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Detroit will stop shutting off people’s water — for now

water-protest
Light Brigading

Monday morning, the Detroit Water and Sewerage District (DWSD) announced that it would stop shutting off people's water, at least for now. What was it, in this infrastructural showdown I wrote about last week, that caused the change of heart? Was it the condemnation from the U.N.? The protestors blocking utility shut-off trucks? The giant march on Friday, featuring Mark Ruffalo and a megaphone? The children holding signs that read "We need water to brush our teeth”?

The DWSD isn't saying. Here's what it is saying: "We are pausing for 15 days to refocus our efforts on trying to identify people who we have missed in the process who may qualify for the Detroit Residential Water Assistance Program." That's according to DWSD spokesperson Bill Johnson in a phone interview this morning.

The Water Assistance Program is a long-defunct but recently revived program that allows Detroit residents who are below the federal poverty line to keep their water running as long as they agree to pay a fraction of the overall bill each month. The program was suspended in 2012 when all of the people who managed it at the Detroit Department of Human Services were laid off. The program continued to accumulate money, Johnson says, but there was no one around to help pass it out. This June, DWSD signed a contract with THAW -- a nonprofit that helps Michigan residents with their heating bills -- to restart the Water Assistance Program.

Read more: Cities, Politics

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These amazing animated maps show cities on the move

It knows when you are sleeping. It knows when you're awake. It knows if you've been driving, biking, or walking, and it records it, for data's sake.

Human is an app that tracks activity with the goal of getting users to exercise at least 30 minutes a day. It uses the M7 motion co-processor, a handy little iPhone microchip with gyroscope, compass, and accelerometer sensors, to track and record your every move -- even while your phone is asleep.

Creepy? Maybe a little. But what with the NSA so busy looking at pictures of you in your underwear, maybe a device that tracks how you get around on a daily basis isn't all that bad.

This month, Human's parent company released a series of neat-o visualizations of walking, biking, running, and driving patterns for 30 cities around the world. Check out the video here:

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New Jersey reshuffles Sandy relief dollars, admits to numerous mistakes

Hoboken
Alec Perkins

Remember Bridgegate? No? You obviously weren’t trying to get across the GW Bridge last Sept 9-13. That’s when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration barricaded several lanes, causing massive traffic jams, in apparent retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not supporting Christie’s reelection bid. (Christie, of course, says he knew nothing about the monkey business.)

Well, Sokolich wasn’t the only one accusing Christie and Co. of political reprisal last year. Another mayor, Dawn Zimmer (D) of Hoboken, wondered out loud if Christie intentionally sent her a shit sandwich by shortchanging her city on Hurricane Sandy relief money. Sandy flooded half of Hoboken with seawater and closed its main transit terminal for weeks, but the state gave the city only a fraction of the relief money it requested. Zimmer suggested it was because she’d refused to back a development project that was being pushed by one of Christie’s top aides.

We may never know if there were political motives behind those decisions, but the state later admitted to making numerous errors when it allocated the relief funds, and this week, it released a revised list of awards, shuffling hundreds of thousands of dollars of grants designed to make communities more resilient to storms. The new grants include $250,000 for Hoboken — the maximum amount now available to an individual city.

It’s a big win for Hoboken, and also for small, community news sites, which, as I wrote last week, are playing an increasingly critical role in the face, and aftermath, of natural disasters.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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In 10 years, no one in Helsinki is going to own a car

Helsinki
iStock

The future is always changing. Back in the day, they promised a flying car in every garage. Now that the future is almost here, it’s looking like a no-go on the winged Chevy. In fact, in Helsinki, Finland, the future could mean empty garages. Turns out that in an age when we carry the sum of all human knowledge around in our pants pockets, some better ideas come up.

The Finnish capital is planning a comprehensive and flexible smartphone-enabled travel network that could be online by 2025. The system will combine small buses, self-driving cars, bicycles, and ferries. Users will simply enter their destination into an app and the system will suggest where to transfer from car to bike, for instance, and arrange for the vehicles -- and do it all for one easy and inexpensive payment.

Adam Greenfield at the Guardian has more on the plan:

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Four things you should know about Detroit’s water crisis

detroit-water-red-pipe
iStockphoto

This May, the Detroit Water and Sewerage District (DWSD) sent out 46,000 shutoff notices to customers who were behind in their water bills. It was the latest calamity to befall a city that had seen its water rates rise 119 percent in the last decade.

As a city that has lost nearly two-thirds of its population in the last 60 years, Detroit has a lot of water infrastructure to maintain, and not much money to maintain it.

Since the shutoffs began (about 17,000 households and small businesses have lost service to date), residents have fought back hard. They've blocked trucks that are being sent out to shut off water accounts. They've called out DWSD for focusing on shutting off water to private homes that don't even owe that much, while ignoring golf courses that owe amounts in the hundreds of thousands. (DWSD responded that it had focused on residential customers because shutting off water to a large-scale user was more technically complicated than most of its employees can handle.) They've accused DWSD of dropping low-income customers as a way of making the system more appealing to potential buyers. (Whether or not that's true, Detroit emergency manager Kevin Orr has spoken openly about selling DWSD to a private company.) They've organized brigades of volunteers to bring water in to people who've had their accounts shut off. They even got the United Nations to condemn the way that DWSD is handing the situation.

But what's happening in Detroit isn't just Detroit's problem. It has larger implications for the rest of us. Here's what you need to know.

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Another bad creation

Mother jailed for letting her daughter run free — at the playground

debra-harrell

Remember Another Bad Creation’s song, “At the Playground”?

A more recent story that happened at the playground: A mother lets her child go to the playground by herself and goes to jail for it.

The young girl, just 9 years old, is used to spending hours and days on the internet in McDonald’s, not only because it has free wi-fi, but because it’s where her mother works. It’s summer, and Debra Harrell can’t afford to put her daughter in daycare, because it’s McDonald’s.

The restaurant is daycare, but on this particular day the girl wants to go to a playground, a little over a mile away. Harrell allows her, and is later charged with “unlawful conduct towards a child” for letting her go unsupervised. Her daughter goes to state custody.

I’m really glad Jonathan Chait stepped outside of his normal political coverage at New York Magazine to draw attention to this story, which happened earlier this month, in North Augusta, S.C., where apparently it’s a crime for parents to trust their kids and their surrounding environment.

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Houston’s one-bin-to-rule-them-all recycling plan smells a little like racism

houston-sorting-trash
Zero Waste Houston Coalition

Integration is a good thing, except when it comes to trash, says Melanie Scruggs, the Houston-based program director for Texas Campaign for the Environment. Scruggs’ organization is part of the Zero Waste Houston Coalition, which is campaigning against the city government’s new “One Bin for All” proposal, which would have residents place their garbage and recyclables in the same trash can for collection, to be separated by workers later.

This idea, funded with a milli from Bloomberg Philanthropies, is different than your run-of-the-mill recycling separation factories. Those “materials recovery facilities,” as they’re called, separate recyclables from one another -- your glass from your plastic, for example -- as our columnist, Umbra Fisk, has explained. No, this plan would allow you to toss out the leftover scraps from the hotbar in the same container it came in, along with the snotty tissues, the jammed-up glass, and the nasty plastic altogether, to be unyoked later at facilities that the Zero Waste Coalition call “dirty materials recovery facilities” -- or “Dirty MRFs” for short.

The “One Bin” plan sprang from the city’s Office of Sustainability. Despite declaring itself a green city, Houston’s recycling rates were running around 14 percent; compare that to San Francisco, which has managed to recycle 80 percent of its waste. The One Bin plan aims to bump Houston’s recycling rate up to 75 percent.

But the plan arises at the same time that Houston Mayor Annise Parker committed last October to expanding recycling bins distribution throughout the city. Before that, fewer than half of the city’s neighborhoods had the bins. That move was applauded by environmentalists around the city. But they’re now scratching their heads about how city-wide recycling bins will co-exist with a one bin fits all strategy, and are doubtful about the landfill diversion goals.

“No other facility like this has ever achieved anything close to what our recycling goals are in Houston -- and most have been outright disasters,” Scruggs said in a press statement earlier this month. “City officials have set a 75 percent recycling goal for this proposal, but when we researched similar facilities, none have ever exceeded 30 percent. It’s been shown over and over that real, successful recycling will never be possible if the city tells residents to mix their garbage with recyclable materials in the same bin.”

You can read about the coalition’s research in the report “It’s Smarter to Separate” (not to be confused with a Stormfront post). The report not only takes aim at the “one bin” approach, but also another part of the plan, which would incinerate some of the garbage and convert it into fuel. It’s the same “waste-to-energy” experiment that’s been attempted and halted in Baltimore, and cancelled in New Orleans. The coalition also points to an Energy Information Administration report that figures this kind of energy production is more expensive than producing energy from nuclear sources, leading the coalition to the conclusion that “waste to energy is a waste of energy.”

The coalition also senses a whiff of environmental racism in this deal. The areas slated for Dirty MRFers fall mostly in black or Latino communities -- which is a shame, as Houston is one of the most racially diverse cities -- and now the city has an environmental justice issue on its hands.

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Sean Parker backs San Francisco’s “cars first” measure, twirls moustache

SeanParker
Helga Esteb

Okay, Sean Parker. I don't really mind if you have a Live Action Role Playing wedding in the redwoods, since you paid to clean it up. I don't care if you invest in tobacco marketed to kids. And it's none of my business which conservative politicians you support. But it does tick me off that you're putting your shoulder behind this cockamamie ballot measure to make San Francisco more car-friendly.

Of course it bothers me because, in my experience of San Francisco, making things more car-friendly always means making things less human-friendly. I tend to side with the humans. And on the other side, every time the city has taken freeways or parking lots and instead dedicated them to cyclists, pedestrians, or transit, it has made things easier, faster, and safer.

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Is it hot in here? Yes, and it’s killing us

hotinhere
Shutterstock

Stop me if you know this feeling: It’s 95 degrees in the shade, with 95 percent humidity. Walking three blocks requires Herculean effort and occasional detours into air-conditioned bodegas. The idea of standing in close proximity to other humans on the subway inspires a sensation of nausea. You think: “If I have to live another hour like this, I might actually die.”

Here’s some uplifting news: Turns out that today, you actually are more likely to die from a heat wave than at any point in the last 40 years! Happy Monday!

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LeBron James heads back to Ohio, and perhaps his greatest challenge yet

lebron james
Domenic Gareri

LeBron James broke the news today that he is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the NBA team of his home state that he bolted from in 2010 to join the Miami Heat. His homecoming announcement in Sports Illustrated sends a message that his return is less about bringing the state an NBA championship, and more about creating a better future for the children of Ohio, particularly those of his home city, Akron. Says James:

But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

It sounds like James is growing less concerned with trophies, and more concerned with quality of life -- and that’s applaudable. It not only shows leadership, but also signals a mature understanding about economy that broadens the definition of “winning” from one focused purely on franchise.

There is plenty of disenfranchisement to go around in Ohio right now, especially in the voting world. But communities get disenfranchised in many ways, and the cities of Cleveland and Akron are unfortunate examples of this. Contrary to James’ statement, there are better places to grow up.

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