Anthony Cardenas recently painted a crosswalk on his street in Vallejo, Calif., after giving up hope that the city would ever do it. His little act of city hacking landed him in jail on suspicion of felony vandalism. But Cardenas isn't the only urban vigilante to take matters into his own two hands.
Here are a few ideas of ways you can get your hands dirty and make life better at the same time.
Because any positive economic activity that happens in Detroit is apparently national news, the opening of a Whole Foods Wednesday in the city’s Midtown neighborhood has caused more fanfare than possibly any grocery-store debut in history. Hundreds reportedly waited in line to enter the store, and Whole Foods Co-CEO Walter Robb was present for the occasion, accompanied by “a marching band, speeches by civic leaders, specialty food vendors handing out samples of pickles, granola and other products, and a festive air of celebration,” according to the Detroit Free Press.
Why all the hoopla? After all, as Aaron Foley at Jalopnik Detroit points out in a level-headed post, the city, despite being labeled a “food desert,” already has its share of real grocery stores, including independent chains like Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe, not to mention its famous Eastern Market, the largest permanent farmers market in the U.S. So it’s not like Whole Foods is suddenly swooping in to deliver fresh vegetables where only Twinkies and Top Ramen existed before.
Much has been made of Whole Foods’ potential to attract further economic development, “a magnet for retail, in particular, and for development more generally,” as Free Press editor Stephen Henderson puts it. “A grocery store as a creator of density.” But would a concentration of high-end retail and condos in one neighborhood do anything to address this troubled city’s structural problems? Local investors and government officials seem to be betting so; the store was financed with the help of $5.8 million in state and local grants and tax credits.
But really, what seems to be causing the freakout over Whole Foods’ unlikely new location is just that: its unlikeliness, and the racist and classist assumptions underlying that assessment. Just listen to Kai Ryssdal of public radio's Marketplace question CEO Robb at the opening. Ryssdal calls Whole Foods “a place that does not have the reputation of perhaps being a place where people would shop in Detroit,” and even asks, “Did you have to teach people how to shop here?” -- as if navigating a Whole Foods requires some special sixth sense not innate to black and low-income people.
A small village in Spain has come up with a neighborhood beautification plan that’s been incredibly successful, kind of creepy, and totally, totally gross. Brunete, the village, had a problem with dog poop -- specifically, people were not picking it up. The village's solution: Develop a task force to spy on offending dog owners, collect the poop, and deliver it back to the owners' homes.
It may seem like a silly plan, but thus far Brunete’s dog poop watch has worked. City council organized volunteers scope out the offending owners, then casually strike up friendly conversations in order to pry sneaky information -- like where they may live or offender’s names. The names are then looked up at the city council to find their addresses. The undercover poop patrol then give back what the dog owners had forgotten, delivering the poop to their homes and stating they are returning “lost property.”
If you’re a lover of outdoor urban activity, might we suggest a move to Minneapolis? Not only does the burg have a bike culture to rival Portland’s, it boasts the best park system of any major U.S. city, according to rankings released Wednesday by the Trust for Public Land in its second-annual ParkScore Index.
Minneapolis didn’t appear on last year’s inaugural ParkScore list, which ranked only the 40 largest U.S. cities (Minneapolis comes in at No. 48). But this year, TPL looked at 50 cities, and Minneapolis took top honors, bumping San Francisco, last year’s winner, to third place. New York City moved up from third to second.
Here's the top 10:
New York City
Sacramento & San Francisco & Boston (a three-way tie)
So you think bike lanes and mass transit are just the hobbyhorses of a handful of elites in coastal cities? Well, think again. Coming soon to an authentically middle-American city near you is an energetic “complete streets” movement with a progressive, environmentally conscious city government. Case in point: Pittsburgh, long known as the "smoky city" because of its history as the center of the American steel industry.
Like the rest of the Rust Belt, Pittsburgh went through decades of post-industrial economic decline and depopulation. But in recent years it has been clawing its way back, riding a wave of computer science and biotechnology innovation. It's even got an influx of post-irony hipsters.
Soon, Pittsburgh will have a forward-looking city government to match its momentum. On May 22, city councilman Bill Peduto won Pittsburgh's Democratic mayoral primary. Since, as Peduto notes, "There hasn’t been a Republican elected [mayor] in Pittsburgh since the days of the Great Depression," winning the Democratic primary is tantamount to winning the election.
On the city council, and in his campaign, Peduto has advocated for sustainable development, complete streets,traffic calming, and alternative transportation. Grist recently caught up with Peduto by phone to ask him about how he intends to improve Pittsburgh's transportation infrastructure, reduce its carbon footprint, and help further its revitalization.
Last week, I told the story of how my family's house burned down in a 1977 wildfire -- and about watching a fire burn on the hill above it, threatening to torch it a second time. Today, I was really glad to have the opportunity to speak about living in wildfire country on NPR's Talk of the Nation.
It was especially great to hear from folks around the country, mainly the Western bits, who are also living with wildfires -- and the reality that they are burning hotter, faster, and farther than ever, thanks in part to human-caused climate change.
We may have a good deal of disaster fatigue out here, but I think we're under no delusion of safety. As much of the Western half of the country suffers through a drought heading into another hot summer, we're essentially all watching the fire on the hill now, hoping it doesn't dart down into our canyon, but knowing that it very may well.
On the plus side, it sounds like those fire-preventing, dry-brush-chomping goats are working great in some places!
We're always looking for ways to reuse materials that humans have forcibly extracted from the Earth at great cost to human life and to the planet. Via Atlantic Cities, we now find that a whole bunch of scientists have realized that there's a huge trove of materials just waited to be exploited -- under city streets.
Kate Ravilious interviewed these scientists for a (paywalled) New Scientist article and found that, while city streets may not be literally paved with gold, they are covering up a whole bunch of valuable copper. Atlantic Cities summarizes:
Recently Eklund and company have focused their attention on copper stocks embedded in municipal power grids. They estimate that there's upwards of 90,000 tons of the stuff buried beneath Swedish cities, though recovering it may not be "economically justified" at the present time. ...
Think of your life when you were 12. Most of us were busy with first crushes, middle school basketball tryouts, and battling the first wave of acne blossoming on our cheeks.
Not Charles Orgbon. Showing all our preteen selves up, he was busy starting a recycling program to clean up litter on his school campus in Charleston, S.C. By the time his family moved to Georgia, the summer before eighth grade, Orgbon’s recycling program had the backing of a national environmental nonprofit. In 2010, it became known as Greening Forward.
Now at the ripe old age of 17, Orgbon serves as CEO, hosting environmental summits, building educational programs, and organizing clubs for 1,500 other green-minded kids. Somewhere in there he’s also finding time to finish his junior year of high school and chat with Grist about what’s next.
Ever skitter across a busy street, dodging cars, thinking, "Holy hell, this completely legal pedestrian activity sure would be easier with a little bit of helpful infrastructure"? Of course you have. Well, last week, Anthony Cardenas of Vallejo, Calif., did too, and then he took matters into his own hands.
Getting a flat tire on a bike suuuuuuuuuucks. Getting a flat tire late at night, far from a subway, when the nearest bike mechanic is three drinks deep, and you forgot to bring an extra tube? That’s worse. Express Biker has got your back, though, if you happen to be biking in New York. The company's building a network of bike vending machines to provide round-the-clock access to tubes, patch kits, and other sundry bike necessities.
There are already two machines in function in Brooklyn: One on the border of South Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant at the Emporium Gas Station on Flushing Avenue, and one at the Mobil Gas Station at 415 Empire Blvd. a few blocks away from Prospect Park. They want to partner with outdoor locations near major bike routes throughout NYC that are open for 24 hours, such as gas stations, parks, etc.