Highlighting 5 Dutch cities, and numerous North American cities following their example, Melissa and Chris Bruntlett’s Building the Cycling City (coming out August 28) is an informative and enjoyable read that will inspire anyone interested in learning more about Dutch transportation planning and policies. What I found most compelling was how the stories in each city are a reminder cycling hasn’t always been a “given” in the Netherlands. The Bruntletts detail how automobiles were on the rise in the 1960s, and it was with efforts of activists and politicians that pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users were prioritized. Those concerted efforts helped to create what now appears as a cycling utopia. The Bruntletts make the case that city design isn’t static – we can and should change our city streets to create more livable, human-scale communities where people come ahead of cars.
The book documents policies and design considerations that have helped the Netherlands create bicycle-friendly cities. Key takeaways from the Dutch include recognizing that each road design merits a context-appropriate solution. You must look at who is using the road, where they are going, and what buildings and uses are nearby when designing a street. Rather than trying to have a space for everyone on each road, the Dutch prioritize certain streets for certain modes understanding that streets have limited physical space. Instead of trying to “copy and paste” solutions from one street to another, their designs prioritize traffic calming and moving as many people as possible — not cars — through a street.
Building the Cycling City left me inspired that North American cities are already doing great work, and that more can be done to create livable communities. Let’s not lament that the Dutch experience is unique and unobtainable in our communities — rather, let’s keep pushing for people first in street design.
In today’s latest news of partially shadey moves by tech companies, Google is in the midst of creating Dragonfly, a censored search app for the Chinese market. But Google’s employees–upon hearing about this program only because the press got a tip–aren’t super happy about it. It’s a debate over ethics, but it’s also sparking pointed discussions over internal transparency:
“’But this is not about Dragonfly specifically,’ the email continues. ‘While we support and will join with concerned Googlers in resisting this effort, we need to be clear: Individual employees organizing against the latest dubious project cannot be our only safeguard against unethical decisions. This amounts to unsustainable ethics whack-a-mole, and assumes employees know about a project to begin with.’”
If you’re on Twitter, and you’ve noticed your follower count drop, it’s because Twitter is taking care of bots and trolls. Twitter, unlike Google, looks to engage more within its algorithms and policies, rather than remaining hands-off in the favor of free speech:
“The company has updated its policies to emphasize that content that is ‘dehumanizing’ or causes ‘real-world harm’ would not be permitted, but Dorsey said executives were still figuring out how to define those terms.”
Lately, Twitter has taken to labeling automated accounts, shutting down fake accounts, and suspending problematic accounts.
I wish all the planners and councilmembers in my city would read this article:
The bigger inference from this question is about how we talk about families in the U.S., and that every family is considered an island that must provision for itself. The idea of designing a neighborhood for families as part of a public good just goes against the whole way we think about family life.
Family life has become so stressed in this country. That’s connected to the way we design cities, and to things like commute times, not having communal play spaces, and having streets be unsafe. All of those things take more of the parents’ time or money to navigate, because the child can’t do it on their own. [If you said,] “We want to build a family-friendly city,” it would seem almost un-American.
More people with children want to stay in cities; more people who live in suburbs want walkable amenities. Both of those desires should point to some of the kinds of urban design I talk about.
Most of us in the US grew up being taught that slavery ended in 1865 with the 13th amendment. Not even a little bit true.
Here’s a fascinating and disheartening photo series on social inequality.
But in better news, women are taking charge all over the place these days, from unexpected electoral wins, to our food system, to our own medical care. It’s about damn time.
Previous weekend reading items have covered Sinclair Broadcasting Group, a media company with hard-right leanings that forces local affiliates to run editorial material created by the national organization, and which hoped to dramatically expand its control over local news. Well, the negative publicity focused more attention on the Group, and its fortunes have taken a turn for the worse. Syndicated columnist David Zurawik, based in Baltimore, recently ran this piece. He reports that Tribune Media walked away from a potential merger, and sued Sinclair for questionable conduct in handling their agreements. In addition Ajit Pai, the chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), suddenly reversed course to suggest shady practices in “setting up deals with business associates to hold licenses for stations Sinclair would run.”
On another topic, an earlier Sightline article reported on the pesticide glyphosate, where excessive spraying had produced “super-weeds,” resistant to the chemical. The manufacturer Monsanto continued to promote the chemical, and growers applied it at higher rates in vain attempts to overcome the resistance. As a result, annual glyphosphate use in the US soared from about 30 million pounds in the 1990s to over 400 million pounds currently. A consequence was that workers applying the pesticide experienced higher exposures, and thousands of them began to develop cancer and related afflictions. One segment of Democracy Now! reported a San Francisco jury decision to award a groundskeeper who developed non-Hogkins lymphoma $289 million in a verdict against Monsanto. A second segment covered Monsanto’s attempts to discredit science and critics suggesting that glyphosate and its formulation product Roundup can cause cancer.
The EPA was sadly lacking in meeting its public health responsibilities. At best, the agency was asleep at the switch in addressing this chemical’s dangers. At worst, at least one agency scientist colluded with Monsanto in its attempts to discredit evidence that glyphosate and/or Roundup cause cancer.
Last week, Argentina’s Senate rejected a bill to legalize abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. A few days later, an Argentinian woman died due to complications from an at-home abortion. She was only 24 years old and a mother of two. It’s heartbreaking to think of how different this story could have been had she been able to access safe, legal medical services to make the best decision for her body and her family.
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I set a personal goal to read 30 books this year and I’m equal parts proud and surprised to report that I am over halfway there. Here are my top recommendations thus far:
Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead knocked me off my feet. It’s easy to see why this collection was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2017: Don’t Call Us Dead begins with a searing (and long!) meditation on police brutality in the U.S. and continues touching on timely topics such as sexuality, race, gun violence, and more. If you want a preview of what’s inside, start with Dinosaurs in the Hood and Dear White America. Their first collection of poetry, [insert] boy, is equally moving.
Most recently, I finished Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, which lives up to the Pulitzer hype. The book’s main character, Reverend John Ames, is easily the most charming and engrossing character I’ve read in years. (Dare I say I adore this character?) Written as a series of diary entries by John Ames to his 7-year old son, the book is both about the relationship between fathers and sons and the simple beauty of human existence. Here’s a favorite quote:
“In every important way we are such secrets from one another, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable – which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live. We take fortuitous resemblances among us to be actual likeness, because those around us have also fallen heir to the same customs, trade in the same coin, acknowledge, more or less, the same notions of decency and sanity. But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, intraversable, and utterly vast spaces between us.”
Alyse Nelson is a Sightline writing fellow.
John Abbotts is a former Sightline research consultant who occasionally submits material for Weekend Reading and other posts.