City Patterns Endure — Even When They Shouldn’t


Photo: Two cities, Johnny Miller

Today’s Top Stories
 — Our Cities Do What We Design Them To Do: Laws change, and that’s a good thing, but patterns last much longer.
 — This Nutritional Research Has Been Brought To You By Butterfingers: Guess who’s funding those candy studies?
 — Walmart Sends in the Drones: Yes, workers might be impacted.
 — Solar in Chile Is Free — But There’s a Catch: The infrastructure needs to catch up.
 — In Vancouver, It’s Land Over Work: The value of property exceeds the value of labor.

Our Cities Do What We Design Them To Do
 City planning matters. You can see that in these drone images of Cape Town in South Africa (Quartz), which show how the “architecture of apartheid” is still there. South African cities were designed to “give white people access to the central businesses districts and homes in the leafy suburbs. Black people had to live far outside of the city.” Yet that method of organization persists, despite two decades of majority rule. Changing laws is important, of course, but literally changing the facts on the ground is necessary to combat persistent inequality.

This Nutritional Research Has Been Brought To You By Butterfingers
 People tend to believe what scientists tell them about health. So candy makers need people to believe their products are healthy. As Marion Nestle (no relation), a nutrition professor at NYU, notes, “The only thing that moves sales is health claims.” What to do? Fund their own studies (AP). And that’s why we see studies that suggest “children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who don’t.”

Walmart Sends in the Drones
 Drones are coming to Walmart. We don’t mean selling drones (the massive retailer is doing that already). The company says it is six-to-nine months away from deploying drones to manage warehouse inventories (Reuters). In advance of the company’s annual meeting, Walmart’s vice president of last mile and emerging sciences Shekar Natarajan showed ways he said the devices could speed up cataloging. Don’t expect any big changes; these seem like tests. But, down the road, could this mean fewer Walmart warehouse workers? “Potentially,” a spokesman told the New York Times.

Solar in Chile Is Free — But There’s a Catch
 With so many incumbent electricity suppliers in the U.S. looking to hinder the adoption of solar (we’re looking at you, Nevada), we need to look outside the country to see what’s possible. Today let’s look south, to Chile, which has so much solar energy available that it’s giving it away for free (Bloomberg). The spot price for solar in parts of the country dropped to zero on 113 days through April this year, a number that’s on track to beat last year’s total of 192 days. There’s plenty of disorganization in Chilean electricity and solar industries, and while this is good news for consumers and the environment, it’s not for investors and companies that run power plants. Unless this turns around, it will be increasingly difficult for the still-growing solar industry in Chile to get funding. Without the improvements in infrastructure that those investments would fund, free solar could turn out to be very expensive.

In Vancouver, It’s Land Over Work
 Vancouver is a vibrant city. But it turns out that all its activity doesn’t generate nearly as much value as just sitting on your property and doing nothing (South China Morning Post). Mathematician Jens von Bergmann, known for his big data project Census Mapper, estimates that the value of single-family homes in Vancouver rose about C$25 billion last year, while all the people who worked in the city took in only C$19 billion. As with other prominent global cities, rising home values are pricing out all but the top (average metro Vancouver prices soared 40 percent last year, to C$1.8 million). The Economist ranks Vancouver as North America’s most expensive city. If you can get in, you’re sitting on a pot of gold. But fewer and fewer can and those who can are flying in: South China Morning Post ran this story because real estate speculation from cash-rich Chinese investors is a notable part of the housing shortage that’s sending prices skyward.

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