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Posts Tagged ‘cities’

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Photo: Molly Dilworth
“Molly Dilworth’s rippling mural helped reimagine Times Square as a car-free place,” says
Curbed. The work was part of an initiative by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

As much as I want to tell folks about anyone’s good works, I’m afraid that the wealthy presidential candidate whose name is on the initiative I’m covering today is getting too much free publicity.

I’m annoyed. I’m sure we all clicked “like” when the former mayor did something positive about, say, gun violence. But as a result, his campaign videos are showing up on Facebook saying they were “liked” by us, which is not the case. So you are just going to have to fill in the blank when I refer to [B] Philanthropies today.

Alissa Walker writes at Curbed, “Over the last decade, U.S. cities have carved out dozens of public plazas from existing streets using little more than paint. A new grant program and guide announced today by [B] Philanthropies will fund the creation of 10 street murals in 10 U.S. cities, as well as track the safety, economic, and civic impact of these projects.

“The Asphalt Art Initiative … will award 10 small or mid-sized cities with grants of up to $25,000 to create colorful murals on streets, intersections, and crosswalks, or vertical surfaces of transportation infrastructure like utility boxes, traffic barriers, and highway underpasses. Cities that apply must have populations ranging from 30,000 to 500,000 and must implement the project by the end of 2020.

“ ‘It’s not just about art — it’s about creating safe spaces for people for pennies on the dollar,’ says Janette Sadik-Khan. …

“As former transportation commissioner for New York City, Sadik-Khan championed the conversion of Times Square into a network of car-free pedestrian plazas. But the project, which included several asphalt murals, also ended up achieving other goals, she says, like ensuring nearby residents lived within a 10-minute walk of a public space, and helping pedestrian injuries in the area plummet by 30 percent.

“ ‘We’re not looking for just pretty pictures, we’re looking for projects that encourage safety benefits and community engagement,’ Sadik-Khan tells Curbed, noting that the selected cities will be gathering data to track the overall impact of their projects. …

“In addition to the grants, [B] Philanthropies, in collaboration with Street Plans Collaborative and public art consultant Renee Piechocki, has created a free publication that provides a how-to guide and dozens of case studies for city leaders wanting to implement these types of projects on their own.

“While the street plazas are intended to be temporary or ‘tactical’ — how long they last depends on the paint material used and how often it’s reapplied — the projects often end up leading to permanent, systemic changes, says Tony Garcia, principal at Street Plans Collaborative. …

“But even with paint that’s meant to fade away, the impact is lasting. Garcia points to a project in Asheville, North Carolina, which saw retail sales increased by 25 to 30 percent and a 20 to 30 percent drop in vehicular speeds along the corridor. …

“Asphalt art like plazas and crosswalks can help residents realize they don’t have to accept their transportation system’s status quo, says [Kate D. Levin, cultural assets management principal at (B) Associates], who notes that the current design of U.S. streets lends a sense of permanence to cities that isn’t particularly aspirational.

“ ‘People lose a sense that they have a choice. That can lead people to accept a public realm that doesn’t optimize what they want or need,’ she says. ‘These projects are helpful in reminding people to not to take their environment for granted.’ ”

More at Curbed, here. Hat tip: ArtsJournal.com.

Photo: Justin Mitchell via Street Plans
Coxe Avenue in Asheville, North Carolina, was transformed when Street Plans Collaborative used art to help create a safer, more profitable street.

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urban20tree2020lead20image

Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/ Christian Science Monitor
Pruning trees in Baltimore helps to keep them healthy. “We are making a difference,” says Erik Dihle, arborist for the city of Baltimore. … “It ties into social equity, into climate adaption, everything.”

The value of tree canopies in cities is not a new topic at this blog. I’ve written often about efforts around the world to capture the physical- and mental-health benefits of urban forests (for example, in 2014, 2017, and last summer).

I’m not sure, though, that I ever knew how forward-thinking Baltimore has been, a city that was recently disparaged by a kind of leader unfamiliar with actual leadership.

Stephanie Hanes writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “From his headquarters office, Erik Dihle drives into what has become one of the most monitored forests in the United States.

“He begins to point out the trees: There is a tulip poplar, as big as the ones George Washington planted at Mount Vernon. There are the blossoming cherries, with a cotton-candy display that rivals their famous compatriots down the road at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. And there is a white oak, Maryland’s state tree, with its branches gnarling horizontally for yards.

“ ‘This is a good-size one,’ he says, getting out of his truck to pace the area of shade created by the tree’s canopy. ‘I’d be surprised if it was less than 150 years old.’ …

“Mr. Dihle’s forest is in the city. He is the arborist and the head of forestry for the city of Baltimore, which means he monitors all the trees here – those growing in shady parks, in metal grates along busy streets, in backyards, and in relatively untouched forest patches dotting the municipality. Together, these trees make up what is called the city’s ‘urban forest.’ …

“With concern growing about climate change and rapid worldwide urbanization, city forests have emerged as one widely touted solution to a host of social and environmental challenges. Municipalities from Barcelona, Spain; to Melbourne, Australia; to Chicago have put urban canopy coverage at the center of their long-term strategic plans. Community groups focusing on planting, maintaining, and saving trees have blossomed across the U.S. In 2015, the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Cities named increasing green canopy coverage as one of its top 10 urban initiatives.

“Yet at the same time, the U.S. Forest Service, which in the past decade has also upped its focus on urban forests, has found that American cities are losing trees – and quickly. … Urban regions showed a particular decline, along with an increase in what the researchers call ‘impervious surfaces’ – in other words, concrete.

“But not, it turns out, in Baltimore.

“Here, the net tree canopy coverage has increased. Not by a lot, Mr. Dihle is quick to point out – only from 27% of the city’s land coverage to 28% – and not because Baltimore hasn’t lost trees. It has. But overall the tree canopy here has grown, which means that Mr. Dihle has found himself presiding over one of the more successful efforts in the U.S. to preserve and improve the urban forest. …

“New technology has let researchers better understand the urban ecosystem – not just how trees thrive or fail in a city, but how they intersect with humans.

‘[Trees] impact work productivity, wildlife habitats, air pollution removal, carbon sequestration, energy use,’ says David Nowak, senior scientist with the U.S. Forest Service who authored the recent national report on tree canopy loss. … ‘We should be smart about this whole process and use nature to make our lives better.’

Much of the understanding of how, exactly, trees affect everything from climate to criminal justice stems from a technological breakthrough pioneered in Baltimore. …

“By the 1990s, satellite imagery allowed governmental agencies such as NASA to produce visible images of Earth and to show on various scales where trees existed. But there was a limit to those pictures, explains Morgan Grove, a scientist with the U.S. Forest Service who has worked in Baltimore since 1999. Because the data were recorded in pixels, not physical parcels, it was difficult to identify, say, the owner of a particular tree, or to compare what was happening from one city block to another.

“In 2006, though, the Forest Service, working with researchers from the University of Vermont’s spatial analysis lab, put together a new type of land cover map in Baltimore using a combination of aerial imagery, light-reflecting technology, and high-resolution landowner data. This novel approach not only allowed a closer look at trees, it also let scientists synchronize forest maps with other information that was also newly computerized and manipulable – everything from health records to census figures, crime statistics to property values.”

Learn about the amazing array of data they were able to collect, how data helped the city prevent nascent problems like storm sewer overflow, and how the community has organized to protect and expand urban forest benefits, here.

By the way, I thought the photographer on this story, Melanie Stetson Freeman, did an especially good job capturing the faces of these tree huggers. It helps one understand that the individual and the things an individual cares about are what improve the world.

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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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