CityLab Daily: Cities are for People

Make Little Plans

Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

At CityLab, the idea that people can create cities for everybody guides how we do our journalism, too. What makes cities lively, exciting, and innovative is the capacity for change. As research and history show, the budgets, buildings, and blocks that citizens fight to build today define the paths that others will walk tomorrow.

This week, we featured reflections on the last decade from some of the people responsible for planting CityLab’s roots, our alumni. It is a fitting moment to be revisiting the decade: It was almost ten years ago that CityLab launched in 2011 as The Atlantic Cities. And in the coming week, as we enter 2020, CityLab is leaving its home at the Atlantic to head over to Bloomberg.

As part of that transition, a few members of the CityLab team are saying goodbye, yours truly included. Today is my last day as the daily guide on your CityLab journey. But I walk away from this experience knowing that what we’ve built together already will provide a great foundation for what is yet to come.

Over and out, and on your left,
Andrew Small


A note to readers: Tomorrow, January 1, CityLab is becoming part of Bloomberg Media. In the coming weeks, you can expect to continue receiving this newsletter, and the journalism that comes with it. But we need a little time to make this transition. After today’s edition, we’ll be on hiatus until Tuesday, January 7. You can find out more about Bloomberg‘s information practices by reviewing their privacy policy and you can visit your accounts page to unsubscribe or update your preferences. See you in 2020.


More on CityLab

The Decade in Cities, from CityLab Alums

What’s changed and what hasn’t since we set out to chronicle cities in 2011? To answer this question, we went back to CityLab’s roots.

CityLab

Turning a Vast, Post-Industrial Wilderness Into a Park in Pittsburgh

The city acquired the 600-plus acres of Hays Woods, once used for mining and munitions, in 2016, but the work of restoring the land has only just begun.

Mark Kramer

How Valuing Productivity, Not Profession, Could Reduce U.S. Inequality

In this second part of an interview with economist Jonathan Rothwell, he explains that a just society wouldn’t reward different professions so unequally.

Richard Florida

Your Fitness Resolution Might Be Easier If You’re Rich

The availability of exercise venues reflects broader divides of class and geography.

Richard Florida


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CityLab Daily: The Decade the City Became the App Store

Keep up with the most pressing, interesting, and important city stories of the day. Sign up for the CityLab Daily newsletter here.

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What We’re Following

Get smart: The smartphone—and the millions of apps that followed it—will go down as one of the most transformative technologies of the 2010s. And one of the primary agents for that transformation has been the city. Some of that change is plain for the eye to see: Companies like Uber, Instagram, Google Maps, and Airbnb have reshaped how we travel through and experience cities. Some of it is by its very nature hidden: Seemingly every object on the street can be made “smart” simply by gathering digital data to crunch, while the phones in our pockets tell companies where demand could go next.

CityLab’s Laura Bliss reflects on how the 2010s became app-addled and optimized: This Was the Decade That the City Became the App Store

Andrew Small


Most Popular CityLab Reads of 2019

Where Is the Best City to Live, Based on Salaries and Cost of Living?

Paychecks stretch the furthest in smaller cities for most workers, but techies continue to do best in larger, more expensive cities.

Richard Florida

The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History

From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

Jonathan English

How ‘Vasectomy Zoning’ Makes Childless Cities

Municipalities shouldn’t block or raise the cost of things young parents need, like day-care centers and two-bedroom houses or apartments.

Nolan Gray and Lyman Stone

How Poor Americans Get Exploited by Their Landlords

American landlords derive more profit from renters in low-income neighborhoods, researchers Matthew Desmond and Nathan Wilmers find.

Richard Florida

We Mapped ‘the Midwest’ for You, So Stop Arguing

We surveyed more than 12,000 people (and counting) about the most contentious border question in the U.S. to reveal the true geography of America’s midsection.   

David Montgomery


Another’s Treasure

(Courtesy of NYC Department of Sanitation/Group Project)

In use since the 1930s, New York’s 23,000 steel litter baskets are ubiquitous but not without real problems: They can get heavy and their aesthetics are not to everyone’s liking. Earlier this month, New York announced a new design for public waste bins following its year-and-a-half-long “BetterBin” competition, which drew more than 200 submissions.

The competition’s winning entry, shown above, is sleeker, with a heavy-duty plastic bin partly nestled inside a metal stand. There are still a few tests that need to take place before you’ll see these new bins on the corner, but could this be the urban trash can of the future? CityLab’s Linda Poon takes a look: New York City Unveils a Next Generation Trash Can


What We’re Reading

A decade of urban transformation, seen from above (New York Times)

How much should New York charge for a parking space? A lot (Bloomberg)

Seattle shelter focuses on native peoples experiencing homelessness (NPR)

Welcome to the era of the post-shopping mall (New York Times)


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What Defined the Decade Since CityLab Launched

It was almost a decade ago, in 2011, that this very website was launched, at the time dubbed The Atlantic Cities. The conceit, then as now, was that “to understand cities is to get a handle on how most of us live, work, and play,” as CityLab editor emeritus Sommer Mathis wrote at the time.

Now, an even greater majority of the world’s population lives in a town or a city. And cities have increasingly become the places where some of the most pressing issues of our time may be decided.

So as we enter the new decade, we consulted some of CityLab’s esteemed alumni to get their take on the concepts, changes, innovations, and unfulfilled promises that have defined the decade in cities.

Multimodal transportation finally went mainstream

We launched as The Atlantic Cities in 2011, which just so happened to be the year that Uber expanded to The Atlantic‘s home base of Washington, D.C. The year before, the District of Columbia debuted Capital Bikeshare, then the largest and most ambitious bikeshare system in the U.S. Yes, ride-hailing isn’t perfect, and some bikesharing systems have struggled or failed. But the proliferation of both types of services over the past decade has helped millions of city dwellers around the world experience multimodal transportation choices for the first time. This was the decade when technology finally made it possible to imagine a future, particularly in North America, where driving yourself alone in a car doesn’t have to be the default.

An unanswered question

Over the past decade, I have come back over and over to the same question that I still don’t think we have the answer to: How do cities ensure that the people who have long lived in disinvested neighborhoods benefit from their revival? In Chicago, Richmond, Oakland, Atlanta, and Baltimore, historically neglected neighborhoods have attracted new parks, new grocery stores, new development, new residents. That is, in theory, good news. But that investment is so often accompanied by fears of rising rents, displacement, and exclusion. What would it look like to have urban redevelopment without those fears? The question feels increasingly urgent.

Are rich neighborhoods the real problem?

The history of housing discrimination and segregation has given us the unequal urban geography we see in the U.S. today. Over the last decade, some of the go-to strategies have advocated breaking up, “deconcentrating,” or “integrating” low income neighborhoods. But in doing so, perhaps inadvertently, these tactics designated poor communities of color as problems that need solving—and not as culturally valuable, reasonable, and knowledgeable communities that can advocate for their own interests. A question that I am seeing asked more frequently: Should we, while respecting and empowering less resourced communities, be focusing our research and solutions instead on the role of highly privileged neighborhoods in maintaining the status quo?

The wrong way on walking

One of the most disappointing, and ultimately tragic, trends of the past several years has been the steady rise of pedestrian fatalities around the United States. Even as other traffic deaths have declined, and even as communities around the U.S. have begun to see the value of streets designed for humans and not cars, the number of pedestrians killed by drivers went up 35 percent between 2008 and 2017, according to a recent report from the Governors Highway Safety Association. The pattern shows no sign of reversing: In 2018, 6,227 pedestrians died on the nation’s streets, the most since 1990. Some of the toll, the report’s authors say, can be attributed to the rise in popularity of SUVs, which are more likely to kill people that they hit. Those big trucks are another depressing, energy-hogging trend that Americans are embracing in defiance of the need to devote fewer resources and less space to personal motor vehicles in the age of climate change.

The unfulfilled public transportation promise

The story I wrote for the 2011 launch of The Atlantic Cities included a reference to the Kardashians, like any substantive piece on public transportation should. Both were having a moment. Transit was rising across American cities; by mid-decade, ridership would reach levels not seen since the 1950s. But from there it fell, and hard. There are many reasons for this unfulfilled promise: service cuts, car-first street designs, artificially cheap parking and driving and hailing, no political will to deploy congestion pricing as a reliable source of transit funding. But the common theme is that cities have not been effective car-dash-ians. That’s made it harder for people to reach jobs and get places—you might say, to keep up.

The Rise of the YIMBYs

The 2010s began with the affordability crisis, but will be remembered for the rise of the YIMBYs. As America continues to build fewer homes per capita than at any time since World War II, this new wave of activists, embracing the acronym for “yes in my backyard,” has taken up the central question of fair housing advocates going back to the 1950s. Why are apartments banned from most of the land in most American cities and suburbs, anyway? And what can we do about it? In just a few years, the Overton window on this issue has permanently shifted: California has legalized accessory dwelling units and is converting garages into housing by the thousands; Minneapolis has ended single-family zoning; Oregon has liberalized zoning statewide. Many other changes appear to be close behind. Two trends will stoke more changes in the 2020s: More millennials will confront their (bad, overpriced) housing options as they start families, and boomers will begin to age out of huge, car-dependent houses and yearn for alternatives.

Growing city literacy

This decade has seen a spike in what I’d call city literacy. More people are thinking and caring and debating about cities. There’s more scrutiny on the dynamics of neighborhood change, the promise of big tech in cities, and the role urban design plays in shaping lives and livelihoods. It’s now widely (or at least sort of widely) understood that outdated zoning has worsened housing shortages, that more parking leads to more driving, that maybe we don’t actually need so many freeways running through our cities. When the site launched and I was its sole staff writer, opening up these topics to a “mainstream” audience felt a little daunting, if overdue. It’s been gratifying to see the conversation evolve over the years, thanks in no small part to CityLab and its talented pool of writers and editors.

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CityLab Daily: A Test for California’s New Gig Work Protection

What We’re Following

This month, San Francisco employees at the Ford-owned electric scooter company Spin voted to join Teamsters Local 665. For this emerging industry, it represented a historic milestone—the first unionization of the dockless e-scooter workforce.

It was made possible in part because of California’s new bill to protect gig workers, which will become a law on January 1. CityLab’s Sarah Holder has the latest on what the union victory means for the micromobility industry—and the evolution of the gig economy: The First Scooter Company to Unionize Tests California’s Gig Work Bill


Most Popular CityLab Reads in 2019

The Hidden Horror of Hudson Yards Is How It Was Financed

Manhattan’s new luxury mega-project was partially bankrolled by an investor visa program called EB-5, which was meant to help poverty-stricken areas.

Kriston Capps

What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

Brentin Mock

Carefully, Japan Reconsiders the Trash Can

The near-absence of public garbage bins in cities like Tokyo is both a security measure and a reflection of a cultural aversion to littering.

Allan Richarz

How Bad Is It to Let Your Cat Outside?

Your adorable house cat is also a ruthless predator. A conservation biologist makes the case for keeping cats indoors, or at least on leashes.

Andrew Small

White Americans’ Hold on Wealth Is Old, Deep, and Nearly Unshakeable

White families quickly recuperated financial losses after the Civil War, and then created a Jim Crow credit system to bring more white families into money.


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CityLab Daily: Why Do Christmas Movies Hate Cities So Much?

What We’re Following

Love, actually? If you spent any time this week watching television holiday rom-coms, you may have noticed a pattern: The city is no place for love. CityLab’s Linda Poon explains:

You don’t have to watch many of these movies to see the bad rap that cities get. Before our protagonist (usually a single woman) gets enchanted by twinkling lights and prop Christmas trees, she must first flee the grey, cold-hearted metropolis that leaves her feeling some combination of lonely, overworked, and grumpy. And leave it to the residents of some weirdly Christmas-obsessed small town that she finds herself in for some reason—a baking contest! a secret inheritance! supernatural forces!—to teach her the True Meaning of Christmas.

What gives? Read Poon’s take: Why Do Christmas Movies Hate Cities So Much?

And enjoy a few of our favorite archive holiday links below.


More on CityLab

Last Exit to Pottersville

What the 1946 Christmas movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ says about small-town America in 2016.

David Dudley

Bringing Christmas Back Downtown

Shoppers once flocked to the centers of American cities during the holidays. Today, boosters are using the season to spur urban revival.

Jessica Leigh Hester

The Rise and Fall of New Year’s Fitness Resolutions, in 5 Charts

The January gym spike is real, but it drops off just a few weeks later, according to data from location and fitness apps.

Linda Poon

Navigation Apps Changed the Politics of Traffic

In an excerpt from the new book The Future of Transportation, CityLab’s Laura Bliss adds up the “price of anarchy” when it comes to traffic navigation apps.

Laura Bliss


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CityLab Daily: Inside the Virginia Bill to Allow Denser Housing

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What We’re Following

Up on the housetop: All they want for Christmas is zoning reform. With a new majority in the statehouse, Virginia Democrats are eyeing a wish list of housing bills. The proposed new measures would legalize duplexes and accessory dwelling units, and give local governments more leeway to build affordable housing, ahead of the arrival of Amazon’s second headquarters in Arlington. But rents are also rising in cities such as Richmond and Charlottesville. See how Virginia’s ideas compare to recent upzoning legislation in Minneapolis, Austin, and Seattle. Kriston Capps has the story: With New Democratic Majority, Virginia Sees a Push for Denser Housing

Programming note: The newsletter will be taking a holiday hiatus on Tuesday and Wednesday. See you Thursday.

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

The Downtown Highway That Could Drive Hartford’s Comeback

The Connecticut capital has been using zoning and transit reforms to stage a downtown recovery. But there’s one big thing in the way: an aging interstate.

Anthony Flint

Why Some Hawaiians Are Fighting a Massive Flood-Control Project

A flood could devastate the tourist zone of Waikīkī in Honolulu, but a federal plan to fortify the Ala Wai Canal has met with strong local resistance.

Timothy A. Schuler

The Book That Captured Mid-’70s Paris

Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris documented the tumult, traffic, and street life of the French capital over three days in 1974.

Ian Klaus and Daniel Levin Becker

How Ride-Hail Companies Can Help, Not Hurt, Cities

A veteran of municipal transportation regulation advises ride-hail companies on how to make cities into friends, not foes.

Dawn Miller


Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

(Seth Wenig/AP)

This weekend, Eddie Murphy reprised his classic Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood sketch on Saturday Night Live. It’s been 35 years since we’ve seen Murphy’s character, a satire of Mr. Rogers’ neighborly schtick. In this version, he sang about how New York City has changed since we last saw him: “I was gone for a bit but now I’m alright / My neighbors were all black but now they white.”After the song, Robinson gives a particularly blunt definition of “gentrification.” But we won’t spoil the joke, you can watch the full sketch here.

CityLab context: The gentrification of Gotham and how Mr. Rogers shaped the way a generation thinks about neighborhoods


What We’re Reading

The French cities trying to ban public advertisements (The Guardian)

One-day deliveries are breaking our cities (Fast Company)

Science explains why we should all work shorter hours in winter (Wired)

Verizon hits goal of launching 5G in more than 30 cities (The Verge)

Black, homeless, and burdened by L.A.’s legacy of racism (New York Times)


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CityLab Daily: A Plan to Remake Downtown Brooklyn

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More on CityLab

For Renters, a Powerful New Tool to Fight Eviction

As New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio expands tenant protections, a pair of U.S. senators introduce the Eviction Crisis Act to help renters get legal help.

Kriston Capps

Does Free Transit Pay Off? This City Will Find Out

The Missouri city is the first major one in the U.S. to offer no-cost public transportation. Will a boost in subsidized mobility pay off with economic benefits?

Laura Bliss

How Can We Combat Inequality and Build a More Productive Economy?

In this interview with Jonathan Rothwell about his new book, A Republic of Equals, he explains how U.S. racism helped create elite, highly paid professions.

Richard Florida

Why a ‘Memory Town’ Is Coming to Your Local Strip Mall

Weeks after opening near San Diego, a model town for treating dementia is set to be replicated around the U.S.

Amanda Kolson Hurle


What We’re Reading

“It feels almost like prison”: the developers building homes with no natural light (The Guardian)

Philadelphia has found a zoning tool to encourage hiring people of color in construction (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Twelve states and the District of Columbia introduce a plan to cap tailpipe pollution (New York Times)

Share Now, formerly Car2Go, is leaving North America (The Verge)

Stocking stuffers: 15 brilliant new books on design and cities (Curbed)


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CityLab Daily: The Maps That Made You, Dear Readers

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A hand-made map of an imaginary city, created by Pedro Bastos at 16 years old. (Courtesy of Pedro Bastos)

CityLab series editor Laura Bliss, and our audience team, Jessica Lee Martin and Gracie McKenzie, selected a few of the more than 100 submissions that spoke to the diversity of responses. Some wrote in about maps of bulldozed neighborhoods, essential workday plans, or fictional walking routes. Others just filled us with wonder, making us long for the sea or to learn about the paths of birds and bees. On CityLab: The Maps That Made You, Dear Readers

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

New York City Unveils a Next-Generation Trash Can

The winner of the BetterBin design competition is easier for sanitation workers to lift and deters bulk trash-dumpers. It could replace the ubiquitous green litter basket.

Linda Poon

What Have We Done to Lunch?

From the Automat to Sweetgreen Outpost, grabbing a bite during the workday has long sacrificed human contact and flavor to value and efficiency.

Sarah Holder

Why Dead Brands Live on in Japan

Cultural cachet, licensing deals, and density explain why Toys ‘R’ Us, Tower Records, Barneys, and other faded U.S. retailers remain big across the Pacific.

Laura Bliss

You Can’t ‘Open’ a Dive Bar

Hole-in-the-wall spots need time to evolve.

Naomi Tomky



What We’re Reading

You might be buying trash on Amazon—literally (Wall Street Journal)

The tax break for children, except the ones who need it most (New York Times)

Forget electric cars—e-bikes will be the top selling electric vehicle in the next decade (The Verge)

Trump’s plan to let big banks get a piece of the stadium scam (New Republic)

Among the world’s most dire places: This California homeless camp (New York Times)


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CityLab Daily: Trump’s Plan to Criminalize Homelessness Is Taking Shape

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What We’re Following

Wake-up call: On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case about whether local and state governments can make it a crime for people to sleep outside. That leaves intact a lower court ruling that deems such laws unconstitutional.

But the White House is still gearing up for its own aggressive approach to homelessness with a prominent role for law enforcement. Advocates say that they expect an executive order on homelessness that would assign new funds for police departments to remove homeless encampments and even strip housing funds from cities that tolerate these encampments. The order would be part of a broader federal strategy on homelessness. CityLab has obtained a list by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that narrows the federal government’s focus to 24 cities and states, all of which have large numbers of unhoused people living outside. CityLab’s Kriston Capps has the story: Trump’s Push To Criminalize Homelessness Is Taking Shape

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

The Maps That Made You, Dear Readers

From CityLab’s mailbag: Here are the personal stories about how maps shaped your lives.

Laura Bliss, Jessica Lee Martin, and Gracie McKenzie

Has the Rise of Uber Led to More Heavy Drinking?

New research suggests that ride-hailing is associated with increases in drinking behaviors in U.S. cities and metro areas.

Richard Florida

A City Map Made for (And by) Kids

“Growing Up Boulder” is the nation’s first printed kid-friendly city map, designed to help parents and children find their way in the Colorado city.

Mimi Kirk

What Does This Street In Zürich Mean?

If you see how cars, streetcars, bikes, and pedestrians use this Swiss street, you can better understand what’s wrong with so many other urban thoroughfares.

Norman Garrick


Reindeer Games

(Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

This month, a new Banksy work appeared in Birmingham, England, featuring a bench getting pulled by two reindeer like a sleigh. The anonymous artist posted a video to their Instagram featuring a homeless person sleeping on the bench. Banksy wrote:

God bless Birmingham. In the 20 minutes we filmed Ryan on this bench, passers-by gave him a hot drink, two chocolate bars and a lighter – without him ever asking for anything.

The Guardian reports the original street art did not include the red noses, as shown above, which appeared the Monday after Banksy’s posting. The new mural is now being protected from further vandalism.

From the CityLab archives: Why Banksy Is (Probably) A Woman


What We’re Reading

Inside Pete Buttigieg’s years-long, and often clumsy, quest to understand the black experience (Washington Post)

Detroit, the blackest city in the U.S., is facing an environmental justice nightmare (OneZero)

After a public housing fire, a lack of federal funding comes to light (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

How bike sharing became this decade’s biggest transportation success story (Curbed)

New York City suburbs lure millennials with luxury digs, ax-throwing bars (Bloomberg)


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CityLab Daily: America After Climate Change, Mapped

What We’re Following

At last: You don’t have to use too much imagination to predict the fundamental weather impacts of climate change in the U.S. by the end of the 21st century. Estimates show the temperature will increase an average of 9.3 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to more extreme weather events, from heatwaves to wildfires to floods.

But lots of other potential impacts are less inevitable, according to Billy Fleming, the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s

(McHarg Center)

While the broad takeaways are unsurprisingly dire, there is reason for some optimism that ambitious policy proposals could make a difference. “We get the future we build for ourselves,” Fleming tells CityLab’s Sarah Holder. Read her story: America After Climate Change, Mapped

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

How Universal Pre-K Drives Up Families’ Infant-Care Costs

An unintended consequence of free school programs for three- and four-year-olds is a reduction in the supply of affordable child care for kids younger than two.

Kendra Hurley

Navigator: Lost Landscapes

What can archival materials tell us about our cities?

Sarah Holder

Change Comes to a Suburb That Loved Sprawl

Oakland County, Michigan, has long spurned transit and kept Detroit at arm’s length. But new county executive David Coulter isn’t afraid of density.

Amy Crawford

The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History

From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

Jonathan English


What We’re Reading

“Mayors for Mike”: How Bloomberg’s money built a 2020 political network (New York Times)

Inside the post-apocalyptic underground future (The Guardian)

This clever bus stop features rotating pods to shield passengers from the wind (Curbed)

California is spending big on the 2020 census, while Texas decided not to devote any money to the job (New York Times)

This GPS-based haiku generator writes poems about your current location (Fast Company)


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