22 October 2013

New Post on Urbana: Urban Affaris and Public Policy

Urban: Urban Affairs and Public Policy  has just posted a new article entry, this one concerning the importance of urban space in urban conflicts. Click on link for the following new article: Jennifer L. De Maio, THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF SPACE: SPATIAL STRUCTURE AND IDENTITY POLITICS in the Online First section.

11 May 2013

Are the Suburbs Undergoing a Metamorphosis? (Reposted from the Progressive Press)

The Global Economic Crash of 2008 was a watershed which is continuing to have effects in all aspects of the economy, politics and society. However, it was merely an exclamation mark within the developing trends in the U.S. that are pertinent to suburbanization in the country, such as:
-The national economy will not bounce back to pre-2008 in the foreseeable future with continued slow growth
-Demographics have changed (Baby Boomers retiring, smaller family sizes, more single adults, more ethnic diversity etc.)
-The smaller labor force in manufacturing requiring unskilled labor
-A decline in the middle class’s purchasing power due to declining wages
-Increasing individuals in poverty
-Unemployment/under-employment of young adults and those ‘near-retirement” group (55-70)
-Increasing energy costs
-Changing view of what cities should offer and lifestyle (i.e., ’24/7″ city)
-Oversupply and over valuing of housing with tighter credit
-Diminished hyper-consumerism
In suburban/exurban surroundings, one can see these elements having effects on the suburban landscape:
-Large houses are standing vacant
-Subdivision of single owner housing being converted into duplexes or multifamily dwelling units
-Partially built-out subdivisions
-Denser development, even for upper incomes
-More rental properties instead of single family ownership
-“Mini slum” development
-Vacant or partially occupied shopping malls; 1950s-1980s era
-Abandoned factories
-Neighborhoods composed largely of ‘empty nesters’

There are many who are convinced that once the American economy fully recovers things will return to ‘normal’, with more housing construction in the suburbs and subsequent additional growth in commercial development. However, the trends belie this and are pointing in a different direction.

The unraveling of traditional suburbs is not a transition related to the economic downturn, but a permanent transition due to structural changes.

A significant amount of young adults, older empty-nesters (‘baby boomers’) and new immigrants are being drawn to the central city in urbanized areas. Many former industrial and dilapidated areas are being transformed into mixed used developments. Older neighborhoods are being gentrified.Former downtowns are now being filled with small shops, restaurants, cafés, and individual offices. Although this is not new, it appears to be a rapidly increasing trend that was once encouraged by the government, but now it is driven by a developing market.

The vision of the suburb that was fueled by the American Dream is gone forever. There is no longer single family households with one member, usually male, working and the wife as the homemaker. No more gleaming shopping centers catering to a growing consumer market, and a neighborhood full of children of all ages who walk to school and recreation.

The trend of urban sprawl appears to be coming to an end after more that fifty years of constant expansion.
Alan Ehrenhalt (2012, p. 15) stated in reference to the demographic changes in the U.S. (smaller families, more people sharing housing, later marriages, ‘empty nest’ households etc.) that:
…it is hard to escape the notion that we have managed to combine virtually all of the significant elements that make a demographic inversion not only possible but likely. We are moving toward a society in which millions of people with substantial earning power or ample savings will have the option of living wherever they want, and many—we call only guess how many—will decide in favor of central cities and against distant suburbs. As they do this, others will find themselves forced to live in places less desirable—places farther from the center of the metropolis. Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau in October 2011 revealed that in the first decade of the new century, poverty increased by 53 percent in the nation’s suburbs, compared to only 26 percent in the cities.
Are suburbs dying?  No, but they are transforming from endless tract developments, strip malls, enclosed malls and multi-lane arterials and expressways into something different. The catharsis of the above mention factors could be the cause of alarm among many segments of society that always thought that suburbs would continue on forever in the same manner.

Local governments can flounder around while worrying about reductions in funding, the stagnant local economy and accept the current situation as temporary, one that will resolve by itself ‘when the market picks-up.’  However, ‘smart cities’ can anticipate and facilitate the new form of urbanization by:
-Encouraging temporary or pop-up developments in suburbs (McAdams, 2013)
-Conversion of vacant strip commercial development and malls into mixed use developments
-Revision of zoning to allow for mixed use development and abandon Euclidean zoning (separate areas for commercial, residential and industrial uses)
-Revision of subdivision regulations to allow for zero lot lines, narrow streets, etc. for more walkable communities
-Development of alternative suburban public transportation modes for low density areas (i.e. subsidized shared-ride taxi, fixed route flexible services etc.) and providing high quality traditional public transportation
-Creation of high density transit oriented development
-Conversion of former urbanized areas to agricultural areas or allowance of small farms
-Regional and inter-suburban cooperation (McAdams, 2012)
-Consolidation and merger of suburbs and services
-More freedom in annexation for cities
-Allowance for affordable housing
-Creation of commercial/industrial centers

As center cities are gaining population, the suburbs will be forced to transition. It will be considered traumatic to some who have become mired in the past. However, this transition can bring renewed vitality to suburbs.
Cities and regions must come together and cooperatively develop plans.These are issues that involve everyone in a metropolitan area more than merely selecting problem areas such as an abandoned shopping center and aiding in its redevelopment. Regions as a whole must determine how all segments of society, including governments, can enhance economic development, education, infrastructure, and social-economic justice to transform suburbs and central cities with an overall goal of creating a dynamic sustainable environment.

Sources citied:
Kaid Benfield. “How history killed the suburb.” The Atlantic, 25 April 2011. Web. 28 April 2013.
Duany, Andres, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck. Suburban nation: The rise of sprawl and the decline of the American dream. North Point Press, 2001.
Dunham-Jones, Ellen. “Suburban Retrofits, Demographics, and Sustainability [Retrofitting Suburbia].” Places 17.2 (2005).Print/Web. 28 April 2013.
Ehrenhalt, Alan. The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City. Random House Digital, Inc., 2012.
Leinberger, Christopher B. “The Next Slum?” The Atlantic. 1 March 2008. Web. 28 April 2013.
Leinberger, Christopher B. “The Death of the Fringe Suburb.” The New York Times. 26 Nov. 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.
Linn, Allison. “Sprawling and Struggling: Poverty Hits America’s Suburbs.” CNBC. 22 Mar 2013. Web. 28 April 2013.
McGirr, Lisa. “The new suburban poverty.” The New York Times. 19 March 2012. Web. 28 April 2013.
McAdams, Michael. “The Pop-up City: Making Something Out of Nothing.” The Progressive Press. 20
April 2013. Web. 1 May 2013.
McAdams, Michael . “Revitalizing the Suburbs through Cooperation: The Michigan Suburban Alliance Shows the Way.” The Chaotic, Fractal and Complex City. 16 September 2012.  Web. 1 May 2013.
Smith, Carissa Turner. “D. J. Waldie’s Holy Land: Redeeming The Spiritual Geography Of Suburbia.” Renascence 63.4 (2011): 307-324.
Image source:  Pensions and Investments

06 May 2013

Could 3-D Printing Change the Society and the City? (Reposted from the Progressive Press)

(Reprinted from the Progressive Press article)

3-D printing combined with its increasing affordability could be an important element in accelerating the world away from the Post-Industrial to the Information Age.  

3-D printing is the process of producing a physical object from a digital blue print or a scanned object. It is an additive process, not a subtractive process, as used in the machine tooling for a metal or plastic object. It relies on a mold that is inserted with a material (plastic, iron, copper etc.) to make a finished product.

Using a digital schematic, the 3-D printer builds a series of layers using material such as: plastic, glass, metal, ceramics or even cells to produce a single seamless product. One could think of this as similar to making a cake by putting down the different layers. This one machine might revolutionize manufacturing, the global economy and cities (Blua, 2013).

The cost may vary from as low as $1,000 to as high as $600,000 which is affordable to many businesses. What this realizes is that the companies and individuals can produce many parts with just a digital blueprint or scanned object, a 3-D machine and the appropriate material such as plastic, ceramics, steel and even cells. Produced objects could be as simple as making plastic figurines or mugs to even automobiles, houses or maybe a liver.

This sounds like the ‘replicator in Star Trek, doesn’t it?’  but it is not at this stage yet. It is not a Buck Rogers fantasy as presented in such magazines as Popular Science. 3-D printers are being manufactured and there are companies making objects with it. Surprisingly, 3-D printing was invented in the 1983 by Chuck Hall, but at this time, it was only in the experimental stage and CAD was in its infancy (Ziamou, 2013).

The first automobile to be made by a 3-D printer is now underway. This is being undertaken by RedEye. The process takes about 2,500 hours to make one car. The labor costs are limited to a few people. The cost for the prototype was $50,000. They can also make parts that are no longer available for vintage or older cars. There are claims that this new car because of its weight will travel from San Francisco to New York on 10 gallons of pure ethanol (George, 2013).

Based on geographic data or Computer Aided Design (CAD) data, 3 D printers can also create 3D models of entire cities or specific sites in the present or future, assisting city management/planning and improving public participation (Jaffee, 2013).  

There are several trials underway to make houses from 3 D printers. Part of the house can be printed off-site in about a week and then assembled in one day. Various materials such as plastic bottles or even starch can be used to build the components of a house. (Dorrier, 2013).

The use of recycled materials and labor reduction costs could significantly reduce the price of housing. Also, it saves energy and wisely uses natural resources.

As illustrated in the above examples, the pace that 3 D printing is developing is phenomenal. The proliferation of 3 D printing as a major element of the manufacturing of all goods may not be a twenty or thirty year horizon, but ten years or less.

3-D printing itself will not bring about a new industrial revolution, but it will be one more block in the accelerating Information Age revolution; combined with a tremendously faster Internet which will fully realize the potential of cloud computing, and intelligent robots.

If I am ‘reading the tea leaves’ correctly manufacturing will soon be changed forever. The result will be incredible efficiency in the production of goods that are cheaper, less capital and labor intensive. Added to this will be lessened energy consumption of petroleum products because of decreased transportation costs, and decreased extraction of non-renewable material resources such as iron, copper etc. When combined with greater efficiency in alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal, which equipment could also be made with 3 D printers, the globe could be on its way to a sustainable future.

The reports of the speed and promise of the blinding light of 3-D printing combined with the development of technology which appears to be accelerating at a mind numbing pace, can send the mind reeling at its promise. But, the consequences are often being overlooked in this flurry of information ‘spun’ by numerous sources. Take a ‘journey down Google lane’ and you will see a plethora of articles on 3 D printing promoting its attributes, but with no substantial reflective comments.

All this hype has contributed to the utopian visioning of an information city or “informational city ” (Castells, 1996), (McAdams, 2008). But, due to this rapid development of technology, the ‘digital divide’ could become much more dramatic with this shift in the efficiency of automation and productivity. The need for labor could be only for a relatively few who have technological skills. The need for low-skilled labor would be exclusively in service jobs. There have been dramatic advances in creating sizable middle class populations in cities in high middle income countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, India and China; with still vast sectors of their population living in poverty. This progress could be undone by manufacturing needing less labor.
There could be a major disruption in the global economy with this new type of technology if the plutocracy continues to amass fortunes and drain the money from increases in productivity. The prosperity will only be limited to the very rich and corporations. Who will buy the goods if technology creates a disproportional amount of prosperity for one group and the remainder gets a small fraction or no portion of it.
Manuel Castells states that an information city is creating  a dual city or :
“An urban system socially and spatially polarized between high value-making groups and functions on the one hand and devalued social groups and downgraded spaces on the other hand. This polarization induces increasing integration of the social and spatial core of the urban system, at the same time that it fragments devalued spaces and groups, and threatens them with social irrelevance (Castells, 1996).”
At the present moment, the world politics are dominated by international plutocrats who are by their business practices, and dominance in global financial and political institutions are significantly reducing the the middle class in developed world and creating a permanent worldwide population living at poverty level. There is no doubt that further improvements in technology without means to redistribute the prosperity will result in accelerating income disparities in both developed and developing countries.

Viewed from another angle, the 3-D printer is could be seen as the impetus of start-up companies or even individuals doing small scale manufacturing. This could be an affront for large multinational companies which are based on economy of scale, cheap labor and dependent upon an international supply chain. This also could open an alternative economy of worker-owned companies. There could be a major battle over patents, copyrights etc., as corporations struggle to maintain their ‘over-the top’ profits.

Emerging technologies, such as the 3-D printer is rapidly changing all aspects of culture, the economy, speed of globalization and politics. There is ample evidence that recently adopted technology has already made permanent changes to all aspects of how our present society functions (i.e., computers, jet airplanes, advanced telecommunications, including internet).  

Major shifts in the history of mankind can be strongly related to changes in technology (i.e., use of refining of bronze, copper, iron, the plow, the gun; steam engine; electricity, the telephone, the automobile, etc.). The difference, between nations that have technology greater than other nations, has been the cause of those civilizations ceasing to exist (i.e., Aztecs, Incans etc.).  

The ruins of those that misused technology to cause social turmoil at the hands of elitist governments and environmental degradation are also present (i.e. Mayans, Easter Island etc.). This is explained in detail by Jared Diamond in his books Guns, Germs and Steel (2005) and Collapse (2011 ).

However, the future does not have to continue to cause with environmental damage, burgeoning cities in the developed world with large areas of poverty, increased income inequality, and depletion of natural resources with the plutocracy fighting to drain the global economy. Technology, such as the 3 D printer can be used to increase the wealth of the entire global community.

Sources cited:

Blua, Antoine. “A New Industrial Revolution: The Brave New World of 3D Printing.” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. 6 Apr. 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

Castells, Manuel. The Informational City is a Dual City: Can It Be Reversed?, High Technology and Low-Income Communities: Prospects for the Positive Use of Advanced Information Technology.” MIT Press. 1996. Web. 9 April 2013.

Chacos, Brad. “Staples to Offer “Easy 3D” Printing in 2013.”LAPTOP. 30 November 2012. Web. 8 April 2013.

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years. London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1995. Print.

Diamond, Jared M. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking, 2005. Print.
Dorrier, Jason.” First Fully 3D Printed Building May Take Shape This Year.” Singularity Hub. 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

Franceschi-Bicchierai, Lorenzo. “Urbee 2 Is the 3D-Printed Car of the Future.”Mashable. 1 March 2013. Web. 8 April 2013.

George, Alexander. “3-D Printed Car Is as Strong as Steel, Half the Weight, and Nearing Production. Wired. 27 February 2013.Web. 8 April 2013.

Jaffe, Eric. “In Louisville, Urban Planning Goes 3D.” The Atlantic Cities.  24 September 2012. Web. 12 April 2013.

Johnston, Cat. “Why 3-D Printing Matters.”metroactive. 22 March 2012. Web. 12 March 2013.

McAdams, Michael A. “The Information Age City: A Bourgeois Utopian Dream.” Urbana: Urban Affairs and Public Policy. Vol. 8 (Autumn 2008).Web. 8 April 2008.

Petronzio, Matt “How 3D Printing Actually Works.” Mashable.com. Web. Mar 28, 2013. 8 April 2013.

Rosenbach, Marcel and Schulz, Thomas. “3-D Printing: Technology May Bring New Industrial Revolution.” 
Spiegel Online International. 4 January 2013. Web. 8 April 2013. 
“A Third Industrial Revolution.” The Economist. 21 April 2012. Web. 8 April 2013.
Wollerton, Megan. “Wild 3D-printed House Can Be Assembled ‘in a Day’” DVICE. 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2013.

Ziamou, Lilia. “Interview: Avi Reichental on the 3D Printing Revolution (Part 1).” Huffington Post. 21 March 2013. Web. 12 April 2013.

07 April 2013

“Road Diet”: Losing Width by Retrofitting (Re-post from the Progressive Press)

(Re-posted from the Progressive Press.)

 For most of the last century and continuing into this century, transportation planning in the United States has been mainly concerned with accommodating vehicular transportation. This automobile-oriented bias was embedded in travel demand forecasting models, transportation funding, zoning/subdivision regulations, street design ordinances, the general public and the general mindset of policy makers. The result in most cities has been a continual process of widening, and building new roads to alleviate traffic congestion due to increasing automobile ownership.

What was not accounted in this automobile bias oriented transportation system was the detrimental impact that it would have on neighborhoods; making them dangerous for pedestrians and bicycles. Neighborhood residents and local commercial establishments  previously would have put up with the problems for a while but, eventually if they could afford it or their business failed, they would leave the area, creating vacant buildings, marginal commercial and residential areas which were once vibrant.

However, in the last couple of decades, particularly as people are moving back to the city, the public is becoming more vocal and advocating changes to make places more pedestrian, and bicycle friendly. Transportation planners that once were concerned mostly about street widening , new roads and perhaps fixed route public transportation were assisting neighborhoods in their battle against the intrusion of the automobile in their neighborhoods.

A “road diet”or “rightsizing”  was one of the solutions created by planners to design roads that are more accommodating for other modes of transportation. A “road diet” usually consists of  reducing the lanes generally from four travel lanes to: one turn lane, two travel lanes and bike lanes on both sides. However, by reducing the amount of lanes, the street may also accommodate traffic islands, berms separating pedestrian and bicycles from traffic. Further possible options could be placing light rail or Bus Rapid Transit in the center, with two travel lanes and bicycle lane accommodation.

The following is a highlight of the some examples that I found that illustrate ‘road diet:” I included links so that the reader can look at these projects in more detail.

In San Francisco, reduction of traffic lanes has been linked to making cities more livable. The city has been doing this since the 1970s. Before the “road diet” many of the streets were known as merely a route to go from one place to another. People raced from stop-light to stop-light, endangering pedestrians and bicyclists. Now, on San Jose Avenue, traffic lanes are taken out, bike lanes are designated and the green areas are created. This change has created more of a neighborhood atmosphere. The empty storefronts, now are occupied and an additional benefit is reduced accidents. One resident stated that before the “road diet” there were one collision a week, but now this is reduced to almost none.

On Edgewater Drive in Orlando Florida, a four lane street was reduced to two travel lanes, one turning lane and bike lanes. After these changes, there was a major reduction in speeding, on some segments up to thirty-four percent reduction was observed. There is also reduction in crashes per miles traveled, an increase in pedestrian traffic by twenty-three percent and increase in bicycle traffic by thirty percent. There was not a decrease in property value or increase in traffic on the parallel streets. Although there were some calls to revert it back to its previous state, but after realization of its benefits, these complaints died down.

In Philadelphia, a project termed “The Porch” was initiated which eliminated a parking area near outside the 30th Street SEPTA transit, Amtrak and trolley station and replaced it with a large sidewalk, and an outdoor seating area with umbrellas. This caused no problems in parking or traffic congestion. It has since become a place for music performances, a farmers market, and other events. The station has some of the largest passenger traffic in the nation.

A more dramatic “road diet” would be to reduce a multi-lane street and put exclusive transit lanes in the middle (Light Rail or Bus Rapid Transit) with bike lanes on the side.  This concept (minus the bike lanes) was used in Curitiba, Brazil, where there are two exclusive bus lanes in the center and ‘tube’ stations to protect passengers in inclement weather.

Istanbul, Turkey used the same concept in its Metrobus system on a major arterial (E-5). The lanes were reduced by two to allow for two exclusive lanes in the center with stations. The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT ) route has significantly reduced traffic on the road (particularly bus traffic which was a major cause of congestion) and greatly decreased public transportation travel time.

The concept of using a ‘road diet’ on roads can be used in the smallest cities up to major metropolitan areas. It is demonstrated in the examples given that this technique reduces accidents, decreases congestion, increases pedestrians, increases bicycle riders, encourages pedestrian oriented business, and creates a sense of community. Reducing lanes to create exclusive transit lanes or BRT makes use of the street to create a more attractive public transportation system. It is expected that more cities will be using  a “road diet” to confront the conflicts between automobiles, pedestrians and bicycles.

Video Credit: StreetFilms

A ‘Smart City’ or the ‘Matrix’? (re-post from the Progressive Press)

(This article is re-posted from the Progressive Press.

Cities are rapidly becoming engulfed in the technological revolution which is advancing at “warp speed”, rocketing the entire globe out of the post-industrial age into the emerging Information/Hyper-Global Age.
The ability for the complex networked structures of a city (government, services, institutions, residents etc.) to effectively utilize its human capital, connect with the global economy, collaborate and use its infrastructure is becoming essential for its future welfare. This is being facilitated by the burst of technological devices and the Internet.

In the Information Age, the most connected cities are becoming the most dominate, resting on their financial capability, their human capital and infrastructure (i.e., New York, London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong). A city’s hinterland, its access to ports and manufacturing base, are becoming inconsequential to a city’s importance.

All cities are aspiring to be “smart cities”—connected, innovative, prosperous, globally footloose and riding the wave of technological innovation. The reality is that only a handful is approaching being a true “smart city”. It is not a ‘flat world’, but an uneven one with disparities within cities and among cities.
But, what exactly are the attributes of a “smart city”?

The following are two definitions:
Maggie Comstock (Comstock, 2012) of the World Banks states,
At its most basic level, a city is comprised of a government (in some form), people, industry, infrastructure, education and social services. A smart city thoughtfully and sustainably pursues development with all of these components in mind with the additional foresight of the future needs of the city. This approach allows cities to provide for its citizens through services and infrastructure that address both the current needs of the population as well as for projected growth.”
Another definition of a “smart city” would be one that successfully uses technology to efficiently handle the complexity of many issues (housing, mobility, economy, culture, governance, and environment), and accomplish a level of sustainability (“In focus: Smart Cities”, N.d.)
This definition is more fully explained on the webpage of The State of Green (a website focusing on sustainability in Denmark):
‘The smart city is based upon the visions for the sustainable city and visualizes the city as an inclusive system and not consisting of separate parts, but the smart part is how you use smart technologies to collect data, how you choose to work and with which resources. It is a city which is designed to optimize the interaction and integration of existing technical and digital solutions, so the smart city does not necessarily provide the solutions, but it presents a way of accelerating innovation and creating new possibilities and partnerships. The practical use of the concept rests on two pillars’:
1- Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)
2- Optimization of technological infrastructure
(“In Focus: Smart Cities”, N.d.)

One of the foundations of the smart city is the development of digital geographic databases, spatial technologies (Geographic Information Systems, Remote Sensing, Global Positioning Systems etc.) coupled with a robust globalized cadre of spatial technology professionals. This is a billion dollar industry which was in its infancy just twenty years ago.

Not so long ago, GPS was only known only to professionals. Now, it has become a household word with many cars and trucks equipped with GPS units.

This digital spatial grid, and associated spatial technologies, realizes efficient dispatching of fire and police vehicles for emergencies, public transit buses to be better coordinated; better knowledge of motorists concerning congestion and accidents, and better locations of problems on electrical grids.

Now an app is being developed by Honda that would be able to sense potential traffic jams and direct drivers on an alternative route (Vijayenthiran, 2013).

Systems have been theoretically tested so that all vehicles in a city can be monitored and guided in the street network via an integrated system of sensors and guidance systems to avoid accidents and congestion (Tang, 2012), (Khekare, 2012).

Remote Sensing (satellite imaging and interpretation) is becoming so powerful that small changes in the urban landscape can be detected (Blaschke, 2011.)

However, not all aspects of ‘smart cities’ are benign. The use of drones, also using geographic databases and spatial technologies to monitor criminal activity and for security is already being considered for domestic use, but under considerable controversy (Stanley, 2013). There is also a discussion on the use of drones for small package delivery, agricultural uses, search and rescue and emergency disaster assistance.

Another aspect of the ‘smart city’ is the increasing communications among individuals. Most everyone in a city is now almost constantly connected to those in the city, and outside including internationally if they own a cell phone, tablet (i.e. IPad), lap top or other devices.

Many in cities are self-organizing to become a powerful force in government with the assistance of communication technology such as mobile devices. The Arab Spring revolutions occurring in Tunisia and Egypt in their urban areas were greatly facilitated by mobile phones and social media. The international Pirate Party, which uses social media to get issue petitions and consensus-based decision-making, presents a possible revolutionary way for direct democracy.

The software that is the backbone of communication among the worldwide Pirate Party is LiquidFeedback, an open-source software package. The most active Pirate Party was in Germany, but currently it appears to be in a state of confusion and undergoing a state of self-destruction, ironically through the platform that brought its members together, the Internet (Becker, 2013).

In many cities around  the world technology is opening up new avenues of social engagement that were not possible before, creating a greater sense of community and encouraging  local government to be more transparent and integrated with its citizens (Sánchez-Chillón, 2011.)

It would seem obvious, but a “smart city” must be inhabited by “smart people.”  This requires an excellent system of free public education, including university level. It takes educated people in a city and nation to be able to design, maintain and coordinate/plan for intelligent technology. It also takes a population which has equal access to this technology.

In the present system, with the middle class decreasing and those in the upper income brackets gaining more income and control, a “smart city” would be greatly hampered to reach its full potential. There would be a continuing gap between those that have the technology and those that do not. There also continue to be a gap between the technological advantages of cities in developed countries as opposed to those in developed countries.

Regardless of the present economic stagnation, income inequality and “Luddite” governments that controlled by an economic elite and corporations, it is still  a marvelous and complex world that we now live. Cities are being caught up in the technological revolution that is dynamic and often confusing. It is determining how individuals operate within it, aiding in the delivery of public services, determining the planning of infrastructure and challenging local governments to be more transparent, more responsive, and shifting the power away from the plutocracy that controls cities. The “gauntlet” put before cities is how well they can use this technology to make cities more livable, accepting, just (economically and politically) and sustainable.

Works Citied:
Becker, Sven. “German Pirate Party Sinks amid Chaos and Bickering.” Spiegel Online. N.p., 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

Blaschke, Thomas, et al. “Collective sensing: integrating geospatial technologies to understand urban systems—an overview.” Remote Sensing 3.8 (2011): 1743-1776. Web. 26 March 2013.

Comstock, Maggie. “What Is a Smart City and How Can a City Boost Its IQ?” Sustainable Cities Blog, World Bank, 9 Apr. 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.

“In Focus: Smart Cities.” N.p. State of Green. N.d.. Web. 24 March 2013.
Khekare, Ganesh S., and Apeksha V. Sakhare. “Intelligent Traffic System for VANET: A Survey.” International Journal 2.4 (2012). Web. 27 March 2013.

LiquidFeedback. N.p. N.d., Web. 24 March 2013.

Sánchez-Chillón, Pablo.”Sentient city: From Living Labs to hackathons and city hackers.” URBAN 360 by Pablo Snchez Chilln Pabloschillon. N.p., 22 November 2011. Web. 26 Mar. 2013.

Schaffers, Hans, et al. “Smart cities and the future internet: Towards cooperation frameworks for open innovation.” The future internet (2011),: 431-446. (Available via Open Access)

Smart City Expo World Conference (13-15 November 2013.) Web. 24 March 2013

Stanley, Jay. “Eight Factors That Will Shape How America Adapts to Drones.” American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., 26 Mar. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2013 .

Tang, Xiaolan. “Integrated Extensible Simulation Platform for Vehicular Sensor Networks in Smart Cities.” International Journal of Distributed Sensor Networks (2012). Web. 27 March 2013.

Vijayenthiran, Viknesh. “An App to End Traffic Jams?” The Christian Science Monitor. 26 Mar. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2013
Image source: picstopin.com

09 March 2013

A Quiet Green Revolution: Urban Agriculture (repost from the Progressive Press)

This article  is a re-post of an article that appeared 8 March 2013 in the Progressive Press:

The mainstream media concentrates on the sensational and current news – obsessed with celebrity scandals, the daily fluctuations of the stock market, the deficit, and international conflicts – but under the radar is an alternative to industrial agriculture: the urban agricultural movement.

The individuals and groups opposing industrial agriculture are not picketing, organizing rallies, destroying property, suing corporations; they are putting their hands in the dirt, straining their backs, enjoying quality organic food, and creating social capital by organizing diverse informal groups or non-profit organizations to forge a new future.

In modern developed countries, we have left the growing of vegetables to industry. We go to our local mainline grocery store and buy produce (tomatoes, onions, lettuce, cucumbers, etc.) transported perhaps thousands of miles, using plastic wrapping, grown from genetically engineered seeds with extensive use of fertilizers and pesticides and excessive use of water. Crops are harvested using mechanized equipment adding additional costs and using non-renewable energy.  Some of the food is further processed into ‘junk food’ such as potato chips and into fructose which is found in many processed foods and soft drinks. Fructose has been indirectly linked with obesity, heart problems and type 2 diabetes.

Industrial agriculture has much more impact beyond the scope of this article. A documentary that is highly recommended is Food Incorporated, readily available on Netflix. I would make it a requirement for any course on introduction to environmental studies/science at the university level. It might also be suitable for high school students in social studies or geography classes. Noteworthy is an interview with the documentary’s director, Robert Kenner, on PBS.

There are numerous non-profit organization (NGO), websites, informal groups and individual in in the U.S. and around the world becoming aware of the problems with industrialized agriculture and forming the base for the urban agricultural revolution.

One such NGO is Urban Farming, which encourages the proliferation of urban farming.
The mission of Urban Farming, as stated on their website, is:
…to create an abundance of food for people in need by supporting and encouraging the establishment of gardens on unused land and space while increasing diversity, raising awareness for health and wellness, and inspiring and educating youth, adults and seniors to create an economically sustainable system to uplift communities around the globe.
The organization conducts workshops in various places around the U.S. to help people get involved in their own private efforts or come together for communal gardening.
In areas where there is not enough space for large urban farms, New York is the model, with some neighborhoods buying small lots, turning them into gardens, others growing plants on rooftops or creating greenhouses in old industrial buildings. A book (of which some portion is online), Five Borough Farm: Seeding the Future of Urban Agriculture in NYC, documents urban agriculture in New York City, its impact and speculates on its future. The online material is fascinating and certainly worth a visit.

Another example of urban farming is found in Boise, Idaho, at the Peaceful Belly Farm. It has been in operation for over ten years and grows over 100 types of certified organic vegetables. It was established by husband and wife farmers, Clay and Josie Erskine, in 2002. About a dozen volunteers assist on the farm. They have over 150 subscribers, or, ‘shareholders’, who receive a weekly amount of the food after harvesting. The cost of membership is $450. Of course, it means much more than just food for their subscribers. The membership supports a farm that: serves the community, not a large corporation; does not use genetically engineered seeds or pesticides, and, assists those that need food. Peaceful Belly food is sold at local markets and online. At the markets, they accept food stamps. They also donate over 1,000 pounds of food to a local food pantry and allow gleaming (allowing people to pick up what is left after harvesting) for low-income individuals. The farm is part of the growing movement of those involved in an informal network of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) .

Many cities in the Rust Belt have deserted neighborhoods with abandoned homes and empty lots, and decrepit former industrial cities are finding that urban agriculture can be transformative. Cities such as Detroit (as this story’s featured image depicts), the most cited example of a declining Rust Belt city, are turning some of these sites into urban farms. Spearheading the creation of urban agriculture in Detroit is the non-profit, The Greening of Detroit. It is supported by local, state and federal agencies, corporations and foundations to assist local citizens, churches and social organization in the planting of trees, urban farming and reclaiming open space. These activities are recreating communities and creating jobs.

There is much more that could be discussed relating to urban agriculture from the practical to the fantastic, such as urban agriculture in multi-storied buildings, termed “vertical farming.” However, the most extraordinary phenomena in the urban agriculture movement is the power of ordinary people putting their ideas into motion and slowly transforming unsustainable industrial agriculture into agriculture that is sustainable.
[featured image credit: inhabitat.com]

this article edited by KL Johnson

28 December 2012

Port cities viewed through fractal analysis (with special focus on land use formation around airports) Draft-Updated 30 December 2012

(This image is the harbor road leading from the port to other land uses in the ancient Greek/Roman city of Ephesus , located  near Selçuk, Turkey. .  It was lined with shops which were selling goods that would be interested to those going to and from the port.  It is not by accident that Ephesus became a major center key in the spread of Christianity as it was a major cultural center in the Roman Empire.  When the port filled in with silt, the city declined rapidly.  This underscores the importance of key transportation nodes to the very survival of an urban areas.The image is located at: http://www.ephesus.us/ephesus/arcadianstreet.htm. This site also has a further description of the street and Ephesus.)

I am still in the process of reading two books: Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next (Kasarda and Lindsay) and Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis (Binelli.)  Both speak of an evolving metropolis where there is  no end state, nor an entirely new phenomena.  Both books blend some of the topics that I first explored in my dissertation almost twenty years ago (The Land Use Impact of an Airport and Urban Structure: A Case Study in Milwaukee, Wisconsin *) which I looked at the land use impact of General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee and compared it to a declining port and suburban area.   It was also at this time that I started my exploration of fractals and complexity theory as they apply to urbanization. Therefore, when I look at the importance and impact of airports and the accession and decline of cities or areas of cities, I view them with a different perspective than other urbanists.

“Things change to remain the same” is an adage that applies to airports.  An airport is a place of transportation interchange between passengers and freight.  This type of node has existed since mankind started to trade by sea, rivers and lakes which make interchange nodes at least three thousand years old.  The interchange node was the reason for the existence of major cities such as London, Paris, Rome (Ostia), Istanbul/Constantinople, New York, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Chicago, San Francisco etc.  The next major transportation mode—railroads, caused the impetus of new cities and the decline of others. Airplanes could be seen as the latest ‘public’ and cargo transportation mode to appear which has over a period of fifty years eclipsed the importance of railroads and waterborne transportation for passengers and non-bulk cargo. Waterborne transportation and railroads are the most efficient to ship large shipments (Passenger railroads still play an important role in most countries (with the exception of the U.S.), although diminished by the automobile). The airport emerging at the same time as automobiles and trucks has been shaped nature of this particular node and the associated landscape.

Within the context of fractal analysis and complex theory: one could see the port as an initiating fractal started with certain rules constrained or assisted by its environmental influences on various scales.  On another level, a port could be seen as an attractor in a dynamic environment drawing land uses that benefit from being near it.   Sea/River ports, airports and railroad stations/freight yards. have attracted warehouses, hotels, housing, financial businesses, industries, shipping companies, restaurants/bars, illicit business, etc.  The difference why areas around  arose and declined was related to the speed of the transportation mode.  The airplane is presently the fastest global transportation mode and its interchange nodes (airports) are presently the impetus for dynamic land use change in many urban areas.  The impact of the airport node is related to its importance in the global airport network and the characteristics of the metropolitan area.

The airport exists, as other previous ports related to older technologies, exist within the chaotic, fractal and complex nature of the city.  However, there are some distinct characteristic of airports that differ from other types of ports/interchange points (sea, river, railroads.)  The airport is related to moving people and goods fast.  The airport land uses are becoming destinations in themselves, such as office and conference hotels.  Some hotels are on the airport property itself (i.e. the Hilton Hotel in Chicago O’Hare airport.)  This attraction is not directly related to the metro area itself, but the importance of the node.  Negative impacts are the amount of land needed the noise impacts, and pollution (air and ground).   Urban planners and other public officials must operate in this dynamic and chaotic atmosphere and be adept at viewing the process in its theoretical and local context.

 *You have to be a member of academia.org  to download this document. 

25 December 2012

A tale of two cities: a city without guns versus a ‘gun toting’ city

(This image is located at: http://locationreservoir.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/when-hollywood-takes-over-a-small-new-england-village-pt-2/ .   I selected this image to represent a small village or city as referred in the narrative below.)

As a trickster and provocateur, I am proposing the juxtaposition of two hypothetical cities: one which prohibits guns and another that requires guns to be carried by all people.  In light of the current gun control debate brought about by the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut, a discussion as the one below is warranted. The metaphors of utopia (or dis-utopia) is useful when discussing issues.  The most concrete way to discuss utopias is within the context of a city, which has been used by urbanists for centuries (i.e., Plato, Sir Thomas Moore. )  I will discuss this within a fictional situation of the two hypothetical cities.

At the beginning of 2013, the city council of one city in the U.S. decided that the ultimate solution to violence was the arming of all people above the age of eighteen in its jurisdiction.  Even visitors would be required to carry a gun. Those opposing it had no choice, but to either abide by the ordinance or to leave the city.  This seemed like the perfect solution.   Later, they determined that there must be mandatory gun training.  What about people who were elderly? Should they be allowed to carry guns when their vision and some had mental stability was questionable?  Also, what about people with some form of mental illness?  In turn, they enacted a regulation to screen those who were mentally incapable of owning a firearm. Then, one day a person came into town with a machine gun and killed about fifty people.  The council decided maybe everyone should now have machine guns so that they would be equal.  What about those who could not afford machine guns?  It was concluded that that this was their problem.  The premise was that things could be resolved with guns; no matter the level of conflict.  This resulted in more gun tragedies related to domestic violence.  When one man was fired from a job, he shot his boss before he could reach for his gun.  Of course, he was killed by other workers.  It was resolved that even though there was increased violence that everyone was safer.

Another city, not too far away from the ‘gun toting city’ passed an ordinance to ban all guns from their city.  The city council resolved that no one could have a gun, even law enforcement.  This required gathering all guns and disposing of them.  Anyone caught entering the city with a firearm would be jailed, fined and sent out of the city.  Those that opposed to this ordinance would be required to leave the city.  This was not a problem as a nearby city allowed guns for everyone.  There were organizations formed on counseling people how to resolve issues without violence.  Everyone was happy with the situation.  Police were able to solve problems of burglary, domestic abuse, and accidents without using firearms.  A sense of community based on a culture of non-violent resolution of conflicts.  Then, one day a person with a gun was able to come into the city and managed to rob a store, killing the manager and some of the customers.  Citizens were shaken as they thought that they had done everything to prevent violence.  They began to reconsider their banning of all guns.  Would they have to go back to the armed security guards, gun ownership etc.?  Ultimately, they resolved that there would have to be walls with barbed wires around the city; and restricted and guarded entry gates with armed police, even at their small airport.

This hypothetical situation is symbolic of the division that our country is enduring.  No one could dispute that the ever reoccurring mass killings is a tragedy.  Yet, it also goes on in smaller cases almost daily. We have on one hand a radical segment that would ban handguns, automatic weapons, and assault weapons and make stringent regulations on buying a gun to those who want greater freedom to purchase guns. Both sides interpret the Second Amendment in two diametrically different manners. 

Urban areas are where the majority of gun violence occurs. It is the responsibility of the Federal, State or city/county government to curtail gun violence at the local level?  What is the right mix of regulations that curtain gun violence and be acceptable to most people?  What is apparent is that we as a nation are polarized on this issue to the point of paralysis.  Differing opinions vary by households, neighborhoods and cities within different parts of the U.S.  But, we have to develop a dialog and not one of bullying one opinion over another.  “Shouting matches” never resolve in good solutions.