CityLedes: A Lesser Sort

CityLedes is a weekly roundup of urban-related news happening across the country and globe, as compiled by Mark Bergen, Harry Moroz and David Sparks.

CityLedes is a weekly roundup of urban-related news happening across the country and globe, as compiled by Mark Bergen, Harry Moroz and David Sparks.

The Lede: A new study reinforces the steel and adds a moat to the gated city theory. Gotham’s economy baffles economists, its noise bothers all. Angelenos and Detroiters must wait for safety services. If you own a government car in Chenzhou, you must plant a tree in Chenzhou. A lefty power vacuum in San Fran; an undercut to power in Trenton; a new powerhouse in the NYC mayoral polls? Early childhood education picks up in the first and second cities. Quake czar. “Special police.” Candy shop hysteria. A primer on tactical urbanism. What we can learn from refugee camps as cities.

Click to jump to a topic:
Economy and Development
Transportation and Infrastructure
Energy, Environment, and Health
Public Safety
Mayors and City Councils
Culture and Other Curiosities


A recent paper by researchers at Harvard University argues that the prohibitive cost of living in the areas with the greatest economic opportunities has forced low-wage workers to migrate instead to areas with inferior opportunities.

“The best places for low- and high-skilled workers used to be the same places: California, Maryland, New York,” said Peter Ganong, a doctoral student in economics, who wrote the paper with Daniel Shoag, a professor of public policy. “Now low-skilled workers can no longer afford to move to the high-wage places.”

In this account, people aren’t moving to the Sun Belt because they want to live there. They are moving because they can’t afford to live in Boston. And the result isn’t just second-best for them; it also slows the pace of economic growth.

Nutter’s plan, the Actual Value Initiative (AVI), was designed to correct decades of inaccurate and inequitable assessment by taxing property based on actual market values.

Under AVI, many lower-income homeowners would see a small tax break. But some affluent homeowners, especially those in developing neighborhoods, could expect the kind of huge tax increases O’Brien described.

  • How Frank Lloyd Wright launched subsidized housing in Chicago.

Economy and Development

The city’s unemployment rate plunged nearly half a percentage point last month to 9.5%, a drop that appears to more closely track with the past year’s strong job growth. However, total job creation in September was weak, as the city showed a net gain of 900 jobs.

The dissonance between job growth and the unemployment rate—numbers that typically trend together but have done the opposite in 2012—has frustrated economists’ efforts to get a clear picture of the local economy’s health.

City agencies will tackle more than $1 billion worth of infrastructure improvements — like repairing bridges, repaving roadways or removing toxins from classroom lights — one to three years ahead of schedule, seeking to take advantage of a poor economy that has driven down interest rates and construction costs. Officials said the plan would save $200 million in interest payments, create several thousand new jobs and lead to a quicker completion of hundreds of “completely unglamorous” municipal projects, as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg put it.
  • The push to designate the Miami Herald building as historic in order to save it from a casino developer’s wrecking ball. A proposed charter amendment would make it easier for Miami-Dade’s neglected neighborhoods to become cities. A Georgia Senate committee examines cityhood for DeKalb County.
  • A new football stadium in Atlanta could be a boon for construction jobs:
But critics say the jobs created by the huge investment, which could range between $948 million and $1.2 billion, would only be fleeting. And some insist that hotel-motel funds collected in Atlanta and Fulton County shouldn’t be used to pay for the stadium, much less replacing an existing facility just 20 years old.
  • Rethinking what it means to live and work in central Portland:
As they work on a wide-ranging plan for the future of the central city, a blueprint to ensure that downtown Portland’s next 20 years are as successful as its past 40, planners and citizen volunteers have come up with a strange, fascinating, seemingly counterintuitive equation. For Portland to remain the healthy cultural and financial heart of the region, they say, the number of trips made downtown each day must double. The amount of greenhouse gas emitted must remain the same. And the number of vehicle miles traveled in the central city — the average number of miles each of us put on our odometer on any given day — must drop by close to 40 percent.

More trips. The same pollution. Fewer miles.


  • Light rail grows in Charlotte:
    When completed in 2017, the Blue Line will connect the far-flung campus of UNC Charlotte, with its 30,000 people, and a population center of 750,000 in “the heart” of the Queen City.
Drawing on insights from Burraneer Bay, an affluent Sydney suburb, the paper illustrates how habituated and embodied knowledge of driving props up class envy, the spatial bordering of the city and the transformation of a love of driving into driving as love, underpinned as much by a desire to consume as by the performance of an identity.
  • The New Orleans City Council okays the installation of bicycle racks for one block in the French Quarter. D.C. isn’t doing enough to encourage electric vehicle use. Atlanta’s MARTA gets a new chief.


  • A proposed Miami-Dade ordinance would require paid sick leave for service workers. The pay gap between federal public and private sector employees jumps to 35 percent. Union leaders see a recent management audit on metro Atlanta’s transit agency as an assault on labor.
  • Philadelphia considers hire-local legislation.
Walmart has faced protests in various U.S. cities lately and some workers have planned to walk off the job on Black Friday, the busy shopping day right after Thanksgiving. Such actions are being sponsored by a groups including a contingent of workers called OUR Walmart that is trying to speak out about what it says are tough working conditions.

In early October, workers who are part of OUR Walmart staged what the group called the first-ever strike against Walmart in Los Angeles, while Walmart itself called the event in Los Angeles a rally. Walmart store employees also walked off the job in other cities including Dallas in actions sponsored by OUR Walmart.

Energy, Environment, and Health

There are multiple sources of excessive noise, the main ones being leisure time activities (think noisy bars, restaurants, movies, clubs), occupational, mass transit (especially systems more than 75 years old) and traffic. There is also the intermittent but highly irritating nuisance noise, like noisy neighbors, car alarms and sirens.

For nuisance noise, the effects are irritability, sleep disturbance, perhaps increased stress levels. For truly excessive levels, say over 85 or 90 decibels, and for longer periods of time, it can affect your hearing. In the short term this means muffling, ringing or buzzing, and in the long term chronic and excessive exposure to noise will lead to hearing loss. This is irreversible and not readily addressed with hearing aids.

  • A non-profit hospital chain that owns Carolinas Medical Center is suing fewer patients to collect on bills, though that is not the trend across the rest of the country. Miami-Dade’s Jackson Health System finishes the year in the black after three years in the red. The Archdiocese of Miami sues over federal mandates requiring religious organizations to cover abortion drugs and contraception for employees. D.C. insurance regulators take over the city’s largest manager of health care for low-income residents amid questions about “irregularities” in its finances.

Public Safety

The men in the body armor were not Baltimore police officers or federal agents, but instead a little-known classification of security guards known as “special police,” who are commissioned by the city or state to arrest and detain citizens — but only on specific properties.

For decades, they have added an extra layer of eyes and ears on the streets, supplementing the sworn police force at no cost to taxpayers and protecting some of Baltimore’s most venerable institutions. But some of the officers have also faced lawsuits and resident complaints, leading city police to re-evaluate whether to continue the program.

City and state police do not provide or require training to the special officers, do not monitor their actions and do not generally investigate complaints against them. Employers are responsible for oversight.

  • Is federal intervention Oakland’s only hope to fight crime? Citizens in L.A. can wait long periods for emergency responders because a poorly functioning 911 system. Citizens in Detroit will no longer wait for police. Although, the process to pick the next top cop there is opening up. The Atlanta City Council votes to spend $2 million on video cameras to increase downtown surveillance.
  • San Francisco is at work on a new domestic violence policy for city and county employees that would create liaisons to handle domestic violence issues in the workplace. The recently released “perversion files” demonstrate that an array of local authorities nationwide helped shield scoutmasters and others accused of molesting children time and again.
  • Miami needs to update its plans for dealing with demonstrations after Fidel Castro’s death.


Mayors and City Councils

  • Mayor Ed Lee rebuffs San Fran Sheriff Mirkarimi’s attempt at reconciliation. The city’s progressives need a leader.
“The mayor of the city’s job does not start at 9 a.m. in the morning nor does it end at 5 p.m.,” he said. “My job is a 24-hour a day job. And I do it. I work my butt off for this city. And not because I want accolades for it. I would do it for free.”

“Then do it for free,” someone shouted from the audience to laughter and applause.

  • City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is leading polls for NYC’s next mayor.
  • An internal report discloses a fresh round of problems for D.C.’s Office of Tax and Revenue. The New Orleans Inspector General criticizes how millions in city payments were handled:
The report did not allege that any of the money was misspent or wasted, but it said the procedures used to process the $1 million in payments lacked normal procedural checks and so were “more vulnerable to error or abuse” than regular city payment processes. The way the $4.5 million for the collection agencies was handled violated state law, the report said.
  • The D.C. City Council refuses to disclose members’ emails, is sued.


  • ID cards for undocumented immigrants in L.A. gains steam.


  • The Race to the Top is back on in Charlotte. Complaints filed on the behalf of Seattle special-education students double over the past two years. Miami-Dade school officials vow that the mismanagement of the last education bond issue won’t be repeated this time around.


However, there is another, far more compelling and humane way to view these camps, and that is as prototypical urban types. The various ways in which we define the urban, such as population density, non-agricultural economic activity, and reasonably well-defined boundaries, are conditions that are here amply met. And when one considers the ways in which people artificially conjure cities (consider a company town, built for the sole purpose of extracting a natural resource), then why shouldn’t we consider refugee camps to be cities? More importantly, if we do consent to think of them as cities, what is it that we can learn from them?
  • The Spanish government needs to remain vigilant of billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s demands as he seeks to build Eurovegas around Madrid.
  • Police occupy four violent slums in Río. Reviewing the results of a similar occupation of a neighborhood in Medellin 10 years later. Cubans vote in municipal elections.
Those who are using cars with a 1.8L engine or under should plant trees covering 3 mu (0.2 hectares), those with 1.8L to 2.5L engines should plant 4 mu of trees and those with engines over 2.5L should plant 5 mu of trees, according to the regulation.

Culture and Other Curiosities

“Back in the 1970s, we still believed that Petra was purely a city of priests and the dead,” explains archaeologist Laurent Gorgerat. More than 500 magnificent facades are chiseled into the cliffs, with burial chambers behind them. A puzzling account by the Ancient Greek geographer Strabo, that the Nabataeans “have the same regard for the dead as for dung,” led many to conclude that Petra was the site of some strange cult of the dead.

As archaeologists have been uncovering the true nature of the structures cut into the cliffs, such misconceptions have been dispelled. In truth, Petra was once an oasis with irrigated gardens and streets lined with temples and luxurious homes. There were camel troughs and storage vats for frankincense, myrrh and Indian spices.

Tags: chicagomayorsmichael bloombergretailtactical urbanismed lee

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