The Growth of Obesity

James Hamblin, writing for The Atlantic, provides the following stunning graphic of the incredible growth of obesity in the united states:

Americas Obesity Epidemic

This shows the percentages of the U.S. population medically defined as obese, which means a body mass index of 30 or greater. BMI isn’t an ideal metric to evaluate obesity, but it’s still what the U.S. standardly uses.

We’ve been hearing of an obesity epidemic for some time now but unfortunately we aren’t seeing much in the way of progress. Most of what I’ve seen addressing the issue is looking to modify the immediate causes of obesity - diet and exercise. I believe that we need to dig deeper into the issue and look at lifestyle. Most everyone knows that they should eat right and exercise regularly. However some lifestyles clearly lend themselves to achieving adequate levels of activity while others don’t. This is not just a diet or exercise problem - this is a lifestyle issue. Only a holistic solution will suffice.


Kids Losing their Streets

Speaking of kids and cars, Chris Kelsey has an interesting piece for Wales Online about how kids have lost out to cars:

These pictures show how many of the areas around of homes have been transformed from popular play areas for local children to car-dominated no-go areas.

The photographs, dating from the 1940s to the present, paint a stark contrast with children and families enjoying the freedom of the streets in days gone by, and largely banished in the most recent images.

Wherever cars win, people lose - particularly people at the margins. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It is about finding balance and prioritizing people over the machines that are intended to serve us.


Smoking from our Tailpipes

John Metcalfe, writing for The Atlantic Cities, reports on a recent European study on links between car exhaust and asthma:

European researchers applied a statistical technique known as “population-attributable fractions” to existing data to root out how much childhood asthma can be blamed on heavy traffic. Their conclusion: 14 percent of chronic asthma in kids is caused by car exhaust, which falls into the 4 to 18 percent bracket of childhood asthma cases resulting from exposure to second-hand smoke, as per World Health Organization estimates.

Terrible. But not shocking. What is shocking is our inability or lack of desire to do something about the root cause of all of this pollution. Cleaner cars might help but the better solution would be to become much less auto-centric in our development and lifestyles. And while it might be tempting to conclude based on this study that the best option is rural living, such a solution is insufficient and amounts to a stubborn disregard for the safety of the millions of children who live in cities clogged by lung-inflaming pollution.


City of Anarchy

South China Morning post published an interesting infographic in remembrance of the anomaly that was Kowloon Walled City. March was the 20th anniversary of its demolition.

I have previously mentioned Kowloon Walled City when I linked to the excellent 99% Invisible podcast episode which explored its unique history. What a fascinating and odd place!


You Cannot Own This

Duncan Crary, in an essay for his Small American City project:

Along the route, we cut across a farmer’s field, to eat sandwiches on the wall of a Pictish broch.

When the farmer spotted us from his tractor perch, and eventually nodded in our direction, I asked the children: “Do you know the farmer?”


“Are we allowed to be here… on his land? On this?” I asked.

“Ye cannae own this,” Tom said, and patted the ancient stones of the broch, set there long ago. “Ye just take care of it for a while.”

This is stewardship.


Revisiting New Orleans

I have previously been quite critical of Brad Pitt’s efforts in New Orleans. As I said then:

While the intentions were good, the results reek of arrogance and ego - an alien aesthetic foisted upon an optionless neighborhood by an experimenting design elite backed by fame and fortune.

So when I came across a recent pair of articles about New Orleans continued recovery struggles, I was very interested in seeing if I was overly harsh in my initial critique. Unfortunately, it seems I was not.

First up is Lydia Depillis, writing for New Republic:

Make It Right has managed to build about 90 homes, at a cost of nearly $45 million, in this largely barren moonscape—viewed from the Claiborne Avenue Bridge, which connects the ward to the center city, they spread out like a field of pastel-colored UFOs. But for a while now, Make It Right has been having trouble enticing people to buy their made-to-order homes. The neighborhood has turned into a retirement-community version of its former self; the ward’s other former residents are dead or settled elsewhere. Construction on the cutting-edge designs has run into more than its share of complications, like mold plaguing walls built with untested material, and averaged upwards of $400,000 per house. Although costs have come down, Make It Right is struggling to finance the rest of the 150 homes it promised, using revenue from other projects in Newark and Kansas City to supplement its dwindling pot of Hollywood cash. Now, in a wrenching deviation from its original mission, the non-profit has decided to open up to buyers who didn’t live in the neighborhood before Katrina.

But there’s a Catch–22: The neighborhood doesn’t have enough residents to attract many stores and services, and prospective buyers end up elsewhere because the neighborhood doesn’t have enough stores and services. So about 90 households, primarily elderly people like Guy, are living in futuristic homes that most Americans would covet, and yet there’s not a supermarket—or even a fast food restaurant—for miles.

It didn’t have to be this way, and it’s costing the city.

Contrast that with Doug MacCash’s story for The Times-Picayune:

You easily could drive by without noticing the quartet of small houses at Dauphine and Gallier streets in the Bywater neighborhood. They’re only 6 months old, but like chameleons that skitter through the subtropical foliage, they blend perfectly into their 19th-century surroundings. The clapboard sides, steep roofs and neoclassical door frames would be familiar to the Galliers themselves – the pre-Civil War father-and-son architects for whom the street is named.

That inconspicuousness is intentional. Andres Duany, who as a chief proponent of New Urbanism is perhaps the most distinguished – and sometimes disdained – urban planner of our time, designed the houses to be woven seamlessly into the small-scale, low-tech, historic architecture of New Orleans neighborhoods.


The 1,400-square-foot prototypes cost $186,000 each to build, not counting the land. That’s roughly $133 per square foot.

So on one hand we have a misguided effort by a movie star to rebuild a desolate part of the city that is disconnected from services and amenities. The houses boast many green accolades but suffer from a disjointed alien aesthetic and soaring costs. On the other hand we have a modest effort to integrate new housing into an existing functioning neighborhood with compatible architecture that is based on the rich character and tradition of the region. I’m sticking with my original analysis - I much prefer the humble neighborhood friendly houses from Duany to the alien techno-green prisons from Brad Pitt.


The Crime Deterring Effect of Mixed Use Neighborhoods

Emily Badger, writing for The Atlantic Cities, on the relative safety of different neighborhood configurations:

The commercial-only areas had the highest crime rates – 45 percent higher – when compared to similar blocks that included residences. The researchers also found that neighborhoods experiencing a change in zoning, typically to add residences to a commercial area, saw a 7 percent drop in crime thanks mostly to a decline in automobile theft and break-ins.

The study confirms what intuition suggests - mixed uses provide more “eyes on the street” which is one of the biggest factors in deterring crime. A street that is always occupied by upstanding citizens stands much less chance of suffering from excessive rates of crime than one that sits relatively vacant for half the day.


Take a Seat - Make a Friend

The following video came through my facebook feed awhile back:

There’s a reason this celebration of humanity was set along an urban street. Can you imagine the same video in front of a Walmart?


The New York MTA Graphic Standards Manual

Joe Clark, on his quest to see the MTA Graphic Standards Manual:

I’ve been trying to get my hands on a copy of the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority Graphic Standards Manual ever since Triborough managed to do so. This style bible, written by Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda for Unimark, is the sword in the stone of transit wayfinding manuals.

He didn’t get his hands on one, but he did find a Flickr set showing the pages. It’s a pretty interesting look at the graphics of wayfinding and identity for America’s biggest city.


A Losing Strategy

Tumblr blog Drawing Nothing made this great animated gif of Cleveland’s warehouse district comparing the 1960’s to today:

Clevelands Warehouse District: 1960 and Today

As Streetsblog’s Angie Schmitt notes:

There may be nothing sadder than distressed cities trying to compete with the suburbs by adding more parking spaces.

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