RIDING DESIRE LINES: New transportation corridors for NYC
As Michael Kimmelman recently noted in the New York Times, cities have “desire lines” marked by economic development and evolving patterns of travel. In New York, Manhattan was once the destination for nearly all such paths, expressed by subway tracks that linked Midtown with what were called “the outer boroughs.”
Kimmelman notes that a new desire line, which avoids Manhattan altogether, now hugs the waterfronts of Brooklyn and Queens, stretching from Sunset Park past the piers of Red Hook, to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, through Greenpoint and across Newtown Creek, which separates the two boroughs.
This new desire line currently is poorly served by public transit, even as millennials are colonizing Astoria, working in Red Hook, then going out in Williamsburg and Bushwick — or working at the Navy Yard, visiting friends in Long Island City and sleeping in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Young in-movers have helped drive housing developments approved or built along the Brooklyn waterfront, like the one by Two Trees at the former Domino Sugar Refinery. But this corridor isn’t only for millennials. It’s also home to thousands of less affluent New Yorkers struggling to get to jobs and join the work force.
So his idea is to bring back the streetcar along this waterfront route! Read this proposal and see the accompanying video here.
FUNDING MASS-TRANSIT INNOVATION: Fixing the Highway Trust Fund
The U.S. census recently reported that 85% of all Americans live in our metropolitan areas — the cities, towns, suburbs, and urban areas that comprise metropolitan America. Our metropolitan areas produce fully ninety percent of our gross national product (GNP).
Effective transportation systems are essential features of metropolitan productivity and quality of life. Yet funding of the Highway Trust Fund has become increasingly uncertain: this summer it will run out of money to reimburse the states for projects they have taken on with the promise of federal funds.
Beth Osborne, former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation, argues that the biggest problem is that this huge program, which provides one of the most critical and influential functions of federal government, is almost invisible to the people upon whom it depends — its customers, the taxpayers.
She proposes that Congress stop treating the program as an entitlement for state departments of transportation. Instead, Congress should put more resources in the hands of local communities closest to taxpayers. While the old federal transportation program built an incredible national highway system, it did not focus on making transportation networks work within metropolitan areas. Can we fix this problem?
Read the full article from The Atlantic Cities here…
SECURITY DRONES: New spectators at urban marathons and other public events?
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing last year, this year’s event featured beefed-up security – added police officers, low-flying helicopters, and other measures. While it appears that security drones were not part of event security this year, experts say that their participation will soon become inevitable.
A recent article in The Atlantic Cities confirmed that big cities across America plan to rely on drones to provide extra security for upcoming public events. Boston police commissioner Edward Davis said after last year’s tragedy that “drones are a great idea” for a future marathon, though that idea has reportedly since been turned down.
Several other municipalities and local law-enforcement agencies are among the many and varied entities that have applied for licenses to operate drones, however—including the Seattle police, the Miami-Dade police, and the Clackamas County sheriff’s office in Oregon. There been speculation over whether New York Police Department (NYPD), which is charged with protecting the city’s annual marathon in November, will turn to drone security.
Shortly after last year’s marathon, tech site Motherboard called it “an open secret that New York’s finest have been eyeing drones as prospective aerial surveillance tools.” It cited another report indicating that the NYPD’s counterterrorism division has talked to the Federal Aviation Administration about the possibility of using drones.
New York’s former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, called drone surveillance “scary” but inevitable on his radio program, opining that “you can’t keep the tides from coming in.” It remains to be seen whether Bloomberg’s successor, Bill de Blasio, will support the idea, given the political repercussions of aerial surveillance. Stay tuned for more on this topic!
Source: Jake Becker, “Sooner or later, security drones will be hoveing other major marathongs,” The Atlantic Cities, April 21, 2014
HISTORICAL CARTOGRAPHY: Lower Manhattan, 18th-century ground plan. Note the narrow profile of the island with its indentations intact, later largely filled in through waterfront development.
THE BRONX: Westchester Village
The corner of Benson Street and E. Tremont Avenue in the section of the East Bronx neighborhood Westchester Village, which is adjacent to Morris Park. If you walk Southeast about a quarter mile along Benson Street, you get to the Westchester Square station of the #6 subway line.
AIR POLLUTION: CHINESE vs. U.S. CITIES
While China’s environmental crisis is widely recognized, its dangerous severity is hard for many of us to fathom. As James Fallows writes in a recent post on The Atlantic Cities: “No one now alive has experienced anything similar in North America or Europe, except in the middle of a forest fire or a volcanic eruption.”
The chart above, from The Washington Post, compares the 10 most-polluted Chinese cities with the corresponding 10 worst in America, based on relative concentration of PM2.5 particles. These very fine microscopic particles — about one-thirtieth the width of a human hair — come primarily from burning fossil fuels. Such particles are extremely damaging to human health because they can enter lung and blood tissue, thus leading to asthma, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
U.S. readings on this chart reflect the challenges of living in the Central Valley of California, where six of the seven most-polluted cities are located. (And the other is Los Angeles.) But the difference in magnitude of Chinese pollution is sobering. Even the worst American cities would be in the top-most excellent bracket in China.
Even more alarming, air pollution may be the country’s most visible problem, but it is not really the most serious of China’s environmental challenges. Water pollution and water shortage are even more problematic for the country’s environmental health and sustainability.
AMAZONIA: Deforestation, drought, and burning worsen damage to Amazon forests
The volatile combination of deforestation, drought, and burning now increase the Amazon’s vulnerability to climate change. Scientists fear that the region may to approaching a dangerous “tipping point” that could cause rapid, large-scale destruction during dry years, according to a new study.
The eight-year study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the largest, longest-running experiment investigating the effects of fire on tropical forests. It is also the first to show how fire and drought could lead to significant forest die-back in the Amazon.
Large areas of tropical forest, particularly in the southeastern Amazon, are being logged and cleared for crops. Such practices thin the forest canopy, promote growth of invasive, quick-burning grasses and cause warmer air to move in from cleared lands, drying the forest floor during times of little rain, according to the study.
TECHNOLOGY AND THE CITY: PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
Walking through any city, one finds an endless array of technologies from various eras. On April 16, 2014, I explored the streets of Poughkeepsie NY, taking photos of past, present, and future technologies. Here is a sampling of six photos, two from each era. Clockwise from the top left:
- Fall Kill Creek, long the source of water power for the industries of Poughkeepsie, gradually fell out of use in the 20th century, as new energy sources allowed industries to move to new locations.
- This ”New York Coin Telephone” pay phone now looks quaintly obsolete, since cell phones are so widespread.
- A chained bicycle illustrates an old but now increasingly popular form of self-propelled transportation.
- Satellite dishes receive digital technologies for internet, entertainment, and more on Main Street Poughkeepsie.
- A historical marker on the Fall Kill Creek explains future plans for adaptive reuse of the adjacent Underwear Factory site.
- Future Technology: Featuring a stylish cyber-man, this colorful mural on Main Street proclaims that “Style is the Message.” The future will certainly involve “style,” however we define it…
BRASILIA: Inaugurated in 1960 as Brazil’s new capital, Brasília quickly became a modernist icon. Lúcio Costa’s panoramic land-use plan for the central “Pilot Plan” and Oscar Niemeyer’s spectacular modern architecture made the new capital highly imageable, although problems of urban sprawl in surrounding “satellite cities” made for noticeable problems as well. UNESCO’s World Heritage program listed Brasília in 1987, less than three decades after the capital’s inauguration!
BIG PROJECTS IN BRAZIL: Ambitious plans for urban and regional development, now stalled, over-budget, and abandoned
Brazil’s economic boom bore big construction projects to empower its impoverished interior and burgeoning cities. But as the economy cools, many ambitious projects remain unfinished and even abandoned, leaving a legacy of resentment and dislocation among residents.
Inspired by the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics, many urban stadiums, transit lines, and infrastructure programs are delayed and way over budget. Regional programs like the trans-Northeast railroad and irrigation channel appear to be abandoned.
Above we see several photographs by Daniel Berehulak, part of an excellent article by Simon Romero on “Grand Visions Fizzle in Brazil” (New York Times, April 12, 2014):
- ruins of a federally funded ”Extraterrestrial Museum” in Varginha, southeastern Brazil, where residents claimed to see an alien in 1996.
- long parts of the Transnordestina railway in northeastern Brazil, begun in 2006, now lie deserted
- construction of an expensive metro system, in Salvador, Bahia, began more than 10 years ago, but the system has never functioned.
See also an accompanying video on “Brazil Tracks from Boom to Rust.”