September 19, 2018 in 1,024 words

What would a truly walkable city look like?

The obsession with self-driving cars and dockless cycles means pedestrians are often overlooked. But if we fail to accommodate those on foot, we ignore an essential part of what makes a city great

Pictured above: People walk on a crosswalk at a shopping district in Tokyo, Japan.

Arriving by Greyhound coach in Phoenix, Arizona, one November evening I was faced with either six hours waiting in the terminal or a one-mile walk with my wheelie suitcase to a nearby shuttle bus. I soon learned that simple-sounding walk was alongside a fast, unlit road with no pavement. Forced to take a taxi ($15 minimum fare) the Cameroonian driver and I talked incredulously as we watched the gravel and grass verge – perfectly wide enough for a sidewalk – drift past into the night.

The modern obsession with autonomous and electric vehicles, dockless scooters and bicycles means it is easy to forget the humble pedestrian. However, as almost every journey starts or finishes on foot, we are ignoring a fundamental part of what makes a city great.

Susan Claris, associate director of transport consulting at the design and planning company Arup, says much can be done quickly and simply. “That for me is the joy of walkability,” she says. “There are so many things that can be done … it just takes someone to get on and do it.”

More than 270,000 people on foot are killed on the world’s roads every year, according to the WHO.

The UK walking charity Living Streets says because such details have so long been neglected, cities with ambitions for pedestrians should appoint a walking champion, alongside tougher moves to tackle air pollution and reduce motor traffic volumes and the biggest road safety risk factor: speed. They say low emissions charging zones or smart road pricing, along with enforcement of 20mph speed limits, could help fund people-friendly city centres and safe routes to schools.

Skye Duncan of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (Nacto), an association of 62 major North American cities and 10 transport agencies, says cities have long been asking the wrong question – how can we move cars? – when they should be asking: how can we move people?

“Pedestrians haven’t been put at the heart of cities,” she adds. “Fundamentally it’s pretty difficult to make a great city without great walking conditions.”

5 Awful Torture Methods (Invented For Humanitarian Reasons)

Humans have come up with all sorts of ways to inflict suffering on one other, from torture devices, to psychological manipulation, to Denny’s. You might reasonably assume that the people inventing these new and terrible forms of torture were pure, unadulterated evil — but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, they were honestly trying to help. For example…

5. Lobotomies Were Meant To Be A Humane Alternative To Mental Hospitals

For decades, the idea of jamming a spike through someone’s cerebrum was considered a legitimate treatment for everything from panic attacks to nervous indigestion. Potential side effects included the loss of inhibition, catatonic states, and death — which isn’t that surprising, considering that lobotomists weren’t exactly sure what they were doing, or even where in the brain to target. They were essentially playing Operation inside your cranium.

“Now we remove the instruments from the brain, and …”
“Tht wss mmh tnngue.”

What kind of monsters would send someone to get lobotomized? Mostly people trying to keep their loved ones, or themselves, from ending up in an asylum. Before we had things like antipsychotic medication, treatment options for mental health issues were basically limited to straightjackets and confinement. So when the lobotomy came along and promised a simple procedure that could get rid of those nasty thoughts, volunteers weren’t hard to find. Hell, some people went back for repeats.

The world’s preeminent lobotomist, Walter Freeman, promised that a “lobotomy gets them home,” and for the most part, he was right. A lobotomized patient might come back with a duller personality, and needing to relearn how to use the bathroom — but hey, they came back! Uh, except the 13 percent who ended up worse, or the 3 percent who died. But lots of people still liked those chances better than what they faced in a mental hospital.

Lobotomies only went out of style when less invasive, cheaper treatments such as Thorazine were introduced. Even though they advertised the drug like a John Carpenter film, for some.

Thorazine! Starring Kurt Russell and Keith David.

The story of segregation in Los Angeles was only preserved by its black-owned papers


A 1928 view of Los Angeles.

The historic segregation that defines Los Angeles to this day was no cosmic accident or mere twist of fate. And much of what we know now of the deliberate action of white supremacists was documented only by a crusading black press.

In a new book, City of Segregation, urban geographer Andrea Gibbons explores how a century of structured “regulation, discrimination, structural inequality, and violence” resulted in the fragmented city of today. In the first half of the 20th century, she writes, black-owned newspapers alone reported on the struggle between people of color, who fought to live in their chosen homes, and the white communities that tried to keep them out.

“These were issues that only really affected African-American communities,” Gibbons told Quartz, “and they were completely ignored by the mainstream white-owned newspapers.”

Long before outlets such as the Los Angeles Times even acknowledged problems of discrimination or housing segregation, the black papers covered the issues assiduously, she says. “They played this incredible role, first just in letting people know what was happening, giving people a voice to share what their experience was, and sharing ways to stop it—ways to combat it.”

Rather than being a question of individual choice, as economists such as Milton Friedman once suggested, Los Angeles’ present-day segregation—it’s now the 10th most segregated metropolitan area in the US—is the outcome of decades of active effort to keep power in the hands of those who have it. Gibbons’ book chronicles how people of color have been historically confined to areas with poor public services and stagnant property values.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?