1. Social
November 7, 2014

Urban nomads, Darwinian moments and traffic jams

By City Monitor Staff

Some other stories we enjoyed this week on our travels through the virtual concrete jungle:

  • In New York, the streets are generally pretty long: crossing the whole width of Manhattan, say, or running for a dozen blocks through one of the outer boroughs. So this week not one, but two publications has decided to celebrate the city’s more characterful scattering of one-block streets.  Here’s the New York Times, which just loves their real estate potential:

One-block-long streets are the manifestation of a theory that sems almost heritcal for New York City: Bigger is not better, smaller is… [They] are not enjoying a renaissance or resurgance in popularity. The appeal of their limited-addition exclusivity and self-generated hush is undiminished even in this era of vertical glass Goliaths with infinite amenities…

And on it goes, in similar vein.

Inspired by this paen to neighbourhood-sized neighbourhoods, Untapped Cities decided to list 15 of its favourites. The list, which is slightly less like a Foxtons brochure than the Times‘ effort, gives you an insight into a whole different New York.

  • Over on CityLab, Laura Bliss writes about the fascinating question as to whether urban studies is approaching its “Darwin” moment: that is, the point at which we can move beyond mere classification to an actual science with explanatory potential. The piece offers a fascinating tour of the various taxonomies that researchers have put forward down the years, before explaining why some think it’s time to go further.

[William Solecki, director of the C.U.N.Y. Institute for Sustainable Cities] and his colleagues outlined their basic research goals for a proposed re-envisioning of the field… 

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What we’re really looking at are the forces, the laws, the principles, the axiomatic statements that we can say about how these cities are constructed, built, and rebuilt,” Solecki said. “So the object of study isn’t so much [the city itself]. It’s the process of building that thing.”

  • Great news from the Economist. According to the Centre for Economics & Business Research, the costs of traffic jams – wasted time, increased transport costs, pollution and so forth – cost four major economies an estimated $200bn a year. That’s 0.8 per cent of GDP. Oh, and it’s rising.

How expensive the jams are varies wildly: in Los Angeles, it could be as much as $6,000 per resident per year. We can’t build our way of it, the researchers conclude; but smart road networks or congestion charging, to manage traffic flow, might help. You can read the rest here.

  • And finally, the ultimate example that we are living in the age of urbanisation: the Mongolian nomads are starting to settle down. 

Partly, according to this piece from Worldcrunch, it’s because of economics; but much of it’s because of the desertification or large chunks of Mongolian territory, making it harder and harder to maintain a nomadic lifestyle. 

The article is actually from 2012, and is written in slightly disjointed language. But it’s well worth a read, not least for the revelation that apartments in Ulan Bator are laid out like yurts.



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