CityLedes: Trials from the Tempest

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: East coast cities emerge from the rubble of Sandy. But what of the ongoing economic disaster? Boston redistricts, L.A. eyes revenues, Chicago hits a macabre record, Miami parks up. NOLA goes big with Walmart. Yet industries elsewhere are downshifting — smaller is better. Car crashes hit Atlanta taxpayer pockets, and may be correlated with the picking of others. In Seattle, privacy advocates are trying to stay a step ahead of police drones. Half a million in Buenos Aires face a housing emergency. Three cities compete for the globe’s most innovative. Asia has its first smart metropolis. Happy election day, U.S. of A. Streetsblog looks back at Obama’s transit policy. Yonah Freemark looks at Romney on housing. Don’t forget the down ballot.

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


  • Mapping tweets from Hurricane Sandy: here and here countrywide and here just New York City.
But here’s a question: If most of us take for granted that we should be there for our fellow citizens during natural disasters, using the tool of government, why is it so controversial that we should also lend a helping hand during man-made economic disasters? Why are unemployment benefits under attack in numerous states, even as millions remain jobless through no fault of their own? Why is an idea as obvious as a direct government jobs program off the table in Washington?
It’s the needy who have been sequestered downward. Not long ago, Ms. Drake, a landscape architect, curious about the placement of New York City’s public housing, devised a map to find out how much of it was built on flood zones. The answer, she discovered, was, most of it. Public housing lines the waterfront in Coney Island, on the Lower East Side, in the Rockaways. This is not the result of progressive and munificent city planning aimed at enhancing the day-to-day aesthetic experience of the poor. Instead it was the result of low-lying waterfront land available at a cheap price. In her book “Manhattan: Water Bound,” the urban planner Ann L. Buttenwieser explains that land on which the Vladeck Houses on Water Street were built in 1939 was bought for $7 a square foot.
  • Ideas for protecting New York.

Economy and Development

For decades, “bigger is better” has been the conventional path to efficiency in industries ranging from transportation to power generation. Food once grown on small family plots now comes overwhelmingly from factory farms. Vessels that carried 2,000 tons of cargo have been replaced by modern container ships that routinely move 150,000 tons. But now, new research shows, we are on the cusp of a radical shift from building big to building small—a change that has profound implications for both established and emerging industries.

Many industry sectors are nearing or have reached a tipping point in which efficiency of unit size is being replaced by efficiency of numbers, according to a recent study…Rather than relying on custom-built, large-scale units of production – e.g. massive thermal power plants – industries can benefit from a shift to small, modular, mass-produced units that can be deployed in a single location or distributed across many locations – e.g. photovoltaic (PV) panels mounted on utility poles.

  • Voters will decide the fate of a bunch of important ballot measures impacting state and local economic development on Tuesday.
But what does the racially charged feuding of two politicians have to do with the future of Atlantic City? Unfortunately, everything. Because unless Langford and Christie, and the interests they both represent, can find at least a shred of common ground, Atlantic City has no shot at recovery.

I’m not talking about the physical damage wrought by Sandy. Most of those who still live or own businesses in Atlantic City are fiercely committed to the community, and I expect they will dig out and rebuild with as much diligence as any of the storm’s victims.

No, Atlantic City’s problems go far deeper. Gaming revenue is off 37 percent from its 2006 peak, a huge hit attributable in part to the sluggish economy but mostly to the rise of legal gaming in Pennsylvania, New York, and Maryland. Sandy is only making matters worse, costing the casinos about $5 million every day they are closed, as The Inquirer’s Suzette Parmley reported Thursday.

  • Plans for an Eastern New Orleans Walmart Supercenter wins City Council approval.

Transportation and Infrastructure

  • Looking back on President Obama’s transportation record:
Perhaps the best thing President Obama did for transportation policy was to nominate Ray LaHood as U.S. DOT secretary.
  • Alameda County, Calif. will vote on a measure to raise money for transportation projects:
Measure B1 would make permanent the existing half-cent sales tax, set to expire in March 2022, and add another half cent to create a one-cent sales tax expected to raise $7.8 billion over the next 30 years. It would fund a wide array of transportation improvements including bike and pedestrian paths, port improvements, BART modernization and expansion, street maintenance, freeway interchanges and widening and bus operations. The tax requires approval by more than two-thirds of those voting to pass.
  • Car accidents involving Atlanta employees have cost taxpayers millions in legal settlements. There’s more room for research on the links between car crashes and street crime. Charlotte is still trying to figure out how to pay for a streetcar. Seattle Mayor McGinn’s proposed streetcar planning study runs into resistance from City Council. New Orleans taxi regulations extend to the airport. “Why Chicago is spending million on the Gary Airport.”
  • The FAA approves a new satellite-guided method of landing planes at Sea-Tac Airport. The second half of the PortMiami tunnel dig gets underway. Breaking down both sides of the Crescent City Connection toll issue.
  • In a sudden reversal, the Portland City Council plans to refund to ratepayers nearly $1.6 million spent turning a building into Portland Rose Festival Foundation headquarters. Some fines for speeding will be reduced in D.C.


Fundamentally, the younger Mr. Romney has demonstrated no interest in promoting the cause of affordable housing once championed by his father. At a private fund-raiser this spring, Mr. Romney said H.U.D. “might not be around later” if he were elected president.

Though certain of the department’s programs could be transferred elsewhere in the government, continued support requires presidential backing. Slashing H.U.D.’s programs would pull the plug on an essential lifeline for millions of Americans who are unable to afford the cost of market-rate housing. Today, that need is greater than it has been in years.

  • CBPP has more on shifting housing policy to benefit lower-income households.
  • Long waits for Section 8 vouchers prompt the D.C. Housing Authority to reexamine the effectiveness of wait lists. Georgia voters will decide as to whether to allow agencies to enter into multi-year leases. Atlanta home prices are up. A boom in studio apartments as young people who had doubled up during the Great Recession move out on their own.


  • Low-income children in metro Atlanta are not proportionately educated by charter schools:
Anecdotal evidence suggests charter schools present challenges some low-income households may find difficult to manage.

One issue is transportation, specifically a lack of school buses.

  • Seattle Public Schools are falling short of ambitious five-year targets. School leaders claim that charters would hamper school improvement efforts. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board considers asking the state for a change in the budgeting timetable, more teacher pay, and control over charter school approval. Miami-Dade Superintendent Carvahlo stands to win big on Election Day:
“The superintendent is, in essence, the public face and the candidate,” said Fernand Amandi, a political consultant. “He’s leveraging his record and the trust he’s built with the community and his job rating to secure passage … The bond issue is, yes, for the schools, but the driving force of it is Superintendent Carvalho.”

The bond is likely to pass, according to a recent poll for The Miami Herald. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez and Miami City Commissioner Francis Suarez have endorsed the measure.

Public Safety

Batts disarms them with small talk, but the challenge in these neighborhoods is clear. Some people just don’t like police, and they sure don’t like being seen talking to them. Batts says that isn’t unique to Baltimore.

“I don’t think it’s different from most major cities,” he says. “It’s part of our job. We have to take back the streets, and people have to trust that you’ll take care of them. That takes hard work.”

  • Despite hard times, crime is down in metro Atlanta. Given that police drone technology isn’t going away in Seattle, concerned parties consider how to protect privacy. New Orleans neighborhood security patrols mushroom as the NOPD withers.
  • A controversial new proposal to combat rising gang membership in Houston:
The issue has prompted former Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford, now a City Council member, to propose reducing the number of cadets by 10 in two of the department’s 70-member academy classes each year.

The estimated savings of $1.6 million in trainee pay could be used to fund a coordinated after-school program that would thwart gang recruitment, Bradford suggested.

Energy, Environment, and Health

  • L.A. County porn stars have higher rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia than sex workers in Nevada.
  • A new soda tax could have bountiful health benefits for California communities of color, a study finds. A new soda tax could hurt their profits, lobbyists find:
The beverage industry has spent nearly $2.5 million to crush a soda tax ballot measure in Richmond, records show, in a costly bid to keep the idea of taxing sugary drinks from spreading nationwide.

“This is basically a battleground in a national debate,” said Chuck Finnie, a spokesman for the campaign against Richmond’s Measure N. “The consequence might be that other cities follow suit.”

  • Miami swaps underused public land for new parks. A new Portland mental health center is no done deal, though it is key to police reforms as part of the city’s settlement with the feds.


  • L.A. prepares four revenue-raising measures for its March ballot. Chicago prepares for council battles to come.

Mayors and City Councils

  • An advisory commission recommends pay hikes for Atlanta’s elected officials. A workplace romance crackdown in Detroit.


Iskandar Malaysia, the first “smart metropolis” of Southeast Asia founded on principles of social integration as well as low carbon emissions thanks to a green economy and green technologies, is a potential template for urban development in emerging countries with burgeoning populations, international experts say.

Malaysia’s ambition for the massive new Iskandar development: a model of sustainable development and an economic hub in league with Hong Kong and neighboring Singapore.

The narrowing gap reflects some initial results in China’s management over urban-rural economic development and income distribution. It also indicates that the relationship between urban and rural regions has been improved and is now better coordinated, said Song Hongyuan, director of the Research Center for Rural Economics under the Ministry of Agriculture.

Culture and Other Curiosities

Blankfein has been cast as a villain for so long, he’s able to joke about it. “The Power!” he said later, when asked to talk about said efforts, lifting his arms like the Wizard of Oz. “We learned a lot from 9/11, so when we built our building, we built it with a lot of redundancy, and a lot of backup power, and obviously invested a lot in testing and preparation and resilience in planning,” he went on. “And I tell you, the day before the hurricane, we put 25,000 sandbags around our building, and the front of our building looked ridiculous, but it worked.”
  • Mayor Bloomberg’s rock star sign-language interpreter. Modeling bon New York’s streets before and after Sandy.

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Tags: public transportationchicagoeconomic developmentmayorshurricane sandy2012 presidential election

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