All posts by Tim De Chant

Aerial view of San Francisco, circa 1938

Spectacular composite view of San Francisco in 1938 made from 164 aerial photographs from the San Francisco Public Library. The interface isn’t intuitive (the zoom control is initially hidden, and when it does appear, it’s the same color as the photos, making it hard to spot—it’s in the lower center), but it’s worth muddling through. The detail on the photos is incredible.

(Via Colin Shultz.)

Age-proofing Our Streets

Emily Badger, reporting for the Atlantic Cities:

“Aging happens to everybody else, it doesn’t happen to me,” Waerstad says. “There seems to be this incredible denial, and I think we all share it. It’s this unfathomable possibility that we will ever be the ones to give up our independence in some way because of a physical decline.”

Age-proofing cities will be a cultural challenge as much as an urban design one.

One place that’s had to think a lot about age-proofing is Japan. From long-interval chimes that guide the hard of seeing toward exits—”ding…dong”—to guideways and warning strips in train stations and on sidewalks, they’ve done quite a bit to make life easier for their graying population.

Blind guideway, Kyoto Station

I found this great example in Kyoto’s train station. Notice how they’ve systematized the texture differences between straight paths and intersections and terminuses. You see these throughout the country.

Neuron Culture

If you’re a fan of blogs that mix original articles with short, link-laden posts (much like I do here at Per Square Mile), then you’ll like what my pal David Dobbs has done with his blog, Neuron Culture. He’s a sharp writer, and he’s on a roll.

It began with a plan to remove a park

Tim Arango, Sebnem Arsu, and Ceylan Yeginsu, reporting for the New York Times on the protests in Turkey:

“We are here for the park and the park only,” said Murat Bal, 27, who stood in the edge of the park as other areas of Taksim Square were being tear-gassed. “We will not yield to the provocation of stone throwers or police violence. We will stay in the park until the end.”

There are certainly other factors at play here, but this sends a powerful message about how much people value public open space.

How the U.S. Government Waged War Against the House of Tomorrow

Matt Novak:

The house of tomorrow — the miracle, push-button, prefabricated house of the future — was on its way even before WWII began. These promises were a hold-over of pent up desires left simmering and unfulfilled during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The legendary World’s Fairs of 1933 in Chicago and 1939 in New York gave Americans a look at the house of the future, and after years of toil and sacrifice, luxury was surely coming soon. Or so they were told.

As Americans became more and more confident of victory in WWII during the war’s later years of 1944 and 1945, cracks started to appear.

Why the new Mac Pro will be made in the USA

Yours truly, back in December:

Only thing I got wrong was the “heavy” part. The new one probably isn’t be a featherweight, but at one-eighth the volume it won’t be a 40 pound behemoth like the current one. Plus, I’m sure it’ll be priced like the halo computer it is, absorbing the added cost (which isn’t large for a device like a computer).

Journalism and Democracy in Wisconsin

Deborah Blum:

Why am I telling you this, why am I writing this hymn to investigative reporting at this moment? Because although I am scheduled to teach an investigative reporting class in the fall – for very political reasons here in Wisconsin – it looks as though my class might be shut down. And I want to both explain how in the world that could be – how politics could interfere with such an outstanding educational opportunity – and make clear in more specific detail why this is a loss that echoes far beyond the university.

A budget committee in the Wisconsin legislature has inserted a motion into the budget banning the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. 

What the hell has happened to my home state?

Mo’ money, mo’ parks

Fujigaoka Park in Yokohama

Which came first, the park or the rich people?

It’s a poorly kept secret that real estate is more expensive near parks. They’re like magnets for wealth. But is that the whole story? Certainly wealthy people are attracted to parks—just look at many of the neighborhoods around Central Park in New York City. But what about new parks? Are they preferentially cited in wealthier neighborhoods, either because residents have more clout or developers are more willing to cede land to attract deep pockets?

Shinya Yasumoto and colleagues decided to tackle that question in Yokohama, Japan, a city of 3.7 million just outside of Tokyo. They tallied the number of parks that existed in 1988 and those that were opened from then until 2005. They also noted park size, accessibility, and neighborhood characteristics such as property values, resident incomes, housing characteristics, environmental quality, and other amenities, including schools and transit. They also indicated whether a park was set aside by the city or by a private developer.

What they found shouldn’t be surprising, but it should be cause for alarm. The city opened more parks than developers—556 compared with 472—and the total area of new city parks was substantially larger than those set aside by developer—1,702 hectares vs. 212 hectares. When the city opened a new park, it tended to be relatively equitable in terms of size and placement. Poor neighborhoods were almost as likely to receive a new park as richer ones. (Almost. The city wasn’t entirely immune from wealth’s influence; it did open slightly more parks in wealthier areas.)

Developers, on the other hand, clearly favored citing new parks in well-to-do neighborhoods. They added 117 hectares of parkland across 125 parks in the most affluent communities, but only 20 hectares across 59 parks in the least affluent. Furthermore, Yasumoto and colleagues note, the wealthiest areas had the best access to parks throughout the 18 year study.

The study was limited to Yokohama, one city in Japan. It’s possible that cities in other parts of the world don’t follow the same trend. But I’d be surprised if it didn’t. In hundreds of cities across thousands of years, parkland has been one of the many trappings of wealth.

Still, that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. Yasumoto and colleagues point out that a neighborhood’s demographic change lags behind park openings. So while it’s true that opening a new park will raise property values—potentially pushing out the poor—it won’t do so quickly enough to outweigh the benefits of new open space.


Yasumoto, Shinya, Andrew Jones, and Chihiro Shimizu. 2013. “Longitudinal trends in equity of park accessibility in Yokohama, Japan: An investigation of the role of causal mechanisms.” Working paper.

Photo by dakiny.

Related posts:

Big parks or big lots?

Parkland per person in the United States

Urban trees reveal income inequality

One iPhone to rule them all

Or at least loom over Central Park.

Josh Orter answers a question nobody asked: How big of a screen could be made by combining the screens of all iPhones ever sold?

Live bus speeds in Boston

Andy Woodruff of Bostonography has assembled a map of bus speeds modeled after Eric Fischer’s plots of San Francisco’s Muni system. The results are beautiful, as usual.

But it gets better. Woodruff’s map is zoomable, scrollable, pan-able, and updatable. He takes the last three hours of data to produce an average for each route and recalculates it every hour. Drop by to see the green streak of the 502 flying down the Mass Pike or the red groove of the 1 as it inches along Mass Ave.

The Great American Grid Debate

Steve Mouzon recaps a lively session at the 21st Congress for the New Urbanism:

Bill: Making lines straight, as 19th century urbanism has done, eliminates diversity of streetscape.

Bill: Build an unrelenting grid, and say hasta la vista to interesting man-made vistas.

Bill: Uniformity of street width and direction is gob-smackingly boring.

Kevin Q: Mr. Dennis, why do you hate America so much?

And so on.

Commuters Would Pay More for Better Public Transit Tech

Keith Barry, writing for Wired:

In a survey conducted by the consulting firm Accenture, over 4,500 transit users in nine major cities overwhelmingly said that they expect such technological advances as paperless ticketing, communication about delays through social media, and the ability to pay for travel using a smartphone app.

In the U.S. cities polled, 80 percent of riders said they’d be willing to pay more per ride for a journey that’s completely paperless. And over 75 percent of them said they’d pay more if they could use their smartphone for ticketing. In fact, a great deal of riders assumed such technology would be available as soon as 2014.

Geopolitics of geoengineering

Clive Hamilton, writing for the New York Times:

If after five years of filtered sunlight a disaster occurred — a drought in India and Pakistan, for example, a possible effect in one of the modeling studies — we would not know whether it was caused by global warming, the solar filter or natural variability. And if India suffered from the effects of global dimming while the United States enjoyed more clement weather, it would matter a great deal which country had its hand on the global thermostat.

Define "macro" in "human macroecology"

Anne-Marie Hodge, writing for Scientific American:

As the socioeconomic weave between nations, continents, and cultures becomes ever tighter, some scientists are putting a great deal of energy into investigating the relationships between large-scale ecological and evolutionary principles as they relate to resource use and misuse. This innovative field of study, dubbed “human macroecology,” is emerging as a hothouse for new and exciting discoveries regarding the close parallels between the dynamics of human societies and natural processes.

Hodge presents a nice overview of the field, but one thing struck me as amiss. She quotes Joseph Burger, a PhD student in James Brown’s lab at the University of New Mexico, who has quite a publication record, including a PLoS Biology paper on the new field. He says human macroecology is “the statistical study of exchanges of energy, materials and information between humans and the environment across spatial scales, from local to global and temporal scales, from years to millennia.”  Maybe I’m missing something, but I was under the impression that “macro” meant big. Isn’t what he describes—multiple spatial scales and all—just “human ecology”? 

Milwaukee's Future: Predictions from 1900

Matt Novak, writing yesterday:

Today in 1848, Wisconsin became the 30th state in the union. And in honor of Wisconsin’s single greatest city, today we have some predictions from Milwaukee residents at the dawn of the 20th century.