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Has dense living gotten too dense?

Thinkers like Ed Glaeser, whose ideas have been discussed frequently on Grist, assert that density is an unalloyed good, and even Manhattan isn't dense enough. But there is another strand of thought about cities, which is that they are neither green nor sustainable, and it's exemplified by everyone's favorite foul-mouthed catastrophist, James Howard Kunstler. In a new piece in Orion magazine, helpfully summarized by Treehugger's Lloyd Alter, Kunstler asserts that even the reviving urban cores of our cities are doomed. DOOOOMED!!! I see our cities getting smaller and denser, with fewer people. Skyscrapers will be obsolete, travel greatly reduced, and …



Adorable video defends public transportation

Here's a sweet 30-second plea for the improvement of the public transportation used by 35 million Americans every day. Because there should be many tens or hundreds of millions more of them, but at the rate we’re going now, that’s not looking likely. Eighty-four percent of transit systems have raised rates or cut service. Is this any way to handle the inexorably increasing price and environmental consequences of our ever more desperate quest for oil?


How Baby Boomers doomed the exurbs

Homes and strip malls in America's outer-ring suburbs, which contained most of the country's most expensive homes in the 1990s, are now worth less than what it cost to build them. And the land beneath them is worth effectively zero, says Brookings Institution senior fellow Christopher B. Leinberger, in a powerful op-ed arguing that the future of the country is urban and walkable. Simply put, there has been a profound structural shift — a reversal of what took place in the 1950s, when drivable suburbs boomed and flourished as center cities emptied and withered. What's driving this transition? The two …


Re-Occupy Main Street: Entrepreneurs revive down-and-out business districts

Designer Will Phillips (pictured) and John Bolster have opened Sandtown Millworks in a former bank with help from a Operation:Storefront grant.Photo: Elizabeth Evitts DickinsonLast week kicked off that special time of year when indulgence and guilt face off in the ultimate death match, prompting headlines like this one in the "healthy living" section of the Huffington Post: "Can holiday shopping count as exercise?" (Uhm, no.) This year, small businesses across the country are harnessing the spirit of the Occupy movement in the hopes of reclaiming the spirit of the holiday season. If you plan to shop, they say, buy local, …


Turning vacant lots into parks reduces violent crime

A new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology analyzes a 10-year project in Philadelphia to turn abandoned lots into public parks. As it turns out, the project hasn’t just eliminated eyesores -- it’s also reduced crime. Gun-related assaults, vandalism ,and criminal mischief all dropped off significantly in the reclaimed spaces. The researchers theorize that this is because manicured parks suggest to would-be criminals that an area is being watched over by concerned citizens who might call the cops. Also, lawns aren't as good for storing guns and other contraband as lots overgrown with weeds and trash. The researchers …


Report: Homeownership is keeping unemployment high

The U.S. is suffering crushing unemployment, yet workers can't move to where the jobs are because they are trapped in underwater mortgages, explains a new report from Brookings. This, it turns out, is the ultimate fate of the "ownership society" that our government has been pushing for so long through Fannie, Freddy, and tax policy: People can't migrate to where they're needed most, even if their livelihood depends on it. The new statistics indicate that just 11.6 percent of U.S. residents moved between 2010 and 2011, down from 12.5 percent the previous year, and the lowest rate since 1948. To …


Guerrilla bike lanes and asphalt devils: Remaking the streets with protest art

Photo: c/o Peter GibsonWhen Peter Gibson first set out with spray paint and stencils into the streets of Montreal, he had protest on his mind, not art. He had little sense that his small act of sabotage would usher him into the boundary-pushing realm of street art -- or land him in the back of a police car, facing serious criminal charges. It was just after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and Gibson, a university-trained pianist who was 27 at the time, watched as the U.S. and its allies searched for an object on which to inflict their …

Read more: Biking, Cities, Politics, Urbanism


Jane Jacobs and the book that inspired a revolution

If cities are the greenest form of human settlement that we could possibly aspire to, Jane Jacobs left us the owner's manual for how to build them. Fifty years ago this month, Random House published The Death and Life of Great American Cities, an extraordinary book in which Jacobs laid out the principles for creating a healthy city. The blocks must be at a human scale, she said. There must be a diversity of activities to keep eyes on the street. The focus of the economy -- of everything -- should be local, typified by Greenwich Village, the Manhattan neighborhood …


Why cities should destroy their highways

America has a huge transportation infrastructure deficit, which means lots of our highways are due to be rebuilt. But according to Next American City editor at large Diana Lind, we'd be better off simply knocking them down, especially the ones that blight our cities. It's been done before, reports Andrew Nusca at SmartPlanet: After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the city of San Francisco faced the tremendous task of rebuilding the structurally-damaged Embarcadero Freeway. Instead, they tore it down, replaced it with a people-friendly boulevard that encouraged development. The surrounding area has since rebounded, Lind said, with higher property values, …


Can the arts save struggling cities?

Something is stirring in Detroit. Here, in a city that in the past decade alone lost a quarter of its already dwindling population, plans are in the works to revive the manufacturing economy -- at least on a small scale. The Detroit FAB Lab taps into the vibe of "maker" labs and hackerspaces around the globe. Its creators envision an incubator for artists, artisans, and entrepreneurs. Members will have access to equipment for woodworking, metalworking, digital fabrication, and media, as well as business coaching and networking. "Detroit has always been a place where things have been made," says Alex Feldman, …

Read more: Cities, Urbanism