Posts by Author: Rachel Kaufman

Toronto Mayoral Candidate Proposes Turning Golf Courses Into Public Parks

Toronto's Scarlett Woods Golf Course is one of three courses within city limits that mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat proposes converting to land for parks, arts hubs, sports fields or other public use. (Photo by Bill Hertha via Flickr)

Urban planner and Toronto mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat has come up with a proposal to create more green space in the city: if elected mayor, she says, she wants to turn three city-owned golf courses into public land.

The three courses are located on transit routes and are operating at a loss (subsidized by taxpayers). Keesmaat suggested Monday turning them into parks, arts hubs, sports fields or skating rinks, the CBC reported.

“They are a massive amount of land and land is an incredible resource in this city that we shouldn’t leave closed half of the year, which is what we are doing today,” she told the CBC.

Incumbent John Tory told the CBC that the idea is “nothing new” and said that Toronto city council commissioned a report in January to review all seven city-owned golf courses to “determine the best model for golf service delivery” over the next 20 years. The report, which the Toronto Star says was only to “review golf operations,” not propose alternate uses, is due in early 2019.

Keesmaat says that re-evaluating the city golf courses would be in line with what other Canadian cities have done recently. Vancouver is updating its 25-year public parks plan, which includes its golf courses. In 2012, park commissioners in that city proposed converting all or part of the transit-adjacent Langara Golf Course into either a park or a housing development. But, commissioner John Coupar told the CBC, “There were a lot of golfers [speaking out] and a lot of people who use our golf courses not just for golf, but the walking tracks around the courses.” Heavy opposition led to the city canceling the project. Since then, the CBC adds, average property prices on the Vancouver’s east side have increased by 78 percent, and 72 percent in the west side, while golf course use has “remained stagnant.”

Keesmaat’s proposal is slightly different than the failed Vancouver proposal, given that the Vancouver parks board hadn’t ruled out developing housing on the land. Keesmaat appears to be in favor of parkland only; her public statements have not referenced condominium or apartment development, but she has said that she supports the “highest and best use” of the land. Her opponent Tory has raised the specter of development. “I hope that when she said today that we would turn those into the ‘highest and best use’ she didn’t mean condo towers, because quite often when you use the expression ‘highest and best use’ it means more condo towers,” he told the Toronto Star.

Just over 150,000 rounds of golf were played at Toronto’s municipal golf courses in 2016, a 15.5 percent decrease from the 187,000 rounds played in 2007, the city said. Golf operations generate between $4.5 and $5 million in revenue but operate at a loss, and the city golf courses need $9.7 million in investment through 2026 to repair aging clubhouses and irrigation systems, among other repairs. A city report noted that these repairs are “basic infrastructure … requirements and do not address any service enhancements that may be required to remain competitive” with greater Toronto’s 100 public and semi-private golf courses. The report added that to compete with the other golf courses, municipal courses would need to add online tee-time booking, flexible fee structures, expand its pro shops, and make a “significant investment” in the food and beverages available at the courses.

In an unscientific Internet poll, readers of The Toronto Star at press time were in favor of converting the courses, 50 percent to 42 percent.

 

Court Sides with Deceased Cyclist, but Activists Say Vision Zero Progress Too Slow in Coming

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

A court has sided with the cyclist who was killed by a Coach bus while riding a Citi Bike last year, the New York Times reports.

The bus operator, Dave Lewis, was found guilty of failing to yield the right of way, a misdemeanor, and failure to exercise due care, a violation, the Times says. The misdemeanor carries up to 30 days’ jail time, and 15 days’ extra for the violation.

The cyclist, Dan Hanegby, had been wearing headphones when the bus struck him on his Citi Bike. Defense attorneys for Lewis argued that Hanegby had been “completely and totally unaware” of his surroundings. The argument did not convince the judge on the State Supreme Court, a fact that slightly cheered transportation advocates.

“Drivers are rarely held accountable for recklessly taking lives on New York City streets,” Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, told the Times. “All too often, police hastily exonerate drivers while erroneously blaming bicyclists and pedestrians for their own deaths.”

Across the country, a few dozen cities have begun to make good on their Vision Zero pledges, but progress has been painfully — and in many cases fatally — slow. In Washington, D.C., activists are so fed up with what they say is the city’s lack of enforcement of red-light running and speeding that one was moved to create a clock showing the number of days since a traffic death. Chicago has seen 29 pedestrian and 6 cyclist fatalities so far this year, according to Streetsblog, which also reported recently that Denver has seen 16 pedestrian fatalities and four cyclist fatalities this year, as well as the deaths of five motorcyclists and 20 people in cars.

The distressing news comes as many cities are attempting to address the problems, albeit slowly.

New York’s Community Board 7 approved a nonbinding measure to protect existing bike lanes near West 67th Street, the scene of a cyclist’s death in August. The city’s transportation department will now consider the issue.

Philadelphia, which adopted a Vision Zero plan in 2016, has landed a $3-million grant from the state to build a new protected bike lane on Market Street, one of the city’s busiest, Philly magazine reports.

The project will reduce vehicle travel lanes from four to three, adding a protected bike lane in each direction, as well as “floating bus islands” and “pedestrian islands” on Market Street between 2nd and 6th. The area is a hub for major tourist attractions, with the Museum of the American Revolution and the Liberty Bell bookending that stretch of Market. The new funding will help build the proposed lanes but could take up to five years and cost an additional $4 million.

In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed has directed the SFMTA to expedite its bike-lane projects, beginning with a proposed lane on Valencia Street, which the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition called “one of the … most dangerous corridors in San Francisco.” The Mayor has said she wants fully protected bike lanes on a four-block stretch of Valencia in the next four months, “to serve as a pilot to inform changes through the rest of the corridor,” Streetsblog reports.

 

Amazon Will Pay All Its U.S. Employees at Least $15 an Hour

(Stephen Brashear/AP Images for Amazon)

Retail/cloud computing giant Amazon announced Tuesday that it would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all its U.S. employees and push for a higher federal minimum wage.

The wage is effective beginning November 1 and includes employees hired through temp agencies. This affects more than a quarter-million Amazon employees and 100,000 seasonal employees, the company said.

The move comes as Amazon has come under fire for poor wages and working conditions. A book published earlier this year contains an account of Amazon workers forced to urinate in water bottles to meet workplace targets, Wired reports; a Guardian investigation in July found Amazon workers suffering from workplace accidents, sometimes denied workers’ compensation or fired.

Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, was also found recently to be distributing anti-union videos to the grocery chain, Gizmodo reported last week. And the company quashed a “head tax” in Seattle, which would have charged employers grossing more than $20 million a year based on the number of people they employ, and funded homeless services to the tune of $47 million per year.

Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, is the richest person in the world, the New York Times reports.

Senator Bernie Sanders, who has aggressively criticized the retailer (and even introduced a bill called the Stop BEZOS Act, which would have taxed employers whose employees rely on public benefits), praised the wage hike.

“What Mr. Bezos has done today is not only enormously important for Amazon’s hundreds of thousands of employees, it could well be a shot heard around the world. I urge corporate leaders around the country to follow Mr. Bezos’ lead,” he wrote on Twitter.

The company also promised to campaign for a higher federal minimum wage, but provided few details on what that might look like. “We believe $7.25 is too low. We would look to Congress to decide the parameters of a new, higher federal minimum wage,” the company wrote.

But there’s a possible ulterior motive to the raise. Wired reports that the move might make the retail giant more competitive to workers as it staffs up for the all-important holiday season; it could reduce employee turnover, which saves Amazon money in the long run, and it could put a shine on the company’s forthcoming announcement (due sometime before the end of the year) on the location of its second headquarters. Whichever city is chosen for the new location, it is expected to give Amazon massive tax breaks in exchange for bringing jobs to the region. “The last thing the company needs is the announcement to be overshadowed by concerns about how it treats its low-wage workers,” Wired writes.

The higher minimum wage could be a direct attack on brick-and-mortar stores, too, the Wall Street Journal reports, making “it harder for traditional retailers to hire the staff they need. The result could be lost sales or, worse, crowded stores without enough staff, sending shoppers online, most likely to Amazon.”

 

D.C.‘s Metro Has No Idea How To Fix Ridership Slide

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Washington, D.C.’s rail system, once the second-busiest subway in the nation, is foundering, the Washington Post reports.

Over the last decade, average daily trips have fallen by 125,000. But, as the Post reports, even as a consultant has advised the agency to increase service, Metro board members and the agency’s chief executive have been unwilling to commit.

“Not a single board member would commit to supporting a service increase in the fiscal year that begins July 1,” the Post’s Faiz Siddiqui reported.

Over a year ago, Metro cut its operating hours, closing the system earlier and opening later. It has reduced rush-hour service by 25 percent, leading to eight-minute headways during rush hour, and reduced service during off-peak hours so that waits at night can be 20 minutes or longer. Maintenance on the aging system has become a near constant, with track work shutting down or delaying parts of the system nearly every weekend and often during off-peak hours too. Yet Paul Wiedefeld, the agency’s general manager, said at a news conference that the problem was out of his hands.

“At the end of the day, there are certain things in the market that you cannot control, in terms of ridership,” Wiedefeld said. “Ridership clearly is important, but we also have to recognize that what we should be judged on, first and foremost, is how we’re performing in what we do every day. I can’t control the [ride-hailing companies], I can’t control the price of gas, I can’t control that.”

As the Metro board debates how to control the uncontrollable (the consulting firm, VHB, found that the factors “best correlated” to ridership are train frequency, the number of trains in service and the proportion of delayed trains), it’s also making other changes: it announced it plans to disband its rider’s advisory council, a group meant to offer riders’ perspectives directly to WMATA. The board must vote formally Oct. 25 to dissolve the council but has announced it plans to do so.

Advisory council members are upset.

“WMATA is undoubtedly doing better, operationally speaking, than it has in previous years — there are fewer fires, fewer off-loadings, better trains, all of that is definitely positive,” Rebecca Kortum, chair of the Rider’s Advisory Council, told Metro officials at a board meeting in late September. “But you have a serious credibility gap with the public, and you have not yet begun to fix the image of a secretive agency that is opposed to transparent.”

“Eliminating the only direct rider connection that you have, instead of trying to fix that connection, is shortsighted and only reinforces this public perception that you’re not to be trusted,” Kortum added.

Metro board members say that every option is on the table as it looks to the 2020 budget, including restoring late-night service, adding service, or reducing disruptions. But ultimately board members told the Post that they had to “explore all of our options” (Corbett A. Price, who represents the District) or “wait and see” (Michael Goldman, who represents Maryland). Jack Evans, chairman of Metro’s board, said the problem is reliability, not too few trains.

“We’re going to make it more reliable and people are going to come back to the system. But is it going to happen overnight if I change the headways?” Evans asked. “No, it’s not going to happen,” the Post said.

Board member David Horner, who represents the federal government, suggested that Metro compete with the ride-hailing companies that are siphoning off ridership by offering subsidies. “I expect the last thing ride-hailing companies want is to engage in a subsidy shootout with a competitor whose members have the power to tax,” he said.

The board meets next on October 25.

 

Here Are the ‘Great Places In America,’ According to Planners

The State Street corridor, spanning two states, one of 2018's Great Places in America according to the American Planning Association. (Photo courtesy of Bristol VA/TN Chamber of Commerce)

The American Planning Association has named fifteen “Great Places in America” for 2018. Among them are a bustling main street that spans two states, an amphitheater and park created from a brownfield, and a walkable Berkshires town famous for its flower bridge.

The Great Places in America awards recognize streets, neighborhoods and public spaces; five from each category per year. The APA says that the awardees “illustrate how a community coming together creates lasting value.”

Marcum Park in Hamilton, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati, was among the awardees this year. The park, dedicated in May 2017, was built on land once owned by Mercy Hospital, which left Hamilton in 2006. Work finished on an outdoor amphitheater overlooking the Miami River in 2013, the Cincinnati Business Journal reports, and the rest of the park was finished in 2017 thanks to a $3.5 million donation from philanthropists Joe and Sarah Marcum. The amphitheater has twice been named the best concert venue in greater Cincinnati, the Business Journal added.

In Massachusetts, the APA recognized the Village of Shelburne Falls for its walkability, relative affordability and attractiveness to artists, and sense of community. (Apparently, it also has tasty tap water.) The village is also famous for the Bridge of Flowers footbridge, which is covered in seasonal blooms during the spring and summer, and the Iron Bridge Dinner, where residents dine at a 400-seat table spanning the length of that bridge. “Shelburne Falls has maintained resilience in the face of the changing rural economy and leveraged its wonderful historic and cultural resources to create a thriving community,” the APA writes.

One of the Great Streets recognized this year is State Street, the main street of both Bristol, TN, and Bristol, VA. Bristol is considered the birthplace of country music because of two weeks in 1927 when music execs recorded what was then known as “hillbilly music,” and is still a musical destination.

APA president Earl Anderson said that one of the factors in State Street’s nomination, however, was the cooperation between states. “You have two cities in two different states with two different sets of legislatures and governors and they are still able to come together and work collaboratively to revitalize this area,” he said, according to the Bristol Herald-Courier. Recent cooperative projects have included restoring the historic train station (with the potential to bring passenger rail back to Bristol), building a new library and developing new hotels on or near State Street.

Other winners this year included:

Streets:

  • Cushman Street – Fairbanks, Alaska
  • East Cross Street – Ypsilanti, Michigan
  • Fayetteville Street – Raleigh, North Carolina
  • West Magnolia Avenue – Fort Worth, Texas

Public spaces:

  • The Plaza – Orange, California
  • Aspen Pedestrian Mall – Aspen, Colorado
  • Mill River Park – Stamford, Connecticut
  • Public Square – Cleveland, Ohio

Neighborhoods:

  • Canalway Cultural District – Lowell, Massachusetts
  • Guthrie Historic District – Guthrie, Oklahoma
  • Historic Downtown Georgetown – Georgetown, Texas
  • Ghent – Norfolk, Virginia

Since the APA began the Great Places program in 2007, it has recognized 290 places in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. See the full list here.

The APA is also accepting nominations for the “People’s Choice” great place of 2018 through October 12.

 

Equity Makes Bike-Sharing Work, and Other Bike-Share Guidelines for Cities

(Photo by Oscar Perry Abello)

Liza Farr is an associate project manager with the Bistate Development Agency, St. Louis’s transit agency. Farr says that the agency did a bike-share feasibility study back in 2014, and had been thinking about bike-share since, but had not managed to implement a docked system.

“When dockless came onto the scene, we were prepared with our goals and vision, so we worked with the city to make sure their regulations were reflective of [our agency’s] engagement process,” Farr says.

The result is a dockless program that Farr says has “gone incredibly well.” Ridership is, “great and really comparable with other cities like us,” and the social equity program is resulting in people of all demographics using the bikes, “which we really wanted to see.”

Even NIMBYs are happy.

“I presented to about 25 neighborhood groups,” Farr says, “and I kept waiting for someone to yell at me and say they didn’t want the bikes around. And it never happened.”

Farr eventually helped write the new bike-share policy guidelines from the National Association of City Transportation Officials, or NACTO. The guidelines, Farr says, are especially important for smaller cities like St. Louis.

Eighteen months ago, everybody in the urban planning world knew how to define “bike-share.” Bikes were parked at a docking station, and users pay for them by the hour (usually), returning a bike to a dock when they were done. Then dockless bike-share, already established in China, burst onto the U.S. scene. Shortly after came dockless e-scooters. Golf-cart-like “transit pods” may be next.

“I think there’s a tendency for cities to think, ‘Oh, it’ll be fine, and I’ll let anything go,’ and this document allows for [the idea that] it’s really easy to just put in these core things,” Farr says.

Kate Fillin-Yeh, director of strategy at NACTO, says many municipalities were caught by surprise when the brightly colored bikes, e-bikes, and scooters began appearing on city streets. And as Next City has reported, cities have responded in varying ways — from embracing the new options to fully banning them, or just coming up with stringent rules on how they can be parked.

The guidelines, with the rather long title of “Guidelines for the Regulation and Management of Shared Active Transportation,” lay out what the organization believes are best practices for managing cities’ public right-of-way while also enhancing mobility for scooter and bike fans.

The document was created with input from 60 cities and is split into three parts. The first part is a list of recommended rules that NACTO believes “cities need to be on the same page about,” Fillin-Yeh explains. “It would behoove everybody to be coordinated on these.” These recommendations include the idea that bike-share (and other vehicle) operators do need to operate with permits, that cities can fine operators for abandoned vehicles or vehicles left outside of proper operating zones, and that operators must share data on trip usage with cities, for example. The document also recommends that cities mandate basic safety standards for vehicles, such as front and back lights and max speeds for electric assist vehicles.

The second part is “stuff that is really important, but how [cities approach the issues] can be different from city to city,” Fillin-Yeh says. Essentially, cities need to think about things such as how vehicles can be parked as well as whether and how to implement an equity program. “Those are things cities have to think about, but how they choose to do it can be different from place to place,” Fillin-Yeh says.

The final component of the guide is a guide to the current “state of practice” in the U.S. - essentially a list of what all cities with dockless vehicles are doing.

Over the last 18 months of dockless vehicles, Fillin-Yeh says, “cities are becoming more proactive, each city learning from the next. I think there’ve been a bunch of cities trying to think critically and carefully about how they make sure the public good stays at the fore.”

Readers of the guidelines can see a number of different approaches to regulating the dockless chaos. Some cities are capping the number of vehicles that each operator can deploy, with the option to increase fleet size if ridership warrants it. Others, such as Los Angeles, require a minimum fleet size. Some cities require bikes to be rebalanced daily into certain zones (often census tracts). And so on and so forth.

“I think there’s a lot of smart thinking going on that’s advancing this conversation,” Fillin-Yeh adds. She holds up St. Louis as an example, which linked fleet expansion to companies’ ability to meet equity goals.

The companies, Fillin-Yeh adds, appreciate the suggestions too. “The companies want a level playing field. There’s this very Wild West-ish, first-mover advantage,” says Fillin-Yeh. “[But if] there’s a playing field that makes it so they can worry about their product instead of worrying about their competition, I think they would appreciate that.”

With that said, just recently Ofo, the world’s largest dockless bike-share company, announced it was retreating from most U.S. markets, though it said it would stay in “viable” markets.

NACTO plans to convene cities again this fall to learn how the suggested regulations and best practices are working on the ground.

 

Bike Activists and Firefighters Clash in Baltimore

Baltimore, Maryland (Photo by Oscar Perry Abello)

Baltimore City Council is investigating allegations that fire department employees and officials are bullying and intimidating bike activists, the Baltimore Sun reports.

Bike advocates had sued the city to prevent the city’s transportation department from removing a bike lane in Canton that residents argued posed a safety risk because it narrowed the street such that emergency vehicles could not navigate it. (The lane also removed parking spots.) Then, those advocates alleged, the fight got ugly.

A Baltimore firefighter was charged with assaulting a city employee at a meeting about bike lanes, the Sun said. Then a cyclist said a fire department employee cut her off with his truck and screamed, “I still hate you!” And Liz Cornish, director of the bicycling advocacy group Bikemore, said that the fire department sent vehicles to intimidate her while the department was filming a video about how protected bike lanes harm firefighting efforts.

Fire chief Niles R. Ford told the Sun that the fire department had taken action against some employees but could not comment, yet denied that the trucks were meant to intimidate Cornish. Despite having been in meetings with Cornish on multiple occasions to discuss bike lanes, “Quite frankly, most of us would not know who she is if she walked up and talked to us,” Ford said. “The goal was not to intimidate.”

The city is frustrated by delays to developments and new bike lanes that it says are caused by a fire code issue requiring minimum street widths. After the Canton bike lane lawsuit, which both parties agreed to settle, Baltimore Fishbowl reported the fire department began to “exercise a veto over projects.” A number of projects are now stalled due to what the fire department says are code issues, the city council says.

The rules mandating 20- and 26-foot clearances for fire access are “impractical and oftentimes factually impossible to create in an urban built environment,” Joshua Greenfield, vice president of government affairs for the Maryland Building Industry Association, told Fishbowl.

Last month, fed up by the delays, the council told the fire department to make “demonstrable progress” on the projects that have been delayed by the fire code, or the council will remove required street clearances from the code.

In response, the fire department made a nine-minute video showing the problems with narrow street clearances; it was during the filming of that video that Cornish said vehicles were sent to her street to intimidate her.

Councilman Ryan Dorsey had other problems with the video, Fishbowl reported, saying the department intentionally used one of the largest trucks in its fleet and chose to park it in the middle of the road rather than in a nearby alley. He called the video a “phenomenal waste of employee time and resources.”

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said the fire department video showed the opposite point of what the department intended.

“The video shows clearly the fire department can get to the fires on these streets,” Young told the Sun. “It clearly showed me that they can respond to fires despite the fact these development projects are being held up. I’m glad I saw the video because it showed me those trucks can get to those fires.”

Council members also questioned the fire department’s seeming antipathy toward bike lanes but not parking lanes. “You should be more of an advocate about parking being removed,” City Councilman Leon Pinkett told the fire chief, according to the Sun. Ford said that the issue is that the city is “tak[ing] something that meets code, and turn around and make it not meet code.”

Council members said they don’t actually want to pass Dorsey’s bill, which would substitute more flexible guidelines for the firm street widths currently in place unless they can’t work out a compromise with the fire department.

“I’m committed to finding a way not to pass that bill,” Council Member Eric Costello told the Sun. “But we do need to see demonstrable progress on some development projects and cycle track projects.”

 

New York City Trialing Dockless Bike-Share

The popular 5.5-mile boardwalk in the Rockaways, Queens, will soon see its first dockless bikes. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Dockless and electric bike-share have finally come to New York City.

The New York Times reports that the city will pilot three tests of dockless bike-share, two in Staten Island and the Bronx, boroughs which have not been served by the city’s docked bike-share system, Citi Bike. The third will be in Queens.

The pilot includes the usual suspects in the bike-share world: Lime, Ofo, Pace, and Jump, the electric pedal-assist bike-share system which is owned by Uber. Each pilot will allow 200 bikes, in the Rockaways in Queens, near Fordham University in the Bronx, and on the North Shore of Staten Island. If the trials are successful, the bikes could expand across the city, the Times reports.

Jump founder Ryan Rzepecki told the Times that he had always dreamed of bringing Jump to New York.

“It’s really dockless plus electric-assist — those two things really open up the market by making it extremely user-friendly and easy to ride,” he added.

New York transportation commissioner Polly Trottenberg didn’t say what metrics for success the city would be looking for in the trials, but presumably, they will be hoping that the cycles are used and not parked in a way that enrages neighbors.

In other cities, bad behavior from users has resulted in bikes being parked blocking sidewalks and rights-of-way. Pranksters have left bikes in trees and dumped them in lakes. In the District of Columbia, where dockless bike-share operators have been participating in a pilot since September 2017, the city’s bike program specialist told the Washington Post that some operators have lost half of their fleet to theft. (The bike companies themselves dispute this number.)

The Rockaways pilot begins in mid-July, according to NY1, and features only standard bikes from Pace and Lime; the Bronx pilot will begin in mid to late July, featuring Jump and Ofo bikes, and Staten Island’s pilot starts around the same time with Jump and Lime bikes.

A fourth dockless pilot, that was to be run by Citi Bike’s parent company Motivate, was delayed because of concerns from the community about summer crowds and construction, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Just earlier this week, when it was announced that Lyft had acquired Motivate, the ride-sharing company said that it was planning to innovate in the areas of dockless and electric bicycles. Now, it seems that Motivate is experimenting with dockless bikes in both New York and Minneapolis, where Motivate operates the service Nice Ride.

The Brooklyn Eagle notes that the pilot will run until September, and until then, the Department of Transportation is seeking feedback from New Yorkers.

 

Los Angeles May Force Its Banks to Disclose Unethical Sales Practices

(Photo by Jon Sullivan)

The Los Angeles City Council has amended its Responsible Banking Ordinance to crack down on banks with predatory lending practices, according to a release from the advocacy group Committee for Better Banks.

If signed into law by Mayor Eric Garcetti, the first-in-the-nation rules would require banks that do business with the city to disclose its sales goals and other potentially predatory behaviors.

The move would likely “freeze out” Wells Fargo, the Los Angeles Times reported in December. Wells Fargo is the primary bank for the city, and held an average daily balance of $94.5 million for the city during the last fiscal year, the Times said. Wells Fargo admitted it had opened 3.5 million customer accounts without permission between 2011 and 2016, and was ordered to pay $185 million in fines and penalties, including $50 million to the city of Los Angeles, MyNewsLA said.

“Together this council must take a stand against corporate greed, unfair business practices and a pervasive atmosphere that has poisoned the trust of Angelenos as well as millions of Americans across this great country,” City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said at the time.

The amendments also would require banks doing business with the city to disclose their Community Reinvestment Act score, a federal metric that tracks how well banks are doing meeting the credit needs of the communities where it does business. It would also require banks to notify the city of any pending enforcement actions against it, and certify that whistleblower protection policies are in place.

“This rule sends a clear message that we will not stand for business as usual when it comes to predatory bank practices that target our most vulnerable families,” said Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who supported the rule, in a statement. “If banks want to do business with Los Angeles, they will have to prove that they are ethical, responsible, and committed to respecting our residents.”

Councilman Paul Koretz, who co-sponsored the motion, told MyNewsLA that the ordinance was a start. “While I’m still a bit disappointed that we haven’t been able to draw a brighter red line between the good actors and the bad actors for the purpose of this city’s banking business, I think… these amendments provide us with tools that are likely to weed out the industry’s worst offenders,” he told the site. He had originally sought to ban banks that had sales goals, but city staff said the rule would be too difficult to enforce and could eliminate all potential bidders.

 

Architects Ask: Where Are the Spaces for Teen Girls?

The fountains at Somerset House, London. Photo by Maureen Barlin/Flickr.

Teenage girls don’t get much respect. We mock their favorite music and their books; when have you heard anyone say anything nice about One Direction or Twilight? We don’t take their opinions seriously. And, say many architects, we push them out of public spaces by intentionally or accidentally designing spaces that don’t welcome them.

At the London Festival of Architecture, a monthlong event that wrapped last week, the Swedish architecture firm White Arkitekter staged an event to help festivalgoers “experience the city from a girl’s perspective” through theater.

Architectural Digest describes the performance: Two teenage actresses “wander through spaces that clearly weren’t made for them.” Originally staged in Stockholm three years ago, the White Arkitekter brought a version to London partly because its second office is in London, but also because the project “speaks to the crisis of public space in this city,” Architectural Digest wrote. Many of London’s “public spaces” are actually privately owned public spaces managed by corporations.

White Arkitekter’s staging in Stockholm started by convening girls from the youth council in Skarpnäck, a neighborhood in Sweden’s capital. The firm asked the girls to create scale models to represent a public space for girls. “The place chosen was a location that the girls knew very well, yet very seldom used,” the firm writes. The girls came up with places with “strong character concerning colour and form, places for sitting together face to face, protected from weather and wind, to see without necessary be seen, a sense of intimacy without being constrictive; and most of all, to be able to leave an imprint on their city.”

It’s not just London and Stockholm that have spaces not designed for women, of course. White Arkitekter estimates that 80 percent of public space in cities is used by men, and that girls feel 10 times less secure in these public spaces than men. Cities are closing public toilets; many are struggling to prevent sexual harassment and catcalling in public spaces, poor-quality sidewalks are hazards for moms with strollers, and poor lighting makes women afraid to go outside at night. Even running buses frequently, and on schedule, can help women navigate public spaces; the Inter-American Development Bank has found that the less congested the transportation or the closer it hews to its schedule, the less likely it is that a woman will be a victim of a crime.

Of course, many stars of urban planning — or at least the ones that get the attention — are male, as Next City reported last year. That could be why, as Architectural Digest said, “the topic of how [public] spaces exclude women, or how they can so quickly give way to a life-or-death situation for women who do use them, is rarely addressed in today’s urban planning process.”

“Places for Girls” is one step toward changing that.

 



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