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Community / Public space

Toxic gentrification, angry litter and the mathematics of bikeshare schemes

A round-up of the other city stories we’ve enjoyed this week.

  • Turns out New York’s housing prices are so bad that some are willing to count toxic waste among their neighbours. This piece on Gothamist looks at the rapid development in the areas of New York surrounding industrial waste-infected creeks, rivers and canals, nicknamed the “Superfund” neighbourhoods after the federal program to clean up hazardous waste sites.  For some New Yorkers, the Superfund designation seems to actually make an area more hip. Here’s an excerpt from the piece, describing one of the neighbourhoods:

“Where 2nd Street runs into the west bank of Gowanus Canal… there’s a rowboat jutting out of the earth with a message welcoming everyone to “Brooklyn’s Coolest Superfund Site”. A sign nearby warns against even touching the water, while down the block construction is underway on a massive residential project that was abandoned by one developer because of the Superfund designation, only to be taken up by another. Renderings of the future building show kayakers paddling past.”

Home sweet home.

Image: Gowanus Dredgers.

  • This month’s issue of Science magazine reports that a new mathematical conundrum is keeping scientists up at night: how to balance out bikeshare systems.

As with any transport system, bikeshare networks get more use in some areas than others. But if more bikes are dropped off at a location than are picked up, the whole system falls apart – so to keep things moving, you need trucks to move bikes from popular destinations to popular starting points. Figuring out where and when to send those trucks can be pretty difficult, as bike use varies on different days, and traffic can affect the speed at which you can move stuff around.

So around 30 mathematicians and scientists are currently working on improving bike rebalancing systems. At the moment, researchers from the Vienna University of Technology are testing a new algorithm taking in weather, traffic, and predictions of bike usage; this would be used to update truck drivers throughout the day.

  • This interview in The Guardian tells the story of the architects redesigning Iraq’s war-torn and neglected cities from their base in, er, Yorkshire. Seven years ago, the Iraqi Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works approached Garsdale Design to create a “masterplan” for Nasiriyah, a city in Southern Iraq. The masterplan contained designs for everything from road networks to sewerage, tramways and mosques, and, since then, the firm has been called on to produce similar designs for three other Iraqi cities. Amazingly, only one of the architects has actually visited the country:

“’Remote working is always a challenge,’ says Elliot with dry understatement. Especially, no doubt, when it involves redesigning cities halfway across the world that you’ve never seen in the flesh but only visualised virtually thanks to digitised maps, old masterplans and lots of data translated from Arabic into English by obliging Iraqi local government workers. 

“’We can’t go to Iraq because it’s too dangerous, but our colleagues there can do a lot of the survey work on the ground for us,’ says Derrick… Derrick did attend a meeting in the Kurdish city of Erbil, but otherwise the face-to-face meetings with Iraqi planners have taken place outside Iraq – in Istanbul, for example, or even in the Cumbrian town of Kendal, 10 miles down the road from the Hartleys’ barn.”

  • Toronto has launched an anti-litter campaign which relies on insulting its residents into submission. The poster campaign used branded packaging to form words – for example, “low life”, made out of scraps of packaging from Sweet’n’Low and Lifesavers. Other posters read “lazy”, “pig”, and “dipstick”, and all bore the sombre slogan “Littering says a lot about you”.

Unfortunately, Globalnews reports, city officials hadn’t consulted any of the brands whose logos were used, so the posters will have to be removed. Their report (which also contains some pictures of the posters) can be found here.
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