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When Green Spaces Displace Residents, Our Cities’ Health Suffers

It’s an undeniable fact: Green spaces are crucial to our health and wellbeing. Again and again, researchers have found that access to urban green spaces – from parks to gardens to greenways – positively impacts multiple measures of health, such as community satisfaction, social cohesion and access to healthy foods. Having a stable, quality place to call home is associated with various positive life outcomes, from lower mortality rates to lower rates of drug use. However, in a process known as ecological, green or environmental gentrification, green amenities can contribute to gentrification and, over time, the displacement of low-income residents.

Why Cities Are Opening Their Rivers And Lakes To Swimming

As recently as the 1940s, New Yorkers swam in floating pools in the Hudson and East Rivers. A safer alternative to swimming directly in the river, the municipal baths kept residents cool in hot summer months until they were closed over sanitation concerns. Now, as the city contends with life-threatening heat, can New Yorkers once again turn to the rivers to stay cool? The team behind +Pool, an initiative to bring a floating swimming pool to the East River, is betting on it. The organization’s proposed cross-shaped, Olympic-size pool would differ from its historic predecessors in one significant way: filtration.

Lessons From San Francisco About Overcoming Our Transit Deficit

Many a scholar and policy analyst has lamented the United States’ dependence on cars and the corresponding lack of federal investment in public transportation throughout the latter decades of the 20th century. But as I show in my new book, “The Great American Transit Disaster,” our transit networks are bad for a very simple reason: We wanted it this way. Focusing on Baltimore, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Boston and San Francisco, I trace the overwhelming evidence that transit disinvestment was a choice rather than destiny. There were a few exceptions to this mostly distressing story – such as San Francisco, where the publicly-owned Municipal Railway, or Muni, offers positive lessons for contemporary policymakers, politicians and voters.

It’s Time For Cities To Rethink Lawn Policy

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report on climate change is alarming. In addition to getting hotter, the earth is on pace to have the fastest mass extinction in its 4.5 billion year history. Yet U.S. laws and ordinances continue to make it difficult to transform our cities to be climate and biodiversity friendly. To slow the pace of extinctions and pull carbon from the sky, we need laws that incentivize replacement of grass with native plantings. We need yard reform, and we need it yesterday. Lawns are the largest cultivated crop in America, taking up an estimated 2% of land, over 40 million acres.

Why Cities Are Rethinking What Kinds Of Trees They’re Planting

After a series of winter storms pummeled California this winter, thousands of trees across the state lost their grip on the earth and crashed down into power lines, homes, and highways. Sacramento alone lost more than 1,000 trees in less than a week. Stressed by years of drought, pests and extreme weather, urban trees are in trouble. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that cities are losing some 36 million trees every year, wiped out by development, disease and, increasingly, climate stressors, like drought. In a recent study published in Nature, researchers found that more than half of urban trees in 164 cities around the world were already experiencing temperature and precipitation conditions that were beyond their limits for survival.

Commoning In The City

While Foster and Iaione start with the design principles identified by Elinor Ostrom, the great scholar of the commons,  they acknowledge "the limits of her framework and its applicability to the urban environment."  Unlike traditional commons of farmland, water, or fisheries, where uses have great latitude to devise their own governance rules, Foster and Iaione concluded that "Ostrom's framework needs to be adapted to the reality of urban environments that are often crowded, congested, socially diverse, economically complex, and heavily regulated." So our discussion focused on the varieties of ways that urban commons are built in very different urban settings, and the cross-currents of politics, personalities, and histories that require a larger conceptual approach.

We Can Move Beyond Food Access To Food Sovereignty

Baker Yolfer Pabade arrived at the Hot Bread Kitchen Incubator each day at 4 p.m. He had already worked a nine-hour shift in another bakery, but would work on testing and improving his recipes for another six hours. He was dreaming of launching his own bakery business based on his Colombian-Venezuelan roots and worked this schedule—with no days off—to make it a reality. After three years, he was finally ready to leave his day job and focus on his own business. One month later, in March 2020, all of New York’s food businesses ground to a halt. Yolfer took a week to make a plan of action.

The Digital Tools Unlocking Democracy In Our Cities

Digitization. It’s the threat that modern democracies, and especially cities, must solve – at least according to current dialogues on digital regulation. Many of the social and political problems our cities face today have been exacerbated by technology. Social media and other digital tools have increased the spread of misinformation and overall weakened public trust in our civic, social and political institutions. Recent developments in virtual reality and artificial intelligence raise new concerns for issues around surveillance, bias, automation and exploitation, especially with increasing public scrutiny on technology giants like Meta and Google.

How Cities Use Participatory Budgeting To Build Place

Cities around the world today are beset with problems of unequal development and spatial inequality. While the details of American suburban sprawl and urban decline might be unique to this country, the broader struggle over deeply unequal, segregated cities and regions is, unfortunately, one experienced around the world. Whether in the spreading rustbelts across shrinking industrial cities or in the mega­ cities and informal communities of the Global South, inequality is played out at the level of neighborhood and street — and it is visible everywhere. At the root of these struggles over physical spaces and the right to the city are questions of governance that are local yet also global: How should governments, residents, business interests, nonprofit organizations, and others work together in ways that produce more meaningful, just, and prosperous connections between people and places?

Four Of Five World Cities Faced ‘Significant Climate Hazards’ In 2022

It’s no secret that climate hazards are rising, with headlines of floods, hurricanes, and wildfires taking over the news. Now, a report from CDP, a nonprofit climate disclosure group, found that 4 out of 5 cities have experienced “significant climate hazards” this year. One-quarter of cities surveyed also expect to see more frequent “high-risk” climate hazards by 2025. Researchers surveyed 998 cities for its Protecting People and the Planet analysis, finding that 80% of responding cities reporting they faced significant climate hazards — including extreme heat (46%), heavy rainfall (36%), drought (35%) and flooding (33%) — in 2022. For 28% of the cities facing significant climate hazards, these extreme weather events threaten at least 70% of the cities’ populations.

Diesel Emissions In Major US Cities Disproportionately Harm Communities Of Color

Studies have long pointed to air pollution in the United States disproportionately harming poor and minority communities. But a pair of recent studies that examined tailpipe pollution in major urban hubs suggest policymakers could craft regulations more effectively to reduce air pollution disparities by targeting emissions from diesel vehicles. One of the studies, published by University of Virginia researchers earlier this month, used satellites to measure the near-daily emissions of nitrogen dioxide in 52 major U.S. cities, including Phoenix, Los Angeles and Newark, New Jersey. It found that low-income neighborhoods and communities of color experience an average of 28 percent more nitrogen dioxide pollution than higher-income and majority-white neighborhoods.

Food As A Spearhead For Gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts. In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city’s low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided. This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food — including what’s seen as “ethnic,” “authentic” or “alternative” — often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

It’s Time To Democratize City Budgets

Porto Alegre’s famous PB experiment put the city’s budget in the hands of its citizens (and included a sophisticated process to ensure broad participation), but more usually, PB has been implemented to make decisions within just a single agency or a local district. And unless robust outreach is built into the process, PB can become the domain of neighborhood busybodies already adept at advocating for themselves through local politics. That could be why it’s not better known!  But PB does have benefits regardless. It’s one way to include people unable to vote in a decision-making process, such as undocumented immigrants and teens. And research shows PB increases voter engagement during formal elections. The process also lifts the veil on public finances, even if just to show how unequal they are.

Are Urban Schools A Site of Occupation?

In the third season of Black Lightning, the fictional Black city of Freeland was living under a military occupation by the ASA (the quasi governmental organization occupying Freeland). Not only did the city have heavily armed troopers patrolling the streets, but also had troopers patrolling the schools– detaining anyone they deemed a threat – using violence if necessary.  In episode four, students are in a classroom discussing similar military occupations in multiple countries around the world and their harmful effects on the people being occupied.  Some students agree, but then others claim the ASA occupying their city might be a good thing, suggesting that the ASA’s presence comes with safety.  As they are discussing, the ASA comes into the classroom to detain (and abduct) a student named Tavon, under the suspicion of having powers. 

Emergency Urbanism

Los Angeles is on the brink of one of the largest mass displacements in the history of the region. As eviction courts reopen, nearly half a million renter households, concentrated in Black and Latinx neighborhoods, are at risk of expulsion through unlawful detainers, or eviction filings—UD Day is here. In a deal struck with the landlord and banker lobbies, the California legislature has put forward tenant protections that postpone some evictions, keeping tenants in a state of permanent displaceability. In a cruel hoax, such protections convert unpaid rent into debt, turning the small-claims court into yet another arena of violence against working-class communities of color.
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