1. Nestled in Houston’s Third Ward are six blocks chock full of art. Art you can touch, art built with slats and nails, art that people live in and live with. It’s work that takes the shape of a neighborhood. And though it’s the work of many people, including the residents who live there, this art is principally the vision of Rick Lowe, who was named one of the 2014 winners of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant this week.

    Project Row Houses is of a piece with several trends in contemporary art practice today, yet it’s also a project that offers transitional housing for young single mothers. Since its founding in the early 1990s, the program—or artwork, or conceptual project—has grown from 22 houses along a block-and-a-half to more than 70 buildings spread around the neighborhood. ”Social sculpture” is the term Lowe uses to describe Project Row Houses. It’s as good as any. Project Row Houses defies easy categorization.

    -How a Houston Housing Project Earned a MacArthur Grant

    [Photo: Project Row Houses]

     
  2. The homeless participants (currently a core group of 20) are also very much on board, an enthusiasm perhaps helped by the three meals a day offered during the research period. “They are not at all paranoid,” says project coordinator Tom Rønning in the article linked above. “They want to contribute to the offers being made ​​to them, so that we have peace and quiet in the city. It’s lovely.” Denmark’s record on accommodating homeless people is pretty good, perhaps because this wealthy country (with a decent welfare safety net) still hasrelatively low levels of homelessness. Along with such simple, humane measures as founding a homeless cemetery in Copenhagen (its unofficial keeper is movingly profiled in this video), the country is taking steps to work out how homeless people’s lives could be improved, instead of merely hidden.

    Such consideration for the homeless might come as a shock to those living in other countries. Just as in the United States, Europe’s cities often seem more interested in stigmatizing and excluding the homeless than helping them. Odense’s plans were balanced out by news this week from Madrid that Mayor Ana Botella plans to alter 4,000 city bus stops in order to make them impossible to sleep in. The idea is to replace existing bus shelter benches with new models with seat dividers, so that no one can lie flat on them to shelter from wet weather. In a city where Spain’s economic crisis has made thousands homeless, the decision is already sparking outrage. As this article notes, many are asking why, when funds for actually helping the homeless are so limited, the city is exerting itself to rustle up cash for a scheme that makes their lives just that much harder.

    -A Danish City Is Using GPS to Track (and Help) the Homeless

    [Photo: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com]

     
  3. An insanely detailed, hand-drawn map of San Francisco.

    [Map: Jenni Sparks]

     

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  5. Africa’s population will quadruple by 2100. What does that mean for its cities?

    [Graph: Science Magazine]

     
  6. In addition to Houston and San Jose, the tech hubs of Denver, Raleigh and the energy hub of Oklahoma City round out the top five fastest growing large metros. The top seven large metros all registered rates of economic growth more than double the national average.

    On the flip side, the large metros with the slowest growth are mainly older industrial economies, like Louisville, Birmingham, St. Louis, Cleveland, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Cleveland. There was one startling exception: Washington, D.C. The capital actually tied with Birmingham, Alabama, for the slowest rate of economic growth of any large metro, seeing a real decline in GDP of -0.8 percent. This is both surprising and troubling, since greater Washington has long been cited as one of the most economically stable metros over the course of the economic crisis. 

    -Houston and San Jose Are Leading U.S. Economic Growth

     

  7. "The authors don’t speculate much about why waiting at a covered shelter or station beats waiting at a curbside sign. Maybe the lighting or coverage or seating reduced stress in general, or maybe the shelter (like hold music) just conveyed the sense that someone cares."
     
  8. One of the biggest cultural divides in the U.S. is between renters and homeowners.

     
  9. Ask a city planner or designer to name some popular amenities for a park, and they’ll rattle off a list: children’s play area, water feature, shade, seating. “Tandoor oven” will not be on it—unless you’re in Toronto, where residents of the Thorncliffe Park neighborhood worked with the city to install a new bread-baking oven in their local park. It’s the first public tandoor oven in North America.

    -How an Oven Changed the Fate of a Neglected Toronto Park

     

  10. "Americans haven’t talked about cities this much since the Founding Fathers squabbled over where to locate the new capital. Even so, the conversation could be broader."
     
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  12. This week, in honor of the third planning session of the Global Parliament of Mayors project in Amsterdam, The Guardian’s Cities channel has helpfully mashed up some of the attendees with the customizable card game,Magic: The Gathering. The results are cards that depict the powers of various mayors worldwide in a M:TG format, to the delight of this blue/white deck owner. It’s Mayors: The Gathering.

    -A Global Gathering Reveals the Untapped Potential of Mayors

     
  13. Are you familiar with shoaling? “Shoaling” is a term for when cyclists have it so good in a city that they turn on each other.

    No, that’s not really what it means. Shoaling is better known as a term of bike etiquette, one that describes a specific cycling behavior that’s emerged with the proliferation of bikes and bike lanes in many U.S. metro areas. In its own way, shoaling is a sign that bike lanes, bikesharing, and other pro-cycling transit policies are working. Which is making some people mad. 

    So, shoaling: You’re stopped at a red light with a bunch of folks on bikes, when someone who’s just arrived sails past everyone, right to the head of the class. It’s a lot like seeing somebody in the Whole Foods express lane with too many things. In other words, it’s the kind of behavior that triggers toothy-toddler rages in otherwise emotionally competent adults.

    -Cyclists: Let’s Talk About Shoaling

    [Photo: Paul Krueger/Flickr]

     

  14. During Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward in 1958, Chinese citizens were encouraged to bang on pots and pans to drive the country’s sparrows to death. Mao’s thinking was that the tiny birds, along with rats, flies, and mosquitoes, were pests that ate grain seeds, which the people needed for food.

    The sound of banging drove the birds from their nests to fly around until they dropped dead of exhaustion.

    Colin Chinnery wants to record that sound. He also hopes to recreate—with the help of actors and sound technicians—the voices of the Red Guards shouting Maoist slogans during the Cultural Revolution, the wind whistling through the imported Canadian poplars that were planted in Beijing in the 1950s, and even the screech of the brakes on modern Beijing buses.

    Chinnery’s Beijing Sound History Project seeks to preserve history in a city that is rapidly destroying its own heritage every day. “There’s a goldmine of information and stories” that come from seeking out the sounds of Beijing, from its pre-revolutionary days to today, Chinnery says.

    -Saving the Clangs, Songs, and Shouts of Old Beijing

     
  15. An app that solves the famed “traveling salesman problem.