I don’t know either, but the top story today (sort of) answers that question. No common theme this week – that first link is on gentrification, the next one is on development through demolition (spoiler alert: it’s not a good idea), and the other two cover traffic laws and trains respectively. These are all subjects that will very likely re-appear in this space for the duration of this blog’s existence.
“The Perils of Hipster Economics” from Al Jazeera English
I don’t like the trend of classifying everyone involved in the gentrification process as a hipster (it oversimplifies both a complex process and a non-homogenous social group), so the title of the article gets on my nerves. Other than that, many of the observations are spot-on.
Proponents of gentrification will vouch for its benevolence by noting it “cleaned up the neighbourhood”. This is often code for a literal white-washing. The problems that existed in the neighbourhood – poverty, lack of opportunity, struggling populations denied city services – did not go away. They were simply priced out to a new location.
That new location is often an impoverished suburb, which lacks the glamour to make it the object of future renewal efforts. There is no history to attract preservationists because there is nothing in poor suburbs viewed as worth preserving, including the futures of the people forced to live in them. This is blight without beauty, ruin without romance: payday loan stores, dollar stores, unassuming homes and unpaid bills. In the suburbs, poverty looks banal and is overlooked.
“Is demolition ever the best way to regenerate?” from The Guardian Cities
No matter how you spin it it will never be economically feasible to introduce a load of new development into a community while providing rents that residents affected by demolition can afford. Old buildings are important to cities (thanks Jane Jacobs!), and unless a building is totally impossible to salvage renovation should be the first go-to in this sort of situation.
But why not fix the buildings instead, and let the residents stay? There’s certainly no financial reason to prevent most buildings from being renovated. Architectural consulting firm Gensler found that the Heygate could have been renovated for as little as £14,000 per unit, approximately £17m less than the £44m Southwark has spent on emptying the dwellings – though, of course, then the council wouldn’t receive the £50m Lend Lease paid for the site. So why do we continue to think that the only way to improve an area is to blow it up?
“New York’s Big Step Toward Safer Streets for All” from The Atlantic Citylab
Will New York City see zero traffic fatalities in 2024, like Mayor de Blasio is aiming for? Probably not. Will these laws promote safer streets for everyone (even those still in cars)? Definitely.
Cooper’s Law now exists, and it gives the city the power to suspend or revoke the license of a cabdriver who kills or maims a pedestrian with the right of way on a New York street. This may not sound like a radical idea, but as things stood before the council voted to pass the measure last week, taxi drivers who killed or grievously injured pedestrians faced relatively minor penalties and often could head back out on the streets again with little consequence.
“All Aboard: The Growth of Global Rail and our Future Cities” from Urban Melbourne
It’s important to remember as we dwell on America’s failed or reduced transit projects that things are getting better. Twice as many cities with light rail systems since 1995? Not a bad rate of change.
The cities of America and Australia grew mostly in the era when cities were built for automobiles; they are about five times less dense than European cities. Space for car use is much more available. Car ownership and car use grew to a much higher level but is now plateauing and declining. They have reached a limit on the growth of freeways and other urban space (such as parking) for cars, so average traffic speeds have plateaued or reduced.
The urban structure or fabric of the city has prevented any further growth in car use. The only way forward seems to be with alternative transport, especially urban rail.