Author: Richard Davis

New research: urban and transport planning linked to 2,000 premature deaths per year in Barcelona and Madrid

From Barcelona Institute for Global Health, March 30, 2021

“The new study (paywall), published in Environmental Research, estimated the impact of non-compliance with international exposure level recommendations for air pollution … as well as excess heat, traffic noise and lack of green space on residents over 20 years of age in Barcelona and Madrid, cities with different urban planning practices.

“This study is the first to estimate premature mortality impacts and the distribution by socioeconomic status of multiple environmental exposures related to urban planning and transport in the two cities.

“As for methodology, the researchers used a tool called Urban and Transport Planning Health Impact Assessment (UTOPHIA) (open access), which was developed by a team at ISGlobal. ‘We compared current exposure levels with international recommendations and estimated the fraction of preventable premature deaths that could be avoided if we were to comply with those recommendations,’ explained [Tamara Iungman, lead author of the study].

“The findings showed that non-compliance with WHO’s exposure recommendations for air pollution, noise, and access to green space, along with excess heat, were associated with 1,037 premature deaths per year in Barcelona.

“For Madrid, the total number of deaths attributable to non-compliance with international recommendations was 902. Lack of green space was the exposure associated with the highest premature mortality (337 deaths per year) […]

“Co-author Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Director of the Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative at ISGlobal, commented: ‘This analysis is in line with previous research showing that people living in more deprived neighborhoods tend to be more exposed to harmful environmental exposures compared to those living in wealthier areas, although this inequity varies according to the design characteristics and historical development of each city.’ ”

Read a summary of the study here. (~6 min.)

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What we got wrong about Uber and Lyft

By Shira Ovide, The New York Times, March 29, 2021

“Uber and some transportation experts once predicted that getting a ride with the tap of an app would help reduce traffic and increase riders’ use of public transportation.

“Instead, the opposite happened (paywall).

“Here’s what more research is finding: In the past few years, on-demand ride services have been a major factor in increased traffic (open access) in U.S. cities, particularly in the downtowns of big cities. And most research is showing that the ride services have also been a significant reason for declining ridership of public transportation (open access), especially buses.

“[Gregory D. Erhardt, who analyzes transportation modeling systems at the University of Kentucky], and I talked over three lessons from this misjudgment. First, Uber and Lyft need to share their data so that cities can understand the services’ impact on the roads. Second, public officials need to steer transportation policy to encourage helpful behaviors and limit destructive ones. And third, new technology needs guardrails in place — and maybe those need to be established before its impact is obvious.

“[T]he effects of the ride services suggest that emerging transportation, including driverless cars, may need regulations early on to ensure that promises of a collective benefit don’t turn out to be a mirage.”

Read the full article here. (~3 min.)

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California may launch its own version of the Depression-era WPA

By Emily Nonko, Next City, March 25, 2021

“[Late last year, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, there were] artists [that] were part of SF Creative Corps, a pilot program that launched in November to provide work to Bay Area artists financially impacted by the pandemic. Each artist was tasked to creatively and positively spread messages of COVID-19 safety in well-trafficked public spaces throughout the city. This work may serve as a blueprint for a massive expansion: California Governor Gavin Newsom recently proposed $15 million for a statewide pilot across the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 budget cycles.

“And indeed, the Jobs and Business Recovery Taskforce’s November report to the governor recommended the state expand public-private partnerships to create programs similar to the SF Creative Corps.

“[While using art to convey a message is not new, this pilot,] however, was creating a government mechanism to support artists in this work with living wages. To do so, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development partnered with four San Francisco arts organizations, Paint the Void, San Francisco Bay Area Theater Company, Dance Mission and SF Carnaval, to employ 60 artists as “Community Health Ambassadors” over the span of seven weeks.

“Of the performers engaged as Community Health Ambassadors, it said, 85.2 percent identify as BIPOC, 55.6 percent identify as women and 18.5 percent identify as LGBTQIA+.

“‘It felt like everyone involved understands that art is something that not only communicates information, but helps human beings synthesize and act on information,’ says Aidaa Peerzada, an actor representing San Francisco Bay Area Theater Company as a Community Health Ambassador. ‘The question wasn’t how to make this message cute. The question was, how can we inspire people to be different, to act on that information?’”

Read the full article here. (~4 min.)

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11 women whose work can inspire post-pandemic planning

By Lindsay Neiman, Planning Magazine, Winter 2021

“In (roughly) chronological order, here is a selection of the many inspiring women urbanists:

1. Fannie Barrier Williams (1855 – 1944)

“An educator and activist for racial justice and suffrage, Williams was cofounder of a number of civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, and was the first Black woman inducted into the Chicago Woman’s Club, a social reform and philanthropy group. … In the lead-up to the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893, she also fought for and secured Black representation in the program and planning committee.

5. Edith Elmer Wood (1871 – 1945)

“A member of the Regional Planning Association of America and founder of the National Housing Conference, Wood was dedicated to improving public health through quality affordable housing. … From 1933 to 1945, she worked as a consultant for the U.S. Housing Authority to help develop the New Deal’s housing policies.

9. Evelina López Antonetty (1922 – 1984)

“A contemporary of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, [Antonetty] is often left out of historical accounts of the time, despite the local and national impacts of her advocacy leadership, including helping to create one of the first bilingual program in public schools.

11. Arabella Martinez (1937 – )

“In 1967, Martinez founded the Unity Council in Oakland, California, a nonprofit social equity development corporation dedicated to serving people of color and low-income residents in the area. Over the organization’s more than half-century in operation, it has provided community services in at least six languages, created more than 200 affordable senior housing units, and supported over 300 local businesses.”

Read the full article here (~5 min., with photos).

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In some cities, the pandemic’s economic pain may continue for a decade

An analysis projects the San Jose Metro Area to be among the least affected

By Mark Muro and Yang You, Brookings, March 11, 2021

“What will the Covid-19 aftermath mean for regional employment growth and local labor markets?

“[To answer this question], we use a new projection of national industry trends from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to estimate the pandemic’s longer-term impact on states and metropolitan areas through the end of the decade.

“The projections are noteworthy because they represent a plausible effort to forecast factors such as the nation’s increased avoidance of interpersonal contact, firms’ embrace of telework, and expanded demand for information technology (IT) — all amid plenty of ongoing uncertainty.

“Across the entire northern tier of the nation, greater orientation to scientific, information, or manufacturing pursuits and less reliance on leisure, tourism, and retail activity means that city regions there may see relatively narrower employment growth slowdowns in the pandemic’s aftermath. The list of the least-negatively affected metropolitan areas is dominated by “superstar” tech centers (San Jose, Calif., Washington, D.C., and Boston), and university towns strong in science and IT (Trenton-Princeton, N.J., Ann Arbor, Mich., Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C., Boulder, Colo., and Ithaca, N.Y.) […]



“To be sure, these forecasts (like the BLS forecasts underlying them) in no way propose precise estimates of projected change, and they depend on uncertain assessments of the longer-term impact of a still-evolving health crisis.

“Still, the BLS’ new forecasts — mapped onto places — provide a useful caution. Above all, they underscore the often drawn-out aftereffects of major economic shocks. Even amid optimistic forecasts and encouraging early signs, the complicated reality of recoveries remains the same.”

Read the full article here. (~ 4 min.)

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Proposed legislation would give cities fewer excuses for blocking housing

By Josh Stephens, CP&DR, March 8, 2021

“This year’s housing-related bills — which number in the hundreds — focus largely on the nuances of how localities can meet the state’s [RHNA targets].

“The highest profile bills comprise a Senate package designed to ‘empower homeowners who want to help solve the crisis, provides more land-use tools and flexibility to meet the needs of local governments and community partners, and streamlines procedural hurdles.’

“A handful of bills encourage cities to permit housing in areas currently zoned for commercial use.

“The broadest of the bills, SB 6, would require all jurisdictions to allow for residential development in commercially zoned areas; it would include malls and big box stores, many of which are in dire financial straits.

“Arguably the most dramatic changes could come in relatively low-density neighborhoods currently zoned for single-family houses. … SB 9 would [eliminate single-family zoning] statewide, allowing duplexes (paywall) on every parcel currently zoned for only one house. With a focus on social justice, AB 1322 takes aim at specific cities: charter cities in which more than 90% of the city’s residential land is zoned for single-family homes or there is a significant degree of segregation based on race or poverty. It would prohibit those cities from enforcing single-family zoning.

Many other bills focus on aspects of the housing crisis other than zoning. For example, “AB 68 would compel the state to reform its affordable housing programs in response to a damning audit last year finding that the state squandered $2.7 billion in affordable housing funds.”

“Finally, two bills would create ballot measures to indirectly increase production of affordable housing … [including a repeal of] what is often considered a racist component of the California Constitution that currently requires local voter approval for development of affordable housing.”

Read the full article here, including brief synopses of a selection of significant housing bills. (~9 min., paywall)

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Study finds wildfire smoke more harmful to humans than pollution from cars

By Nathan Rott, NPR, March 5, 2021

“Tens of millions of Americans experienced at least a day last year shrouded in wildfire smoke. Entire cities were blanketed, in some cases for weeks, as unprecedented wildfires tore across the Western U.S., causing increases in hospitalizations for respiratory emergencies and concerns about people’s longer-term health.

“[New] research, published in the journal Nature Communications (open access) on [March 5, 2021], paints a worrisome picture for Americans living on a fire-prone continent, especially as climate change amplifies fire risk worldwide.

“ ‘[T]here’s been a lot of work that has shown that the health impacts due to wildfire smoke are on the same order of magnitude, or possibly even greater, than [direct physical costs, such as firefighting and damage to property],’ said study co-author Tom Corringham.

“ ‘A lot of the mitigation for exposure relies on people and households and communities knowing when to avoid smoke exposure,’ said Sheryl Magzamen, an associate professor at Colorado State University who focuses on the health effects of wildfire smoke and was not involved in the study. ‘We don’t have the mechanisms right now to let people understand when they’re being exposed to smoke.’

“Corringham says the new research shows the need to improve air monitoring systems and public health programs. He suggests providing financial aid to at-risk populations and low-income households so they can purchase air filters. And he urges action to minimize global warming.”

Read the full article here. (~3 min.)

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Bay Area’s migration is real, but Postal Service data shows California exodus isn’t

By Roland Li, Susie Nielson, San Francisco Chronicle, March 2, 2021

“Despite all the talk of people leaving the Bay Area during the pandemic, only a small fraction of residents have left the state, suggesting that reports of an exodus have been exaggerated, according to a Chronicle analysis of United States Postal Service data.

“Only 3.7 percent of the households and businesses that filed address changes in five Bay Area counties from March to November 2020 left California, a total of 4,264 move-outs, according to the data.

“The migration doesn’t add up to an exodus, said Jeff Bellisario, executive director of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, a business-backed think tank. But it still represents a significant population shift, pushing apartment rents and future tax revenue down, he said. ‘Some of the data points we’re tracking do imply greater movement than in the past.’

“Housing costs remain a huge disparity between the Bay Area and the rest of the country and are often cited as the main reason to move.

“ ‘We still have a high-quality talent pool,’ Bellisario said. ‘We’ve got great world-class universities. This venture capital ecosystem has not disappeared.’ But the rise of remote work represents a new threat as workers can collect California-level wages while living in far less expensive regions.”

Read the full article here, including breakdowns by Bay Area county where people moved and major out-of-state destinations. (~4 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

Petaluma becomes first in the US to ban new gas stations

By Andrew Chamings, SFGate, March 2, 2021

“The ban — after a unanimous city council vote — makes the Sonoma County city the first in the nation to halt the construction of new gas stations.

“The city is also targeting zero emissions by 2030, and encouraging current fossil fuel gas stations to transition to battery and hydrogen cell stations. Existing gas stations will not be allowed to add more pumps, though they can instead add more infrastructure for electric vehicles.

“‘Within Petaluma there are multiple gas stations located within a 5-minute drive of every existing residence,’ the resolution states. ‘Therefore, there are adequate gas stations to serve existing and future internal combustion vehicles to the extent as they continue to exist.’

“Last year California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order banning the sale of new cars with an internal combustion engine starting in 2035.”

Read the full article here. (~2 min.)

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Where the ‘15-minute city’ falls short

By Feargus O’Sullivan, Bloomberg CityLab, March 2, 2021

“The idea of a ‘15-minute city,’ in which residents live within a short walk or bike ride of all their daily needs has been embraced by many mayors around the world during the global pandemic as a central planning tenet.

“But there are dangers of applying a model conceived in Europe to many North American cities, some urban experts warn. Transplanting the 15-minute city template across the Atlantic could be ‘presumptive and colonial,’ said Toronto-based urban designer and thinker Jay Pitter at the CityLab 2021 conference hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute.

“ ‘We’ve actually designed cities to create buffers between us across race and class specifically, and this proposal completely ignores a century of planning interventions that have actually concretized deep social divisions between people,’ Pitter added.

Dan Hill, strategic director of Vinnova, Sweden’s national innovation agency, suggested that “an ambitious goal such as the 15-minute city requires cities to abandon the traditional notion of urban planning as divorced from other policies … such as health care, social services, and environmental policy.”

Pitter further noted, “Some cities, and neighborhoods might go from a 45-minute city to maybe a 20-minute city — and that would be significant progress. Some places will go from 60 minutes to 50 minutes and that too will be significant progress.”

Read the full article here. (~3 min.)

According to a March 15, 2021, East Bay Times article by George Avalos, several ‘15-minute city’ projects are proposed for downtown San Jose and other Bay Area cities. Read that story here.

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