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News & Notes

firstworks dining

People eating at Kennedy Plaza during last month’s FirstWorks Festival

→ The Atlantic Cities: The Power of the Movable Chair

In his classic 1980 study of the use of public spaces in New York City, William H. Whyte and his team of researchers used cameras to watch people and understand how they used the public places in the city. One of the takeaways from the film footage was that people like to sit in public places, and, far more fascinatingly, that if given the option they will almost always move chairs before they sit in them.


→ The New York Times: How the G.O.P. Became the Anti-Urban Party

A leading Republican columnist, trying to re-stoke her candidate’s faltering campaign before the first presidential debate, felt so desperate that she advised him to turn to cities.

“Wade into the crowd, wade into the fray, hold a hell of a rally in an American city – don’t they count anymore?” Peggy Noonan lamented in The Wall Street Journal. “A big, dense city with skyscrapers like canyons, crowds and placards, and yelling. All of our campaigning now is in bland suburbs and tired hustings.”

But the fact is that cities don’t count anymore – at least not in national Republican politics.

See also: → Greater Greater Washington: Presidential debate again ignores urban issues


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News & Notes

→ Chicago Sun-Times: City wants to turn streets, alleys, plazas into outdoor fun spots

Designated Chicago streets, alleys, plazas and parking lanes may soon be painted blue with campy white footprints and filled with public seating, music, farmer’s markets and other seasonal activities.


→ GOOD: Young People Are Driving Less—And Not Just Because They’re Broke

I never got my driver’s license, which makes me an outlier in a nation of car lovers. But I have something in common with today’s teens. Recent studies show that American teenagers are far less likely to have their drivers’ licenses than their counterparts thirty years ago, and the trend continues to a lessening degree through the 20-something cohort. Today only 22 percent of drivers are under 30, down from a third in 1983.


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News & Notes

→ The Atlantic Cities: Why is a Patent Troll in Luxembourg Suing U.S. Public Transit Agencies?

Dowell Baker, a law firm specializing in patent litigation in Lafayette, Indiana, finds companies to target in a couple different ways. The firm’s client, ArrivalStar, holds 34 U.S. patents, all related to the idea of tracking a vehicle in motion and then alerting people, through some communications device, of when it may arrive or whether it’s running late. As you might imagine, many entities – airlines, school buses, freight-tracking services, package-delivery companies – do something quite similar to this. And Dowell Baker believes they’re all infringing on these patents.

The firm scours for potential infringers on the Internet. Sometimes, companies that have already been sued by ArrivalStar – and now license its patents – will tip off the firm to its competitors. And then there are the really easy targets: public transit agencies. They’re quite public about the cell phone apps and notifications that you can sign up for, as a rider, to keep tabs on buses and trains. And so Dowell Baker signs up for them, too.


→ Miller-McCune: Megacity Century: Far-Off Problems Come Home

In one lifetime – the period from 1950 to 2015, as projected by the United Nations – the population of Lagos went from 1 million to 25 million; Dhaka, from 400,000 to 22.8 million; and Kinshasa, from 200,000 to 10.5 million. These are among the places the authors of the new book The Real Population Bomb describe as “Category 5 Megacities.”

In a riff on Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 classic, Peter Liotta and James Fiskel argue that exponential urban growth is a danger to human survival. The problem is not overpopulation per se – after all, the world’s biggest city, population-wise, is Tokyo – but massive suffering and chaos in places where corruption, poverty, and mismanagement reign.


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Media Matters: STUDY: Media Missing The Mark On Gas Prices

A Media Matters analysis of print and television coverage of rising gasoline prices between January 1 and February 29 finds that news outlets often provided a shallow and shortsighted treatment of the issue. For instance, several outlets largely overlooked fuel economy standards – a key policy solution that mitigates U.S. vulnerability to price spikes – while promoting increased U.S. drilling and the Keystone XL pipeline, which would likely move gas prices by only a few cents, if at all. In addition, cable news outlets primarily hosted political figures rather than energy experts or economists to comment on gas prices. Fox News, which covered gas prices far more frequently than any other outlet, regularly blamed President Obama for the recent price increase, a claim in line with Republican strategy but not with the facts.

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News & Notes

→ Slate: Train in Vain

Mass transit has, according to its fans, a staggering array of benefits. It reduces pollution, improves quality of life, and anchors vibrant walkable communities. It boosts public health and makes people happier. But relatively few transit-boosters understand that existing federal guidelines for assessing which new projects to fund not only exclude those considerations, they make it extremely difficult for newly built transit to meet those objectives. A new proposed rule from the Department of Transportation, now entering its 60-day comment period to let people raise objections, should change all that for the better.


→ Next American City: An Open Letter to David Axelrod, Re: Urban Politics

Last week, David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama, announced that after the 2012 election season he’ll return to Chicago to run a political institute at the University of Chicago. But this isn’t just some political think tank. Axelrod’s ambition is:

to help encourage young people who are going to be the David Axelrods – and better – in the future so that we’ll have a new generation of people who will be active in politics and public life.

He goes on to say that there’s going to be an urban slant to the whole thing:

Mr. Axelrod, a former journalist, will serve as the institute’s inaugural director and said it would lean toward a focus on urban politics, in part because of the city around it.

Doubly interesting. What should David Axelrod do with this new institute with a leaning towards urban politics? Here are a few ideas:


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The Occupation and Public Space

Occupy Providence

Occupy Providence in Burnside Park. Photo © Jonathan Beller from Facebook.

Eventually, at some point, the current situation with Occupy Providence at Burnside Park is going to change. In this post I’m not trying to talk about what the movement is trying to accomplish, or to take a side, or to pass judgement, this is about what that next step could be and how the park can/might play a roll in the future.

As has been widely reported, the City has begun taking action to set up for removing the protesters from the park, Occupy Providence has a copy of the eviction notice from Commissioner Pare here. The notice basically tells protesters they are in violation of a number of city ordinances, most notably, remaining in the park after it closes at 9pm. The notice gives the protesters 72 hours to comply, which would result in them needing to be out by Sunday evening.

Occupy Providence is calling for people to join them on Sunday in the park in an action they are refering to as “Solidarity Sunday” to resist eviction. As the AP reports, Comissioner Pare has stated that the police will not forcibly evict protesters on Sunday evening if they remain in violation of the eviction notice.

Commissioner Steven Pare tells WPRO-AM the city won’t “physically remove them” from Burnside Park and instead will seek to force them out “peacefully and civilly” through the court system.

He said that could take several weeks.

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News & Notes

→ In wake of Ohio River bridge closure, NBC Nightly News examines the sorry state of U.S. bridges [Transportation for America]

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Over the weekend, NBC Nightly News ran a sharp piece on our country’s structurally deficient bridges, focusing on the data in the T4 America bridge report.

At least one person somewhere in the U.S. is driving over a structurally deficient bridge, according to T4 America director James Corless in a report on the woeful condition of our nation’s bridges on NBC Nightly News Sunday evening.

Brought into the national spotlight because of the recent closure of a highly-trafficked interstate bridge over the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky and the President’s scheduled appearance at a Cincinnati-area bridge this Thursday, more national media outlets (and Americans and their leaders in Congress, one would hope) are paying attention to the real-life impacts of underinvestment in infrastructure.


→ Debunking the Cul-de-Sac [The Atlantic Cities]

This is where it’s most apparent – from an airplane window – that American ideas about how to live and build communities have changed dramatically over time. For decades, families fled the dense urban grid for newer types of neighborhoods that felt safer, more private, even pastoral. Through their research, Garrick and colleague Wesley Marshall are now making the argument that we got it all wrong: We’ve really been designing communities that make us drive more, make us less safe, keep us disconnected from one another, and that may even make us less healthy.


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News & Notes

→ SB 375 Draws Ire of Tea Party [California Planning & Development Report]

While the Tea Party movement has been trying to “take back America” on the national stage since the election of Barack Obama, Tea Party activists have also turned their attention to taking back California – and, specifically, Senate Bill 375, the 2008 law that seeks to combat climate change by promoting density in the state’s metro regions.

Environmentalists and many fans of cities hail SB 375 as an important step towards both curbing global warming and creating more pleasant cities. But Tea Party activists nationwide have fought against local and regional planning efforts, often invoking the United Nations’ “Agenda 21″ sustainable development effort as the enemy. In California, Tea Party representatives have increasingly turned up at regional and statewide planning sessions – including a recent SB 375 “One Bay Area” workshop in Concord, where they disrupted the meeting by challenging its premise.


→ America’s Gambling Craze: Playing with Fire [CitiWire]

What if all America were like Las Vegas, with gambling as near as the closest convenience store? Or if states offered blackjack, poker and other casino-style games on-line, as accessible as your personal computer?

“There is a legalized gambling avalanche in progress in America,” [Sam] Skolnik concludes.

And at a high price, he adds: newly legalized gambling opportunities invariably create new gamblers. A small but significant percentage get hooked. Gambling addiction leads to unemployment, bankruptcies, divorces, illnesses – and in some of the severest cases, suicide. Addicted gamblers, estimates Baylor University scholar Earl Gronois, cost the United States as much as $50 billion a year.


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News & Notes

→ Riled about rail: Why all the anger over high speed trains? [CNN]

Much of the opposition to rail projects appears to stem not from economic arguments, but from fundamental cultural values on what “American” transportation should be.

A perusal of online commentaries about passenger rail stories reveals a curious linkage by writers between passenger rail and “European socialism.”

Never mind that the majority of European passenger rail operates on a commercial basis.

Many critics of passenger rail emotionally identify it as an enabler of cultural values they fear.

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