Detroit’s Farms May Save the City

fruit store

Detroit is a city that has been witnessing a lot of change thanks to poor urban planning and bad economics. The past decade has been very rough for the people of Detroit and they are turning to old, but innovative, ways to revive the city. We have seen artists move to Detroit and even some tech companies. At the other end of the spectrum is a return to the land in the form of farming.

The low density neighbourhood design of the suburbs contributed to Detroit’s fall and now it might be saving the city by returning to arable land.

We were sitting at a picnic table nestled between his house and farm. Greg was in his early 40s, compact and wiry, with flecks of gray in his close-cropped black hair, his arms and face leathery from the sun. As he spoke, his leg jittered like a sewing-machine needle, and I got the impression that sitting still was torture for him. Most of our conversations occurred in moving vehicles, at his booth in the farmers’ market, or as we hacked at weeds or laid irrigation hose through fields.

Suburbia, Greg told me, was the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world: big, thin-walled houses that take loads of gas and electricity to heat and cool, acres of farmland and animal habitat bulldozed for useless lawns that guzzle water and gobble poisons, barrels of food scraps hauled across the county and buried in a landfill, sprawling subdivisions requiring cars and gasoline for the simplest of errands—mailing a package or buying a gallon of milk. What’s more, he said, suburbs encouraged isolation, cultivated a fear of strangers, and created enclaves that segregated the white middle class from poor people and brown people.

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Montreal’s Streets Continue to be Focused on People

Montreal

Walking the streets of Montreal already provides a pleasant experience – and it’s about to get better. The city has dedicated an additional $1.7 million to what it already spends on making selected streets car free. The pedestrian areas promote local artists and encourage people to visit neighbourhoods throughout the municipality. People love the initiative and hopefully other cities can adopt such a neat city building exercise.

Under Montreal’s system, the first year of a car-free street is treated like a trial. The city observes how well the space is used, as well as the effect on motor vehicle traffic and local businesses. If the first year is a success, the city will commit to permanent changes or bring the car-free segment back on a seasonal basis every year.

The city reports that public opinion of the program is very favorable, and most of the pedestrian streets last beyond the pilot phase, either as permanent car-free spaces or seasonal pedestrian zones during the warmer months, according to the CBC.

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Thanks to Delaney!

Busting Urban Planning Myths

urban

There’s a lot of misconceptions about how to make cities a better place to live that need to be cleared up. A popular belief is that adding more lanes for cars will help curb traffic jams – when the opposite it true. Some backwards-looking individuals think that adding bike lanes is bad for business when multiple studies have proven otherwise. These myths have bothered a columnist over at Metro paper enough that they wrote an article focussed on busting these urban planning myths that hold back better cities.

A common political argument is that bike and transit riders should “pay their own way.” A study in Vancouver however suggested that for every dollar we individually spend on walking, society pays just 1 cent. For biking, it’s eight cents, and for bus-riding, $1.50. But for every personal dollar spent driving, society pays a whopping $9.20! Such math makes clear where the big subsidies are, without even starting to count the broader environmental, economic, spatial and quality-of-life consequences of our movement choices. The less people need to drive in our cities, the less we all pay, in more ways than one.

Want more examples? There’s math showing that replacing on-street parking with safe, separated bike-lanes is good for street-fronting businesses. That crime goes down as density goes up. That providing housing for the homeless actually saves public money. That you can move more people on a street when car lanes are replaced by well-designed space for walking, biking and transit.

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Trees are Great for Cities

Cleaning the air and keeping areas cool are what trees do best. A new study has looked into how best to use trees from a purely utilitarian standpoint. Essentially they drilled down to what trees do best and where they can thrive. The researchers cataloged the best places to plant trees based on factors like removing particulate matter from the air and where they can have the greatest impact on local temperatures. As a result their research outlines the most efficient use of money when deciding where to plant more trees.

As always, the best time to plant a tree is today.

There is one catch, though: The tree-planting campaign has to be well-targeted. And that gets a bit complex.

Trees only improve air quality in their immediate vicinity, about 100 feet or so. That means cities need to figure out which neighborhoods benefit most from new trees (typically the densest areas, but also areas around hospitals and schools). They also have to plant species that are most effective at trapping pollution (typically those with large leaves).

Officials also need to account for things like wind patterns and tree spacing and figure out whether they’ll be able to maintain their trees. Plus, if water is scarce, they’ll want to consider drought-tolerant varieties. And they may want to steer clear of trees that increase pollen and allergies.

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Bike Lanes Save Lives of Non-Cyclists

bike
Cities can improve the health and well being of everyone by simply adding bike lanes. That’s right, drivers not only benefit from faster traffic flow they also benefit from increased health when cities install bike lanes. As Bloomberg reports, cities around the world are catching on and adding bike lanes to benefit all citizens.

There’s math to show how cost-effective the strategy could be for public health. When New York spent about $8 million in 2015 on bike lane expansion, the cost per additional “quality-adjusted life year,” or QALY, was about $1,300, according to the Mailman paper.
A QALY, pronounced “qually,” is a standard measure of cost-benefit analysis. It takes into account the number of people who benefit from an intervention, how many years of extra life they can expect to get, and how healthy they will be during the extra years.
As it turns out, when you apply this to bike lanes, it makes them more economical per added QALY than, say, kidney dialysis, which costs over $100,000 per QALY—although not quite as cost-effective as standard vaccines, which cost in the low hundreds of dollars per QALY, Mohit said.

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