Should Public Trees Bear Fruit?

There’s a block in San Francisco that will soon be blossoming with cherries, plums, and pears, but Tara Hui will not say where. That’s because she’s worried that backlash from city officials or unsympathetic citizens will halt the progress she and her fellow Guerrilla Grafters have made splicing fruit-bearing branches on to city trees.

Grafting trees is as simple as cutting a branch from one kind of tree and sticking it into a notch in another, securing it with sturdy tape and hoping that the new branch thrives. It’s as old as the Bible and widely used today in industrial agriculture.

Hui hopes the method will help bring food to under-served parts of the city like her neighborhood, Visitacion Valley, which she says is basically a food desert.

“There’s a lot of discussion about what kind of policy we need to get businesses to come to this neighborhood to sell fresh produce or even organic,” she says. Over the years she’s advocated for bringing fruit trees into the city’s urban forestry mix. “If all goes well it might even spawn some kind of cottage industry like canning or jamming,” she says.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.


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Spending 1 Month in Beijing’s Smog Is Like Smoking 5 Cigarettes

Crazy bad days [in Beijing], according to [Dr. Richard] Saint Cyr, are the equivalent of 75 percent of one cigarette a day. “So if you don’t smoke and you are really healthy, it is something to think about,” he admits, although he argues that the health effects of being overweight and inactive are far worse than a little air pollution. “My overall theme is that people, if they’re freaking out about air pollution and they’re five or ten kilograms overweight, they’re really missing the point about their relative risks, what they’re gonna die of,” he says.

At the same time, Saint Cyr acknowledges that mortality from air pollution is a problem in Beijing. Lung cancer, heart disease, and strokes all rise in polluted cities like Beijing. In China, the individual risk might not be significant but because of the size of the population, the pollution could mean that “hundreds of thousands die prematurely,” he says.

Air quality in Beijing isn’t expected to improve any time soon, but the transparency of reporting took a great leap forward just before the lunar new year, when the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center started to publish its own 2.5 particulate matter readings. On his website, Saint Cyr compared the readings from the U.S. Embassy and the Chinese, and found that the numbers were comparable. That’s a dramatic improvement over the city’s earlier monitoring system, which limited itself to a daily report on larger particulates of 10 micrograms and had the audacity to claim that there were 286 “blue sky days” in 2011.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.


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2020 Forecast: The Biggest Winners and Losers in Job Creation This Decade

The Washington, D.C., area has a lot to crow about in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest forecasts for job creation in the next ten years. The District, its Maryland suburb of Bethesda, and nearby Baltimore are among the ten cities with the highest-projected job growth by 2020, as shown by the graph above.

Atlantic Cities author

Southwestern metros now dominate the fastest-growth list, led by
Phoenix, Tucson, and El Paso. The slow-growth club is all Northeast and
Midwest, plus Los Angeles. Mild climate and low density mean that
southern metros like Greensboro, North Carolina and Columbia, South
Carolina, should grow faster than their unfavorable industry mix
suggests, so they’re off the bottom-10 list when all factors are
included.

The map below shows that employment growth will be fastest in the
Southwest, Texas and parts of Florida and California. The South looks
more blue than before, while the Northeast and Midwest are pretty
solidly light and dark red. Turns out, metros with good climate, higher
education and lower density tend, on average, to have a more favorable
industry mix to begin with. But some metros blessed with industries that
are likely to grow – like New York and Boston – will be held back by
harsher weather and a higher cost of living. Other metros – like Phoenix
and Las Vegas – should grow fast despite having concentrations of
industries projected to grow more slowly.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.



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Erin Brockovich Investigates Odd Student Illness in Upstate New York

Meet teenager Lori Brownell, the first exemplar of an outbreak of
involuntary trembling and verbal outbursts that’s drawn health
professionals and environmentalists to the town of Le Roy, New York.
Brownell is not from Le Roy, hailing instead from Corinth some 450
miles eastward, but she happened to eat dinner in the town last summer
right before her life began to get weird.

In one of the early YouTube videos
she started filming to document her condition, she explained that she
passed out suddenly last August while headbanging at a concert. Then she
fainted at a school dance, after which her body became wracked with
tremors. She went on meds, but the twitching continued and was soon
joined with a violent sort of snorting and what she believes are
seizures.

Brownell’s disorder wouldn’t be all that notable if it weren’t for
students at Le Roy Jr. / Sr. High School rapidly developing the same
type of tics and verbal outbursts. The Le Roy school district and the
New York State Health Department began investigating “neurological
symptoms associated with a small number of students” in November. That
number of students has since climbed to 15, the vast majority being females.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.


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The Relationship Between Colder States and Binge Drinking

After the Centers for Disease Control’s latest report on binge drinking, a post had readers wondering if the activity was tied to the cold.

A number of commenters on my binge drinking post asked about the connection between cold temperatures and binge drinking. One wrote:

“I noticed a pattern as I look out my window on a fine January afternoon in a state that’s on the high end of the binge drinking scale: It’s cold, and it gets dark very early in the evening. There’s not much to do here for half the year if you like to actually be outside. Drinking is a way of dealing with the depression that comes from forced inactivity. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that northern, non-coastal states drink heavily.”

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.


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Designing Healthy Communities

A four-hour television series, which will debut at the same time a companion book is made available, takes a close look at how our built environment is affecting our personal health.

A provocative new four-hour series soon to air on public television, Designing Healthy Communities,
examines the impact of our built environment on key public health
indices, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, cancer, and
depression. The series documents the connection between bad community
design and burgeoning health consequences, and discusses the remedies
available to fix what has become an urgent crisis.

Long in the making, the series looks well produced, immensely enlightening and even captivating. The four parts will include:

  • Retrofitting Suburbia, which will address health problems like obesity and diabetes
  • Rebuilding Places of the Heart, on reviving our older downtowns
  • Social Policy in Concrete, addressing the particular risks faced by low-income communities
  • Searching for Shangri-La, exploring whether there are “ideal” healthy communities

A companion book, also called Designing Healthy Communities, is available as well. It comes on the heels of the excellent compendium of essays, Making Healthy Places, co-edited with Andrew Dannenberg and Howard Frumkin, that was published last year. All editors are veterans of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.


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The Geography of Binge Drinking

Using data released by the Centers for Disease Control, we can see that there is something of a binge drinking belt across the northern half of the country, and that liberal states drink more.

Binge drinking varies from one in ten adults (10.9 percent) at the low end of the spectrum to more than one in four (25.6 percent) at the high end. There is something of a binge drinking belt across the north of the country, running westward from New England, Pennsylvania and Ohio to Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and Montana. Alaska ranks high too, suggesting that long, cold winters might play a role, though tropical Hawaii is in the top tier as well.

With the help of my MPI colleague Charlotta Mellander, I took a quick look at some of the economic and demographic factors that might be associated with binge drinking. The correlations that we noticed, of course, do not prove causation, only that an association exists. Several factors do stand out, however.

Binge drinking is more common in liberal states, those voted for Obama in 2008, and it is negatively associated with states that voted for McCain (with correlations of roughly .3 and -.3 respectively). Binge drinking states are also more “extroverted.” The correlation between extroverted personality types (one of the “big five” personality traits identified by psychologists) and binge drinking is .3.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.


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How Our Brains Navigate the City

To navigate certain parts of New York City — namely Queens and much of Manhattan — all you need to be able to do is count. In Manhattan neighborhoods like the West Village, and most of Brooklyn, things get a good bit trickier. You can no longer depend on the logical numbered progression of streets and avenues, and must instead rely on some other picture inside your head.

For a while now psychologists have debated just what that picture looks like. Some believe we need to orient ourselves by local reference points. Under this theory, we’re lost until we see that certain street or certain landmark, at which point the rest of the grid emerges in our minds. Others argue that experience is our mental cartographer. This idea suggests that if you cruise around the city enough, you develop a spatial memory that helps you find your way no matter which direction you face; at the same time, if this is true, it should become harder to reach a destination that’s farther from your familiar starting point.

A third alternative suggests that our internal GPS system is informed by frequently looking at maps. In other words, the more time we spend finding directions on Google Maps, the more our minds may grow familiar with the officially documented outline of our city, rather than the one created through our own experiences. This idea receives support in a recent study published online late last month, ahead of print, in the journal Psychological Science. A team of psychologists led by Julia Frankenstein of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany, found evidence that we’re best oriented when facing north — just like a reliance on maps would suggest.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.


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The New Science of Collaborative Workspaces

Drawing by Steven Johnson

Rollabout desks and continuous cubicle walls are just a part of the new science of office ergonomics:

Being a part of group is awesome (go team!) but so is individual
effort. The uncritical embrace of collaboration above all else can lead,
as a social scientist at the SPUR panel remarked, to the reverse of
what was intended: group-think, conformity, consensus for the sake of
peace-making. Further, the suburban corporate campus, even when it
attempts, as Facebook and Google are, to approximate urban environment,
can often serve to exacerbate the type of self-reinforcing behaviors
Bill Bishop explored a few years ago in his book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart.
Forest City’s Alexa Arena, another participant in the SPUR panel, says
that her company’s anthropological research while working on the more
iterative workspace model seen in its 5M Project
revealed that employees working in these environments found that their
best ideas came not while in that bustling, lively office but more
likely when they were in their own neighborhoods hanging out with people
not necessarily in their own line of work, or waiting for lunch at the
Korean taco truck parked in front of the office.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.



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The Where and Why of Coachella 2012

From which cities do the bands playing the iconic rock festival hail?

Making the bill at Coachella signals a certain level of value to big labels and record industry tastemakers as well as to the wider public. The rapper Azealia Banks rode a wave of Internet buzz to this year’s Coachella stage before she signed to a
major label or even made a full-length record. Being a big act’s protégé can help too. Rumor has it, for example, that Dr. Dre only agreed to
perform when the festival booked his

protégé

, Kendrick Lamar.

Coachella thus provides an interesting lens into the evolving geography of popular music, enabling us to map the locations and music scenes where not
just the most established acts, but some of the most intriguing up-and-coming acts hail from.MPI alum Patrick Adler, now a grad student in Urban Planning at UCLA, gathered locational data on the 2012 Coachella acts from multiple
sources, including band websites, MySpace, Sound Cloud, All Music, Pitchfork and music journalism. When possible, he gave priority to
locations entered by the acts themselves. For veteran acts, he used their location when they achieved their greatest popularity. For acts with multiple
locations, he gave fractional points to each location.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.




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