An ‘Instant Bridge’ Collapses Near Miami, and Many Questions Remain

Updated: 2018-03-16

On Saturday, officials at Florida International University in Miami-Dade County celebrated an “engineering feat come to life”—a 174-foot pedestrian suspension bridge designed to link the vast FIU campus with the neighboring city of Sweetwater, where many students lived in off-campus housing. Spanning eight lanes of traffic, FIU-Sweetwater UniversityCity Bridge was supposed to give students a safe way to cross a busy roadway—an FIU student was killed by a car while crossing Southwest Eighth Street last year—while also providing a new campus amenity. Plans called for the wifi-equipped structure to boast a shaded deck, benches and seating, and plazas at either end.

“Not only is it a bridge, it’s a place,” Robert Herrada, Sweetwater’s director of operations, told the Miami Herald in August. “This is place-making.”

It was also a showpiece for new and innovative construction methods—the first bridge in the world to be constructed entirely of self-cleaning cement, as well as the largest bridge ever to be moved by Self-Propelled Modular Transportation—or atop platform vehicles—according to an FIU press release. The $14.2 million project, initially funded in 2013 and slated for completion in January of 2019, was being built using “accelerated bridge construction,” or ABC, a technique where prefabricated pieces can be installed in a day, rather than months or years. Think modular construction, but for bridges—“Did Someone Order an Instant Bridge?” one New York Times headline read.

“This project is an outstanding example of the ABC method,” said the chair of the university’s acclaimed civil and engineering department, Atorod Azizinamini, in a statement on March 10.

But just five days after the bridge was installed, tragedy struck. On Thursday, the main span collapsed onto Southwest Eighth Street’s mid-afternoon traffic, leaving at least six people dead, at least ten people injured, and several cars crushed flat under the 950-ton weight of the bridge’s deck. More victims may still be buried in the rubble, the Washington Post reported on Friday afternoon. In a statement, university officials said they were “shocked and saddened about the tragic events unfolding at the FIU-Sweetwater pedestrian bridge.” The street will be closed indefinitely, according to the Herald.

The bridge’s failure comes at a time of growing popularity for both pedestrian bridges and the usage of the ABC method, which the Federal Highway Administration has called a “paradigm shift” in how we conceptualize and construct bridges. Besides lifting pedestrians out of harm’s way, the span was built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, according to a fact sheet, and supposed to last over a century. Its collapse represents one of the worst U.S. bridge accidents since the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed in downtown Minneapolis in 2007, killing 13. And it may call the safety of streamlined bridge construction methods into question.

So, what happened?

Workers were conducting a “stress test” immediately before the collapse, which may have been a factor, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Bridge engineering and safety experts have also observed from images of the aftermath that the bridge appeared to have no central tower in place. Such columns are typical of cable-stayed suspension bridges, and architectural renderings of the FIU bridge showed it would have one. “When the bridge collapsed, the main tower had not yet been installed, and it was unclear what builders were using as temporary supports,” the Times reported.

The National Transportation Safety Board has launched an inquiry into the cause of the collapse. Chairman Robert Sumwalt stated on Thursday that the missing central column would be “part of our investigation.”

There’s rarely one single factor explaining most bridge collapses, said Sam Schwartz, the former chief engineer of New York City’s Department of Transportation. Instead, a butterfly effect of deficient parts or designs tends to lead to systematic failure. “There’s often a lot of safety built into bridges, and that’s why they don’t fail in large numbers,” he said. “When they do fail—with the Minneapolis bridge collapse, as the most famous recent case—there were many things done wrong, and [that has] a cumulative effect.”

With the Interstate 35W Bridge, which crossed over the Mississippi, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that it was, in fact, a design flaw that ended up bringing the bridge down—not age or sustained neglect, as many critics had thought. The gusset plates that held the bridge’s steel beams were simply not thick enough. In addition, repair work being done on the bridge helped precipitate its collapse, as the weight of the construction equipment applied more pressure onto the plates, leading to eventual failure.

What makes the collapse of the FIU Sweetwater UniversityCity Bridge different—and, perhaps, more worrisome—is that it has only been standing a few days, without any additional weight present to even stress the structure. (The I-35W bridge had opened in 1967, and at the time of catastrophe, carried 140,000 vehicles daily.) Furthermore, Miami’s “instant bridge” was supposed to be Exhibit A for a technique specifically designed to greatly reduce the risk of this very thing happening.

While it is too soon to know the cause of the Miami collapse, bridge experts have warned in the past that speed can come at the cost of quality assurance when performing ABC. “The quality/speed of construction trade-off can be problematic,” Ted Zoli, the national bridge chief engineer at HNTB Corporation, stated at a 2013 FIU webinar on ABC implementation.“[T]he best strategy is to ensure the critical path of the project does not go through some difficult to inspect and to construct component that invites poor execution.”

Schwartz believes that the ABC method itself is not at fault in Miami; the technique, he says, is “not as new as people make it out to be,” and prefabricated bridge panels have been in use for at least 30 years in New York and elsewhere. Transit engineers and architects favor the technique because materials can be designed and built faster, safer, and more effectively. “Often the quality of the work is better, because it can be done under very controlled circumstances, as opposed to out in the field,” Schwartz said.

In the case of the FIU bridge, another key advantage was the lack of disruption to traffic below during construction. According to the press release, the eight lanes “saw little disruption to traffic” over the weekend, and actual assembly only took several hours. This is, in fact, one of the promises of ABC—that it does little to impact the surrounding environment during construction, as opposed to other construction techniques. On the other hand, because it requires a concentrated effort by construction crews, the technique can be pricier than others. “We pay a premium each time we use ABC, so in the end that means less money to address other bridges using conventional building methods,” Greg Penny, a Pennsylvania DOT spokesperson, said via email.

Before critics jump to any conclusions, Schwartz says, details surrounding the bridge’s construction process must first come to light, and many questions will need answers. “Did they install it improperly? Was it a failure in a joint?” he said. “Was it a failure in the midspan, because the bridge couldn’t support its own weight? Was it a design issue? Was there any damage while moving the bridge?”

Meanwhile, CBS has reported that two of the construction firms involved have a history of safety complaints.

The question other observers may have is how this happened at Florida International University, and what the incident might mean for the school, which has notably partnered with the U.S. Department of Transportation to study innovations in bridge-building techniques and civil engineering, with a track record of industry-transforming research. CityLab has reached out to DOT and FIU experts and will update when more information becomes available.

CityLab will have more on this story as updates become available.

I Have Seen the Future of Urbanism and It’s a Scooter

Hold onto your glasses, nerds: The scooters are here.

As cities around the U.S. still try to figure out what dockless bikesharing is, a leader in that nascent industry is betting that some urbanites are already ready for the next big thing—scooter-sharing. LimeBike, one of several firms operating docklessly in Washington, D.C., unleashed a fleet of electric-assist scooters in the nation’s capital this week, marking the scooter-share’s East Coast debut. (They first hit the streets last month, in San Diego.)

“Cities are craving solutions to downtown congestion,” LimeBike’s strategic developer Maggie Gendron told me as we rode on some of D.C.’s quieter streets. “It may be a bike for one, a scooter for another, but we are trying to create opportunities for residents to commute or reconnect to their downtown.”

For at least some people, it might help that they connect to a bit of the past, too. The new scooters look like a souped-up electric version of the folding Razor kick-scooters that were a wild fad in the early aughts, and remain tremendously popular with the first-grader cohort. This grown-up version boasts solid rubber tires, a kickstand, and—perhaps most importantly for adults—an electric-assist throttle on the handlebars, which allows riders to zip alongside their pedal-driven brethren at speeds of 10 to 15 mph. A smartphone app handles location, unlocking, and payment.

It’s with a mix of novelty and familiarity that companies like LimeBike, Bird, and Waybots hope to usher in a gritty and grown-up reboot of the 2001 Toy of the Year. They have a hunch that the market goes beyond Millennial nostalgia, and in a boom time for mobility innovations, they might be right. Adults might not be buying these next-generation electric scooters in droves (the consumer versions retail for about $400), but maybe they’ll shell out a buck or two for one they stumble upon on the sidewalk.

As LimeBike chief program officer Scott Kubly tells it, this could be an important step in the goal of more multimodal cities. Having a new toy on the block might lure customers out of their cars, he says, and they just might surprise you and become “complete streets” constituents along the way.

“[Scooters] could end up changing what people think of as a ‘bike lane,’” says Kubly, who was the director of Seattle’s Department of Transportation until last month. “The bigger the constituency you have, the easier it is to get infrastructure like that installed.”

Even on a short ride, it’s not hard to see how this fills a gap. The electric glide’s stand-up stance is easier on business attire, compared to a traditional bicycle. Comfort feels less tied to the weather, with electricity lending a hand against the heat or wind. Before joining LimeBike, Gendron worked as staffer with Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. “I couldn’t imagine biking to work with my old job wearing a dress, but I can definitely see it on a scooter,” she says.

Taken together, that could all make it a real contender to solve everyone’s favorite mobility cliché: the first- and last-mile problem.

But does it have an image problem to overcome? Does a grown-ass man on a scooter look any more or less foolish than one on, say, a Segway, an electric unicycle, a “hoverboard,” or any of the other comical conveyances that the 21st century has foisted on us? It’s too early to tell if scooter-shares will be conspicuous. On my own trial run, passersby turned their heads as I rode by, but I have a feeling it’s because it’s brand new; it didn’t feel like virtue or fashion statement like an early bikeshare, or even my old Razor scooter. There’s less room on the frame for the flashy colors that make dockless bikeshare stand out; it even feels a little camouflaged by design. Personal scooters aren’t nearly as common as bikes; it seems the more this quiet vehicle says “this is easy” instead of “this is my dork-mobile,” the better its chances for scaling up.

Screenshots of scooter usage in the LimeBike app.

LimeBike is pulling some of its 400 dockless bikes that have been rolling around D.C. since September as part of a trial by the District’s Department of Transportation. The company says it will replace some of them with scooters, to somewhere between 50 and 100 by the end of this week. (DDOT confirmed that Waybots, another scooter-share, is authorized to operate in the city, though they have very few scooters online so far, and haven’t responded to requests to comment.)

LimeBike doesn’t have useful scooter ridership numbers yet, but its scooter-only competitor, Bird, claims to have logged about half a million rides on more than a thousand scooters in less than six months of operating in parts of Los Angeles. A very generous, but admittedly rough estimate would put those scooters at an average of 2.7 rides per day. Compare that to findings by the app Transit that calculated 1.6 daily trips for D.C.’s dockless bikes, or 5.3 daily rides for Capital Bikeshare bikes since the dockless trial began. Bird hopes to launch in 50 markets, including Washington, D.C., this year, after raising $100 million on a $300 million valuation.

“We think electric vehicles can help solve this chicken-and-egg problem [of road space], because we know cities don’t necessarily want to carve out lanes to take away from cars,” says Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden. “But if we see massive adoption, now there’s evidence for cities to make an investment to make more bike lanes now that there’s another mode. Making dedicated lanes is easier than boring tunnels underground.”

Kubly, who also worked for DDOT back in 2009, says the closest feeling to the current optimism and skepticism about dockless bikes and scooters was when D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare launched out of the very small 10-station SmartBike pilot.

“I remember a friend saying, ‘No way, those crappy bikes that nobody uses?’” he says. “It might be the same with the scooters—until you experience it, it’s hard to figure out how big it’s going to be. But once you’re on it and you realize how fun it is, you think, ‘Why didn’t we think of this before?’”

Take a Virtual Tour of Japan With 3 Very Good Boys

First, the sheep of the Faroe Islands took the world on a virtual gallop of their picturesque archipelago. Then felines gave us a cat’s eye view of the Japanese city of Onomichi. But perhaps no creature is more constitutionally fit for the job of tour-group leader than the domestic dog: Man’s (actual) best friend possesses a curious nature, impeccable wayfinding skills, and an innate determination to never leave you behind.

Which brings us to Asuka, Ako, and Puuko. The three furry Akitas have been tapped to bolster tourism in the northern Japanese city of Odate, said to be the original birthplace of one of Japan’s most popular canine breeds. With 360-degree cameras strapped to their backs, the trio have created a Google “Pup-View” tour of local attractions in their home prefecture, giving each location a dose of cuteness.

On Google Street View, peer beyond the pups’ bushy tails to take in the vastness of Odate’s snowy mountains. Or join them as they admire the various shrines and statues erected in their honor. You can also virtually enjoy their companionship at an outdoor hot-spring foot bath or inside the Akita dog museum.

The city’s four-legged ambassadors have some work to do, as the Akita prefecture trails behind the six other prefectures in the Tohoku region when it comes to attracting foreign visitors. According to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, the Miyagi and Aomori prefectures attracted more than 100,000 visitors in 2016, while Akita only managed to bring in a little under 57,000 tourists. That’s when city officials began promoting its best-known local heroes, including a famed dog named Hachiko.

Hachiko was an Odate-born Akita who eventually moved to Tokyo with its owner. As the story goes, Hachiko became a symbol of loyalty in the early 1900s after waiting patiently every day at a rail station in the Shibuya neighborhood for his owner’s return, a vigil the animal maintained for almost ten years after his owner’s death. In fact, the bronze Akita dog statue that you can visit via Google Pup-View pays homage to Hachiko.

Past the pup’s poofy head is a statue of Odate’s most famous former Akita resident, Hachiko. (Screenshot/Google Street View)

Today, new homegrown stars have emerged. Siblings Asuka and Ako were appointed last year as “tourism promotion stationmasters,” whose job was to greet visitors outside the Odate rail station. They took on 30-minute shifts on the weekends, beginning at 9:45 a.m. sharp. “I have heard that they (Akitas) are better known than Mount Fuji outside Japan,” Takanori Nara—the human stationmaster—told Asahi Shimbun last year.

Now they can tack “virtual tour guide” on their resumes, and don’t worry about them being overworked. Based on the accompanying introductory video, it looks like they very much enjoyed frolicking and burrowing their snouts in the snow.

Nor’easters Expose Climate Weak Spots in Boston

Trendy restaurants, $3 million condominiums, and upscale hotels line the waterfront of Boston’s fashionable Seaport District. Many of them were built in just the past 10 years, with sea-level rise already an acknowledged threat.

But when two destructive nor’easters slammed into Massachusetts Bay early this year, streets and stores flooded, cars drowned, and water poured into a Blue Line subway station.

“The storms served as a wake-up call,” said Mia Mansfield, program manager for Climate Ready Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh’s resilience initiative. “People really didn’t expect to see flooding to that extent and to see how vulnerable the city is to storms and storm surge.” Because sea levels around Boston rose through the 20th century, storm surges and high tides now start from a higher baseline, and more areas are prone to flooding than before.  

Much of Boston’s land didn’t exist when the Massachusetts Bay Colony was settled in 1630. Over the centuries, fill turned tidal marshes and shorelines into neighborhoods, now low-lying areas susceptible to flooding. That includes the Seaport as well as more socially vulnerable communities in East Boston, Charlestown, and South Boston.

By 2070, with a three-foot sea level rise—the low end of current projections—those areas could be inundated at high tide every month, according to a 200-page report issued by Climate Ready Boston in December 2016. That will put 88,000 people at risk of flooding and could knock out major rail and road corridors. The report estimates that such a scenario would result in $1.4 billion in annual costs from structural damage, business and property losses, and related factors.

Mansfield herself is no stranger to high water. She grew up in New Orleans and experienced the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It showed her that climate change is real, she said, adding, “It can happen to the place where you live, your home and your neighborhood.”

On January 3, a winter cyclone dramatically deepened over the Atlantic in a process that meteorologists call bombogenesis. The next day, it dumped more than 13 inches of snow in Boston during a full moon, with winds in excess of 60 miles per hour, setting a new record high tide. Two months later, on March 2, another nor’easter brought winds and waves that created the third-highest tide ever. (Two more nor’easters followed in quick succession, and yet another is in the forecast at the time of this writing.)

But it wasn’t just the storms that flooded Boston streets. The water also came up from below: backflow from storm drains. Some drains have tide gates, but “there are many privately owned storm drains that allow the water into the neighborhood,” said Richard McGuinness, deputy director of climate change and environmental planning for the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

It’s not that the city hasn’t been aware of the issues confronting it. Boston published its first climate action plan in 2007 and updated it in 2011 and 2014. A 2013 report by the Boston Harbor Association outlined the risks of rising seas, increasing precipitation, and stormwater flooding. The U.S. Department of Energy cited Boston as a “climate action champion community” in 2014. Many regard the city as ahead of most on recognizing and planning for the risks of climate change.

But planning is one thing; action is another.

“Although we’ve spent a lot of time planning and analyzing these impacts, we’re really at a point where we need to move more quickly into implementation and into action,” said Deanna Moran, director of environmental planning at the Conservation Law Foundation.

The next step for Climate Ready Boston is a neighborhood-by-neighborhood assessment. It started with East Boston, a community of 40,500 people, a third of whom are low income. Already subject to flooding, parts of this neighborhood could see five feet of water with sea-level rise. The climate initiative recommended a $100,000, seven-foot-high moveable seawall across the Greenway, under Sumner Street, as a counter-measure. The city is funding that, along with a project of $2 million to $3 million to raise Main Street in Charlestown, through existing department budgets. Mansfield called these “smaller things that we can do that have a big impact.”

East Boston is also home to one of Boston’s four major port areas. Boston Harbor is a vital part of the economy for both the city and the larger region. It generates $4.6 billion in economic value and sustains some 50,000 jobs. And it’s an area of risk largely overlooked in the city’s planning. The harbor includes a major container port, a 10,000-vehicle automobile processing facility, a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal, large petroleum and fuel storage tanks, and a road salt depot.

It wasn’t hard for four undergraduate students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute to find the weak spots at some of these facilities.

Conley Terminal in South Boston, which has seen high growth in shipping volume in recent years. (Dan Zukowski)

Their study, completed last year, looked at 18 of 60 randomly-sampled industrial sites, finding 88 percent vulnerable to a five-foot sea-level rise. Just six had coastal protection structures, and, touring the harbor by water taxi, the students found the high-water mark on at least two of these to be less than five feet from the top. They also identified nine toxic materials used at port facilities, including ammonia, formaldehyde, liquid nitrogen, coal, petroleum products, and LNG.

“There’s been limited planning and thinking about the vulnerability and the hazards associated with port industries,” said Seth Tuler, who was the academic adviser on the project. He also expressed concern regarding “how little information is available about the emergency planning.”

Boston Harbor Now, a nonprofit advocating for the waterfront, sponsored the vulnerability study. “We don’t know what the private companies have put in place, and they’re understandably reluctant to share that, yet the impacts are huge,” said Kathy Abbott, the nonprofit’s president.

A recent post-mortem on the two big storms, organized by Mayor Walsh, identified additional risks: street flooding impeding emergency response vehicles; storm damage exposing toxic-waste sites; and the vulnerability of older buildings to flooding. McGuinness said there is a need to focus more on retrofitting these structures. Both zoning regulations and building codes will have to be looked at and updated, a process to be completed in the next five years.

One big, expensive idea being studied is a moveable sea barrier to close off the harbor during storms. But Abbott prefers a “greener rather than grayer” approach. She envisions “a system of parklands and public spaces that can absorb water, provide access, and protect from storms.”

Those are still just ideas: It will be at least five years before bigger projects can begin, according to the citywide Climate Ready Boston report. And that will be dependent on funding and political will.

Boston’s population grew from 618,000 in 2010 to 673,000 in 2016, and is expected to reach as high as 724,000 by 2030. While the city grows, the sea is retaking land. Meanwhile, construction continues unabated in low-lying, flood-prone areas.

Despite being an affluent city that has planned for the risks ahead, Boston is under pressure to shift into action mode. Deanna Moran believes the city must: “This is the time, we are at the moment, and we have the urgency.”

Where Hate Groups Are Concentrated in the U.S.

Hate in America is on the rise. There are currently nearly a thousand known hate groups in the United States—an increase of 4 percent just this past year, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). At the cusp of this are white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, which have surged the most, according to the most recent data. Furthermore, there is evidence that hateful acts have proliferated since Donald Trump began his presidential campaign.

How can we make sense of this growth in hate across the country, as well as the cultural, political, and economic factors that underpin and influence hate groups?

A new paper published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers takes a deep dive into the geography of organized hate groups around the country. To do so, the paper’s authors—Richard Medina, Emily Nicolosi, Simon Brewer, and Andrew Linke, all of the University of Utah—use data on organized hate groups from the SPLC. In 2014, the year their study focuses on, the SPLC identified 784 organized hate groups. Previous studies, including my own, have tracked the geography of hate groups, but a key contribution of this research is that it tracks them across U.S. counties.

The geography of organized hate in America is at once significantly concentrated and considerably spread out. On the one hand, hate groups are found in slightly more than 10 percent of U.S. counties (340 of 3,142), according to the study. But on the other, hate groups span the entire country, and can be found in every single state. While the heartland—stretching from the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Nebraska to Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas—has among the highest levels of hate groups, the East and West Coasts have a high density of these groups as well, as the map below shows.

Originally published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers © Taylor & Francis Group 2018 (Design by Madison McVeigh/CityLab)

The study finds that, not surprisingly, the geography of organized hate is shaped by factors like race and ethnicity, education, poverty, religion, and political conservatism. Organized hate is concentrated in places that are poorer, less educated, less diverse, and whiter, more religious, and more conservative. But the precise extent to which these factors affect hate differs somewhat in different parts of the country. The maps below chart the connection between hate groups and these variables for the 340 counties that are home to hate groups.

Race

Race plays a considerable role in the geography of hate. The map below shows the connection between hate groups and the white share of the population. As you can see, there is a stronger connection between race and hate in some areas of the country than others, with it being more pronounced in the heartland and on the West Coast than along the East Coast.

The association is stronger in areas where there are concentrations of white people, while non-white people are more spatially diffuse. This, the paper notes, can cause immigrants or minorities to be perceived as threats. On the map below, dark red represents areas where the influence of white populations on hate groups is the strongest, while lighter pink indicates weaker associations between the two.

Originally published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers © Taylor & Francis Group 2018

Poverty

Hate also tends to track with poverty. Here, the connection between poverty and hate is most pronounced in the center of the county and on the West Coast. On this map, dark red counties again show places where the correlation between hate groups and those living at or below the federal poverty level is strongest, while pink indicates places where the association is weaker.

Originally published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers © Taylor & Francis Group 2018

Education

Hate groups tend to crop up in areas with lower levels of education. But now we see a slightly different pattern: The connection between lower education and hate groups is strongest in the South, especially parts of Texas, as well as Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. On the map below, the darker blue areas represent places where the lack of college-educated people over 25 years of age has a greater effect on hate groups—though this is a common trend throughout the U.S. Light blue indicates places where this connection is the weakest.

Originally published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers © Taylor & Francis Group 2018

Religion

Although hate tends to be connected to religiosity, the connection between religion and hate groups varies around the country. (The study measures religiosity based on the number of people in religious congregations compared to the number of people living in a county.) A higher number of religious people is associated with more hate groups in parts of the Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast. But there is a negative relationship between religion and hate in the West, from California and Oregon to Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. On the map below, red and pink indicate places where religion is positively associated with hate, while shades from light to darker blue indicate places where the correlation is negative.

Originally published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers © Taylor & Francis Group 2018

Political Conservatism

Hate groups track to politically conservative areas, but the effects of political conservatism are also mixed across regions, in ways that are similar to religion. (The study measures political conservatism as the estimated share of Republican voters.) In the map below, dark red shows places where hate is more closely correlated to political conservatism, while lighter pink indicates places where the correlation is weaker. Gray areas are ones in which political conservatism doesn’t have an effect.

Originally published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers © Taylor & Francis Group 2018

Political conservatism and religion appear to reinforce one another when it comes to organized hate in America, according to the study. But this relationship fluctuates around the country: In the Midwest, Southeast, and parts of the Northeast, religion seems to have a greater impact on hate-group activity where there is a higher degree of political conservatism. In the West and Mountain regions, the two do not interact as much.

***

The study shows that while organized hate groups are concentrated in U.S. counties, no geographic region is immune to hate. Indeed, hate in America has a long, distressing history that cuts across America’s major geographic regions. The Midwest was a hotbed of white supremacy before the Civil War and is home to the Michigan Militia. The South and Southwest have long been centers for the Ku Klux Klan and other white-supremacist groups. The Northwest saw a striking rise in white-supremacist groups in the 1980s. And the Northeast has had its share of organized hate as well: In the ‘30s and ‘40s, a wave of anti-Semitic and racially motivated violence hit what we now think of progressive states like Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York.

In fact, the study argues that geography and place play a fundamental role in organized hate in America. Identity is strongly rooted to place, so hate can be understood as a reflex to defend a place from a perceived threat or “other.” Powerful local groups can mobilize around just such a defense when they feel “their” community and “their” values are under threat. In this way, hate is organized differently, and takes on different expressions, depending on the place. This sounds a lot like stories we’re hearing in the news from across America today.

CityLab Daily: A Movement That Spread Across the City

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***

What We’re Following

Walkout 101: It’s been a long time since U.S. students mobilized like they did for Wednesday’s walkout against gun violence, but the scenes were drawing on a powerful history of student-led protest. Fifty years ago, for example, Los Angeles students staged a walkout to demand better treatment of Latino students in their school district. While students across the U.S. were commemorating the Parkland shooting, CityLab’s Teresa Mathew spoke with an activist who was just 17 years old when she helped organize a movement that spread across the city:

“Once the walkouts began, the so-called grownups realized we had taken on issues and actions that they should have been dealing with all along.”

Also: CityLab’s Alastair Boone was out on the scene yesterday to speak with the high school students who came to protest in front of U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

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On Safari in Youngstown, Ohio

Three years ago, a city councilman wanted to see how far he could drive off the beaten path. That adventure now helps local leaders and advocates survey the remains of the city’s heyday, and find potential for the future.

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The Perfect Selfishness of Mapping Apps

Apps like Waze, Google Maps, and Apple Maps may make traffic conditions worse in some areas, new research suggests.

Alexis C. Madrigal

Why America’s Teachers Haven’t Been Getting Raises

It’s not just educators in West Virginia and Oklahoma who have watched their wages and benefits erode since the Great Recession.

Annie Lowrey


Game Time

Cities make great settings for video games, from SimCity to Grand Theft Auto. And now Google wants to play. The search giant is integrating its Google Maps API with the video game engine Unity to bring games into the real world. It will turn the 100 million 3D buildings, roads, landmarks, and parks into game objects that developers can toy around with by adding texture, style, and customization. Now Pokemon Go won’t have a monopoly on games that stroll city blocks. (h/t Fast Company)


What We’re Reading

Philadelphia’s new top prosecutor is rolling out unprecedented reforms (Slate)

An avocado toast dream home Instagram for millennials (Curbed)

Tehran’s mayor watched a dance recital. Now he’s no longer mayor (New York Times)

The National Forests of the future need to be in cities (Fast Company)

TIGER grants are Trump’s program now; most go to highways (Streetsblog)

The case against jaywalking laws (New Republic)


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.

Walkout: In 1968, East L.A. Students Led a Movement

Yesterday was not the first time that high schoolers walked out the door of a classroom, calling for a revolution.

The school walkouts across the country yesterday were, in part, a 17-minute protest in memory of those who died during the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. They also serve as a clear demand. Students, both in Parkland and nationally, are speaking out—on Twitter, in town hall meetings, at rallies—for stricter gun control laws.

They did much of their mobilizing online. And a good deal of attention has been paid to the way social media has allowed the teenagers to organize. But activism didn’t begin with the internet, and the current movement echoes a series of school walkouts in East Los Angeles 50 years ago. Then, as now, high school students were angry and frustrated about the way their lives were being harmed within the walls of an institution that was supposed to support and protect them.  

On March 6, 1968, students at four high schools marched out the doors to protest the school district’s treatment of students of Mexican-American heritage, pushing back against norms that included corporal punishments for speaking Spanish. The high schools—all of which had populations of more than 75 percent Latino students—were overcrowded and in a state of disrepair. Furthermore, the punitive measures, lack of college prep courses, and sometimes outright racism from teachers and administrators painted a damning rationale for why the dropout rate in the district was approximately 60 percent for Mexican-Americans. And with no Mexican-Americans on the district’s Board of Supervisors, the families of L.A.’s East side felt they had no advocates.

Knowing that their public schools would lose money for each student not attending class, the organizers decided to plan a walkout. The original plan—to threaten the walkout after presenting a list of demands to the school board—was conceived in 1967 but never came to fruition. A year later, when the principal at Wilson High School cancelled its school play with no warning, frustrated students walked out of the campus. The organizers of the walkout movement realized their protest had new life. On March 6, 1968, a new round of walkouts began in earnest, and by the end of that week the protest had spread across the city: more than 15,000 students in Los Angeles had marched out of their classrooms.

The students had clear proposals for reform, including an end to corporal punishment, the inclusion of Mexican-American history in the curriculum, and the removal of administrators and teachers who showed prejudice towards Mexican or Mexican-American students. They also had more immediate practical demands, such as the addition of covered dining halls: At one school, students had only an outdoor dining area and were forced to eat in the rain during poor weather. Eventually, the walkouts led to the school district hiring more Hispanic teachers, the end of paddle beatings for speaking Spanish, and the introduction of bilingual classes and ethnic studies. The walkouts also changed the students, and their belief in what they could do: The Los Angeles Times reports that the year after the walkouts, the number of Mexican-American students enrolling at UCLA rose 1800 percent.

Paula Crisostomo was a 17-year-old high school student at the time, and one of the walkout’s organizers. CityLab spoke with her on the day of the Parkland walkouts.

What was your role in the walkout movement?

I was one of the organizers and leaders. We planned and organized for at least a year—remember, this was before social media and computers and all that. We had to build a movement by raising consciousness and awareness with not only our peers, but the community: educating everyone about the conditions of our schools and racist treatment. That entailed lots of meetings [and] free community newspapers we wrote for. We were also guided and mentored by one teacher, Sal Castro, and a cadre of Chicano college students who knew more about this stuff that we did.

What motivated you to plan and take part in the movement?

I had the privilege of having Sal Castro as a teacher, and he was an out-of-the-box sort of guy, especially for those times. One time, Mr. Castro took us for a 15-20 minute ride down the freeway to another school. I was amazed at the condition of that school: It was new, it had green space, it had this beautiful lobby in the administration building, the libraries were full of books, and the restrooms were open. All of ours were closed, because we weren’t allowed to use them before school, during lunch, or after school. We had to get a special hall pass: We had to respect them. They were bathrooms, they weren’t church!

When Mr. Castro said [this school] is part of the school district you’re in, I had to wonder “What the hell?” seeing the inequality of the whole situation. We were, of course, in a lower-income working class community; the school he took us to was higher-income and predominately white.  

Was it difficult to convince the larger community to get behind the movement?

We didn’t get much support till after the actual walkout, and it was very difficult to convince other students, because their parents were opposed to it. At that time, we were an obedient and conservative community. But some of the principals called in the LAPD for what they called crowd control. The police started using their batons and beating students. So when the parents and community saw that—and again, it was a peaceful protest, we were not violent but we were met with violence—when the parents heard about or saw that, they knew that it was more serious than they had imagined.

And a lot of them felt guilty, because the walkout was not our first step: It was our absolute last. We had a list of demands and had started by going through the protocol to get our grievances heard and met. And that included meeting with parents, and community people, and members of our school board, but no one listened to us. They never thought we were going to do anything about it. So once the walkouts began, the so-called grownups realized we had taken on issues and actions that they should have been dealing with all along.

Do you wish you’d had social media to help with the organization process?

It sure would have been a lot easier, of course. However, actually talking to people face-to-face—seeing their expressions or being able to argue with or convince them, actually hearing their misgivings and answering questions—I think was really important to sustaining the building of the movement. There were about 15 other [schools] across the city that walked out also in our support, and that was part of the meetings and face-to-face educating and raising awareness.

What did this mean for you as a 17-year old? Did you feel like you had any real power?

Not at the time. Because we weren’t getting any support, and because things moved so slowly—especially when you’re 17 you want things to happen overnight—I  didn’t feel really empowered, that took a little while: Maybe when I started receiving accolades about my so-called bravery, and when I started to see some specific school site changes. We had a long list of demands, and some of them required a vote by our board of education, or state legislature, but a few of them were things the principals could decide to do if they wanted. When I saw the principals were making those changes the following semester, I started to feel like “Hey, we may have done something here.” And when the statistics came out of how many students from our community had applied to colleges and were going to go to college, that was really encouraging.

How did your family react to your involvement in the walkouts? Did most of the other students have familial support?

My mother was very supportive, and my father was not. I know that caused a huge friction in their relationship, and it did affect the relationship I had with my father. He was mostly concerned about my safety, and he thought I would not be able to graduate because of it. That was one of the threats, early on, but that became one of our first demands: that any student who participated would not be punished.

Where do you think the strength of student activism comes from?

[Students] have no real ties to anything or anyone yet. They certainly have fresher ideas, and more time to devote to these causes. I think our strength came from each other, and from knowing that we weren’t asking for anything crazy. We were asking for a better education: for teachers to treat us like we had human intellectual potential. I felt like I didn’t have any other choice.

I had a geometry teacher—we were supposed to be working quietly at our desks, and I got up to ask him a question. He, very loudly, because he wanted the rest of the class to hear it, said, “Oh Paula, why are you wasting your time? You’re not going to go to college, you and your girlfriends are going to be pregnant by the end of the summer. Go back to your seat.” It’s horrible to hear that today, but we had heard that throughout our entire school career: teachers who called us lazy Mexicans and stupid wetbacks and thought nothing of it. When you hear this over and over again, you internalize it, it became normal. But we started feeling like “wait a minute, this isn’t right.”

How do you see the legacy of that movement reflected in the current walkouts and activism of high school students?

I’m very proud that they’ve chosen the strategy of walkouts, because we certainly proved that it helped us. So I’m really, really awed by these students. By standing up when the adults did not, just as we did. But I have to question why the Black Lives Matter organization, who also was also building a movement, and also was concerned about their lives and their safety, was so vilified. We received the same sort of racist treatment by everyone else. While what they’re doing is awesome, by standing up when grownups would not, I just, again, have to wonder why when people of color, when our movements stand up, we’re vilified for it.

Why do you think administrators ultimately gave in to some of the proposals?

It was a long process, because some of them did need some laws changed. We were politically unsophisticated—we were high school kids, what did we know?

But over the course of several years things changed, and parts of the larger demands that we made have been implemented because of the walkouts, for sure. A lot of our parents and community members [pressured the administration] to meet our demands.

Do you think the reason the administration gave in instead of forcing more punitive measures against students was because they knew the movement was not going to back down?

Yes.

On Safari in Youngstown, Ohio

As he steered his Jeep off the road, Youngstown City Councilman Mike Ray checked to make sure his machete was still in the back seat. Pausing for a moment, he plucked the loose Parodi cigar off the dashboard, stuck it between his teeth, and punched the accelerator. I grabbed for the handrail in front of me as we bounced through ruts, with trees and bushes scraping the fenders.

The path ahead was gradually being overtaken by weeds and tree branches—hence, the machete. It follows what’s left of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad, which used to haul coal and steel between Youngstown and Pittsburgh, before the mills closed in the late 1970s. The city has since bought the land, ripped up the tracks, knocked down bridges, and turned most of it into an industrial park. This five-mile stretch, though, was left to nature—and now, the safaris.

Ray’s adventures on this path began in the spring of 2015 as something of a lark. He was participating in a neighborhood cleanup day with a city planner and two employees of the local economic development council. The sun was shining and the doors were off the Jeep as they ventured beyond the cleanup site. The original goal was to see how far into the wilderness he could drive while still staying within city limits.

Sara Wenger, a community planner with the Eastgate Council of Governments, was along for the ride that day. “It’s a great tool for storytelling,” says Wenger, whose group works with the city to identify infrastructure projects and revitalization strategies. “The safaris help planners experience the city differently. You see different angles and how geographic places interact. It helps with idea generation, not only with what could be, but how one experiences what a city is.”

Youngstown was built for a different economy, one fed by trains and trucks rolling through town. Many of the major roadways were overbuilt to handle the heavy loads. Now, they’re out of scale as the population has shrunk from a high of 165,000 in 1950, to its current level of 65,000.  

The city recognizes changing times. It recently finished a $5 million renovation of Wick Avenue, a main thoroughfare that runs by Youngstown State University, the Butler Institute of American Art, and the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. The stretch was repaved, relit, and reconfigured to include bike lanes.   

Word of mouth about Ray’s off-road adventures spurred dozens more safaris, with passengers including city leaders, real estate developers, and members of the media. His jaunts attracted more city planners curious to see what was hidden from maps or the confines of a normal car. In city council meetings, Ray had proposed that members travel to the best and worst areas of each ward to get to know every corner in town. The safaris played off that theme, showcasing the city’s ruins as well as its natural beauty. “Everybody had a blast, but it was also kind of educational,” Ray says. “There were a lot of questions about what used to be there.”

The dotted blue line shows the path of the Urban Safari. (Regional Economic Development Institute)

Youngstown’s past and present is tied to water access. The safari paths have been cut along both banks of the Mahoning River, which functioned as a cooling source and slop sink for mills in the city’s manufacturing days. Active and defunct rail lines that used to serve the steel industry still run alongside the river, and planners visualize activating the riverfront while working around the trains.   

In fact, this railroad infrastructure sparked one of the first ideas to arise from the safaris: a plan to turn the old railroad line into an elevated park modeled after New York City’s High Line. In 2017, the city won a $100,000 NEA grant for public art projects that included lighting an arched railway bridge over a main thoroughfare—a taste of what could be. Design charrettes have explored the possibilities, but so far the “Y-Line” remains a dream.

A bit farther down the abandoned rail line, Ray’s Jeep bounces past a cab driver cleaning his car on a patch of gravel. A concealed path nearby leads to a small boat dock built by the Boy Scouts and used by “Friends of the Mahoning River,” a grassroots coalition of kayakers who tout the “72 species of fish” now living in the newer, cleaner, version of the river. The dock sits in a rustic setting, except for the power lines stretching across the glistening water.  

The group has plotted maps of put-ins and portages, and it’s advocating for the removal of four dams to improve river navigation and fish migration. “We’ve put forward legislation to remove the dams, but there’s concern about releasing sediment from when all the industrial stuff was being dumped in it,” Ray says.

In 2016, the group notched a victory by winning a $2.4 million EPA grant to remove a dam and deal with the sediment in nearby Lowellville. The demolition and construction of a boat livery is expected to start this year. According to Ray, as safari-going city officials have become more familiar with the area, they’re imagining new uses for the waterfront, including possible locations for festivals.

A dock and rail bridge along the Mahoning River. (Scott Sowers)

Downtown

Backtracking a bit, we returned to paved city streets. We navigated downtown, passing by Art Deco buildings and the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor, a museum designed by architect Michael Graves. Heading back toward the water, the Jeep stopped on a wide section of bare earth.

The river and the railroad tracks define the far border of the site; the center of town is two blocks away. The land will eventually hold the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater, a 4,500-person entertainment venue that will rest in a park-like setting behind the Covelli Centre, a 5,900-person multi-purpose arena that opened in 2005.

The amphitheater’s financial backer, the Youngstown Foundation, was started in 1918 by a group of the steel barons whose names now adorn streets, museums, and other public buildings in town. The new amphitheater was built on a reclaimed brownfield site once occupied by a steel foundry.

“We needed additional recreation for the city residents as we continue to make it more residential,” Ray says. The downtown core is showing signs of life. The boundaries of Youngstown State University stretch toward apartments, condos, and a new hotel, all of which have been carved out of abandoned office buildings.

Inside the former Republic Rubber building. (Scott Sowers)

East side

Cutting across town, the Jeep entered the Republic Rubber site—a favorite of urban explorers and “scrappers” looking for copper in what’s left of the millworks. The site offers plenty of hardcore decay porn on land that’s still too hot to plow. “It’s a huge environmental issue that needs remediation,” Ray says, “and funding has been cut, so that site remains a challenge.”  

Still, the site was put to use recently. A California-based film production company, Mad Media, used it to shoot a video about high-performance all-terrain vehicles exploring the Rust Belt by zooming around abandoned buildings and crashing through windows. Ray keeps the link to the video on his phone.

“The ATV video opened our eyes to the possibility of bringing film productions into the area,” he says. In 2015, Ray was sent on a mission to Santa Monica to chat up producers. That trip eventually led to a feature film shoot—the upcoming thriller “Them That Follow”—with the city providing the location and financial support. “They used our float loan program for $1.2 million in financing and the local spend within city limits was probably around $200,000,” Ray says.

West side

On the west side of town, the Jeep followed the river and was quickly dwarfed by the million-square-foot French-owned Vallourec plant, built in 2010 at a cost of $650 million. The firm specializes in seamless tubing that’s used in the fracking industry and employs about 400 people.

Any kind of business moving into the Mahoning Valley—especially a steel manufacturer or fabricator—sparks hope for the good old days. The plant looks like a postcard of a clean, modern, industrial park with the river and the tracks defining the western boundary.

According to Wenger, jobs that are currently available in the area don’t always help the city’s blue-collar residents. “Although there are over 15,000 jobs available at this moment in the metro area, if you do not have a bachelor’s degree, only 1 in 5 openings provides a wage that merits going off of public assistance for a family of four,” she says. She also cites that openings for bachelor’s degree holders are weaker than nearby markets like Cleveland, Akron, and Pittsburgh—other Midwestern cities looking to attract talent and residents.

Youngstown has been bleeding population for years and wrestling with smart downsizing. “We did a solid job of acquiring the land, rehabilitating it, and returning it to new productive use,” Ray says. “Unfortunately instead of employing thousands, these new places employ hundreds.”

The workhorse of the Urban Safari. (Scott Sowers)

Going street legal

Grassroots economic development groups have been eyeing Ray’s safaris with ideas about monetizing them. The notion of providing Jeeps sponsored by local businesses has been floated, but obstacles remain.

“There are plans currently in the works to adapt the Urban Safari concept as an education tool, but funding and organizational capacity to implement a program of this scale are a big challenge,” says Nicholas Chretien, a member of the Economic Action Group. “Particularly those associated with insurance and operations management.”  

Wenger believes nostalgia may be holding back general progress. “The biggest challenge is that the past is so present, and even those like myself, who didn’t live during the heyday, are reminded all the time of what was, rather than what could be,” she says. “We’ve dealt with so much loss and suffering that we fear taking risks.”

Risk is always along for the ride inside the Jeep. Ray likens his town to a comic book metaphor. “We are our own little Gotham,” he says. “We have the art, we have the industry, the local millionaires, the benefactors, the university. We have all those things from our past that’s very special. My fondest wish is that people don’t have to leave for opportunity.”

‘They Can Either Go With It, or They Can Get Out’

Taylor Broadby, 16, is no stranger to lockdowns. In the small town in New Mexico where she used to live, she told me these drills were routine, in part because because students frequently brought guns to school. “Those were the most terrifying moments of my life, and I don’t want that to happen to me or anyone else I know ever again,” she said.

Now she’s a junior at Blyth Templeton Academy, a private prep school in Washington D.C.’s Capitol Hill, and she’s galvanized by how close she is to those in a position to do something about gun regulations. “I think this is amazing,” said Broadby. “I feel like I have a lot more power here than I would have had if I was still back in New Mexico.”

Calder Brown (L) and Taylor Broadby (R) at a rally for gun reform in front of the Capitol (Alastair Boone/CityLab)

On Wednesday morning, high-school students gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to mark the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The attack left 17 dead and kindled a national conversation about U.S. gun policy that shows no sign of ebbing.

This Capitol contingent was but a small subset of the masses of students across the country who participated in the national school walkout. Some 3,000 walkouts marked the day; elementary, middle, and high-school assembled in football fields and cafeterias, marched down city streets, and rallied on the steps of city halls, demanding legislative change.

On Wednesday, Snap Map featured student walkouts across the nation (Snapchat)  

Like walkouts across the nation, the rally in Washington began at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday. After gathering outside the White House and observing a 17-minute moment of silence, students marched to the U.S. Capitol, where a host of Democratic lawmakers, including New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, awaited. “Thank you for bringing your urgency to the doorstep of America, the doorstep of the United States,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Throughout their speeches, the students cheered loudly, holding up signs that read “We’re Afraid To Go To School” and “Make America Safe Again.” Some proclaimed simply “Enough.”

As the Atlantic’s Isabel Fattal wrote yesterday, the power of this youth movement, as in earlier acts of student-led activism, goes beyond the sheer numbers involved in the protests: These students, and their peers around the country, have so far succeeded in sustaining some of the outrage that occurs in the immediate aftermath of a shooting—and they’ve also focused it specifically on the legislators who have failed to act in the past.

Students gathered outside the White House, observing 17 minutes of silence (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

“This protest is about Congress, because they took money from the NRA way before Trump was in office,” said Annabel Dobbyn, 17, a junior at St. Andrews Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland. Her classmate, Devin Lucas, held up a sign that listed members of Congress by name, followed by the dollar amount they have received in donations from the gun rights advocacy organization. “You can’t ignore the political aspect of this because everything about this is inherently political. It’s legislation that can save our lives and it’s legislation that needs to change.”

Matthew Little, a 17-year-old who attends Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland, voiced a similar sentiment. “Our proximity to the nation’s capital does make everyone feel the necessity to get out here,” he said. “But there are other factors, too. This is something that we really care about; this is something that we’re concerned about. And we want to see change happen.”

Matthew Little (Alastair Boone/CityLab)

Ever since Columbine in 1999, mass shootings have established a maddeningly familiar political routine: Democratic lawmakers act indignant and demand, as Senator Chris Murphy did after the Las Vegas massacre, that Congress “get off its ass and do something,” while Republicans brandish the Second Amendment and speculate that violent video games are the real culprit. But the students of Parkland and their allies nationwide have short-circuited that ritual, to some extent: Poised, resolute, and media-savvy, they have begun to reframe the American gun debate on their own uncompromising terms.

(Jim Bourg/Reuters)

It’s clear that many of them understand this, too. In the upcoming midterm elections, a full third of Senate seats and every member of the House will be contested. Most of the students won’t be voting, but they were intent on making their voices heard.

“It’s important that we all come together,” said Little. “That process is what’s really going to make change. That’s the main reason why we’re out here. To make sure that change happens.”

Devin Lucas of St. Andrew’s Episcopal agrees. “Look at all these people here right now,” she said. “Politicians need to understand is that we’re all coming of age. We all are going to be able to vote soon. So if they don’t pull themselves together and start putting their constituents before their greed, we’re going to vote them out of office. We are the rising generation, we’re going to make change. And they can either go with it, or they can get out.”

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