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Community / Public space

Houses made of blood, sewer drugs and the Second Avenue cough

Some of the city stories we enjoyed elsewhere this week.

  • Marijuana has been legal in Washington State since 2012. Now public health officials in the city of Spokane are keen to figure out what effect legalisation has had on residents’ consumption. The only problem is, it’s pretty hard to get accurate information on how much people are using the drug.

So academics at the University of Washington have come up with a solution: test the city’s sewage. They collected sewage from public waste facilities (many of which, apparently, already collect samples – to what end, we’re not sure) and tested for levels of the drug.

The University has used similar methods to gauge methamphetamine and cocaine use Elsewhere in the state, a professor used sewage to test students’ use of Adderall , a study drug, around the time of exams. As this piece about the technique on Next City puts it, “unlike consumers, wastewater doesn’t lie”.

  • Designer and urbanist Mikael Colville Anderson has put together a fascinating piece of research grandly titled the “Arrogance of Space”, tracking how much of cities is given over to cars, pedestrians and cyclists.

Anderson photographed street scenes in Paris, Calgary, and Tokyo, then colour-coded them by the transport type designated in each area. Unsurprisingly, cars win out – but even more dramatically than you might think. Here’s a junction in Paris. The dots represent the number of people in each area:

  • This long piece in the New York Times tells the tale of two Manhattan subway extensions. On the East Side, construction on the Second Avenue line’s been planned since 1929 and underway since 2007. Some residents and businesses have been evicted; those remaining say they’ve developed what’s become known as the “Second Avenue cough” as a result of all the construction dust. One hair salon was surrounded by construction for four years, and the works dominated the life of its owner, Alice McCarney, to such an extent that she dressed up as a construction worker for Halloween last year.

Construction for an extension of the No.7 train on the West Side has been far less disruptive. To add insult to injury, with gourmet supermarkets and fancy high-rises are already popping up in anticipation of the new line.

  • How would you like to live in a house made of animal blood? Or hemp? Or bendable concrete? Well today is your lucky day because, according to this list of recently developed futuristic building materials on Web Urbanist, all these could soon be within your reach.

A brick made of animal blood. Image: Jack Munro.

The list also includes bacteria bricks (!), electrified wood (!?) and the insulator Aerogel, which has the lowest known density of any porous solid and is so light you can’t feel it in your hand (okay, we don’t have any appropriate punctuation for that one). Makes plain old bricks and mortar sound pretty dull, eh?
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