The D.C. Metro Almost Had a Very Cool Abstract Map

Jennifer Whitlock is the lone archivist at the Vignelli Center for Design Studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Every day, she pores through through boxes upon boxes of artifacts from the careers of legendary graphic designers Massimo and Lella Vignelli. The couple donated 60 years worth of their papers—covering everything from subway maps to shopping bags and airline logos—to the western New York school in 2010 (Massimo died in 2014, Lella in 2016).

Whitlock has been documenting her discoveries on the Vignelli Center’s social media accounts as she unpacks, and last week, she made a remarkable find: Massimo’s delightfully abstract concepts for a Washington, D.C. rapid transit system map. “I’m pretty sure I did a little dance and let out a little scream of joy,” Whitlock says of her latest discovery.

(Vignelli Center for Design Studies, RIT)

In 1968, Massimo—working for the design firm Unimark at the time—was asked to design the signage system for WMATA’s stations. According to Cameron Booth, the graphic designer behind TransitMaps, Massimo put a separate bid to design the system map after he left Unimark to form Vignelli Associates with Lella. Booth estimates these designs were made around 1973, one year after his polarizing New York City subway map debuted.

WMATA ended up turning to Lance Wyman to come up with the map that’s still used by the system today, although it never adopted the station icon system originally proposed. “I wanted to, after the experience of seeing how effective [icons] were in making the city visible in Mexico [City’s subway], do that again,” recalled Wyman in a 2014 CityLab interview. “But we had to use an approach that Massimo… mandated when he did the signage system, and that was to use more of a diagrammatic map like the London Underground.” Wyman’s final concept, however, maintains non-Vignelli features like sections of green that correspond with popular park space and icons that identify landmarks.

Inside the archives at the Vignelli Center. (Jennifer Whitlock)

Besides these latest discoveries, the center has a photocopied version of the WMATA signage manual, some preliminary sketches by Massimo for the manual and signage system, and 35mm slides of the final manual and signage in real life. Whitlock still has plenty more to uncover: She tells CityLab that there’s a whole summer’s worth of large cardboard portfolios to go through related to WMATA.

And in case you happen to have some Unimark or Vignelli relics laying around, she says the center is still collecting.

Inside the Massive U.S. ‘Border Zone’

Arivaca is a small, unincorporated community in Pima County, Arizona, around 11 miles north of the Mexican border. The closest big city is Tucson, 60 miles northeast. The town itself is barebones—a smattering of old buildings, some dating back to the 1800s. It is surrounded by swathes of yellow grassland.

To get groceries or cash a check at the bank, residents often have to drive north to Green Valley, or even further, to Tucson. And to do that, they have to pass by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) checkpoint, where they’re inevitably asked if they’re U.S. citizens.

“It sometimes feels like they’re trying to create a no man’s land,” says Arivaca resident Peter Ragan. “All the people who are living here, and may have lived here for generations, are now part of the problem because they’re in the way.”

While the weight of border patrol’s operations is felt heaviest along the southwest border of the U.S., the “no man’s land” Ragan is talking about actually extends much further into the country. In the “border zone,” different legal standards apply. Agents can enter private property, set up highway checkpoints, have wide discretion to stop, question, and detain individuals they suspect to have committed immigration violations—and can even use race and ethnicity as factors to do so.

That’s striking because the border zone is home to 65.3 percent of the entire U.S. population, and around 75 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population, according to a CityLab analysis based on data from location intelligence company ESRI. This zone, which hugs the entire edge of the United States and runs 100 air miles inside, includes some of the densest cities—New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. It also includes , Border patrol operations led to 97 deaths over the last 15 years—some 160 miles from the border itself.)

But even if that worst case scenario doesn’t materialize, activists and residents near the border see the mere presence of these checkpoints as cruel and inhumane. For undocumented or mixed-status families, they create impossible, Hobson’s choices. Should an undocumented Texan woman exercise her already-restricted right to have an abortion, if there’s a checkpoint on the way? Should undocumented parents take themselves and their kids to get crucial medical treatment if there’s a checkpoint on the route to the hospital? Or, should they stay home and risk the consequences of not getting help?

“These checkpoints? They’re borders themselves—they separate families; they separate communities,”said Jorge Rodriguez, an ACLU organizer in Southern New Mexico.

*It’s worth taking all the numbers provided by CBP with a grain of salt because the GAO also found “inconsistent data collection practices at checkpoints.”

Finding, Measuring, and Addressing Urban Equity

How urban innovators and social entrepreneurs define and measure progress has profound implications for how those committed to improving their communities – businesses, governments, nonprofits, and residents – allocate resources. Urban innovators and social entrepreneurs are the changemakers of tomorrow – they hold the key to how cities will overcome the most pressing social and economic challenges we face today.

As one of the largest social enterprises in the nation, Enterprise Community Partners is working to advance an opportunity framework – including the introduction of a new platform for identifying and addressing community strengths and challenges, Opportunity360. Advancing this framework is intended to strengthen the “ground game” of the growing field of social innovators and entrepreneurs interested in cross-sector collaboration as they work to advance better outcomes for people.

What is Opportunity?

Opportunity is the set of circumstances and neighborhood characteristics – what Enterprise calls pathways – that make it possible for people to achieve their goals, no matter their starting point. Any serious attempt to define, measure, and expand opportunity must include both the outcomes people achieve, such as their educational attainment, health, and income, and the pathways that affect the attainment of those outcomes, like quality schools, convenient transit, and access to healthy foods.

A robust and growing body of research tells us that the availability of these opportunity pathways is as crucial to an individual’s success as motivation and work ethic. In other words, where you live affects the life you have. Stanford researcher Raj Chetty and his colleagues have shown clearly that simply moving to better neighborhoods leads to substantial “increases in children’s earnings as adults, increases in college attendance and reductions in out-of-wedlock births.”

Interconnected Challenges Require Interconnected Solutions

Cities in the U.S. and around the world committed to improving opportunity face a variety of interconnected challenges. A person with poor access to transit often also finds it hard to reach areas with good jobs; someone with a poorly maintained home is more likely to suffer from health issues like asthma, made worse from triggers like mold and pests.

Making progress on interconnected challenges requires interconnected solutions, which in turn requires multisector collaboration. For example, organizations providing affordable housing can locate homes in areas that offer quality education, can work with before- and after-school programs to provide lower-income students with the enrichment and support they often need, partner with health systems to help provide access to quality healthcare, and design resident services to provide job training. However, effective collaboration requires a shared understanding of the problems and the assets in each community.

Harnessing Technology to Enhance Multisector Collaboration

In the U.S., the data revolution has made possible a variety of tools designed to measure opportunity measurement tools using a myriad of indicators. Each tool has its own evaluation lens, points of emphasis, and methodology – all intended to contribute to better informed policies and programs.

Yet each has limitations that have prevented any one tool from establishing itself as a shared reference point for urban innovators and social entrepreneurs – be they investors, philanthropists, planners, researchers, developers, advocates, activists or, most importantly, residents. While they all come with different skills and goals for their work, they all need a tool that enables them to:

 Use a framework that integrates a people, places, and systems perspectives to encourage a multisector, collaborative approach to identifying solutions;
 Differentiate opportunity pathways, like school quality and transit options, from opportunity outcomes, like educational success and income;
 Engage residents and other stakeholders as co-creators in community development plans so that policies and projects aid those who need it most and do not lead to further challenges;
 Provide data at the neighborhood level, because opportunity can shift block to block;
 Offer data that covers a greater depth and breadth of indicators and displays them an easy-to-use form; and
 Enable them to see impact and change over time to understand how investments are affecting outcomes.

A New Way for Urban Innovators to Understand and Address Community Challenges

Opportunity360 is a new platform that responds to those needs. It is a free, fulsome approach to analyzing and addressing community challenges using cross-sector data, sophisticated measurement tools, and creative community engagement techniques.

Drawing on more than 200 indicators, Opportunity360 helps provide answers to key questions facing those committed to improving communities and does so at the census tract level. To what extent do people in a given place have access to the resources, institutions, and services that create opportunity? How do residents fare in five categories fundamental to well-being: housing stability, education, economic security, health and well-being, and mobility?

The suite of tools and resources in the platform provides a comprehensive view into a neighborhood, enabling partners in urban development to work from common knowledge. With this insight, they will be better positioned to transform cities by creating collaborative solutions, by making smart investments, and by facilitating a strategic, asset-building approach to community development. The ability of Opportunity360 to collect and compare data over time can help us better understand how our systems and policies affect the outcomes of low-income people.
As investors, philanthropists, planners, researchers, developers, and advocates, we must do more to create collaborative, cross-sector solutions that incorporate people, places and systems. By informing our work with multisector data and the knowledge of peers in other fields, Opportunity360 can help urban innovators offer more thoughtful solutions to our shared challenges and build stronger, more resilient communities.

California’s Landmark Solar Homes Mandate Lowers Cost of Home Ownership

Starting January 1, 2020, every new home built in California will sport solar panels. The landmark ruling of the state’s Energy Commission is expected to lower the monthly cost of home ownership by $40, but it will also have significant benefits for the local economy and the electric grid.… Read More

The post California’s Landmark Solar Homes Mandate Lowers Cost of Home Ownership appeared first on Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Listen: ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell Talks Amazon and Antitrust on the Majority Report with Sam Seder

ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell recently joined host Sam Seder to talk Amazon and monopoly power on the popular podcast, “The Majority Report.” Sparked by Stacy’s recent cover story on Amazon in The Nation, Stacy and Sam’s conversation covers Amazon’s role as an infrastructure company, the dramatic shift that occurred in U.S. antitrust policy, and six proposals to rein in today’s monopolies.… Read More

The post Listen: ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell Talks Amazon and Antitrust on the Majority Report with Sam Seder appeared first on Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Boston Wants Residents To Build Tiny Houses In Their Yards

Last week, a prototype of a simple, 360-square-foot dwelling called the Plugin House appeared outside Boston City Hall. The crisp white box, unfurnished but with portals for plumbing and electricity ready to go, took about 5 hours for a five-person team to assemble. It’s the brainchild of James Shen, who is in Boston this year from China as a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, and it represents something significant: In a city where everything from roof decks to chicken coops is strictly regulated, Boston is encouraging residents to build little houses in their backyards.

Chalk it up to the severe lack of affordable housing in Boston, which has forced city leaders to get a little creative. “This is the start of the conversation,” said Marcy Ostberg, director of the Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab. “It’s a question we’re asking residents—what do you think about building in your backyard?”

So far, Bostonians checking out the tiny house—sleek and minimalist, and cozy in the shadow of the urban-renewal-era Brutalist structure that serves as local government headquarters—seem open to the idea. All kinds of people could use such housing in Boston, from kids out of college to seniors who would like to age in place.

Indeed, tiny houses, micro-apartments, and right-sized studios have been gaining in popularity in cities across the country. The Plugin House, like the “Katrina Cottage” that helped kick off the tiny house movement in the last decade, keeps things simple: easy and inexpensive to build, for as little as $50,000.

A Plugin House prototype on display this week. (Anthony Flint/CityLab)

Yet there is one small problem: It is technically illegal to build a Plugin House in a backyard in Boston. It would be considered an accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, which property owners can have only by going through an arduous variance process. In Boston, ADUs have historically been frowned upon, sort of like Yankee fans.

But city officials are well aware of how many other communities have been pushing in the opposite direction—making it easier to have ADUs and granting amnesty to code-violating carriage houses and “granny flats.”

So concurrent with showing off the tiny house, Boston has also started to reform its dated rules. In November, the city began an 18-month Additional Dwelling Units Pilot, which allows homeowners in the neighborhoods of East Boston, Jamaica Plain, and Mattapan to create affordable housing in basements, attics, or a room or rooms carved out of the existing building envelope.

That might be a tiny step compared to places like Durango, Colorado, which has famously overhauled once-restrictive ADU rules, or Los Angeles, which is encouraging guest houses in backyards as a possible solution for its housing (and homelessness) crisis. In Portland, Oregon, the city “has set about creating the most ADU-friendly policies in the country,” CityLab’s Laura Bliss recently wrote.

But, in Boston, it’s a start. The ultimate goal is to increase supply and diversify the housing stock beyond the costly brownstone or luxury condo. Building in backyards, infill-style, also addresses the linchpin for affordable housing—the more efficient use of the land the homes sit on. “Land is one of the critical components in housing affordability,” says Ostberg. “We’re trying to think creatively about how to use our existing land most effectively.”

Encouraging accessory dwelling units fits in with a “silver buckshot” approach to addressing housing affordability: Instead of a single fix, an array of policies—such as inclusionary zoning requirements, shared equity housing, and community land trusts—should be thrown at the problem.

Shen’s instant-house design springs from a project called the Courtyard House Plugin, which he created for Beijing’s central historic district. The prefabricated building system he developed uses a collection of insulated panels that fit together like pieces of a puzzle.

The Plugin House is bolted together with simple hand tools and requires no skilled construction labor. There is no traditional framing, so less material is needed to begin with; the panelized system also allows the building to be added to or subtracted incrementally. The panels are made of insulation many times as efficient as typical batt insulation, saving on heating and cooling in the long term, Shen says.

The interior of the Plugin House, which took a small team only five hours to assemble. (City of Boston)

Shen, who filled out an online form to meet with Ostberg when he knew he would be spending the year at Harvard, has been meeting with city officials from the fire chief to Inspectional Services, and getting great feedback. An estimated 1,500 people toured the house since it sprouted on City Hall Plaza. Hundreds of people checked it out as well at Harvard Yard, where Shen and his team assembled the prototype across from Widener Library.

He was cheered by all the people watching the house go up in busy downtown Boston. Across from the Plugin House at City Hall Plaza, other workers were also putting the finishing touches on a new area called the Patios, which included a creamery, mini-golf, and a beer garden.

The pop-up approach for such programming, symbolized by the now-common food truck, is well-established. It was surely satisfying to see that affordable housing could pop up just as readily.

Mapping Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Migration With Mobile Phone Data

It is well known that the U.S. Census Bureau keeps track of state-to-state migration flows. But that’s not the case with Puerto Rico. Most of the publicly known numbers related to the post-Maria diaspora from the island to the continental U.S. were driven by estimates, and neither state or federal institutions kept track of how many Puerto Ricans have left (or returned) after the storm ravaged the entire territory last September.

But Teralytics, a New York-based tech company with offices in Zurich and Singapore, has developed a map that reflects exactly how, when, and where Puerto Ricans have moved between August 2017 and February 2018. They did it by tracking data that was harvested from a sample of nearly 500,000 smartphones in partnership with one major undisclosed U.S. cell phone carrier.

Luis Melgar

Between these months, nearly 6 percent of the Puerto Rican population left the island and is still living in the continental U.S. Another 6 percent left between October and September 2017 but returned to the island by February 2018.

Where did everyone go?

Leaving and Returning

Since January, the data shows more Puerto Ricans returning to the island than leaving from it.

TOTAL

407,465

359,813

Left

Puerto Rico

Returned

to PR

MONTH-TO-MONTH

In thousands

150

Left Puerto Rico

100

50

Returned to Puerto Rico

2017

2018

0

Oct.

Nov.

Dec.

Jan.

Feb.

SOURCE: Teralytics

Leaving and Returning

Since January, the data shows more Puerto Ricans returning to the island than leaving from it.

TOTAL

407,465

359,813

Left

Puerto Rico

Returned

to PR

MONTH-TO-MONTH

In thousands

150

Left Puerto Rico

100

50

Returned to Puerto Rico

2017

2018

0

Oct.

Nov.

Dec.

Jan.

Feb.

SOURCE: Teralytics

Leaving and Returning

Since January, the data shows more Puerto Ricans returning to the island than leaving from it.

TOTAL

MONTH-TO-MONTH

407,465

150,000

359,813

Left Puerto Rico

100,000

50,000

Returned to Puerto Rico

2017

2018

0

Left

Puerto Rico

Returned

to PR

October

November

December

January

February

SOURCE: Teralytics

Leaving and Returning

Since January, the data shows more Puerto Ricans returning to the island than leaving from it.

TOTAL

MONTH-TO-MONTH

407,465

150,000

359,813

Left Puerto Rico

100,000

50,000

Returned to Puerto Rico

2017

2018

0

Left

Puerto Rico

Returned

to PR

October

November

December

January

February

SOURCE: Teralytics

Most of those who left the island first moved to Florida (43 percent), followed by New York (9 percent), Texas (7 percent) and Pennsylvania (6 percent). Within Florida, the areas that received the largest amount of Puerto Ricans were Orlando (22 percent in Orange County), Osceola County (15 percent), and Miami (10 percent in Miami-Dade County.)

In New York State, 66 percent of the sample chose one of the five counties that make New York City, with the Bronx being the leading destination (25 percent).

In the animation below, you can see a vivid visualization of the exodus, with two major streams of migrations in red immediately after the storm, followed by waves of returnees in blue.  

The usefulness of this kind of geo-referenced data is clear in disaster relief efforts, especially when it comes to developing accurate emergency planning and determining when and where the affected population is moving.

“Generally speaking, people have their phones with them the entire time. This tells you where people are, where they’re going to, coming from, and movement patterns,” said Steven Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University and former chief technologist for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. “It could be very useful for disaster-relief efforts.”

Many Puerto Rican migration estimates––conducted by institutions like the Center for Puerto Rican Studies––came from county-level school enrollment, which was an indicator for a long-term settlement in the continental U.S. This provided a broad picture of the exodus, but was not a fair representation of the magnitude of the migration. Other estimations were extracted from nonprofits doing local work in communities that received large influxes of Puerto Ricans, such as several towns located in Southeastern Pennsylvania like Allentown, Lancaster, and York.

“We believe that emergency responses could be made more effective through technology,” said Alastair MacLeod, CEO of Teralytics. The company’s business model involves analyzing aggregated data from different sources, particularly the telecom industry, to map human mobility. “We generated insights into Puerto Rico’s population movements before, during and after Hurricane Maria to demonstrate how organizations like the Red Cross or FEMA could benefit from the power of artificial intelligence, combined with mobility data to save more lives and provide support where and when it’s needed.”

What about privacy?

The practice of tracking mobile phone data by law enforcement or immigration authorities has raised major privacy concerns. In the U.S., a patchwork of state laws cover access to cellphone location information. But for monitoring large migrations, location technology has also been extremely helpful to identify where to allocate resources and to understand the magnitude of refugee flows to or from a certain region––especially in war-torn zones such as Syria or during political unrest over the Venezuelan-Colombian border.

What happens when state actors keep track of both global and individual migration patterns? “Identification, authentication and registration increasingly rely on information derived from our bodies—fingerprints, DNA and iris scans,” Dutch researcher Huub Dijstelbloem wrote in a 2017 article in Nature. “These processes may invade people’s privacy and affect how they view their bodies.” Dijstelbloem recommends that scientists who develop location technology “should work more closely with researchers who are specialists in law and the social consequences of technologies. This will further the development of regulatory and ethical frameworks.”    

Teralytics says that the information they accessed is fully anonymized, de-identified, and pseudonymized. “Sensitive information never leaves the telecom data centers,” a company representative wrote in an email to CityLab. (Their complete privacy policy is here.) The company complies with the ISO 27001, an international information security standard, and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which regulates the export of data beyond the borders of the European Union.

It’s not common for telecom companies to share their data with outside parties, says Columbia’s Bellovin, but there are some cases when they do. “It’s very hard to get that kind of data, and it’s usually done through very strict conditions,” he said. “They would most likely try to anonymize the data, and in this particular case, I suspect that privacy isn’t a big thing. No one, I assume, was trying to track individuals, but large groups of people.”

Even as residents continue to return to the island, the progress of Puerto Rico’s reconstruction process continues to lag. After two consecutive blackouts in mid-April, the island’s power grid has yet to be fully restored, and homeowners who lost their properties to the storm still struggle to receive aid from FEMA.

The economic and social crisis in Puerto Rico has only deepened in recent weeks. The island’s new fiscal plan, released in April, calls for many unpopular austerity measures, and Governor Ricardo Rosselló also announced several sweeping budget cuts for 2019, igniting protests throughout the island that were met with tear gas and pepper spray last week.

Meanwhile, a fresh hurricane season officially arrives on June 1. “We’re running out of time,” said FEMA Director William Long. “We have a long way to go.”

The Tube Gets In Touch With Its Feminist Side

The London Underground is giving women a say in their public space by literally giving them a platform.

Art on the Underground, Transport for London’s public art program, is commissioning a year-long program in 2018 that will feature women artists. The program was created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which granted suffrage to all men over 21 and to women over 30 who either owned land or had land-owning husbands. It is also a part of the mayor of London’s #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign, which aims to shine a light on the contributions and achievements of women in London.

The program features six artists’ works in different ways: on billboards at Brixton and Southwark stations, on the cover of tube maps, and on a platform at the Gloucester Road station. Njideka Akunyili Crosby, a Nigerian-born artist, will be creating murals for Brixton. Crosby often uses photo collages in her paintings, and her work touches on issues of heritage, family, and cultural identity. British artist Heather Phillipson will be filling Gloucester’s more than 200-foot platform with a multimedia project that incorporates video screens, fiberglass, and a giant automated whisk. In Phillipson’s work, eggs are used as an entry point to think about overproduction and consumption. Other artists focus on a range of issues, using pastels, collages, and paint, scrutinizing everything from interactions on social media to the way society views the female body as a commodity.

A still from Heather Phillipson’s “my name is lettie eggsyrub,” video for the forthcoming Gloucester Road
installation

“The spaces of our cities are not neutral, and neither is space afforded to public art. Wider social inequalities are played out in the structures of urban life,” Eleanor Pinfield, Head of Art on the Underground, said in a press release. “Through 2018, Art on the Underground will use its series of commissions to reframe public space, to allow artists’ voices of diverse backgrounds and generations to underline the message that there is no single women’s voice in art—there are however many urgent voices that can challenge the city’s structures of male power.”

Artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby with her work “The Beautyful Ones” (Victoria Miro)

The Representation of the People Act was not perfect—poor women, young women, uneducated women, were still left disenfranchised. But it was an important step on a march towards equality. Voting gave women a say in how they were governed. The #BehindEveryGreatyCity campaign is not going to fix the gender pay gap or entrenched social norms. But it is a way to remind the Tube’s riders that behind every great city, and beside every man, women are living and breathing and moving steadily forward.

Superautomatisme Ballets Russes VII, 2015, by Linder, another artist featured in the program

CityLab Daily: How to Build a Bus Renaissance

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

Magic bus: Seattle, the fastest-growing city in the country, has achieved something of a commuting miracle—as the city’s population grew, the number of downtown commuters driving private vehicles declined. What made that possible isn’t that much of a secret: The city respects the power of the bus. By making these public coaches the choice ride of new arrivals, Seattle has even bucked the national trend of bus ridership decline.

From dedicated road space and funding to frequent and prioritized service, transportation leaders in the Emerald City have been able to show that championing the bus isn’t political; it’s practical. CityLab’s Laura Bliss rolled through Seattle to see how the city built a bus system that works—and in return built goodwill with riders. Read her story How to Build a Bus Renaissance in the latest installment of our Bus to the Future series.

Hold the bus! If you’ve missed any of our Bus to the Future coverage this week, here’s your one-stop spot to catch up.

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

Inside the Secret Cities That Created the Atomic Bomb

The Manhattan Project, the program that developed the first nuclear weapons during World War II, worked out of three purpose-built cities in Tennessee, New Mexico, and Washington state. A new exhibition considers their design and legacy.

Amanda Kolson Hurley

What the Future of Affordable Housing Already Looks Like

An exhibit on selected projects across Europe offers a few ideas for a U.S. audience.

Teresa Mathew

The Great Parisian Bikeshare Meltdown

Glitches and worker strikes have brought the world’s first modern bikeshare program to its knees.  

Feargus O’Sullivan

Like People, Diseases Travel Fast These Days

Since the 1918 flu pandemic that wiped out about five percent of the world’s population there have been strides toward eradicating most communicable diseases, yet the vulnerability of certain parts of the world affects everyone.

Nels Nelson and Sam Sternin

Digital Jukeboxes Are Eroding the Dive-Bar Experience

The fight to control the playlist is a struggle between the group’s happiness and the individual’s.

Lauren Michele Jackson


Work your core

(Wendell Cox/New Geography)

About 80 percent of the U.S. population live in urban areas—but that doesn’t mean most people are living downtown. This chart from Wendell Cox at New Geography shows the top 20 metropolitan areas with a population over 1 million people that have the largest share of residents in the urban core. New York leads the pack with 53 percent of its population, followed by Boston with about 36 percent and another seven large metros have more than 20 percent in their urban core. However, only 14 percent of the people living in the 53 major metropolitan areas (more than 1 million people) reside in their city’s urban core.

CityLab context: Why densifying the urban core alone won’t fix housing and When density isn’t greener


What We’re Reading

The airports that architects want to redesign the most (Fast Company)

Save lives with slower streets—not self driving cars (Wired)

Rising home prices lead to worries of a housing market bubble (NPR)

Half of America’s carbon-free electricity comes from nuclear. Here’s how to save it (Vox)

Why universities became big-time real estate developers (Slate)

Britain Wants to Protect Its Postmodernist Architecture

How old does a building have to be before it is deemed a historic monument? In Britain, the answer now seems to be less than 30 years old.

Following an announcement by Historic England yesterday, the country will grant preservation orders to 17 Postmodernist buildings, the youngest of which was designed in 1991. To some, protecting such young buildings might seem a bit like preserving yesterday’s leftover sandwiches in a museum, but the sites chosen are unquestionably memorable and distinctive. They also come at a period of renewed enthusiasm for PoMo architecture in Britain, with the first exhibition overview of the subject opening at London’s Sir John Soane’s Museum on May 16. It’s not hard to see why the newly listed buildings caught conservationists’ eyes. Beyond the high-water mark of the Victorian gothic revival, it would be harder to find a more aesthetically elaborate set of buildings in English architecture.

The Aztec West Business Park, designed by architects CZWG. Source: James Davies/Historic England

Do they deserve preservation? Yes. Such processes are as much about preserving representative or striking examples of a period’s architecture as they are about creating some unassailable canon that everyone agrees is impeccable. Furthermore, Britain’s system is a graded one, with varying categories of preservation that, in their lower rungs, do not rule out any adaptation but merely require it to be sympathetic.

If quality or achievement is the criterion for preservation, it’s true that some of the 17 buildings might seem to validate the criticism that PoMo architecture is about veneer over content, taking fantastical dress-up to extremes. For others, however, this might be their charm. It’s hard not to be won over by the sheer exuberance of buildings like John Outram’s Cambridge Judge Business School, an M C Escher whirl of colonnades and gangways that seems part Egyptian temple, part Victorian factory, all given a psychedelic surface makeover by Gustav Klimt. Meanwhile, CZWG’s Aztec West Business Park, completed near Bristol in 1998, is pure Beltway Babylonian, its dramatic capital-capped windows and sweeping curves looking a Cecil B. DeMille backdrop left on the edge of a parking lot.

Founders Hall, London, from Green, Lloyd and Adams, 1984 — 1990.  Source: Chris Redgrave/Historic England

Others on the list, however, match fantasy with care to make clear reference to English architectural history, an attraction for a nationally-focused institution such as Historic England. The Elizabethan/Jacobean inspiration of the jetties and gables on Green, Lloyd and Adams’ Founders Hall is plain to see, not least because some of the last of London’s structures from this era are a few doors down on the same street. Likewise, the apartment buildings designed by MacCormac Jamieson Prichard and Wright around London’s Shadwell basin look much like the Victorian warehouses that line nearby wharves, albeit made over with bunny ear towers and lashings of 1980s hot red.

Newlands Quay, Maynards Quay & Peartree Lane, London designed by MacCormac Jamieson Prichard and Wright, 1986-88. Source: Historic England

Protecting at least a few buildings of this age is increasingly becoming standard practice in Britain. In 2015, the country slapped preservation orders on a host of late 20th century concrete constructions, some built as recently as 1984. Meanwhile, seven major Postmodernist buildings were given protected status between 2016 and this winter. This 30- to 60-year-old bracket is indeed a vulnerable time for many buildings. The tenants that first commissioned them have long moved on and their fashionable glow has long dimmed, but they’re still young enough to attract the loathing of people who see any new construction as evidence of western civilization going to the dogs. As testament to the need to protect such buildings, a few key Postmodernist structures in England have already disappeared. Most notoriously, Terry Farrell’s TV AM television studio, a North London landmark, was stripped of its PoMo embellishments in 2011. The stripping of this building to a characterless shadow of its past self shows how important it is to preserve provocative, divisive buildings even—or especially—when they are still going through a difficult adolescence.