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charlesarthur : cities   13

Green cement struggles to expand market as pollution focus grows • Bloomberg
Vanessa Dezem:
<p>Manufacturing the stone-like building material is responsible for 7% of global carbon dioxide emissions, more than what comes from all the trucks in the world. And with that in mind, it’s surprising that leading cement makers from LafargeHolcim Ltd. in Switzerland to Votorantim Cimentos SA in Brazil are finding customers slow to embrace a greener alternative.

Their story highlights the difficulties of taking greenhouse gases out of buildings, roads and bridges. After wresting deep cuts from the energy industry, policymakers looking to extend the fight against global warming are increasingly focusing on construction materials and practices as a place to make further reductions. The companies are working on solutions, but buyers are reluctant to pay more.

“There is so far too little demand for sustainable materials,” said Jens Diebold, head of sustainability at LafargeHolcim. “I would love to see more demand from customers for it. There is limited sensitivity for carbon emissions in the construction of a building.”</p>

Fertilizer yesterday, cement today - it seems like everything is contributing to the problem. In a way, it is.
cities  cement  climate  globalwarming 
june 2019 by charlesarthur
Amazon’s hard bargain extends far beyond New York • The New York Times
Karen Weise, Manny Fernandez and John Eligon:
<p>When Texas officials pushed Amazon to pay nearly $270m in back sales taxes in 2010, Amazon responded by closing its only warehouse in the state and scrapping expansion plans there. Two years later, the officials agreed to waive the past taxes in exchange for Amazon opening new warehouses.

A similar scene played out in South Carolina, where officials decided in 2011 to deny Amazon a sales tax break. After threatening to stop hiring in the state, the company got the tax exemption by promising to hire more people.

And last year in Seattle, the company’s hometown, Amazon halted plans to build one tower and threatened to lease out one under construction when local officials pushed a tax on large employers. The City Council passed a smaller version of the tax, but the company helped finance a successful opposition to repeal it. Now, Amazon plans to lease out its space in the tower under construction anyway.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio called it a “shock to the system” when Amazon, facing criticism for the deal it reached to build a headquarters in the city, abruptly dropped the plans. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is still trying to woo them back. But the reversal mirrored the company’s interactions with officials in other states…

…“Amazon doesn’t like any friction,” said Margaret O’Mara, a professor at the University of Washington who researches the history of tech companies. But the desire for more urban locations, she said, means “it can’t be my way or the highway.”</p>

The struggle to shift taxation onto capital invested is going to be a pretty tough one.
amazon  cities  tax 
march 2019 by charlesarthur
America’s cities are running on software from the ’80s • Bloomberg
Romy Vaghese:
<p>The impetus for change is often public outcry over a crisis, such as the chaotic 2009 crash of a disco-era computer system regulating traffic signals in Montgomery County, Md., or the cyberattacks that brought Atlanta’s government to a standstill last March. And promises to improve are no guarantee of success: Minnesota spent about a decade and $100m to replace its ancient vehicle-licensing and registration software, but the new version arrived with so many glitches in 2017 that Governor Tim Walz has asked for an additional $16m to fix it.

Of course, improvements cost money that constituents don’t always want to pay. “We’re dealing with an irrational public who wants greater and greater service delivery at the same time they want their taxes to be lower,” says Alan Shark, executive director of the Public Technology Institute, an association for municipal tech officials.

In San Francisco the assessor uses a Cobol-based system called AS-400, whose welcome screen reads, “COPYRIGHT IBM CORP., 1980, 2009.” As the city tax rolls jumped 22% over two years, workers were struggling to keep track of the changes on their ancient systems. At one point they fell three years behind. It’s a “lot of manual work” just to perform basic functions, Chu says.

Searches that should seem simple take much longer because of the system’s quirks. If a resident contacts the agency saying her house should have a different assessed value, a worker has to look up the block and identification number that’s technically taxed; there’s no way to filter by address. Also, all street numbers need to have four digits, so 301 Grove St. becomes 0301 Grove St. Another problem: The system doesn’t flag data entry mistakes, such as if a worker misidentified 301 Grove St. as 0031 Grove St. </p>

Got to love the way that the hard-coded systems rule the way people function. (Side note: long time since Cobol appeared here.)
america  cities  software  cobol 
march 2019 by charlesarthur
Model metropolism • Logic Mag
<p>In a paper serialized in two early issues of Reason, the libertarian magazine founded in 1968, [Jay] Forrester [author of the book whose equations were used as the basis for SimCity] argued that for most of human history, people have only needed to understand basic cause-and-effect relationships, but that our social systems are governed by complex processes that unfold over long periods of time. He claimed that our “mental models,” the cognitive maps we have of the world, are ill-suited to help us navigate the web of  interrelationships that make up the structure of our society.

For him, this complexity meant that policy interventions could, and usually would, have very different social effects than those imagined by policymakers. This led him to make the stark assertion that “the intuitive solutions to the problems of complex social systems” are “wrong most of the time.” In essence, anything we do to try to improve society will backfire and make things even worse.

In this respect, Forrester’s approach to the problems of American cities mirrored the “benign neglect” outlook of influential Nixon adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the rest of the administration. Indeed, Moynihan was an enthusiastic proponent of Forrester’s work and recommended Urban Dynamics to his fellow White House officials. Forrester’s arguments enabled the Nixon Administration to claim that its plans to slash programs created to help the urban poor and people of color would actually, counterintuitively, help these people.</p>

SimCity came out in 1989. Still influencing how people think about cities.
cities  games  simulation 
february 2019 by charlesarthur
Scooter hype gives way to tough questions about durability and unit economics • The Drive
Edward Niedermeyer:
<p>That three-month payback period [for a Bird scooter], based on Bird's projection of improved unit economics during 2018, is a far cry from the less than one month of in-fleet operation that Bird's scooters have been averaging according to our source. At the time Bird told investors that repairs cost the company 14% of gross revenue, or about 51 cents per ride. Since then widespread reports of "scooter vandalism" have raised fresh questions about the repair and replacement costs that shared scooter companies are facing…

…investors aren't the only stakeholders who are growing concerned by Bird's operational challenges. In multiple posts made at the subreddit r/birdchargers in the last week "Bird hunters" who charge the company's scooters have wondered if the company is "going out of business" and "about to collapse." The picture that emerges from the subreddit is of chaos: chargers report receiving messages from the company accusing them of "hoarding" scooters in order to game charging bounties (the longer a scooter remains uncharged, the more a charger makes from the company when it charges it) even when they aren't hoarding, don't have any scooters or are storing scooters during bad weather (in some cases without being paid for storage).

These issues seem to be tied to a combination of seasonal issues that the Southern California-based company doesn't seem well-prepared for, a shortage of full-time staff, falling charging bounties, and what appears to be a rampant hoarding problem. There's even evidence that Bird and other scooter companies are being targeted by startup impound companies who want their slice of those millions in venture capital.</p>

I'm not sure if this is just a generational thing, but I don't think I'd want to be riding a scooter on a snowy day in London. Or a rainy day in London. Of which there are quite a few. Also, there's a very effective public transport system of overground buses and underground trains. Does this limit them to fair-weather cities with bad public transport?
scooter  cities  weather 
january 2019 by charlesarthur
City street orientations around the world • Geoff Boeing
<p>By popular request, this is a quick follow-up to <a href="">this post</a> comparing the orientation of streets in 25 US cities using Python and <a href="">OSMnx</a>. Here are 25 more cities around the world:

<img src="" width="100%" /></p>

Compare them to the American cities, also shown in the post. "Regular" barely begins to describe it. OSMnx is an interesting package, building on OpenStreetMap.
cities  maps 
july 2018 by charlesarthur
A conversation about how public transport really works | FT Alphaville
Jarrett Walker spoke to Izabella Kaminska of the FT's Alphaville; he blogs at <a href=""></a>, where he continues the campaign to inform the world about the physical constraints of urban geometry:
<p>transport is fundamentally a physical, spatial problem. It is not fundamentally a communications problem or to the extent that it was a communications problem, we’ve gone most of the way, I think, in taking that friction out of the system. And what Uber is discovering, I think, what a lot of these tech firms are discovering is that taking that friction out of the system did not transform the fundamental reality of space and the math of labour and so on, which have really been the facts that have determined what’s possible in passenger transport and will continue to determine those things.

No, of course, the driverless car people will say, no, cars will fit closer together and they’ll be smaller and so we’ll fit more of them over the bridge but that’s a linear solution to an exponential problem. The other dimension of this problem that you must keep in mind is the problem of what we, in the business, call induced demand. And induced demand is the very simply idea that when you make something easier, people are more likely to do it and this is why, for example, when you widen a motorway, the traffic gets worse or it fills up to the same level of congestion that you had before…

…I don’t want to deny the fact that being in the city, being on public transport, having the richness of interacting with a great diversity of people is not always fun; it means you get to interact with some crazy people and some difficult people but more importantly, it is simply the deal that life in a city is. There is no other way for everyone to live in a city. There is a way for elites to live in a city without having to interact with people; you can come and go in limousines; you can come and go to your penthouse by helicopter.

And this is where we get to the problem of elite projection, which is the danger of very fortunate people, whose taste and experience is, therefore, extremely unusual, using their own tastes to determine how a city should be designed; that’s a fundamental problem but, I think, I want to acknowledge the fact that life in the city has its own difficulties, that you don’t always want to deal with the company of strangers. But even more fundamentally, that is simply the deal you signed onto when you decided to live in a city, rather than in a suburb where you can drive your car everywhere and only see people you intend to see.

There’s a tremendous risk and when you think about this idea, this fantasy that at some point, Uber will scale to the point that they can bring their prices down to the point that everyone can afford them.</p>

The whole interview is terrific (and not behind the usual FT paywall). Highly recommended.
design  cities  uber 
january 2018 by charlesarthur
60 years of urban change: midwest • University of Oklahoma
Shane Hampton at the Institute for Quality Communities:
<p>60 years has made a big difference in the urban form of American cities. The most rapid change occurred during the mid-century urban renewal period that cleared large tracts of urban land for new highways, parking, and public facilities or housing projects. Fine-grained networks of streets and buildings on small lots were replaced with superblocks and megastructures. While the period did make way for impressive new projects in many cities, many of the scars are still unhealed.

We put together these sliders to show how cities have changed over half a century.</p>

Lots of fascinating pictures of how things have changed - and there are more regions.
cities  maps  change 
may 2017 by charlesarthur
Cars and second order consequences • Benedict Evans
Evans muses at length on what could follow from cars becoming autonomous and electric. There are many, many threads to this; what we really need is a history of what happened when horses were replaced by cars. So many stables, so much provision of hay, so many grooms, suddenly confronted a changed world. That's coming for us too, except we should be more prepared:
<p>Moving to electric reduces the number of moving parts in a car by something like an order of magnitude. It's less about replacing the fuel tank with a battery than ripping out the spine. That remakes the car industry and its supplier base (as well as related industries such as machine tools), but it also changes the repair environment, and the life of a vehicle. Roughly half of US spending on car maintenance goes on things that are directly attributable to the internal combustion engine, and much of that spending will just go away. In the longer term, this change might affect the lifespan of a vehicle: in an on-demand world vehicles would have higher loading, but absent that, fewer mechanical breakages (and fewer or no accidents) might mean a longer replacement cycle, once the rate of technology implementation settles down. 

Next, gas itself is bought in gas stations, of which there are about 150k in the USA. Those will also go away (unless there are radical changes in how long it takes to charge an EV). Since gas is sold at very low margins, these retailers make their actual money as convenience stores, so what happens to the products that are sold there? Some of this demand will be displaced to other retailers, and some may be going online anyway (especially if an Amazon drone can get you a bag of Cheesy Puffs in 15 minutes). But snacks, sodas and tobacco sell meaningful proportions of their total volume as impulse purchases attached to gasoline. Some of that volume might just go away. 

Tobacco in particular might be interesting - well over half of US tobacco sales happens at gas stations, and there are meaningful indications that removing distribution reduces consumption - that cigarettes are often an impulse purchase and if they're not in front of you then many smokers are less likely to buy them. Car crashes kill 35k people a year in the USA, but tobacco kills 500k. </p>
cities  automation  cars 
april 2017 by charlesarthur
Secretive Alphabet division aims to fix public transit in US by shifting control to Google • The Guardian
Mark Harris:
<p>Sidewalk Labs, a secretive subsidiary of Alphabet, wants to radically overhaul public parking and transportation in American cities, emails and documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.

Its high-tech services, which it calls “new superpowers to extend access and mobility”, could make it easier to drive and park in cities and create hybrid public/private transit options that rely heavily on ride-share services such as Uber. But they might also gut traditional bus services and require cities to invest heavily in Google’s own technologies, experts fear.

Sidewalk is initially offering its cloud software, called Flow, to Columbus, Ohio, the winner of a recent $50m Smart City Challenge organized by the US Department of Transportation.

Using public records laws, the Guardian obtained dozens of emails and documents submitted to Challenge cities by Sidewalk Labs, detailing many technologies and proposals that have not previously been made public.</p>

Harris is one of the best journalists out there; he keeps finding out stuff in these areas long before anyone else.
cars  cities  google 
june 2016 by charlesarthur
This city embedded traffic lights in the sidewalks so that smartphone users don’t have to look up » The Washington Post
Rick Noack:
<p>Few nations in the world take red traffic lights more seriously than Germany.

Foreign visitors frequently wonder why crowds of Germans wait for traffic lights to turn green when there are no cars in sight.

That is why officials in the city of Augsburg became concerned when they noticed a new phenomenon: Pedestrians were so busy looking at their smartphones that they were ignoring traffic lights.

The city has attempted to solve that problem by installing new traffic lights embedded in the pavement — so that pedestrians constantly looking down at their phones won't miss them.</p>

(The headline pretty much covers the whole of the story, but there you go.) Cities being redesigned for our devices.
smartphone  cities 
april 2016 by charlesarthur
10 cities visualized by how cleanly their streets are laid out >> Co.Exist
Artist Steve Von Worley plots cities according to their orderliness.

One can guess, without seeing them, that younger cities (such as those in the US) will score highly because they are so new, so that they existed when horse-drawn traffic already did. London and especially Tokyo look like a mess, but you also have to consider geography - particularly height and rivers.

That said, what would a city developed now look like in these terms?
cities  layout  visusalisation 
november 2014 by charlesarthur

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