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What We’re Following
Always greener: In St. Paul, Minnesota, a former car factory is poised for a dramatic rebirth. The symbolism alone is notable: Henry Ford once thought it was a great place to build cars; now, it’s set to become a dense, mixed-use showpiece of enlightened development where cars aren’t all that necessary.
But as you might expect, it has also sparked debate along generational lines. As one local journalist put it: “You had older people who were concerned about traffic, and you had younger people who said, ‘I want to live there!’” On CityLab, Jay Walljasper has the story of how an ambitious Minnesota eco-project became a density battleground.
Travel ban: In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s executive order that restricts travel to the United States from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Venezuela, and North Korea. The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer says it amounts to a “green light to discriminate.” Of note: North America won a shared bid for the 2026 World Cup after Trump said the travel ban wouldn’t apply during the games. (Vox)
A local celebrity, dark backgrounds, smooth jazz, and a mysterious set of eyes surely sold the region’s corporate class on what’s now known as “The Q.”
Younger Than That Now
Bob Dylan once sang, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” and that’s now true for much of his home state of Minnesota, and much of the Midwest, too. The median age fell in 531 U.S. counties between April 2010 and July 2017, and 51 percent of them were in the Midwest, according to the map seen above from the U.S. Census Bureau. As our colleagues at Route Fifty note, that’s a pretty dramatic shift compared to the Northeast, which has just 2 percent of the U.S. counties that are getting younger. Overall, though, the country is getting older: The median age rose from 37.2 to 38 over that same time. The trend is projected to continue through 2060.
What We’re Reading
San Francisco can’t afford waiters. So they’re putting diners to work. (New York Times)
Tiny home communities: housing solution or gentrified trailer park? (The Guardian)
A London court says Uber can keep operating in the city on a probationary license (The Verge)
Oklahoma teachers went on strike. Nearly 100 of them are running for office now (Vox)
Thousands of Marriott workers will protest for safer conditions this week (BuzzFeed News)
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Ford’s Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul, Minnesota opened in 1925 to build Model Ts in a state-of-the-art facility powered by a hydroelectric dam on the Mississippi River. At its peak, the factory employed 1,800 well-paid UAW workers in a 2 million-square-foot facility about 7 miles from both downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis. When the last vehicle, a Ranger pickup truck, rolled off its line just before Christmas in 2011, it was Ford Motors’ oldest factory. About 7 million vehicles were built here over 86 years.
The closure left behind an economic hole in St. Paul, and a formidable environmental challenge: The site was laced with residue from decades of automaking—petroleum compounds, paint solvents, lead, and arsenic.
Today, all that remains of the Ford factory is an expansive tract of bare land in the middle of the middle-class Highland Park neighborhood, where a lone smokestack juts up from the old steam plant. The top layer of heavily contaminated dirt has been scraped away and piled up in mounds underneath plastic covers, waiting to be removed. Diesel shovels and other heavy equipment dot the grounds.
But the Ford site is poised for a dramatic rebirth: Over the next 20 years, these 122 acres overlooking the Mississippi River are slated to grow into a dense mixed-use neighborhood designed to be a showpiece of energy efficiency, smart design, ecological stormwater management, and enlightened economic development. Last fall, the St. Paul City Council approved the Ford site master plan, developed by the city’s planning department after an intensive 11-year process. The plan maps out the vision for a transit-accessible community for up to 7,200 residents, an eco-village within the city that boasts a grid of bike- and pedestrian-friendly streets, abundant green space, and jobs for 1,500 workers—almost as many as the old Ford plant had at its height. Twenty percent of the development’s housing will be priced for lower-income residents.
On Monday, the city announced that Ryan Companies—a Minneapolis-based firm which is already at work on a mixed-use pedestrian-oriented project that will create a new city center for Kirkland, Washington—had secured development rights for the site. Construction could begin as early as 2020, according to a timetable from the city.
“This is an opportunity to envision what a 21st-century community is,” says Tom Fisher, director of the Minnesota Design Center and former editor of Progressive Architecture magazine.
The plans gearing up here bear consequences far beyond these two cities: The Ford plan reflects an ambitious vision that unites the techno-solutionist and urbanist wings of the sustainability movement—cutting-edge energy conservation and generation within a walkable urban village—with an additional emphasis on affordable housing and creative-class economic development.
But there’s been significant pushback over the shape of this site. The project would be built in a highly desirable neighborhood of mostly single-family homes, where the city’s historical urban fabric gradually shifts to upscale post-war suburban-style development. Neighborhood foes of the plan worry about density and traffic, while backers cite the city’s need to build more affordable housing, address economic inequality, and raise property tax revenues. As with similar NIMBY/YIMBY (“Yes In My Backyard”) standoffs in other cities, there’s a distinct generational divide over the issue, with younger St. Paul residents (as well as the city’s new 39-year-old mayor, Melvin Carter) tending to support the plan.
Another key question: If and when this green city-within-a-city gets built, can it really meet the ambitious efficiency and affordability goals its planners now envision?
What sets the Ford site project apart from most other brownfield redevelopments around the country is its resolve to become one of the first net-zero energy communities in America—all the power consumed would be generated from renewable sources on site. It’s been named one of six Zero Energy Districts selected for a U.S. Department of Energy accelerator project, launched in partnership with the National League of Cities to offer assistance for sustainable innovations. (The others are in Fresno and Huntington Beach, California; Buffalo, New York; and two in Denver.)
Net-zero will be a tall order in Minnesota, where freezing winter temperatures demand big energy inputs for heating. “I think the city has set up progressive energy efficiency and sustainability goals,” says Kaitlin Veenstra, an architect focused on green building at Ryan Architecture + Engineering, an affiliate of the developer Ryan Companies. “The question is whether it’s financially viable.” Veenstra expresses cautious optimism, based on recent progress she’s seeing in green technology and financial support for sustainable initiatives.
To pull off this feat of green building, the development will need more than just hyper-efficient structures. “On a recent study of the Ford site, energy-efficient buildings can get you 80 percent of the way to net-zero,” says John Carmody, founder of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Sustainable Building Research. To get the rest of the way, the community will be equipped with a lot of solar panels—the cost of which has plunged 79 percent over the past decade—plus other efficiency tools.
One key feature of the plan is a district energy system, in which the heating, cooling, and hot water needs for a network of customers are served by piped-in hot and cold water. Such systems are common in European cities but still a bold idea outside of a few downtowns in the U.S. “It’s tough to get a single building to net-zero energy, but when you tie them together, it’s easier,” says Ken Smith, a consultant on the project and CEO of District Energy St. Paul, which has heated and cooled downtown St. Paul since 1983. The Ford site would also utilize one of the first Aquifer Thermal Energy Storage (ATES) systems in the U.S. An energy-saving technology popular in the Netherlands and Scandinavia (where it’s used at Stockholm’s main airport), ATES pumps groundwater—which essentially remains the same temperature year-round—out of deep aquifers to heat and cool buildings.
The new neighborhood’s mobility needs are similarly being optimized for car-free and car-lite lifestyles. A nearby bus rapid transit route connects to two light-rail lines heading to each of the downtowns. Off-road bike lanes run along the river to downtown Minneapolis, and a trail to downtown St. Paul along an abandoned rail corridor is under discussion. Within the development, a woonerf-style shared roadway and ample dedicated bike lanes—along with shared parking for employees, customers, and residents—promises to leave “more land for living, working and recreation,” as the city’s website claims.
The development’s nucleus of housing, businesses, and shops would be balanced by a European-style public plaza and several parks, with 21 percent of the site set aside for green space. Its centerpiece is a landscaped stream, created to manage stormwater, that would restore an often-dormant waterfall that flows nearby into the Mississippi. On an adjacent tract, Ford’s old steam plant—designed by industrial architecture legend Albert Kahn—has been spared in the hope it can be repurposed.
The prospect of a nationally recognized prototype for green development rising from the rubble of an automobile plant has won support from groups as varied as the Sierra Club and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. Environmental advocacy groups nationwide are enthusiastic about the prospect of establishing a major net-zero community in the U.S. “People don’t realize how close we are to net-zero in terms of cost,” says Jacob Corvidae of the sustainable research hub Rocky Mountain Institute.
The density debate
The planning process for the Ford site involved more than 150 public meetings, but as the master plan headed toward a city council vote last year, well-organized opposition emerged. Leaders of the newly organized Neighbors for a Livable Saint Paul called the plan “a monstrous affront to the neighborhood,” in an op-ed in the Star-Tribune last August: “This proposal is essentially a cold-hearted plan to cram a hyper-dense cluster of over-sized apartment towers into the middle of a residential neighborhood.”
In another op-ed, Neighbors for a Livable Saint Paul spokesperson Charles Hathaway laid out a series of demands, which included limiting new housing to just 1,500 total units, setting a four-story height limit, and bumping up the percentage of green space on the site from 21 to 30 percent. (The group has stressed their support for the goals of net-zero energy and a transit-friendly, pedestrian-friendly mixed-use community.)
In response, the city council scaled back height limits for new residential construction from ten stories to six (with an option to build taller in exchange for adding more green space at the ground level). That revised plan was approved by the city council in October. Hathaway and his group are not appeased. “This plan is very far from what the neighbors are willing to accept,” he says, “Everything that is nice about Highland Park is being ignored at the Ford site.”
In particular, he cites the risk for traffic congestion and the fact that the new housing would be out of character for the neighborhood; recently, the group has also focused on the threat of environmental pollution at a nearby dump site. “The general citizenry feels negated and disregarded in these kind of decisions,” says Hathaway, who lives eight blocks from the site and served on a neighborhood advisory task force about the Ford site for 10 years.
On the other side of the issue, a rival grassroots group called Sustain Ward 3 popped up last summer to support the plan. “We wanted to challenge the vocal, well-organized opposition to everything we thought was good,” says group co-founder Nathaniel Hood, 33, who lives in a single-family house three blocks from the site. Most of the group’s 40 or so active members are also under 35, he says.
Indeed, the Ford site debate often broke along generational lines. “You had older people who were concerned about traffic, and you had younger people who said, ‘I want to live there!’” says Jane McClure, a local journalist who has covered Highland Park for 33 years in The Villager neighborhood newspaper.
The Ford project was a major issue in the November 2017 mayoral election. Melvin Carter, whobacked the master plan, won more than 50 percent of the vote in a 10-candidate field, while runner-up Pat Harris, the former city council member for Highland Park, opposed the zoning changes necessary to begin the project. Carter, who is St. Paul’s first African-American mayor, also won Ward 3, where the site is located. Chris Tolbert, the 34-year-old city council member who succeeded Harris in Ward 3, is another project backer, calling it “the 21st century development this neighborhood deserves.” In April, members of Sustain Ward 3 won six of eight seats on the Highland District Council (an advisory council to the city). Before the vote, an opponent circulated fliers calling the group “Restrain Ward 3” and accusing its supporters of being “eco-chic” advocates of the “quonset hut lifestyle.”
The selection of Ryan as the developer seems to reassure some opponents: “It’s a locally-owned company, and they obviously do good work. There’s a lot to be said for that,” Jane Prince, one of two city council members to vote against the plan, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
But tensions over density and development in the area remain high across the greater Twin Cities. Minneapolis’s new mayor—who at 36 is even younger than Carter—made affordable housing a cornerstone of his campaign last year, and recently proposed looser zoning codes on duplexes and fourplexes throughout the city, igniting resistance in some neighborhoods. The suburb of Edina—arguably the birthplace of modern suburbia as the home of America’s first enclosed shopping mall—witnessed heated debate over plans for a high-rise apartment building near the mall. The city council rejected the particular plan, but mid-rise apartment buildings are under construction in the mall’s parking lot.
Back at the Ford site, there’s still a lot left to do before any new residents move in. Ford put the property up for sale last December, and over the next 10 years, the technical, financial, and political feasibility of the site plan will be put to the test as the land is sold, designs prepared, and ground is finally broken.
It’s been a long journey for former St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman, who helped guide the site planning process for more than a decade before leaving office in January. “Henry Ford thought this the best place in the country to build cars,” he says. “I feel the same way for what we’re doing today.” To Coleman, the project—and the debate that’s surrounded it—reflect the shifting priorities of a new kind of urbanite. “Not everyone is looking for a single-family house anymore,” he says. “It’s the duty of a city to look to the future. Millennials have the option of living anywhere. This is how many of them want to live.”
For 43 days in 1968, Washington’s National Mall was transformed into a protestor’s shantytown. Approximately 3,000 people moved into tents and makeshift structures lining the grass between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol to create Resurrection City. Activists camped to advocate for better wages, better social services, and affordable housing for the poor. The thousands of protestors were part of a new group called the Poor People’s Campaign, a coalition organized by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. before his assassination.
“This will be no mere one-day march in Washington,” King said of his vision for the event and the campaign, the fruits of which he would never see. “But a trek to the nation’s capital by suffering and outraged citizens who will go to stay until some definite and positive action is taken to provide jobs and income for the poor.”
Today, the Poor People’s Campaign that began in ‘68 has been reborn, with an even more expansive mission: To advocate not only for the 43 million Americans living in poverty, but for the undocumented immigrants being torn from their families at the border; for the disenfranchised voters; for the incarcerated; and for climate refugees. After six week of national acts of civil disobedience, working people representing 40 states according to the organizers, gathered in Washington, D.C. on Saturday to celebrate Resurrection City’s anniversary and to reaffirm its vision.
On the eve of the event, organizers had estimated a crowd of 2,000, far fewer than the 3,000 who showed up to the first Resurrection City—but by Saturday afternoon, organizers saythe real count had swelled to 10,000. It was a gloomy day, and the group was visibly sparser than the shoulder-to-shoulder throng that filled the Mall for the first annual Women’s March in 2017, which drew an estimated 500,000 to one million to Washington, or the more recent March For Our Lives, which drew around 850,000. But, as Rev. William Barber, one of the co-organizers of the march, told The Washington Post on the morning of the rally, “If we had chosen to do a commemoration of Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign, we could have had a huge commemoration, thousands of people, a big rally on the Mall. But we did not want to do that. We’re building something new.”
“It is not a commemoration of what happened in 1968 but a reengagement of that,” he added in a press call. “Because of the times in which we live.”
Many of the elements of this reengagement have had whiffs of that 1968 spirit—much more so than the slick, teen-led March for Our Lives, which featured performances from Miley Cyrus and Broadway stars alongside the powerful anti-gun violence testimonies. The 40 prior days of civic disobedience commenced in May, and sent protesting activists to state capitols around the country—during its kick-off event in D.C. on May 14, 146 people were arrested, including co-organizers Rev. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis. During other May kick-off events across the country in Jefferson City, Raleigh, Des Moines and Indianapolis, more than 150 others were jailed, too—among them, 83-year old Louise Brown, who organized the 1969 Charleston hospital workers’ strike.(“I went to jail in 1969 and I went to jail in 2018,” she proclaimed proudly at Saturday’s march.) And concurrent to the final march on Saturday, Poor People’s Campaign protestors were arrested in Seattle as they blocked traffic in a parallel action with the event in Washington.
“We took those streets to say that we’re headed in the wrong direction as a nation,” Barber told The Washington Post after he was released in May. “We believe something worse is being done than our blocking traffic for an hour. … The Constitution says, ‘Establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility.’ Those promises are being broken.”
The campaign wants to push Congress again to fulfill those promises. After two years of listening tours beginning in 2016, during which leaders found “that, in many ways, we are worse off than we were in 1968,” they drafted a Moral Agenda, which targets five key areas for change: systemic racism, with goals of criminal justice reform and reducing voter disenfranchisement; poverty, including reforming federal tax laws and implementing federal and state living wage laws; ecological devastation, including securing clean water for all; the war economy; and what they call, “our distorted moral narrative.”
It’s an intersectional agenda, says Barber—meant not only to bring together white and black and brown; Republicans and Democrats; but to link issues that aren’t always in conversation. “This business of snatching children and locking them up is at the center,” he said Friday. “That is an ugly metaphor of what is happening in our country by those who want to snatch opportunities from the poor.”
But it was alleviating that poverty that many of the speakers emphasized. “[In D.C.], a worker would have to earn $34 an hour just to afford the $1800 for a two-bedroom. The average house costs $400,000,” said a representative from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)who spoke at the march.“D.C. lacks affordable housing.”
“In 1969 you could rent a house for $50,” added Louise Brown. “Today, how you can you survive? Fifteen dollars an hour is a start, but we need to go up, not down.”
While the policy goals are aligned with the platforms of many Democratic officials, no sitting politicians took the stage Saturday.But in Congress, some people are listening: In response to the first five weeks of protests, Representative Elijah Cummings and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has been floated as a 2020 presidential candidate, organized a Capitol Hill hearing on poverty. In front of an audience including U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker, Poor People’s Campaign organizers testified on their experiences raising a family as an undocumented worker; caring for children without adequate Medicaid coverage; struggling with opioid addition as a homeless veteran; living in Flint without clean water.
The group attending Saturday’s rally also reflected the diversity of America’s poor, and the breadth of their needs. A group of steel workers from Pittsburgh in the crowd stood just beside AFCSME members like Andre Faison, who was eight at the time of the first Poor People’s Campaign protests and now works as a mechanic for city vehicles in Baltimore. “We’re not here to advocate for unions,” said Ross McClellan, who’s been a steel worker for 26 years. “We’re here to advocate for all people.”
Beside the stage, activists from Kentucky in Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind costumes waved their paper mâché arms and posed for pictures with children—they wear these “Puppets for Moral Revival” outfits every Monday at a local Kentucky church, Selena McCracken, who dressed as Water, told me. “I’m honored to be part of a group that is mobilizing with indigenous people,” she said. “And fighting racism and ecological devastation.”
And in the middle of the crowd, Patricia Butler, a Washington, D.C.-raised government worker, stood facing the stage, rapt. She was there alone, leaning on a long wooden walking stick, elegantly dressed among a sea of t-shirts, in a long grey trench coat and black wide-brimmed hat. When I asked Butler why she was there, she told me she was meant to be.
In 1968, she rallied at the original Resurrection City. The day she remembers most vividly was a muddy one, and while at 16 she wasn’t a seasoned organizer, she was sent to buy overalls for Reverend Ralph Abernathy, who had taken up leadership of the movement after King’s death. On Saturday, she was there to watch speeches from people like Jesse Jackson—civil rights leaders who helped Abernathy with the original campaign, and who helmed a similar stage 50 years ago—as well as a new guard of organizers from labor unions and grassroots non-profits.
“I feel I have to be here. There’s a great need for us to be here for those who can’t speak,” Butler said. “It’s a new day, but we’re still asking for almost the same thing.”
The real test of whether they can get what they’re asking for will come at the polls. When Jesse Jackson took the stage to deliver that message, almost everything he chanted was echoed back to him by the crowd.
“We’re poor but rich in votes. Poor but rich in dreams. Poor but rich in aspirations,” he said, and the words reverberated. “I am somebody,” he roared, and the crowd roared back.
“I can vote, I must vote, I will vote,” Jackson continued. “I can march, I must march, I will march.” Soon after, they marched. Thousands of people—steel workers and mechanics and students and teachers and activists and allies—took the streets, walking from the Mall to the White House.
And soon after this, they’ll have the chance to vote. While the 40 days of action have ended, Barber says, the fight will continue in organizers’ home states, where they’ll push to register voters to swing the ballots in November. “This is a commencing, not a commencement,” he said. “A beginning, not an ending.”
The circle at the center of the next memorial to U.S. veterans represents the cycles of life, nature, the seasons, and the elements. The circle is also the anchor for a special, and highly unique, stage in Washington, D.C.: a space for ceremonies for hundreds of different Native tribes and nations.
Fire and water frame the symbolic infrastructure for the memorial. The circular steel sculpture rises from a central pedestal, which is shaped like a drum; the drum works as a fountain, whose waters will bless sacred ceremonies. A fire at the base of the circle will be lit for Veterans Day and other holidays.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian just announced the winner of the international design contest to create its new monument. The National Native American Veterans Memorial will honor the military service of Native American soldiers who have served in every conflict in U.S. history. The memorial is meant to be an active site for healing, prayer, and storytelling, says Harvey Pratt, the memorial’s designer. The concept is unlike anything else that’s currently on the National Mall.
A jury selected Pratt’s design—dubbed the “Warriors’ Circle of Honor”—from five finalist entries, which in turn emerged from a pool of more than 120 contest submissions. Pratt’s design squares a difficult design brief. The memorial needed to facilitate a potent and reflective experience for veterans and their family members. But it also needed to be legible and meaningful across many different cultures and conflicts.
For his design, Pratt, an Arapaho and Cheyenne Marine Corps veteran, says that he relied on a handful of symbols and conceits to build something essential and, he hopes, transportive. “Of the 650 tribes, we’re all the same, but we’re different,” Pratt says. “We all use those elements, but maybe all a little bit differently.”
Unlike other war memorials in D.C., the National Native American Veterans Memorial does not highlight a specific conflict, but rather an entire people. Many peoples, in fact. The memorial honors all Native American veterans—including American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians—from the Revolutionary War to the present, across all branches of service.
“That’s already quite a challenge, for any design to be meaningful to all of those groups, and to honor all of them,” says Rebecca Trautmann, project curator for the National Native American Veterans Memorial. “It also needs to be a timeless memorial that will honor veterans going forward into the future.”
Concentric circles of golden Kasota limestone—the same material used to build the museum—will serve as benches for reflection and participation. Seals for the five (current) military branches will be carved inside one of the rings. Pratt’s wife, Gina, and son, Nathan, collaborated on the design. Hans E. Butzer and Torrey Butzer of Butzer Architects and Urbanism—the firm that designed the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum—will help the Pratts realize the memorial.
One of the design’s most important features is a series of four lances fixed to cardinal points around the memorial’s limestone rings. These lances will serve as focal points for ceremonies: Veterans, family members, and tribal leaders may attach prayer clothes to these lances. Pratt says that most nations have songs that they will want to play or perform for gatherings at the memorial, from flag songs to veterans songs to victory songs.
“Most Natives will recognize those elements and will take advantage of them and use them. They can spend some time in there, and make promises to the Creator,” Pratt says. “’I’m going to tie a prayer cloth for my nephew, who’s in Iraq, and I’ll say this prayer and promise to do something for the next year.’ It becomes something. It becomes a place of power, a place of strength, a place of comfort.”
Trautmann says that the museum hopes to break ground on the memorial in September 2019 and unveil the finished project in late 2020. In the meantime, she is preparing a book and exhibit to dovetail with the memorial’s opening. Artifacts that will be shown in that exhibit include a ceremonial drum used for a powwow held near Fallujah in 2004, as well as ceremonial jingle dresses used by active service members.
The National Native American Veterans Memorial is more than two decades in coming. Congress passed legislation authorizing the memorial back in 1994, well before the National Museum of the American Indian was realized. A national search for a memorial designer began in earnest in 2013, when the museum, in concert with the National Congress of American Indians, convened an advisory committee of about 30 Native veterans and leaders. They went on to hold consultations with Native veterans and their communities in 16 states and the District of Columbia. Those meetings informed the central motivation behind the project: namely, to build an inclusive and healing memorial.
More than 140,000 veterans identify as American Indian, Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian; today, more than 31,000 Native men and women serve in active duty. In proportion to their population, Native Americans serve in the military at a higher rate than any other ethnic group. Beyond a few very visible contributions—like the Code Talkers, who helped send coded messages in Native languages in both world wars—the immense contributions of Native peoples to the national security have gone mostly unrecognized.
“Washington, D.C., has sacred places all over,” Pratt says. “Different memorials, they’re all sacred to the American people. I’m so proud to have the National Native Americans Veterans Memorial included with the rest of those sacred places, a place where people come to be healed and be comforted.”
Is Europe about to catch the scooter-sharing bug? Companies renting out these little two-wheelers have been a huge, unexpectedly fast-growing phenomenon in North America, but dockless scooters remain very rare in Europe, with only a few cities testing out limited fleets. That changed on Friday, however, when LimeBike launched its scooter-share system in Paris.
With several hundred vehicles up for grabs, the company is certainly taking the new market seriously. But will a transit solution that’s performed well in American cities transplant well to a city like Paris, with its very different transit and street culture?
On some counts, the concept might actually thrive. In fact, LimeBike has already adapted its model a little to suit local conditions. Gone are the freelance contract-workers-cum-bounty-hunters who, in the U.S., hunt down, recharge, and relocate scooters. Instead, LimeBike will employ a 40-strong team of staff to find and clear all vehicles off Paris’s streets at 9pm each evening. A professionalized service team is one of the cornerstones of the company’s attempts to reduce vandalism. This may mean that LimeBike gets a more even distribution of scooters across the city, at least in the mornings before users start relocating them.
The fact that you need neither a driver’s license nor a helmet to use a scooter-share vehicle in France should also help make uptake a little smoother. There’s also the long-standing habit of using mopeds, which should make the idea of low-powered motor vehicles less of a conceptual leap for locals. Finally, LimeBike has smoothed its path by making sure it has Paris City Hall’s full blessing, hopefully avoiding the wrangles that led to its banishment from San Francisco.
Recent transit failures in Paris could also blow a little wind under LimeBike’s wings, at least in the short-term. The city’s Velib’ bikeshare scheme, long admired as a pioneer in its field, is currently in disarray, its docks having widely malfunctioned since it was taken over by a new contractor last year. Meanwhile, the city is pulling out of its Autolib’service—an electric car-share scheme that’s been hemorrhaging money for some time. There’s no guarantee that frustrated bikeshare users will be tempted shift to scooters, but a window has opened up for LimeBike to do better against beleaguered competitors.
Scooter share’s success is by no means a shoe-in, though. By Parisian standards, LimeBike’s costs, while not exorbitant, aren’t exactly a great deal. The scooters have an unlock fee of €1 per ride and a cost of €0.15 for every minute thereafter, giving a rental cost of €5.50 ($6.40) for 30 minutes, which is probably the upper limit of a single journey. That’s similar to what scooter shares charge in the U.S., but not exactly a steal in a city where a single metro trip ticket costs €1.90 (or €1.49 if bought in a batch of 10). Add to this the fact that last-mile travel is less of an issue in Inner Paris, thanks to very short distances between the stations of a very comprehensive metro network. Taken together, scooter share looks a little less indispensable.
So far, it’s also hard to see where any volume of scooters would go without endangering their riders. On the road they’ll have to weave among fast-moving vehicles. On the frequently crowded sidewalks they might risk some serious resentment from pedestrians who feel that the only wheels that belong on the sidewalk are wheelchairs and mobility scooters. Out of use, parked scooters may take up much less space than bikes, but any spare room in a busy, dense city like Paris is at a premium, and new occupants are sure to be noticed—and possibly resented.
Finally, there’s the big V: vandalism. LimeBike’s scooters should be largely sheltered from outright theft by the fact that riders need to use a credit or debit card to unlock one. They are, however, neither alarmed nor heavy.
The French in general tend to be on the militant side if they feel a private company is encroaching on their space or convenience, and it wouldn’t take much to toss a scooter over a bridge into a watery grave in the Seine or Canal Saint Martin. If the scooters end up cluttering the footpath or generally getting in the way—without being seen to solve a major problem—their days on Paris’s streets could well be numbered.
In this climate of distrust, we conducted a study to learn how activists and civic institutions are leveraging media and digital technology to rebuild and reimagine new approaches to civic discourse and action. Through our conversations with over 40 practitioners in Boston, Chicago, and Oakland, we provide a way of identifying and evaluating media and technology designed to facilitate democratic process.
We spoke to people in a variety of civic organizations (everything from government, arts, to community journalism), who were grappling with the challenge of using new media and technology to engage, or connect with the publics they serve. Among these practitioners, we saw that their work reflected an ethic of care, an essential part of citizenship that orients people towards an understanding that citizenship is the practice of how we work with others to take care of the world we live in.
The humble bus doesn’t get enough credit for its role as the workhorse of public transportation. The same could be said of bus drivers. For one thing, they may very well
As far as video games go, Bus Simulator 18 may not have the most obvious viral appeal. But the game, released last week by the German company Astragon, tickled the fancy of many a bus enthusiast in our newsroom.
In the same way that SimCity navigates the logistics of running a town—including zoning regulations and limited budgets—Bus Simulator 18 doesn’t shy away from the very real tasks involved in operating a bus. In this simulation you aren’t just a driver, you’re also running the entire company. And your mission is to avoid bankruptcy. (In multiplayer mode, you bear that responsibility with up to three others.)
Boost your profits by being on time, using proper indicators, and following traffic laws. Lose those earnings by running red lights, hitting guardrails, and driving over potholes. (In familiarizing myself with the controls during the tutorial, I managed to rack up nearly $14,000 in repairs and fines before picking up any passengers.) Further into the game, you can create your own bus schedules, and strategically map routes to pick up the most passengers. You can buy more buses and hire more drivers, and you can even earn incentives from a rather bus-friendly city government.
Then there are more mundane tasks: You have to issue tickets, check for fare evaders, ask passengers to turn down their music, and occasionally humor the elderly passenger who wants you to see some photos of her cat. It’s even compatible with virtual reality headsets, so you can be fully immersed in the job.
Alexander Grenus, the game’s lead designer, bills simulation games like this as relaxing, something you play after a long day of work. “The gameplay experience is not a frantic sequence of tasks and decisions, but follows the player’s own pace,” he said in a statement. That may be true as you listen to the familiar rumbling of the bus and the swooshing of the doors. But I personally found the main source of the thrill to be the challenge of getting to each bus stop on time. The countdown clock on the dashboard willput you on the edge of your actual seat.
If you’re looking for mischief, this isn’t the game for you. You can try to hit pedestrians or cause crashes, but these attempts only get you further from the mission by costing you satisfaction points and money.
What it is, though, is an ideal look at how cities can appreciate the bus, how to love it so the system can realize its full potential. And, sadly, that’s perhaps the most unrealistic part of this game—at least when compared to the state of the bus in the U.S. Here, buses are considered “bottom-shelf transportation,” as my colleague Laura Bliss put it, and looked over for fancy railways, ride-share efforts, and billion-dollar Hyperloop projects.
Grenus thinks there’s more appreciation among Europeans, who are the target audience for the game, which has grabbed the attention of many video game reviewers. “It is not unusual, especially for younger people or senior citizens to… fully rely on public transport to get around,” he said. “Being a bus driver might also not be the most glamorous job here in Europe as well, but it is surely an important one.”
And while it’s not a game for everybody—simulation games like this tend to attract kids between ages 8 and 12 and men over 35, according to one 2013 article—there’s something about the oddly specific nature of this genre that at least piques the interest of curious people around the globe. They put you in the shoes of people whose jobs you maybe haven’t considered in detail—the cross-country truck driver, the train conductor, the city planner, and now, the persevering bus driver.
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Time is a precious and nonrenewable resource. Lose it or save it, and you can’t trade it in for something else. But time can be traded off, depending on how you value it. And when it comes to the time we spend traveling, that value is in flux.
For example, it seems that more transit riders in major U.S. cities are making a clear choice with their time and money, as mounting evidence indicates that Uber, Lyft, and other transportation network companies (TNCs) are drawing them off buses and trains and into their backseats. Riders are choosing to shell out more for a speedier TNC journey where they can enjoy not having to drive.
But Uber isn’t always the faster choice, as anyone ever caught in a thicket of traffic after a rush-hour ride-hail knows. Sometimes other trade-offs are more important. A recent study by Joseph Schwieterman and Mallory Livingston, the director ofthe Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University and a DePaul graduate researcher respectively, examines when and why consumers choose an on-demand ride—or indeed a carpooled on-demand ride—over public transit in one major American city.
Between November 2017 and March 2018, Schwieterman, Livingston, and a group of researchers gathered data on 610 different journeys around Chicago. For each possible origin and destination, they compared the cost, duration, and convenience factors between five options: Lyft, Lyft Line, Uber, UberPool, or Chicago Transit Authority. That added up to a sample of 3,075 trips, collected by searching the apps and the fastest transit travel estimate on Google Maps. To keep as many variables constant as possible, most of the trips either started or ended on the city’s north and northwest sides, and about 60 percent passed through downtown. All the trips were between 4 to 11 miles, the range within which Uber and Lyft compete most for transit riders.
Depending on the geography of the trip requests and the time they made them, the performance of the options varied dramatically. Here’s what the researchers found.
The dollar value
Unsurprisingly, in sheer dollar terms, it was essentially never more cost-effective to ditch transit. The average CTA fare is $2.69, while Lyft and UberX rides averaged $18.13 and $17.90 respectively. Notably, riders who chose a carpool option for an on-demand ride spent a lot less when they rode UberPool than Lyft Line—those trips cost an average $9.33 and $14.04, respectively.
The time savings
Outside of crowded downtown Chicago, TNC options were almost universally faster than transit trips. Compared to riding trains and buses, more than 90 percent of trips were faster on TNCs, with the exception of UberPool, where just 66 percent of trips were faster. The skimpier time savings on UberPool rides can be attributed to the same reason that it was cheaper than Lyft Line: Uber usually draws more people piling into the same vehicle.
For trips that passed through the downtown zone, TNCs were still faster, but the gap narrowed substantially: 60 percent of Lyft Line trips and 41 percent of UberPool trips were quicker than public transit. Compared to its performance in outer-urban areas, transit was a more competitive option there—faster than TNCs about half the time.
When is it worth it?
Did you know that the U.S. DOT has an official metric for what it considers valuable time-savings for commuters? In 2018 dollars, an hour of time savings is worth $14.95, by federal standards. That number is used by transportation planners to assess whether transportation improvements such as road widenings and service extensions are micro-economically worthwhile.
In those terms, although Lyft and UberX trips tend to save travelers considerable time over transit, only a small share of them met that cash value standard. For example, Schwieterman and Livingston write, an UberX trip that saves about 15 minutes of travel but costs $17 more than a CTA trips works out to spending about $68 per hour, or about $1.13 per minute, of travel time saved. That means the rider is paying more than four times the cash value of that hour, at least according to the DOT. Across trip geographies, less than 1 percent of Lyft Line rides, 4.9 percent of UberPool trips, and 0.2 percent of the private-ride TNC options met the $14.95 savings standard.
Virtually none of the downtown trips were worthy by this metric, either. The cost-effectiveness of TNCs was considerably better for traveling between neighborhoods, especially on Lyft. But, for riders who value their time at roughly the rate of the federal government, transit was essentially always the winner.
So if they’re bleeding cash to ride, why are so many consumers jumping ship (and bus) for Uber?
Clearly, time isn’t the only factor under consideration when choosing a travel mode. Maybe it’s raining, or late, or your shoes hurt and you don’t feel like walking. Passengers might overvalue the convenience and perceived safety of one mode or another. Then there’s the cost of uncertainty: Transit trips can be unpredictable, and there are wait times and transfers to consider.
To account for some of the most significant non-monetary expenses of travel, Schwieterman and Livingston estimated the total “generalized cost” of each mode. They did this by assigning a dollar value to every minute spent walking, transferring, and waiting for rides, as well as in-vehicle travel time, for the trips in their sample set. They also compared these costs to different levels of service quality on transit, which are rated on the graph below on an A-F scale. (This methodology was adopted from earlier research by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.)
The gist: the more comfortable, quiet, and predictable a bus or train journey is (i.e., the closer to transit quality levels A-C), the more cost-effective taking transit would be compared to a TNC. But as transit service degrades—if, say, the weather is terrible, if crowding is bad, or the rider perceives the route to be unsafe in some way—the more cost-effective taking a TNC becomes, especially UberPool. In other words, the worse the bus ride gets, the “cheaper” the on-demand car ride becomes.
Still, in many instances in the Chicago sample, riders were essentially spending more than $50 per hour saved by riding Uber or Lyft. The average commuter probably wouldn’t be able to justify that expense, at least not solely on the fact that it’s a few minutes faster. UberPool is a little easier to justify, cost-wise. But for many riders who don’t have endless money to burn, TNCs are probably out of reach a lot of the time. Public leaders and tech enthusiasts shouldn’t jump too quickly to the conclusion that these companies are putting transit out of business overnight.
This model makes a number of assumptions—namely, that everyone values their time at equal rates, which they don’t. To that end, the analysis could be adjusted to reflect batches of riders who value their time more highly than the federal baseline. It could also take into account fare increases on CTA, or higher opportunity costs for people who really hate to walk.
But the analysis is mostly meant to demonstrate, in numbers, the range of factors and inflection points where riders are drawn off buses and into Ubers, something intuitive yet difficult to pinpoint. As private mobility services dump more cars on the road and likely add to congestion, the question of how and whether to regulate them continues to torment city governments. Today in London, Uber is in court appealing the city’s decision to revoke its operating license, while in New York City, TNC drivers are furiously protesting regulators’ attempts to establish vehicle licensing fees.
It’s no comprehensive solution, but at least this study offers hints about how cities could work with private transportation providers while still suppressing adverse effects on traffic, Schwieterman and Livingston write. For example, agencies like CTA could subsidize TNC rides in outer-urban neighborhoods at times when bus service has sharply dropped, similar to what Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority in South Florida and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority have done.
A precious resource
In well-off cities, transportation options seem to be expanding every month. Uber and Lyft are older news; dockless bikes and scooters are here; aerial taxis and autonomous shuttles are edging onto the horizon. What ride-hailing services are already doing to cities may be a worst-case harbinger of what driverless vehicles will bring: less support for public transportation, more congestion, and indeed more travel overall, as the disappearing need to physically operate vehicles removes a major inconveniencing factor. That also means how we value the time we spend traveling will change, as Patricia L. Mokhtarian, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has observed in extensive research. Already, there is evidence that Millennial travelers value the travel time saved by riding one mode over another less than older generations, chiefly because they’re so accustomed to using laptops in the backseat.
For decades, around the world, people have tended to spend 60 to 90 minutes per day on moving from place to place—the heftiest time allocation to any activity after work and sleep. But as work, travel, leisure, and rest become untethered from the discrete locations where they once took place, it is becoming harder to say how our time is apportioned, and therefore how we should value it. And Schwieterman and Livingston’s study suggests that as more travel options become available to riders, the experience of travel may prove to be more important than how long the trip takes.
That might be food for thought for transit agencies losing riders to service cuts and TNCs. No, maybe it’s not their job to serve every business-class traveler who demands a USB plug and WiFi connection. Plenty of transit riders, if not most, don’t “need” these kinds of amenities—they’d like more frequent, more reliable service. But travel time also isn’t just for travel anymore. It’s time that is and could be used, not merely spent.
New York City’s Public Design Commission (PDC) reviews the design of “anything that is visible,” explained Justin Moore, the commission’s executive director. “Sewers, we don’t look at.”
On top of the city’s parks and public buildings, the commission is finally taking on public housing. In May, the PDC released Designing New York: Quality Affordable Housing, a guide for developers, designers, and community members that lays out the commission’s ideas. There are eight design categories, ranging from site considerations to material selection, and seven examples of projects that the PDC considers well-designed and within budget. To create the guide, the PDC worked directly with architecture and design firms, builders, and affordable housing groups.
Public housing used to be out of the PDC’s jurisdiction, as land for such projects that wasn’t developed by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) was typically sold to developers. Once it passed out of city hands, the PDC no longer had design review. And the PDC has no jurisdiction over state and federal authorities like NYCHA.
But under the de Blasio administration, the city is holding onto its own land when building housing projects, and so the PDC finally has a say. The aesthetic dimension of the PDC’s purview goes into broader notions of design: site planning, the project’s durability, how well the building relates to the broader context of the surrounding neighborhood.
The guide suggests selecting materials that complement surrounding structures; considering how the placement of windows and doors can foster engagement with the neighborhood outside; designing both active recreation spaces for children and more passive spaces for seniors. At Arbor House in the Bronx, one of the featured projects, there is a large fitness center with no fee for residents, and a rooftop greenhouse. In a forthcoming Prospect Gardens project, glass-enclosed staircases provide light and a visual connection with the neighborhood.
According to Rebecca Macklis, the Design & Special Projects Manager at the PDC, the guide was a way of saying “Look what’s out there—affordable housing is not just Pruitt-Igoe.”
“When people walking through New York think of affordable housing, they think of high-rise brick buildings with a lawn and fence you can’t pass through,” Macklis said. “New York City hadn’t been looking at housing as infrastructure, and because of that it hadn’t been holistically tackled.”
When the PDC started developing the guide, they looked at projects across the country and around the world. The most important thing, Moore said, was figuring out how “to achieve great quality while keeping cost low—because, frankly, that’s how we get affordable housing built.”
“Our guidelines are all taking from that [idea],” said Macklis. “Putting in wainscoting inspired from an artist collaboration maybe [requires] more time and thought, but not more money.”
One of the projects not included in the guide that has gone forward under the new PDC initiative is The Peninsula, an affordable housing project in the South Bronx’s Hunts Point neighborhood. When Claire Weisz, Studio Principal at WXY and Victor Body-Lawson, principal at Body Lawson Associates, began to design The Peninsula, they wanted to create a public space that seemed permeable: Spaces that the community could be a part of but that were also secure. “We planned the buildings around a plaza with windows that look into [it],” Lawson said, “so that parents could look at the children as they were playing and feel like the community was a village.”
“What’s critical is making new spaces in cities—especially if they’re public land—part of the pattern of living and working and using and enjoying the city,” said Weisz. “If you make a perfectly wonderful area for residents only, you aren’t connecting them to the community. A community more connected is more resilient.”
It was also important to the designers to integrate industrial space with affordable housing. “Generally,” said Weisz, “people look at it as you have to choose one or the other. But without giving entrepreneurial opportunities close to where people live it’s very challenging, particularly for women and families, to create more opportunities for themselves if those opportunities are at the end of a very long commute. An urban design that brings in child care, health, light industrial, education, a bank, a grocery store, is the way of the future.” As a result, Hunts Point is set to create 300 permanent jobs and 15,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.
Moore said the PDC’s guide is intended for all parties involved in the housing design process: showing developers, community groups, and community boards the scope of what is possible. Should a developer claim that a proposed project is of lower quality because it’s funded by a lower income tax and has a high cost of construction, he said, a community group could point to a specific example in the guide with the same parameters and a more desirable outcome.
Macklis emphasized that the guidelines are neither rules nor regulations. “It’s not ‘1+2 must be done to get 3’ and get approval,” she said. “We really wrote these as considerations to really expose people—the communities who are going to have this and the developers and architects—to the breadth of things out there that have been successful.”
Most people, Moore said, think of housing, “as where you live, your apartment. But housing, for most cities, [is] the dominant built fabric of a city. It’s the foundation of these communities.” As a result, he said, “the building of a site connects to the public realm—the shared experience of being in a neighborhood or city.”