facebook wants you to put its portal in your kitchen so it can feed you ads


when facebook revealed its portal device last week it felt as though it was trying to deliver us all a little trojan horse.

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MVRDV wraps its beijing M·CUBE in subtly iridescent ceramic tilework


MVRDV introduces a project in beijing that shows both exuberance and modesty with its subtly iridescent ceramic tile facade.

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(The Urgent Case for) Middle Neighborhoods, One of the Most Overlooked Assets in America

Baltimore's Belair-Edison neighborhood.

The recently-released Opportunity Atlas provides fresh evidence that neighborhoods — even blocks within neighborhoods — are determinants of children’s life chances, even when families have similar incomes. Similarly, the Neighborhood Life Expectancy Project shows how disparities in health, block by block, are based on neighborhood conditions.

These new reports are a reminder that the streets we call home – even more than the cities, counties, towns and suburbs we live in – are major predictors of quality of life and life opportunity. Given this growing understanding of how neighborhoods affect life outcomes, why aren’t more policymakers, civic and private leaders turning their attention to them?

One important issue gaining traction in urban policy discussions is the critical role of middle neighborhoods, which may be the most overlooked asset in today’s cities and suburbs.

Like Goldilocks tasting porridge, middle neighborhoods are not the strong, pricey places with fast appreciating housing markets (too hot); nor are they full of vacancies, distressed buildings and very low housing prices (too cold). Instead, middle neighborhoods are those just-right places where home prices are generally affordable to the average household. But, these neighborhoods are often on the edge between growth and decline. Despite the fact that they are a source of naturally occurring affordable housing [NOAH], and that they have played an important role building opportunity and prosperity for their residents, this category of neighborhoods gets barely any attention.

Middle neighborhoods house a third to half of urban America in the cities we’ve examined. Many are home to predominantly African-American families, such as Greater Chatham in Chicago, Belair-Edison in Baltimore and Lee Harvard in Cleveland, while others such as Slavic Village in Cleveland trace their roots to Eastern European immigrants. Many others are among the most racially and socioeconomically diverse in the nation. These are neighborhoods that were once in proximity to jobs, which is why they have historically housed working-class and middle-class families.

Today, many of these neighborhoods fight to avoid decline because they are no longer near jobs, and, in many cases the existing housing is now less attractive to important market segments than it once was. Given the narrow market and the scarcity of capital for owners to upgrade these homes, as well as a housing market that favors new construction, many homes in middle neighborhoods struggle to compete for buyers.

In recent decades, these places have been largely ignored. Many of us have seen and read the economic and demographic trends for years: the loss of our middle class, the economic and racial segregation of our neighborhoods, the decline of decent jobs with growth ladders. Yet we have failed to take assertive action to protect these neighborhoods, which are more diverse than many others and which house modest-income Americans.

Two years ago, The American Assembly, a national policy institute at Columbia University, published On the Edge: America’s Middle Neighborhoods, in partnership with the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank. The book highlights the challenges facing middle neighborhoods and the many local efforts underway to keep these neighborhoods from falling into decline in weak marketplaces such as Baltimore and Cleveland, and from gentrifying in strong market cities such as the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, D.C.

In the wake of the book’s rollout, a growing number of practitioners, advocates, lenders and community-based organizations are sharing their experiences and insights about how to take purposeful steps that safeguard their middle neighborhoods. Mayors, city councils and planning directors are taking notice, and in some instances even leading the way. The rationale is simple: because middle neighborhoods provide a substantial portion of property tax revenues, local governments must take action to stabilize them to protect the tax base. Their efforts are aimed at preventing decline — a danger in many cities — and the dramatic loss of home equity when property values decline or do not keep abreast of inflation.

The learning that has occurred in the past two years is very heartening. There are successful efforts in some cities to strengthen these neighborhoods by building more capacity within the neighborhoods, marketing these hidden gems to market segments that have been ignoring them and retrofitting homes to make them more attractive in today’s markets.

  • The Healthy Neighborhoods Program in Baltimore has been working for 15 years to stabilize 42 middle neighborhoods in that city through a loan pool of mostly private lenders. Careful and routine measurements of market data indicate that most of Baltimore’s middle neighborhoods, threatened with decline, have stabilized. The most problematic neighborhoods are those with weak market demand. Only two neighborhoods have recovered through a change in neighborhood character, namely through millennials moving in. Most neighborhoods are attracting buyers who are much like those already living there. A similar program, operated by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, shows similar success.

  • Philadelphia City Council passed legislation allowing for a new home repair loan program that has income limits high enough that residents of middle neighborhoods can use the program to improve their homes. This public capital is needed because the conventional housing finance system does not offer rehabilitation finance to homeowners who have little or no equity in their homes. This serious market failure is being addressed through Philadelphia’s program, but much more home improvement capital and capacity is needed in these neighborhoods.

  • In late September, the Des Moines City Council introduced a multimillion-dollar pilot for four neighborhoods, which if successful, will be rolled out citywide. The aim is to make improvements and stabilize property values in places where the housing market is neither strong nor weak but could begin to struggle if there is more blight.

These independent efforts are now finding each other through a middle neighborhoods Community of Practice. This peer-driven self-help group of practitioners is helping to focus attention on two of the most important issues driving middle neighborhood stabilization efforts: boosting the capacity of practitioners and local community-based organizations and finding ways to increase access to financing.

We have been encouraged by the growing attention to this class of neighborhoods and the work underway in a growing number of cities to use “an ounce of prevention” to keep these neighborhoods from falling into decline or gentrifying uncontrollably. State and local governments play a key role, as does the private sector, including major local institutions, such as hospitals, colleges and universities.

But they cannot do it alone. The stakes are too high. These neighborhoods need attention if they are to remain capable of fulfilling the needs of tomorrow’s generation.

This op-ed is part of Next City’s Middle Neighborhoods series, supported by a grant from The American Assembly. Follow our coverage as we dig into the solutions and success stories that animate the conversation today.

 

Boston Wants to Build Inclusion into Its Construction Boom

Boston's construction boom has been going on for a few years now. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

In the nearly 400-year history of Boston, the city is undergoing its largest recorded building boom. According to the Boston Planning and Development Agency, there have been roughly 50 million square feet constructed since 2014, with another 50 million square feet permitted by the city in that same timeframe.

In the midst of that growth, however, one big concern has emerged.

“There’s big money being invested and big money being made, but it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, being shared equitably by the people of Boston,” says Brian Golden, director of the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

Golden points to the “extraordinary disparity” that divides Bostonians. In 2014, the city was found to be the most income-unequal big city in America. A 2017 study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found the median net worth for Boston’s white households was $247,500, while the median net worth of an African American household was just $8.

In recent years there’s been a realization within the planning department, Golden says, “that it is incumbent upon us to develop tools that help us move real estate development in Boston in a more equitable direction.”

This month the city announced a new set of criteria to better promote diversity and inclusion, as well as prevent displacement, in Requests for Proposals released for public land within the city. All developers proposing to develop city-owned parcels must now include a “Diversity and Inclusion Plan,” aimed at creating increased opportunities for people of color and women in the fields of construction, design, development, financing, operations and ownership.

The initiative comes as city politicians have become increasingly vocal about the city’s inequality as it rapidly develops.

Last year, Council Members Michelle Wu and Ayanna Pressley spearheaded an ordinance calling for similar diversity plans on city contracts and construction projects. The pair will soon receive data on the city’s past contracts and funding, “to understand what percentage of our dollars are going to businesses owned by people of color and women,” says Council Member Wu.

“We know it’s going to be disappointing to see those numbers. There’s a lot of work to do,” she says. “Across the board, city government is talking about how to reduce income inequality.”

Inequality was an early priority for Mayor Marty Walsh, who released a comprehensive housing plan at the start of his mayoral tenure and set goals to develop more income-restricted housing as Boston’s population increases. In 2015, a city-owned downtown parking garage — where redevelopment proposals had failed to materialize — became a testing ground to address inequality through new development.

“It was clear this project had to work for many Bostonians… [the city] wasn’t as specific on how to do things, but they were clear this project needed to address issues of economic inclusion and economic justice,” says Joe Larkin, a principal of MP Boston, the developer selected by the city to develop the parcel into a multi-use skyscraper in 2016.

MP Boston set percentages in hiring people of color, employing women- and minority-owned businesses for construction, design and building operation, and borrowing from minority-owned banks.

Setting such goals meant the firm had to come to terms with the lack of diversity in the industry.

“Everyone on our team has a history of being really good at what they do, and so we’ve asked them to come back and do it again,” Larkin says. “It’s an easier thing to do rather than realize there are lots of people who never got the start in the first place.”

MP Boston looked for specific ways to address inclusion in each industry that contributes to building development. In architecture, for example, Handel Architects, an established New York City-based firm, and DREAM Collaborative, a local, minority-owned firm, were selected to collaborate for the building design.

In construction, MP Boston worked with an electrician union to better promote and expand its apprenticeship program in minority communities. “In this year’s apprenticeship class, [the union] saw the highest number of applications from people of color, which has been turned into the highest class of people of color,” Larkin says. He views these early efforts as contributing to “a growing established infrastructure of minority-owned companies.”

MP Boston’s efforts encouraged the planning department to set more specific goals for developers moving forward. “They articulated a really constructive package that looked at the development deal holistically,” says Golden. “So we’ve begun to seek replication of those goals.”

He looks at the planning agency’s diversity and inclusion criteria for public land as a space for developers “to be creative and compelling” in changing up business-as-usual. “We want developers reaching out to neighborhood groups, academics, contractors, figuring out how to put their best foot forward,” Golden says.

Golden notes that there are hundreds of city-owned parcels, varying in size, that will now require a diversity and inclusion plan under the new criteria. A number of those parcels are the result of Boston’s aggressive urban renewal policies starting in the 1950s. “By embedding the diversity and inclusion plan, we can develop these parcels in a way that benefits a whole lot of Bostonians who otherwise would be left behind,” he says.

“Will this policy get us to the promise land, a totally equitable society we seek?” Golden asks. “No, not this policy alone. But it’s a meaningful step in that direction.”

 

self-balancing scooter pairs a singular tube frame with some hefty wheels


the stator's powder-coated chromoly steel body comprises a one-sided handlebar hosting an electronic control unit which is connected to the scooter's 1000W motor.

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luciano kruk applies trademark concrete finish in buenos aires residence


the single-floor house is designed as a pure volume, complete with a reflecting swimming pool and leafy inner patio.

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New Hotel Indigo Dundee is inspired by the city’s rich history

The new Hotel Indigo has opened its doors in Dundee, the UK’s first UNESCO City of Design
 

illustrator reimagines iconic artists as modern day hipsters


what would frida kahlo, vincent van gogh, and salvador dalí, look likeif they were tattooed, gluten-free vegans who favour a coconut milk latte over an americano?

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Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2

WowHaus
Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2

Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2
Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2

Haven’t featured a place here since 2013, so good to see this apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2 on the market.

Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2
Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2

 

Obviously I have featured the Barbican estate since, just not this block. I think this is also the first time I have featured a renovation project from the Barbican too, which also adds a bit of interest.

Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2
Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2

 

As you probably know, Willoughby House is a terrace block that makes up the eastern edge of the Barbican Estate, running from Speed House in the north to Andrewes House in the south and looking out over Speed Garden and the lake. It was completed in early 1971.

Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2
Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2

 

This is a third floor apartment / flat and as I said, one in need of a bit of work. But not a huge amount. It looks like this place just needs some decoration and carpeting to be back to its best.

Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2
Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2

 

On the plus side, it does have the key original features intact too. So the original Barbican kitchen, the original bathroom tiles and suite plus original fitted cupboards. So if you want this place as it was in the early ‘70s, just have as think about the little touches, as everything else is in place.

Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2
Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2

 

In terms of the living space, the apartment has a fitted cupboard on the third-floor entry level, with stairs up to the reception room with full-width windows. There is also a door leading to a balcony with that view over the lake and towards the Barbican conservatory.

Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2
Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2

 

Beyond that is the kitchen, with stairs leading up to half landing and the bathroom with separate WC. There are stairs up to the bedroom, which has an original fitted cupboard and a door to the balcony.

Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2
Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2

 

Of course, the Barbican is hot property these days, so the idea of even a renovation project here being cheap is unlikely. This place is up for sale for £725,000.

Images and details courtesy of Frank Harris. For more details and to make an enquiry, please visit the website.

 

Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2
Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2

 

Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2
Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2

 

Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2
Apartment in Willoughby House on the Barbican Estate, London EC2

 

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