Tag Archives: cities

Is it okay for a city to track … and other thoughts

This: Is it okay for a city to track what’s in your poop? – Macleans.ca, is a provocative question that headlines a good article.

Now for most people, the answer would be a loud “no!”.  But as you can see in the article, smarter cities lead to municipal governments gathering more information about you. Certainly in the case of smart meters, the government agency can tell alot about you just from when you use power. Digital technology and the need to better manage government resources can lead to further tracking, including to what is in your waste water. Expect to see more such tracking in the future.

Ideally for any information being gathered about you, there would be strict control over who has access to the information and what they can do with it. As well, there would be some accountability with regards to that information. I would expect there is a mixed record for much of that information, but the fact that I can only speculate tells me there is more work to be done with regards to accountability.

Read the article. It helps to be informed about such tracking so you can know how you can be tracked and how you can ask questions about such tracking to government officials and elected politicians.

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Something beautiful: Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’, Illustrated

Artist Karina Puente is illustrating  Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’ and the web site ArchDaily has a sample of some of her work, including the image you see above.

I hadn’t expected to like illustrations of this book. The writing itself is so evocative, I would have thought that illustration would limit it.  I make an exception for these works: they complement rather than reduce the writing.

I’d love to see an edition of Invisible Cities filled with Puente’s illustrations. For now, we can enjoy what we see at Archdaily.com.

Where the weather is not too hot, not too cold…but just right

I often wondered, especially in the bleak mid-winter, if there are places that have lovely weather all of the time. Well, someone at Buzzfeed wondered this too and came up with this list: 10 U.S. Cities Where The Weather Is Perfect Year-Round.

Some of the cities on this list (L.A., San Francisco), shouldn’t surprise anyone. Others, like Galveston, Texas (seen in the image above) might be unexpected.

If you are thinking of moving to some place in the U.S., you want to check out this list.

I’d like to see Buzzfeed do an extended list for cities worldwide. I like winter, but I’d rather visit Winter in some other city than have Winter visit me in my city. 🙂

Palo Alto vs. Tokyo: some modest thoughts on housing 

Image of Palo Alto linked to from Wikipedia

Two pieces on housing got me thinking of housing policy and what if anything can be done to improve it. The two pieces are this:

  1. Letter of Resignation from the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission — Medium
  2. Tokyo may have found the solution to soaring housing costs – Vox

(Note: I don’t have much expertise on housing policy. These are just some notes I jotted down after thinking about these pieces. Take the following with a (huge?) grain of salt.)

The first piece describes how housing in Palo Alto, California is becoming too expensive for all but the rich. Part of what is causing this is the limits placed on adding new housing in the area. The second piece describes how Tokyo gets around this, namely by removing the decisions about housing from city politics and making it at a national level.

It seems pretty straightforward then: all cities should remove decision making about housing from the local level and assign it to a body at a national level. But is this true? And would it work in North American cities?

It depends on what you expect your housing policy to be and how effectively you can impose it. If the policy is to have affordable and available housing for a city, then the Tokyo model makes sense. However, there is an assumption that decisions made at a national level will be in line with the desires of the residence of the city. This is a big assumption.

There are at least two sets of desires that home owners have for their homes and their city. One, that their homes and the neighbourhood they live in remain stable or improve. Two, that their homes appreciate in value. The first desire could be wrecked by the Tokyo model. The second desire would definitely be affected by the Tokyo model. With cities like Palo Alto, you have the two sets of desires met, at least in the short term. In the longer term, the second desire could level off as people and industry move elsewhere.

The ideal is to have a national policy that takes into account the need for neighbourhoods to grow organically, for house values to appreciate over time but still allow for affordability, and for cities to  allow for new housing as well as account for when neighbourhoods become depopulated. Having such a policy would support vibrant cities at a national level. You would treat cities as a network of systems, and you would allocate or remove resources over time to keep all cities vibrant, regardless if they are growing or declining.

This is the ideal. Practically, I just can’t see this happening in North American cities. North Americans are too strongly capitalist to allow what is happening in Japan to happen here. If national organizations tried too hard to manage cities and resulted in cooling off housing markets, people would oppose that. For many people, their house is their chief asset, and any efforts to restrict that from appreciation would be met with defiance.

Sadly, I think there are going to have to be many failures within cities such as Palo Alto and San Francisco before there is enough political will to change the way housing is managed. I think the Tokyo/Japan model is out of reach for my continent for decades, still.

It’s unfortunate: you have cities in the U.S. in the rust belt suffering great decline, while cities on the coasts struggling to come to terms with growth. A national policy on housing would help all cities and have a greater benefits for people than the current approach.

I like Palo Alto. It’s a great city, in a great region. I think it would be greater still if it had more housing.

Is facadism/urban taxidermy bad?

In this piece, Are we killing Yonge Street? from NOW Toronto Magazine, there is a good discussion on what is happening to development on Yonge Street in Toronto. NOW reports that for a lot of development happening on Yonge Street, the facades of the existing building are kept and much of the development is happening behind it. The article argues that this is a bad thing, and they raise some good points.

What I think they don’t touch on are some of the alternatives. Toronto is fortunate in that there is development ongoing. For poor cities, the alternative is boarded up or demolished buildings and vacant neighborhoods.  Instead, we have neighborhoods and buildings being improved. That’s good.

Another alternative is the old buildings being torn down and replaced with new storefronts and new buidlings. I think some of that is good, but I also think preservation of old buildings is also good.

When it comes to preservation and improvements of old buildings, I also think that some of them should be preserved outright. However, Toronto is a growing city, and in some cases, we need larger buildings. In that case, facadism is a good compromise.

Now whether or not facadism is effective or not depends on at least two things. The first is how well the new architecture uses the existing architecture. Done well, the marriage of the old and new building results in something that enhances the area and preserves the city while allowing it to grow.  The second thing that determines if facadism is effective is how the new building affects the neighborhood. Here, I think, is the root of the problem. It’s not so much facadism as it is gentrification. Old buildings get preserved, but old stores do not. New developments can cause rents to rise, driving out the stores and organizations that made the neighborhood great. You get bank branches and big chain stores replacing old bookshops and cafes.

I hope the next phase of development tries to understand how to preserve not just the existing architecture, but the neighborhood as well. I realize that is a difficult task, but it is one worth trying to accomplish.

More thoughts on Waze

I have thought a lot about Waze since I started using it. Without a doubt, it has improved my life substantially. Here are some other thoughts I had as I used it.

  1. Waze is an example of how software will eat the world. In this case, the world of gPS devices. Waze is a GPS on steroids. Not only will Waze do all the things that a GPS will do, but it does so much more, as you can see from this other Waze post I wrote. If you have a GPS, after you use Waze for a bit, you’ll likely stop using it.
  2. Waze will change the way cities work. Cities are inefficient when it comes to transportation. Our work habits contribute to that, in that so many people commute at the same time, in the same direction, on the same routes, each work day. Waze and other new forms of adding intelligence to commuting will shape our work habits over time. Drivers being able to take advantage of unbusy streets to reduce congestion on major thoroughfares is just the start. City planners could work with Waze to better understand travel patterns and travel behaviour and incorporate changes into the city  so that traffic flows better. It’s not that city planners don’t have such data, it’s that Waze likely has more data and better data than they currently have.
  3. Waze is a great example of how A.I. could work. I have no idea how much A.I. is built into Waze. It could be none, it could be alot. It does make intelligent recommendations to me, and that is all I care about. How it makes those intelligent recommendations is a black box. Developers of A.I. technologies should look at Waze as an example of how best to deploy A.I. Those A.I. developers should look at how best A.I. can solve a problem for the user and spend less time trying to make the A.I. seem human or overly intelligent. People don’t care about that. They care about practical applications of A.I. that make their lives better. Waze does that.

Not the shortest but the most beautiful route to take

I found this piece awhile ago and think it’s fascinating: Forget the Shortest Route Across a City; New Algorithm Finds the Most Beautiful from MIT Technology Review.

I would love to see algorithms and other such means to find the best a city has to offer. And it’s not all that far fetched. For a long time flickr.com had a feature that featured photos viewers found the most interesting. If something similar was available for cities, a whole new generation of flaneurs and happier tourists might result. It might even spur improvements to areas deemed less beautiful.