Judged in the Court of Public Support

Last Wednesday, in front of the prosecutor, defense attorneys, and a gallery peppered with people, Judge Lisa Paglisotti greeted Brittany Mistelske, a 24 year old appearing in her court as a result of a misdemeanor charge.

After a quick hello, Judge Paglisotti addressed the fact that Mistelske hadn’t shown up to court the week before. But rather than punishing her or even reprimanding her, the judge told her earnestly that she was worried about her.

“Sorry, I know I missed the last time,” says Mistelske.

“No, I’m glad to see you,” says Judge Paglisotti.

If this doesn’t sound like a typical judicial exchange, it’s because this is not a traditional court. All of its proceedings take place in a meeting room in the Redmond Library; defendants are called “court participants;” and when someone successfully completes a court-mandated program, it’s called graduation, and often comes with a certificate and cupcakes.

This is the King County Community Court in Redmond, Washington, an alternative and collaborative approach to the justice system.

Launched in April, the court takes place every Wednesday afternoon for about two hours. It includes all of the traditional players (judge, prosecutor, defense attorneys), but instead of a trial that focuses on guilt and punishment for those found guilty of low-level offenses, it focuses on problem-solving.

Before opting for community court, a potential participant observes a session of community court and can choose the court rather than a traditional trial. King County staff assessors then meet with the participant to figure out what hardships could be contributing to their criminal activity. The assessor makes a recommendation to the prosecutor and defense attorney about the most beneficial course of programs. If the prosecutor, defense attorney, and participant agree,  they all present the plan to the judge on a Wednesday for final approval.

Usually a program is a mixture of services as well as community service, and a requirement is that the participant attend Wednesday court sessions to check in with the judge. The process typically takes 10 to 12 weeks, and if they do everything, their case will be dismissed.

Krista Alexander became a community court participant in June, after she was caught trying to steal food from a grocery store, because she said she couldn’t afford to buy it. The 34-year-old said she has a seizure disorder and anxiety, but has managed to complete 10 hours of community service at a local shelter and attend counseling sessions and doctors’ appointments. She is on track to graduate at the beginning of October.

“It’s been like a seatbelt or your mom holding your hand across the street,” Alexander said. “It’s just that extra little something that I’ve needed right now.”

But perhaps the court’s greatest asset is its accompanying resource room. Every week, a large group of volunteers descend on the library to help facilitate everything from services that address mental health, domestic violence, and substance use, to legal and employment assistance, whether they are court mandated or not. The room is designed to make it as easy as possible for court participants, or anyone in the community, to get all of the help they need.

The goal of the community court and resource room is to keep people who have committed low-level offenses from getting swept into the justice system’s revolving door, said King County court manager Callista Welbaum, who oversaw the development of the Redmond community court.

“A lot of these low-level offenders are struggling with substance use issues, mental health issues, homelessness, other sort of life situations that make it really difficult for them to be successful in the criminal justice system,” she said. “They respond very well to a model where our goal is sort of to marry compassion with accountability.”

Welbaum said one of the court’s first participants was a woman who was charged with theft. During about five weeks in community court, she was able to start getting food stamps and other benefits that she didn’t know she was eligible for. And while completing her court-mandated community service at a non-profit agency, where she worked with homeless women, she was offered a job.

“She was able to go from going through her court case and working through that, to getting it dismissed, to then starting employment after her time with us,” said Welbaum.

The court is open to observers who can include potential participants who want to see how the court works, before committing to it. (Hallie Golden)

The Redmond court is one of the community courts that has developed in the past 25 years since the first one opened its doors in New York City in 1993. The New York court was seen as a way to better address the overabundance of low-level crime, said Jessica Kay, senior planner for the Center for Court Innovation, the New York-based organization that created it.

Over the last few years, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of community courts in the United States. Kay said there are about 100 in existence today. The increase is due to the success of community courts and their focus on rehabilitation programs. These outcomes are cheaper than putting someone in jail, and play a key role in helping to reduce mass incarceration, she said.

As they went through the process of creating the court in Redmond, Welbaum said King County officials observed community courts in New York and Washington state, and received guidance and technical assistance from the Center for Court Innovation.

After about two years of preparation, the Redmond court opened its doors. Since April, it has seen approximately 50 court participants of which at least 15 have graduated, said Welbaum.

Each participant is someone who has committed a misdemeanor crime like theft, criminal trespassing, or possession of drug paraphernalia. And people who have had a violent felony charge in the preceding five years are not allowed to participate. But it is ultimately up to prosecutors and defense teams to refer the cases they consider a good fit.

Once a case has been referred and the person has opted into the court, they must agree to a contract between them and the city prosecutors.

“Participants are making an agreement with the city that they’re going to stay out of trouble and try and address essentially the underlying issues that are bringing them to the justice system and in exchange the city will dismiss the case if they do that,” said Kate Cozby, a defense attorney who represents community court participants.

If they don’t complete those requirements, their case will be sent to a more traditional court, where, having waived the right to a jury trial when they agree to participate in community court, the process for the defendant will involve only a reading of the police report and the judge’s ruling. But so far, Cozby said, they haven’t had this happen.

Not every defendant is interested in community court: At least 20 people who were offered spots in the court turned it down, opting to have their case tried in a traditional court instead. And when Judge Paglisotti held court last week, at least two people required to be there did not show up.

But for those that it is a good fit, it can be life changing. Welbaum said one woman who graduated two months ago has continued to come back to court on Wednesdays simply to informally check in with the judge and the resource room, because she finds value in it.

“These relationships are built when you see somebody every week,” said Welbaum. “It becomes, for a lot of people, a really good part of their week, to get some affirmation and acknowledgement for what they’re doing well.”

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Why Hurricanes Hit Immigrants Hardest

Allison. Rita. Katrina. Ike. After each storm, Eduardo and his fellow workers showed up. They hauled off soggy furniture, demolished flood-damaged homes, and helped put disaster-struck cities in Texas and Louisiana back together, piece by piece.

Eduardo, 63, came to the U.S. from Mexico in 2001 to find work—he wanted to be able to afford an education for his two children back in Mexico City. (Because of his immigration status, CityLab has changed his name.) He settled in Houston and found plenty of jobs doing manual labor in this booming metro. Last year, when Hurricane Harvey brought his town to its knees, he saw a chance to help again.

Day laborers like Eduardo are often called “ in 2017, speaking about reports of worker exploitation after Harvey. “To achieve a successful rebuilding and reconstruction and to particularly to achieve a just reconstruction, we really have to be in for the long haul.”

Among undocumented immigrants in Houston, the Trump administration’s immigration policies only intensified vulnerabilities. In the first three months of the Trump administration, Harris County was second after Maricopa County in Arizona in the number of people it transferred from its jail to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). And in August, the state passed a law requiring localities to continue cooperating with ICE. That means for a laborer standing out on a curbside in search of a new gig, being booked for something like loitering could mean deportation.

Under the Trump administration, new policies could heighten uncertainty for all immigrants. Those who currently have legal status may lose it. Those with legitimate claims to asylum may not get it. And even those who’re eligible for naturalization may be denied if they or their family members are found relying on cash welfare—something working families may need to do after being hit by a hurricane.

For Eduardo, though, the primary concern is his ability to make a living.

“The thought that I have on my mind is: How can we help people do their work?” he said. “I’m not even talking about residency. But to have their work not be criminalized—to make it legal so that they can go out and focus on doing the best that they can?”

The experience of Houston-area immigrants speaks to the challenges awaiting North Carolina, where many of the same issues are likely to emerge as post-Florence rebuilding begins. The affected cities there aren’t as big or diverse as Houston, but many of them have seen steady increases in immigrants over the years—particularly workers in the agricultural and construction industries.

Local leaders, however, may have not caught up to that demographic change. Laura Garduño-Garcia, an organizing fellow at Siembra North Carolina, a Greensboro-based chapter of American Friends Service Community, noted that some immigrants could not understand instructions to evacuate and find shelter because they were disseminated in English. In counties near the eastern coast that have seen severe flooding, she’s heard of several sightings of Department of Homeland Security vehicles. These agencies had declared they would be suspending immigration enforcement during the hurricane and helping with relief efforts. But even so, their presence can have a chilling effect.

“We were getting reports of federal agents in the most devastated areas in [Customs and Border Protection] vehicles to ‘help’ or ‘support’ with emergency response,” Garduño-Garcia said. “It’s a disgrace that this government doesn’t understand that it’s some people’s worst nightmare, seeing immigration officers patrolling after they’ve just come out of a storm.”

In the long term, she worries that the patterns seen in Houston will be repeated in North Carolina: Immigrant communities will be unable to access federal aid, and workers will be exploited in the rebuilding effort and targeted for deportation. Still, she wants people to know that this community has weathered storms before, real and metaphorical; it will survive this one too.

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Hurricane Kids: What We Know About Young Storm Victims

The catastrophe that followed Hurricane Maria’s landfall in Puerto Rico, on September 20, 2017, affected all of Puerto Rico’s 3.3 million citizens.

Everyone lost power for weeks. Half of all Puerto Ricans went without electricity until Thanksgiving. Thirty-five percent celebrated Christmas in the dark. Several thousand would not see their power restored until August 2018.

Hurricane Maria’s death toll of 2,975 ranks it among the deadliest natural disasters in United States history.

Among the survivors of the storm, one group has proved especially vulnerable: Puerto Rico’s children.

The children of disasters

An estimated 657,000 people under the age of 18 lived in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit. All experienced the intensity of the storm and its disruptive aftermath.

Research shows that children exposed to disaster may go on to suffer a host of problems, including emotional disturbance, increased stress, behavioral problems, academic troubles, and greater risk of illness.

It’s been 13 years since Hurricane Katrina slammed the U.S. Gulf Coast, killing 1,800 people and leaving behind a chaotic and dangerous disaster zone. Over 1 million people were forced to flee their homes. Evacuees scattered across the United States, from Dallas to New York.

We met hundreds of young Katrina victims while conducting research for the 2015 book Children of Katrina, co-authored with disaster researcher Lori Peek. The book followed a group of children between the ages of three and 18, primarily from New Orleans, for seven years.

Their stories offer critical lessons about how Maria’s youngest survivors can be better supported through the trauma of the hurricane and its aftermath.

What Katrina taught us

Very few children simply “bounced back” after Hurricane Katrina. After the initial period of post-storm disruption and struggle, children tended to follow one of three paths.

Some eventually found stability. They had strong family ties, reliable housing, good health, regular school attendance, supportive friendships, and engaging extracurricular activities.

Other young storm victims entered what we called a “fluctuating trajectory” after Katrina. They experienced both stability and turbulence—sometimes at the same time.

For example, kids might be healthy and well housed. But, if they were living far from home—and, sometimes, from a parent—they might be distressed and getting into trouble in their new school. The ups and downs lasted for months or years.

These kids didn’t recover smoothly from Katrina. But they didn’t completely break down, either.

Some children never rebounded after the storm.

Many in this group started out in unstable settings: They came from poor, often tenuously housed families. These vulnerable children already faced difficult futures.

Katrina accelerated, intensified, and solidified their challenges, triggering a downward spiral that remained serious even a decade after the storm.

After perilous evacuations from the flood zone, some children landed in unfamiliar cities. There, they struggled to make friends or even experienced hostility at schools hosting high numbers of Katrina refugees.

Other children were left homeless by Katrina. Their diets were unhealthy and unsteady. They became depressed.

Kids in this group lost years of schooling or dropped out entirely.

Schools are key to success

Disasters threaten kids’ ability to grow and thrive. They depend on adults and communities to help them survive.

Examining why Katrina’s children recovered fully, partially, or not at all can inform strategies for helping young Puerto Ricans today.

School was a powerful stabilizing force in many children’s lives, our research found.

Though some New Orleans schools closed after Katrina and over 4,000 teachers were dismissed, the remaining open facilities helped students establish a regular daily routine.

School also gave them access to caring peers and helpful adults. Teachers in New Orleans counseled their students and encouraged them to get involved in extracurricular activities.

A few public schools used a curriculum designed specifically to help students process the disaster, using art, writing, and therapy.

Social workers and school counselors, both in New Orleans and elsewhere, were a crucial support system for Katrina victims.

Schools also gave kids the opportunity to help other kids, which we found was an important path toward healing. This confirms studies documenting that youth experience positive mental health effects from assisting others.

Resources of survival

The centrality of school in Katrina recovery does not bode well for the children of Puerto Rico.

In the year since Maria, our research team visited dozens of communities across the island to compile data on the status of utilities, services, and conditions. Our ongoing disaster research indicates that the future of Puerto Rico’s children is at stake.

This summer, after a tumultuous 2017 school year that began with Hurricane Maria, 265 of Puerto Rico’s 1,100 schools were closed due to dropping enrollment and education budget cuts.

The move destabilized the lives of thousands of children, who started the 2018 academic year in a different building with new teachers and, oftentimes, many challenges at home.

We recently experienced the closure of a school firsthand. In June we learned from concerned parents and teachers at Luis Muñoz Rivera Elementary School that the school would shutter. Parents protested outside the facility for weeks.

By late July, parents were confused because they still did not know which schools their kids would attend, how to get there or if services for special needs children would be available.

Schools in rural areas like Mayemel were the most likely to be shuttered in Puerto Rico’s downsizing. Such closures affect many of the same students who suffered most acutely from shortages of food, electricity, internet, clean water, and other critical services for months after the storm.

Resources matter

Based on our research in New Orleans, this is cause for serious concern.

For some Puerto Rican children, Hurricane Maria was a prolonged crisis that exacerbated serious preexisting problems like poverty, hunger, or lack of stable housing.

Clean water was scarce in Puerto Rico for weeks after Hurricane Maria. (Jenniffer Santos-Hernández)

According to the Census’ American Community Survey, 57 percent of Puerto Rican children live in poverty, versus just 21 percent of children on the mainland.

Now, some of these vulnerable kids have also lost their schools, which in New Orleans proved such a critical stabilizing factor.

School was not the only factor influencing children’s recovery after Katrina.

The New Orleans children most likely to land on their feet were those with employed and educated parents.

Such families were able to navigate the maze of multiple bureaucracies necessary to receive government assistance, insurance payouts, disaster aid, critical recovery information, and the like. Their had strong social networks that could provide temporary housing and job opportunities.

We did identify a small group of less well-off children who survived the storm’s aftermath thanks to robust support from helpful teachers, counselors and shelter workers, well-funded schools, government relief programs, and nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity.

Children in Puerto Rico are unlikely to benefit from such resources.

The island’s slow-moving financial crisis—which resulted in a May 2017 bankruptcy—had already forced the government to slash public services before Maria.

As a result, the island has ever fewer doctors, guidance counselors, sports leagues, and programs like those that provided crucial recovery support to Katrina’s less well-off victims.

Puerto Rico’s Juana Matos community after Hurricane Maria. (Jenniffer Santos-Hernández)

Who to target

We fear many Puerto Rican children will see their life chances diminished by Hurricane Maria.

Those most at risk now are the youngsters who’ve experienced cumulative struggles: kids from poor and isolated communities that received little disaster assistance after Maria and where local schools have closed.

Lessons from Katrina tell us that, to recover from this acute trauma, such children will need well-funded public services and community support, both immediately after the storm and for years to come.

But the island’s development shows mixed outcomes and the coming years present a disconcerting financial situation.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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CityLab Daily: The Speedy Rise of Slow AVs

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***

What We’re Following

Auto pilots: If you’re eager for self-driving cars to take over the road, you might be growing impatient. But there are promising advancements in autonomous shuttles—if you’re just willing to slow down a bit.

Cities and companies have been testing low-speed AVs (we’re talking 10 to 35 miles per hour) in pilots across the country. Early projects in Detroit; Las Vegas; and Arlington, Texas; show the potential AVs have for last-mile trips that are often too small for mass transit (Axios). Meanwhile, self-driving shuttles have arrived in Columbus (WaPo) and will soon come to Babcock Ranch, Florida (Curbed) as part of broader smart city projects that we’ve detailed previously on CityLab (here and here). The Knight Foundation also just invested $5.25 million in studying how AV technology can help public transit in five cities (Smart Cities Dive).

The Verge writes that compared to their self-driving car cousins, these autonomous vehicles are slow and boring—and that’s a good thing. In addition to testing an emerging technology more safely, these pilots in downtowns, college campuses, and small communities could have the added benefit of bringing road speeds down. It might not be the car of your dreams, but maybe it could help make our streets a little calmer.

Readers, tomorrow is Park(ing) Day. If you’re making a parklet or just visiting one, we’d love to what it looks like. Send pics and tell us all about them at hello@citylab.com and we could feature it in tomorrow’s newsletter!

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

Why Is the Homebuilding Industry Stuck in the 1940s?

Embrace pre-fabricated, adaptable homes! Growing inequity, out-of-reach housing prices, and the speed of innovation in energy efficiency and technology demand it.

Avi Friedman

A Short Guide to Tulsa’s New $465 Million Park

If Volcanoville and Charlie’s Water Mountain aren’t enough for you, what about a boating pond and a skate park?

Nicole Javorsky

The Toxic Legacy of Urban Industry

A new book explores the unseen hazards left behind in post-industrial American cities.

Dwyer Gunn

Mexico City’s $150 Million Rebrand Faces Growing Pains

Last week, incoming mayor Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo announced a competition to redesign the city’s young logo. The backlash has been swift.

Annette Lin

British People Feel Locked Out of London

Britons who live outside the capital consider it too expensive and crowded for them to live there, a new report finds.

Feargus O’Sullivan


Keep the Change

The latest Census numbers on poverty and income had some good news: the national poverty level ticked down to its lowest point since 2006, to 12.3 percent. Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program finds that cities made up a larger share of that overall reduction in poverty in this most recent year, accounting for 55 percent of the decrease from 2016 to 2017. That continues a trend of a narrowing gap between city and suburban poverty rates, as shown in the above chart shows. But that reduction was also concentrated in a smaller number of cities, speaking to how uneven economic progress can be. CityLab context: The War on Poverty Isn’t Over


What We’re Reading

How architects and designers are rebuilding Puerto Rico (Curbed)

Amazon will consider opening up to 3,000 cashierless stores by 2021 (Bloomberg)

Windows on how cities change can be all too captivating (New York Times)

Can New York’s plan to close its jail on Riker’s Island build a more just city? (Fast Company)

Goodbye cars, hello color: the great reinvention of city intersections (The Guardian)


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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After Maria, an ‘Earthship’ Rises in Puerto Rico

A few years ago, Lauralina Melendez returned to her native Puerto Rico with her Venezuelan husband, Mario Atunez, and their two kids. They’d been living in San Francisco, and decided they wanted to connect to Melendez’s culture and live closer to nature.

So they moved to Aguadilla, on the west coast of the island. The family was settling into life there when last year’s hurricane season began. During Hurricane Maria, they took shelter with a friend who had a concrete house in their town. Downed trees and power lines prevented them from making it back to their house for more than a week after the storm, and they returned to find part of their roof had caved in.

Atunez and Melendez helped neighbors recover from the devastation and took in animals that were running wild in their neighborhood. Another couple, Paola Cimadevilla and Derrick Hernandez, came to them after their house had been destroyed, and they took them in as well. Melendez and Atunez then shared their dream with Hernandez and Cimadevilla: to build Earthships in Puerto Rico.

The Puerto Rico Earthship under construction. (Jayme Gershen)

Earthships are simple homes made out of natural and recycled materials: packed dirt, tires, and glass bottles and other items that are commonly seen as trash. They were developed nearly 50 years ago by Michael Reynolds as a sustainable alternative to traditional buildings. Thick-walled and low to the ground, Earthships harvest and recycle their own water and, if they incorporate renewable energy sources, can be independent of the electricity grid, which makes them more resilient during and after a natural disaster.

The two couples contacted Reynolds’s Earthship Biotecture organization near Taos, New Mexico. They were surprised when they received a response inviting them to New Mexico to learn how to build Earthships and develop a project for Puerto Rico.

When Atunez and Melendez got back, they asked Noemi and Carlos Chaparro about building an Earthship on land they owned in Aguada, Puerto Rico. The Chaparros agreed, seeing it as a way to bring the community together.

Noemi Chaparro with her son Oryon. The Earthship is being built on the Chaparro family’s land. (Jayme Gershen)

Over the past year, hundreds of local and international volunteers have joined these three families to build Villa Bonuco, Puerto Rico’s first Earthship. (The project’s official name is Earthship PR at Tainasoy Apiario.) Villa Bonuco will be made up of five geodesic domes connected by water catchment systems, forming a pentagon with an edible-garden courtyard in the center. It will be an education center where Puerto Ricans and others can learn about Earthships as an alternative to the infrastructure that proved vulnerable during Hurricane Maria.

The Earthship will have five geodesic domes surrounding a courtyard, and will serve as an education center. Hundreds of volunteers have helped out with the first two phases of construction. (Jayme Gershen)

The non-recycled materials needed to build the structure will cost about $80,000 in total. They include rebar, cement, and tools, as well as the water and solar systems that will be integrated into the building.

The Chaparros are now managing the Earthship project as the group organizes for the third phase of construction. They hope to finish the building by December 2019. Villa Bonuco will “[provide] workshops on agriculture, apiculture, music, the arts, and a library,” said Noemi Chaparro. “It will also serve as a refuge in the event of another disaster—not housing, but definitely food, water, charging stations, and the distribution of relief supplies.”

Lauralina Melendez and Nick Lopez de Quintana on the building site. (Jayme Gershen)

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The Global Mass Transit Revolution

The world is building mass transit networks faster than ever before, and ridership is increasing to match. But the United States continues to lag behind both Asia and Europe in mass transit. New York is the only North American city to rank among the global top-ten busiest transit systems.

That’s according to a new report published by UITP, the International Association of Public Transport, which takes a close look at mass transit systems in 182 cities across the world. It defines transit systems or “metro networks” as “high capacity urban rail systems, running on an exclusive right-of-way” that hold at least 100 passengers per train.

Urban mass transit systems have exploded in recent decades as the world’s population has rapidly urbanized. The graph below, from the report, charts the growth in the number of transit systems since the earliest systems, created in the late nineteenth century. There was a surge in the opening of new transit systems in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, but there was an even bigger surge in the past decade. From 2000 to 2009, 30 new systems opened; from 2010 to 2019, 45 new systems are predicted to open, 33 of those in the Asia-Pacific region alone.

Metro System Opening (Per Decade) 1860 — 2017

© UITP

Worldwide, mass transit carried 53 billion passengers in 2017—an increase of roughly 9 billion passengers since 2012, with most of that growth occurring in Asia, and the Middle East-North Africa region. Asian transit systems carry more than 26 billion passengers a year; European lines carry more than 10 billion passengers; Latin America nearly 6 billion and North America (U.S. and Canada) just 3.7 billion. Metro networks are most utilized in Eurasia, with the average inhabitant taking 117 trips last year, although simultaneously, Eurasia is the only region to see a decline in trips per capita.

Global Ridership Evolution (in Millions)

© UITP

Metro Networks Worldwide 2017

© UITP

Among the world’s cities, Tokyo has the most used system with 3.46 billion trips, followed by those in Moscow, Shanghai, and Beijing. New York City is the only U.S. city with a transit system that numbers among the world’s ten busiest; many other U.S. cities saw their transit ridership decline in the past six years. Paris, the last leading European city, dropped off the list in 2015 and was replaced by New Delhi.

Top 10 Busiest Transit Systems (Annual Ridership in Billions)

Ranking City Ridership
1 Tokyo 3.46
2 Moscow 2.37
3 Shanghai 2.04
4 Beijing 1.99
5 Seoul 1.89
6 New York City 1.81
7 New Delhi 1.79
8 Guangzhou 1.73
9 Mexico City 1.68
10 Hong Kong 1.60

Across the world, there are nearly 650 transit lines served by more than 11,000 stations and covering nearly 14,000 kilometers. Just between 2015 and 2017, roughly 1,900 kilometers of new track was put into service. Most went towards already existing metro systems, but about 30 percent went to brand new lines in China, India, and Iran.

Metro Construction Models Per Region

© UITP

Interestingly, most transit systems across the world are dominated by underground subway systems: about 70 percent of Asian stops are underground, 80 percent of Eurasian ones, 75 percent of stops in Europe, and more than half of the stops in Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa. North America is the only region where fewer than half of transit stops are underground.

Over the next five years, the study projects that more than 200 new transit lines will open across the world. While there is much talk of driverless cars, the reality is that driverless or fully-automated mass transit is coming on stream much more quickly. Even though fully automated systems make up just 7 percent of transit systems today, the study predicts the rapid “mainstreaming” of fully automated metro transit, which does not require any human staff on board, in the coming years.

Transit is a key component of modern urban infrastructure. It contributes to the density and clustering that drive innovation and productivity, extends the boundaries of cities’ metro areas while creating opportunities for denser development around suburban stops, and makes for less stressful commutes. While most of the rest of the world, especially rapidly urbanizing centers in Asia, is investing heavily in transit, the U.S. lags far behind.

CityLab editorial fellow Claire Tran contributed research and editorial assistance to this article.

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Life in East New York’s Sprawling Transit Hub

Editor’s note: This is the final installment of Camilo José Vergara’s Crossroads project. Previous stories covered Newark’s “Four Corners,” the Bronx’s “Hub” and its corner of Southern Boulevard and Westchester Avenue, Harlem’s 125th and Lexington, and Bed-Stuy’s Fulton and Nostrand.

In the heart of Brooklyn, Broadway Junction stands as the third-busiest station in the borough—a transfer point for six connected subway lines and buses that line up along Van Sinderen Avenue outside the station’s only exit. A short walk to a spooky underground passage leads to the nearby East New York Avenue Station of the Long Island Railroad. Sections of this station date back to the 19th century and one can still see the remains of the trackways once used by the Fulton Street elevated that closed in 1956.

Tunnel under the Long Island Railroad Station, East New York, Atlantic Ave. at Van Sinderen, Brooklyn, 2012. (Camilo José Vergara)

Much of the station’s character derives from its impressive size, maze-like layout, relative isolation, and a design that contains little regard for conventional beauty. Few people actually live in the area immediately surrounding this busy transportation hub. The population who use the station is overwhelmingly black and latinx, but a stream of white people—primarily young—transfer trains there on their way to and from JFK airport. In the station’s corridors, several women sell churros.

Entrance to Broadway Junction subway station, Brooklyn, 2018. (Camilo José Vergara)

From the outside, the facility reveals its evolution as a large, old, complex, and confusing facility which supports the train tracks and connects the subway lines. The latest effort to modernize the station can be seen in the corridors decorated with stained-glass windows and covered with green and rust colored corrugated iron that link the elevated lines with those underground. The soundtrack of the station is the rumbling and creaking of passing trains and the loudspeakers announcing the next arrivals. From the L train platform one can see, eight miles away, the sun setting on World Trade Center One.

Street Level, Broadway Junction Subway Station, Brooklyn, 2017. (Camilo José Vergara)

Near this large, century-old iron structure, stores sell grave markers to the area cemeteries and several motor-vehicle repair shops do business. Some remaining cobblestones of old Conway Street are still visible. The largest nearby facilities are the East New York Subway Yard across the street with protective fences topped by concertina wire, and the High School for Safety and Law with its windows sealed for security.

Upper Level, Broadway Junction Subway Station, Brooklyn, 2017. (Camilo José Vergara)

Walking out of the station can be disorienting as you face strange iron structures that serve the L, J, M, and Z trains. Inside the station people move in waves along stairs and corridors as they transfer to their trains. Waiting for the trains to take them home, travelers stand silhouetted against the light, making them resemble sculptural groups.

Broadway Junction subway entrance, Van Sinderen Ave. at Fulton St., Brooklyn, 2017. (Camilo José Vergara)

The station has its own transit police precinct and a rare working bathroom open to the public. But it also lacks elevators, forcing the elderly and the disabled to walk up several sets of stairs. Stranded pigeons fly around inside the underground A and C platforms.

Church choir singing at Broadway Junction Subway Station, Brooklyn, 2011. (Camilo José Vergara)

Taking photos here makes some people nervous. During the tense days after 9/11 in 2001, a traveler asked the police to arrest me for taking pictures on the J platform. Not long ago a man asked me in a threatening manner why was I staring at him—I told him I liked his sense of style.

Broadway Junction subway entrance, Van Sinderen Ave. at Fulton St., Brooklyn, 2017. (Camilo José Vergara)

Lacking restaurants, stores, and residences, this part of Brooklyn doesn’t feel like the type of place that would host such a critical transit hub in one of the world’s largest cities. The closest thing to a permanent business facing the station was a newsstand and variety store that survived until two years ago. In 2018, a food truck sells its fare and street vendors offer falafel, flowers, ice cream, and clothing by the entrance. Exiting the station, I recently met Hat Man Shane, a Rastafarian salesman who offered me one of his hats for $135.

View NE along Conway St. from Broadway Junction stop of the J train, Brooklyn, 2015. (Camilo José Vergara)

Broadway Junction is not a destination, but it is an excellent setting for a New York City history lesson—a place to experience the hustle and bustle of a big city commute, and a great location for a film noir. City officials are envisioning a transformation of the area in the form of new businesses and housing developments. So far, though, there are few signs of the changes that may come.

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British People Feel Locked Out of London

For generations, many people living outside the world’s major urban centers have dreamed of moving to the city and making it big. In Britain today, however, that dream may be dying.

The Centre for London, an urban think tank, recently surveyed U.K. residents who live outside the capital city about their attitudes toward London. One revealing question asked respondents to what extent they thought living and working in London was a “realistic option” for people like them. The answers were pretty stark. Only 3 percent of respondents thought it was “very realistic” that they could live in London, and just 12 percent more thought it was “fairly” realistic. By contrast, 78 percent thought it was unrealistic. If London thinks of itself as a land of opportunity, it’s clear that this view is not shared by other people in the country it governs.

Tantalizingly, the report does not explicitly spell out why so few non-Londoners feel the city is not an option for them. Its other questions do nonetheless provide some pointers and rule out a few myths along the way.

For a start, it seems London isn’t quite as disliked as it might fear. Neither the place nor its people get terrible ratings. A majority—56 percent—said they were proud of the capital, while 77 percent thought the city contributed either “a lot” or “a fair amount” to the country’s economy. And while a substantial 29 percent of respondents thought Londoners were arrogant, a larger 41 percent chose the more positive-leaning adjective “diverse” to describe Londoners.

The report also suggests that attitudes were softer and more positive among people who knew the city better. People who visited London at least once a year were 7 percent less likely to call its residents arrogant, 7 percent more likely to find them friendly, and 10 percent more likely to describe them as normal. Then again, it’s also possible that the more negative views among less frequent visitors could reflect people who came once, felt they got the measure of the place, and vowed not to return.

Some grounds for resenting the city did emerge elsewhere in the survey. While a large majority felt that the city benefited the national economy as a whole, most people didn’t see London’s economy contributing much, if anything, to the specific region they lived in. Even in Southern England, a region served by an overspill of businesses from the capital, 54 percent of people thought London’s economy contributed little or nothing at all to their local area. In other regions, the percentage that thought London contributed little or nothing was much higher, ranging between 71 and 78 percent.

One might assume that sentiment could provide an incentive for people to move, to head to Britain’s biggest city in hope of grabbing their own slice of the pie. So why do so many think it’s not an option? The likely—arguably obvious—reason lies elsewhere in the survey. Asked to choose an adjective to describe the city, 47 percent opted for “expensive.” Shortly following it at 43 percent came the word “crowded.”

They are, of course, right. While London salaries are higher on average than elsewhere in the U.K., higher local costs, especially rent, mean that Londoners often struggle to cover the basics, or at least have little disposable income left over once they do. Those high costs end up jamming more people into smaller homes. While London isn’t actually the U.K.’s least affordable city when you compare salaries to property prices—that honor goes to nearby Oxford—finding affordable housing in the city is a special headache, even as the housing crisis spreads its tentacles across other cities.

This, it seems, is the rolling effect of the housing crisis. It’s not just that people living in cities are struggling. People see that struggle from afar and decide it would prove too much for them—that in some way, a door has closed. Seen in that light, perhaps the report’s most striking aspect is that the non-Londoners who deemed the city expensive and crowded seem to know the city so well.

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Mexico City’s $150 Million Rebrand Faces Growing Pains

Mexico City has been taken over by a searing fuchsia color—reminiscent of the bougainvillea flowers that tumble over the city’s walls—and a sans serif logo with four letters: CDMX, for Ciudad de México.

Since 2016, they have both been part of Mexico City’s place-branding campaign, initiated by former mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera. Last week, incoming mayor Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo announced a competition to redesign the city’s logo. Open to Mexican nationals and all residents of the capital, she invited designers, publicists, and visual artists to submit proposals for a new brand to mark the duration of her government (from 2018 through 2024) for a prize of 150,000 pesos ($8,000 USD).

The backlash was swift: In an interview with El Universal, the city’s outgoing Secretary of Tourism, Armando López, argued against changing the CDMX brand, calling it a “legacy” that had helped to attract tourists and economic investment to the capital. According to Irene Muñoz Trujillo, director of Mexico City Tourist Trust, the rollout had cost 2.5 billion pesos (nearly $150 million USD).

The CDMX brand had closely been associated with Mancera, a lawyer-turned-politician with Jeff Goldblum-like hair, whose friends often refer to him as “El Doctor” (he has a Ph.D). During his six-year term, which started in 2012, he became interested in the idea of branding to coincide with the city’s changing administrative status and formal name change from Distrito Federal to Ciudad de México. Such an initiative, he figured, would communicate the transformation, increase tourism revenue, and present the city as a world-class place.

In 2014, he tasked the city’s Tourism Trust with taking over city branding responsibilities. They contracted an agency, Happy Media, to design the logo. The result was a contemporary design with the CDMX acronym in Gotham, rendered in white against a rainbow palette of orange, pink, blue, green, yellow, and purple. Together, the colors were meant to display the city’s multi-layered identity.

That March, the Tourism Trust registered the logo with the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property. The city arranged for the branding to be painted across 30 metro trains and at one of the metro system’s workshops in Coyoacán. Each of the carriages was painted a different hue with CDMX sprayed across the body of the train. It was “colorful and very fun, and it was very CDMX,” says Muñoz. “Estuvo padre,” she says, using the Mexican slang word for “cool.” An Aeroméxico plane even had its fuselage painted with the CDMX logo that summer.

But in a twist of fate, while the Tourism Trust launched their tourism campaign deploying the CDMX brand, the Social Communications department—the city government’s public relations arm—decided to adapt the logo for their own use. In February 2015, communications agency Avión compiled a 164-page manual for each of the city’s 22 departments to help standardize the logo’s usage. The brand transformed in the agency’s hands. The font for the official logo was still Gotham, but the manual stipulated the use of Helvetica Neue when applying the CDMX brand to things like posters, images, and business cards. Most importantly, the manual didn’t include a rainbow of colors in its palette. Instead, it declared one official shade: Mexican Pink, the hue that has taken over the city’s public spaces via posters and 3-D volumetric letters. “What is more Mexican than this color? And what is more Mexican than this city?” Eric León, the Avión designer in charge of the project, asks rhetorically.

As a result, most people only associate the CDMX brand with what has jokingly been referred to as “Mancera Pink.” The two different fonts can be seen clashing against each other on minibuses; the Metrobús, Mexico City’s BRT system that opened in 2006; and taxis. To add to the confusion, Avión’s designated shade of Mexican pink was different to the one used by Happy Media, and on posters erected by the government, the shade leans more towards magenta (Pantone Hexachrome Magenta C) while the pink on the city’s 140,000 taxicabs features orange undertones (Pantone 226C).

The confusion might not have been deliberate, but the adoption of the CDMX brand by the city government was, in an effort to ensure the logo endured beyond a tourism campaign. When Muñoz took her current role as the Director of the Tourism Trust, in March 2017, communication with the public from the city often included both the CDMX logo as well as the individual logos of the municipal department. The first thing she did was suggest to Mancera and ask him to prohibit this—it should just be “puro CDMX,” she said—so that the logo would be more closely associated with the government.

When Sheinbaum announced the new logo competition—not the first time Mexico City has crowd-sourced gubernatorial decisions—there was resistance from those who were conscious of how much had been invested in the CDMX brand already. Both Sheinbaum and her incoming Tourism Secretary, Carlos Mackinlay Grohmann, were quick to clarify: “The acting government used ‘CDMX’ for both government and tourism purposes[…] and therefore keeping the brand would be maintaining the same “look” but with a different government, and this is what you want to avoid,” Mackinlay told El Sol de México.

It’s also true that place branding, whether for government or city, might be one of the most thankless exercises for anyone to take on. When the original branding was revealed, Alejandro Olávarri, an assistant curator at the Archive of Design and Architecture, organized an exhibition at the Archive in response. Titled MXCD01: Presente, it was the first in a curatorial series focused on design related to the city, and critiqued the branding. “I think [the government’s] main goal was to make the population of the city think that it was a new etapa,” he says—a stage.

“Branding obviously has a lot of good consequences in the sense that it unifies things, especially for foreigners,” adds Olávarri. “The city starts making a lot more sense to you, or you feel safer in specific areas where you see the booth that has the same color. You’re like ‘Okay, the government is present, there is control, it’s organized.’ [But] people from other parts [of the country], who speak different native languages, migrate here everyday. And the variety of those people is just ridiculous and huge, so why would the pink represent them?”

Following the announcement of Sheinbaum’s competition, Alberto Herrera, the Director of Change.org for Mexico and Colombia, pointed out on Twitter: “To change the logo of a city with each administration is to think of the city as hostage and a prey to political fluctuations, more than a product of history, roots, or a long-term vision. It’s our city, not a soda that changes its label every six years.”

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