Burning Man and the Metropolis

January 10, 2011
It's not exactly the ideal place to build a city. No water, little vegetation, limited animal life. August temperatures climb to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and drop close to freezing at night. High winds kick up powder-fine dust into blinding storms. The place is, in a word, inhospitable.

But year after year in late summer, a small city rises on this ancient lakebed in the Black Rock Desert, in Pershing County in northwestern Nevada. It's the annual event — or festival, or party — known as Burning Man, an eight-day experiment in self-expression and self-reliance that is now one of the most notorious cultural events in North America. What began as a bonfire attended by 20 friends on a San Francisco beach in 1986 has exploded into a global mega-event with 50,000 participants.

Bringing Nature Back to Cities is Good for Plants, Animals and Humans

October 19, 2016
Urban rewilding is about conservation, but it’s also about reconnecting people with the natural world.

The North Saskatchewan River winds through the center of Edmonton, its waters and the surrounding landscape forming a green spine that spreads a network of ravines out into nearby neighborhoods. Since 1904, when the Canadian city was incorporated, it has prioritized this river ecosystem. But the city is growing — from 600,000 people in 1990 to nearly 900,000 today — and that’s pushing development and transportation infrastructure up against this riverine system. Habitats are being reduced in size and fragmented by roads, creating many risks for the river valley’s wildlife.

After Fort McMurray: Where are the World's Most Fire-Prone Cities?

May 16, 2016
Images of the devastated Canadian city show just how destructive fire can be to urban populations. But the risk is greatest in informal settlements, where high population density and low-grade construction can be a deadly combination

With patches of lawn on fire in the front yards of his neighbourhood’s suburban homes and flames rising up the trees at the back, Jared Sabovitch frantically got into his car and began driving away from his home in Fort McMurray, Alberta, the Canadian city recently overtaken by wildfires.

“Hasty exit,” he said as he drove, the phone in his hand recording a video he would later post to Instagram. “That might have been the last time I ever saw my house, right there.”

What Happens When You Ask to See CCTV Footage?

September 22, 2015
In Britain and other EU countries, people have the right to see footage of themselves recorded on CCTV cameras. Yet when one university researcher set out to test this, many operators were less than forthcoming

One day in late 2013, Keith Spiller went for a walk around a city in the south of England. Over the course of about an hour and a half, he walked past the town hall, a train station, a stadium, a few banks, a few shopping areas, a museum and a handful of other public places. And, like countless others walking around UK cities and cities around the world, in each of the places he passed he was recorded on CCTV surveillance cameras.

After his walk, however, he did what very few others do: he asked for the footage.

In The Weeds

September 1, 2015
Little-loved plants win the affection of Future Green Studio.

The huge backyard along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn was the perfect site for the summertime Sunday afternoon parties that the DJs Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin liked to throw. It had plenty of space, room for a bar, and the overgrowth that comes alongside New York’s lovable Superfund waterway. But they had only temporary leases and permits to throw parties. Their time in the huge backyard wouldn’t last forever.

Defining Cities in a Metropolitan World

September 15, 2011
Eight different ways to measure and think about what makes a city.

Most often when you cross the borders of a city or town, nothing much happens. Those edges, invisible lines of jurisdictional separation, are easily ignored or forgotten as we walk, bike, and drive through a metro area. Cities can blend into one another almost imperceptibly. Development just keeps going and going in many parts of the U.S., creating urbanized entities much grander than a single city. When we think about cities, it’s increasingly inaccurate to think about them in isolation.

Tech and the City

August 1, 2011
Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne aims to make New York the “world’s top-ranked digital city” but she and her counterparts across the U.S. are still trying to figure out what that means.

No matter where you live, from Los Angeles to Boston, you can walk into a public meeting, sign your name on a piece of paper, and be given the opportunity to stand at a podium in front of your elected officials or civil servants and speak your mind for two or three minutes. This is called a public comment, and it’s allowed at pretty much any public meeting in any city in America. It’s the kind of open government that the founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the Declaration of Independence. It’s also totally old school.

Walkable Cities, Walkable Neighborhoods

December 6, 2010
New neighborhood-level data from the walkability rating website Walk Score has broadened the view of what it means to live in a walkable city. This comparison of neighborhood-level data across the U.S. offers a more specific look at which cities are really the most walkable.

Over the past few years, the website Walk Score has gained a lot of popularity amongst urban planners, developers and, maybe most especially, real estate agents. It's a mapping tool that quantifies the walkability of street addresses with a simple 0-100 score, based on proximity to a variety of amenities. It's an easy way to find a new place to live, or to navel-gaze and see just how well your address measures up.

Why Hosting a World Cup Doesn't Matter for Cities, and How it Can

December 2, 2010
Two major international decisions are being made today: which countries will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The selected hosts will undoubtedly celebrate their victories, and look forward to the soft and hard benefits of hosting this most watched of sporting events. The host countries should also take care to prepare for negative impacts – short- and long-term effects that play out in physical, social and economic ways. Who gets selected is surely important in some ways, but when considering these mega-events in terms of their potential impact on the places in which they're held, who hosts the World Cup doesn't really matter.

It should, though. But because of the minimal requirements made of the cities hosting World Cup matches, how cities prepare for the event is hardly a concern to FIFA, soccer's international governing body. Whether hosting the World Cup makes a city exponentially better or terrifyingly less efficient is irrelevant to FIFA, based on how it guides the cities intending to host this event. The long-term impact of the event is hardly considered, and its potential to create the sort of vast civic improvement projects often resulting from such international event hosting is ignored.

Faux Better or Worse

August 27, 2009
To save water, some cities let residents replace grass lawns with artificial turf. Environmentalists call for xeriscaping. Aesthetes wince.

It's the largest irrigated crop in the United States, with more than 32 million acres in production, according to a 2005 study from the journal Environmental Management. But this crop isn't eaten by people or, usually, animals. It's the front lawn, and cities across America are trying to save water by encouraging homeowners — through rebates and tax benefits — to get rid of it...