What Counts as ‘Real’ City Planning?

In Cities of Tomorrow, a textbook commonly used to teach the history of urban planning, Peter Hall espoused the contributions of Ebenezer Howard, Le Corbusier, and other heroic male figures of urbanism. As for women, he told the reader: “There were, alas, almost no founding mothers.”

It would be more accurate to say that women are and always have been part of urbanism, but their contributions have disappeared from planning and architectural history.

In light of recent discussions about the marginalization of women in technology, the media, and other fields, it’s time to bring attention to women in urbanism. So far, other writers have focused on two points: First, that there is a lack of representation and recognition for women’s contributions to the field; and second, that male architects and planners fail to design cities that account for diverse needs, including those of women.

I would add a third point, which is that we must expand the definition of what counts as “real” planning.

In school, most planners learn about Daniel Burnham as a founding father of modern urban planning. But few learn about the women-organized clubs that led the charge for urban beautification at the turn of the 20th century, transforming the American urban landscape. In her book Downtown America, Alison Isenberg discussed how women drove urban change by fundraising, organizing lectures, and focusing public attention on improving the urban aesthetic.

The St. Paul’s Women’s City Club, St. Paul, Minnesota. When the building opened in 1931, the club had more than 1,000 members. It was part of a wave of women’s city clubs that helped legitimize planning in the early 20th century. (Historic American Buildings Survey/Library of Congress)

City planning was still a new discipline. According to Isenberg, these women “legitimated [male] experts during the insecure early years of the planning profession,” helping them win lucrative bids and stimulating demand for their consulting services. Once established, however, the male planners saw it personally advantageous to erase the role of women’s city clubs from their official records and distance themselves from gendered discussions of urban planning. For example, Charles Mulford Robinson’s General Plan for the Improvement of Colorado Springs (1912) failed to acknowledge the women’s clubs, even though their efforts led to his own hiring.

In effect, the women of the city clubs were the mothers of the fathers of urbanism—who then proceeded to erase them from the dominant narrative of American planning history.

In architectural history, countless women have worked alongside their better-known male employers, but they are seen as the “women behind the men,” assumed to have played modest supporting roles.

Marion Mahony Griffin, one of the first women in the world to have an architecture license, worked with Frank Lloyd Wright and was responsible for many of Wright’s watercolor renderings. Charlotte Perriand worked as a furniture designer for Le Corbusier and created some of the architect’s most iconic chair designs. Then there was Lily Reich, who collaborated with Mies van der Rohe, and Anne Tyng, who collaborated with Louis Kahn—both exerting a strong influence on those men’s designs.

However, the work of female designers is often not directly credited or celebrated. They remain absent from or peripheral to the “Urbanism Hall of Fame.”

Any profession that claims the public interest as one of its core values should give credit where it’s due. This means acknowledging the contributions of all who were instrumental in advancing the field, whether it is design, architecture, or planning. Not only does this enrich any “Hall of Fame,” it is an opportunity to create a more accurate and inclusive professional identity.

Who designs our cities, and for whom?

As other critics have noted, our cities have been designed without much attention to the ways in which women use transportation, public space, and streets. If cities were designed to account for a broader range of needs, they would function better for all.

The low representation of women in the professions that shape cities is one reason that cities are not as inclusive as they could be. In the United States, although women make up the majority of students of architecture and urban planning, things look quite different in the workforce: As of 2014, only 22 percent of licensed architects and 17 percent of partners or principals in architecture firms were women.

Raising those numbers could help, but the professions might still end up prioritizing a narrow segment of the population. There is, after all, a whole spectrum of gendered identities that do not fall squarely within the dichotomy of male and female. Not to mention all the other intersecting factors—including race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic background, and age—that affect how we relate to space and place.

The real problem is when people in the field lack the framework or tools to approach inclusive design for cities. “Most of the design literature we have reviewed—if it refers to users at all—assumes that they are all able-bodied, relatively young, and male,” wrote Clare Cooper-Marcus and Carolyn Francis in their 1997 book People Places. More than 20 years later, we are still talking about this problem.

There have been so many missed opportunities and life-threatening outcomes when designers fail to account for diverse bodies, they could (and do) fill a book. To cite just one example, car companies used to test airbags using only dummies with the height and weight of the average American male. It wasn’t until 2003 that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration undertook airbag testing with dummies of average female proportions.

Translating this to the built environment, many solutions are simply not designed for a wide range of needs. Try pushing a stroller down icy steps to the subway platform, or navigating a badly designed intersection in a wheelchair.

Increasing the recognition and representation of women and other underrepresented groups in design and planning, and expanding our conception of who uses urban space, are important. But there’s more: We can break down the increasingly limited box of what even counts as planning.

Expanding the definition of planning

The planning canon, as it currently exists, reinforces a binary notion of what “real” planning is and isn’t.

According to this dichotomy, “real” planning is either big in scope, or focused on “hard” infrastructure improvements, or based on highly technical expertise—or some combination of those three qualities. Daniel Burnham is lionized for making “no small plans,” and even Robert Moses is grudgingly acknowledged as a “power broker.” But planning from below, and “soft,” people-centered work like community outreach, are not ascribed the same kind of value.

If we expanded the definition of planning, we might include Majora Carter’s workforce development and environmental justice work in the South Bronx, or Antionette Carroll’s Creative Reaction Lab, which tackles inequity in St. Louis. Carter, Carroll, and many other women leaders are not “real” (i.e. professionally trained and certified) planners, but they have shaped their cities and amplified place-based work already happening in low-income communities of color. Instead of expecting their work to fit within our planning paradigms, the field of planning should expand to include the critical intersections they explore between planning and public health, environmental justice, and education.

A family waits for a bus in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The Chinatown Community Development Center is working with the city government to retrofit public housing, increase green space, and more. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

Without broadening what qualifies as planning, we close off ways of understanding cities that would help us find new solutions. For example, community development groups can help planners think about achieving sustainability through cultural preservation, which is already happening in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles and San Francisco’s Chinatown. A great deal of local expertise is forfeited if non-professionals are only engaged when their approval is needed. What if we engaged them in defining goals and priorities from the beginning?

As an educator, I am keenly aware that students question who is teaching them, what knowledge is valued, and how their curriculum is chosen. It’s time that we examine the role of universities and professional associations in addressing these disparities.

To start, colleges and universities that make up the pipeline of future planners should rethink what they teach. It is time to recognize that our shared identity as planners is based on privileging the contributions of certain individuals and groups over others. In specific terms, institutions can reshape curricula to include missing or marginalized voices. They can involve professionals from non-traditional planning backgrounds as co-educators and co-researchers, who may offer innovative approaches to studying urban environments.

In the end, we will have to challenge our own deeply held assumptions about “real” planning. But it’s the only way we can develop leaders who will be fully prepared to work in today’s—and tomorrow’s—cities.

How to Launch a Civic Crowdfunding Program in Your City

Especially if the government is offering matching funds to participating groups, a civic crowdfunding platform should be able to carry the compliance burden for participants. Small volunteer-led organizations can be burdened by agencies’ requirements that they submit forms and receipts before receiving their matching funds. Similarly, the delay between purchase and reimbursement can severely restrict cash flow for groups with small or no budgets.

Inside the Small City Donald Trump Blamed for New England’s Opioid Crisis

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera was in a budget meeting last Monday when he received a text that President Donald Trump was calling to execute drug dealers and pointing at his city as a haven for cartels.

“If we don’t get tough on the drug dealers then we’re wasting our time, just remember that, we’re wasting our time, and that toughness includes the death penalty,” said Trump, announcing an opioid plan that centers on doling out tougher criminal drug punishments.

The President continued: “According to a recent Dartmouth study, the sanctuary city of Lawrence, Massachusetts, is one the primary sources of fentanyl in six New Hampshire counties.” In the same breath, he denounced Boston as another “sanctuary city,” and called out the transnational street gang, Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13. “These are not good people, folks. Bad, bad people,” Trump said of the gang. Ending “sanctuary cities,” he said, is “crucial” to ending the drug crisis.

In an emotional press conference after Trump’s speech, Rivera shot back. “Shame on the president,” he said, and challenged Trump to actually visit Lawrence. “He’s trafficking in pain and divisiveness, creating boogiemen where we need solutions.”

This isn’t the first time Rivera has responded to Trump directly, and it’s certainly not the first time Lawrence has been singled out by other politicians. This time last year, when the Trump administration was first threatening to cut funding from Lawrence and other jurisdictions they deemed sanctuary cities, Rivera was at the forefront of fighting back.

“As if we don’t have enough issues to deal with every day,” Rivera later told CityLab. “The president of the United States want to make hay and, you know, use this city as a punching bag.”

Using Lawrence “as a punching bag” is also something of a regional pastime, despite its small population of just over 80,000.

Known as the “immigrant city,” Lawrence was one of the first cities in the nation to be designed specifically as a factory town in the 1840s. Today, it is majority Latino with a large Dominican population, wedged between two rivers, and cut off from the wealthier surrounding New England cities by design.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, who attended Trump’s speech in Manchester, New Hampshire, has previously said state law enforcement should cross state lines to take on “undocumented drug dealers” in Lawrence. Maine Governor Paul LePage, known for his Trumpian remarks, has commented that the epidemic in his state is propagated by “not white people.”

“They’re all the same type of politician,” said Rivera of Trump and the two New England governors. “Divide, throw rocks, gin up the base.”

Rivera told CityLab he believes Trump is targeting Lawrence “for the hype,” as part of a new campaign rather than an actual initiative.

So what role does Lawrence actually play in the opioid epidemic?

In addition to Lawrence, the 2017 Dartmouth study cited a number of other cities and regions in Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut as opioid sources. In New Hampshire, it pointed to a lack of treatment facilities as a driver of the drug problem.

The researchers identified Lawrence as a source of opioids in New Hampshire based in part on the accounts of 20 opioid consumers, none of whom are Latin American or Hispanic. These respondents made comments like: “Spanish neighborhoods tend to be more loaded,” and, “it usually comes from ethnic cultures and there’s a lot of ethnic cultures there [Lawrence].”

Responding to Trump’s comments on the study, Rivera said: “I’m not going to fall into the trap that they’re trying to set which is they’re going to blame brown people for selling it, because they want me to blame white people for using it. It’s just stupid. I’m going to advocate at every opportunity for those people to get treatment.”

Still, Rivera is the first to agree that Lawrence is in fact a “drug market.” Lawrence is one of eleven urban centers in Massachusetts dubbed “gateway cities”: industrial towns that once anchored regional economies and offered a “gateway” to the American dream, but have seen an extreme decline in manufacturing jobs over the last several decades.

When many of the factory jobs left Lawrence, a range of illicit drugs came in and stayed, like an infection the city never could get rid of. The Mexican Sinaloa cartel is known to connect with dealers with ties to Lawrence and other gateway cities to sell heroin and fentanyl.

The opioid epidemic was evident in Lawrence before it took over the rest of the region, as depicted in a controversial 2012 Boston magazine profile. Back then, the reaction was that opioids were a shocking anomaly, evidence of a singular damned city, rather than a harbinger of things to come.

The problem of opioids in Lawrence runs so deep that, at least for a while, ripping heroin dealers off became its own cottage industry. Last December, a man was sentenced to life for running a Lawrence kidnapping ring that targeted, tortured, and extorted drug dealers, in a criminal operation that included GPS monitor and fake police uniforms.

But in Lawrence, the drug dealing itself has been described as “grassroots” by the city’s police chief, run without an organized criminal hierarchy, and is separate from MS-13.

Lawrence is not immune from the violent transnational gang, born in Los Angeles and with strong ties to El Salvador. Earlier this year, Josue Alexis DePaz, 21, “a Salvadoran national who once resided in Lawrence,” according to court documents, pled guilty to the 2015 murder of 15-year-old Jose Alexander Aguilar-Villanova. Aguilar-Villanova was found stabbed to death in a Lawrence city park while staying in the city with friends. The case was the only Lawrence connection in the 61-person indictment, the largest MS-13 takedown in history.

To conflate Lawrence with MS-13, as Trump did, is “disingenuousness” says Rivera. Or as Rivera described it, the President threw “a bunch of scary words together [to] create a boogeyman.”

“People don’t come here because it’s a nice place to buy drugs. People come here because they have a habit that’s making them come,” he said. The result has been a large homeless population that the city has been left to contend with.

“The user community that comes to buy here comes from outside,” said Rivera, adding that the cost to execute someone, topping $1m by some accounts, would be better served in addiction treatment.

Rivera says his city is “doing all we can on the supply side,” including investing in his local police department and hiring a “homeless coordinator” to address the large population that has flocked to Lawrence for cheap opioids.

But as a municipality, he says he is only able to go so far to help those struggling with addiction. “That’s really for the federal government to deal with,” he said. “We don’t run detox centers, we don’t run treatment centers. The state and the federal government are really equipped to do those things.”

“Whatever we do,” he said. “it’s going to be a far cry from the full might and power of the federal government.”

States Agree: Third-Party Ownership Enables Distributed Solar, But What’s Next?

Compared with previous rankings of solar capacity, do states that allow third-party leases and power purchase agreements still dominate? The answer is yes, especially for distributed solar capacity. Every state in the top 10 in rooftop and small-scale solar still allows for third-party ownership.… Read More

The post States Agree: Third-Party Ownership Enables Distributed Solar, But What’s Next? appeared first on Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Navigator: Living Abroad

I moved to Philadelphia in 2006 for college. Then home to New Delhi in 2010. Then back to America, to Chicago in 2012. In 2013, I headed to D.C. That’s where I have lived since, barring a a brief stint in London in 2014.

All that’s to say that I’ve had the privilege of living in the U.S. for  many years now; long enough that it’s hard for me, at this point, to consider America “abroad.” It has been confusing at times—I’ve definitely wallowed in angst, lamenting about whether I belong anywhere. But it has also helped me fill in the blanks about who I am; living in America has helped strengthen the Indian part of my identity. I’m more inclined now to look up Bollywood movies on Netflix, to be excited about wearing a sari, to try to cook Indian food, and to relish speaking in Hinglish. And that’s just the superficial stuff.

Turns out: This is a thing backed up by research! A new study out of Rice University finds that the longer you live abroad, the more likely you are to have a clear sense of self. Does that ring true for you? If you’ve lived somewhere foreign (another country, or a city that seems like it’s on the other side of the world, culturally speaking), how has that shaped your identity?

Drop me a line with your thoughts at tmisra@theatlantic.com.

Reading List:

Crates of mangoes from Pakistan, a guitar signed by blues legend Buddy Guy, a robot, and… a skateboard? CityLab’s Feargus O’Sullivan categorized the gifts Sadiq Khan has received as London’s mayor.

More goodies from CityLab: Are artists really the “shock troops” of gentrification? ¤ What home means, in photos. ¤ America’s loneliest roads, mapped. ¤ Japan, through the eyes of three Very Good Dogs. ¤ “But to me, Amazon Go represents something more chilling than a direct threat to storefronts.” ¤ A photographer shines light on Gurgaon’s often-invisible workers. ¤

(Arthur Crestani)

Here’s what else we’re reading, watching, and listening to:

Postcards from everywhere in America. (Pacific Standard) ¤ “Within this imagined landscape of white blue-collar life, there’s the dismissal of Black people that shaped Midwestern cultures.” (Catapult) ¤ Chicago’s South Side, aka Funkytown. (The Guardian) ¤ “I thought, ‘Hey, I wonder if anyone’s been to every mailbox in Seattle?’”(Atlas Obscura) ¤ How Portlandia changed Portland. (Vulture) ¤ Home renovations: an unnecessary national pastime. (Curbed) ¤ The face that launched a thousand statues. (99% Invisible) ¤ Stories from border walls around the world. (This American Life) ¤ Appalachia is “a place rich in diversity, with communities whose members include LGBTQ and people of color, and where the working class is not just made up of white male coal miners.” (Guernica) ¤

View from the ground:

CityLab’s own @jpgarnham examined the geometric patterns of Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology, @bobofeed shot a stretch of street in Toronto, @keithimus captured serenity and sun in the New York City Metropolitan Museum’s Cloisters, and @vickophoto photographed the crisscrossing lines and angles of a building in Montreal.

Tag us on Instagram with the hashtag #citylabontheground.

Over and out,



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Berlin Just Canceled Its Airbnb Ban

Berlin’s “Airbnb ban” is over.

The city’s assembly decided Thursday to overturn a law introduced in April 2016 that barred almost all landlords from letting their apartments to short-term visitors, enforced by a maximum €100,000 ($123,000) fine. Thursday’s ruling means that, starting May 1, owner-occupiers will, under certain conditions, be allowed once more to rent out their own home as much as they want, and to rent out second homes for up to 90 days a year. For a city that’s become well-known for its extremely tough laws governing vacation rentals, the new ruling might seem like a major compromise.

It nonetheless imposes some pretty firm conditions on vacation rentals and makes the penalties for ignoring them far more stringent. All landlords seeking to rent out their home will only be allowed to do so if they get a general permit from their borough, even if they intend only to rent their property out for occasional short stays. While landlords applying for a permit at their primary residency will likely be approved, second home owners may face a more rigorous process. Landlords who leave an apartment untenanted, meanwhile, will need a special permit from the borough to do so after three months of vacancy without having a permanent tenant registered, cutting the current vacancy grace period in half. Most strikingly, the maximum penalty for breaking the rules has been multiplied by five, to a potential fine of €500,000 ($617,000).

That fine is likely intended as a menacing message to anyone tempted to reserve an apartment as a full-time vacation let, rather than a levy authorities will impose regularly. But it’s clear the city means business: Under the new rules, if a landlord needs to sell their property to pay a fine, the property’s management would be handed over to a trustee. Overall, the ruling is still a relaxation of the current situation, and it’s likely to induce a sigh of relief for Airbnb and other hosting services.

For some time now, the Berlin boroughs that attempted to clamp down on vacation rentals have only been able to pursue proceedings against a small portion of the very large number of people offering accommodation. Frequently these cases have been bogged down in appeals from owner-occupiers, making the process long-winded and expensive. There’s also a good reason to put quotation marks around the term “Airbnb ban.”Any quick scan of Airbnb in recent years would have revealed a significant number of apartments in Berlin during the time they were supposedly banned. Clearly Airbnb landlords—both owner-occupiers and tenants subletting on the sly—felt a degree of safety in numbers, well aware that chasing every single case would be long-winded and expensive for the authorities.

But while few owner-occupiers may have been caught in the crossfire, the real targets of the ban were professional landlords, who rented out apartments full time as businesses, thus draining the available housing supply in a city where apartments are hard to come by. The overall feeling from advocates of anti-Airbnb legislation such as Stephan Von Dassel, mayor of the central borough of Mitte, was that it didn’t matter if the push to curb professional Airbnb landlords affected some owner-occupiers. They’re a relatively small group in a city where most people rent, and the anti-Airbnb crowd would accept some of them as collateral damage if it meant improving the ability for people on low incomes to secure housing of their own. The inverse of this logic: It doesn’t really matter if owner-occupiers are allowed to become Airbnb landlords if professional vacation rentals have been slashed.

Those strict laws do indeed seem to have reduced the number of professional Airbnb landlords. In 2016 alone, 2,500 apartments in Berlin were put back on the rental market following the ban. The law may also have helped to induce a shell-shocked Airbnb to negotiate as cooperatively as possible. If the tough stance seems to be succeeding in its mission to scare professional hosts off the market, it seems fair to allow others a little more leeway. What Berlin will need to look out for now is how slickly its permit system works—and whether it’s able to genuinely pursue people who flout it.

CityLab Daily: The Spending Bill’s Biggest Winners Are Housing and Transit

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What We’re Following

All aboard: After threatening to veto a $1.3 trillion spending bill, President Donald Trump went ahead and signed a bill he called “a waste of money.” But for the social safety net, this bill averts doomsday, bringing good news for housing assistance, food aid, and transit. After a year of promising to shred federal spending, many agency budgets went untouched—and some even see a boost in funding. CityLab’s Kriston Capps has the early takeaways on the omnibus package.

Saturday school: Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, will appear tomorrow in Washington, D.C., for the March for Our Lives, a protest against gun violence and a push to make gun laws a key issue in the 2018 election. The students will be joined by thousands more protesters on Pennsylvania Avenue, as well as demonstrations in more than 800 other cities in the U.S. and around the world, mapped here by the New York Times.

Andrew Small

More on CityLab

Brooklyn Is Booming. So Why Is It Shrinking?

In 2017, New York City’s largest borough lost about 2,000 people, the first net loss since 2010.

Laura Bliss

Forget Broken Windows: Think ‘Busy Streets’

This theory suggests neighborhoods can fight crime by getting locals to clean up and maintain their own public spaces.

Marc A Zimmerman

You Want Congestion Pricing? Be Specific.

It’s every wonk’s favorite traffic-relief prescription. But getting road fees right is really complicated.

Eric Goldwyn

In Houston, HUD Assailed for ‘Government-Sponsored Segregation’

Advocates in Texas are charging the department with rolling back fair housing laws.

Kriston Capps

Do Art Scenes Really Lead to Gentrification?

A new study finds that arts establishments are actually more concentrated in affluent and gentrified—rather than gentrifying—neighborhoods.

Richard Florida

Have Backyard Chickens Gone Too Free-Range?

Urban-poultry laws need to be stricter about public health and animal welfare, according to one expert.

James Gaines

Bikeshare Everywhere


Our colleagues at The Atlantic have a mesmerizing photo essay of the huge piles of abandoned and impounded dockless bikeshare bicycles in China, where the rapidly growing industry overwhelmed cities with a million-bike tsunami of cycles. It may be a wasteful spectacle of capitalism-run-amok, but there’s something psychologically soothing about seeing so many colorful bikes. And it certainly makes the fuss about dockless bikesharing as a sidewalk nuisance in American cities feel insignificant by comparison.

What We’re Reading

What does a presidential building look like? (Curbed)

Four radical real-estate ideas to fix our broken housing system (Fast Company)

What will cities be like when there are more women designing them? (The Cut)

The lose-lose ethics of testing self-driving cars in public (Wired)

A city that makes guns confronts its roles in the Parkland shooting (Washington Post)

How one Houston suburb ended up in a reservoir (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.

The Spending Bill’s Biggest Winners: Housing and Transit

Housing advocates are breathing a heavy sigh of relief Friday after the president signed off on a sweeping $1.3 trillion spending bill. So are transit supporters. And social safety net providers. After a year of budget proposals that promised to shred federal spending on these missions, this government funding bill does nothing of the sort.

President Donald Trump, with his usual insatiable appetite for drama, floated a veto threat Friday morning. He objected to the bill’s lack of mega-funding for a border wall and a failure to protect undocumented immigrants under the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But in the face of a third government funding lapse this year, he relented, signing it into law Friday afternoon.

Now several categories of spending for infrastructure and the social safety net can count themselves lucky. Some will even see a boost.

  • Sanctuary cities are safe, for now: The omnibus doesn’t do anything to defund sanctuary cities—a fact that has Trump seriously ticked off, The Atlantic’s Elaina Plott reports.
  • Housing tax credits get a big boost: The nation’s most effective incentive for building affordable housing is the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, which took a major (albeit indirect) hit in the tax bill: The cut in the corporate tax rate diminished the housing tax credit’s allure to investors. The omnibus bill addresses that damage by boosting allocation levels by 12.5 percent over the next four years. Plus, the omnibus permanently tweaks the income formula used to determine what counts as an affordable development for tax credit purposes. In essence, this means that families with higher income levels will be eligible for affordable housing—the idea being that their incomes will offset households with much, much lower incomes.
  • Food aid stays steady, for now: There were no big changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but that was always a given. The real test for SNAP will come in the farm bill, which may be next on Congress’s to-do list. “Given current caseloads and projected food costs, we believe the omnibus provides sufficient funding for SNAP,” says Elizabeth Wolkomir, senior policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
  • Transit is a clear omnibus winner: The Federal Transit Administration secured a $1 billion budget boost (to $13.5 billion annually). Amtrak maintained its $1.5 billion funding and picked up $650 million for Northeast Corridor fixes—some of which could be used to fund the Gateway project, a spendy NYC-to-New-Jersey rail tunnel that the regional economy desperately needs and that Trump adamantly opposes. Even the D.C. metro found some money in the omnibus. Streetsblog’s Angie Schmidt spells it out: “With some hard-right House Republicans refusing to support the package, Democrats were able to secure some spending priorities in return for their votes.”
  • Homeless assistance sees an uptick: Funding levels for HUD’s McKinney–Vento Homelessness Assistance Grants program increased by $130 million over fiscal year 2017 levels—enough to help house 25,000 more people, according to the National Alliance To End Homelessness.
  • Housing programs on the chopping block get rescued: Two programs that the White House proposed eliminating entirely are instead getting significant injections. The HOME Investment Partnerships Program budget increased from $950 million to $3.3 billion. Community Development Block Grants funds grew from $3 billion to $3.3 billion. Both of those programs are designed to help communities find local solutions for housing vulnerable families. “It’s exciting to see that Congress is responding to calls from constituents around the country to address the gap between what people can afford with their wages and what rents really cost,” says Marion McFadden, former deputy assistant secretary at HUD and current vice president of policy at Enterprise Community Partners.

This omnibus is a sign that Republicans are not as ideologically committed to slashing spending as some of their most ardent supporters would like to believe. And core government services—providing reliable transit, securing safe housing for the homeless, giving food to those in need—have greater bipartisan support than the White House might have guessed.

Brooklyn Is Booming. So Why Is It Shrinking?

Maybe there’s a reason for all of those New York Times articles about young creatives decamping for Los Angeles: Last year, Brooklyn officially shrank.

That seems backward. The borough has boomed in population over the past decade, gaining 144,071 residents—that’s a whole Syracuse-worth of people—from 2010 to 2017. Of every county in New York State, Brooklyn’s nearly six percent jump in population in that time period puts it second only to the Bronx.

But according to the latest Census numbers, Kings County (which is coterminous with Brooklyn, the largest borough in New York City) lost residents last year. Last year, Brooklyn stood at 2,648,771 residents, which was 2,088 fewer than in 2016. It’s a tiny loss for a huge area, but it is indicative of a larger trend—people are leaving Brooklyn.

(Madison McVeigh/CityLab/U.S. Census)

In 2017, Brooklyn experienced a net loss of 40,797 residents due to outmigration, i.e., people moving elsewhere. (Where are they going? The “winners” of the 2017 population estimates were all big and hot—the counties surrounding Phoenix, Dallas-Forth Worth, and Las Vegas gained droves of new residents last year.) Immigration and natural growth (#strollermafia) kept Brooklyn’s total population loss to the much lower number of 2,088. The borough’s growth has been slowing down for a while, but 2017 was the first year since 2010 that new babies and foreign immigrants failed to outnumber departures. (Census numbers are published with a 90 percent level of confidence.)

There are a number of factors that might explain Brooklyn’s weakening population hold. One is that local retirees are moving to warmer pastures. Two, the national economy is steadily improving, and there are more jobs in metros with cheaper rent. (Dallas, Phoenix, Las Vegas, hi!) “The historical trend is that outmigration grows when the economy is getting better,” E.J. McMahon, the research director for the Empire Center for Public Policy, told the New York Post last year. Which relates to a third factor: In case you hadn’t heard, Brooklyn has gentrified, and is gentrifying.

While home sales and rental rates have slowed down recently, and rent prices have dropped slightly, housing costs are still near record highs. Whether gentrification leads directly to displacement is a separate question, but rising rents aren’t accommodating everyone: While white and some Asian people are flocking to neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, black residents, including a once-strong black middle class, are leaving. Likewise, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Bushwick are hemorrhaging lower-income Latino residents. Some are moving to other New York City boroughs and suburbs, and some are leaving the metro area entirely (in some cases for hotter climes). Meanwhile, some Brooklyn neighborhoods, like Brownsville, remain very poor and very non-white.

Who cares if Brooklyn’s population boom might be showing early signs of reversal? Not Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University and the director of the Rudin Center for Transportation. He looks at the city mostly from an economic perspective, and through that lens, Brooklyn is doing great: Having achieved a critical mass of younger, college-educated professionals, it will continue to reap the economic benefits associated with such enviable demographics, Moss suggested. “Have you ever gotten off at Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights?” he said over the phone. “There’s an organic butcher there. What the fuck is that doing there? That’s how you know the young people are there.”  The downturn in population, Moss said, might be mostly explained by Brooklyn’ s booming residential market pushing people to Queens.

But while the presence of organic grocers, Apple stores, and astrology-themed cocktail bars may be signs of a healthy supply of well-shod young residents, they don’t necessarily point to diversity. The “creative class” doesn’t distribute its benefits evenly across racial lines. Across New York City, “black and Hispanic young people remain unemployed at much higher rates and are increasingly leaving the city even as white and Asian millennials continue to flock in,” Jen Kinney wrote for Next City in 2016.

Today, many Brooklyn neighborhoods still boast a super-diverse mix of residents. Gentrification is complex; people of all colors and economic backgrounds can enjoy its varied and oft-peculiar boons. Brooklyn has long occupied an outsize place in the global imagination as a metonym for what’s fresh and cutting-edge—partly for its ethnic and racial mix, partly for its adjacency to the center of one of the world’s richest cities. It’s too soon to predict if or how Brooklyn’s population dip will continue. But as growth is slowing, income disparities are rising, and homogenization is taking hold.

Have Backyard Chickens Gone Too Free-Range?

A brood of big, fluffy chickens wandering around a suburban backyard is becoming an increasingly common sight these days. A 2013 survey suggested that one in every 100 households in the United States keeps poultry, with more planning to do so. The birds have even been hailed as the new status symbol for Silicon Valley elites.

As the trend goes, so go city laws.

“There’s been a quiet revolution in terms of legalizing backyard poultry,” said Catherine Brinkley, an assistant professor of community and regional development at the University of California, Davis. Municipalities around the country have been changing their ordinances to allow the birds.

But according to Brinkley—who is a trained veterinarian as well as holding a Ph.D. in city planning—some of those new ordinances are missing vital pieces. In contrast to commercial farms, many urban birds are not covered by important public health and animal welfare regulations.

Brinkley came to that conclusion after analyzing municipal codes and animal shelter data from 100 different municipalities in the state of Colorado. In a recent paper published in The Journal of Community Health, Brinkley and her co-authors wrote that, although more than 60 percent of the municipalities she examined allowed keeping poultry (with another 22 percent neither explicitly allowing nor banning the practice), the majority of the municipalities that allowed backyard fowl were missing standards around permits, veterinary care or vaccines, or animal abuse protections.

Instead, most requirements in the ordinances—such as capping the number of birds allowed in a single coop, or banning roosters—seemed to be intended to head off nuisance complaints.

The problem is that, without consistent standards, permitting, and training, even the best-intentioned owners may be unaware of mistakes they are making. (A quarter of backyard poultry owners reportedly don’t wash their hands after handling their birds, for instance.) Furthermore, without specific animal welfare laws, authorities may find it difficult to intervene in cases of neglect or animal abuse.

Disease control is another issue. “There are some very serious concerns with having backyard birds near dense urban populations, especially if you don’t have great communication between public health and animal welfare specialists and owners,” Brinkley said.

Although urban poultry-keepers often believe that their birds, and eggs, are safer and more nutritious than products of commercial farms, many municipal regulations do not address sanitation, vaccination, or disease control. Indeed, urban poultry is linked to hundreds of salmonella cases each year in the United States. In Egypt, 70 percent of the people who came down with H5N1 bird flu in a 2015 outbreak reported exposure to backyard poultry.

In the absence of methodical record-keeping and permitting, cities might struggle to contain a public health problem if something did occur. “If there’s not that kind of system there, then it can be very difficult to control or even reach folks in an outbreak-type situation,” said Brinkley.

Although the study data was limited to Colorado, Brinkley pointed out that most large American cities now allow poultry. The good news is that these problems would not necessarily be hard to solve. As a model, Brinkley cited existing dog and cat regulations, which put in place requirements for permits, vaccinations, and health checkups. Authorities could also consolidate permitting and oversight with existing welfare agencies.

“If, in order to keep chickens, you had to get a permit from your local animal shelter, they could also offer, in exchange for that permit, an owner education course,” she said. “Then you’d know where to go if you had questions about husbandry or management.”

Backyard poultry can be a valuable addition to a household (and not just as novelty pets). They’re an important source of meat and eggs for many households and communities, and can help dispose of food scraps or keep gardens clear of pests like slugs and caterpillars. But if we’re going to have chickens in our cities, said Brinkley, it’s common sense to make sure we have the right system in place to protect the birds as well as their owners, neighbors, and the city as a whole.