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Mass transit ridership grows from pathetically low to just low

crowded subway
Shutterstock

The media was impressed by a piece of good news on Monday: Last year, the number of trips Americans took on mass transit reached its highest point since 1956, according to a report from the American Public Transportation Association. Unfortunately, stories on the subject are leaving out an important statistic: How many Americans were there in 1956?

The answer, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is 168.9 million. In 2013, the population was 314.1 million. Keep that in mind when you read articles about transit ridership’s rebound.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Dyin’ to live: Biggie Smalls and the silent killers in urban America

biggie-smalls-mural
Matt Handy

My Momma got cancer in her breast,
Don't ask me why I'm motherfucking stressed, things done changed

-- The Notorious B.I.G., in “Things Done Changed” from the album Ready to Die

Yesterday marked the 17th anniversary of the death of “Brooklyn’s finest” hip hop artist, The Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, who was gunned down in Los Angeles when he was just 24 years old.

Album cover: Ready to DieBiggie’s murder seemed part of some self-fulfilling prophecy that God perhaps took too seriously. His inaugural 1994 album, Ready to Die, is a series of tone poems illustrating the kind of drug war gunplay that would eventually claim him as a homicide statistic. The Brooklyn rapper imagines multiple scenarios under which his death might occur: In a shootout with cops while pursuing pathways out of poverty that President Obama would not approve of (“Gimme The Loot”); killed by jealous acquaintances who want to rob him for his riches (“Warning”); or, by his own finger on the trigger (“Suicidal Thoughts”).

Most of my friends (and Biggie fans in general, I’m sure) took the album as pure artistic liberty, no different than Martin Scorsese’s cinematic canon on mafia life. We no sooner thought that Biggie would actually die in a shootout than we did Robert De Niro would get shot like his character Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. When Big, whose birth name was Christopher Wallace, was actually killed by gunfire, it stunk too much of life imitating art.

But of all the ways Big imagined himself dying on that album, none of them reflected the real climate of death that existed in Brooklyn at the time, or even today. Deaths for African Americans in Brooklyn usually look less like Wallace's murder and more like his mother's life. When he rapped about his Momma having breast cancer, that was true. Voletta Wallace survived two bouts with the deadly disease, in both cases proving that she was not yet ready to die.

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Big Ben could get covered in solar panels

big-ben-flickr-naz
Nazir

Good news about the world’s most famous clock! Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster are gonna get a little greener in the coming months. Specifically, Parliament is thinking about adding solar panels to the iconic clock’s face. (You can’t turn back the hands of time, but you CAN make them greener.)

The idea came from one of Parliament’s passholders. The palace and clock need to boost energy efficiency by a third by 2020. (According to Parliament, that could “save 22 power stations’ worth of electricity.”) So Parliament asked its stakeholders for energy-saving suggestions, and voila!

Also in the works is swaddling the palace in sheep’s wool to better insulate it. Reports BusinessGreen:

[T]he House is carrying out a number of other green measures this year, including installing voltage optimization technology to reduce energy wastage, exploring energy efficiency improvements for all buildings, and replacing lights with low energy LEDs.

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Thanks to these sweet posters, green habits have never looked cooler

dothegreenthing-poster1
Oliver Cheshire

It's that time of year again! Do the Green Thing is celebrating Earth Hour by releasing a new poster every day until March 29. The posters, often created by big designer names, are aimed at encouraging folks to, well, do the green thing. Here are some of our favorites. See more great posters and follow the project

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We’re hypnotized by these artsy time-lapse animated GIFs of cities

Sunset at the Bund
© Fong Qi Wei
Sunset at the Bund

Fong Qi Wei is a super-talented photographer from Singapore who happens to have combined two of our favorite things: time lapses and GIFs. (Oh yeah, and cities. Three favorite things.) The artist captured China, Indonesia, and Bali over a several-hour period, usually sunset, and then spliced the photos together to create beautiful animated images:

Chinatown Sunset
© Fong Qi Wei
Chinatown Sunset

Writes Wei on his site:

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Addictive game lets you play subway god, weep at your inefficient creation

Have you ever scoffed at a subway delay? Rolled your eyes at yet another crowded Q train? Looked at a veiny metro map and said, "Give me five minutes and a Sharpie and I'll show you a more efficient system?"

Well, my friend, it's time to put your fingers where your mouth is (unless, oh god, you've recently been holding onto a train pole). The free, in-browser game Mini Metro lets you design your own subway system. Players simply drag and extend lines between an ever-increasing number of stations while tiny symbols wait to catch a ride. A polished version of the game will eventually be released on tablets, PCs, and Macs, but for now, the online version is fun enough.

It's a potent timewaster, too: A cursory look by this reporter turned into a full hour of frantic clicking and cursing at traveling triangles who just want to get home to see their kids. OK, full confession: I'm playing right now.

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America’s cities are still too afraid to make driving unappealing

bikes-transit.jpg
Dylan Passmore

The morning I wrote this I took public transportation to work. I hopped on the bus around the corner from my house, then the train for a few stops farther. I took mass transit because it was convenient, because my card was already preloaded with the cash that diverts from my paycheck, and because the ride gave me 20 minutes to start the day browsing Twitter.

Baked into this decision, however, were a number of other nearly subliminal calculations about the alternatives not taken. I did not drive the car (yes, my household has a car) because downtown Washington, D.C., is a hot mess at rush hour, and because parking near the office costs the equivalent of a fancy hamburger a day. I did not bike because it was snowing. (Again.) And I did not walk because the distance was too far.

My commuting choices -- just like everyone's -- are the sum of the advantages of one transportation mode weighed against the downsides of all other options. Or, more succinctly: My feelings about the bus are mediated by what I'm thinking about my car.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Airpnp is sending the sharing economy into the toilet, literally

family-toilet-woods-flickr
the matthew knot

Thanks to the sharing economy, you can use a stranger’s hammer, car, or even apartment -- but what about life’s most basic needs? With Airpnp you can find (and if necessary, pay for) the nearest toilet. If the line for portapotties is too long, why not at least see which nearby neighbors and businesses will take your No. 1 for a couple $1s?

The Next Web has the deets:

Airpnp is now available for users to lease out their bathrooms through a mobile optimized web app, and native apps are in the works. The service itself will be put to test during Mardi Gras 2014 in New Orleans, which happens on March 4. There are currently a handful of toilets listed on the site spanning a range of prices -- some bathrooms are free, while urinating at a hotel bathroom where “Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage, Frank Sinatra, and Walt Disney have all peed” requires a payment of $10.

I think I’d actually pay to AVOID a toilet some of those guys had used, but that’s just me. (The throne that has witnessed Ryan Gosling’s turds, on the other hand ...)

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Americans have no idea how much water we use — or how to conserve it

man_in_shower
Shutterstock

“I consider myself a fairly water-conscious person,” says the average American, sipping on a venti iced coffee while dipping his toes in an Olympic-sized pool, spritzing himself with Evian. “I probably just use a few gallons a day,” he continues, stepping out of a 45-minute shower. “By the way -- have I told you about my toilet that flushes automatically every 20 minutes, just to make sure it’s consistently pristine?”

Just kidding -- it’s not quite that bad. But, according to a recent study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the average American consumes twice as much water as she thinks she does. Furthermore, we Americans are not quite sure which practices are the most water-intensive. As it turns out, the Olympic-sized pool isn’t the biggest concern -- 70 percent of personal water use occurs within the home, according to a 2005 EPA study. And the biggest culprit under the roof? Toilet-flushing, accounting for 27 percent of all indoor water use.

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New York could turn its trash into giant floating compost islands

NYC firm PRESENT Architecture has a half-wacky, half-awesome proposal for the city: creating big trash islands so the Big Apple’s apple cores don’t have to travel so far to decompose.

garbage-island-NYC-small

As PRESENT explains:

New York City produces over 14 million tons of trash every year with most of it trucked long-haul to out-of-state landfills. In a typical year, we spend more than $300 million dollars on trash transport while incurring a hefty environmental bill along the way.

Read more: Cities, Living