomach flu, pink eye, allergies, chicken pox. A few lesser-known afflictions also pop up, such as croup and “love sickness.” When the terrorists finally find a way to weaponize the latter, we’ll all be doomed.

How does SickWeather reach its diagnoses? Two ways. First, users can log on and pin their respective bugs onto the map. The company also uses a “patent-pending algorithm” that scans Facebook and Twitter for complaints of illness. This spider is intelligent enough to tell the difference between “I’m sick” and “Those were sick beats at the club last night.” Likewise, it will pick up “The doc says I have bronchitis” but leave “Bieber fever 4ever!”

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.


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Should Public Trees Bear Fruit?

There’s a block in San Francisco that will soon be blossoming with cherries, plums, and pears, but Tara Hui will not say where. That’s because she’s worried that backlash from city officials or unsympathetic citizens will halt the progress she and her fellow Guerrilla Grafters have made splicing fruit-bearing branches on to city trees.

Grafting trees is as simple as cutting a branch from one kind of tree and sticking it into a notch in another, securing it with sturdy tape and hoping that the new branch thrives. It’s as old as the Bible and widely used today in industrial agriculture.

Hui hopes the method will help bring food to under-served parts of the city like her neighborhood, Visitacion Valley, which she says is basically a food desert.

“There’s a lot of discussion about what kind of policy we need to get businesses to come to this neighborhood to sell fresh produce or even organic,” she says. Over the years she’s advocated for bringing fruit trees into the city’s urban forestry mix. “If all goes well it might even spawn some kind of cottage industry like canning or jamming,” she says.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.


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Spending 1 Month in Beijing’s Smog Is Like Smoking 5 Cigarettes

Crazy bad days [in Beijing], according to [Dr. Richard] Saint Cyr, are the equivalent of 75 percent of one cigarette a day. “So if you don’t smoke and you are really healthy, it is something to think about,” he admits, although he argues that the health effects of being overweight and inactive are far worse than a little air pollution. “My overall theme is that people, if they’re freaking out about air pollution and they’re five or ten kilograms overweight, they’re really missing the point about their relative risks, what they’re gonna die of,” he says.

At the same time, Saint Cyr acknowledges that mortality from air pollution is a problem in Beijing. Lung cancer, heart disease, and strokes all rise in polluted cities like Beijing. In China, the individual risk might not be significant but because of the size of the population, the pollution could mean that “hundreds of thousands die prematurely,” he says.

Air quality in Beijing isn’t expected to improve any time soon, but the transparency of reporting took a great leap forward just before the lunar new year, when the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center started to publish its own 2.5 particulate matter readings. On his website, Saint Cyr compared the readings from the U.S. Embassy and the Chinese, and found that the numbers were comparable. That’s a dramatic improvement over the city’s earlier monitoring system, which limited itself to a daily report on larger particulates of 10 micrograms and had the audacity to claim that there were 286 “blue sky days” in 2011.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.


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2020 Forecast: The Biggest Winners and Losers in Job Creation This Decade

The Washington, D.C., area has a lot to crow about in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest forecasts for job creation in the next ten years. The District, its Maryland suburb of Bethesda, and nearby Baltimore are among the ten cities with the highest-projected job growth by 2020, as shown by the graph above.

Atlantic Cities author

Southwestern metros now dominate the fastest-growth list, led by
Phoenix, Tucson, and El Paso. The slow-growth club is all Northeast and
Midwest, plus Los Angeles. Mild climate and low density mean that
southern metros like Greensboro, North Carolina and Columbia, South
Carolina, should grow faster than their unfavorable industry mix
suggests, so they’re off the bottom-10 list when all factors are
included.

The map below shows that employment growth will be fastest in the
Southwest, Texas and parts of Florida and California. The South looks
more blue than before, while the Northeast and Midwest are pretty
solidly light and dark red. Turns out, metros with good climate, higher
education and lower density tend, on average, to have a more favorable
industry mix to begin with. But some metros blessed with industries that
are likely to grow – like New York and Boston – will be held back by
harsher weather and a higher cost of living. Other metros – like Phoenix
and Las Vegas – should grow fast despite having concentrations of
industries projected to grow more slowly.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.



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Erin Brockovich Investigates Odd Student Illness in Upstate New York

Meet teenager Lori Brownell, the first exemplar of an outbreak of
involuntary trembling and verbal outbursts that’s drawn health
professionals and environmentalists to the town of Le Roy, New York.
Brownell is not from Le Roy, hailing instead from Corinth some 450
miles eastward, but she happened to eat dinner in the town last summer
right before her life began to get weird.

In one of the early YouTube videos
she started filming to document her condition, she explained that she
passed out suddenly last August while headbanging at a concert. Then she
fainted at a school dance, after which her body became wracked with
tremors. She went on meds, but the twitching continued and was soon
joined with a violent sort of snorting and what she believes are
seizures.

Brownell’s disorder wouldn’t be all that notable if it weren’t for
students at Le Roy Jr. / Sr. High School rapidly developing the same
type of tics and verbal outbursts. The Le Roy school district and the
New York State Health Department began investigating “neurological
symptoms associated with a small number of students” in November. That
number of students has since climbed to 15, the vast majority being females.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.


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The Relationship Between Colder States and Binge Drinking

After the Centers for Disease Control’s latest report on binge drinking, a post had readers wondering if the activity was tied to the cold.

A number of commenters on my binge drinking post asked about the connection between cold temperatures and binge drinking. One wrote:

“I noticed a pattern as I look out my window on a fine January afternoon in a state that’s on the high end of the binge drinking scale: It’s cold, and it gets dark very early in the evening. There’s not much to do here for half the year if you like to actually be outside. Drinking is a way of dealing with the depression that comes from forced inactivity. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that northern, non-coastal states drink heavily.”

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.


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Designing Healthy Communities

A four-hour television series, which will debut at the same time a companion book is made available, takes a close look at how our built environment is affecting our personal health.

A provocative new four-hour series soon to air on public television, Designing Healthy Communities,
examines the impact of our built environment on key public health
indices, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, cancer, and
depression. The series documents the connection between bad community
design and burgeoning health consequences, and discusses the remedies
available to fix what has become an urgent crisis.

Long in the making, the series looks well produced, immensely enlightening and even captivating. The four parts will include:

  • Retrofitting Suburbia, which will address health problems like obesity and diabetes
  • Rebuilding Places of the Heart, on reviving our older downtowns
  • Social Policy in Concrete, addressing the particular risks faced by low-income communities
  • Searching for Shangri-La, exploring whether there are “ideal” healthy communities

A companion book, also called Designing Healthy Communities, is available as well. It comes on the heels of the excellent compendium of essays, Making Healthy Places, co-edited with Andrew Dannenberg and Howard Frumkin, that was published last year. All editors are veterans of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.


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The Geography of Binge Drinking

Using data released by the Centers for Disease Control, we can see that there is something of a binge drinking belt across the northern half of the country, and that liberal states drink more.

Binge drinking varies from one in ten adults (10.9 percent) at the low end of the spectrum to more than one in four (25.6 percent) at the high end. There is something of a binge drinking belt across the north of the country, running westward from New England, Pennsylvania and Ohio to Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and Montana. Alaska ranks high too, suggesting that long, cold winters might play a role, though tropical Hawaii is in the top tier as well.

With the help of my MPI colleague Charlotta Mellander, I took a quick look at some of the economic and demographic factors that might be associated with binge drinking. The correlations that we noticed, of course, do not prove causation, only that an association exists. Several factors do stand out, however.

Binge drinking is more common in liberal states, those voted for Obama in 2008, and it is negatively associated with states that voted for McCain (with correlations of roughly .3 and -.3 respectively). Binge drinking states are also more “extroverted.” The correlation between extroverted personality types (one of the “big five” personality traits identified by psychologists) and binge drinking is .3.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.


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