Common Place   /   June 12, 2014

Snapshots of City Life: Parking Lots, Urban Farming, and Other Stories

Stephen Assink

Gathered from around the web, these articles should interest every Common Place reader. Though each story touches on different facets of city life—urban farming, drug use, measuring civic institutions— they highlight in their own way different questions and challenges related to urban thriving.

How parking lots became the scourge of American downtowns

With more people taking a renewed interest in the downtown areas of their cities—whether to just shop or even live—urban transportation takes on new life, a topic that we cover here on Common Place. And over the past century, the car, for better or for worse, has been the focal point for urban planners. This article features a short film detailing the ways parking lot locations in different cities have unwittingly hollowed out and segregated downtown areas. Even something as banal as a parking lot offers us much to consider about how cityscapes thrive or fade.

European cities' sewer water exposes use of cocaine, cannabis, meth and ecstasy

Recently, urban researchers began testing sewer water in several European cities to track often-elusive drug-use trends. According to CNN journalist Ben Brumfield, “Lab tests on sewage water to detect chemicals excreted after drug use turned up high levels of cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, meth and other amphetamines.” Since urban areas are often the center of drug epidemics, officials hope these tests will give them the tools to assist both municipal authorities and public-health experts. Better tracking not only sharpens the diagnosis but can also better aid in knowing where to begin prevention.

Cleveland crops: Training people with disabilities to farm

From Brooklyn to San Francisco, city farming is sprouting in virtually every large urban district. Cleveland has come up with an urban agriculture program that also employs residents with disabilities. According to journalist Hannah Wallace, “Traditionally, Clevelanders with developmental disabilities would have been trained for jobs in the manufacturing sector, but those jobs have been waning for decades, while urban farming is on the upswing.” This creative solution provides food and helps people on the margins of employment gain dignity from work as well as important transferable job skills. Rather than being a onetime "silver bullet,"— something that Cleveland knows well— the program took years of hard work, planning, and community commitment.

Finally, clear performance data for comparing the world’s cities

With the rise of big data, cities and governments are looking for the best ways to capture the vitality of their metropolitan areas. This article details the establishment of new international standards that then can be used to compare cities around the world. The desire for assessment is popular trend in city planning; yet as we have discussed here on Common Place, it comes with its own challenges and blindspots.