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Thought Leadership

City Shifts: Weekly News Roundup

DECEMBER 9, 2020

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City Shifts is a recurring Blueprint series that rounds up the latest and greatest content from writers and publishers across the web. From combatting urban sprawl and too-tall buildings to 15-minute neighborhoods and the city of the future, these articles are sure to help you up your virtual water cooler conversation game.

1. The Capital of Sprawl Gets a Radically Car-Free Neighborhood (The New York Times)

The Phoenix light rail line connects to the new Culdesac Tempe development.
Photographer: PJ Gal-Szabo | Source: Unsplash

In Brief

As people attempt to reduce their carbon footprint in hopes of a sustainable future, New York Times reporter Conor Dougherty details an ongoing project in Phoenix, one of the most car-dependent cities in America, to implement a car-free neighborhood, Culdesac Tempe, in place of a 17-acre lot—to the tune of $170 million.

Why We Care

Phoenix is undoubtedly part of the statistical long-tail of car-loving cities in the United States, making this development project a true test of Americans’ tolerance for trading in their vehicles in favor of a more walkable, neighborhood-centered lifestyle. An experiment in urban planning and design, Culdesac Tempe is sure to have lessons for cities across the United States and the world, and is indicative of a growing trend toward 15-minute neighborhoods.

2. The 15-Minute City–No Cars Required–Is Urban Planning's New Utopia (Bloomberg Businessweek)

A view of Paris from the Arc de Triomphe
Photographer: Monica Abarca | Source: Unsplash

In Brief

As Mayor Anne Hidalgo and smart-cities expert Carlos Moreno work to make the 15-minute city a reality in Paris, municipalities across the globe are deploying similar urban planning initiatives, according to Bloomberg Businessweek’s Feargus O’Sullivan and Laura Bliss.

Why We Care

Not only does the 15-minute city concept aim to slow the pace of daily life and change the way we interact with our neighbors, but it promises to reduce vehicle traffic and associated carbon emissions. But turning the 15-minute city dream into reality is no small feat, and every city must overcome its unique obstacles. Ultimately, the hope for this city blueprint is to create community hubs that encourage social connection while being space-efficient and environmentally beneficial, touching on past metropolises with a dash of futurism.

3. How Cities (and Citizens) Create Hostile Environments (Wired)

Benches with center armrests are a classic example of hostile architecture
Photographer: Steve Johnson | Source: Unsplash

In Brief

Hostile architecture, which typically refers to structures that have been intentionally designed to be uncomfortable (such as bus stop benches with center arm rests that prevent people from sleeping on them), is often the result of deliberate city planning. However, in this excerpt from The 99% Invisible City (published in Wired), writers Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt suggest that not all defensive design initiatives are city-led—citizens may also place such objects throughout their communities to deter undesirable activity.

Why We Care

The debate surrounding hostile architecture is contentious and ongoing. What makes design good or bad? Must it simply fulfill its original purpose, or do we need to measure it against a particular moral standard or definition of social good to determine its value? What should these moral standards be, and who gets to make the decisions?

The answers to these questions are rarely clear cut, and citizens may be at odds with one another and their city administrators on how to best build neighborhoods that are safe and inclusive. But the debate is important. An awareness of why our cities and towns have been designed in a particular way and who made the decisions can shine a light on equity and safety issues and help us build stronger communities going forward.

4. From Urban Forests to High-tech Utopias, Here's How the Cities of the Future are Shaping Up (CNN)

A skyscraper incorporating greenspace
Photographer: Felix Fuchs | Source: Unsplash

In Brief

In this article and curated gallery of future city designs, CNN contributor Stephanie Bailey details some of the concerns surrounding the world’s expected 2050 population and urbanization increase and how cities are planning to adapt to that growth with technological advancements and urban planning innovations.

Why We Care

We wrestle with the negative environmental and social effects of increased urbanization every day. From heavy car-use and overflowing landfills to air and light pollution, the challenges of urban life will continue to grow in the absence of substantive action as more people flock to global metropolises. So, it’s crucial that cities develop schemes in advance to contend with the expected influx of new residents. Initiatives such as vertical farms, biome greenhouses, underground recycling systems, and more can help mitigate the pressures of urbanization. Being proactive and imaginative in our problem-solving will go a long way toward building stronger and more resilient cities and neighborhoods.

5. How Do You Chop 20 Stories Off a Too-Tall Building (Curbed)

The iconic New York City skyline.
Photographer: Patrick Tomasso | Source: Unsplash

In Brief

The beloved skyline of the Big Apple is protected and planned through a complex maze of zoning laws and building regulations, and new construction is always fiercely debated. In the case of 200 Amsterdam Avenue, if the appeals court upholds a judge’s ruling that the new 52-story tower is too tall, it’ll have to lose its top 20 stories—a not entirely unprecedented event in New York City, according to Curbed writer Justin Davidson.

Why We Care

In cities with skylines as iconic as New York’s the regulations governing building up are just as important as the regulations governing ground-level development. But the construction and deconstruction of skyscrapers is indicative of the enormous complexity of municipal zoning laws and the debate surrounding the livability (and workability) of neighborhoods. When is a skyscraper too tall, and when does building up lift up a neighborhood?


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