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Posts Tagged ‘cities’

Pedestrians take advantage of some sunshine to walk down the High Line park in New York

Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters
More than just a tourist attraction, Manhattan’s High Line is a development destination, says author Richard Florida.

Have you walked on Manhattan’s High Line when it’s not too crowded? It is a magical linear garden high above the dusty streets of the city.

And what about the magnificent parks in New York?

I’m in the city now and, having had beautiful walks in the extraordinary Central Park, am determined do a post soon on the genius of designer Frederick Law Olmsted and the supporters who made his urban landscapes possible.

Today’s post, however, is on the economic value of beauty in cities — not that beauty ever needs to be justified in terms of dollars and cents. But it’s worth noting.

Richard Florida asks at CityLab whether cities “benefit from a beauty premium? According to a new study by two urban economists, it seems that they do.

“The study by Gerald A. Carlino of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and Albert Saiz of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, examines the connection between a city’s beauty and key growth indicators. A raft of previous studies have found a connection between economic and population growth and urban amenities (a broad category ranging from parks to restaurants, art galleries, and museums). But this study takes a much closer look at the effects of beauty itself.

“To get at this, the researchers measure attractiveness in a unique way: through tourist visits and photos of picturesque locations. … The study compares its own measure of urban beauty to more established measures of urban amenities such as parks, historic spaces, proximity to coastlines, bodies of waters or mountains, the size of the tourism industry, and more. ..

“The study finds evidence of a significant beauty premium for cities and neighborhoods. A city with twice as many picturesque locations as another city saw 10 percent growth or greater in population and jobs from 1990 to 2010. In fact, urban beauty ties with lower taxes as the most important predictor of overall population growth in cities. Plus, these cities disproportionately attract greater numbers of college graduates. Cities in the top 25 percent of picturesqueness saw nearly 3 percent higher growth in the number of college grads than those in the bottom 25 percent. …

“City beauty is not an effect of size, the study finds: Smaller and medium-sized places with more parks, historic buildings, proximity to water and mountains, and clearer skies and less rain are perceived as beautiful as well.

“It’s not just metros broadly that benefit from an urban beauty premium, it’s specific neighborhoods within them. A large number of studies have documented the back-to-the-city movement of younger, more educated, and more affluent people to the urban center. These studies typically document the urban influx into neighborhoods near the Central Business District (CBD), the downtown commercial core of a city. …

“Urban beauty is a powerful tool for economic growth and urban resurgence, but with it comes gentrification and displacement. As the authors of the study put it: ‘Rents, incomes, and educational attainment increased faster in urban beautiful neighborhoods but at the cost of minority displacement.’

“Urban policy makers have to take in the full costs, as well as the benefits, of urban beautification into account. They could mandate that developers who create new condominiums adjacent to publicly created and valued amenities pay more in taxes, provide some affordable housing, or employ local residents in their projects. Cities can devote the increased revenues from beautification projects to affordable housing, workforce development, and the reduction of concentrated poverty.”

Read more here.

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urban-foraging

Photo: Pop-Up City
Urban foragers don’t like to see the food in parks go to waste.

Do you pick berries along the side of the road? I am drawn to blackberries. Suzanne loves mulberries. When we graze opportunistically like that, I guess we are foragers.

I have written before about both gleaning (usually picking up edible food after the farmer has finished harvesting) and foraging (usually in urban or suburban areas). This story suggests the practice is gaining adherents, in part because city dwellers feel too divorced from nature.

Jenny Cunningham writes at the Guardian, “According to Langdon Cook, there’s one golden rule of foraging: if you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it. Cook is a leading figure in America’s growing urban foraging movement – in fact he’s written the book on it. As we make our way along a trail through one of his favourite hunting grounds, Seattle’s Seward Park, he mentions some of the poisonous plants out there, such as hemlock. The famous feller of Socrates looks a lot like carrot tops or flat leaf parsley to the uninitiated.

“There’s still plenty of good eating in the city’s parks and green spaces – researchers once identified 450 edible plants in Seattle. Cook enthusiastically points out some ripe thimbleberry. ‘It has a shelf life of about a nanosecond, so you’ll never see it in a farmers market,’ he says. The soft berry slumps off the plant and into the mouth like it’s already been made into a sweet, tannic jam. So yummy, so organic … and so illegal.

“Despite the popularity of foraging in Seattle and cities far beyond the Pacific north-west, municipal parks are generally off limits to foragers in the US. For city authorities, the risk of destruction to plants and wildlife is too great: what if everyone decided they wanted a piece of the park for lunch? Then there’s the potential for overzealous amateurs to make themselves very unwell. …

“While foraging is an ancient art that has taken place in US cities for as long as they’ve existed, the practice has exploded in popularity in recent years.

“There are some who forage because they struggle to afford food, but that is a small percentage, according to a Johns Hopkins study. Mostly, it seems that urban dwellers – starved of light and spending much of their time in virtual environments – crave a stronger connection to nature. Worried parents want their children to have some life experiences unmediated by glowing screens.

” ‘We are drawn to do what our grandparents did,’ says Cook. ‘It’s that “do it yourself” mentality we see in the renaissance of fermenting, pickling, brewing. Foraging fires up all our synapses.’

“Fired up synapses have collided with strict city codes across the US. … But there is fresh hope for foodies as some cities attempt to embrace their foraging communities. After doing away with its ‘molesting vegetation’ rule last autumn, Minneapolis now allows people to pick certain wild nuts, fruits and berries in most city parks. Cities from Boston to Austin encourage the public to harvest in existing park orchards.”

Read more at the Guardian, here. Do you forage?

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I like stories like this since they give encouragement to cities that do a good job of supporting the arts. No doubt, once you list 20, the situation is already changing and other cities are emerging, but it’s still a good idea to give credit.

N. Rallo reports at Southern Methodist University’s National Center for Arts Research that the new study divides the pool of cities into small, medium, and large.

“SMU’s National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) announces its third annual Arts Vibrancy Index, which ranks more than 900 communities across the country, examining the level of supply, demand, and government support for the arts in each city.

“This year, 20% of the communities on the most-vibrant list appear for the first time – a total of eight new communities, including one new state, Alaska. … For the first time, community rankings are organized into three distinct lists based on size. …

“In addition to the Arts Vibrancy Index, NCAR provides scores for every U.S. county on its interactive map, based on measures of arts dollars, arts providers, government support, and socio-economic and other leisure characteristics. …

“Supply is assessed by the total number of arts providers in the community, including the number of arts and culture organizations and employees, independent artists, and entertainment firms. Demand is gauged by the total nonprofit arts dollars in the community, including program revenue, contributed revenue, total expenses, and total compensation. Lastly, the level of government support is based on state and federal arts dollars and grants. …

“Among cities with populations of 1 million or more, the five most vibrant arts communities are as follows:

Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
New York-Jersey City-White Plains, NY-NJ
San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA
Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI …

“[Winning] communities with populations 100,000 to 1 million: …

Pittsfield, MA
Santa Fe, NM
San Rafael, CA
Missoula, MT
Burlington-South Burlington, VT …

“For small communities … the top five cities are:

Breckenridge, CO
Summit Park, UT
Bennington, VT
Bozeman, MT
Hudson, NY.”

More at SMU. How many of the cities do you know well? Have you enjoyed the arts there?

Another Hat Tip to ArtsJournal.

Photo: Southern Methodist University’s National Center for Arts Research

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Photo: Chuck Wolfe
Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood. Photographic urban diaries can help residents absorb what there are seeing and can ultimately influence city planning.

Cities are organic, changing, blossoming, decaying amalgams of individuals, buildings, dumps, businesses, trees, animals — so many elements that it is impossible to put your finger on what makes a great city great. It is even hard to get agreement on whether or not a particular city is great.

Seattle is a city that is very conscious of its idealistic character. And it’s one that keeps reaching higher.

Knute Berger at Crosscut writes, “No one wants a ‘better city’ more than Seattleites. … If anything is in our civic DNA, it is the drive of commerce and the determination to build not just a better city, but the ideal one: prosperous, just, beautiful.

“Tall order, and one around which there is much dispute. Charles Wolfe, a local land-use lawyer, author and urban observer has a suggestion to help us sort through some of our conflicts. He touts the personal documentation of the city we live in, urging us to create urban ‘diaries.’

“This isn’t self-indulgent ‘journaling’ but a thoughtful process of observing and recording a city — what works, where human activities thrive and what evokes our emotional responses.

“Wolfe’s latest book is Seeing the Better City (Island Press, $30), which is described as a tool kit for ‘how to explore, observe, and improve urban space.’ Wolfe — who has written for Crosscut and who is a friend — says the answer to a better city doesn’t start with a white board, an attitude or a bushel of land-use ordinances; it begins at the level of human experience and how we train ourselves to see it and understand it.

“Wolfe’s main medium is photography, aided by technology — geo-mapping, social media — to record his impressions and observations, which might range from how bikes, trains and pedestrians share space in Nice, France, to a homeless person’s tent with a grand view of Elliott Bay. …

“Why is keeping an urban diary worthwhile? Wolfe argues that it trains us to be better citizens, to care more and understand more about where we live. Therefore, we might be more motivated to attend meetings or offer insights and solutions into the planning process. …

“Wolfe’s book tells us urban diarists can also be useful to planners and policymakers. An urban diary ‘walk and talk’ workshop in Redmond created diaries of the town’s historic core — and that then informed the planning process. … When we all act like flâneurs, ‘trickle up’ urban planning can result. …

We don’t need to travel the world to be an urban diarist. Our own stomping grounds offer an infinite opportunity to feel and observe.”

More here.

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Composer Tod Machover never stops experimenting. He’s known for music that combines his electronic inventions with traditional instruments, he records street sounds to capture the ambiance of cities, and he works continuously to engage regular folks in the process of creation.

Linda Poon writes at CityLab, “It’s easy to disregard the hum of a city — the incessant honking or indistinct chattering — or to cast it off as noise pollution. … To the likes of Tod Machover, a composer who combines music with technology at the MIT Media Lab, these sounds are what makes a city sing.

“Machover has turned the sounds of Toronto and Edinburgh into symphonies that reflect the characters of each city. His first piece for an American city, Symphony in D, invited Detroiters in 2015 to contribute over 15,000 sounds unique to the city—drumming from the streets, sounds from factories, and spoken words by local poets—that were combined with instruments played by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

‘Like so many things in our culture, there’s a growing gap between experts and ordinary people, and I thought music is such a great laboratory to show how things can be different,’ says Machover.

” ‘So I wanted the project to be a representation of connecting people—no matter what their background was in music—as equals.’

“His latest project, called Project 305 and funded by the Knight Foundation, takes him to Miami, where he’s teamed up with the city’s New World Symphony [NWS] academy to create an audio and visual masterpiece. He’s helping lead community tours to collect sounds and videos, and working with schools to teach students how to do the same. …

“Typical urban noise, like the revving of a car engine, the ringing of a bicycle bell, or the pitter-patter of pedestrian footsteps, can be found in virtually any city. So how do you make an audio portrait feel particular to the town it’s supposed to reflect?

“Sometimes, it’s about incorporating the sounds that reflect a city’s history. Detroit, for example, was famously dubbed the Motor City for being the heart of America’s auto manufacturing industry. So Machover asked the community to send in recordings of different car engines, which he merged with Motown riffs, in homage to the city’s music scene. …

“NWS is also gathering clips of human chatter, a way of capturing the diasporas within Miami. The city is often called the capital of Latin America with immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, and other Spanish-speaking countries making up the majority of the population. Spanish has become a dominant language, but ‘you hear the same words inflected with all kinds of different accents,’ says Machover.

“When all is done, the entire performance won’t be confined to the halls of the academy. Instead, it will also be projected onto the facade of the building and simultaneously broadcast in different neighborhoods throughout Miami.” More here.

I have attended two of Machover’s operas. I thought the one based on a story by Tolstoy was lovely, although the one written with former poet laureate Robert Pinsky didn’t work for me. Something about an inventor seeking immortality by entering his electronic system after death.

Photo: Bowers & Wilkins
Endlessly inventive composer Tod Machover is incorporating sounds of the city in his new music.

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When I was at the magazine, I often sought out authors from different regions who could write about the benefits of community gardens to low-income neighborhoods. Kai remembered that and tagged me on Facebook when he posted an article yesterday about a comprehensive farming initiative in inner-city Detroit.

Robin Runyan writes at the website Curbed Detroit, “This week, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) revealed its plans for the first Sustainable Urban Agrihood in the North End.

“Wait, an agrihood? It’s an alternative neighborhood growth model, positioning agriculture as the centerpiece of a mixed-use development. There are some agrihoods around the country, but in rural areas. This is the first within a city.

“MUFI’s agrihood spans three acres on Brush Street, a few blocks up from East Grand Boulevard. MUFI runs a successful two-acre garden, a 200-tree fruit orchard, and a children’s sensory garden. They provide free produce to the neighborhood, churches, food pantries, and more.

“The big part of the announcement was the plan to renovate a three-story, 3,200-square-foot vacant building that MUFI had bought at auction years back. …

“The Community Resource Center will include office space for MUFI, event and meeting space, and two commercial kitchens on the first floor. A healthy cafe will be located on vacant land next to the CRC.

“Tyson Gersh, MUFI President and co-founder, said at the announcement that they want to be the first LEED certified platinum building in Detroit.”

The article credits Sustainable Brands, BASF, GM, and Herman Miller and Integrity Building Group for providing much-needed help on the project.

More here.

Photo: Michelle & Chris Gerard
The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative.

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Chalk up another one for art and culture. According to Lisa Contag at the website Blouin Art Info, a UNESCO study has found evidence that art and culture improve safety in cities, in part by building social cohesion.

She writes, “UNESCO makes a strong case for systematically fostering culture in city planning in its new ‘Global Report, Culture: Urban Future.’ …

“In more than 100 case studies, the survey analyzes the situations, risks, and potentials for cities in a number of regional contexts, with a particular interest also in Africa and Asia, where urbanization is expected to continue increasing rapidly in the next decades.

“ ‘Culture lies at the heart of urban renewal and innovation. This report provides a wealth of insights and concrete evidence showing the power of culture as a strategic asset for creating cities that are more inclusive, creative and sustainable,’ Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO noted in a statement, stressing that ‘culture gives cities social and economic power,’ especially with the help of the creative industries.

“As an example, the report refers to Shanghai, China, which has held the status of a UNESCO Creative City of Design since 2010, and is considered ‘one of the world’s major creative centers, with more than 7.4% of residents employed in the creative industries.’

“Cities in conflict and post-conflict situations, such as Samarra, Iraq, which was confronted with the destruction of a number of invaluable sites such as the Al-Askari Shrine in 2006, are also taken into consideration and seem to benefit similarly. ‘Reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts have demonstrated the ability of culture to restore social cohesion between communities and improve livelihoods, paving the way for dialogue and reconciliation,’ the authors explain.”

The authors observe that culturally diverse, safe, and thriving cities are people-centered and culture-centered and feature policy-making that builds on culture.

More here.

Photo: UNESCO
Screenshot from Reza’s UNESCO video “Culture – the Soul of Cities”

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