Bill de Blasio, New York City's new mayor-elect, didn't spend much time during the campaign talking about climate change, but he'll likely spend a lot of his time at City Hall dealing with it.
New York finds itself these days with an unusual conundrum: Its biggest problems are largely the byproduct of its biggest successes. Just 20 years ago, New York was, like American cities generally, blighted by rampant crime and less populated than at its mid-century heyday.
Today, New York City’s central challenge is one that virtually any other city would love to have: Too many rich people want to live there. But Wall Street bankers, trust funders, and wealthy foreigners looking for a pied-à-terre have driven up the price of housing to levels that threaten to eject the creative classes that have powered New York’s renaissance. The high cost of housing is also the main reason New York’s homeless population is at an all-time high.
Seattle is already known as one of the nation’s greenest cities (in more ways than one). Local political controversies brew left of center, and environmental inclinations are practically a prerequisite for running for office. If no candidate poses a fundamental threat to the city’s signature sustainability, how much is really at stake in today’s mayoral race?
Incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn was a relative unknown when he ran four years ago -- the lawyer, Sierra Club leader, and avid bike commuter had never held political office, but he pushed a pro-transit, grassroots agenda to defeat then-incumbent Greg Nickels, who had an impressive enviro record of his own. Nickels was notorious for being difficult to work with, and McGinn’s reputation has followed the same course -- his thorny leadership style has become his most well-known weakness.
But McGinn didn’t disappoint when it came to upholding Seattle’s reputation as an international leader on urban climate and sustainability issues. He’s made his opposition to coal-export terminals loud and clear and brought together a coalition -- the Leadership Alliance Against Coal -- of other regional business and political leaders who feel the same way. He called for the city to divest its pension funds from fossil fuels. And, true to his original bike-boosting image, McGinn has continued to expand Seattle’s cycle infrastructure. The mayor committed funds to the city’s bike master plan and has overseen the installation of protected bike lanes on major routes. He also called for a Seattle-only ballot measure to raise funds for the expansion of light rail to keep transit dollars from getting held up at the county and state level by suburban politicians reluctant to fund anything that might benefit Seattle’s unwashed carless masses.
What will happen to McGinn’s impressive green agenda if his challenger, State Sen. Ed Murray, triumphs, as the polls suggest is likely?
It’s something of a miracle that Turkey Creek, Miss., exists at all. The small community of fewer than 400 residents was founded by emancipated African Americans after the Civil War. Hundreds of other Reconstruction-era communities like it across the South simply didn’t survive, many of them burned to the ground by white supremacists the moment they began to show signs of growth or prestige.
In more recent years, Turkey Creek has suffered almost constant environmental and corporate threats, including natural (but likely human-fueled) disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and politicians and developers who ignore the people and animals who inhabit the place, victims of the geography of erasure.
A just-released documentary, Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek, distilled from 12 years of footage, is the story of this Gulf Coast community's survival. The 56-minute feature from filmmaker Leah Mahan premiered Oct. 13 at the New Orleans Film Festival, where it walked away with the Audience Award for Documentary Feature. (Disclosure: I worked with Mahan on the Bridge the Gulf blog project in 2012.)
On a deeper level, the film is an exploration of a topic I’ve explored on Grist before and plan to continue covering: How civil rights activists become environmental activists, and vice versa -- if there was ever really a difference to begin with.
James Gulliver Hancock has, in his own words, "an interest in obsession and recording of places." He's an illustrator, so when he was in Berlin, that meant drawing all the bikes. In L.A., he tried drawing all the cars. Those were short projects, though; he was only passing through. But now he's based in New York, and in New York he's drawing buildings. All of the buildings in New York. All of them.
He's looking for "the thing that the city was about in some way," he told 99% Invisible, a popular design podcast that spent some time with Hancock recently.
There are maybe 500 drawings on Hancock's blog -- a small slice of hundreds of thousands of buildings in the city. Some of them are the weird buildings, the ones that stick out, like Cooper Union’s straight glass box building:
And some of them are buildings you might never notice:
New York City has a simple system for keeping tabs on subway conductors: At every station, they have to point a sign to show they've arrived and are paying attention. It improves safety and efficiency overall, but it’s also a bit boring and silly for the conductors themselves. So two wonderful people, Yosef Lerner and Rose Sacktor, decided to hack this system to give these hardworking folks a little joy.
It was simple. They made signs like "Point here if: You have seen a passenger naked." "Point here if: You're not wearing pants right now." Then they held them up under the checkpoint sign. The subway conductors HAD to point -- and they had to laugh. Here are the results:
Some stories are too good to fact check, and the existence of cow tunnels under New York City was, for years, one of those gems. The kernel of the story is that once, long ago, the city's slaughterhouses needed a safe and efficient way to transport doomed cattle from the railroad stockyard. So, obviously, the best way to accomplish that feat was to create underground cow tunnels. True? Who cares! Just imagine an underground network of lost ghost cows roaming under the city streets -- maybe even a breed of escaped albino cows that are still there. See? Too good to check.
It turned out that practically everyone involved with New York City infrastructure had heard of the tunnel, but always at second-hand and accompanied by wildly varying locations and descriptions -- made of steel, wood, or fieldstones, anywhere from Renwick Street to Gansevoort Street.
But she couldn't confirm their existence. And if they had never existed, that would have been fine: Urban myths should be left to grow and morph into wondrous monsters, just like the underground ghost cows (although realistically, if there were a secret group of wandering cows underneath New York City, surely the alligators in the sewer would have eaten them by now).
Twilley kept digging, though, and now she's found a piece of evidence that one tunnel did, in fact, exist -- an archeological firm had turned up blueprints from 1932 for an "underground cattle pass" at W. 38th St, under 12th Avenue.
We're very fond of yarn bombing -- knitting colorful coverings for trees, Wall Street bulls, or other bits of the urban landscape -- as a way of beautifying the city. But this squid tree cozy by Jill and Lorna Watt outdoes all the ones we've seen so far.
Buildahs in Beantown will need to adapt to global wahming.
As the climate changes, the coastal city has decided that it won't put up with any more buildings that are prone to flood or overheat. From The Boston Globe:
City officials proposed new zoning rules Tuesday that would require developers of large new buildings in Boston to submit plans to deal with flooding, heat waves, and other potential complications of climate change as sea levels and temperatures are projected to rise.