Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Will Google Doodle With San Jose?

http://www.citylab.com; November 4, 2017


Hello Everyone: 

It is a warm, sunny, and windy Tuesday in Blogger land.  First, a little business: Bears Ears National Monument needs your help.  Thanks to a presidential proclamation, this treasure trove of archeology is being reduced to accommodate mining interests.  Bears Ears is also historically and culturally significant to the Navajo Nation, the Pueblo of Zuni, the Hopi Tribe, the Ute Indian Tribe, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, who have joined together, along with hiking equipment supplier REI, to sue the administration to prevent the proclamation from being implemented.  Sites like Bears Ears and Grand Escalante-Staircase are part of what make America truly great.  They are part of our cultural history.  They tell the story of the Native American civilizations before westward expansion.  If you would like to help, please go to savingplaces.org for more information. Even if you are not American, Blogger knows that you understand the cultural and historic significance of indigenous land.  Thank you.  Now, on our way to San Jose.

San Jose, California is a wonderful city in the very heart of Silicon Valley.  Blogger has nice memories of the two years of living in the south San Francisco Bay Area's largest city.  Blogger lived in the downtown area and at first, it struck Yours Truly that downtown San Jose was not much of a downtown compared to Downtown Los Angeles.  Downtown San Jose is one of the most walkable cities in California.  Blogger used to take walks around the city, exploring all the the hidden corners.  One of the best things about San Jose is its close proximity to tech companies like Google (Mountain View), Apple (Cupertino), EBay (Campbell), Adobe (San Jose), and Intel (Santa Clara).  Here are some facts: San Jose is home to over 1 million people, it is the third largest city in California (behind Los Angeles and San Diego), the 10th largest in the United States.  Combine this with an abundance of good weather, close proximity to gorgeous natural resources, and academic institution (Stanford and San Jose State University), you have a great place to live.  It is little wonder why tech companies like Samsung and Hewlett-Packard (Palo Alto) are expanding their headquarters there.

Richard Florida and Benjamin Schneider write in their CityLab article "How Google Can Help San Jose Become a Model of Inclusive Urbanism,"While all urbanists eyes have been trained on Amazon's much-talked-about second headquarters [citylab.com; Sept. 12, 2017; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017], another tech giant, Google, has quietly proposed to build a massive new campus in downtown San Jose."  The proposed new campus will be located near the Diridon Station and will house up to 20,000 (mercurynews.com; Oct. 19, 2017; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017) Google employees in an office space as big a 8 million square feet.  The co-authors writes, "For context, the company's current headquarters,the 'Googleplex' in Mountain View, contains [bits.blogs.nytimes.com; June 4, 2008; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017] just 3.1 million square feet of office space."

As of writing, the city and ompany are in the process of negotiating an agreement.  In the meantime, community groups (siliconvalleyrising.org; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017) have begun advocating for an agreement that benefits the city and its residents as well as Google and its high-paid employees.  San Jose is a more racially and socioeconomically diverse city than Palo Alto and Mountain View.  Like every city, San Jose is beset with all the challenges of the new urban crisis: Sky-rocketing housing costs, hair-pulling traffic, severe economic and racial inequality.

The co-authors write, "As it moves forward with this project, Google has the opportunity to forge a new model of more inclusive, tech-fueled urban development.  It's in the company's interest to do so."  Google's reputation has taken a beating, as it an other tech have been pilloried in the press for being "monopolistic, even exploitive enterprises, with little commitment to their communities."  Case in point, a few years ago the company's biggest problem was the "Google buses."  Today, it is dealing with a Congressional investigation and widespread public mistrust.  Thus, investing in more inclusive prosperity in San Jose can go along way to rehabilitate the company's battered brand and image.

San Jose should accept nothing less.  San Jose most definitely can use the jobs and investments, the municipal government must be resolute about this.  San Jose is one of the most multi-cultural cities Blogger has spent time.  It is also one of the most progressive cities; thus should "demand a fair, forward-thinking deal that makes the city's needs a priority."  Besides, "it has one of the few urban, transit-connected sites in the region where Google, or any tech company,..., can go."

So, how can Google can be a corporate citizen to the people of San Jose?  Richard Florida and Benjamin Schneider offer some suggestions.

First, from an architectural point of view, Google's new home should be as distinct as possible from Apple's "Spaceship" (citylab.com; April 27, 2017; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017).  The co-authors suggest, "Rather than being a campus per se, Google should build a fine-grained, mixed-use neighborhood, with walkways between between buildings and numerous public spaces."  The proposed Diridon site is located very near the downtown area.  Google should take advantage of this ideal location by stressing public transport, walking and bicycling, and keep parking down to an absolute minimum.  These are pretty obvious, already mentioned in intial discussions (mercurynews.com; June 18, 2017; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017).

Next, Google can leap ahead of the tech-company pack by building enough housing units commensurate with the number of new jobs it will bring to San Jose.  The co-authors report, "Because housing is so difficult to build in California, 'the market' cannot be expected to suddenly accommodate 20,000 well-heeled workers."  Constructing new housing units together new office construction "would not only prevent a major shock to the housing market, it would also improve the experience of the new neighborhood, be a boon to business downtown and help transit usage."

Richard Florida and Benjamin Schneider suggest that "A significant percentage of these housing units should be below market rate".  The median cost for a house in San Jose is $880,703 (zillow.com date accessed Dec. 5, 2017).  Google can follow the example of the San Francisco Giants baseball team when they agreed "to make 40 percent of the units in their Mission Rock development affordable" [sfexaminer.com; Oct. 8, 2017; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017].  Google and its real estate partner Trammell Crow should be able to meet this standard.  The co-authors speculate, "Perhaps Google could set aside a portion of these units as 'workforce housing' for teachers, firefighters, and police."  Google could also build housing units for its service workers-i.e. cafeteria workers and maintenance staff-while we are here, pay them a living wage.

The challenge of finding an affordable place to live in San Jose is closely tied to its transportation challenges.  There are buses and light rail but they do not really reach deep into the suburban areas, thus residents must rely on cars to get them to and from work.  Diridon Station is next door to the proposed site and state officials have big plans for "the Grand Central of the West" (mercurynews.com; June 18, 2017; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017), which will eventually serve high-speed and BART, as well to Caltrain and VTA.  The problem is no one figured out how to pay for it.  Typical.

This is where Google can help.  "Developing a financial mechanism for Google to contribute to the reconstruction of Diridon would be complicated..."  Be that as it may, developing a financial mechanism should be part of the conversation about the proposed site.  The co-authors offer this idea, "Perhaps the city could create a special property tax for Diridon-adjacent plots.  Or Google's community benefits agreement could include a substantial commitment to transit improvements."

However this unfolds, it is an Google's best interest that Diridon Station become the western "Grand Central-" i.e. a "multimodal hub that it is meant to be."  Extending BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) access to the south San Francisco Bay Area would make Google employees' commute incredibly simple and high-speed rail would make taking meeting in San Francisco and Los Angeles easier for executives.  Richard Florida and Benjamin Schneider write,"Turning the station into an iconic contemporary landmark would symbolize San Jose's arrival as an urban 21st-century global city-something that Google is clearly interested in associating itself with."

Contemporary politics being what they are, San Jose and the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area should expect much, if any, help for the federal government with their progressive urban agendas.  The flipside of the anti-urban, anti-progressive political climate in Washingon D.C. is Americans are looking toward other institutions to fill the void.

The co-authors ask some very important questions: "Do the Bay Area's nominally progressive tech companies really care about making our communities and our world a better place?  Or are they simply opportunists, relentlessly extracting value wherever they can, and leaving the rest of us to deal with the consequences?"

Google has a great opportunity in San Jose to demonstrate their true core values.  Will they step up or be one of those exploitive tech companies?

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Template For Pedestrianizing A Busy Street

http://www.citylab.com: November 8, 2017


Hello Everyone:

Welcome to a fresh week on the blog and fresh outrage.  Today's outrage is over Mr. Trump announcing the reduction of of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments by half, opening it up to drilling and coal mining interests.  This comes on the heels of his alleged admission of obstruction of justice by tweet and the Senate passing the biggest Tax Scam disguised as a massive reform intended to generate jobs.  This is making America great again?  Blogger does not think so.  Actually, Blogger is not outraged because before the 2016 General Election because this reckless, callous attitude was on full display during the campaign.  The reduction of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is complete lack of respect for American history and culture in favor of corporate interests.  Apparently, Mr. Trump thinks that coal mining is the future of energy. Now it is not but try convincing him of that.  Thank you Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke (#StinkyZinke) for doing such a stellar job of protecting our national monuments (sarcasm alert).  You really know how to make America great again.  That said, on to today's subject: pedestrianizing urban streets.

We are back in the United Kingdom today to talk about making urban streets walkable.  The focus of the post is London's Oxford Street.  Feargus O'Sullivan exclaims with glee in his CityLab article "How to Pedestrianize a Vital Urban Street," "Finally, it's happening.  After years of discussion,London's Oxford Street is being pedestrianized" (standard.co.uk; Nov. 6, 2017; date accessed Dec. 4, 2017).  Oxford Street is a popular key London artery-known for its boutiques-and its massive population problem. For years, Oxford Street has been know as a "notorious fume trap" because it is a vital corridor for public transport.  Mr. O'Sullivan writes, "As you might imagine,tidying up has been a logistical headache.  But if it works here, the plan could become a template for any city that wants to turn a busy thoroughfare into a car-free zone."

By the end of 2018, about 800 meters (approximately half a mile) of street will be off-limits to vehicles.  The pedestrianization process will be accomplished in two stages in successive years.  Oxford Street is so active and so centrally located, "that many people doubt the change is even possible-" however, "the long-building city-led push or change, powered in part by shaming pollution figures that step far beyond EU-prescribed guidelines, is finally action."  To understand how the pedestrianization process can happen, it is worth taking a look at how London is meeting the Oxford Street challenge.  Let us start with the problem.

"The Problem"

If you have ever been to London, you will quickly notice that the narrow streets were obviously laid out way before anyone thought of the internal combustion engines.  The street is (in one respect) nearly two millennia old, traveling along the path of the Via Trinobantina, an ancient Roman road snaking out of London's west. Mr. O'Sullivan describes Oxford Streets, "While it is fairly broad by London standards, it sits among streets that are narrow and maze-like, meaning that for a long time, buses and delivery vehicles trying to cross town had almost no viable alternative routes."

What makes Oxford Streets so unique is that private automobiles have not been the source for congestion for decades.  Cars have been banned as far back as the eighties, "excluded at that time more to reduce gridlock than pollution."  However, the crush of buses and taxis continue resulting in critically high pollution and congestion levels.  Feargus O'Sullivan reports, "Without parallel alternatives, 200 buses still funnel through the street every hour at peak times, often at a crawl, filling the air with so many fumes that the street typically exceeds its safe emissions levels for an entire 12 months within the first two weeks of every year [citylab.com; Jan. 12, 2014; date accessed Dec. 4, 2017]."  Thus the problem is: How can London close Oxford Street without throttling off the city around it?  What will become of the people who travel through the area in public transport to somewhere else?  The solution to this heady challenge is a tangle of remedies.

"Make rail transit a viable alternative"

London's stellar underground line (a slightly biased opinion) running beneath the street-the Central Line (em.m.wikipedia.org; ; date accessed Dec. 4, 2017)-is massively congested.  By the end of next year, this portion of the subway will finally see some relief in the form of Crossrail (Ibid), a large-scale east-west rail project should be ready to take on commuter traffic and establish two major new stations on Oxford Street.  With the Crosrail taking up the majority of the pressure, "the Underground could (at least initially) find itself with more breathing space, attracting more passengers that currently use buses."  This should ease a lot of the pressure at street-level.

"Rethink the bus network"

Another slightly biased opinion, London has a great bus network.  However, the Crosrail will force bus riders onto trains because the routes will be shortened.  Mr. O'Sullivan points out, "Transport for London is effectively giving up on the nine bus routes that travel along Oxford Street.  Only two will be re-routed to the nearest parallel street north, while two more will be routed away from the area entirely. The five remaining lines,..., will soon terminate at the street's western end,...Taxis will also be banned, with ranks set up on adjacent streets."

Even with the new rail lines paralleling the street, banning buses sounds harsh, but the present situation, where vehicles travel at a snail's pace along the road is already maddening, things could be worse if vehicles were re-routed to even more narrow streets to the north.

"Allow some vehicle crossing-and improve the wider area"

It makes sense to allow limited vehicle crossings.  Although east-west traffic will be re-routed, it is rather unrealistic to turn Oxford Street into a 1.8-mile-long barrier to all automobile traffic.  Therefore, it makes more sense to keep the north-south cross streets open to vehicle crossings.  Mr. O'Sullivan observes, "That should keep smaller streets to the south accessible, even if getting there in a delivery van might be more difficult."

Another thing that makes sense is make the wider area more attractive.  Mr. O'Sullivan writes, "Keeping these surrounding streets open will only work, however, if they're treated as more than just overspill for displaced traffic."  Many of the side streets are home to boutiques, pubs, and restaurants that are far and few between on the high street, dominated by the big retail stores.  The goal is make the area more hospitable by widening the sidewalks and more road crossings.  Eventually Oxford Street can lose some of its high street poshness and let people explore the neighborhood a little more.

"Make the area more attractive"

Making a pedestrian thoroughfare an attractive and bustling place is,goes without saying, absolutely essential. Nothing gets drivers' knickers in a major twist than "seeing a road cleared of vehicles only to be left empty as traffic clogs in this surrounding."  To accomplish this on Oxford Street, the plan is to completely demolish the street so that the curbs and sidewalks disappear.  In their place, perhaps the roads can be filled in with attractive graphic paving that would serve as a billboard for pedestrian ownership of the road, encouraging shoppers to move out from the congested sidewalks during peak periods, which are frankly akin to being stuffed into an already crowded sardine can.

"...And a major missed opportunity"

So far, the mixing of pedestrianization with a re-orientation of traffic circulation sounds good.  Be that as it may, there is one missing component.  The missing components are bicycles, banned under the current plan with its wisp of a promise of improving the cycling infrastructur in the surrounding streets.  Citing TFL consultancy documents justifying this, Mr. O'Sullivan reports, "Surveys show that many cyclist tuned to avoid Oxford Street, and instead use alternative routes."

Well, yes, it only stands to reason that cyclists would avoid a street that is already congested to avoid collisions with pedestrians or vehicles.  Oxford Street's unpopularity with cyclists reflects that the Street is a hostile environment.  It certainly does not mean that cyclists would not ride there under better under more friendly circumstances.  The plans for pedestrianizing Oxford Street may do a lot to clear the air and serve as template for other cities-are you listening Los Angeles Department of City Planning?  The fault in this plan is banning bicycles.  Perhaps this fault can be corrected but for now, London is taking a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: The Brexit Edition

http://www.citylab.com; November 29, 2017


Hello Everyone:

It is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  This week The Forum hops the pond to take a look at the biggest issue looming over Great Britain.  No, not the upcoming royal wedding; Blogger will checking her mailbox for an invitation.  No e-vites for the British Royals.  Second and more immediate, the Alabama special election is coming up quickly.  Voters will be asked to choose between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore.  The winner will fill the seat vacated by (for now) Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Alabama fans think hard before you cast your vote, ask yourselves what is more important: party loyalty and what is right.  Whatever you do, just get out and vote.  Now onto to today's subject.

Scanning the media, it has come to Blogger's attention that Brexit-i.e. Great Britain's looming exist from the European Union-has become the biggest source of the island nation's anxiety.  You would be right if you thought Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's upcoming wedding is providing a very welcome distraction.  Upon further perusal of the British media, it seems that Great Britain (England, Scotland, and  Wales)  and the Republic Ireland are at war with each other.  A spokesperson for the British far-right party UKIP declared that Ireland had threatened the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), deriding it as the weakest kid in the playground (independent.co.uk; Nov. 27, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017).  The Sun quite pointedly told the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to shut his gob...and grow up (thejournal.ie; Nov. 18, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017).  Got to love the British media and their lack of filter.  The associate editor of the Telegraph grumbled that Ireland has poisoned U.K. politics and brought down governments for centuries (citylab.com; June 13, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017), which given both countries' bloody shared history, it is a little like blaming Ireland's broken nose and jaw for England's broken hands.  So what is is behind all the acrimony?

This is the question that Feargus O'Sullivan asks in his CityLab article "How Brexit Got Snagged on the Irish Border."  What else, Brexit.  The same thing that been at the root of Britain's odd political behavior over the last year-and-half.  What did you think Blogger would say, The President of The United States?  Mr. O'Sullivan writes, "While the U.K. is committed to leaving the Euopean Union, the Republican of Ireland has ever conceived of leaving.  and that's turning the Irish border into a virtual battleground."

Trying to figure out what is going between Great Britain and Ireland is a whole complicated separate matter in-of-itself but necessary to understand the intricacies of the Brexit process.  Fortunately for us, Feargus O'Sullivan provides with a basic outline of the problem.

"Meet the E.U.'s least-watertight border"

When (depending on the vagaries of British politics, if) Brexit does happen, it will result in the U.K.'s first land border with the E.U., on the frontier between Ireland and Northern Ireland.  For Irish and U.K. passport holders, this should not be a problem because both have a longstanding Common Travel Area (en.wikipedia.org; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017).  This non-legally binding agreement allows passport-free travel between, for example, Scotland and Ireland.  However, since Britain is on a leave the E.U. tariff-free single market trajectory, imports and exports must be monitored along the 310-mile long border.  Mr. O'Sullivan reports, "Controlling this flow by a so-called 'hard' border-that is, one with checkpoints and customs controls-would be quite the job."  Northern Ireland sends an estimated  £3.6 billion ($4.8 billion; telegraph.co.uk; Nov. 26, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017), while there are 275 crossings between the two halves of the island, "more than twice the number [bbc.com; Aug. 16, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017] there are along the E.U.'s entire eastern frontier."  Given this fact, you can well imagine that a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would be an absolute nightmare.

"Keep calm and carry on?"

"Keep calm and carry on" sounds nice on a tea cozy but how would play out against the reality of Brexit.  Prime Minister Theresa May's government maintains that a hard border will not be necessary because of a "new super-lightweight customs system suggested by the the British, large companies moving goods across the border would pay duties simply by declaring what they have shipped, while smaller companies would face no controls whatsoever."  Sounds easy, right?

Maybe a wee too easy.  Mr. O'Sullivan rightly points out, "With no controls for smaller businesses, the Irish border would become a quasi-legal smuggling paradise for importers wanting to avoid paying duty on their goods."  Of course there would be nothing to stop a non-European company (e.g. American) from flying their goods into the Northern Irish capital of Belfast, then using a network of smaller companies to convoy them across the border, duty-free.  There is absolutely no way the E.U. would accept this bizarre "backdoor version of a single market-which Britain says it wants to leave"

European Union resistance is not the only obstacle to this odd-ball scheme coming to fruition.  "Allowing E.U. importers to get their good into Britain tax-free over the Irish border would be giving their countries preferential treatment, which would break World Trade Organization rules [ft.com; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017] and expose the UK. to a tsunami of litigation."

This plan is way out in left field, that some pundits have suggested that it was never meant to be serious (the guardian.com; Aug. 16, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017).  Instead of a more viable solution, this super-lightweight customs system suggests one, so that eventual imposition of a hard border can be blamed on the E.U., and Ireland.  This has not escaped the eagle-eyed Irish government, who are demanding more clarity and a solid mutually agreed upon plan before Great Britain begins negotiating trade deals with the E.U.

Historically, Ireland has always been the lesser in power and wealth than Britain, however, Ireland now finds itself in the unusually stronger position to make demands: "After all, it has 26 other European countries provisionally on this side."  As complex as it is, it is the shift in the balance of power that has the Brexiteers' knickers in a major twist.

"Threats to a hard-won peace"

The border issue is not just about trade.  In fact, just focusing on trade is to miss the bigger-no scratch that-enormous all consuming picture.  The Northern Irish peace process begun in the 1990s and culminated in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement; delicately maintained has been helped by easier flow and lessen tension along the border.  The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland border has been the site of guerrilla warfare, by the Irish Republican Army, since the fifties (em.wikipedia.org; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017), while visitors from Ireland were often the targets of attacks and killings (Ibid) from loyalist paramilitaries (Ibid).  Mr. O'Sullivan reports, "Customs checks continued on the border until 1993, but in recent years the frontier has been largely fluid and peaceful..."  This has helped diffuse tensions across the border and within Northern Ireland.

Since the referendum, Ms. May's government has already placed the Good Friday Agreement (Ibid) in jeopardy by forming a coalition with loyalist Democratic Unionist Party (citylab.com; June 13, 2017).  Mr. O'Sullivan writes, "By attaching its electoral future to a sectarian party, the British national government has called into question its ability to maintain the 'rigorous impartiality stipulated by the agreement."  To make matters worse, the U.K. is racing toward re-solidifying the border-and possibly toppling the precarious status quo-while insisting it is not doing anything of the sort.

"Grasping for a solution"

So can some system be implemented?  The obvious solution is just chuck the whole Brexit out the window and remain in the European Union, but that, unfortunately, is not an option.  Another options is keeping Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in a single market with a customs border along the Irish Sea.  This would be problematic for Ireland, "because it would face customs controls on truck rolling off ferries and across Britain, which is still the main road for freight between Ireland and mainland Europe."  Be that as it may, it would certainly mitigate potentially disastrous tension along the Northern Irish land border.

The biggest obstacle to this remedy is the DUP, "who are suspicious that Northern Irish customs union with the Republic of Ireland but not with the U.K. might be a creeping move toward the pan-Irish unification they are constitutionally opposed to."  Given that the DUP is currently propping up Ms. May's delicate Tory government (Ibid), it wields considerable power.  However, withdrawing from the coalition might precipitate an election that would result in a Labour-led government; with which it has a frosty relationship.  Let us see who blinks first.

"High stakes and shouting"

If a solution is not worked, the Brexit negotiations may come to a standstill, elevating the risk of the British crashing out of the E.U. without any sort of deal.  A compromise could eventually be worked out but the current British strategies do not inspire much confidence.  Instead they inspire a lot of wishful thinking and shouting.

In addition, the general level cluelessness about Ireland in Great Britain is on shocking display, whether it is groundless Ireland wants to leave the European Union (twitter.com/@daily_politics; 5:53 AM; Nov. 27, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017), the Irish government plans to seize territory in the north (twitter.com/@andrew_lilico; 1:24 AM; Nov. 27, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017), or the Irish Republican Army might use Brexit as a pretext to start a bombing campaign (twitter.com/@michaelgove; 3:35 AM; Dec. 29, 2016; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017).  The truth of the matter, the Leave campaigners promised a Brexit that would bring about a genuinely global Britain.  Instead of making Britain great again, it is making Great Britain smaller day by day.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Social Network For Athletes

http://www.citylab.com; November 7, 2017


Hello Everyone:

The social network has irrevocably changed the way we interact with each other.  Face-to-face contact with "friends" has been replaced by posts and tweets.  Whenever an important event happens, the first place we look is our social media accounts.  In short, the social media has replaced mainstream media as the primary source for news and information.   How about using the social media for transportation planning?  This is the subject of Benjamin Schneider's CityLab article "The Social Network That Helps Planners Understand Pedestrians and Cyclists."

Mr. Schneider writes, "Pedestrians and cyclists are notoriously difficult for transportation planners to count and map."  However, this situation is starting to change thanks to the fitness-themed social media.  Think of it as Facebook and Twitter for fitness-minded users; instead of posting selfies, this fitness oriented social network tracks where the runners, bikers, and walkers congregate and how they travel.

At the end of October, Strava, a social network for athletes, re-launched its Global Heatmap (labs.strava.com; date accessed Nov. 28, 2017) with additional data and improved graphics.  The site offers an interactive map illustrating over 1 billion trips taken by Strava's million users, "80 percent of whom are from outside the United States."  All of the data comes together in a very detailed map of journeys undetaken by foot, by bike, and other means of transportation.  Transportation planners have taken not and being put to use.

Mr. Schneider reports, "The Global Heatmap provides a fairly blunt sense of the busiest traffic corridors, but it's the public face of a trove of data about how pedestrians and cyclists get around."  The first version of the Global Heatmap resulted in a flood of calls of planners and activists that the company created a data toolkit-Strava Metro (metro.strava.com; Nov. 28, 2017).  "Today the toolkit is used by 125 organizations around the world, including departments of transportation in Colorado, Utah, Florida, New Hampshitre, and Vermont."

Strava marketing lead Brian Devaney told CityLab,

A lot of transportation and planning departments reached out to use saying that they don't have very much data on bike and pedestrian behavior.  They need to do a deeper dive into what the heat map shows in order to lobby for better infrastructure.

Heidi Goedhart, an active transportation managerof the Utah Department of Transportation, and Joseph  Santos, a safety engineer at the Florida Department of Transportation shared Mr. Devaney sentiment.  Ms. Goedhart told CityLab,

It's really hard for us to understand origin and destination, and also how long those trips are, because if we're doing point-source data collection, then we're missing the rest of the picture.

By presenting completed trips, Strava information provides a more sophisticated snapshot of pedestrian and cycling behavior than the typical data sources available to planners.  UDOT, one of Strava Metro's partners as of this past March, has already altered some of the roads and intersection designed based on the new data.  Ms. Goedhart continued, It's replacing anecdote with data.

Most planners and policy types tend to drift towards the pedestrian and bicycle data, however, the Global Heatmap also presents trips taken on snow or water, "representing a far more diverse range of activities with far fewer data points."  In this respect, the map can be viewed as depicting travel by method, rather than mean.  For example, "The leg filter...doesn't distinguish between walking and jogging.  The water filter depicts all manner of aquatic sports, including swimming, sailing, and kite-boarding.  And the snow filter highlights ski and snowboard hotspots liked the Sierra and Alps..." Although, for some mysterious reason, downtown Los Angeles shows up on the snow filter as well.

The map's designer, Drew Robb, told CityLab that this and other glitches would be straighten out with some machine learning types.  If you would like to learn more about the map's technical features, please go to medium.com and read Mr. Robb's November 1st blog post "The Global Heatmap Now 6x Hotter."

San Francisco's water map give us a glimpse into what sports are being enjoyed along the peninsula.  Benjamin Schneider speculates, "The big bright spots just north of the peninsula probably represents a large number of swimmers and sailors."  Surfers congregate along the popular Pacific coastline spots of Ocean and Bolinas Beaches.  The interior waterways of Marin County, just north of the city, are a popular place for kayaker so and paddle boarders.

Moving across the United States to New York City's West Side Highway, "America's busiest bike route" and the site of the heinous terrorist attack this past Halloween (citylab.com; Nov. 1, 2017; date accessed Nov. 28, 2017), we find the map is lit up in bright white.  So too, are many of Manhattan's pedestrian thoroughfares which have become popular with cyclists as well.  No shock that Brooklyn streets show more bicycle trips on Strava than the rest of the outer boroughs.

 Since the data is gleaned from a social network geared toward athletes, who tend to be more affluent and tech savvy, there glaring omissions in the map.  "Large low-income neighborhoods, like South L.A., Chicago's South Side or the Bronx-to say nothing of countless non-urban areas-have far fewer data points than wealthier neighborhoods."  The transportation planners that spoke with Mr. Schneider were quite aware of the discrepancies.  The Florida Department of Transportation's Joseph Santos determined that "10 percent of bike trips taken in the state are recorded on Strava, which a is a small, but not insignificant number."  It is quite a different story in Utah, where a thriving recreational bicycle culture means a lot of Strava data points, resulting in transportation planning adding new sensor to streets where the data might not reflect ridership in a more accurate manner.

Heidi Goedhart said,

We have to be aware of the social equity component of what the data is telling us.

In most cases, the places with the fewest data point might be the very places that require improved bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

While transportation planners ponder these deep questions, map aficionados can navigate their way around the Global Heatmap and check out all the great workout places they could be using instead of sitting idly in front of a screen.  Andrew Vontz, communications lead at Strava,  considers the map a form of digitizing motivation, one of the social network's most potent attributes and its important feature:

It's just kind of fun to see people getting after it and getting stoked all over the world. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Make Cities Part Of The Solution To The Refugee Crisis

http://www.cityulab.com; October 27, 2017


Hello Everyone:

Yours Truly is back from a very long Thanksgiving/Birthday holiday weekend and ready for a fresh week.  A couple of news items: First, a big congratulations to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their engagement.  How about that, a Yank in Queen Elizabeth's court.  All those blood blued ancestors must be spinning in their graves.  Blogger wishes the happy a couple a lifetime of joy.  Second, today is the last day to register to vote in time for the Alabama Senate special election.  This election is between Democrat Doug Jones and Repbulican Roy Moore.  If you have not registered yet, the clock is ticking loudly toward the midnight tonight deadline.  If you need more information, please go to vote.org.  Alright on to today's subject: the refugee crisis.

Refugees fleeing violence from Myanmar (Burma) and the Middle East have become the greatest human migration in contemporary times.  Since the end of August, over half a million of Rohingya Muslims have fled secretariat persecution, crossing into Bangladesh in what the United Nations as called "the fastest-growing refugee crisis world today" (theatlantic.com; Oct. 19, 2017; date accessed Nov. 27, 2017).  Meanwhile, millions of Syrian and Iraqi men, women, and children, displaced by ongoing civil war, continue to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in hopes of finding a safe haven.  

Bruce Katz and Jessica Brandt report in their CityLab article, "The Refugee Crisis Is a City Crisis," "Against this backdrop, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi spoke last month [in September 2017], during the General Assembly in New York to talk about a new approach for dealing with refugees,...those forced to flee their homes are integrated more permanently the into urban areas rather than isolated in camps."  Specifically,

Inclusion is the name of the game...Cities are frontline players in dealing with refugees (thenational.ae; Sept. 18, 2017; date accessed Nov. 27, 2017)

Here is an important real fact: "Local authorities are critical to addressing the needs of the displaced."  According to the UNHCR, "roughly 60 percent of the world's 22 million refugees reside in cities rather than in camps" (Ibid).  The refugees are not only displaced persons from other countries coming from South Asia and the Middle East making their way to the cities; internally displaced people are also finding their way toward urban centers.

Thus it becomes incumbent on municipal officials to formulate specific effective emergency responses as well as plans for long-term integration.  These intiatives must be designed, delivered, and financed at the municipal levels.  The components must include: housing, healthcare, education, job skills training, and a variety of social services.

This is absolutely crucial "...because displacement is not getting just more urban in nature-it's increasingly prolonged."  Some context: in the early nineties, "the average length of displacement was nine years.  Today, it's roughly twenty [rsc.ox.ac.uk; Jan. 2011; date accessed Nov. 27, 2017."  By the end of 2016, more than 11 million refugees (unhcr.org; date accessed Nov. 27, 2017)-two thirds of the total around the world-were in prolonged situations.  Together, these shifts have resulted in a massive in change in the protective needs of displaced persons.  This means that displaced persons coming from the Middle East, for example, are putting down roots in their host communities thus require programs such as language lessons, in order to successfully integrate into their new living situations.  

Displaced persons require "Sustainable interventions build on existing city systems and take into account the needs of the entire community, including host populations."  Municipal officials are a the best position;on to contribute to this effort.  For this reason, humanitarian officials and organizations must engage with cities in discussions on policy and implementation.  

Mr. Grandi also stated that the UNHCR is prepared to take such action.  He said,

UNHCR is ready to step its engagement with mayors around the world.

This is good news, particularly since the "UNHCR has an opportunity to make good on that commitment through the process of drawing up new global agreement on refugees..."  In 2016, global leaders began this process by convening the Summit for Refugees and Migrants, which will conclude their annual meeting next year.

In the interim, Mr. Katz and Ms. Brandt suggest that "more should be done to engage local leaders in the negotiation process."  Bruce Katz and Jessica Brandt offer a few ideas on what can be done to engage city officials.  Ms. Brandt authored "Engaging city leaders in the global compact process: Recommendations for action" (brookings.edu; Oct. 17, 2017; date accessed Nov. 27, 2017), together with the International Rescue Committee (rescue.org; date accessed Nov. 27, 2017) and 100 Resilient Cities-Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation (100resilient.org; Nov 24, 2017; date accessed Nov. 27, 2017).  The following are some of the ideas Ms. Brandt and Mr. Katz have on engaging cities in the refugee crisis.  

First, this goes without saying, cities need to be participants in all discussions on displaced persons.  They should be given the opportunity to make a contribution(s) and provide feed back on the draft of the Global Compact on Refugees that the UNHCR is committed to having ready by early next year.  Ms. Brandt and Mr. Katz write, "This feedback process could take place alongside the process of formal consultations, which is set to take place between February and July of next year."

Second, Ms. Brandt and Ms. Katz suggest, "UNHCR should incorporate towns and cities  with size able refugee populations into the testing and development of its approach."  Currently, The Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework is set for roll out in eleven countries.  Camp-based or rural refugee populations are the predominant feature in these eleven countries.  As a result, the conclusions from these pilot sites may not completely relate to addressing the present situation: "a majority of refugees reside in towns and cities.  That should change."

Third, "UNHCR should encourage UN member States to engage in meaningful collaboration with municipal authorities by facilitating the flow of technical expertise and resources to town and cities, creating a formal consultation mechanism between city leaders and other decision-makers, and by disentangling financial flows to reach local practitioners."

Finally, the international humanitarian organizations need to develop new strategies to source innovative methods on refugee integration straight to the cities.  Retaining best practices and sharing them widely, can accelerate the scope of replication and the scale of proven solutions.

The refugee crisis in Syria and Iraq shows no sign of abating and the one in Burma and Bangladesh is exploding, thus it is absolutely imperative that best policies and practices be put in place immediately.  Also of the utmost importance, cities must participate in all relevant global discussions-including the ones taking place over the next year.  The United Nationas High Commission for Refugees is open and ready to engage civic officials.  Jessica Brandt and Bruce Katz are ready to help the agency implement their commitment. 
  

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: Why These Cities?

http://www.citylab.com; September 29, 2017


Hello Everyone:

Time for the weekly and pre-Thanksgiving Day edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  Before we get going on today's subjects: Sanctuary Cities, a couple of words on two current events items.  First, (sarcasm alert) thank you Federal Communications Commission for ending net neutrality.  Your lame attempt to open up competition for Internet providers will effectively throttle the public forum.  Way to go.  A reminder to the FCC, the Internet has become the public square of the 21st century.  By micro-managing the public forum, you are choking off whatever constructive free exchange of opinions on issues that affect us.  Second, calling all Alabama voters, you still have time to register for the December 12 special election.  The registration deadline is November 27.  For more information, please go to vote.org.  That said, on to sanctuary cities.


Amid the president's latest Twitter feud, daily sexual harassment and assault  revelations, a story about sanctuary cities made headlines.  Yesterday, Federal Judge William H. Orrick handed down a ruling that permenantly blocked Mr. Donald Trump's executive order to withhold funds from cities that curtail their cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed, in April, by the city of San Francisco and Santa Clara County, and follows a temporary injunction blocking the order from taking effect.  San Francisco is one of the declared sanctuary cities around the country, along with Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Denver.  Why bring this up?

Blogger brings this up because the above mentioned cities, as well as several other cities, were the target of a four-day ICE action in September of this year.  Tanvi Misra reports in her CityLab article, "Why Trump Administration Targeted These 10 Jurisdictions in Its Latest Raids," "In a four-day operation, Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) rounded up [ice.gov; Sept. 28, 2017; date accessed Nov. 22, 2017] almost 500 individuals in many so-called sanctuary cities..."  Philadelphia experienced the greatest number of detention (107), Los Angeles was second (101), followed by Denver (63).  These numbers may not represent a lot of people but the cities that the raids took place is important.

Acting ICE director Tom Homan said in a statement:

Sanctuary jurisdiction that do not honor detainers or allow us access to jails and prisons are shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement acne creating a magnet for illegal immigration...As a result, ICE is forced to dedicate more resources to conduct at-large arrests in these communities. (Ibid)

Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Denver, as well as San Francisco, Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Portland, Washington D.C., Boston all have one other thing in common.  They are in states that voted Democrat in the 2016 General Election.  Blogger just wanted to put that out there.

Ms. Misra writes, "These targeted raids come after repeated blows [citylab.com; April 25, 2017; date accessed Nov. 22, 2017] to the Trump administration's effort to punish [vox.com; July 26, 2017; date access Nov. 22, 2017] these cities by withholding federal grants, which a court recently ruled [cnn.com; Sept. 15, 2017; date accessed Nov. 22, 2017] is likely a constitutional overreach.  Attorney General (for now) Jeff Sessions has long had these cities in his cross hairs, describing themselves as "hotbeds of violence and vice."

Los Angeles is a hotbed of violence and vice?  Oh really?  Los Angeles is hardly a literal "City of Angels" but Blogger thinks that the elfin AG has been watching one too many Humphrey Bogart movies.

Although the policies of sanctuary cities vary, they do have one common thread: limit the extent to which they allocate local resources are dedicated to federal enforcement.  Specifically, "They do not block the federal government from enforcement; many do cooperate with ICE when it come to violent offenders and let the federal agency access law enforcement databases [npr.org; May 12, 2017; date accessed Nov. 22, 2017]."

Here is an interesting fact, the majority of cities that do not honor ICE's request to hold alleged undocumented immigrants do so because the courts (washingtonexaminer.com; July 24, 2017; date access Nov. 22 2017) have ruled detaining immigrant for federal law enforcement agents is really illegal.  Ms. Misra reports, "Still, ICE briefly took to shaming these cities in public lists, until inaccuracies in their data came to the surface [nytimes.com; April 10, 2017; date accessed Nov. 22, 2017]."

When ICE announced its lates round of raids (ice.gov; Sept. 28, 2017; date accessed Nov. 22, 2017)-Operation 'Safe City'-the agency highlighted the most outrageous criminal cases among those arrested: battery, child and domestic abuse, gang affliation.  Acting director Homan said,

ICE's goal is to build cooperative, respectful relationships with our law enforcement partners to help prevent dangerous criminal aliens from being releases back onto the streets.

However, upon closer inspection of the statistics from Operation "Safe City" weaken ICE's claim that the raids are focused on getting violent criminals off the streets.  "Out of 498 people arrested, ICE data shows 181 people did not have any criminal convictions.  among 317 that did, the highest number of people had driven under the influence (86).  The next six largest categories were drug trafficking (14), assault (13), domestic violence (12), weapons offense (11), sex offense against child (10), and traffic office (10)."

Immigration hardliners interpret these numbers as a way to "restore law and order" (whitehouse.gov; Sept. 5, 2017; date accessed Nov. 22, 2017).  However, pro-immigration advocates "point to the unfairness of crimes as small as shoplifting and as serious as rape having the same consequence."  They argue, "...deportation should not be used as punishment at all, given that someone who's been convicted has already paid their dues to society."

Erika Almiron, the executive director of the immigrant rights organization Juntos, told CityLab,

You're creating a situation of double jeopardy...It's almost as if you don't think that the criminal justice system works.

Acting director Tom Homan also pointed out in his statement,
...on cooperation policies severely undermine that effort at the expense of public safety

Tanvi Misra points out that "...research has refuted this claim."  One study concluded that cities that instituted sanctuary policies did not experience any statistically significant upswing in crime (washingtonpost.com; July 1, 2015; date accessed Nov. 22, 2017).  A second study (citylab.com; Jan. 26, 2017; date accessed Nov. 22, 2017) compared sanctuary and related non-sanctuary cities demonstrated that "former actually tended to have lower crime and higher productivity, likely because of better police-community trust [Ibid]."

At the moment there is a bipartisan push toward "crimmigration" (citylab.com; Sept. 16, 2016; date accessed Nov. 22, 2017)-"the expansion in the number of offenses that can lead to deportation and higher prosecution of these offenses-" some of the cities are widening the scope of their sanctuary polices (citylab.com; March 15, 2017; date accessed Nov. 22, 2017).  This would include criminal justice and law enforcement policies that might leave immigrants initially vulnerable to immigration enforcement.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tech-Driven Economic Segregation

http://www.citylab.com; October 24, 2017


Hello Everyone:

Yours Truly is back from an unintended sick day and feeling energetic enough to put down a few words.  Before we get going on today's subject, a quick reminder to fans in the great state of Alabama.  December 12 there will be a special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by (for) now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  If you are not registered to vote, you have until midnight November 27, 2017 register.  Make sure you get to the polls on December 12 and vote.  With that, on to today's subject: "How Innovation Leads to Economic Segretation."

The urban revival of the past two decades has been A Tale of Two Cities (slight pun intended).  This contradictory situation is the result of high-tech talent and industry returning to many cities, increasing economic revenue and decreasing unemployment.  Richard Florida reports in his afore mentioned CityLab article, "Now a new study documents in meticulous detail the extent to which rising innovation and deepening economic segregation in cities are two sides of the same coin."

The study, Income Segregation and Rise of the Knowledge Economy (Oct. 11, 2017; citylab.com; Oct. 24, 2017; date accessed Nov. 21, 2017) co-authored by Enrico Berkes of Northwestern University and Mr. Florida's colleague at the University of Toronto Ruben Gaetani, "uses sophisticated statistical modeling to parse out the connection between innovation and economic segregation."  The co-authors use their database of over 2 million geographically coded and referenced patents (referenced in an article written by Mr. Florida; citylab.com; Aug. 3, 2017; date accessed Nov. 21, 2017) for American metropolitans (measured as commuting zones [ers.usda.gov; Oct. 3, 2016; date accessed Nov. 21, 2017]) over the past forty years.  The co-authors compared patent data to benchmarks of economic segregation across census tract: income, educational, and occupational segregation between 1990 and 2010.  Mr. Florida writes, "Their models include a wide range of variables to control for population, income levels, industry differences, and political and economic factors over this period."

The foundational conclusion is as stunning as it is disturbing: "The level of patenting, or what the researchers call  innovation intensity, accounts for more than half  (56 percent) of the variation in economic segregation between cities...this innovation intensity accounts for fully 20 percent of the entire increase in economic segregation that occurred in the two decades between 1990 and 2010."  Messrs. Berkes and Gaetani concluded that economic segregation has grown considerably more than income inequality over the same study period.

the lion's hare of the blooming inequality in the United States during the study period "results from the divergence of income between, rather than within, neighborhoods or census tracts."  Most of the increase in the census tracts happen within, instead of between city-regions or commuting zones.  In short, "urban economic segregation-defined as inequality across city-regions or neighborhoods-accounts for the majority of the widening spatial inequality [in] the United States."  The study argues that high-tech innovation is a main driver, if not the main driver, behind this schism.

Instead of being linked with general patenting activity, the co-authors found that economic segregation is connected to a small number of knowledge-based high-tech industries. The knowledge-based high-tech industries include: information technology, electronics, pharmaceuticals and medicine, and chemicals, which typical require a specialized and highly educated workforce.  Mr. Florida points out, "By contrast, less knowledge-intensive industries, like textiles, are negatively associated with economic segregation."  The growth of economic segregation is fundamentally connected to the mushrooming of knowledge-based industries and occupation in urban centers.

The connection between innovation and segregation is not the result of inequality, so to say, "but of the way we increasingly sort into different geographies by knowledge, education, occupation, and income."  The division is driven by the self-sorting of the affluent and knowledge-based workers who drive innovation.  As they group together in distinct communities to access knowledge networks and startups, to cut down their commutes and take advantage of a greater variety of urban amenities (i.e. better schools, libraries, museums, better coffee emporiums, art galleries, and restaurants), they also are responsible for driving up the cost of housing and displace the less affluent and advantaged residents out.

Mr. Florida matter-of-factly points out, "...the study finds that roughly two-thirds of the increase in economic segregation stems from the extrem clustering of knowledge and creative workers in response to 'localized, occupation-specific, residential amenities'-the kinds of amenities that are only clustered by. Increasingly required for these workers to do their jobs, like 'third places' where freelancers can work and cultivate professional networks."

Segregation and Rise of the Knowledge Economy presents additional information on the contradictory nature knowledge-based economies and segregation that not only defines the "New Urban Crisis," but is also the core of the contemporary urban knowledge capitalism.  This same sorting of knowledge and talent move innovation and economic growth also powers the very things that divides us.  Those divides have led to: "anti-urban, anti-innovation, anti-immigration backlash from the right, and an anti-tech-industry backlash from the left."

What have we learned from Segregation and Rise of the Knowledge Economy.  Co-authors Enrico Berkes and Ruben Gaetani tells that "Finding ways to mitigate innovation-spurred economic segregation is a crucial project of times."  The co-authors quickly outline the number of typical responses to quintessential urban challenges including: improved public transit, more affordable housing, and better educational opportunities.  An ever growing number of urbanists are making the case that challenges of the New Urban Crisis cannot be perceived as the "negative externalities associated with innovation and growth."  Instead, the tech-drive economic segregation and other aspects of urban inequality should be considered as "existential barriers to the wellbeing of our cities and the further progress of our society."{