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: The GOP platform says no to social engineering. But do the Republican presidential nominee’s policies benefit cities? Do President Obama’s benefit farms? More fuel efficiency will mean less fuel tax money, say the road builders. Fewer trash cans will mean less trash, says the MTA. Providence schools are in the mood to collaborate with the teachers union; Boston schools are not. Forget collaboration: Chicago teachers set a date to strike. Seattle’s paid sick leave law takes effect. Will San Francisco continue its “rightward” trend? Longshoremen consider a strike, walking is an end in itself, and the White House hosts an urban innovation forum. Urban management civilians in Shaoyang, a lottery for license plates in Guangzhou, and a bomb inside Berlin. For Times Square, 40 percent sexiness is too much sexiness. Isabella and Jayden are tops in NYC. But so are Sophia and Sofia. Joe posts a love letter to Sofia around New York City. Thirty-six hours in Sofia, Bulgaria. Tell us, L.A. clubbers, what is the what?
Click to jump to a topic:
Transportation and Infrastructure
Economy and Development
Energy, Environment, and Health
Mayors and City Councils
Culture and Other Curiosities
- The GOP platform is extremist:
In all issue areas, the Republicans outdid themselves on far-right-wing pandering with their new platform, approved yesterday in Tampa. Transportation is no exception.
The new platform calls for the end of subsidies for Amtrak and high-speed rail, and for states to have maximum flexibility on transportation spending — unless of course they want to spend money on anything but highways, which is verboten.
According to a new analysis of tax and census data, Mitt Romney’s economic plan is heavily tilted towards big cities, but tough on the rural areas that comprise the GOP’s base. Barack Obama’s economic proposals lean the other way, offering little to wealthy urbanites, while delivering broad tax savings to the middle- and lower-class Americans spread across the South and Midwest.
- More fuel efficiency will mean less fuel tax money (via Streetsblog). Some reasons why infrastructure costs are so high (via Matt Yglesias):
A huge part of the problem is that agencies can’t keep their private contractors in check. Starved of funds and expertise for in-house planning, officials contract out the project management and early design concepts to private companies that have little incentive to keep costs down and quality up. And even when they know better, agencies are often forced by legislation, courts and politicians to make decisions that they know aren’t in the public interest.
- Tampa’s mayor is still peeved that Florida turned down high-speed rail money. The installation of smart meters in D.C. taxis is delayed. Bikeshare goes to Alexandria, Va. Passenger rail service returns to Norfolk, Va. after a 35-year absence. A guide to transit options in suburban D.C. A makeover is planned for D.C.’s Union Station:
The master plan calls for an open train shed, evoking the stations of European cities, capped by an undulating green roof, which, the architects note, emphasizes both the sustainability of the shed itself and the mode of transportation it houses. “Train transportation is one of the most sustainable forms of travel out there,” says Bill Hellmuth, AIA, HOK’s D.C.-based president and the design leader for Amtrak’s master plan. The vegetated roof serves to mitigate stormwater runoff while “creating the impression of movement in the roof structure,” Hellmuth says. The new train shed will house electric-powered trains, with diesel engines relegated to their own, more heavily ventilated, quarters beneath the station.
- Charlotte transit slogs along under the crush of convention visitors. Portland’s HOV lane fails to live up to its promise. In the wake of Hurricane Isaac, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security emphasizes making infrastructure less vulnerable, as Entergy’s response to power outages in New Orleans draws complaints.
- St. Paul’s light-rail is 68 percent to completion. A peak into the logic of Chicago’s transit cuts. The first and second most dangerous cities for bikers are the First and Second cities. L.A. will build four parklets. On walkability (via Marginal Revolution):
The most attractive cities for walking invariably have high profile destinations, but in my opinion their secret is they make a virtue of the journey. Walking is a sufficient end in itself rather than just a means of getting to the next museum or gallery.
- A look at Chicago’s Plan for Transformation:
Everyone loves diversity in theory, but real estate shows our true colors: Since the ’80s, segregation by income has risen in 27 of America’s 30 largest cities, according to a recent Pew study. “We know over the entirety of human history that people have a tremendous tendency to cluster among themselves, whether in tribes, whether in nations,” its author told the Atlantic Cities.
Nevertheless, Chicago, like several other cities, has been shifting its public housing policy from the old Cabrini-Green model to a mixed-income strategy, which attempts to lure people of varying means into single developments. “Poverty deconcentration is the way of the day now in terms of housing policy,” says Mark Joseph, an assistant professor of social sciences at Case Western Reserve University.
How well this works remains an unknown.
- Atlanta home prices continue their slow ascent from a deep hole. Houston-area property values remain stable, but the industrial tax base is growing. This improvement is occurring throughout the country:
Home prices are still down almost a third from their peak in 2006, but most recent reports are pointing to a slow recovery and increased optimism that could encourage potential buyers to take the plunge.
In Atlanta, the city with the biggest one-year decline in home prices, the market perked up by about 4 percent in May and again in June, according to nonseasonally adjusted numbers.
Detroit prices increased 6 percent from May to June, while in Miami, prices rose by 1.4 percent in May and 1.6 percent in June. A surge in prices is to be expected in June, a time when the market ordinarily heats up, but analysts called these increases particularly strong.
Why housing needs a Race to the Top:
Some exurban communities are full of unwanted homes built in the peak of the last decade’s housing boom. But in large cities and close-in suburbs, demand for housing outstrips supply. The limit on home construction in these places is political, not economic. People would happily buy new homes there, but current residents won’t let them.
In highly productive coastal cities like Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, most of the value of a plot of land comes from the right to build a home. Home prices typically exceed construction costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even if the national market remains weak, allowing more building in these cities would unlock pent-up demand and lead to construction.
- San Francisco’s homelessness czar is pushing for a wet house, a place where the homeless can drink in safety and, eventually, seek treatment.
- The White House hosted an urban innovation forum. Mid-range paying jobs are fleeing Cleveland. Five firms huddle up to build the new Vikings stadium. Embattled D.C. Mayor Gray is poised to deliver on his 2010 campaign promise of more jobs. The efforts of the mayor of Springfield to bring a casino to the western Massachusetts city are legit, says that state’s gaming commission. Local procurement rules can be arbitrary.
“The auto-body shop has skylights and wooden ceilings, and it will be pretty cool,” he said. “Our philosophy has been not to knock everything down and do something new, but to see what we can preserve, because Long Island City has a certain character here — this industrial, gritty past that creates a certain charm.”
- Can we do anything about segregation? The Portland City Council adopts a revitalization plan for the diverse and impoverished Cully neighborhood, stoking concerns over gentrification and displacement. The faux affordability of Atlantic Yards (via Planetizen):
Documents unearthed via the Freedom of Information Law, and further queries, show that only nine of the 35 subsidized two-bedroom units would go to households currently earning less than $35,856 for a family of three (with rents at $835 monthly), while 17 would be reserved for the highest affordable income “band,” those earning 140-160 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), or between $104,580 and $119,520 for a family of three.
Over the long term, education has a huge effect on metro and national labor market health. Here, the relationship between the supply of and demand for educated workers is especially important. To measure mismatch between supply and demand in a given metro area, I calculated the average years of education required by vacancies using the Conference Board’s Help Wanted Online series and compared it to the years of education attained by the average worker. No single factor more strongly predicts metro unemployment than the “gap” between those two measures. The unemployment rate difference between those metro areas that are above average compared to those below on this “education gap” index is two percentage points. This is how metro areas like Madison, Washington D.C., Boston, and Charleston S.C. have maintained low relatively low unemployment rates, compared to places like El Paso and Bakersfield.
- Providence schools and the Providence teachers union collaborate. Boston schools and the Boston teachers union do not, and the state steps in. Chicago teachers set a strike date. Meanwhile, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is perfectly content with his school chief, thank you very much. Should CPS look to the City Colleges for a good negotiation?
Jalen Rose’s academy is part of a national trend in urban education whereby state takeovers of school boards and closures of traditional public schools are leading to a rapid expansion of start-up charter schools. Thirty-one new charter schools are expected to open in Michigan this fall, 10 in Detroit.
Led by New Orleans, where 70% of kids are in charters, Detroit ranks third in charter school population with 37% of kids in charters. Other cities, such as Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Kansas City, Mo., also are turning to new charter schools to try to improve low scores and high dropout rates.
- In San Francisco, test score stimulus:
Nine of the city’s lowest-performing schools received about $5 million each in federal funding over three years to boost test scores. Overall, their academic achievement scores shot up.
At the nine schools, 37 percent of students reached proficiency in English during the 2011-12 school year, compared with 29 percent the year before. In math, scores climbed to 33 percent proficient or above, up from 25 percent.
- The Houston ISD Superintendent Grier encourages schools to recruit dropouts to come back to school:
“It will be very unpleasant for principals when we begin to take away teachers (even at the high school level) to reflect actual enrollments,” Grier wrote in an email to staff Thursday. “This long weekend is an excellent time for teams of teachers, administrators, and support staff to call and even visit homes.”
- U.S. high school students flunk financial literacy.
- Rising ocean levels are beginning to cost South Florida cities:
In Miami Beach, where prolonged flooding in low-lying neighborhoods has become the norm after heavy storms, city leaders are weighing a $206 million overhaul of an antiquated drainage system increasingly compromised by rising sea level….“It’s the first time, as far as I know, that any community in South Florida and actually in the entire state of Florida is taking into account sea level rise as they plan their storm water infrastructure,” said Fred Beckmann, the city’s public works director, during a public hearing on the plan earlier this month.
It won’t be the last time.
- Los Angeles’s new trash collection plan moves forward:
Many trash companies and business interests spoke against exclusive franchises, saying the city could achieve the same recycling and environmental goals while maintaining a more competitive trash hauling market. Some also have asserted that exclusive franchises are a gambit by organized labor to represent more refuse workers.
The city picks up trash from single-family homes and small apartment buildings. But privatized trash hauling for large apartment buildings, factories and businesses involves about 150 companies whose trucks crisscross the city. The firms collect about $224 million a year in Los Angeles.
- The feds grade the quality of care in Houston’s hospitals. Parkland Hospital in Dallas is fined a record $1 million. Health insurance is expensive for New Yorkers buying it on their own:
Even the cheapest family coverage premiums in the city cost more than many New Yorkers earn in a year. Managed Health Inc. and Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York each offer family coverage for $4,551 a month, or $54,612 annually.
It’s not much better for those who only insure themselves. For individuals whose coverage allows them to see any doctor they want, rates range from $18,384 a year, charged by Managed Health Inc., to just under $40,000 by GHI HMO Select.
- The MTA reduces trash by removing trash cans. NYC won’t abandon a school lunch program that engaged professional chefs. Wisconsin waters turn up no evidence of Asian carp. For now.
- With the Chicago’s streak of violent crime persisting, Mayor Emanuel defends his handling on national TV. He expands his “worst of the worst” targeting, and asks the Feds for some help. Whet Moser asks what works.
- Whoops! Public alarm system in San Francisco gets flubbed. The city, exploring lots of different public safety strategies of late, creates no-go zones for drug dealers:
Using court-mandated stay-away orders, they are targeting chronic offenders — usually drug dealers — who work a specific spot in the city. That’s particularly true of the Tenderloin, where dealers roll into the neighborhood on BART, set up on a street corner, and sell crack and heroin.
- An effort to overturn L.A.’s ban on pot dispensaries is likely to head to the voters, while Detroit will vote to decriminalize up to an ounce of pot in November.
- San Francisco’s city supervisors races will determine whether the city continues its “rightward” trend:
“The general sense is that San Francisco has gotten a lot more conservative in the last few years, or at least more moderate,” Cook said. “The big question in this election is will the board swing back leftward, or does it continue to move in a more moderate direction?”
- A public housing complex for the elderly is at the center of the Miami ballot-fraud investigation.
- Tampa leaders pat themselves on the back for a smooth RNC. How Charlotte snared the DNC. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s star rises, but Los Angeles’s may not be rising with it. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, whose star is also rising, will not be speaking to an empty chair. Here’s the NYT Mag on Castro in 2010:
In early December, Julián Castro, the newly elected mayor of San Antonio, visited the White House to attend President Obama’s national jobs-and-economic-growth forum. Castro was one of only five mayors in attendance and, at 35, the youngest. When his turn came to speak — the subject was the creation of green jobs — the president looked at him, midway down the long conference table, and said: “I thought he was on our staff. I thought he was an intern. This guy’s a mayor?” The other participants — world-famous economists, environmentalists and politicians — burst into laughter.
- A $45 million Port of Miami tunnel dig payment poses a potential calamity for Miami’s finances, which are attracting additional attention from Moody’s Investors Service.
- Scranton, Pa. gets a loan to cover payroll. Hartford, Conn. will likely lay off a dozen employees, in addition to furloughs.
- Dockworkers ready for a strike at the Port of New York and New Jersey and in Georgia:
A union representing dock workers at the East Coast’s busiest port has authorized a strike if a contract deal isn’t reached by the end of next month, lending urgency to preparations by retailers to send cargo elsewhere if labor talks affecting the entire seaboard remain at a standstill.
The negotiations affect ports up and down the East Coast and turn on key issues of overtime rules and container royalties, which are payments to union workers based on the weight of cargo received at each port. Talks broke down last week, and both sides said Wednesday no new discussions had been scheduled.
Some retailers had already put contingency plans into action and were rerouting ships to the West Coast or seeking other alternatives, while others were on the verge of acting, according to Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy for the National Retail Federation.
- Detroit Public School’s embattled financial manager said he has a budget surplus, and a 2 percent bonus to dole out. In another city department, the good and the ugly intermingle:
With prosecutors reviewing charges in seven additional cases from late July and August, Bing and Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. touted this month as an extraordinarily productive period for the department as city cops, cooperating with county, state and federal law enforcement, arrested more than 100 people on felony charges and removed 34 guns and more than $7 million in drugs from the streets.
But Bing acknowledged at a news conference this morning that August also was difficult for the police department given the pay and benefits cuts and changes in work rules he imposed, permitting officers to be assigned 12-hour shifts.
- A new Seattle labor law requires sick pay. Low-paid public employees in metro Atlanta are fed up:
Tyrone Lucas, 39, who has collected trash for DeKalb for eight years, said sanitation workers haven’t gotten a raise in at least half a decade. “We should get paid for overtime that we’re not getting paid for, and they need to compensate us for all the years we haven’t gotten a raise,” he said, adding that frustration was building. “It may go to a strike or something.”
- Urban management civilians take over Shaoyang:
Residents say a climate of apprehension has gripped the city of 600,000 since the local government gave roughly 1,000 neighborhood watch committee members the authority to ticket citizens who litter, spit in public or park illegally.
A convenience store clerk reached by phone described how the newly empowered urban management officials have been pouncing on motorcyclists stopped at red lights, summons books at the ready. “Many of us depend on motorcycles to get around, but they’re now giving us tickets for not wearing a helmet, for not having insurance, or for not carrying our licenses,” complained the clerk, who would give only her surname, Li. “None of us dare drive our motorcycles anymore — it’s just too risky.”
- A shadow falls over Shenyang:
In July and August, shopkeepers in many neighborhoods here shut their gates in a strike, turning parts of northeastern China’s biggest city into a ghost town. The police were levying stiff fines — none of the shopkeepers would say how much — and making arrests for the sale of counterfeit goods in a scheme, the merchants said, to raise money to help cover a budget gap for the National Games.
The strike drew attention across China, and despite official denials, many observers agreed with Shenyang’s merchants that the heavy fines were a means of paying for the National Games. “The logic makes sense,” Chang Ping, a prominent columnist who has written about the closings in Shenyang, said in a telephone interview.
- Guangzhou holds a lottery to distribute the limited number of license plates available under its new car registration quota. A cold-resistant subway train (down to negative 38 degrees Celsius!). In defense of China’s cities.
Moscow acquired on Sunday 150,000 hectares of neighboring territories from its southwest borders, following the city’s expansion plan brokered by then-President Dmitry Medvedev in 2011.
According to the plan of the Russian capital’s new structure, Moscow’s land area doubled on July 1 after being enlarged by 150,000 hectares. The so-called “Big Moscow” includes the territory of the two cities in Moscow region, Shcherbinka and Troitsk as well as 19 smaller residential areas.
- A search, in desperation, for open public space:
Of Mumbai’s 30 square kilometers, or 11.6 square miles, of open space, only 10 square kilometers is actually available and being used — a miniscule 0.88 square meters, or approximately just 9 square feet, per person.
That puts Mumbai far behind other cities in India, and around the world. Delhi and Bangalore offer 15 and 6.4 square meters of open space per person, while Tokyo and New York have 6 and 2.5 square meters, according to research carried out by the real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle.
- The cost of living in Dublin. Squatting becomes a criminal offense in England and Wales. Less free parking, more parking enforcement. Debate about a third runway for Heathrow is quickly becoming a defining national issue. Tea rooms on high streets:
Over the last year the number of old-fashioned tea rooms has risen by 15 per cent, while the number of butchers and fabric shops has risen by 21 per cent and 44 per cent respectively.
Meanwhile the amount of pubs has fallen by 20 per cent and the number of sandwich bars is down by 16 per cent, according to Simply Business, a company that insures small businesses.
Experts said that high streets across Britain have had to adapt in order to take on powerful supermarkets. They also said that shoppers have also become more discerning over the course of the recession, preferring quality to convenience.
- High-income, low-income in Nairobi. Lebanon’s big lie. Madrid outlines new rules for providing health care to “undocumented” immigrants. They aren’t very clear. Bogota Change, the movie. Brasilia, una playa sin mar.
- Authorities detonate a bomb in Munich:
The explosion was heard across the city. Clumps of hay, from the bales authorities stacked around the site in an effort to reduce the explosive concussion, caught fire in the blast and drifted onto surrounding rooftops. The blazes were quickly extinguished and damage was minor, the fire department said.
- Isabella and Jayden are the most popular baby names in New York City. Sophia and Sofia are also popular. Sofia, Bulgaria. A loveletter to Sofia that Joe has been posting around New York City:
Sofia. This is Joe. The good looking Italian you met on the D train at Coney Island July 4th: U and I had strong chemistry in the few minutes we talked. I asked u out and u said take my number and call me. You were with ur friend: U were about 30, Spanish, long real brown hair, 125-130 lbs, real pretty. I asked u 2 things when I asked u out, that only u will know. I know u remember me!! There is no way I can give up on finding u just yet. I’ve been single for a year and I’ve been praying to meet someone like u and God hands me a gift of beauty and I lose ur number in my phone!! I hope u or a friend of yours sees this and helps bring us together. I hope we will meet again soon Sofia!!! Joe 347-816-3984.
Outside, a crowd of 50 or so stood on the sidewalk, smoking, texting and posing for snapshots. Popped in and out of the bar quickly if at all. They were waiting — for what? What is the what? as Dave Eggers put it.
- New York City isn’t even cool with 40 percent sexiness in Times Square sex shops. MountMitte, parkour mecca. An orchestra decrescendos.
Mark Bergen is a journalist formerly from Chicago and now based in Bangalore, India. He writes the Econometro blog for Forbes.com and has covered politics and policy for GOOD, The Atlantic Cities, Tablet Magazine, Religion Dispatches and the Chicago Reader.