The 2020 Census Is Still in Big Trouble

The first federal court decision about the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census did not leave much room for debate. U.S. District Court Judge Jesse M. Furman’s 277-page ruling, described as . However, the Census Bureau’s acting director, Ron Jarmin, hailed the test as a success, saying that census takers equipped with iPhones were more productive than field operatives with paper forms. (Final participation rates are still pending.)

Finding enough census takers to actually conduct the 2020 count is going to a job in itself. The Census Bureau needs to hire a small army of temporary field workers to complete its mission. Make that a massive army—more than 500,000 enumerators, beginning with address canvassers who will go door to door to double-check the federal government’s list of addresses. Ensuring against an undercount means tabulating every new granny flat (legal or otherwise) and finding families displaced by natural disasters, among other daunting tasks. After that, the Census Bureau’s large seasonal workforce will be responsible for reaching the hard-to-count households who don’t receive or don’t respond to the census.

A screengrab from an immersive simulation designed for training census takers. (Census Bureau)

“Census taker” may wind up being one more job in the gig economy, offering flexible hours on nights and weekends, and even good pay in some places (as much as $30 per hour in San Jose, for example) or for desired skills (like proficiency in languages other than English). But unlike driving for Uber or shopping for Instacart, taking even a part-time job with the federal government can be an arduous process. Applications for these jobs will hit the market as soon as September.

Hiring could be a hitch for the census. Given the fact that the unemployment rate fell to a 49-year low of 3.7 percent in November, it may be hard to field enough workers (assuming the jobless rate stays more or less unchanged). For the end-to-end test in Providence County, the Census Bureau was only able to hire two-thirds of the workers it was targeting.

For cities, the task ahead is minimizing the extraordinarily expensive task of going door-to-door to locate the uncounted—or worse, the costly repercussions of not counting everyone. That work begins with local outreach, according to Perla Ni, the CEO and founder of CommunityConnect Labs, a company that helps governments to use mobile services to reach low-income groups. This work will take a variety of forms, she says.

For example, the first thing community groups can do is recruit census field workers. While an online census will be more convenient for some respondents, it will be all the more difficult for others; community groups can help. The census isn’t just a priority for charitable groups: Local chambers of commerce have a role to play in making sure the count is accurate, since data from the census will inform business decisions over the next decade. The 2020 census will arrive in mailboxes (and inboxes) alongside a lot of other civic literature, thanks to the 2020 election. Cutting through the noise will be a task for organizations already working in communities, from schools to faith-based groups to health and service providers.

“Almost everyone under the sun, and certainly faith-based groups, will be playing a large role, because they’re such trusted members of the community,” Ni says.

The cost of failure will be borne by these communities. The census determines how some $800 billion in federal spending is divided every year between funds for transportation, aid for housing and healthcare, and more. A court decision that adds an untested question to the census will only exacerbate the challenges ahead.

Even if the 2020 census proceeds without a citizenship question, it may be hard to allay the fears that this debate has provoked. As difficult as the task may be now, it could get worse.

“It’s too late to add new rules in the fourth quarter,” Diossa says.

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London’s Next Concert Hall Design Looks Crazy, But the Design Has a Purpose

According to plans released Monday, London could soon be getting a new “acoustically perfect” concert hall. The design, from New York’s Diller Scofidio + Renfro would cost £288 million ($371 million) to complete the city’s Barbican Centre on a site now occupied by a traffic roundabout and the soon-to-relocate Museum of London. In a country grappling with austerity and Brexit, a plan for a 2,000-seat “center for music” seems to hark back to the more confident, stable time in the early 2000s when the Tate Modern opened. Indeed, there have been claims that it could do for the city’s classical music scene what the new Tate did for London’s standing as a center for modern and contemporary art.

Unveiling in an altogether different atmosphere, the concert hall plan nonetheless poses some questions: Does London need such a facility? How will its design mesh with that of the widely admired Barbican Center? And in a city whose global standing has shriveled somewhat, will it be possible to fund?

It’s certainly an inopportune time to propose such a project. In a country battered and bruised by austerity and Brexit, spending money on anything more than keeping people alive and housed can easily be challenged as re-fitting the sinking Titanic’s bathrooms with gold door handles. The music center’s promoters, the Barbican, London Symphony Orchestra and Guildhall School of Music & Drama, nonetheless insist that its funders will be private. It’s a promise that may or may not hold in the long run.

The scheme also has one unassailable argument in its favor. London would unquestionably benefit from a better concert hall, and has a classical music scene that could easily expand to grow and thrive in the new space. The volume and variety of live art and music in London is phenomenal. Other cities might claim greater orchestras or better opera houses, but nowhere else offers a richer diet, larger portions, or (arguably) a more receptive audience. You’re more likely to find a public open to modern and contemporary music in London than in New York. You’re also less likely to find audience members that care about their neighbors’ shoes than in Berlin or Paris.

What London doesn’t have, however, is a great showcase. Its main venue, the 1951 Festival Hall, is beautiful but despite a 2007 revamp, its acoustics don’t truly support big orchestral sounds. The smaller Barbican Hall, minutes away from the new complex’s site is a little better but not great. A better auditorium wouldn’t just be another overblown architectural knickknack, it would provide a home for an already strong scene keen to have its corset unlaced so it can grow.

A rendering of the planned auditorium//Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

DS+R’s design could serve this purpose. Their hall’s interior recalls Hans Scharoun’s 1963 Berlin Philharmonie, which broke the mould by allowing in-the-round seating. This is not a bad source of inspiration given that Scharoun’s hall is wonderful, with largely great acoustics, a relatively unstuffy feel and a magical sense of harmony and ease to it. The London design may not be groundbreaking, but if it offers the acoustics its designers’ claim, then it’s still a good outcome.

As for the rest of the building, it may seem a little familiar. Its skewed angled, crazy-Toblerone-stuck-to-a-Modernist-box appearance is uncannily like the 2016 Herzog & De Meuron extension to Tate Modern. It’s also in stark contrast to the neighboring Barbican Center, the divisive but increasingly admired Brutalist arts and high-end residential complex, which it would effectively extend.

The courtyard at the Barbican Centre, the arts complex which the new concert hall would partly extend. (Nevilley via Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

In its current form, the Barbican Center is a fortress—appropriately so given its name, though this actually refers primarily to the complex’s site on a former gate in the city’s medieval wall. While inside, the complex has a long fountain-filled courtyard flanked by balconies dripping greenery, the Center’s external walls of apartments function like a form of rampart, towering and with few points of entry. The new music center could, regardless of its aesthetics, help to make these fortress walls feel more bridgeable.

The music center’s look is still quite a contrast. Placed askew with the street and topping a road tunnel, it looks almost naked next to the Barbican, with a transparent shell that should blaze with light in the evening. Barbican aside, the surrounding area is an architectural and planning pile-up of chaos—both drab and flashy— with PoMo office slabs, dank walkways and noisy but still lifeless car-filled roads that you can’t walk down without wondering what went wrong with your life. Really, you couldn’t mess it up further, and this hall certainly won’t.

The music center’s look-at-me openness may still give a deceptive impression. Rather than being just a concert hall, the building will be a kind of concert hall sandwich. A lower main hall and a more intimate venue on the roof acting as thick slabs of bread will bracket the lucrative asset that will hopefully make it viable: four floors of private space for commercial clients. It’s this detail that gives the project a contemporary twist. Some might be tempted to wring their hands at the invasion of filthy lucre, but nothing else is remotely likely to fly in London right now. Indeed, as the project looks for backers, it should prove a fascinating test case as to whether or not London currently has the right climate to push such grand schemes through.

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CityLab Daily: How Geocities Suburbanized the Internet

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What We’re Following

Cyber-sprawl: It’s 1995. You’ve just purchased a Windows laptop, and thanks to the miracles of dial-up, you’ve joined 16 million other users on the World Wide Web. But where do you go? While AOL and Netscape helped early users find their way around the net, it was Geocities that gave them a home. It did that by building “neighborhoods”—communities based on interests and hobbies, where users picked empty lots to build out their web presence and engage with their neighbors.

Today on CityLab, writer Tanner Howard makes the case for how Geocities suburbanized the internet. Populating cyberspace reflected some of what happened in three-dimensional space, with users settling virtual land like 19th-century pioneers and recreating 20th-century suburban sprawl before the turn of the millennium. “People were surfing to find content, and these spatial metaphors helped them find what they were looking for,” says one history professor who has researched the nascent web hosting site. Read Tanner’s story: How Geocities Suburbanized the Internet

Andrew Small

More on CityLab

The Great Divide in How Americans Commute to Work

We are cleaving into two nations—one where daily life revolves around the car, and the other where the car is receding in favor of walking, biking, and transit.

Richard Florida

Will Cities Pay Federal Workers During the Shutdown?

San Jose is offering its airport workers loans during the shutdown. More cities are following.

Sarah Holder

A Black-Led Food Co-op Grows in Detroit

The Detroit People’s Food Co-op will control food production and dissemination to bring good food and wages to an underserved community.

Brian Allnutt

The Controversial Renovation of Montreal’s Beloved Public Park

Parc-Jean Drapeau’s redesign attempts to balance priceless serenity and outdoor art with profitable festivals. Many Montrealers are skeptical.

Tracey Lindeman

Tokyo’s New Strategy for Easing Subway Overcrowding: Free Soba, Tempura

To ease the morning rush traffic, the city’s Metro will reward riders with buckwheat noodles and tempura for traveling outside peak hours.

Linda Poon

What the Camp Fire Revealed

Two months after disaster struck, the recovery in Paradise, California, is harder for some than for others.

Annie Lowrey

Piping Hot

(Madison McVeigh/CityLab)

Long before Chuck E. Cheese, there was “pizza-and-pipes,” a dining experience that combined eating pizza with a professional organ performance. Believe it or not, this strange combo of cheese and keys used to be quite common: After silent-film-era theater organs fell out of use, some venues repurposed these gigantic instruments into pizzeria entertainment in the 1970s and 1980s, with more than 100 such establishments in the U.S. at its peak. A craze just a generation ago, there are now only three restaurants left, playing tunes ranging from “The Entertainer” to Frozen with family-friendly pizzazz, cheesy pun intended. Today on CityLab: Remembering the Dining Fad of “Pizza and Pipes”

What We’re Reading

Stuck and stressed: the health costs of traffic (New York Times)

Postmates’s quest to make a delivery robot people don’t hate (Fast Company)

Why the U.S. Census starts in Alaska’s most remote, rural villages (NPR)

Colleges that rushed to fund e-scooter startups don’t love them on campus (Bloomberg)

The Supreme Court will hear a case on New York City’s handgun restrictions (Washington Post)

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

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The Great Divide in How Americans Commute to Work

In a previous post, I pointed to the car as a key feature in the nation’s deepening economic and political fissures. It’s becoming clearer that how we get around our cities and towns is a significant aspect of these divides. That’s the big takeaway from my analysis, with my colleague Karen King at the University of Toronto School of Cities, of recently released 2017 commuting data from the American Community Survey. The dataset covers 270-plus metropolitan areas.

Drive alone to work: More than three-quarters (76.4 percent) of commuters drive to work alone. But in the New York metro area, the share is just about half. It’s 57 percent in San Francisco; about two-thirds in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Seattle; and about 70 percent in Chicago and Portland. And, as might be expected, a smaller-than-average share of workers drives to work alone in more compact college towns such as Boulder, Colorado; Corvallis and Eugene, Oregon; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Ames and Iowa City, Iowa.

Source: Karen King, U.S. Census 2017 American Community Survey (David H. Montgomery / CityLab)

Transit: Five percent of U.S. commuters use transit to get to work. New York City, with its extensive subway and rail system, is the big outlier here—more than 30 percent of workers get to their jobs by transit in greater New York City. The only other metros where 10 percent or more of workers commute via transit are San Francisco (17.4 percent); Boston (13.4 percent); D.C. (12.8 percent); Chicago (12.3 percent); Seattle (10.1 percent); and Bridgeport-Stamford, Connecticut (10 percent).

Source: Karen King, U.S. Census 2017 American Community Survey (David H. Montgomery / CityLab)

Walk to work: Less than 3 percent (2.7 percent) of Americans walk to work. But more than 5 percent of workers do in New York City (5.9 percent), Honolulu (6.5 percent), and Boston (5.2 percent). An even larger share walks in smaller metros and college towns including Flagstaff, Arizona (9.7 percent); Iowa City, Iowa (8.7 percent); Jacksonville, North Carolina (8.6 percent); State College, Pennsylvania (8.5 percent); Corvallis, Oregon (7.6 percent); Ann Arbor, Michigan (7.5 percent); Ames, Iowa (7.1 percent); Lafayette, Indiana (6.4 percent); Burlington, Vermont (6.3 percent); and Bloomington, Indiana (6.1 percent).

Source: Karen King, U.S. Census 2017 American Community Survey (David H. Montgomery / CityLab)

Bike to work: Just half of a percent of Americans nationwide bike to work. But nearly 7 percent do in Corvallis, Oregon, and more than 4 percent in Boulder; Ames; and Santa Cruz, California. Two or three percent of commuters get to work by bike in other college towns: Gainesville, Florida; State College; Ann Arbor; and Madison, Wisconsin. Among large metros (with more than 1 million people), almost 2 percent of commuters get to work by bike in San Jose and San Francisco.

Source: Karen King, U.S. Census 2017 American Community Survey (David H. Montgomery / CityLab)

Carpool: Roughly 9 percent of workers carpool to work. Around 10 or 11 percent carpool in the tech hubs of San Jose, San Francisco, and Seattle, as well as in San Antonio, Houston, and Phoenix.

Source: Karen King, U.S. Census 2017 American Community Survey (David H. Montgomery / CityLab)

Work from home: Just over 5 percent of Americans work from home, which is a much larger share than those who walk or bike to work. Nearly 14 percent of workers in Boulder work from home, followed by 11 percent in Lawton, Oklahoma, and 10 percent in Asheville, North Carolina. Among large metros, roughly 7 or 8 percent of workers work from home in Austin, Denver, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, and Phoenix.


To get at the specific factors associated with America’s geography of commuting, my colleague Charlotta Mellander ran a basic correlation analysis and a cluster analysis. As usual, I will point out that correlation does not in any way infer causation, but simply points to associations between variables. Still, some clear patterns stand out that are worth highlighting.

Size and density are positively and significantly associated with using transit (0.64), biking (0.36), walking (0.43), carpooling (0.68), and working from home (0.66). While density is negatively and significantly associated with driving to work alone (-0.36), population size is not significantly associated with it.

Education is another piece in the picture of how Americans get to work. People are less likely to drive to work alone and to use alternate modes in metros where more adults are college graduates. The share of adults with college degrees is negatively and significantly (-0.41) associated with driving to work alone, and positively and significantly associated with using transit (0.56), biking (0.62), walking (0.56), and working from home (0.50), although it is not statistically associated with carpooling.

The same basic pattern holds for class. Across metros, the share of workers who are members of the knowledge-based creative class is positively associated with using transit (0.56), biking (0.62), or walking (0.56) to get to work, as well as working from home (0.50), and it is negatively associated with driving alone to work (-0.44), and the same holds for the local concentration of high-tech industry jobs. But the reverse is true for the working class. Across metros, a higher concentration of working-class jobs is positively associated with driving alone to work (0.36) and negatively associated with using transit (-0.48), biking (-0.39), and walking to work (0.32).

Money matters, too. In metros with higher wages, a larger share of workers walks (0.43), bikes (0.50), or uses transit (0.66) to get to work, and a smaller share drives to work alone (-0.34).

Weather plays a role, but not necessarily in the way you’d think. People are more likely to drive to work where the weather is warm (0.32) and less likely to use transit (-0.19), bike (-0.23), and walk (-.34) to work. So the way we commute is more closely related to demographic and economic characteristics of metros than to their climate and weather.

The way we get to work is also related to our political cleavages. On the one hand, commuters in more progressive metros—those where Hillary Clinton got a bigger share of votes in the 2016 election—are more likely to walk (0.44), bike (0.44), or use transit (0.59), and less likely to drive to work alone (-0.36). Commuters in more conservative metros, where a larger share voted for Trump, are more likely to drive to work alone (0.44). This reflects the fact, though, that more liberal metros tend also to be denser, more affluent, and more educated.

Our commuting patterns are associated with key dimensions of what I dub the new urban crisis. Housing is less affordable, inequality greater, and economic segregation higher in places where commuters are less dependent on the car. Median housing costs are positively and significantly associated with transit (0.59), biking (0.48), carpooling (0.49), and walking (0.38) to work, and so are income inequality and economic segregation. These associations again reflect the fact that denser, more affluent, educated metros are more expensive, more unequal, and more segregated.

Our analysis shows a country and a people divided in how they get to work. Americans cleave into two distinct nations based on commuting: One, based in smaller, less advantaged, and more sprawling metros, depends on the car, while the other, based in large, denser, more advantaged, and more educated metros, uses a variety of alternative modes. Driving to work alone in a car is negatively and significantly associated with each and every alternative mode, especially so with biking (-0.47) or walking to work (-0.53).

This pattern also comes through in a statistical cluster analysis that Mellander did, which looks at how different types of commuting styles cluster together. One distinct cluster reflects metros where a larger share of commuters drive to work alone; a second reflects metros where larger shares of commuters walk and bike to work; and a third reflects metros where a larger share of commuters carpool and work from home.

Differences in how we commute are baked deeply into our economic geography. Larger, denser metros tend to have the most extensive transit networks, and tend to be where more affluent and educated people have opted to locate close to work in the city center or along transit lines. Smaller, more sprawling metros tend to be less educated and less affluent; they also often have less congested roads and are easier to navigate in a car.

We are cleaving into two nations—one where people’s daily lives revolve around the car, and the other where the car is receding in favor of alternative modes like walking, biking, and transit. Little wonder that bike lanes have emerged as a symbol of gentrification and “the war on cars” has become a way to call out the so-called urban elite.

CityLab editorial fellow Nicole Javorsky contributed research and editorial assistance to this article.

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The Controversial Renovation of Montreal’s Beloved Public Park

Parc Jean-Drapeau is a Montreal gem, but after 50 years of service, it was starting to show its age.

Just one Metro stop from the city, this 662-acre park spread out over two islands is a reprieve from city life, offering visitors a place to bike, swim, picnic, and to see important works of art and architecture, like Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome and the nationally treasured , which has already attracted more than 100,000 visitors. A long cement concourse (named Allée Calder) leads visitors from the Metro station to the main festival site. Most of the trees around Trois Disques have been removed in order to give an unobstructed view of the sculpture, with the cityscape as a backdrop. Architect Saint-Pierre says the the design is in line with more contemporary landscape design trends. “Now you want big, open views to know where you are,” she says.

The Calder is not the only sculpture there, and the park isn’t just the amphitheater. The other , a summertime weekly dance party at the park, circulated petitions asking to maintain their access to non-amphitheater areas. A media spokesperson for Jean-Drapeau says it is “looking at all the possibilities for various sizes of stages, and nothing has been confirmed for now.”

Farkas says the purpose of the petitions was to make sure Jean-Drapeau could continue as both a public park and gathering space, which he feels was the true intent of Expo 67.

“The site is spectacular. The city’s goal is to have one of the best state-of-the-art festival gathering places in the world,” says Farkas. “We want to stay there forever, if we can.”

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How Geocities Suburbanized the Internet

As the internet first made itself known to an increasingly large audience in the mid-1990s—baffling Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel in the process—one of its earliest thinkers envisioned the web as a space beyond all physical limits.

In his iconic, hyperbolic, and ultimately misguided “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” published in 1996, technologist John Perry Barlow wrote, “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone.”

Barlow saw cyberspace as an absence of physicality. “Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live,” he wrote. Elsewhere, Barlow claimed, “We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies.” Barlow believed that an intangible internet transcended the material differences between rich and poor, placing all on equal footing in a “civilization of the Mind” that reconfigured distinctions found in three-dimensional space.

For nerds who were already well-established online, Barlow’s declaration was contagious, his words reproduced on 40,000 webpages within nine months. But his vision of the future was actually the inverse of how everyday early adopters came to grasp the internet’s power.

Instead, it was the viral success of Geocities, at one point the third-most popular website, which better explains how people came to comprehend their increasingly digital lives. Unlike Barlow’s placeless techno-utopia, Geocities succeeded by creating a sense of physical presence in the bits and bytes it doled out to users. But in sacrificing a sense of utopian ambition to give its early users something closer to their physical surroundings, the site also enacted a spatial politics rooted in American history, bound to the nation’s history of settler colonialism and suburban sprawl.

‘Homesteads’ and cyber-sprawl

It’s 1995. You’ve just purchased a Windows laptop (sticker price: $3,499, or $5,776 in today’s dollars), and thanks to the miracles of dial-up, you’ve reached the World Wide Web, which has just over 16 million users. Where do you go?

The 1995 homepage of Netscape Navigator, the dominant browser in the mid-1990s. (AP)

While AOL and Netscape helped early users find their way around the net, it was Geocities that gave them a home. Quite literally: In order to establish a presence on the nascent hosting site, users were tasked with finding an empty lot in one of the website’s 29 thematic neighborhoods. Whether it was the HotSprings (“where the focus is on health and fitness”) or Area51 (“A brave new world for science fiction and fantasy fans”), the ability to enter a community based on similar interests and hobbies, with fellow users understood as digital neighbors, was an alluring proposition.

“Discovery [was] so tough in that early period,” noted Ian Milligan, an associate professor of history at the University of Waterloo, who has done extensive research on Geocities. “People were surfing to find content, and these spatial metaphors helped them find what they were looking for.”

To artist Richard Veijen, giving a sense of Geocities’ physical dimension was essential as he sought to visualize the website after it was shuttered nearly a decade ago. When Yahoo announced it was deleting the site, Veijen created Deleted City, a virtual mapping of the entire 652-gigabyte collection. Veijen’s project captures Geocities’ liminal relationship between the digital and physical, mapping the site’s many neighborhoods as clustered information hubs, each comprised of thousands of individual pages.

Part of artist Richard Veijin’s map of Geocities, a website whose growth mimicked the physical expansion of cities into suburbs and used bucolic neighborhood names like “Dell” and “Meadow.” (Richard Veijin)

For Veijen, Geocities’ spatial emphasis was critical to its success, distinguishing it from other sites by giving users a clear understanding of its functionality. “I think it was a great example of introducing a new way of thinking to a large group of people,” Veijen said. “It did a good job of making various aspects of cyberspace, which is in itself a spatial reference, usable and accessible to a lot of people.”

But while Veijen’s visualization represents Geocities as a highly connected urban environment, the site was in practice very different. Beyond the neighborhood structure, which created a feeling of familiarity by making one’s digital “neighbors” easily accessible, Geocities hearkened back to U.S. settler colonialism. By calling its users “homesteaders,” the site offered them a vision of cyberspace as vast, uninhabited, ready to be populated. “We call our members ‘Homesteaders’ because they’ve staked a claim on their own plot of ‘land’ on the Internet,” one walk-through explained, suggesting a renewed American exceptionalism.

“The idea that in the beginning, cyberspace is an empty space that has to be populated, was I think easily linked to this idea of America being an ‘empty’ continent,” Veijen said. “They provided web space with a story, with a narrative.”

Not only were users encouraged to populate their virtual land like 19th-century pioneers, but they sprawled across it as Americans did in the middle of the 20th century. As users populated different neighborhoods, each community offered a fixed number of addresses (numbered 1,000 through 9,999), prompting the creation of thematically-appropriate suburbs. Dwarfing all other communities was “Heartland,” meant to “[represent] Main Street in cyberspace.”

Milligan argues that Heartland grew to be the largest community because it had the fewest subcultural distinctions, encouraging users interested in making a general homepage to call it home. Still, with an emphasis on “parenting, pets, and home town values,” the Heartland neighborhoods (including 41 suburbs with names like Plains, Meadows, Prairie, and Woods) also spoke to Geocities’ immense popularity with a specific demographic: wealthy, white, and American, those with the disposable income to become some of the net’s first users.

“Family is such a broad topic, you can take it so many different directions. There’s a lot of stuff focused on Christianity, a lot on genealogy,” Milligan said. “When people decided what neighborhood to pick, they were encouraged to look at sample sites and see what people are talking about, and if that’s what you want to talk about, you belong in this neighborhood.”

Hacking and squatting

Although Geocities is by far the best-known attempt at using a spatial metaphor to acclimate newcomers to the internet, another example suggests a logic not bound to the history of American suburbanization.

In 1994, a group of Amsterdam programmers launched the Digital City (De Digitale Stad in Dutch, or DDS), conceived as a digital forum for city residents to populate. Founded as an experiment supported by a $45,000 investment from the city government, DDS was an immediate hit, growing to more than 100,000 users in its first six months—a remarkable feat, considering the city itself only had a population of just under 1 million people. Born from the city’s rich legacy of communal space and open communication, DDS served as a genuine virtual city, a digital commons that connected residents to job opportunities, chat boards, and even a digital Metro.

Just as with Geocities, the DDS carried out its spatial metaphor to the fullest. But unlike Geocities, which used sprawling suburbs to accommodate its newest residents, DDS relied upon urban spatial tactics when the site filled up its predetermined 1,500 homes, building “flats” (multiple websites subdividing space behind the same virtual door), as well as letting users “squat” in abandoned homes. By encouraging business and government offices to populate virtual offices, DDS also served as a municipal repository, a kind of digital Yellow Pages.

The Amsterdam’s Digital City site had a more stacked, urban architecture than Geocities, with “flats” (multiple websites behind the same door) and virtual government and business offices.

Though the project shuttered in 2001, overrun by the explosion of new websites and a failed attempt at moving toward a for-profit model, DDS, much like Geocities, marks the significance of a spatial imaginary on the experience of early web adopters, eager to orient themselves in ways that could further enhance their own physical lives. For Gerard Alberts, a professor of the history of computing at the University of Amsterdam, it’s especially notable that the Dutch use the same word, kraken, for hacking as well as squatting, suggesting a direct lineage between the city’s legacy of squatting in the ’60s and ’70s into the anarchist-leaning work that created the DDS in the ’90s.

“People don’t talk about it because it’s so natural in Dutch to equate them, and this spatial metaphor is very deep in that anarchist culture that was ubiquitous in Amsterdam,” Alberts said. “Squatting a house was not just taking that space, but creating a whole alternative culture.”

When Yahoo purchased Geocities in 1999 for nearly $4 billion, it erased the distinct address structure that made Geocities appealing in the first place, contributing to its decline and eventual demise. (The final iteration of Geocities still online, hosted in Japan, will be closing in April this year.) And while the use of spatial descriptions of the internet have largely disappeared as people grew more comfortable online, their prevalence in several early web projects should serve as a reminder of the rapid transition that helped people grow comfortable with the internet in a short period of time.

Today, there’s a limited sense that the internet is tethered to our physical surroundings. One notable exception is Nextdoor, the social networking site that requires users to verify their addresses before participating in neighborhoods that typically comprise around 700 households. But to Alberts, it’s almost a moot point: As the digital has merged with our physical lives, there’s simply no longer a need to distinguish between the two in the way that people did just a couple of decades ago.

“In the time of Geocities, people would think, ‘Oh, I’m walking around in a different reality,’ and that is no longer the case. It’s all us,” Alberts said. “In the face of that technology, by the way we incorporate it, we define ourselves.”

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Tokyo’s New Strategy for Easing Subway Overcrowding: Free Soba, Tempura

For all the efficiency that Tokyo’s subway system boasts, the morning commute is hell. At peak hours, trains and platforms are notoriously crowded, so much so that the city has to hire “pushers.” The city has also long been trying to ease crowding by asking riders to stagger their morning commute hours, and this time around, they’re appealing to people’s stomach.

According to the Japan Times, the Tokyo Metro Co. is launching a nearly two-week-long trial on Monday urging commuters on the busiest line—the Tozai line, which runs east-west through the city—to head to work either before 8 a.m. or after 9 a.m. Those who sign up for the program and take part in it for at least 10 consecutive days will be rewarded with free soba noodles with tempura.

And as any office worker—or “salarymen,” as the Japanese calls them—anywhere will tell you, free food is hard to pass up. (For those who don’t know, soba noodles are the healthier but equally delicious cousin of ramen, and tempura is heavenly fried goodness.) To participate, riders will have to register their transit card and, according to the Times, use it before a designated time for each station along the line.

But it has to be a collective effort.

If fewer than 2,000 people sign up for the initiative, there will be no rewards give out. But if riders meet that threshold, each will get a coupon for just one piece of tempura at a restaurant that’s agreed to participate. If at least 2,500 people participate, then they will get a coupon for a bowl of soba at participating restaurants. To get coupons for both a bowl of soba and a piece of tempura, Tokyo wants to see at least 3,000 people signed up and taking part in their initiative.

On average, 76,616 people ride the Tozai line between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., according to 2017 data from 2015 data from Japan’s transport ministry. So just 4 percent of the travelers will have to adjust their schedule in order for participants to get their free savory bowls of soba and tempura. But, as the Times point out, the 27 trains that run during that time are meant to shuttle a little over 38,000 riders, which means the line operates at nearly twice its capacity. And for commuters to see any difference, many more people will have to eat up the government’s offer—which may be tricky.

The initiative is part of a larger push from Tokyo for companies to offer their employees flexible work hours. Called Jisa Biz (jisa means time difference), the campaign launched in 2017 for the very purpose of making room on Japan’s packed trains, in part to prepare Tokyo’s transit system for the 2020 Olympics. “If, for example, one in every five people decides to shift (commuting times), the congestion in trains could be resolved, even if just by a little bit,” Naohisa Okamoto, a professor at the Urban Transportation Lab at the University of Tsukuba, told Japan Times in 2017.

More than 200 companies took part, including big players like Panasonic Corp. and Microsoft’s Japan branch. And in the past, rail companies have offered incentives like extra points on their mobile payment card or shopping vouchers. According to the newspaper though, the initial campaign elicited only a “lukewarm” response.

That may have to do with the grueling work culture of Japan, in which employees are expected to work long hours. And being on time is certainly part of the expectation. Last summer, in response to concerns over karoshi—death by overwork—the Japanese parliament passed a law limiting overtime work to fewer than 100 hours a month and fewer than 720 hours a year (still a lot by American standards). Yet habits and a competitive work culture have to change, as The Economist writes:

Japanese continue to work long hours because, almost without exception, big companies continue to judge employees by input not output. They base promotion and pay not on merit, but on age and years at the company. It is almost impossible, by law, to fire incompetent staff hired on permanent contracts.

At the same time, Japan’s train stations have been more successful than most at nudging passenger behavior. And now, they have the appeal of two of Japan’s best culinary treasures to sweeten the deal.

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A Black-Led Food Co-op Grows in Detroit

DETROIT, Mich.—Malik Yakini came to cooperative economics as a student at Eastern Michigan University in the mid-1970s when he started a food-buying club. “I wasn’t thinking of myself as a food activist,” he says, “I was thinking of myself as an activist in the black liberation movement.”

He viewed controlling food retail and production as important aspects of black self-determination, echoing the sentiments of organizations like the Nation of Islam and Detroit’s Shrine of the Black Madonna Church that emphasized owning farmland and running food businesses. Healthy food was important to Yakini, but so was making sure “the majority of people had their needs met as opposed to a system that concentrates wealth in the hands of a few.”

Now, after years of teaching and serving as a principal in Detroit schools, helping lead the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) and starting D Town Farm on the city’s west side, Yakini and DBCFSN are planning a 34,000-square-foot food co-op, event space, and commercial kitchens in Detroit’s North End neighborhood. The project could serve as a proof-of-concept for the ability of co-ops to build wealth, create food security, and drive investment in underserved communities.

Some of the core members working on the Detroit People’s Food Co-op. (Denerio Watkins)

The project, which is called the Detroit Food Commons and contains the Detroit People’s Food Co-op, builds on a tradition of African-American business cooperatives that were championed by the likes of W.E.B. Dubois as tools for building economic and ultimately political power. Following slavery, African Americans formed co-ops for things like credit and farming to survive under a segregated and exploitative system. Unlike other businesses, co-ops are jointly owned enterprises, focused more on meeting collective needs than turning profits, although profit or “surplus” as it’s sometimes called is necessary to exist in a capitalist system. At the Detroit People’s Food Co-op, each owner will get one vote, creating equality between owners, at least in theory.

As well as delivering the benefits of a democratically-governed institution that sells healthy food, the Detroit co-op plans to create 20 to 40 jobs, provide opportunities for local entrepreneurs and stimulate other aspects of the local economy, like urban farms. It is part of a wave of similar projects in cities such as Flint, Michigan, and Dayton, Ohio, that have received support from charitable foundations. The Michigan Good Food Fund is helping this project, which is a partnership among Capital Impact Partners, the Fair Food Network, Michigan State’s Center for Regional Food Systems and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. This fund has invested over $12 million in food-based projects in the state, as well as providing technical assistance, and sees food co-ops as an especially effective way to build wealth in communities facing redlining and systematic disinvestment.

“We prioritize our work with food cooperatives because we feel that the model allows for the creation of quality jobs and these jobs have low barriers to entry, especially within the food economy,” Olivia Rebanal from Capital Impact Partners said. “It creates employment opportunities for those that are most difficult to employ … We also see the cooperative model as a catalyst for community development. They empower leaders. They provide more equitable access to services like Malik’s project would do. They are more likely than non-cooperatives to recirculate local profits back into the community.”

The Detroit co-op would also employ black people in management positions—jobs that they have often been denied in Detroit grocery stores according to Yakini—helping build capacity for this kind of leadership.

Malik Yakini at the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network’s D-Town Farm. (Brian Allnutt/CityLab)

However, food co-ops and similar businesses still have to contend with the same challenges faced by other African-American businesses to obtain financing. “The exclusion of certain groups from accessing credit is no mistake,” Rebanal says. Some have understandably questioned the ability of co-ops to reverse the growing wealth gap between black and Latinx households and white ones. Rebanal says she believes it will take a while to reverse this trend and the onus needs to be on lenders as well as communities to create change. But she thinks her organization can help by both providing investment and technical assistance. Cooperative ownership itself also helps with financing—the cost to join the Detroit co-op is $200, although there is a matching fund for a number of low-income people to buy-in with just $100.

Additionally, the Detroit Food Commons possesses what Jean Chorazyczewski, a program director for the Fair Food Network, terms an “ambitious vision” that makes it appealing to foundations looking to drive change and could help it succeed at a time when other co-ops are struggling. Today, many are based on a model that was established in the 60s and 70s in which co-ops found a competitive advantage offering healthy, organic food. During the last few years, large grocery stores have moved into the organic sector, offering competitive prices and cutting into co-op profits, causing some long-established enterprises to close. One pitfall the Detroit People’s Food Co-op wants to avoid is the practice of giving discounts to members at the register, something Yakini says, “(is) giving away profit before you know if the store is profitable.” Instead, member-owners will receive periodic discounts and an equity-share at the end of the year.

To remain competitive, co-ops have had to re-evaluate how they attract customers. The Detroit Food Commons hopes to establish itself as a destination for “hyper-local” produce and offerings from local food businesses, as well as hosting events. It also plans to draw income from its commercial kitchens. The co-op’s position near a major freeway and directly on Woodward Avenue—a major road that connects downtown Detroit with the wealthy suburbs of Oakland County— might also help. It could benefit from the boom in Detroit’s downtown and Cass Corridor neighborhoods while also serving residents of the predominantly black areas of the city outside downtown.

Malik Yakini addressing a meeting for the Detroit People’s Food Co-op. (Denerio Watkins)

“One of the challenges we’re faced with is that the neighborhood is changing,” Yakini says. “And co-ops, no matter how thoughtful we are, help to spur gentrification. And so, we’re thinking about ways that we can circulate wealth within the existing community.” They’re also trying to make themselves more accessible to historical residents by rewriting some of the rules of the co-op playbook, offering what they call “clean conventional” products, which will make up 25 percent of the store. They’re coming up with their own standards for these more affordable foods that will exclude ingredients like BHT and artificial colors, while also accounting for other things like labor practices.

Outreach is also a top priority. Yakini has been in contact with a number of co-ops across the country including the Renaissance Community Co-op in Greensboro, North Carolina, which initially had trouble attracting shoppers because residents had become so accustomed to leaving the neighborhood to buy groceries. Those that Yakini spoke with at Renaissance and elsewhere also stressed the importance of hiring a competent general manager. “Food retail is not easy,” Rebanal says. “The margins are low, the waste is high, you need to turn volume. It does take an expert to be able to navigate towards success.”

The terminology itself presents another obstacle. “I know that for some co-ops in primarily black communities, the word ‘co-op’ is even exclusive,” Rebanal says. For its part, the Detroit co-op is trying to recruit 1,000 members before a prospective late 2020 opening, which will help with both outreach and opening costs. So far, it has signed up 271 members.

Although connecting with black Detroiters is a priority, Yakini makes clear that the goal is to create a welcoming environment. “That’s kind of a delicate balance that we’re walking because we definitely believe in black self-determination and black leadership and this is black-led … And the white people who are working with us—I think for the most part—have an awareness of the racial dynamic and the need for black leadership, and are trying to function in a way that helps promote that. But we don’t want to frame it in such a way that everybody doesn’t feel welcome to shop there.”

After ten years of work, Yakini and the various co-op steering committees are still deep in the planning process for the store, doing things like “detail/retail” planning to project the income from various store departments, and deciding how much space to devote to each one. They’re also working on the building’s construction in partnership with the non-profit Develop Detroit—which is also building housing in conjunction with the project—and that work is all contingent on permitting and the often unpredictable machinations of city government.

At the end of this grueling process, Yakini hopes to have created not only a community hub for food and education in Detroit, but a replicable model for communities elsewhere, that among other things “causes funders to be more thoughtful about how funding and finance is deployed in majority black urban areas.”

Rebanal believes this is already happening, noting a dozen other projects that have been inspired by Malik’s mentorship. Although the circumstances in Detroit are unique, this project is still expected to change the conversation around cooperative enterprise. “We think the model is aspirational,” Rebanal says, “and we see it happening in many other communities.”


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Copenhagen: Designing for a Changing Climate and a Better City

The focus on the co-benefits of adaptation has proved to be important. Demonstrating that adaptation does not need to be only about preventing disaster, but can also improve the livability of the city by creating new recreational spaces, greening the city, and making it a nicer place also when it is not raining has been a key factor in the popularity of the cloudburst management plan.

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