This week had quite a bit of excitement. We got climate change doom & gloom, smart cities, diners and teleportation!
- The internets were abuzz with this very scary NYMag article about how bad climate change is. It paints a pretty scary picture of a runaway greenhouse effect from all the different carbon+methane feedback loops that will kick off once the ice melts and turn into another mass extinction event (like the Permian event which killed 96% of life on Earth). It makes for a good, though sobering, read, but it didn’t take long for the less panicked to chime in. Notable is a Facebook Post by Michael Mann, one of the people who proposed the “hockey stick” graph of climate change, stating that it’s a bit much to say all life could end in a hundred years. The Atlantic released a longer critique, calling it “an unusually specific and severe depiction of what global warming will do to the planet.” All in all, it’s not to say that climate change will not severely impact the ability for life to thrive on the planet, but we shouldn’t panic and launch Zero Dawn just yet.
- One of the urbanism groups I follow on Facebook posted a link to the pwc Competitive Cities report. I have a healthy skepticism of city rankings (particularly livability rankings, largely because if you unpack them, you find out they’re heavily skewed to wealthy places with a high perception of public safety). However, they’re always an interesting marketing/branding tool for cities to draw investment from companies looking to attract young, tech-nomad types.
- More details on Facebook’s new campus came out. It’s generally been met with a lot of positivity (at least in my feeds, but my feeds skew towards the big tech blogs). It’s on my “to write about” list to look at the history of company towns and how tech campuses are attempting something different (or not). Silicon Valley and many of the larger tech clusters are close to or within major cities, but I’m curious as to whether they will remain that way if the cost of living in these places gets too much for workers once they have kids. Open question, definitely something to ponder.
- The whole smart cities theme is a big interest (obviously, based on the title of this blog). It’s been fascinating to watch this topic evolve over the years and a draft post is sitting in here somewhere on the evolution of the smart cities concept (I’ll get to it one day, says procrastinator Yousaf). For now, here’s a good overview based on Anthony Townsend’s Medium post:
- Smart Cities 1.0 – a set of services and infrastructure provided by large technology firms. This is the sort of stuff you hear from IBM’s, Ciscos, and Googles talking about how they’re creating new ways for cities for function.
- Smart Cities 2.0 – a push towards digital engagement of citizens and service delivery, led by governments themselves. Boston’s Office of New Urban Dynamics and NYC’s Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics fall under this frame. More recently, here’s a fun overview of what Oslo is doing.
- Smart Cities 3.0 – smart citizens and civic technology. This is where citizen groups advocate for and take charge by addressing technology solutions themselves.
- Also, check out this cool concept out of the Netherlands letting the elderly manage traffic lights on their phones so they can increase their crosswalk time. The technology relies on the software that already exists in the crosswalk’s hardware, which makes it extra special.
- I’ll admit I haven’t yet watched the lecture myself, but the premise sounds like it will be a good watch. Maths and the metropolis; or how network analysis can help us better understand how cities function.
- There was this wonderful article in the Guardian in January about the decline of the British Curry House and another from 2015 on the pub. This week, I came across a NYMag article on “The Death of the New York Diner“. I’d chalk it up as another sad tale in the on-going saga of declining main street retail activities, but places like neighborhood eateries and pubs are different (considering how many mornings of my early-20s I spent at Pratt Diner). Aaron Renn describes my thoughts on it: “the decline of the diner is not just about the loss of a restaurant format – those come and go – but also the decline of shared social space and the increasing alienation between social classes and groups.”
- Futurology time again! I know when you saw the intro up top talking about teleportation you got excited. Well researchers in China have managed to teleport a photon (a particle of light) from a lab on earth to a satellite in space. The internets were really excited about this but, alas, all those headlines claiming that we’ve finally teleported an object are wrong – the team working on it teleported data, not an object. The article linked here gives some explanation of quantum entanglement, but it’s a tricky concept to grasp.
- I did a short post on procedurally modelled cities way back when, thinking about how cities might be created for VR or other platforms. Even though we have the know-how and technology to generate endless cities virtually, there’s still the romance of places we’ve physically experienced coming into our virtual realms (part of why I love games like Fallout). This week, researchers from NYU released a LiDAR scan of Dublin (link to data here) and it’s gorgeous.
- Finally, if you love those high-contrast streetscape maps (a la Allan Jacobs’ Great Streets), Geoff Boeing at UC Berkley wrote a Python code for generating them for any location. Happy mapping!
Some quick thoughts about a few of the articles I’ve been reading and following this past week:
- Toronto’s housing market is always in the news with the wild swings as the powers-that-be try to gain some control of housing prices. After a lot of fanfare about a number of new measures as part of the Fair Housing Plan (including a foreign-buyer’s tax and more stringent rent-control measures) a first cut on housing sales activity has been released and it’s showing a drastic reduction in sales. However, the initial reports on foreign-buyer activity shows the number of foreign-buyer purchases in the Greater Golden Horsehoe is less than 5% of the market (though John Pasalis at Realosophy did tweet that this figure is an average and it’s likely higher and lower for specific sub-markets). This is in-line with what industry had initially been saying when the tax went into effect. So if the foreign-buyer component is so small, what’s causing the slowdown in sales? The simple answer is that it’s not any one thing. The Fair Housing Plan consists of several measures, including more stringent rent-control rules that also affect domestic investors, and there was an overall sense in the market that the Bank of Canada would be raising interest rates this year. Overall, housing market activity has been incredibly heated over the last two years before slowing down in the summer when policy measures were announced and sentiments towards an interest-rate hike became more certain. On a bit of a side, but related, note: Following on the heels of its foreign-buyers tax last year, which cooled down the market for only a few months before it picked up again, Vancouver introduced an empty homes tax this week.
- Let’s talk a bit more about housing in a broader sense rather than the whacky GTA real estate market sense. One thing that’s striking is that housing prices are soaring everywhere (well, major cities anyway). That’s led to a lot of people proposing different ideas of what constitutes a “home”, as people increasingly find themselves priced away from the traditional notions of home ownership (a detached house with a yard in much of North America). In the thought experiment sphere, a group of young upstarts in the UK are trying to redefine notions of a “house” for generation-rent by unpacking traditional layouts and looking at the functional value not just of space but also of furniture. Following tight on the micro-condo/container housing craze, a developer in Sacremento, California, is testing the MicroPAD (Micro Prefab Affordable Dwelling). The City of Sacremento is hoping to use it as a strategy for providing affordable housing for homeless residents. Modeled on similar prefab housing solutions in Sweden, the modular units are manufactured overseas (China and Poland) and snapped together on site. As a result, a MicroPAD costs significantly less than a similar unit built on site using traditional construction methods (as they do).
That’s it for this week.