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New York’s newest street, 6 ½ Ave., is just for pedestrians

For years, 1,200 people an hour have been seeing this six-block stretch of street in secret. But finally, New York City is bringing these back-alley relationships into the light, and giving them the official municipal seal of approval. Now the street can announce to the world: “I'm here. I'm part of the city. I'm not an unnamed pedestrian walkway you'd be ashamed to walk your mother down. I'm 6 ½ Avenue.”

The newly named avenue runs from 51st to 57th Street. It's primarily a pedestrian walkway, and as Transportation Nation says, that makes the city’s official approval more significant:

In giving this stretch of walkways a name, the New York City Department of Transportation is encouraging more walking. Even more than the cute name, they do so by painting crosswalks and stopping traffic mid-block where people already jaywalked with more than the usual amount of New York pavement entitlement (if that’s possible).

Read more: Cities, Urbanism

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NYC’s homeless bee swarms are good for bees, scary

Bees swarm a light pole in Central Park.

On a rooftop a few dozen blocks south of my apartment, there's a beehive. The hive's owner, a woman named Susan, keeps what she described as an Italian species of bee, Carniolans. (In reality, the species is from Slovenia.) Pedigree aside (we are talking about the tony Upper West Side, after all), Carniolans have other traits to recommend them. They're more docile, for example, and more resistant to certain diseases. They are also more prone to swarming.

This week, The New York Times reported that bee swarms are increasingly appearing around the city.

This spring in New York City, clumps of homeless bees have turned up, often in inconvenient public places, at nearly double the rate of past years. A warm winter followed by an early spring, experts say, has created optimal breeding conditions. That may have caught some beekeepers off guard, especially those who have taken up the practice in recent years.

There's a link between hive overcrowding and swarming. When a hive becomes too crowded, bees can be displaced. New beekeepers, the Times suggests, can be unprepared to deal with a number of bees suddenly looking for a place to stay. The New York City real estate market is tough for everyone.

Bee swarms are frightening. Several weeks ago, my wife and I encountered one on a light pole in Central Park. An audible hum; a teeming mass orbited by a few stragglers. We did what anyone would do: took pictures, Instagrammed them, quickly moved on. (See above!)

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Teaser: Ridin’ bikes with U.N. suits

This afternoon, the United Nations had an event to promote urban bicycling in advance of Rio+20. Full story is coming on Monday, but, for now, please relive the excitement -- nay! the grandeur! -- of a six-block bike ride with our planet's much-maligned sorta-bureaucracy.

Read more: Biking, Cities, Urbanism

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First-graders protest Starbucks to save local coffee shop

Back in 2011, a tragedy of epic proportions struck the East Village: Starbucks moved in. And not only did it move in, it kicked a beloved local coffee shop, The Bean, out of its flagship location. Even non-coffee drinking elementary school students were outraged, as Majorie Ingall discovered:

Here we have a piece of paper recovered from the recesses of the backpack of an East Village, NYC elementary school student.

Translation from first-grader-ese:

Starbucks: The Bean Instead.

These budding activists handed out their hand-drawn flyers to their schoolmates, plus some for the Bean staff. According to other local kids, they also came up with some righteous chants, such as “The Bean rules, Starbucks drools.”

The Bean didn't let Starbucks' incursion get it down. In fact, it expanded, opening up a store to replace the flagship and launching plans for additional outposts. But a bond was forged between the coffee shop and kids who valiantly defended it.

Now, this spring, the neighborhood school that these same kids attend (it's actually named The Neighborhood School) found out that it might need to shut its library. Since then, grown-ups have raised funds to save it from imminent demise. But they're still worried about its future.

Enter: The Bean.

Read more: Cities, Family, Urbanism

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Dutch ‘Repair Cafes’ keep stuff out of the trash by fixing it for free

In the Netherlands, there are more than 30 "Repair Cafes" -- groups that meet once or twice a month to repair (for free!) clothes and gizmos and tools that might otherwise be discarded. The New York Times visited the original Repair Cafe, which began two and a half years ago, and found that people want to keep their stuff -- even cheap stuff, like H&M skirts. They just don't know how to mend it themselves:

“This cost 5 or 10 euros,” about $6.50 to $13, [Sigrid Deters] said, adding that she had not mended it herself because she was too clumsy. “It’s a piece of nothing, you could throw it out and buy a new one. But if it were repaired, I would wear it.”

The group repairs electronics, too -- everything from big-ticket items like vacuums and washing machines to the little gadgets that go haywire, like irons, toaster ovens, and coffee pots.

Read more: Cities, Urbanism

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Jungle gym urbanism: Help this guy turn a vacant house into a bouncy-ball pit

Cross-posted from Next American City.

Guerilla urbanism can take many forms, as there are myriad ways to reactivate an abandoned public space or vacant building. Art exhibitions, temporary shops, ad hoc concerts -- different approaches work for different properties, and it really depends on the space, neighborhood, and city in question.

It’s either fitting or frivolous, then, that one New Orleans resident seems to have turned to Chuck E. Cheese’s for inspiration.

Josh Ente, who works at the New Orleans-based filmmaking company Court 13 (you might know them for this Sundance winner or this music video), recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help him turn a crumbling house into giant ball pit. Imagine neighborhood kids, their parents, and young-at-heart adults gathering at an outdoor community pool filled with bouncy balls, and you get a close approximation to what Ente envisions. (See it in the video accompanying Ente’s proposal below.)

Read more: Cities, Urbanism

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New research shows Big Tobacco targets black kids

Photo by Fried Dough.

Big Tobacco agreed way back in 1998 to stop marketing [PDF] cigarettes to kids. Turns out cigarette companies are still up to their old tricks -- they’re just being slightly more stealth about it.

Researchers from California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program recently examined the advertising of menthol and Newport-brand cigarettes in the state. They found a much greater prevalence of cigarette advertising in areas near high schools with significant populations of African American students.

“There is a systematic targeting (of disadvantaged communities) by the tobacco industry, which is an extraordinary public health problem,” said Lisa Henriksen of the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who presented the research at a legislative briefing in Sacramento last week. “The addition of menthol to cigarettes makes it easier to smoke and more difficult to quit.”

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Romney, once an anti-sprawl crusader, created model for Obama ‘smart growth’ program

Mitt Romney in front of a treeMitt Romney pushed for smart-growth policies in Massachusetts. (Photo by Gage Skidmore.)

Everyone knows that "Obamacare" was modeled on Mitt Romney's Massachusetts health-care law. But did you know that a key Obama "smart growth" initiative -- the Partnership for Sustainable Communities -- was also created in the mold of a Romney program?

Tea Partiers rallied to quash funding for this Obama partnership last fall. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), conservative darling, criticized the idea for the partnership when it first arose and accused the Obama administration of trying to impose "an urban-utopian fantasy through an unprecedented intrusion of the Federal Government into the shaping of local communities." The Republican National Committee recently warned that smart growth is part of a U.N. conspiracy (green helicopters, anyone?).

This is yet another issue on which the party's presumptive presidential nominee looks to be seriously out of sync with the GOP base.

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Millennials love cities because they provide the one thing their boomer parents couldn’t give them

Why is Gen Y migrating to the cities? Because millennials are craving the things they didn’t get in their suburban upbringings, like connectedness and adventure. Basically, they’re throwing off their cul-de-sac childhoods and seeking out authenticity.

Nathan Norris, urban infrastructure planner, lays it all out at the PlaceShakers blog:

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Detroit residents are turning the city into suburbs

Detroit is undergoing a remarkable process of un-building, its residents literally transforming its denser neighborhoods into sparse suburbs. It's the inevitable consequence of the shrinking of a once-great city.

By estimates of the city and various experts, about 40 square miles of the city's 139 square miles are vacant today -- empty fields from which all structures have been removed.