Posts by Author: Rachel Kaufman

Mobile Laundry Services for Australians Experiencing Homelessness Wins $1M Grant

Orange Sky's vans carry washers, dryers, and orange chairs so patrons and volunteers and enjoy some "non-judgmental" conversation while cleaning clothes. (Screenshot courtesy of Orange Sky Australia)

An Australian company that provides free laundry for people experiencing homelessness has just received a $1-million grant from Google to develop an app for charities and community groups that provide mobile services.

Orange Sky builds vans with laundry machines and showers and volunteers drive them to places where people might need a free wash. The “for-purpose” organization also built a web app to track its impact, and the $1-million grant from Google’s Impact Challenge, which was open to charities across Australia, will allow the enterprise to scale up the app and offer it to 35,000 Australian charities working on homeless outreach.

The laundry is still important, too.

For people experiencing homelessness, life is a string of indignities. No safe place to sleep. Nowhere to use the bathroom. Nowhere to shower or get clean clothes.

Four years ago, two Australian men put a washer and dryer in the back of a van and drove around to churches and parks, offering free laundry services. Now, there are 27 laundry and shower vans operating in Australia. They use generators and solar power to run the machines, and each van does about 15-20 loads of laundry and showers each day, The Guardian reports.

Clean clothes help prevent the spread of diseases and bedbugs, but Lucas Patchett, one of the enterprise’s co-founders, says the conversations that happen during laundry time are more important.

“We’re not preaching anything, or teaching anything or pushing anything. But it does take an hour to wash and dry someone’s clothes and during that time people tend to hang around. That’s when the conversations start,” he told the Guardian.

“Ninety-nine percent of the day, these people are walked past and ignored and not even looked at, and that can have a huge impact on psyche and sense of self-worth. So we just say g’day and offer something really practical that makes people immediately feel more confident to engage with the broader society.”

Because the vans are self-contained, they also can be deployed in remote areas. Orange Sky sent a retrofitted military vehicle to Lockhart River, a remote community in Queensland, where it’s helping aboriginal people prevent scabies, which is prolific at certain times of year and can be defeated by washing linens in hot water.

Orange Sky is a “for-purpose” organization. In addition to running the free laundry for people experiencing homelessness, the organization also hires some “friends on the street” to wash clothes and linens for Brisbane- and Perth-based businesses, which is both a revenue stream for the organization and a way to help people on the street get back into the workforce. Its funding comes from a mix of revenue from the “social impact washing” program, grants, and donations.

A number of cities, including Los Angeles, have set up pop-up laundry services to serve people experiencing homelessness. What makes Orange Sky relatively unique is that it’s a private-market solution, although similar organizations have since set up in Athens, Greece, and Brighton, UK. Orange Sky has also expanded internationally, debuting its first overseas van in Auckland, New Zealand last month and with plans to go to the U.S. in the near future.

 

Public Campaign Financing Won Big on Tuesday

(Credit: Pixabay)

Voters in cities across the country approved ballot initiatives that expand or create public campaign financing systems, in an attempt to limit the influence of big donors, Governing reports.

Denver voters passed Measure 2E, with 69 percent of the vote, Denverite said. 2E caps the amount of money candidates can accept from a single donor and bans corporate contributions in exchange for a city-funded match at 9 to 1, the site said. Essentially, that means a $50 donation becomes a $500 donation.

“I think there’s a strong undercurrent of progressive energy in Denver,” Tony Pigford, who is running for City Council in 2019, told Denverite. “I think the city can become a true beacon of truly progressive values.”

Statewide, Colorado Amendment 75 failed to pass, the Denver Post reported. The measure would have loosened the limits on campaign contributions when one wealthy candidate was self-funding, the paper said. It was meant to stop candidates from “buying an election,” former state Sen. Greg Brophy (R) told the Coloradoan. Governor-elect Jared Polis. who spent $19 million of his own money, said he actually supported the amendment but that it “doesn’t really address the core problem in campaign finance, which is that the special interests are still favored.”

Baltimore voters widely supported a measure to create a “Fair Elections Fund,” which would match public funds for small-dollar donations. The city council must design the fund and system to come into effect in time for the 2024 elections, the Baltimore Sun reported.

The cost of running for office in Baltimore has gotten more expensive, the Sun reported in a separate article. In 2016, mayoral candidates spent a total of $9 million in the race, three times as much as in the previous mayoral race. Supporters of the measure say it could help support more women candidates for office.

New York City voters chose to expand its public campaign finance program, lowering contribution limits and boosting matching funds from a 6-1 ratio to an 8-1 ratio. The New York Times endorsed the proposal, saying the changes would “be likely to help blunt the impact of large donations, and encourage more candidates to run for office.” The new changes become optional in 2021 and mandatory in 2022, the Times said.

While not related to public financing, Massachusetts citizens took tentative steps toward overhauling campaign finance rules; Ballot Question 2 creates a citizen commission that will study how to best amend the U.S. Constitution to reduce the role of money in politics, WGBH reported. The commission will also study whether the state can legally regulate corporate campaign contributions even in a post-Citizens United world. According to American Promise, a group focusing on limiting corporate money in politics through a constitutional amendment, 19 states have passed resolutions calling for an amendment; Massachusetts could be the 20th after its commission produces a report.

Finally, citizens of Albuquerque, New Mexico, will be voting on a “Democracy Dollars” initiative before long. As Next City has previously reported, the program would give $25 vouchers to residents to donate to the candidate of their choice in local elections. Organizers collected tens of thousands of signatures to get the measure on the November ballot, but the county board of commissioners voted not to put the initiative on the ballot. Supporters told the county that it was not the commissioners’ job to judge the merits of the question, the Albuquerque Journal said, but commissioners said the county could be taken to court because of the way the question was worded. The group ABQ Democracy Dollars, which is pushing the program, said in a Facebook post that the question may be put to voters “likely [in] Feb 2019.” The initiative is modeled on a similar Seattle program; Austin, Texas also has been considering a similar measure.

 

Minneapolis Groups Propose Tiny-House Community

Renderings illustrate a prototype for the modular, streamlined, hyper-affordable Envision tiny-house community.
(Credit: Envision Community)

Minneapolis may get a tiny-house community to provide living spaces for people experiencing homelessness, thanks to a partnership between the city’s homeless community and a major hospital, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports. However, there are major obstacles — including funding, land availability and zoning — standing in the way for now.

The group Street Voices of Change, a group of currently and formerly homeless people advocating to end homelessness, came up with the idea of building a tiny-house community after more than a year of deliberation, the Star-Tribune said. Hennepin Healthcare, a major hospital in the city, began to support the project after doctors noted how often people showed up at the emergency room with medical problems related to their homelessness, the Star-Tribune said.

The “Envision Community” would be built on vacant land and house up to 30 people in the initial phase. Because building codes require new buildings to exceed 20 feet in both directions, the tiny units will be bolted together to create an exterior wall of at least that length, while providing individual living spaces. Residents will share cooking, bathing and laundry facilities to save money. Further, the homes will be built with a less expensive type of foundation usually used for building decks, the group said.

The group estimates that residents would pay around $112 per month in rent, with the cost of operating the units further subsidized by state housing assistance programs and the money the hospital system will save.

“If we can get more people off the streets, the trains and the concrete, we can save both lives and money,” DeWayne Parker, a member of Street Voices of Change, told the Star-Tribune.

Envision Community is different from other tiny-house schemes in a number of ways. For one, the project’s backers propose that only 20 percent of the community’s residents would be people who have been chronically homeless. Another 60 percent would be people who have experienced housing instability, and the final 20 percent of residents would be people who have never been homeless. “We need people with different types of stability and capacity to ground our community,” the document says.

Another key difference: more than 100 individuals who have experienced homelessness were consulted during the design process.

Envision Community has “no land or funding,” the Star-Tribune said. The group says it needs about $86,000 to get started, and another $415,000 to actually build the demonstration site that would house 30 people. They’re hoping to be up and running by next fall.

The initiative still also needs zoning approval to get started, the Star-Tribune said. But three City Council members plan to introduce a measure that will allow the city to change its zoning ordinances, the paper said.

“This project offers a creative pathway to affordable housing that we’ve never explored before,” Cam Gordon, one of the council members, told the newspaper. “We are in a real housing crisis in this city, and it’s clear that what we are doing has not been meeting people’s needs.”

 

Ballot Initiative Wins and Losses Across America

(Credit: IIP Photo Archive, via Flickr.)

On Tuesday, a likely hundred million people went to the polls to vote in the country’s midterm elections.

Regular news readers have seen the broad outlines of the results already—and many have likely taken deep dives into the nitty-gritty of state legislatures, county judgeships and other races. But how about the ballot initiatives?

Voters in 37 states made decisions on a total of 157 statewide ballot measures, to say nothing of the city-level ballot measures many voters decided on.

Here, Next City has rounded up some of the most important results. This list is by no means comprehensive or complete, but this sampling represents some of the ballot measures we deemed important for urbanists.

Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 4, which restores voting rights to 1.5 million former felons. Florida was one of only four states that more or less permanently disenfranchised felons who had served their time (people who had served their sentences could appeal to the governor, but Rick Scott re-enfranchised just 3,000 people in seven years, NPR reported). The amendment required 60 percent support to pass, and 64 percent of Floridians voted to approve it. A day-after analysis suggested that had Amendment 4 been in place prior to election night, Florida may have elected a Democratic senator and governor.

California’s Prop 10, an initiative to allow cities to expand rent control, failed last night; the San Francisco Chronicle reports that opponents outspent proponents 3 to 1. But Proposition 6, to repeal California’s gas tax, also failed, which means the state still has a $5-billion funding stream for infrastructure and transportation spending, such as connecting the LA Metro to LAX. Gov. Jerry Brown celebrated the defeat of Proposition 6, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports, telling a crowd of people: “People know you get what you pay for. We have built hundreds of thousands of miles of roads and highways, and you got to keep them fixed up. Everybody knows, if you don’t fix your roof, it leaks.”

Coloradans voted to restrict payday lending by passing a 36 percent cap on interest rates, winning the support of more than 75 percent of voters, the Denver Post reports. Previous state law had allowed interest rates of up to 200 percent, though the average in 2016 was 129.5 percent, the Coloradoan reported. The campaign supporting Proposition 111, the payday loan cap, said there was evidence that a single payday loan kept “many consumers mired in debt for more than half the year.”

Elsewhere, Michigan became the 10th state to legalize recreational marijuana and Missouri became the 31st state to legalize medical marijuana, USA TODAY reported.

At the city level, New York City residents voted to impose term limits on community board members, lower the amount of campaign finance contributions a single candidate can receive, and create a Civic Engagement Commission, which would centralize engagement initiatives and assist community boards, among other things.

Baltimore, Maryland also passed a unique initiative: Ballot question E, which passed with around 77 percent of the vote, bans privatization of the city’s water and sewer system. Food and Water Watch reports that it’s the first city in the country to do so.

“With water corporations circling around Baltimore over the past several years, ramped-up privatization ploys last Spring, and a federal administration hellbent on propping up corporate power over peoples’ rights, it is momentous that the city has voted to keep its water public,” said Rianna Eckel, Maryland Organizer, Food & Water Watch, in a statement.

Mayor Catherine Pugh said she supported the amendment; others worried, the Baltimore Sun reported, that a proposal she had made to allow new types of city contracting might have made it easier to privatize down the line.

 

Chicago DOT Develops Parklet Prototype to Encourage Hanging out

The highly stylized benches at a People Spot in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. (Credit: Southport Corridor News & Events, via Facebook)

Chicago has installed a pop-up parklet in its Chatham neighborhood, in the city’s South Side. That wouldn’t seem like such a big deal, except that, according to Streetsblog, parklets have had a “rocky history” in the Windy City, as the city has previously required local BIDs to pay for the spots, which can run in the tens of thousands of dollars. The new parklet, which Chicago is calling a “people spot,” was designed by CDOT and the agency promises to make the plans available for free to any community groups that want to build their own parklets.

The “people spot” takes up two parking spaces and consists of seating, potted plants and a wooden fence. The design and construction of the first People Spot was funded through a $30,000 grant from AARP, which had sought ideas to make cities more livable for people of all ages through “quick action” projects. Chicago’s Metropolitan Mayors Caucus also received a grant through the same program to develop model building codes to allow ADUs in the region. In total, the program gave out $1.3 million to 129 projects, including a “hammock park” in the small town of Morrilton, Ark., a community garden in San Francisco, and bike racks in Annapolis, Md.

In Chicago, Alderman Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward) said in a statement that he was “…very pleased that the 6th Ward was selected as the first location for the installation of the People Spot …The People Spot will further promote community efforts to activate the street and increase economic development along the 75th Street commercial corridor.”

Chicago-based Latent Design designed the People Spot. Katherine Darnstadt, founder and principal of the firm, told Block Club Chicago, a nonprofit news organization created by former Chicagoist editors, that the parklet is modular and movable. Community groups can disassemble a parklet for storage during Chicago’s harsh winters or simply move it to a new space. And in fact, that’s what the Chatham Business Association plans to do with its parklet — remove it for the winter and reinstall it at a different location on 75th Street in the spring. The city will look for areas designated as “Retail Thrive Zones” in the south, southwest and west sides. Darnstadt added that having the design work available for free should lower the cost of building a new People Spot to $10,000-$20,000.

“We wanted to make the design with readily available materials that you can purchase from anywhere so nothing’s really special order,” Darnstadt told Block Club Chicago. “We thought hard about how could make the most flexible and unique design that everyone could build.”

Other parklets in Chicago have not fared well. According to Streetsblog, residents and business owners often push back on the loss of parking spots, and the costs of building, installing, and maintaining the People Spots has led to some being removed and not replaced. The Andersonville Development Corporation, which installed two parklets in the early part of the decade, spent a total of $45,000 on building the spaces, a former employee told Streetsblog in 2015. Removal, storage, permits, and new plants cost an additional $5,000 a year.

The Chicago program that allows for People Spots, the CDOT’s “Make Way For People” initiative, also promotes “People Alleys,” “People Streets” — taking over dead-end or cul-de-sac streets with temporary programming — and “People Plazas” with programming in triangle parks.

 

New York Taxi Commission Puts $20 Million In Medallion Fees On Hold

In this Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018 photo, yellow cabs make their way across 42nd Street outside Grand Central Terminal in New York. Responding to tales of financial woe, New York City lawmakers voted for a temporary cap on the number of drivers working for companies like Uber and Lyft. The restrictions come after a year in which many drivers for-hire in the city have complained that the explosion in the popularity of ride-hailing services has upended regulations intended to limit competition and ensure that every driver made enough money to survive. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) has agreed to pause the collection of nearly $20 million in medallion renewal fees which would have been due this week in an effort to give cab drivers some relief, the New York Post reports.

The city typically charges medallion renewal fees of between $540 and $1,650 every two years, according to the Post.

Councilmember Mark Levine has introduced a bill to study the “problem of medallion owners with excessive debt” and a companion bill to provide financial and mental health counseling to drivers, and he called the TLC’s move “a short-term step to provide some relief to the drivers while we work out a longer-term policy.”

“Independent owner-drivers who played by the rules set by the city are now enduring extraordinary financial hardships through absolutely no fault of their own,” Levine said in a statement, reported by the Daily News. “After having bought an asset because they had a guarantee from the city about its underlying value, our city has failed these small business owners.”

TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi said that the “renewal fee is one more payment for medallion owners at a time when every penny counts,” according to the Post.

Taxi medallions, which once were valued as high as $1.3 million, according to the NY Daily News, are now worth about a tenth of that, but many drivers either took out enormous loans to buy their own or borrowed cash against the medallions’ value. Melrose Credit Union, which issued many of the loans, is now insolvent. The federal government is now holding the medallion loans, Documented NY reported in September, and once the government took over the loans, it became less responsive, drivers said. Many drivers took out loans in the six figures.

Seven for-hire drivers have committed suicide since November 2017, the Post said, with many citing crushing debt as the reason. Taxi drivers have turned to blaming TLC commissioner Joshi, calling for her firing and chasing her away from a vigil for Uber driver Fausto Luna, who jumped in front of a subway car in September.

The TLC doesn’t have authority to regulate ride-hail companies like Uber and Lyft, New York Taxi Workers Alliance executive director Bhairavi Desai told AM New York. Only the City Council can.

This summer, New York’s City Council voted to cap the number of app-based cars on the road as well as mandate minimum pay for drivers. Uber was “none too pleased” by the vote, as Next City reported at the time, but the move could be a boon for drivers if it reduces competition.

Uber driver Tidiane Samassa wrote in an op-ed for the NY Daily News that “sometimes it now takes me over an hour driving around before I get a passenger, because all around me there are thousands of other for-hire cars also empty. All of us are competing for a smaller slice of the pie.”

As for the medallion fees, the city is reserving the right to collect them later, after Levine’s bills move through the legislative process, the NY Daily News reported.

 

Ecologists Warned Against Mexico City’s New Airport, Voters Rejected It

A detail of a mock-up of the new Mexico City international airport, now canceled, is shown during the announcement of the design of the city’s new $9.2-billion airport, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Mexican citizens overwhelmingly voted to cancel a half-built airport outside of Mexico City, the Associated Press reports. The $13 billion project, which is already a third of the way built, was plagued by accusations of corruption and the threat of ecological damage.

President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador proposed the referendum after winning the election but before taking office, Architects Newspaper reported. On Sunday, one million voters (just about one in 90 registered voters in Mexico) came out, voting to reject the airport 70 to 29 percent.

As Next City reported in May, ecologists contended that building the airport in its proposed location would both exacerbate Mexico City’s drinking water scarcity while making it more vulnerable to floods. This paradox comes from the fact that all of Mexico City is built on an ancient lakebed, known as the Texcoco basin, without much natural drainage.

“As a consequence, the Mexico City of 2018 is both severely dehydrated and struggling with devastating floods,” Paulo Cisneros reported for Next City. “The city’s massive concrete footprint prevents rainwater from refilling the aquifers beneath its residents’ feet. That, in turn, causes the city to sink deeper into the marshy lakebed, lessening the effectiveness of its gravity-dependent drainage systems. The end result is a metropolitan region of more than 20 million residents in which drinking water is sparse while wastewater collects in the streets.” The new airport would have exacerbated both these problems, according to a nonpartisan scientific group’s analysis. It would have reduced the region’s natural drainage, adding to floods, and consumed 23 million cubic meters of water a year, CityLab reported.

“It’s just the worst terrain,” Fernando Córdova, environmental impact specialist and a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Alto Nivel (later translated in CityLab). “There’s a reason why this part of the city hasn’t ever been urbanized.”

Critics also worried about the environmental impact on the 130 bird species found in Texcoco and the urban sprawl that the airport could exacerbate.

Lopez Obrador had railed against the airport since before getting elected, Reuters reported; in March, he called the airport project and its corporate backers “corrupt” but declined to elaborate on how the corruption took place. He also dismissed concerns that canceling the airport would cause uncertainty, the wire service said.

“Yes, that’s what they say: uncertainty. But then what? To prevent uncertainty I’m going to become an accomplice to corruption? No. I’d prefer there to be uncertainty,” he told Reuters.

The airport, designed by Foster+Partners, has already been partially built — and $5 billion already spent. It would have been the third largest airport in the world and handled 125 million people a year.

Now that the project is dead (Lopez Obrador says he will honor the will of the people — “The decision taken by the citizens is democratic, rational and efficient,” he told the AP) Mexico City still needs a new airport. The current airport is at capacity with 40 million passengers a year, Reuters said. Lopez Obrador favors converting a military air base to civilian use, adding two runways, and then connecting the existing airport with the new one by road. He said the project can be done for $3.5 bililon.

Lopez Obrador said that he hoped the unfinished airport could become “a big sports and ecological complex” for the city, according to the AP.

 

Washington DC Issues Dockless Regs to Tame Burgeoning Industry

Photo by Paul Wasneski via Flickr

After a yearlong pilot, DC has announced proposed rules to regulate its burgeoning e-scooter and dockless bike industry, WTOP reports.

The proposed rules would require companies to distribute a minimum number of vehicles per ward and would require companies to provide a toll-free number for riders to report badly parked vehicles.

It would also require bicycles to come with a lock. This requirement already went into effect, in August, just as three dockless companies—Ofo, Spin and Mobike—were pulling out of the city.

The rules will also allow the District to start charging for permits; starting in 2019, companies will have to pay an application fee of $50 per permit, a “technology fee” of $25 per permit, and a permit fee of $250 per year plus a per-vehicle fee.

The per-vehicle fee will range from $5 to $60 depending on the month in which a given vehicle goes into operation; the earlier in the year, the bigger the fee.

$60 per year would be four to six times higher than any other city charges, as Next City has previously reported, but lower than the original proposed fee of $200 per vehicle. Other cities typically charge an annual licensing fee in the three figures and a per-bike fee of around $10 to $15.

The regulations also would require companies to provide a $10,000 security deposit with the District that the city will keep if the company fails to remove badly parked vehicles.

“These proposed regulations are an important first step in our long-term plan to manage the future of the dockless program,” Jeff Marootian, director of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), said in a statement, reported by SmartCitiesDive. “This permitting process gets us closer to achieving Mayor [Muriel] Bowser’s sustainable transportation goals by requiring dockless operators to prioritize safety, equitable access, and good stewardship of public space.”

The jury is not quite in yet on how scooters have reshaped the District, although. In Portland, a survey of 4500 scooter users seems to hint that scooters really are taking cars off the road. One third of respondents said that if they hadn’t scooted, they would have driven a personal vehicle or hailed a cab or transportation network company car (such as Uber or Lyft). Another of the proposed D.C. regulations would require companies to share data with the city, so answers on how scooters fit into the mobility system in D.C. may be soon forthcoming.

D.C.’s dockless pilot program began in September 2017. Currently, five companies have permits under the pilot: Jump, the Uber-owned e-bike company; and four scooter brands: Bird, Lime, Lyft and Skip. Muving, a scooter-share company based in Europe that rents Vespa-like scooters, has also asked to join the DC market, WTOP reported separately. Those scooters, which are also fully electric, have a top speed of 27 miles per hour and require helmet use (which are included). A Muving spokesperson told WTOP that the company can’t disclose details of its conversations with the District, so the timeline for when Muving may arrive, or whether it is even regulated under the new dockless rules is unclear. (The city document defines “dockless scooter” as a scooter that one rides while standing; Muving’s scooters are ridden while sitting down, and seat two comfortably.)

The D.C. regulations are open for public comment for the next month.

 

In Istanbul, You Can Pay Your Subway Fare With Recyclables

Photo by ProtoType069 via Flickr.

Istanbul is the latest city to install “reverse vending machines” to allow commuters to top up their transit cards by recycling plastic and aluminum, the New York Times reports. It’s part of a larger environmental initiative that aims to encourage recycling and reduce waste.

The “reverse vending machines” accept plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Each bottle or can is worth between 2-9 Turkish cents, and the machine applies the value to a commuter’s subway card, then crushes or shreds the material for recycling. A commuter would need about 28 1.5 liter bottles to buy a single one-way ticket, so the scheme is unlikely to fully replace cash for the majority of Istanbulites, but the New York Times suggests that the plummeting value of the lira will still make the recycling option enticing for many.

The machines will also track the number of containers recycled by each rider and provide rewards such as free or discounted theater tickets for those who recycle the most items.

Turkey has the lowest recycling rate in Europe, according to a 2017 report cited by the Times, but in recent years has aimed to improve that. Since last June, the country has recycled enough paper to save 30 million trees, Mustafa Öztürk, the undersecretary for the Environment and Urban Planning Ministry, told the Times. The undersecretary also said that more than half of all plastic bottles in Turkey were recycled last year. (In the U.S., only about 23 percent of the 50 billion plastic bottles we use a year are recycled.)

Similar reverse vending machines have been in place in Beijing since 2012, Recycling Today reported. In 2014, the trade pub said, the scheme was so popular that the city expanded the program to 34 machines. There, the machines return public transportation credit or mobile phone minutes. The scheme aimed to replace the informal network of collectors who made money by collecting bottles and returning them to recycling company Incom, the Guardian reports.

In Sydney, users of reverse vending machines that pay out in cash or gift certificates to local stores have returned 856 million drink containers. In the U.K., one parking lot in Leeds gives drivers 20p in parking credit for each bottle they bring in.

“Reverse vending machines” are commonplace in American cities and states where “bottle bills” exist, and some “canners” subsist almost entirely on redeeming cans and bottles for a few cents at a time. Bottle bills do boost recycling rates considerably; according to the Container Recycling Institute, a pro-recycling nonprofit, the 11 states in 2010 with container deposit laws comprise 28 percent of the U.S. population but are responsible for nearly half (46 percent) of recycled bottles. (Delaware has since repealed its bottle bill.)

Istanbul is hoping that the new subway vending machines will be a similar success, and is planning to install at least 100 more at 25 locations across the city by the end of the year.

It’s not the city’s first foray into reverse vending machine technology. In 2014, the Turkish company Pugedon invented a vending machine that accepts bottles and spits out kibble for stray animals.

 

The Computer Will Tell You If Your Neighborhood Is Walkable

(Photo by Chris Goldberg via Flickr)

In the old days, determining whether a neighborhood was walkable required physically going there. Then, Google Street View arrived, and “raters” surveying a city’s sidewalks, curb cuts, or even graffiti could survey a city from their desk.

Now, according to a release from Arizona State University, walkability surveys don’t need people at all. A new tool from the university’s College of Health Solutions and School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering, can detect crosswalks, street lights, trees and more.

The software uses Street View images, computer vision, and deep learning to identify these so-called microfeatures. Researchers at the college of health are trying to determine whether “macro” features, such as density and street connectivity, are more or less important for helping people get active than microfeatures such as curb cuts and crosswalks.

It’s part of a larger study in which people throughout Phoenix got activity trackers and motivational text messages, as well as financial incentives to walk every day.

“We enrolled participants over the last several years based on their various neighborhoods’ macro-level activity, friendliness or walkability,” associate professor Marc Adams said in a statement. “We are interested in seeing whether people who live in neighborhoods that are considered more walkable versus those who live in less walkable areas persist longer in their efforts after the year-long interventions end.”

“Evidence from previous studies suggests that microscale features are related to physical activity beyond what can be explained by macroscale walkability,” he added. “However, we don’t know how these levels may interact with our behavior-change interventions. That’s why we think our work to develop an automated tool that is accessible and scalable could enable rapid advancement in this field.”

If these micro features do have a big impact on walkability, adding or fixing them would be a cheap, relatively easy improvement, compared to building connecting streets or adding density. That said, it wouldn’t be an entirely surprising finding to find out that adding bike and pedestrian infrastructure increases bikers and pedestrians. Induced demand works for more than just roads and driving.

However, knowing about the condition of sidewalks and curb cuts in a city is good for more than just predicting walkability. This kind of data can be critical for people with mobility issues and can help planners identify the most dangerous intersections.

The team hopes to share their data and code so that other cities can survey their own crosswalks.

 



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