When Did Healthy Communities Become Illegal?

Friday, June 12th, 2015

When did healthy communities become illegal?, Charles Tuttle asks:

The scene is Upper Monarch Lake, ten thousand feet up in the mountains of the Sequoia National Park in California. If you got here, you climbed thousands of feet in elevation through the wilderness, carrying your tent, sleeping bag, and all your supplies on your back. There is not a single graffito or piece of trash to be seen. If you should happen to have neighbors in a nearby tent for the night, you will not worry a bit about whether they will steal your gear or harm you in the night, even though they are strangers. More likely, they’ll invite you to share some of their bourbon.

Why do backpackers feel safe sleeping outside in public at 10,000 feet but not in their own city parks? It is the steep barrier to entry that creates this microcosm of community that so naturally emerges: anyone who has made it here has the physical, material, social, and informational resources to pass this natural test of good character.

The same is true, to a lesser extent, of Burning Man – the travel and resource outlay required to get to the desert festival forms a barrier high enough to allow for the formation of a temporary community, one in which participants feel safer interacting with strangers than they might in their own hometowns.

Natural human intuition about character has served people well in forming and pruning communities for thousands of years. Specific legal interventions in the United States, however, have limited the ability of individuals to act on their local social intuition and traditions, substituting a legal notion of radical inclusion. Legislation removed barriers to entry that people had erected for their communities, acting in turn on four core areas of social cohesion. While communities at first adapted to the new restrictions and evolved around them, eventually they became so warped that they began to fail to perform their most basic functions: providing members with social belonging, usefulness to others, a sense of meaning, and safety.

The first of the big four areas of life to be threatened by legislation was business – especially the kind of business that might have been called an inn or public house in another time, that is, public accommodations and restaurants. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin illegal for businesses of this kind. Federal and state laws have since expanded this anti-discrimination provision significantly; almost half of all states also prohibit discrimination against gay people by businesses, and Colorado recently forced a religious baker to either bake cakes for gay weddings, against his religious principles, or go out of business.

No longer does the restaurateur, publican, or even baker have the privilege to exclude anyone he chooses from his premises and service, for any reason or no reason. Some argue that the publican is better off; with more potential customers, his market is larger now. But is money the only imaginable motivation for owning a small business of this sort, the kind that underpins communities? A barrier to entry for customers at the pub has been removed. The only barrier that is still legal – as we will see in later sections – is money. Rather than having an exclusive pub with its clientele weeded by a kingly proprietor, the patrons must pay high prices as a substitute barrier to entry. Another solution is to arrange businesses so that customers need not interact with strangers, a small-scale version of modern city planning.

This is not a defense of the practice of racial discrimination. But outlawing bad discrimination has chilled the expression of good discrimination – of intuitive, personal discrimination, which sometimes but not always takes things like race or sexual orientation into account. (The race of neighbors at Upper Monarch Lake would scarcely make a difference.) Discrimination – the selection of some and exclusion of others for social interaction – had acquired the characteristic of a slur, but it is a necessary faculty for humans and groups. Peaceful people can hardly remain so if they can’t exclude destructive people. Discrimination, like speech, needs to be free from the chilling effects of lawsuits.

The right of a business proprietor to kick out anyone he likes seems a minuscule freedom in comparison to decades of legal oppression of a race of people descended from legal slaves. But black communities have served as a mascot for legislation rather than actually benefitting from it.

Gentrification in Baltimore

Monday, May 18th, 2015

The fact of urban gentrification in Baltimore is that hipster homesteaders have moved into traditional working-class white enclaves:

These areas were sought by the first hipster pioneers to benefit from the protection of the tough whites in those areas who had held out against the black-on-white race purge that was the 70’s and 80’s in Baltimore. The end result is that the housing values go up so much that the working and poor whites must move out as they can’t pay the taxes.

Recently, beginning in the 2000s, Johns Hopkins University and Hospital have been buying up vast swaths of vacant property in East Baltimore [where Boomy the Nigerian cabby rescued the ‘blonde woman of the yuppies’] and along the Charles Village Corridor. This was in response to blacks preying on hospital and university staff. These large institutions are buying up the criminal seed beds which constitute perhaps a third of the black Baltimore economy [with welfare constituting roughly another third]. This has caused more damage to the drug gangs than any police action, and is covered in the final season of The Wire. Over the past two years a concerted effort to discourage white resettlement of Baltimore has been made by black criminal residents. However, the news spin and statistical manipulation engaged in by the leftist city government has successfully blinded the prospective home buyers of these facts until it is too late.

It is no accident that the prime targets of the mob attacks were the Shoppers supermarket [which was successfully defended thanks to the early warnings put out by black cashiers from the neighborhood], and the CVS drug store which the Mayor gave orders not to defend. Both of these locations were only established due to city government initiatives to bring businesses into the neighborhood.

Note that the most successful pockets of gentrification such as South Baltimore, Locust Point and Canton, fared better than the Hopkins controlled areas and the others, because they are neighborhoods with their backs against the water, and raiders have only one way out, with Locust Point, which terminates in Fort Mchenry National Park, being a virtual fortified position.

With the white trash priced out of the community, the protective basis for resettlement is now gone. Without nasty whites to fight the blacks at street level, and with the police now exposed as enfeebled, the hunt for Whitey is on in earnest. This is how I have lived my life, as a white hunted by blacks across an urban crimescape, what H.L Mencken famously called, “the ruins of a once great medieval city.”

Traction Magnates

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

Back in the 1920s, most American city-dwellers took public transportation to work every day, but then a company called National City Lines, which was controlled by GM, bought up all the streetcars — or so the conspiracy theory goes:

During the 1800s, animal-drawn streetcar lines were built in cities across the United States. Starting in the 1880s, they were replaced by electrified streetcars, which quickly became the dominant mode of transportation in many cities.

Running streetcars was a very profitable business. Cities expanded, and people who found themselves living too far from work to walk depended on them. (Some real-estate developers built nearby suburbs around streetcar lines.) Over time, the businessmen who ran the streetcars, called “traction magnates,” consolidated ownership of multiple lines, establishing powerful, oftentimes corrupt monopolies in many cities.

Eventually, many of them contracted with city governments for the explicit right to operate as a monopoly in that city. In exchange, they agreed to all sorts of conditions. “Eager to receive guarantees on their large up-front investments, streetcar operators agreed to contract provisions that held fares constant at five cents and mandated that rail line owners maintain the pavement around their tracks,” writes Stephen Smith at Market Urbanism.

Streetcar in Traffic in Fresno in 1938

The real problem was that once cars appeared on the road, they could drive on streetcar tracks — and the streetcars could no longer operate efficiently. “Once just 10 percent or so of people were driving, the tracks were so crowded that [the streetcars] weren’t making their schedules,” Norton says.

In some places, like Chicago, streetcars retained dedicated rights of way, and they survived. Pretty much anywhere else, they were doomed. “With 160,000 cars cramming onto Los Angeles streets in the 1920s, mass-transit riders complained of massive traffic jams and hourlong delays,” writes Cecilia Rasmussen at the Los Angeles Times.

What’s more, in many cities the streetcars’ contracts required them to keep the pavement on the roads surrounding the tracks in good shape. This meant that the companies were effectively subsidizing automobile travel even as it cannibalized their business.

And paying for this maintenance got more and more difficult for one key reason: many contracts had permanently locked companies into a 5-cent fare, which wasn’t indexed to inflation.

How Riots Start, and How They Can Be Stopped

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Riots are more common in democracies, Edward Glaeser notes — writing at the time of the London riots a few years ago:

The deadliest was the 1863 Draft Riot. More than 120 people were killed when the streets of Manhattan were taken over by protesters, many of them immigrants, who were furious at the prospect of having to fight in the Civil War.

In the early decades of the 20th century, cities such as Atlanta and Chicago were torn apart as whites attacked newly urban blacks for perceived transgressions. Chicago’s 1919 riot began when a child crossed an invisible racial barrier while swimming in Lake Michigan. In the 1960s, there was widespread unrest. In many cases, including the 1965 Watts Riot, the violence began with an argument over law enforcement.

These public disturbances are a classic example of tipping-point phenomena, which occur when there is some positive feedback mechanism that makes an activity more attractive, or less costly, as more people do it.

There is a tipping point in rioting because the cost of participating — the risk of going to jail — gets lower as the number of people involved increases. If I decided to start rioting tomorrow in Harvard Square to express my outrage at the closing of the beloved Curious George children’s bookstore, it’s a pretty good bet that I would be immediately arrested. But if thousands of others were involved, I’d probably get off scot free. The police would be overwhelmed, and my probability of incarceration would fall to zero.

Thus, riots occur when the shear mass of rioters overwhelms law enforcement. But how do these mass events get started?

In some cases, such as the New York Draft Riot, organizers get people out on the street. In others, such as the 1965 Watts Riot, a peaceful crowd provides cover for initial lawlessness. Sporting events, such as Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Vancouver this year, can easily produce the crowds that allow a riot to start. Most strangely, riots can follow an event that creates a combination of anger and the shared perception that others will be rioting. The acquittal of police officers in the Rodney King case seems to have created these conditions in Los Angeles in 1992.

The London riots appear to have had a simpler starting point. About 300 people gathered at a police station to protest the shooting of a 29-year-old suspect. Once there were so many angry people in one place, setting fire to an empty police car became a low-risk piece of pyrotechnics for the protesters.

After riots, there is often an attempt to explain the outburst as the result of large societal forces. The events in the U.K. have been blamed on growing inequality and the current government’s austerity program. The disorder in the U.S. in the 1960s was attributed to racism.

But across U.S. cities, there has never been much of a link between unrest and either inequality or poverty. In fact, the riots of the 1960s were actually slightly more common in cities that had more government spending. Riots were significantly less common in the South, where the Jim Crow laws were making their long overdue exit. This isn’t to say that many people involved in riots don’t have valid grievances, but plenty of people have serious grievances and don’t riot.

Somewhat paradoxically, even though the police often provide the flash point for these outbreaks, larger police expenditures per capita in a city in 1960 was associated with fewer arrests and arsons when riots occurred. Even if a riot provides a wakeup call for police reform, in the short run, the outbreaks typically end only when there is enough law enforcement to ensure that such behavior leads to arrests.

I hope the U.K. can handle its violence with a purely police response, but in the U.S. restoring law has typically meant bringing in the military. The 1863 Draft Riot ended when federal troops arrived after a long march from Maryland. Detroit’s terrible 1967 tumult ended with tanks on the streets. The National Guard was deployed in Los Angeles in 1992. Trying to stop a riot with too small a force can often lead to more, not less, bloodshed, because as the riot continues, vigilantes step in and beleaguered policemen can resort to brutality.

My colleague Christopher Stone has argued that there is another lesson about fighting riots to be learned from the incidents in the Paris suburbs in 2005, and the violence that didn’t happen during the Republican National Convention in New York City in 2004. In France, the police initially arrested relatively few people, but sought serious criminal penalties for those they did arrest. The New York Police Department arrested more than 1,000 people and let them go. The New York strategy protected the city; the French strategy wasn’t as effective.

The lesson: Light penalties widely applied and serious penalties applied to a few can both deter unlawful behavior. This is a central conclusion of Gary Becker’s path-breaking economic analysis of crime and punishment. But in the case of riots, it is awfully hard to actually prove wrongdoing and extremely important to clear the streets. Arresting widely and temporarily can be far more effective.

One-Way Thoroughfares

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

In the 1950s and ’60s, streets that once flowed both directions were converted into fast-moving one-way thoroughfares to help cars speed through town — but this had unintended consequences:

In John Gilderbloom’s experience, the notorious streets are invariably the one-way streets. These are the streets lined with foreclosed homes and empty storefronts, the streets that look neglected and feel unsafe, the streets where you might find drug dealers at night.

“Sociologically, the way one-way streets work,” he says, “[is that] if there are two or more lanes, a person can just pull over and make a deal, while other traffic can easily pass them by.”

It’s also easier on a high-speed one-way road to keep an eye out for police or flee from the scene of a crime. At least, this is the pattern Gilderbloom, director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods at the University of Louisville, has observed in San Francisco, in Los Angeles, in Houston and Washington…

I always thought they were simply annoying, but now researchers have collected data about one-way streets and the problems they cause:

In 2011, Louisville converted two one-way streets near downtown, each a little more than a mile long, back to two-way traffic. In data that they gathered over the following three years, Gilderbloom and William Riggs found that traffic collisions dropped steeply — by 36 percent on one street and 60 percent on the other — after the conversion, even as the number of cars traveling these roads increased. Crime dropped too, by about a quarter, as crime in the rest of the city was rising. Property values rose, as did business revenue and pedestrian traffic, relative to before the change and to a pair of nearby comparison streets. The city, as a result, now stands to collect higher property tax revenues along these streets, and to spend less sending first-responders to accidents there.

Gilderbloom and Riggs have also done an analysis of the entire city of Louisville, comparing Census tracts with multi-lane one-way streets to those without them. The basic pattern holds city-wide: They found that the risk of a crash is twice as high for people riding through neighborhoods with these one-way streets. The property values in census tracts there were also about half the value of homes in the rest of the city.

Some of these findings are more obvious: Traffic tends to move faster on a wide one-way road than on a comparable two-way city street, and slower traffic means fewer accidents. The rest of these results are theoretically connected to each other in complex ways.

(Hat tip to Tyler Cowen.)

The Retro Electric Moped That’s Taking Over Europe

Friday, March 20th, 2015

The Motorman electric moped offers simplicity in a retro design:

The Motorman may fit the legal definition of a moped, but it has no pedals. The drivetrain is fully electric. No human power required. Tech-wise, though, this is no Tesla. The 2kw engine won’t allow you to do burnouts or evade the polizia. There’s no iPhone charger, blind spot detection sensor, or autonomous driving mode. Not even a lousy cup holder for your macchiato.

What you will get, though, is brilliant industrial design. While other moped and scooter companies are striving to make all their models look like Tron light cycles, Mr. Meijs has gone full retro. The Motorman — with its balloon tires, low-slung gas tank, oversized headlight, and spring-mounted leather seat — looks like a cross between a Schwinn cruiser and a 1915 Harley-Davidson.

Motorman Electric Moped in Red

The ride isn’t bad either. At just 99 pounds (less than half the weight of a typical moped), the Motorman is easy to balance and maneuver through congested streets. “If you can ride a bike,” says Meijs. “You can ride a Motorman.”

[...]

That “fuel tank” holds a lithium polymer battery, the ideal choice for light EVs because of its high power density rating. That translates to some respectable specs. Range: 43 miles. Top speed: 28 mph. Charging time: 6 hours. Not road trip numbers, but ideal for office drones who like the idea of lowering their carbon footprint without breaking a sweat. The Motorman is also maintenance-free and economical to operate: less than two cents per mile. That may help soften the blow of the sticker price: $5,158 for the base model (available in Jet Black or Ruby Red). This being Europe, tack on another 21 percent for the V.A.T. Options, like Bauhaus paint jobs, leather saddlebags and custom logos, will pad the bill further. Which only proves that not every Dutch treat is cheap.

My first instinct is to drop the “fuel tank” to the lowest point on the frame.

Designing Private Cities, Open to All

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

Alex Tabarrok and Shruti Rajagopalan argue for private cities, open to all:

Gurgaon was a small town 25 years ago, but today it’s a city of some two million people filled with skyscrapers, luxury apartment towers, golf courses, five-star hotels and shopping malls. Often called “the Singapore of India,” Gurgaon is home to offices for nearly half the Fortune 500 firms.

Gurgaon, however, grew not by plan but in a fit of absence of mind. After the state of Haryana streamlined the licensing process, it left developers in Gurgaon to their own devices with little intervention from any national, state or local government. As a result, almost everything that works in Gurgaon today is private. Security, for example, is privately provided for almost all housing, shopping and technology complexes. Over all, about 35,000 private security guards protect Gurgaon, compared with just 4,000 public officers. Gurgaon also has India’s only private fire department, filling an important gap, because it must be capable of reaching Gurgaon’s tallest skyscrapers.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story

But not all is well. No developer in Gurgaon was large enough to plan for citywide services for sewage, water or electricity. For a price, private companies provide these, but in inefficient ways. Sewage doesn’t flow to a central treatment plant but is often collected in trucks and then dumped on public land. Tap water is often delivered by private trucks or from illegally pumped groundwater. Reliable electricity is available 24 hours a day, but often using highly polluting diesel generators.

Compared with the rest of India, Gurgaon fares well but its functioning is far from ideal. Is there a middle ground between China’s ghost cities and the anarchy of Gurgaon? Surprisingly, privately planned cities may be an answer. And one of the oldest is in India.

Jamshedpur was founded by Tata Steel, as a company town, in 1908. It has landscaped parks, paved roads and even a lake, but it’s no playground for the rich. It’s a working town. Nevertheless, it is the only city in the state of Jharkhand with a sewage treatment plant, and it’s one of the few cities in all of India where residents enjoy reasonably priced, reliable electricity and safe tap water. In a survey by the marketing research company Nielsen, residents ranked the city among the best in India for its cheap and reliable provision of sewage, water, electricity, public sanitation and roads.

Jamshedpur works because Tata owned enough land so that it had the right incentives to plan and invest in citywide infrastructure. Tata has also had to maintain good services in order to attract workers. In Gurgaon, private developers built lots of infrastructure, but only up to the property line. By extending the property line to city-scale, the incentives to build large-scale infrastructure like sewage, water and electricity plants are also extended.

Alluring Beauty of Ruins

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

Lewis Dartnell (The Knowledge) shares some examples of the alluring beauty of ruins:

FranceRailroad

Czestochowa

SandSnow

Kenmare

Pripyat

Why They Lost The Wheel

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

Once, in ancient times, the Middle East teemed with carts and wagons and chariots, but they were totally driven out by the coming of the camel:

Good harnesses for camels were designed in Central Asia and, in the 19th century, in the Australian desert, but these did not affect the Middle East.

The only way to make use of this immensely strong beast for transport was to throw the load, averaging anywhere from 300 to 500 pounds, on its back. Thus the pack camel came to compete directly with the ox cart for heavy transport.

The ox cart was equally slow, and in the competition the camel had certain positive advantages. It ate otherwise unusable desert plants, which made its upkeep inexpensive. Little wood, a valuable commodity in the largely deforested Middle East, was required by ancient saddling technology. And its care and breeding could be left to the nomads and thus not be a burden upon the farmer or merchant.

These advantages meant that camel transport was about 20 percent cheaper than wagon transport, according to the edict on prices issued by the Roman emperor Diocletian in the third century A.D. Therefore, simple economic efficiency caused the camel to supplant the wheel, not some mysterious reversion to primitive life.

(Hat tip to commenter Harold!)

The Best Lifestyle Might be the Cheapest Too

Friday, March 6th, 2015

If you were to build a city from scratch, using current technology, what would it cost to live there? Scott Adams thinks it would be nearly free, because we know how to build homes that use zero net energy, greenhouses could provide food, etc. His ideas sound rather utopian, but one of the less utopian ones occurred to me a while ago — only I wouldn’t want Astroturf:

Now assume the homes are organized such that they share a common center “grassy” area that is actually artificial turf so you don’t need water and mowing. Every home opens up to the common center, which has security cameras, WiFi, shady areas, dog bathroom areas, and more. This central lawn creates a natural “family” of folks drawn to the common area each evening for fun and recreation. This arrangement exists in some communities and folks rave about the lifestyle, as dogs and kids roam freely from home to home encircling the common open area.

That sort of home configuration takes care of your childcare needs, your pet care needs, and lots of other things that a large “family” handles easily. The neighborhood would be Internet-connected so it would be easy to find someone to watch your kid or dog if needed, for free. My neighborhood is already connected by an email group, so if someone sees a suspicious activity, for example, the entire neighborhood is alerted in minutes.

This is one facet of New Urbanist design, as in the Mueller Community, which sprang up to replace the Austin municipal airport after it closed 16 years ago:

A research team from Texas A&M University polled Mueller residents and what they found was striking. After moving here, respondents said, they spend an average of 90 fewer minutes a week in the car, and most reported higher levels of physical activity.

The poll results seem to validate new-urbanist gospel: good design, like sidewalks, street lighting, extensive trails and parkland, can improve social and physical health. Several mornings a week, a group of retired guys power walk through Mueller.

“We’ve lost weight. We’re certainly more fit than we used to be,” says Don Dozier, a retired accounting professor. He and his wife, Janelle, moved here in 2008 from a conventional subdivision south of Austin that had no sidewalks. “I think probably the main thing is that we have made an incredible number of friends,” he adds.

This social engagement is what a lot of residents mention. Frosty Walker, a retired TV cameraman, recalls the cul-de-sac where he used to live in northwest Austin.

“It was one of those situations that you would come into your house, and if a neighbor came, the garage door went up, the car went in the garage, the garage door went down,” Walker says. “You would see each other and wave every once in a while, and that was pretty much the extent of your relationships.”

You can never be progressive enough, NPR reminds us:

Mueller seems to have it all: electric cars, solar panels, green buildings, walkability and native landscaping. But what happens when one of Austin’s most progressive, welcoming neighborhood confronts racial incidents involving some of its own African-American residents who don’t feel so welcome?

Obstacles Increase Flow

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

Placing an obstacle in front of a crowded door slightly increases the flow rate and, more importantly, reduces the duration of clogs:

How to Make an Attractive City

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Alain de Botton explains how to make an attractive city:

  1. Not too chaotic, not too ordered.
  2. Visible life.
  3. Compact.
  4. Orientation and mystery.
  5. Scale.
  6. Make it local.

Collapsing Capitals

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Ancient capital cities often grew for centuries, reached a Golden Age, and then collapsed rapidly:

Angkor was flourishing in the late 13th century when Zhou Daguan visited; a little over a century later, it was all but abandoned. Researchers are beginning to see similarities in how these ancient low-density cities failed — and this is of particular interest today because, even as our cities grow in extent and population, their densities are falling.

[...]

There had long been a debate about what led to the decline of Angkor and the southward move of the Khmer seat of power. Proposed explanations included the strain on theocratic rule of Hindu-Buddhist jostling; attacks by Thai armies; and changes brought about by maritime trade. But the Greater Angkor Project added a significant new possibility: extreme climate instability. Analysis of tree rings in neighbouring Vietnam showed long periods of droughts followed by periods of unusually wet monsoons in the 14th and 15th centuries.

The upheaval caused by flooding during mega-monsoons is clearly visible in remote sensing images produced by the project: erosion channels show rapidly moving water breaching a dam, crashing into the wall of a reservoir, then tearing away the edge of a residential area, flowing at a high level through housing, and later damaging a bridge. Perhaps the scenes in Angkor were not very different from those seen in recent years in New Orleans or Fukushima.

Sand accumulated in Angkor’s canals, and parts of the water network were cut off from each other. Damage to an old, complex water management system meant the city became less resilient in intervening periods of drought. Angkor, with its large population and broken infrastructure, would have found it hard to sustain itself.

The pattern of urbanism at Angkor was hardly unique: the Mayan cities that Pottier’s maps of Angkor reminded Fletcher of have long been recognised as low-density agrarian settlements. The lack of the wheel and the absence of draught animals meant that large quantities of food could not be transported, and cities had to be largely self-sufficient, growing maize, varieties of beans, squash, manioc and other staples of the region.

The city of Tikal, in present-day Guatemala, was one of the most important of these Mayan centres. In what is called its Late Classic Period, around 600 AD, there was a flowering of art and architecture: large plazas, palaces, pyramid temples, sculpture and painted ceramics (of the many structures still found in Tikal, a 65-metre high pyramid is one of the tallest man-made structures in all pre-Columbian America). Conservative estimates put the city’s population at around 45,000 during this period; the city extended over 160 square kilometres. Then, in the middle of the ninth century, Tikal collapsed.

Tikal

Originally, the area of Tikal was around 70% upland tropical rainforest, and the rest swampy wetland. An extended family would build their houses in a cluster, with cultivable land attached. In all, the people of Tikal cleared around two-thirds of the rainforest to create their monuments and homes, and to fuel their fires. “In many ways they were managing the forest very effectively,” says Lentz. “But they weren’t aware that cutting down a forest reduces the amount of precipitation in the region. Then suddenly a horrible drought comes along, and they can’t figure out why they can’t supplicate their gods adequately to prevent it.”

It didn’t help that Tikal’s water management system had become increasingly reliant on collecting rainwater in reservoirs, at the cost of groundwater. “As Tikal grew and grew,” Lentz says, “they created all these pavements around the city, from which they’d divert water to the reservoirs. But this cut off the recharge capacity of the springs. When there was no longer any rainfall to fill up their reservoirs, the springs had dried up too.”

For centuries, the Maya at Tikal had been erecting stelae — upright stone slabs with hieroglyphs and depictions of gods and rulers. The last one is dated 869. Soon after, there are signs of what might today be called urban decay, with palaces being occupied by squatters. Charred, gnawed human bones from this late period suggest desperate times. Then, the city went quiet.

[...]

Lentz draws a comparison with a neighbouring city called El Zotz, which had a smaller population, which didn’t modify its landscape as drastically, and was thus able to survive the drought that felled Tikal.

[...]

Tikal, Angkor and Anuradhapura (which foundered in the 10th century after thriving for more than a millennium) were very different cities in their geography, environment and social and political functioning. But, Fletcher points out, they all had operational similarities: extensive land clearance, sprawling low-density settlement patterns, massive infrastructure — all of which are attributes of modern cities. The extended infrastructure of Angkor and Tikal proved vulnerable to a changing climate, something else that may be upon us.

Bushwick, Brooklyn 2015

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Bushwick, Brooklyn has changed over the years:

Ten Hours of Princess Leia Walking in NYC

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Ten Hours of Princess Leia Walking in NYC: