Who Owns LOVE?

Robert Indiana, the sculptor whose most famous work charted the course for public art everywhere, died on Saturday on a remote island off the coast of Maine, where he lived in isolation. He was 89. While he gave the world LOVE—an image as ubiquitous, as pure, and as saccharine as the emotion itself—the work was a source of lifelong frustration for the artist, right up to his death.

On Friday, the day before Indiana (born Robert Clark) died, a company called the Morgan Art Foundation Limited sued the artist and several associates for copyright infringement. The organization claims that it has owned the copyright for LOVE and several similarly configured works by Indiana, including AMOR and YALE, since the late 1990s. The suit alleges that recent artworks produced by Indiana violate the copyright of the Morgan Art Foundation—an offshore company whose owners and interests are secret.

This case illuminates a bitter irony: When Indiana first sketched the chunky stack of blocky letters in 1964, he failed to properly file a copyright for LOVE as the law required at the time. The image went on to achieve fame when the Museum of Modern Art commissioned Indiana to design a Christmas card in 1965. The original LOVE sculpture was installed at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1970. Three years later, the design found immortality when the U.S. Postal Service stamped out 330 million LOVE postage stamps.

Robert Indiana’s AMOR, which was loaned to Philadelphia for the visit by Pope Francis in 2016, is now a permanent feature. (Michael R. Sisak/AP)

Only after the law for intellectual property changed in 1976, did Indiana win some limited rights for the work. But by that time, the image had long since transcended the world of sculpture, becoming a stand-in for the worst overreaches in commercial public art, and an albatross around the artist’s neck. Global riches eluded Indiana; instead, he gained notoriety.

Now, the story of LOVE is fated to end in acrimony—and the owner of LOVE after Indiana’s death remains a secret.

In recent years, the fight over LOVE has intensified. Philadelphia—a city with a spiritual claim to the sculpture, which was first installed there as part of the Bicentennial celebration in 1976—has sold LOVE-themed tchotchkes for years without incident. But the city received a cease-and-desist letter in December, even as hundreds of fans lined up in Love Park to purchase a $50 limited-edition granite LOVE keepsake, with funds going to maintain the park.

Another artist, who said Indiana gave him permission to make a sculpture of “PREM”—Sanskrit for love—faced a lawsuit in 2012.

The Morgan Art Foundation has registered two federal trademarks for the design and reproduction of LOVE—“the letters ‘LO’ above letters ‘VE’ in a stylized form”—and has applied for a third. The existing trademarks apply to umbrellas, credit-card holders, backpacks, and more. (The pending trademark, for ceramics and crafts, seems designed to block Philadelphia’s Love Park fundraiser.)

“Given the artist’s death, it’s even more important to pursue the case and protect Robert Indiana’s legacy,” says Luke Nikas, an attorney for Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan who is representing the Morgan Art Foundation.

The design for LOVE found immortality when the U.S. Postal Service stamped out 330 million postage stamps of it in 1973 (U.S. Postal Museum)

The lawsuit, which attorneys filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Friday, details a history of LOVE that centers around an art dealer named Simon Salama-Caro. In 1998, Salama-Caro came to Indiana at his home in Vinalhaven, Maine. The artist, then 70, had long since retreated from the art world. The dealer had a plan. “[Salama-Caro] had a strategy to revive Indiana’s career: years of hard work and investment, strict enforcement of Indiana’s rights, and a focus on quality,” the suit’s history reads.

The lawsuit claims that Salama-Caro and Morgan Art Foundation struck a deal with Indiana: exclusive rights to LOVE and other images, for which Indiana would receive 50 percent of the sales. The contract was later amended: first, to give Morgan Art Foundation the rights to all of Indiana’s paintings and sculpture from 1960 to 2004, and then to give Morgan Art Foundation the exclusive rights to produce or fabricate LOVE and related images. For these works, Indiana’s cut was limited to 20 percent.

The Morgan Art Foundation’s lawsuit alleges that Jamie L. Thomas, a fisherman and Indiana’s caretaker (and former studio assistant), had isolated Indiana, preventing the dealer and his son, Marc Salama-Caro, from seeing the artist. “[Thomas] refuses to permit visitors to Indiana’s home,” the lawsuit reads. “He writes aggressive and threatening emails from Indiana’s email account—including an email sent to Marc Salama-Caro shortly after Marc visited Indiana at Indiana’s request, telling Marc to ‘FUCK OFF’ and to never return to Vinalhaven.”

The New York Times published a story on Friday on the lawsuit that suggested that Indiana had vanished, and perhaps not entirely of his own will. In the story, Salama-Caro and Barbara Haskell—the curator who assembled a redemptive 2013 retrospective for Indiana at the Whitney Museum of American Art called “Beyond Love”—both cast doubt about Indiana’s participation in an email interview with Wine Enthusiast. The magazine’s May issue bears the likeness of LOVE on its cover. (An editor for the magazine says the interview and permission were arranged by one Michael McKenzie, who is a defendant in the suit.)      

The new lawsuit claims that McKenzie, the founder of an art publishing company named American Image Art, has issued unlicensed editions of Indiana’s work that violate copyright. The case darkly insinuates that McKenzie has taken advantage of an infirm creator. “The public narrative surrounding these forged works also reveals the shift from Indiana’s voice to the voice of his exploiters,” the lawsuit reads. “Indiana, when of sound mind, sought to distance his legacy from the relentless focus on LOVE.”

Yet the Morgan Art Foundation is fighting for the right to make LOVE—and to profit immensely on its reproduction—not to discontinue or destroy it. Even as the company calls McKenzie’s motives into question, the identity of the Morgan Art Foundation remains a secret.

Indiana’s LOVE now has two owners: Robert Gore and Felippe Grossglauser. According to the attorney who represents the Morgan Art Foundation, an offshore limited liability company, those are its only two executives. He declined to say any more about their identities, except that Gore lives in London and is not the Robert Gore of Gore-Tex fame. Salama-Caro is the company’s advisor, not a claimant in the suit itself.

Neither the suit nor the article in The New York Times discusses the Morgan Art Foundation or how it came to be associated with Indiana. But the contracts that the artist signed gave the company great authority over his work. Late amendments clarified that Indiana’s 20 percent would come after deductions for expenses incurred by the Morgan Art Foundation. The agreement gave the company “exclusive authority to fabricate the Sculptures”—binding even after his death.

A search of the Panama Papers—a database of leaks on offshore accounts, which is maintained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists—shows other interests. In addition to two unknown “bearer shares,” a search for the Morgan Art Foundation reveals other officers, including Sofidev Fiduciaire S.A., an entity linked to a wider web of offshore accounts.  

This diagram shows the officers (in orange), entities (brown) and intermediaries (red) associated with the Morgan Art Foundation. The numerical figures on the spokes show the number of other connections to those accounts or individuals. (Panama Papers)

It may well be the case that McKenzie and Thomas are acting outside the best interests of Indiana’s estate. A two-over-two sculpture of “WINE” or “HOPE” might obscure what Indiana hoped to accomplish. The artist struggled mightily to escape from under the shadow of LOVE; no doubt the public conservation about his life and work in the days and weeks to come will focus on what he accomplished despite the power of LOVE.

But the two men who now own LOVE have another immediate concern: preventing the trademark dilution of one of the most lucrative brands on earth.

The value of LOVE owes almost entirely to the fact that it’s a public artwork, its status maintained at considerable expense by Philadelphia and other cities and museums where editions of the sculpture exist. The good fortune of its investor-owners is excluded from public taxation, enhanced by every selfie, and protected by what must be a dusk-to-dawn campaign of cease-and-desist letters.

Much to Indiana’s chagrin, LOVE—a progenitor of the sensation of Instagram art that can be seen in every city today—was never truly his. But by the time he signed over the legal rights to the work, LOVE belonged to the world. Just never on paper.

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The ‘Barefoot Doctors’ Serving America’s Cities

According to acupuncturist and herbalist Julia Bennett, her interest in the practice started when she was a child in 1950s North Carolina, where a knowledge of herbs was of vital importance in her community. “I grew up during Jim Crow and the height of segregation. We didn’t have access to doctors and hospitals,” she explained. “We were third people, so we had to use herbs.”

These days, Bennett lives in Brooklyn and is a founding member of Third Root, a community health center in the Ditmas Park neighborhood. The center’s mission is to provide healthcare with an orientation towards social justice, offering acupuncture, yoga, therapeutic massage, and herbal medicine on a sliding payment scale. “Acupuncture has become a moneymaker,” Bennett says, “So we want to make sure that everything we do is accessible and affordable to all people.”

While the price of an acupuncture session in cities like New York and San Francisco can reach hundreds of dollars, Chinese medicine in the Unites States historically has been used to provide care for communities who were denied access to mainstream health services. When Chinese immigrants to the United States arrived en masse during the mid-19th century Gold Rush, their medicine was mostly used to serve Chinese populations. The immigrants had brought herbs with them, and systemic racism confined them to local Chinatowns—even for medicine.

“Buying medicine was like doing groceries,” said Donna Mah, an acupuncturist and the guest curator of “Chinese Medicine in the US: Converging Ideas, People, and Practices,” an exhibition at the Museum of Chinese in America, running April 26-September 9. “You can go to any Chinatown and there’s always an herbal dispensary.”

The use of Chinese medicine expanded in the 1970s, when the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, and other activist groups started looking for an inexpensive way to provide health care for their members and to poor neighborhoods. According to Tolbert Small, who was the Panther’s medical advisor and physician, the poor and people of color were intentionally underserved by the United States government. “They have the worst statistics and mortality rates, which is still the case today,” he says. “These communities started providing free clinics for themselves since our government wasn’t interested.”

The Panthers’ activism was partially inspired by the Communist model in China, and, when Chairman Mao Zedong invited a delegation of the group—including Small—to tour the country in 1972, they witnessed a model of healthcare they were eager to implement back home. The Chinese government used “barefoot doctors”—healthcare providers trained in basic acupuncture and herbal medicine—to serve its growing population. Contrary to academically-trained doctors—the few of whom were mostly concentrated in big cities—these providers served their communities without the need of many resources or extensive training. On top of that, their roots in folk expertise blurred the boundaries between laypeople and the educated elite.

This influenced the network of People’s Free Medical Clinics the Panthers were setting up in American cities—including Oakland, where Small helped lead the efforts while completing his medical residency at Alameda County Medical Center. Following the Chinese model, the volunteer-led clinics provided free medical care and trained members in basic healthcare techniques that didn’t require much previous knowledge. In China, Small had witnessed surgeries where acupuncture was used as a complement—including a patient who, with the help of acupuncture, kept talking throughout his eye operation. Back home, Small organized sessions where activists could come together to practice. “Barefoot doctors learned by practicing on themselves,” he said. “When I got back, I used a book called Basic Acupuncture Techniques and did all the points on myself.”

Activists also were turning to acupuncture for relief on the East Coast. In the South Bronx, the Young Lords worked to reform the dilapidated Lincoln Hospital—which had become known as the “butcher shop of the South Bronx” by some—to better serve the neighborhood’s mostly black and Puerto Rican residents. Together with the Panthers, fellow activists, and acupuncturist Mutulu Shakur, the group established the the Lincoln Detox Center, where an ear-based technique was introduced to help battle addiction. Shakur would go on to cofound the Black Acupuncture Advisory Association of North America and the Harlem Institute of Acupuncture, where he continued to train community-minded acupuncturists until he was arrested in 1986 and subsequently convicted for his role in the 1981 Brink’s robbery.

Bobby Seale in front of the Panthers free clinic in Berkeley on Sept. 8, 1972. (AP Photo/RWK)

Though the clinic was evicted in 1978, the staff moved to a nearby location and continued providing care. That’s also where Bennett, in the early 1980s, was introduced to acupuncture. The crack epidemic had started devastating the surrounding area and other inner cities neighborhoods, and addicts were neglected by the government at best and incarcerated at worst. “It was amazing to walk into the space and see all these people in lounge chairs, relaxed and calm, with needles in their ears.” For Bennett, the current state of health and addiction care in New York is still lacking. “There are drop-in centers where people can get their methadone, but the goal is never about cleaning people up.”

The legacy of community acupuncture continues to serve cities today. Though government persecution forced most of the People’s Clinics to close—and the Panthers to disband—Small now works at the San Francisco and Oakland sites of the Native American Health Center, which provides community healthcare for Native and other underserved populations. Established during the same period as the Panthers’ clinics, it is part of a network of community health centers holding fort in a gentrifying city—one of its neighborhoods was recently named the “hottest” real estate market in the US.

“I used to do house calls in West Oakland, and people used to call that the ghetto,” Small said. “For my patient there now, all their neighbors are white.” For him, this makes it particularly essential that Oakland’s community-style health centers continue to operate.

Though its previous locations closed, the Lincoln Detox Center, also known as the Lincoln Recovery Center, now operates at a new Bronx address. Bennett still treats addicts who come to Third Root for support, and continues to train others in National Acupuncture Detoxification Association protocol, the acupuncture detox method that came out of the Lincoln legacy. According to the organization’s estimates, this technique of auricular acupuncture is used in over 2000 clinics worldwide (including locations in all American states).

The need for these alternative practices became even more important when the Trump administration tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year, sending many of Bennett’s patients into a scare for losing their healthcare. “As they shared their testimonies with us, we realized that our sliding-scale services have been a saving grace for so many people,” she said. Community-style practices have been growing in Brooklyn and Harlem, where they continue to treat the poor, most of whom are of color. “People just can’t afford healthcare anymore,” Bennett continued, “so the need for community practices is at an all-time high.”

Mah said she has witnessed an increase in community acupuncture practices in the city, including efforts like that of the New York Harm Reduction Educators, an organization dedicated to support those who engage in drugs or sex work, partially through free acupuncture sessions in East Harlem. “Many who are called to this mode of healing have a sensitivity to the impact they can have on the least served,” Mah said.

Acupuncture and herbal medicine with roots in Chinese culture might still be thought of as “alternative” care, yet for more than a century, it has been one of the few accessible options for marginalized communities in the United States.

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CityLab Daily: Keep an Eye on This

Keep up with the most pressing, interesting, and important city stories of the day. Sign up for the CityLab Daily newsletter here.


What We’re Following

Eyes on the streets: Orlando is testing a different kind of streaming video service from Amazon: a real-time facial recognition system that can track and identify people on the street.

As NPR reports, the ACLU uncovered the information on Amazon’s Rekognition software and its potential applications. Amazon’s Ranju Das recently highlighted the pilot at a conference in Seoul, saying Orlando has “cameras all over the city… If they want to know if the mayor of the city is in a place or if we have a person of interest that we track, we can send the response.” The software could even be used to reconstruct an individual’s past movements, as shown in a video demo of the software.

An Orlando Police Department spokesman told The New York Times they don’t have plans to use it that way, and that it isn’t currently being used in investigations or public spaces. Still, privacy advocates are sounding the alarm. “Amazon Rekognition is primed for abuse in the hands of governments,” the ACLU wrote in a letter to Jeff Bezos on Tuesday, saying it’s especially threatening to immigrant communities and people of color.

Andrew Small

More on CityLab

Revisiting the New Urban Crisis

The shift toward a more inclusive urbanism has begun. But it will require time, commitment from city institutions, and political agency at the local level.

Richard Florida

The Amazing Psychology of Japanese Train Stations

The nation’s famed mastery of rail travel has been aided by some subtle behavioral tricks.

Allan Richarz

The Ancient Forests That Have Defied Urbanization

In cities around the United States, old-growth forests have survived against the odds. But preserving them is not as simple as roping them off from the public.

Allison C. Meier

Federal Law Leaves Marijuana in a No-Fly Zone

Federal regulations mean that passengers flying from one weed-legal destination to another with their personal stash may still be breaking the law, but in at least one U.S. airport, that weed can fly.

Leslie Nemo

Mapping Palestine Before Israel

A new open-source project uses British historical maps to reveal what Palestine looked like before 1948.

Mimi Kirk

Slow Your Roll

(Yonah Freemark/The Transport Politic)

Don’t sound the transit death knell yet. Yonah Freemark argues on The Transport Politic that while we’re seeing a steady decline in transit ridership, there are reasons to believe it won’t be a permanent shift. As the chart above shows, the share of commuters using transit to get to work in major transit cities has been shrinking for decades. The current decline, though, comes after a peak, when ridership increased 35 percent from 1996 to 2014. CityLab context: What’s behind America’s decline in transit ridership?

What We’re Reading

In Jersey City, it’s a race between Kushner and Kushner to develop (New York Times)

How architecture can rebuild itself post-#MeToo (Curbed)

The more prestigious your college degree, the farther you’ll move after getting it (Slate)

Diverse schools do more to promote tolerance than simply living in a diverse community (Quartz)

The unusually powerful perch of the MTA chief (New York Times)

Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to hello@citylab.com.

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Revisiting the New Urban Crisis

Editor’s note: This is an adapted version of the epilogue to the newly released paperback edition of The New Urban Crisis.

A colleague who heard me speak shortly after The New Urban Crisis was published in hardcover approached me at a follow-up event a few months later: “You seem a lot more optimistic than you did the last time I saw you,” he remarked. “What happened?”

His question took me aback, and I hesitated for a moment before venturing an answer. Then all at once it struck me. “You’re right,” I blurted out. “It’s because I’ve been traveling and visiting cities all across the country.” I’d been amazed at how willing people were to take ownership of their role in the new urban crisis, and how ready they were to devise new strategies to come to grips with it.

Over the course of my career in urbanism, I’ve constantly been inspired by cities’ capacities to adapt. For the past 20 years, an incredible number of cities big and small have successfully transformed their post-industrial neighborhoods into vibrant hubs of culture and commerce, in a process that is still ongoing. They worked hard to turn their downtowns and neighborhoods around, and now they are ready to take the next step, which is to create a more sustainable kind of urbanism that spreads its benefits more broadly—what I’ve called an “urbanism for all.”

My objective in writing The New Urban Crisis was to try to nudge the prevailing narrative about urban development toward a more inclusive paradigm—to make equity a principle concern of economic development. Now it’s happening in real time, right before my eyes. As one senior economic development professional put it to me, “For too long we’ve emphasized economic growth, and that has helped accentuate many of the problems we now face. Our profession is called economic development, and that’s what we should emphasize—not just growth, but the full development of our people, neighborhoods, and communities.”

This shift to more inclusive development will take time. Just as it took the better part of two decades to turn cities around, the shift to more inclusive urbanism will also likely take a decade or more to gather steam. But I am convinced that the shift has already begun.

So what will it take? It will require all of the parties that were involved in the urban revival to reorient their missions toward inclusivity.

Anchor institutions, particularly universities and medical centers (or so-called “eds and meds”), have played a large role in revitalizing their cities and neighborhoods, but too often, the changes they produce only benefit the affiliates of those institutions. Instead of just providing subsidized housing to faculty and students, universities should also help local residents afford increasingly desirable areas.

A few schools are already showing the way forward. In partnership with Johns Hopkins University, the East Baltimore Development Initiative has constructed housing for lower-income families and senior citizens, as well as graduate students, in Baltimore’s Eager Park. In Columbus, the Weinland Park Collaborative enlisted the help of local anchor institutions to offer $3,000 in down-payment assistance to Ohio State University employees who purchase homes in the University District. In West Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and the University City Science Center have undertaken substantial efforts to create affordable housing for neighborhood residents and university workers as well as faculty members.

Eds and meds aren’t a city’s only anchor institutions and can’t shoulder the entire burden of creating more inclusive prosperity. Real estate developers, who have benefited so mightily from the urban revival and the subsequent rise in real estate values, also have a major role to play. When constructing new buildings, especially in mega-developments like Manhattan’s Hudson Yards or Boston’s Seaport Innovation District, developers should do everything in their power to avoid turning these areas into isolated pockets of wealth. Like it or not, they will increasingly have to embrace practices like inclusionary zoning, dedicating a proportion of units as affordable.

In the Bay Area, a number of for-profit developers have agreed to designate half of their total units as below market-rate in exchange for an expedited entitlements process. And in many places, developers have agreed to lease ground-floor retail to non-profits and small businesses. Cities have plenty of other carrots to encourage these kinds of practices, like allowing increased density, or using valuable public infrastructure like parks and transit to extract benefits from developers.

Tech companies must act as urban anchor institutions and better urban citizens, as well. As they rapidly expand their footprints in cities, they face a considerable backlash in hubs such as San Francisco and Seattle. These companies can no longer view cities as merely interchangeable locations where they can attract talent, extract value, and then move on. There is much more that they can and must do.

For one, they can work with non-profits and local governments to help to finance and develop “workforce housing” for all of their lower-paid service workers, as well as affordable housing for local residents. Instead of creating their own private bus systems, they can work with local governments and metropolitan transit agencies on the development of better transportation infrastructure.

Perhaps most importantly, they can work to transform the low-paid service jobs on which their offices, campuses, and knowledge workers depend into higher-paying career pathways. They can act more like the SAS Institute in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, which instead of contracting out its cafeteria and groundskeeper workers, hires them directly into higher paying, stable jobs—a practice that pays off in reduced worker turnover and more productive employees.

The longer-run solution will require a shift in power from the federal and state governments to cities and communities. More than two decades ago, economist Alice Rivlin of the Brookings Institution made a powerful case for devolving education, housing, transportation, social services, and economic development programs from the national government to the states, whose leaders, she said, are closest to the conditions on the ground. In recent years, arguments for devolution have emphasized the role that local government can play.

While top-down national governance tends to impose one set of choices on all of us, localism respects our differences. Mayors are pragmatic, not partisan or ideological. Their policies are a reflection of what they feel will best serve the needs of local residents. Little wonder local government has emerged as a grounding political force at a time when trust in the federal government has reached a historic low. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of Americans express trust in their local government, compared to just 55 to 65 percent in state governments, and around a fifth to a third in the federal government, according to surveys by Pew and Gallup.

While our people and our parties are horribly divided at the national level, devolution is something liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans can work to achieve together at the local level. The most pressing governance issue of the 21st century is developing a new kind of federalism that can meet the needs of our highly clustered and geographically unequal knowledge economy.

Ultimately, devolution is not a matter of simply taking power from the federal government and handing it over to cities. It means making the best use of the complex vertical separation of powers among the federal, state, and local levels. So transit and transportation investments, for example, could be overseen by the networks of cities and suburbs that make up metropolitan areas, or even the groups of metropolitan areas that make up mega-regions. Housing investments, whether publicly funded or channeled through public-private partnerships, can be tailored to local conditions—detached houses and garden apartments for more spread-out places; high-rise rentals for denser and more urban locations.

Pointing out the dimensions of, and the potential solutions to, the new urban crisis does not represent my mea culpa for getting the urban revival wrong, as some critics have suggested. On the contrary, if anything, my mistake was that I sorely underestimated and under-predicted the strength, depth, velocity, and ferocity of the urban revival, and the unintended and unexpected consequences that came with it. In this moment in urbanism, our challenge is to continue the urban revival and make sure it works for everybody.

Our cities are never complete. They are continual works in progress, always being built and rebuilt to fit changing needs and conditions. Just as the urban revival took the better part of a generation to achieve and required the hard work of many local actors—mayors, council members, civic activists, labor leaders, city-builders, anchor institutions, the non-profit community, local residents, and more, the shift from winner-take-all urbanism to a more inclusive urbanism will take time. But it will only be achieved through the hard work and close collaboration of local stakeholders who see the shared benefits of making urbanism work for everybody.

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The Amazing Psychology of Japanese Train Stations

It is a scene that plays out each weekday morning across Tokyo. Suit-clad office workers, gaggles of schoolchildren, and other travelers gamely wend their way through the city’s sprawling rail stations.

To the casual observer, it is chaos; commuters packed shoulder-to-shoulder amid the constant clatter of arriving and departing trains. But a closer look reveals something more beneath the surface: A station may be packed, yet commuters move smoothly along concourses and platforms. Platforms are a whirl of noisy activity, yet trains maintain remarkable on-time performance. Indeed, the staggering punctuality of the Japanese rail system occasionally becomes the focus of international headlines—as on May 11, when West Japan Railways issued a florid apology after one of its commuter trains —short, ear-pleasing jingles to replace the traditional departure buzzer.

Also known as departure or train melodies, hassha tunes are brief, calming and distinct; their aim is to notify commuters of a train’s imminent departure without inducing anxiety. To that end, most melodies are composed to an optimal length of 7 seconds, owing to research showing that shorter-duration melodies work best at reducing passenger stress and rushing incidents, as well as taking into account the time needed for a train to arrive and depart.

The tunes feature whimsical titles like “Seaside Boulevard” and range from the wistful to the jaunty. Most stations have their own melodies, forming de facto theme songs that become part of a station’s identity. Tokyo’s Ebisu Station, for example, is known for its departure melody—a short, stylized version of the theme from The Third Man.

As more stations have added melodies over the years, the original thesis has proven correct. A study conducted in October 2008 at Tokyo Station, for instance, found a 25 percent reduction in the number of passenger injuries attributable to rushing after the introduction of hassha melodies on certain platforms.

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The use of these jingles is not without controversy, however. Shortly after their introduction, residents living near open-air rail stations, weary of hearing endless repetitions of the same jingles all day, complained of noise pollution.


Despite, or perhaps because of, its reputation as a remarkably safe country, Japan is nonetheless vigilant in combatting youth delinquency. Train stations are particularly sensitive in that regard, since large congregations of young people pass through stations at all hours of the day.

To address the Japanese fear of loitering and vandalism by young riders, some train stations deploy ultrasonic deterrents—small, unobtrusive devices that emit a high-frequency tone. The particular frequency used—17 kilohertz*—can generally only be heard by those under the age of 25. (Older people can’t detect such frequencies, thanks to the age-related hearing loss known as presbycusis.) These devices—the brainchild of a Welsh inventor and also used to fend off loitering teens in the U.S. and Europe—have been enthusiastically adopted in Japan.

Standing outside one of Tokyo Station’s numerous exits on a recent summer day, it was easy to see the effectiveness of this deterrent in action. Weary salarymen and aged obaachan passed under the sonic deterrent without changing pace. Among uniform-clad students, however, the reactions were evident—a suddenly quickened pace, a look of confusion or discomfort, and often a cry of urusai! (Loud!) None appeared to connect the noise to the deterrents placed almost flush in the ceiling panels above.

Pointing the best way forward

Rail employees are not exempt from the behavioral hacks of their employers. Perhaps most famously, Japanese train conductors, drivers, and platform attendants are mandated to use the “point and call” method—called shisa kanko—in executing tasks. By physically pointing at an object, and then verbalizing one’s intended action, a greater portion of the brain is engaged, providing improved situational awareness and accuracy. Studies have repeatedly shown that this technique reduces human error by as much as 85 percent. Pointing-and-calling is now a major workplace safety feature in industries throughout Japan.

So, why don’t train workers everywhere do this? Like so many aspects of Japanese transit culture, shisa kanko has proved resistant to export (though pointing-and-calling has been adopted in modified form by New York City’s transit authority). In this, as in so many things, Japan’s rail system stands largely alone.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified this frequency in hertz, not kilohertz.

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The Ancient Forests That Have Defied Urbanization

After the Interstate Highway System was authorized in 1956, planners decided that I-40 would link Tennessee’s big cities, from Knoxville to Nashville to Memphis. But in Memphis, locals looked at the proposed route of the highway and were appalled. It would barrel through Overton Park, a beloved local green space dotted with ponds, paths, and a stand of old-growth forest.

A grassroots group banded together to protest, but construction of the highway continued, getting ever closer to the park’s border. As a last-ditch effort, the group filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Supreme Court. Improbably, , both the U.S. Forest Service and the nonprofit Wilderness Society created old-growth inventories of the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, and they came up with different numbers. The Forest Service estimated 4.3 million acres; the Wilderness Society just 2 million.

Meanwhile, old-growth forest survives in unexpected ways—and places. on New York City’s forests noted that, although a survey found that 56 percent of these areas had invasive species, younger forests had the smallest population of native species in their understory layers.

Old-growth forests need human guardians, although there are downsides to them being popular with the local community. The old oak and hickory trees that visitors adore in Overton Park require active stewardship—otherwise the forest might naturally transition to smaller trees such as maples, elms, and hophornbeams as the old trees die and fall. The park has a pedestrian trail, but runners who frequent the area have made their own trampled paths, possibly disturbing the ecosystem.

Coexistence can be tricky. Atlanta’s Fernbank Museum of Natural History was founded in 1939 to preserve the Fernbank Forest, one of the largest remnants of the Piedmont-region forest. The 65-acre forest hosts more than 200 species of native plants, upwards of 150 native animal species, and numerous fungi, mosses, and microbes. In 2012, after a 48-year lease to DeKalb County, the museum took over its management.

Lynn Anders, the museum’s director of outdoor programs, explained that before they could offer people access to the forest, they had to get it into better health. In 2012, it was “overrun with non-native invasive species and a blanket of biological pollution that prevented it from thriving.”

The real health test is in the topsoil. Just an inch or two can take hundreds of years to form as dead material is broken down. If Fernbank Forest was going to invite people in, it needed to protect that delicate layer.

The WildWoods installation at the Fernbank Forest is an elevated walkway with interactive exhibits, an education pavilion, and “tree pods” offering views into the old-growth forest. (Fernbank Museum of Natural History)

The landscape architecture firm Sylvatica Studio designed an elevated walkway that guides visitors right from the museum into the forest, with tulip-shaped “tree pods” where visitors can pause. “Having the forest open and accessible to all visitors is crucial for the museum, because it reignites the central, original mission of Fernbank—to preserve Fernbank Forest as a school in the woods for nature study,” Anders said.

It may seem counterintuitive that foot traffic in or above the forest would help protect it. There was controversy over trails planned for the Spring Creek Forest Preserve in Garland, Texas, that would bring visitors into that old-growth forest, which has wildflowers not seen elsewhere in the Dallas area and a unique variety of oak trees. But with new development rising nearby, the forest is a potential refuge for future residents.

An old-growth forest can be a portal to nature appreciation. It was for Robert Loeb, a professor of biology and forestry at Pennsylvania State University and a leading expert on urban old-growth forests.

“I grew up in the Bronx—the South Bronx to be exact—and my mother wanted me to learn about plants,” he said. “She sent me as a child to the [New York Botanical Garden], and as time went by I took all the courses they offered to the kids.” When he was 15, the botanical garden hired him to do a survey of the hemlock forest. “I went out and remapped it, and compared it to a 1936 map, and that was where I cut my teeth on my first historic ecology project.”

Loeb confirmed the value of protecting primeval forests. “Replacing an old forest is not just a simple matter of digging out the stump and putting a new tree in,” he said. “Young trees don’t have what we call ‘niche space’—a small tree cannot house as many different species or as many different individual species, compared to a larger, older tree.”

Public access that respects the integrity of the forest can encourage future research and protection. Urban old-growth forests are small fragments of a vanished landscape, revealing how dramatically the environment of the United States has changed over hundreds and thousands of years.

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Innovative Financing for Cities: Pay for Results, Not Process

The Environmental Impact Bond. It can be used to finance green infrastructure and similar resiliency-oriented projects, which not only protect cities against flooding and pollution, but also create jobs and green underserved neighborhoods. The return to investors of these projects is based on the extent to which the projects produce results; such as the amount of stormwater diverted from flowing into nearby rivers.

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Federal Law Leaves Marijuana in a No-Fly Zone

There’s still a lot of confusion around legal weed. Though banned federally, each state, and even county, decides what kind of weed is allowed, and users don’t always know what those lines are. One of the spaces that catches people by surprise? Airports. Commercial flights work under federal law, and boarding them requires passing inspection by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), another federal operation.

Because airports are the boundary between local and national rule, staff and security have to negotiate the transition with pot-carrying passengers leaving weed-legal towns. For some, the solution has been amnesty boxes. These bright-green mini mailboxes at airports let passengers anonymously deposit weed or any illegal substances. The contents are regularly emptied by police or private contractors and destroyed. As a last-minute opportunity to dodge a felony, the boxes have probably saved some people from citations, fines, and jail time, but they do the airports some favors, too.

When Colorado Springs Airport put in amnesty boxes in 2014, they were tired of weed being trashed, flushed, and buried on their property, said Aidan Ryan, the airport’s marketing and communications manager. Marijuana had been legalized in the state two years earlier, and weed tourists were showing up to the airport and finding out that it’s a federal crime to carry their purchases onto planes, even if the flight departs from and arrives in weed-legal places. Also, TSA must report any amount or derivative of weed to airport security if they see it during screening. To alert passengers and facilitate compliance with the law, the airport became the first to install the lime green boxes. The bins work like mailboxes: Once something goes in, it can’t come out. Colorado Springs Airport Police empty the boxes once a month, and they almost always have something in them, Ryan says.

Passengers at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas have also found the drop-offs helpful. McCarran drilled the bins into the pavement in February of 2018, 13 months after weed was legalized in Nevada. The airport’s citation rate for illegal possession hasn’t changed since installation, according to Christine Crews, McCarran’s public information officer, but all 13 boxes have something in them when cleaned out twice a week by a private contractor. Since each drop-off is anonymous, passengers use them to abandon other products, too. The contractor has found prescription medication, said Crews, who has also heard of street drugs turning up in the boxes.

While the containers help people avoid uncomfortable encounters with security, they also protect the airport’s public image. When marijuana became legal in Nevada, the Las Vegas county that regulates McCarran Airport passed an ordinance stating that weed wouldn’t be allowed on airport grounds. Though operated by local government, the facility works with TSA, the Department of Homeland Security, the FAA, and other federal programs. The airport figured that if everyone on the property took the same stance on weed, misunderstandings between agencies could be avoided. “Our airport is so integral to the economy of Nevada, we don’t have any time for hiccups,” said Crews. At the same time, the airport would rather not charge people for unlawful possession. Crews explains, “We are a leisure destination, and we want people to come and go from Las Vegas…why would we want them to leave here with a bad impression?” The boxes allow McCarran to cooperate with the feds without confronting customers.

Over at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), amnesty boxes sound appealing because of how much time they’d save the police. “We still have a lot of marijuana coming through our airports,” says Marshall McClain, the president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association. Since weed was legalized in the state, people have been assuming local rules still apply and are bringing more pot to the conveyor belts, says McClain. Every confiscation requires an officer to drive it to the station and fill out paperwork—a two or three-hour process. A bi-weekly emptying of an amnesty box sounds easier, and McClain’s department has been looking into installing them ever since Los Angeles councilman Mitchell Englander suggested the idea a few weeks ago.

So the boxes are efficient, attention-grabbing, and anonymous. But what if you don’t use them? Even at TSA screening, McCarran prefers minimal confrontation. If passengers get to security with weed still on them, police offer one last chance to drop the product in the boxes, says Crews. Officers only hand down a citation if the customer refuses to leave the weed behind—though the offer doesn’t extend to illegal quantities of weed (an ounce or more) or any other drugs. At LAX, McClain plans to take a stricter approach. If your pot ends up on security’s conveyor belt, it means you walked by the posters and amnesty boxes explaining the situation, and you’ll be cited or fined by his officers. When asked how Colorado Springs handles passengers entering security check with weed, Rhine says she can’t speak on behalf of TSA, but that “anytime you go through TSA, you’re at risk of violating federal law.”

Not all airports bother with the boxes. Denver International Airport says every single passenger told about the law has willingly thrown away their pot or returned it to their car, so they don’t feel the need to install drop-off points. At Portland International Airport, staff have negotiated an exception to the law with the TSA based there. Passengers can keep their weed so long as they’re at least 21, carrying a legal amount and flying within Oregon. If their flight goes outside the state, however, the customer is told to put the weed back in their car or give it to the family member who dropped them off. The airport has no interest in dealing with collection or destruction, writes Kama Simons, their media relations manager, via email.

Trusting someone to return pot to their car doesn’t seem as foolproof as having designated security boxes, but the Colorado Springs airport is working out some kinks of its own. Rhine says passengers are still leaving pot in other places, possibly because they think the boxes have surveillance cameras on them. And though LAX hasn’t even installed the boxes yet, McClain has already received some pushback from pro and anti-legal weed advocates. Both think the boxes skirt the law in some way, when in reality, they’re just meant to show where one regulation ends and another begins.

“We’re not even going to have this conversation [about whether or not pot should be legal],” says McClain. “We’re just trying to deal with the situation we have now.”

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CityLab Daily: The Wild World of Scooter Sharing

Keep up with the most pressing, interesting, and important city stories of the day. Sign up for the CityLab Daily newsletter here.


What We’re Following

Dancing in the street: Dockless scooters are set to be the shared-mobility jam of the summer, but cities aren’t singing the same tune on regulations. Consider some of the latest moves:

In San Francisco, public records indicate that Lyft might be entering the e-scooter competition as companies contend for five potential permit slots (Fortune). Last week, Honolulu ordered LimeBike to stop after one week of unauthorized operation, classifying the electric scooters as mopeds and saying they would need permits to operate (Hawaii News Now). And earlier this month, Nashville’s cease-and-desist order to Bird got much more serious after two riders were critically injured by a driver in hit-and-run (The Tennessean).

All said, cities are picking up new moves as these scooters shake up well-trodden right-of-way rules for sidewalks and roads. But as they squeeze to find room in the street, we might just be realizing that our cities are still stuck in an old groove of getting around.

Andrew Small

More on CityLab

The Supreme Court Just Made It Even Harder to Sue Your Employer

Corporations love mandatory arbitration clauses, which limit the rights of workers to take their employers to court. If limits on them are struck down, employees have other options.

Kriston Capps

The Top Cities Americans Move to—and From—For Work

Most of the top cities are the usual suspects, but there’s something odd happening in Silicon Valley.

Teresa Mathew

A Healthcare Giant Enters the Battle for Cheaper Housing

Kaiser Permanente is pledging $200 million toward fighting homelessness and building more low-cost housing in eight states, plus D.C.

Kriston Capps and Benjamin Schneider

What Will It Take to De-Segregate Chicago?

A new report offers a roadmap to inclusive growth.

Tanvi Misra

Wyatt Cenac Is Here to Solve Your Policing Problems

In his new HBO series “Problem Areas,” comedian-actor Wyatt Cenac takes a crack at solving police racism.

Brentin Mock

Let It Be

“Loiter” is a weird word. It’s even stranger that, to be considered a crime, being in a certain place for a particular amount of time is always defined by somebody else. After a series of racially charged incidents of “loitering” triggered national outrage, from Starbucks in Philadelphia to a barbeque in Oakland, visual storyteller Ariel Aber-Riger dives into the long history of laws against being somewhere you’re not wanted. Her story on CityLab: What is Loitering, Really?

What We’re Reading

The eviction machine churning through New York City (New York Times)

Self-driving cars will give us more lobbies, and other possible city changes (Wired)

Wall Street’s new housing frontier: Single-family rental homes (Curbed)

The Justice Department is sending even more immigrants to prison (The Marshall Project)

Ben Carson doubles down on dismantling Obama-era fair housing policies (Washington Post)

Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to hello@citylab.com.

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What Will It Take to Desegregate Chicago?

By 2030, Chicago will seem like a citadel of concentrated wealth. Estimates indicate that its white population will increase by 14 percent, and rich households making over $125,000 will grow by a striking 42 percent. Meanwhile, it is predicted that its black population will drop by 17 percent—to the lowest level since the 1950s. The surrounding suburbs are forecasted to see a 44 percent increase in Latinos, and a 12 percent growth in households making under $30,000.

Currently the population of Chicago is approximately a third white, a third Latino, a third black, and fewer than 10 percent other races and ethnicities, but intensely segregated. And this shift will be a further re-segregation of Chicago—white flight, in reverse. That’s the grim forecast in a new report by the Urban Institute and the Chicago-based Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC). But the good news is, it’s still avoidable. The MPC, after consulting with numerous local stakeholders, has presented a detailed plan to dismantle the current patterns of concentrated poverty and wealth, and pave the path towards inclusive growth.

“In the past, the debate about segregation would happen in certain rooms and a discussion about the lack of economic vitality would happen in separate rooms,” said MPC’s MarySue Barrett. “Rarely would the concept of our sidelining of large portions of our population have anything to do with [the latter], but we drew those two areas of focus together.

The big picture prescription for the city’s ills: take a critical look at every policy, process, practice, and law at the local level that might be perpetuating racial inequity—and correct for it.

But the report also offers specific policies to increase opportunity and options for residents living in historically disinvested neighborhoods, minimize the racial wealth gap, combat systemic racism, and improve health and safety. Improving access to affordable housing, according to the report, is a crucial step that helps achieve all these outcomes.

The recommendation that has been getting the strongest reaction so far is one that seeks to decrease local control over affordable housing decisions; in other words, combat NIMBYism. It asks that the Chicago’s aldermen not be allowed to reject or defer any development project that includes 10 percent or more affordable units in wards containing fewer than 10 percent affordable housing units. “It would bring sunshine to the process—the discussion that we all need to contribute to having choices in every neighborhood,” Barrett said, “and no one can opt out of that.”

The other big recommendation—to evaluate the impact of new development—is particularly timely. Last Thursday, the Chicago Plan Commission gave the green light to the Obama presidential library, after hours of emotional testimony from supporters, as well as protests from community groups who are concerned about how the project will be implemented. The biggest source of tension has been the Obama Foundation’s refusal to sign a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with local community organizations who are worried about displacement. According to the MPC, these local groups have a fair concern given the unintended consequences of other well-meaning projects in the city, like the 606 Trail—Chicago’s version of the High Line. The prices of real estate have climbed since the amenity was built, burdening nearby residents with higher rents and property taxes.

“If the market is left to its own devices … we will see displacement, we will see a crowding out of the income mix that makes for a healthy, vibrant community,” Barrett said.

Renters make up almost half of the city, and some of the other recommendations address their needs. One demands 10-year tax incentives for property owners who agree to make a portion of their units affordable to households earning below 60 percent of the median income in the area. Another asks that Chicago’s housing voucher program be expanded so that it gives low-income families access to units that are at 200 percent of the area median rent, particularly in opportunity-rich areas of the city. “It’s not just about nice units in nicer neighborhoods,” said Barrett. “It’s where are those units located—that they’re located near amenities and jobs.

The rest of the recommendations include reforming the regressive property tax law, updating the homeownership support program in the city, and making sure that the required affordable units in new developments actually go to people who need them. While these are specific to Chicago, they offer examples of laws or programs that other cities dealing with the same problems may want to take a hard look at.

This roadmap is a follow-up to an MPC jointly-authored report with the Urban Institute from 2017, which highlighted the billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost in Chicago because of racial and income segregation. That was a “wake-up call,” Barrett said.

“It was important for us to emphasize that [segregation] had an impact on all communities, on the collective economy, on the state’s fiscal health,” Barrett said. “And so while an individual may not experience the physical impacts of this separateness—if their life insulates them from it, from traveling through a poor community, or from interacting with with diverse communities—they still are deeply impacted by these structures that have been created over many, many decades.”

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