Cities


Burning Man and the Metropolis

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January 10, 2011
It's not exactly the ideal place to build a city. No water, little vegetation, limited animal life. August temperatures climb to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and drop close to freezing at night. High winds kick up powder-fine dust into blinding storms. The place is, in a word, inhospitable.

But year after year in late summer, a small city rises on this ancient lakebed in the Black Rock Desert, in Pershing County in northwestern Nevada. It's the annual event — or festival, or party — known as Burning Man, an eight-day experiment in self-expression and self-reliance that is now one of the most notorious cultural events in North America. What began as a bonfire attended by 20 friends on a San Francisco beach in 1986 has exploded into a global mega-event with 50,000 participants.

Defining Cities in a Metropolitan World

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September 15, 2011
Eight different ways to measure and think about what makes a city.

Most often when you cross the borders of a city or town, nothing much happens. Those edges, invisible lines of jurisdictional separation, are easily ignored or forgotten as we walk, bike, and drive through a metro area. Cities can blend into one another almost imperceptibly. Development just keeps going and going in many parts of the U.S., creating urbanized entities much grander than a single city. When we think about cities, it’s increasingly inaccurate to think about them in isolation.

Tech and the City

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August 1, 2011
Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne aims to make New York the “world’s top-ranked digital city” but she and her counterparts across the U.S. are still trying to figure out what that means.

No matter where you live, from Los Angeles to Boston, you can walk into a public meeting, sign your name on a piece of paper, and be given the opportunity to stand at a podium in front of your elected officials or civil servants and speak your mind for two or three minutes. This is called a public comment, and it’s allowed at pretty much any public meeting in any city in America. It’s the kind of open government that the founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the Declaration of Independence. It’s also totally old school.

Walkable Cities, Walkable Neighborhoods

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December 6, 2010
New neighborhood-level data from the walkability rating website Walk Score has broadened the view of what it means to live in a walkable city. This comparison of neighborhood-level data across the U.S. offers a more specific look at which cities are really the most walkable.

Over the past few years, the website Walk Score has gained a lot of popularity amongst urban planners, developers and, maybe most especially, real estate agents. It's a mapping tool that quantifies the walkability of street addresses with a simple 0-100 score, based on proximity to a variety of amenities. It's an easy way to find a new place to live, or to navel-gaze and see just how well your address measures up.

Why Hosting a World Cup Doesn't Matter for Cities, and How it Can

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December 2, 2010
Two major international decisions are being made today: which countries will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The selected hosts will undoubtedly celebrate their victories, and look forward to the soft and hard benefits of hosting this most watched of sporting events. The host countries should also take care to prepare for negative impacts – short- and long-term effects that play out in physical, social and economic ways. Who gets selected is surely important in some ways, but when considering these mega-events in terms of their potential impact on the places in which they're held, who hosts the World Cup doesn't really matter.

It should, though. But because of the minimal requirements made of the cities hosting World Cup matches, how cities prepare for the event is hardly a concern to FIFA, soccer's international governing body. Whether hosting the World Cup makes a city exponentially better or terrifyingly less efficient is irrelevant to FIFA, based on how it guides the cities intending to host this event. The long-term impact of the event is hardly considered, and its potential to create the sort of vast civic improvement projects often resulting from such international event hosting is ignored.

Faux Better or Worse

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August 27, 2009
To save water, some cities let residents replace grass lawns with artificial turf. Environmentalists call for xeriscaping. Aesthetes wince.

It's the largest irrigated crop in the United States, with more than 32 million acres in production, according to a 2005 study from the journal Environmental Management. But this crop isn't eaten by people or, usually, animals. It's the front lawn, and cities across America are trying to save water by encouraging homeowners — through rebates and tax benefits — to get rid of it...

Next Steps for Shrinking Cities: Results of the Planetizen Brainstorm

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July 9, 2009
Bulldoze? Densify? Walk away? There are many ways cities can react to shrinking populations and abandoned neighborhoods. Planetizen readers decide which ways are the best.

It's hard to think about Detroit these days without picturing empty streets, cracked windows, and chaos -- essentially, a broken city. In fact, if the idea of a "broken city" needed a poster child, Detroit would be high in the running. Between 2000 and 2007, the city lost more than 30,000 people. More than 15,000 homes are currently under bank ownership. More than 3,100 homes were torn down in 2008.

News Summary: Cities Cutting Back

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December 4, 2008
It is a confusing time for cities and the people who work for them. On the one hand, the recent election showed a groundswell of support for new investment in infrastructure. At the same time, cities are facing mounting fiscal problems as the wave of the mortgage crisis hits home. How are cities making the tough decisions?

Americans passed $75 billion in funding for public transportation, from a bullet train between San Francisco and Los Angeles to an elevated commuter rail system in Honolulu. Voters also overwhelmingly elected a presidential candidate that is promising to invest attention (and hopefully, dollars) in cities through the new Office of Urban Policy. He’s also supported creating a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to the tune of $60 billion over the next 10 years.

Design After the Mindframe of Oil

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November 7, 2008
This symposium focuses on cities as they prepare to move beyond the age of oil. But the age of oil is really more of a state of mind.

Peak oil is the idea that we have passed the point of maximum extraction of oil from the world. Some say this day is coming soon. Others say it has already come. Both agree that oil will not be around forever. The point of this symposium is to figure out a way for cities to react as it runs out. But the problem is not the time frame, its the mindframe.

This is an interesting way to digest the oil issue, and it was mentioned briefly during a presentation by architect Lance Hosey...

Problems With Scale

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November 7, 2008
Without comparable scales for mapping, development and design, cities can’t truly communicate.

For cities to operate well, city functions need to operate at the same scale. Mismatching scales create broad problems for the “system” of a city, and especially for those trying to manage the city form.

James Higgins, a regional manager at the mapping software firm ESRI cites the example of Doha, Qatar. This is a middle-eastern city that is undergoing a huge wave of growth. He showed a picture of downtown Doha, with dozens of high-rises under construction. The problem is that the infrastructure for each of these buildings was constructed at different scales...