Posts Tagged ‘cities’

Public consumption of data is at an all-time high and growing.

GOOD’s ‘Transparency’ series relays a study on Americans data consumption and it finds that 3.6 Zettabytes are consumed daily; that averages out to about 34 gigabytes per person.

Another statistic shows that among mobile phone users, mobile internet is used by 26% of people. This number is expected to jump to 43.5% by 2013.

The emerging field of urban computing ties these two statistics together and at the same time aims to democratize public data even further. As it stands right now, citizens/users have to navigate through byzantine government websites to access data that is poorly organized and underused. Developers, such as City-Go-Round, are trying to coax the potential out of the data and organize it into useful sets for public use. In developing Apps for mobile devices, these developers recognize the ability of computing to transform the way we interact with our surroundings.

Yesterday London also recognized developer abilities and decided to create an online data warehouse.

The warehouse will include “[i]nformation about planning decisions, crime rates, abandoned vehicles, house prices, road accidents and many other metrics…”

In addition to providing the data, they are providing incentive to developers to do interesting things:

“Those who come up with the most innovative ways to harness the data could get a substantial grant to help them bring their idea to life.

4iP, Channel 4’s Innovation for the Public Fund, said it would back the best ideas with a £200,000 cash pot.”

To say the least, government catching up with and aiding the development of innovative urban living is a welcome trend and one which I hope flourishes in this new decade.


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Dave Bing, former NBA player and founder of Bing Steel, was elected mayor of Detroit in November 2009; since then he has been re-imagining the city. After the former mayor of the city, Kwame Kilpatrick, was convicted of misuse of public funds Detroit voters put their trust into Bing, an established businessman who plans to manage the city as any businessman would: like a business.

When interviewed by the Wall Street Journal he says

“A city is a business,…it’s a $3 billion plus business. The past administrations didn’t understand that, and I think that’s got us where we are.” Voters realize that private “businesses create jobs,” he says. “That’s where wealth come[s] from, and for too long we’ve treated them like enemies.”

He wants to make the city “more business friendly,” but how? “Take the licensing and permitting process that people have to go through,” he explains. “I’ve heard nothing but war stories. So I’m focusing on how we can help businesses cut through the red tape in city government. As an entrepreneur, if you have to spend all of your time trying to get licensing and permits . . . guess what you do? You’re going somewhere else. We’ve got to make Detroit a place where businesses can make a profit again,” he says hopefully.

I appreciate Mr. Bing’s business-minded attitude towards rebuilding Detroit. He is correct about licensing and permitting being a major obstacle to entrepreneurship yet I am somewhat wary. Rebuilding a city from the depths that Detroit is in will take much more than knocking down obstacles for business development. One of the major obstacles that is unrelated to written code is the ability of those businesses to draw customers. Much like how companies want to see favorable (ie. high income, educated, etc) demographics before spending on advertising, businesses need to see a possible return on investment before setting up shop. To achieve a level of patronage favorable to business Detroit should focus on creating a culture that educates its own citizenry, draws educated people from elsewhere, and ultimately retains those who were educated in the area.

Bing also recognizes this need when he says, “We’re losing a lot of our young talent who graduate from our top universities, because they don’t see the opportunity for jobs in the future here. That’s got to change.”

Apart from education and business development, redevelopment with livability in mind is also imperative. Population flight from the city to the suburbs has left Detroit desolated. The depletion of the tax base has left Detroit in a precarious situation fiscally and also with an excess of decaying buildings and infrastructure.

Bing “wants to tear down buildings and dilapidated homes and convert thousands of acres to ‘parks and greenspace.’ He also wants to privatize public services to save money and create a new cosmopolitan environment that will attract middle-class and affluent families that have fled to the suburbs.”

The demolition is feasible because of federal funding that was allocated specifically for this purpose. The money is needed because

it can take years to transfer title to a property from an owner or lender who abandoned it to the government, during which time the property becomes run down and helps drive down the value of the whole neighborhood. Once the government takes over that land, it can make decisions on whether to tear down the building or sell it to a developer either as an individual property or part of a larger bundle of properties. That can help maintain property values in the area by preventing blight. It can even be profitable for the city if administered well. But it requires a fair amount of money to get the process started, which these funds can help provide.

With all of these proposals and the clear-thinking going on in Mayor Bing’s office it’s hard not to be hopeful. These are ambitious but realistic goals; much needs to be done to get them off the ground but concessions from Detroit stakeholders, public engagement and a committed group of people will certainly help.

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For millenials, protest must be pragmatic. Yes, many of us rail for or against one cause or another but really, what’s the point of all the yelling and screaming if nothing comes of it? Also, does yelling and screaming ever convert anyone to your cause? Past generations of protestors have answered that question with a resounding No. So how do we protest? We plant a garden.

Robyn Waxman, a graduate student of design at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco,

“became fascinated with the next generation of designers’ role when it came to protest and civil disobedience, a place designers and artists have been focusing their efforts for centuries. Studying millennials, who are generally considered to be a group of participatory, positive, technologically-savvy 18- to 30-year-olds, revealed some interesting insights: This was a generation that had solid respect for the law and was reluctant to publicly criticize the status quo. “[They] are really concerned about defying authority,” says Waxman, who is 39. “They are looking out for their future.” As her thesis, Waxman proposed an intervention that helped redefine protest for the rising creative group–a form of engagement that would help educate and inspire them in how to take action.

“She realized if confrontational behavior was not in their nature, then she would have to introduce a form of more perpetual protest. Waxman sought to have a group of students physically reclaim a strip of public land bordering the school’s street, which CCA shares with homeless residents as well as day laborers. Waxman believed they could intervene agriculturally on the block–which was littered with hypodermic needles–by growing enough food for the neighbors.”

Urban farming is a growing trend and as a form of protest it is one that many millenials, including myself, can get behind. It’s a productive cause and its effects are tangible. There is something subversive about growing ones own food in the heart of a city; the collision of lifestyles highlights the disconnectedness of city living while also bringing one back to a “simpler time” that many of us never experienced. Urban farming is the most basic protest against the everyday complexities of modern life.

“Protest doesn’t have to be something that people hate,’ says Waxman. ‘That’s what makes it so enticing for this generation.”

Looks like the kids are alright, afterall

(via Fast Company)

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The Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn cleared a major legal hurdle today. This is bad news all-around for anyone concerned with city planning or community development. Forest City Ratner, a major development company, will build a billion-dollar arena for the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets to move into and residential towers with 6430 units. Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn had aimed to halt construction on the grounds that the states use of eminent domain is in violation of the Constitution.

I’ve written about it before to a degree but eminent domain is only to be used when the public good will be served by the seizure of the property in question. How can anyone justify that this arena will be good for the community? It will provide temporary construction jobs, sure, but in the long run the project is ill-suited to bring anything but low-wage service industry jobs to the area while knocking out independent business in the area. Also, the infrastructural and logistical nightmare that is sure to ensue is going to make worse an already bad situation for pedestrians. Anyone who has ever walked at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues would agree that crossing from the street in that area is terrifying, there’s so much traffic coming from every direction: add in traffic from suburbanites driving in to see the Nets play a game and the situation becomes hellish.

I fail to see any real benefit to the community. Local business will be either swallowed up or choked out by construction. The jobs that the arena provides, aside from the temporary (approximately 28 months) construction jobs, will be serving peanuts or being a doorman at the luxury residences. On top of all that, the increased auto traffic will make it even more difficult to navigate these streets. While the Atlantic Ave. subway stop is right below the proposed-arena, the NYC subway is already overcrowded so assuming that the MTA will provide adequate service to arena-goers is laughable.

The Atlantic Yards project has been a mess from the beginning and the people that will pay the most for its folly is local residents.

If you’re interested in joining opposition to this project visit the Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn website

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Basin Street Blues

Most of you who read this know already but I am moving to New Orleans. The Big Easy. The Crescent City. Birthplace of Jazz. When I think about it I can’t believe it but what does come to my mind is Basin Street Blues. It was one of the first jazz songs I heard when I was younger and it’s informed my mythical image of New Orleans since.

Now the band’s there to greet us
Old friends will meet us
Where all them folks goin to the St. Louis Cemetary meet
Heaven on earth…. they call it Basin Street

I’m tellin’ ya, Basin Street…… is the street
Where all the white and dark folk meet
New Orleans….. land of dreams
you’ll never miss them rice and beans
Way down south in New Orleans

The song was made famous by Louis Armstrong in a 1928 recording. Basin Street itself was a main thoroughfare in Storyville, the world-famous prostitution district of old New Orleans (*since demolished and replaced with a public housing project).

Since 1928 the song has been recorded and re-recorded as a jazz standard. Jazz itself didn’t formally come into being until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At it’s inception into the American music landscape, jazz was mostly played in bars and clubs around Storyville, from where it spread to the rest of New Orleans and then across the world. Nowadays, musicians of all kinds record and remix the song. Here’s a music video put to a Kid Koala version of Basin Street Blues.

Expect more of these kinds of posts in the new year. I’ll be living in, exploring, and learning the history of a new city. There will be pictures, there will be stories.

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News of out of NYC today: 7 acres of land in Coney Island has been purchased by the City of New York. Back in 2005 Sitt Development bought the land and threatened to develop it into a Las Vegas-style amusement park. This idea terrified me, mainly because it was so antithetical to the character of Coney Island. Coney Island is the “people’s playground” and if a developer were to turn it into a Las Vegas-style mall/housing complex/amusement park it would have driven everyone but the rich out. Now, thankfully, the City has bought the land and, while they have no concrete plans yet as to redevelopment, we can at least be assured that Coney Island will not turn into a playground only for the rich. Hopefully, the Bloomberg administration takes it’s slim electoral victory to heart and starts listening to what ALL citizens of New York City want.

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I was forwarded this story from the Wall Street Journal the other day. It’s specifically about a few guys who find a dump truck on the fourth floor of a warehouse in Detroit and decide to push it out. On a larger scale though, it touches on the myriad of urban decay issues facing Detroit.

I won’t declaim on those issues because 2009 has apparently been the year of Detroit. Vice Magazine has a great piece about the over-saturation of coverage on the “urban ruins” of Detroit and the ubiquity of journalists who are there for nothing other than the iconic photo-ops. However, this Wall Street Journal piece was interesting because, while it shines it’s light on the very obvious issues that Detroit faces, it also goes into micro-mode and finds something illustrative of those issues. Way to go WSJ!

After reading this piece though I couldn’t help but think of Escape from New York, the futuristic, dystopian 1980’s movie starring Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, ex-military man-turned-convict who is commissioned to rescue the President from Manhattan, which has been converted into a maximum security prison island (much like the Australia of old!)

This particular quote from the WSJ article is what made me draw the parallel: “Mayhem. That’s what they should call the place…If you decide you want to push a dump truck out of a window, this is the place to do it.”

Decide for yourself.


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