The Atlantic Cities:
“The Inequality of Urban Tree Cover
EMILY BADGER. MAY 15, 2013
Last month, the Washington Post conducted its own study of the city’s tree canopy, with some findings that may not surprise anyone who lives in the capital: Lower-income neighborhoods were substantially less likely to have trees, with the city’s densest greenery clustered west of the 16th Street Northwest fault line that divides some of Washington’s wealthiest neighborhoods from the rest of town. Tree density in Washington, in short, provides a kind of proxy for wealth (and if you’ve spent time in Washington, you also know that wealth is a proxy for race).”
The Atlantic Cities:
“For Cleveland, Climate Change Could Mean Tons of Toxic Algae.
John Metcalfe. April 4, 2013
That’s toxic cyanobacteria swirling in the lake waters north of Cleveland. At the time, this slippery stuff covered nearly one-fifth of Erie’s surface, becoming the biggest bloom in the lake’s recorded history. It looked and smelled awful, turned fishing into a hook-detangling nightmare and killed untold numbers of marine creatures by hypoxia.
Worse, the algae’s loaded with foul substances harmful to the heart, blood and skin of many creatures. A dog that ingests one byproduct called microcystin can curl up and die within hours. (In humans it can cause flu-like symptoms, just in case you’re about to eat a bowlful.) The algae might also cause fish to change sexes.
The monstrous algae invasion represented a biological throwback to the 1960s, when tons of phosphorus in the Great Lakes seeping from agriculture, sewage systems and industry summoned up bloated algal titans of an immensity never before seen. These blooms disappeared for the most part after the ’70s thanks to the U.S. and Canada enacting the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. But it appears we’re mired once again in the days of floating slime, with algae levels creeping up since the ’90s.”
The Atlantic Cities:
Is It Time to Move Past Urban Studies and Toward Urbanization Science?
Eric Jaffe. March 19, 2013
William Solecki compares the current study of cities to natural history in the 19th century. Back then most natural scientists were content to explore and document the extent of biological and behavioral differences in the world. Only recently has science moved from cataloguing life to understanding the genetic code that forms its very basis.
It’s time for urban studies to evolve the same way, says Solecki, a geographer at Hunter College who’s also director of the C.U.N.Y. Institute for Sustainable Cities. Scholars from any number of disciplines — economics and history to ecology and psychology — have explored and documented various aspects of city life through their own unique lenses. What’s needed now, Solecki contends, is a new science of urbanization that looks beyond the surface of cities to the fundamental laws that form their very basis too.
“What we need is a comprehensive, integrated, system-level analysis of the city-building process,” says Solecki.
Solecki recently made the case for a new science of urbanization in an issue of Environmentmagazine [PDF], alongside environmental scholar Karen Seto of Yale and geography colleague Peter Marcotullio of Hunter. The current fragmentary nature of urban studies, they write, has led to a disconnected “smorgasbord of information” about cities. In response, they suggest moving away from the study of cities as “places” and toward the study of urbanization as a “process.”
“Urban studies illustrates the diversity of cities, the conditions under which cities are built,” says Solecki. “But that really, in large part, hasn’t focused on the process through which there’s this ongoing development or change of cities. … I think one of the things we can start to ask is how do we look at cities as not only objects, but also to look at them in a slightly more sophisticated way.”
The Atlantic Cities:
“In Search of Energy Miracles
Justin Gillis. March 11, 2013
At a legendary but secretive laboratory in California, Lockheed Martin is working on a plan that some employees hope might transform the world’s energy system: a practicable type of nuclear fusion.
Some 900 miles to the north, Bill Gates and another Microsoft veteran, Nathan Myhrvold, have poured millions into a company developing a fission reactor that could run on today’s nuclear waste.
And on the far side of the world, China has seized on discarded American research to pursue a safer reactor based on an abundant element called thorium.
Beyond the question of whether they will work, these ambitious schemes pose a larger issue: How much faith should we, as a society, put in the idea of a big technological fix to save the world from climate change?
A lot of smart people are coming to see the energy problem as the defining challenge of the 21st century. We have to supply power and transportation to an eventual population of 10 billion people who deserve decent lives, and we have to do it while limiting the emissions that threaten our collective future.”
Photo: Xinhua/Tan Jin, via Associated Press
The New York Times:
“Lifting a Town to Escape the Next Flood
Peter Applebome. Feb 22, 2013
HIGHLANDS, N.J. — If not for the most deadly natural disaster in American history, in Texas, and an innovative response to it, more than a century ago, one might briskly consign the proposal to save this oft-flooded borough at the northern end of the Jersey Shore to the realm of pigs with wings.
But four months after Hurricane Sandy almost obliterated downtown Highlands, an unlikely idea with one enormous historical antecedent seems to be taking hold here: Don’t just raise the buildings. Raise the town.
After all, officials in the modest, largely working-class community note, something quite similar was done, with the most rudimentary technologies, to save Galveston, Tex., which was raised as much as 17 feet after more than 6,000 people perished in the great hurricane of 1900. Yes, even the proponents here concede, it will be a long shot to persuade the federal government to spend more than $25 million to raise Highlands’s downtown 10 feet as a permanent solution to flooding, storm damage and rising seas.”
Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
After Sandy, Not All Sand Dunes Are Created Equal
By Adam Cole. Feb 13, 2013
When Superstorm Sandy hit Island Beach State Park — one of the last remnants of New Jersey’s barrier island ecosystem — it flattened the dunes, pushing all that sand hundreds of feet inland.
Three months later, the park was still officially closed, but the beach swarmed with volunteers. Members of the local Beach Buggy Association, volunteers from inland New Jersey, and a chilly but enthusiastic group of high school students dragged hundreds of old Christmas trees across the sand and laid them in a snaking line along the beach.
It seems like a bizarre strategy, but it’s an effective one. The trees’ needles and branches will trap windborne sand and serve as a foundation for new dunes.
Katie Barnett, a specialist with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, was the project’s mastermind. After Sandy, she put out a call for Christmas trees on the park service’s Facebook page. The trees came pouring in from all over the state.”
Photo: Alexandra Jones-Twaddell and Malley Chertkov add a Christmas tree to the growing line in Island Beach State Park. The two high-schoolers joined fellow students from the Peddie School to help rebuild dunes that had been flattened by Superstorm Sandy.
The Atlantic Cities:
“Hoboken Could Be a Model for Dealing With Urban Flooding
SARAH GOODYEAR FEB 13, 2013
Hoboken is a charming, compact little city on the banks of the Hudson River, with a walkable downtown and excellent public transit connections to New York City, as well as other communities in New Jersey. Its streets are lined with trees and brownstones, and it has transformed over the last 20 years from a fading industrial backwater to a flourishing residential community, gaining nearly 30 percent in population between 2000 and 2010.
Gentrification and the rising cost of living were, in fact, one of the more troublesome issues facing this city of 50,000 — until Superstorm Sandy hit. Then the rising waters suddenly became everyone’s primary concern. Flooding filled the city “like a bathtub,” mayor Dawn Zimmer said in the midst of the crisis. Tens of thousands were left stranded without power in the storm’s aftermath, and the streets were filled with contaminated water. It took weeks, in some cases even months, for transit connections to be restored.
Hoboken’s geographic position made it unusually vulnerable to Sandy’s effects. The land occupied by the city was once an island in the tidal waters where the Hudson opens up to what is now New York Harbor. Much of its two-square-mile area lies at or below sea level. Water came at the city from several directions, and there was nowhere for it to go once it had poured in.”
The Atlantic Cities:
“These Scary Maps Explain What Sea Level Rise Will Mean in Boston
Emily Badger. Feb 5, 2013
Coastal cities are now living in what Brian Swett calls a “post-Sandy environment.” In this new reality, there is no more denying the specter of sea-level rise or punting on plans to prepare for it. And there is no more need to talk of climate change in abstract predictions and science-speak. We now know exactly what it could look like.
In this environment, The Boston Harbor Association is somewhat fortuitously releasing today a major scientific report, long in the works, on what coming sea-level rise could mean for the city. And if Sandy had any silver living, says Swett, Boston’s Environment and Energy Chief, it is that residents are now as ready as ever to listen.
“I have yet to see a scientific report on sea level rise or storm surge that makes me lessconcerned,” Swett says of his own reaction to the dramatic picture portrayed in the new report,Preparing for the Rising Tide. ”It seems like the more we know, the more onus and important pressure there is on taking action.”
Map: The Boston Harbor Association
“A New U.S. Grand Strategy
Why walkable communities, sustainable economics, and multilateral diplomacy are the future of American power.
By Patrick Doherty. Jan 9, 2013
The strategic landscape of the 21st century has finally come into focus. The great global project is no longer to stop communism, counter terrorists, or promote a superficial notion of freedom. Rather, the world must accommodate 3 billion additional middle-class aspirants in two short decades — without provoking resource wars, insurgencies, and the devastation of our planet’s ecosystem. For this we need a strategy.
The status quo is untenable. In the United States, the country’s economic engine is misaligned to the threats and opportunities of the 21st century. Designed explicitly to exploit postwar demand for suburban housing, consumer goods, and reconstruction materials for Europe and Japan, the conditions that allowed it to succeed expired by the early 1970s. Its shelf life has since been extended by accommodative monetary policy and the accumulation of household, corporate, and federal debt. But with Federal Reserve interest rates effectivelyzero, Americans’ debt exceeding their income, and storms lashing U.S. cities, the country is at the end of the road.”
Photo: Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images
The Atlantic Cities:
Why New York’s Sandy Commission Recommendations Matter
From a behavioral perspective, the hardest thing about adapting to the slow process of climate change is creating a sense of urgency. After a close call with Hurricane Irene a couple years back, and a horrible clash with Hurricane Sandy this past fall, New York is beginning to accept the fact that when it comes to weather patterns along its coasts, there’s a terrifying new normal.
Late last week, just two months after Sandy, a state commission released a massive, 200-plus page blueprint on ways to develop resilience in the face of tomorrow’s environment [PDF]. The NYS 2100 Commission — one of several formed by Governor Andrew Cuomo following Sandy — evaluated the state’s critical infrastructure systems and recommended a gradient of goals, from broad to specific, to reduce their vulnerability.
“There is no doubt that building resilience will require investment, but it will also reduce the economic damage and costs of responding to future storms and events, while improving the everyday operations of our critical systems,” write commission co-chairs Judith Rodin of the Rockefeller Foundation and Felix Rohatyn of Lazard in a foreword.
While the commission offered statewide suggestions, its emphasis fell naturally on the New York City metro area — especially coastal parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island — where Sandy hit hardest.”