I read a couple of articles on urban issues that I found interesting recently.
First, New York is going to try adding wireless internet to their city parks. That's nothing too crazy. A few different cities are working on setting up wireless throughout the city (Philadelphia being the farthest along as far as I know), but I think the park thing is interesting for a few reasons. When you are making an entire city wireless, the basic assumption that I would make is that most people will be using the internet at home. Parks are public though. What does it mean socially if web browsing turns into a public activity (or is it already?) The other thing I was thinking about is what parks that have wireless internet as one of their primary fuctions look like. Do we start adding desks? Power outlets?
The second article was from Metropolis magazine. It talked about the town of Youngstown, Ohio. They've made the very brave choice to try and shrink the size of their physical city to match their population decline. This is a problem that a lot of older industrial cities have. The population declines but at the same time the city spreads out as people continue to move to newer houses in the outer areas. Large areas of the older city become vacant and there are general housing overages, but developers continue to build on the outside, feeling that it's cheaper to develop. The problem is that the housing overages cause a general depression in housing prices, and since housing is generally where American families keep their savings, the entire economy of the city is effected.
My grandparents live in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, which has had the same problem. I've thought a lot about how to "fix" Ft. Wayne, and generally my thoughts had always come back to somehow shrinking the city to eliminate the housing overages and bring housing prices back up. The problem is that people have rights. So annoying. So how do you bring about the obvious public good of getting depressed housing prices to rise while still respecting property rights? That's what the Youngstown plan tries to address. If it's a success, it could be quite a model for other rustbelt cities. Here's hoping.