Archive

Author Archives: maikwl

The green case for cities

A Thoreau-like existence in the great outdoors isn’t green. Density is green. Does this mean that we all have to live in Manhattan? Not necessarily. Cities such as Stockholm and Copenhagen are dense without being vertical. And closer to home is Montreal, where the predominant housing form is a three- or four-story walk-up. Walk-ups, which don’t require elevators, can create a sufficient density—about 50 people per acre—to support public transit, walkability, and other urban amenities. Increasing an area’s density requires changing zoning to allow smaller lots and compact buildings such as walk-ups and townhouses.

In other words, being truly green means returning to the kinds of dense cities and garden suburbs Americans built in the first half of the 20th century. A tall order—but after the binge of the last housing boom, many Americans might be ready to consider a little downsizing.

()

Advertisements

Post-medium publishing

Almost every form of publishing has been organized as if the medium was what they were selling, and the content was irrelevant. Book publishers, for example, set prices based on the cost of producing and distributing books. They treat the words printed in the book the same way a textile manufacturer treats the patterns printed on its fabrics.

Economically, the print media are in the business of marking up paper. We can all imagine an old-style editor getting a scoop and saying “this will sell a lot of papers!” Cross out that final S and you’re describing their business model. The reason they make less money now is that people don’t need as much paper.

[…]

Now that the medium is evaporating, publishers have nothing left to sell. Some seem to think they’re going to sell content—that they were always in the content business, really. But they weren’t, and it’s unclear whether anyone could be.

I’d like half a kilo of Dostoyevsky paper please. And can you wrap it up in hard cover?
Paul Graham, you rule!

(more of this yummy essay here…)

The Weirdest people in the world?

It’s a pretty shocking fact, but pretty much everything we think we know about human behaviour derives from studies of US undergraduates – the psychologists’ ‘lab rat’! These people are WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) in more ways than one.
A paper from three psychologists at the University of British Columbia lays out in stark detail just how unusual the WEIRDs are, at least from a global perspective. First off, some stats to give you an idea of just how big the problem is. Of studies published in the top psychology journals:

  • 96% of subjects come from Western industrialized countries, which have only 12% of the world’s population. And the USA alone accounts for 68% of all study subjects.
  • 99% of the investigators live in these countries, and 73% live in the USA.
  • 67% of the subjects in US studies, and a staggering 80% of studies in other countries, consist solely of psychology undergraduates!
  • ()

    The road to success


    I just love allegorical maps like these, if only for their delightfully straightforward semiotics. This map of the Road to Success depicts an actual road, winding up to success signified by a lyre. This (literally) lyrical prize is achieved by first entering the Gate of Opportunity. People are running through, but some have already settled in to the sit-down life of ease and comfort in what looks like the Beer Garden of Bohemianism. Some manage to pass by those delights to check in to the Hotel Know It All, because they hold to mottoes such as Nobody can tell me, or I don’t need to practice, or I’m a born genius, or yet: I don’t need system. Similarly misguided cries are heard on the patio of the Mutual Admiration Society: You’re the Hit of the Age, You’ll Set the World on Fire, You’re a Wonder My Boy, or (my favourite): Caruso Can’t Touch You. Those who avoid those three establishments of ill repute might still fall victim to the deep, dark well of Illiteracy, or the spinning, disorienting wheel of Conceit. A select few manage to board the train called Right System at the Railroad Station. That doesn’t stop some from running along the rail track towards Success, only to succumb to the ugly hand of Vices, the spinning fan of Bad Habits (blowing its victims towards Oblivion), or the pitfall of Bad Reputation.

    (Read the rest here)

    What A City Needs

    Successful cities need both the human interactions of Jane Jacobs and the enabling infrastructure of Robert Moses. Anthony Flint has done a fine job describing the battles between these two great figures, but unlike the Louis-Schmeling fight, their conflict should not be resolved. An absolute victory for Moses leads to heartless cities, built to accommodate cars but not pedestrians, with high-rise buildings that are disconnected from their streets. An absolute victory for Jacobs means a city frozen in concrete with prices that are too high and buildings that are too low. New building is needed to welcome the diversity that makes urban magic. No city can survive without the personal engagements beloved by Jacobs, but no city can thrive without master builders such as Moses. Mumbai and Shanghai had better take note.

    ()