Weekly Links


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Atlanta/Urban Planning

Oh Yeah, Transit Is Supposed to Go on The Beltline

From The AJC. Facing pressure from transit supporters, community advocates, and people who remember the point of projects, MARTA revised its funding of transit projects that will receive money from the $2.7 billion generated from the transit sales tax passed by Atlanta voters in 2016. The initial plan released in May dedicated $370 million to build 7 miles of light rail along the northeast and southwest portions of the Beltline. After many cited the report as an indication that MARTA and the City of Atlanta weren’t taking transit along the Beltline seriously, MARTA added an additional $200 million in the latest list as a down payment for more Beltline light rail. Consequently, MARTA cut funding for the Clifton Road/Emory light rail by more than $150 million. Additional funding for that project will have to come from Emory University and other partners.

The Beltline is a great recreational trail, but it was meant to be more than just a walking and biking path. Light rail is needed to accomplish the goal of quickly and efficiently moving people and connecting communities. It’s the entire point of the Beltline. Revising plans is encouraged when circumstances, perspectives, and facts change, but that isn’t the case in this situation. Gentrification and affordable housing issues are, of course, significant concerns, but they’ve always been significant concerns and they’re significant concerns with any project, including all of the projects on MARTA’s transit list. The solution can’t simply be to under-invest or fail to invest.

Funds will also be dedicated to building light rail along Campbelton Road, expanding the streetcar, and building 13 miles of bus rapid transit. While the City of Atlanta has significant input on the plan, MARTA ultimately makes the decision. They’ll be voting on October 4.

Weather + Climate

It’s Been Hot

As we near the end of the month, September 2018 is currently the warmest September on record here in Atlanta – see charts to the right (desktop) or below this article (mobile). Twice we hit the 95°F mark, which bested the high of 94°F we saw in July and multiple 93°F days we saw in June and August. Both our low and high temperatures are running about 8°F above normal. This is in contrast to the rest of the year, which has been relatively normal, though still above average. In fact, only 5 of the previous 20 months have seen below average temperatures.

As Brandon Miller, Senior Meteorologist with CNN, pointed out on Twitter, we’ve been on an interesting streak of temperatures failing to drop below 60°F:


Urban Planning/Energy

Finally, the Model Solar Zoning Ordinance You’ve Been Waiting For

From Energy News Network. Emory Law School, GA Tech, and UGA joined forces to create a model solar zoning ordinance for use throughout Georgia. While solar energy offers clean, cheap electricity, it isn’t without harm. Fortunately, those harms are much less significant than many other energy sources. Solar panels can block sunlight to neighboring properties, destroy vegetation, and threaten tortoise habitat. The harms, though, vary by location – while a rural property owner may be concerned with how the panels will affect grazing animals, an urban property owner may be concerned with upholding the existing character of the neighborhood. The model ordinance attempts to ameliorate those harms by providing guidance on setback requirements, easements, and buffer zones.

Many cities and counties across the state, including Atlanta, are already looking at adopting portions of the ordinance.


1 in 3 Americans Lives in California, Texas, and Florida

Our World in Data and US Census. Cartograms are maps that use some data point to replace true geographical size. They’re useful for quickly visualizing the size or importance of something. For instance, a cartogram reflecting the population of countries quickly shows the shear population of China and India. But most people already know those are the two most heavily population countries. More importantly, it gives prominence to countries like Nigeria, Japan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia – four lesser-known high-population countries.

Credit: Max Roser via ourworldindata.org

This cartogram of the changing US population by states shows just how quickly California, Florida, and Texas have grown since 1890. One in 8 Americans lives in California while 1 in 3 Americans lives in California, Texas, and Florida.

Credit: US Census Bureau

Atlanta/Urban Planning

Battle of the Gulch

From The AJC. Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms postponed a scheduled city council vote on Monday due to a lack of votes for the proposed development in the downtown Gulch area. The CIM Group sought up to $1.75 billion in public financing for the $5 billion project that would transform the long-vacant property into an area filled with city blocks, retail, apartments, and offices – including the possibility of it being the site for Amazon’s second headquarters.

Those opposing the project labeled the nearly $2 billion in public financing as a giveaway to a large national developer. Oh, and the CIM Group has apparently worked with Donald Trump and Jared Kushner on properties in New York. That relationship, however, is over according to the developer. All of that was too much for the city council. At least for right now.

There’s little doubt that something useful needs to take the place of empty parking lots. People and politicians coming out in support of the project because “we need something there” are stating the obvious. Do we need to spend $ 2 billion to get it, though? A grand central rail and transportation hub has long been floated for downtown Atlanta, particularly with increased interest in regional high-speed rail. The CIM Group has no plans for such a station and Atlanta officials have shown little interest.

We should be thinking about what we want long-term for the area and not what we need to get Amazon as fast as possible. With a strong national and local economy, it’s hard for many to accept that the public needs to pay $2 billion to redevelop a site in the heart of Atlanta. Granted that money will eventually come back through property taxes, but we just financed a private stadium and we’re being told that we have to pay $1 billion to get Amazon. On top of that, there are no plans for a regional transportation station and the new streets and public spaces created by the development will actually not be public at all, but owned by the CIM Group.


Mapping a City in Three Dimensions

From Kottke.org. Ordinary maps are great, but they often don’t reflect the topography of a city. For most people this may not be important, but knowing the steepness of streets is useful information for those who are walking, biking, or have a disability. Toby Eglesfield, a graphic designer in New Zealand, created a simple, intuitive map showing the steepness of streets in Queenstown. While it’s not as detailed as a true topographical map that utilizes contour lines, it’s much easier to read for the average person.

It would be interesting to play this concept out to show other aspects of cities, such as areas that are most likely to flood during thunderstorms or large rain events, the areas with the most shade, etc.

Urban Planning

Strangely, HUD May Actually Try to Stop Exclusionary Zoning

From Bloomberg Opinion. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson recently floated the idea of only extending federal funds to cities that limit their use of exclusionary zoning. Such zoning practices are implemented by wealthy NIMBYs to discourage density by creating rules that only allow single-family homes in many parts of cities. There is a long-held belief going back to the original Supreme Court case that upheld zoning, Euclid v. Ambler Realty, that apartments are full of undesirable people who only bring crime and traffic. Opposing development through exclusionary zoning is a tactic used by both conservative and liberal people and its one that reduces available housing, which drives up prices.

Since people on both sides of the political spectrum share these anti-density feelings, it makes it very difficult for local politicians to zone for more housing throughout cities. We’ve previously posted about how Japan zones on the national level (as opposed to locally like here in the US), which perhaps makes politicians less susceptible to pressure from small groups of wealthy homeowners.

If Ben Carson were to actually follow through with the proposal, he would not only be bucking principles of his own party, but he’d be standing up to an influential and wealthy class of people who have greatly, though not entirely, contributed to the lack of affordable housing. Local governments would still have to actually reduce exclusionary zoning by allowing more density and uses, but the threat of not receiving federal funds may be a needed incentive.


Environment/Urban Planning

Exposure to Pollution Increases Chances of Alzheimer’s, Particularly Among Older Men

From The New York Times. A recent Chinese study showed a correlation between exposure to certain pollutants found in the air and cognitive decline. The authors of the study analyzed scores from tests taken in 2010 and 2014 by people across China and compared the results to local pollution and weather data. The authors found a pronounced decline in scores when air pollution increased, particularly among older, less educated males. This is concerning for reasons beyond the immediate decline in cognitive skills since reduced cognition among older people is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The results of the study are hardly surprising. Not only have other studies found similar results, but any child would likely hypothesize the same result if asked whether breathing the contents of car exhaust will hinder their ability to think. A 2014 study in London found that increased pollution from traffic caused cognitive decline among study participants who had an average age of 66. Other studies have suggested a link exists between declines in dementia and laws banning lead in gasoline. Some studies have even suggested that the dramatic decline in crimes rates in the United States seen throughout the 1990s was the direct result of federal laws banning lead in gasoline.


The Best Maps of the Year Might Be the Most Boring

John Nelson’s ‘Eastern Pacific Ring of Fire’ shows tectonic activity along the west coast of North and South America as well as in the Carribean

From Atlas Obscura and Scientific American. The North American Cartographic Information Society will soon release the 2018 Atlas of Design, their 4th compilation of the year’s best maps. The Society received over 300 submissions, but only published 32 maps. Since maps combine elements of science and art, readers tend to have highly subjective views of what makes a good map. Something that may please one reader may turn off another.

At the end of the day, a map should accurately and quickly convey information. While art is an essential element of achieving those goals, style shouldn’t overshadow the substance. The map pictured to the left is beautiful and striking, but the luminous feature used to show the tectonic plates distracts from the rest of the map. On the other hand, the appealing design may prompt someone to look at information and consider an issue they otherwise would have ignored.

But boring can often be better. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy recently developed a new two-color scale that makes maps more readable, particularly for those who are color blind. While colorful maps are great for catching the eye, they can often be misleading. An alarming study found that when researchers replaced the traditional rainbow-colored models of arteries with a less exciting red-to-black color scale, doctors’ accuracy in identifying heart disease jumped from 39% to 91%. So colorful maps are often not just misleading to the general public, but to trained professionals who regularly work with charts, maps, and models.

The problem is that we aren’t great at ascertaining the value of random colors. We also naturally assume that brighter colors or greater luminosity represents higher values and peaks. In a rainbow scale, however, brighter colors are often found in the middle of the scale. Simpler scales based on variations of a single color are more intuitive, though they result in maps that are much less flashy.

Ultimately, a map should be tailored for the intended audience. If the reader is a doctor or climate scientists then perhaps the cartographer needs to focus more on the reader’s ability to instantly ascertain the information being conveyed and less on the aesthetics. If, however, the reader is an elementary school student then catching the reader’s eye with colorful images may be the best way to get the reader to pay attention to something that they may find interesting.

Since the reader may not understand how they best perceive information, cartographers should be given leeway to use their professional judgment just like doctors, lawyers, or engineers. That often means a cartographer should use a scale based on the gradients of single color rather than a scale with many different colors even though their client may deem the latter to be more provocative thus preferable. Either way, the imagery should ultimately lead the reader to an understanding of the information.


Environment/Urban Planning

Sea Level Rise is Dampening the Value of Coastal Area Homes

From The Washington Post. As Hurricane Florence barrels towards the US East Coast, a recent study shows that homes along the coast are appreciating at lower rates than similar homes not located near the coast. The culprit is the increased flood risk that comes with rising sea levels. Federal climate studies show that seas have risen 8 inches since 1990 with the rate accelerating in recent years. Several inches sounds harmless, but a study done by Lloyds of London found that 30% of the storm surge damage caused by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy could be attributed to the 0.7 foot rise in sea levels since 1900. This equates to $2 billion in damage that could have been avoided and 11% fewer affected people had the sea remained at 1900 levels.

Researchers at the University of Colorado – Boulder and at Penn State found that homes vulnerable to flooding due to sea level rise sold for 6.6% less than similar homes that aren’t vulnerable. The most vulnerable homes – those that stand to be flooded with a one foot increase in sea levels (as expected by 2030) – sold for 14.7% less. So homes aren’t dropping in value yet, but they are appreciating at much lower rates than homes in areas less vulnerable to sea level rise.

As more data arrives, the denial of climate change by politicians and citizens makes less and less sense. Markets, insurance companies, and investors aren’t ignoring the data and it will become more expensive to live in areas that will be impacted by flooding, fires, and drought. Unfortunately, those areas are only expanding in size. Without federal dollars to support insurance and community protection, more and more people (many of whom are climate deniers) will find it difficult to get by.


Urban Planning/Energy/Environment

When Are We Getting Our Glow-in-the-Dark Trees?

From The Week. Scientists are not very close to delivering on their proposal to replace city street lights with glow-in-the-dark trees. As it turns out, making trees glow via bioluminescence is pretty hard. Since cities spend massive amounts of money on lighting and everyone is looking for more trees, making trees glow seems like a good idea. At least for some people. The process involves extracting genes from organisms that naturally glow and inserting them into trees. But the trees also have to produce enough light to adequately replace street lamps. The delay is probably a good thing since we should spend more time thinking about the costs (destroying the natural cycles of animals) and the benefits (much less energy use) before deciding if we even want glow-in-the-dark trees.

PBS has a great episode of NOVA exploring the many potential human uses of bioluminescence, which include helping us to better understand the brain as well as how cancerous cells can be tracked and destroyed. Just another way obscure, recently discovered plants and animals can help humans.

Bioluminescence off the beaches of Australia. Credit: Timothy M Roberts via Flickr


Why Do Only 66% of Young People Believe the Earth is Round?

From Scientific American. A recent poll conducted by YouGov found that 66% of respondents aged 18-24 firmly believe that the Earth is round. Similar results were found for respondents in the 25-34 and 35-44 age groups while 94% of those over age 55 firmly believe the Earth is round. However, when Scientific American looked into the actual data they found that the 66% figure was actually 82%. YouGov failed to respond to questions regarding the discrepancy. But the larger question remains, why do so many young people doubt the roundness of the Earth? After all, polls repeatedly show that younger people overwhelmingly accept climate change and evolution as fact.

The authors note that you should never trust the results of just one poll. Polling can involve complicated statistical formulas and some polling firms are better than others. FiveThirtyEight does a great job explaining this and has even assigned a score to major polling firms based on several factors (YouGov received a B grade).

Some have attempted to explain the poll’s results by claiming that young people tend to be more religious (flat-Earthers tend to be more religious) or that young people just don’t learn as much science as older generations. Scientific American points out that few young people actually believe the Earth is flat. The vast majority who do not firmly believe the Earth is round simply aren’t sure (only 2% said the Earth is flat). We also know that young people are much less religious than older generations so the religious theory probably isn’t correct. Since young people firmly accept climate change and evolution, it’s unlikely they are receiving inferior scientific education than older generations.

Politics and religion likely play some roll in the generational gap regarding acceptance of climate change and evolution. But the shape of the Earth is not really a political debate. Perhaps the roundness of the Earth has been accepted for so long that young people are simply being presented with less evidence; it’s unnecessary to really teach this since it’s been proven for so long. Evidence of climate change and evolution have become so strong recently that young people are constantly presented with this information. Older generations, having grown up with little education on either climate change or evolution, are less inclined to accept it, but are more inclined to believe the Earth is round because they grew up with the space race and the Apollo program.

Maybe we should look more closely into how members of different generations come to conclusions. We should all have a healthy degree of skepticism. The key word, though, is healthy.


EPA Proposes Plan to Increase Pollution, Kill More People

From The New York Times. Normally that would be a sensational headline, but those are the actual conclusions from the EPA’s recent proposal to reverse the existing Clean Power Plan. According to the EPA’s analysis, which is included in the proposal, the reversal of the Clean Power Plan would result in as many as 1,400 premature deaths by 2030, 48,000 new cases of respiratory-related health problems, and as many as 23,000 missed school days. Since this data isn’t great, the White House has also floated a rule to eliminate this type of research in future proposals.

The proposal focuses on giving states more flexibility to regulate coal power-plant emissions as the see fit. Environmental protection is one area where federal oversight makes a lot of sense given that pollution and natural resources don’t stop at state borders. Allowing states to set their own rules creates the potential for inter-state conflict as residents of one state generally aren’t pleased to find pollution from a neighboring state with weak regulation. It also threatens to create a race-to-the-bottom scenario where states compete to have the fewest regulations, which only raises overall pollution levels.



Street Signs Should Be Works of Art

Atlanta requires parking lot owners to post signs on their lots warning customers that unauthorized cars will be towed or booted if the owner does in fact plan on towing or booting such cars. These signs are not only an eyesore, but they’re difficult to read and understand. Council Member Amir Farokhi is leading an effort to make the signs more aesthetically pleasing and easier to quickly understand.

We often don’t think about the aesthetics of utilitarian signs, but we should. A sign meant to convey important information should catch the intended reader’s eye, but shouldn’t be so loud as to distract from other aspects of the built and natural environment. Of course, it also needs to accurately inform the reader. A well-crafted sign should serve not only as a means of communicating important information, but also serve to enhance the streetscape as much as possible.



He recently posted some of the new design entries on Twitter and they are a huge improvement. The city still needs to figure out how it wants lot owners to convey to the public the terms of the parking agreement. The current and proposed signs allow lot owners to simply state that “unauthorized” vehicles or vehicles in violation of the “parking rules” are subject to impoundment. The problem is that lot owners establish the definitions of both terms and rarely inform the customer of those definitions. So customers are often agreeing to the terms of the lot owner’s invitations to park without actually knowing the terms of those invitations.

We recently wrote about this problem and pointed out that eliminating the patchwork of private parking lots would go a long way in reducing the need for booting and impoundment in the first place. Mr. Farokhi responded to our tweet to say that he and other city officials are working on this problem.


Should Landlords Be Required to Help Tenants Register to Vote?

From The Hill. The federal Motor-Voter Law was passed in the early 1990’s to allow citizens to register to vote when they obtain or renew their drivers license. The idea being that when people move they often forget to register to vote in their new jurisdiction, but should be presented with that option when they go to get their license in the new jurisdiction. St. Paul, Minnesota recently passed a law requiring landlords to provide tenants with the paperwork necessary to register to vote. We’ll call it the renter-voter law. Renters often move frequently and they also tend to be lower-income and vote at lower-rates than higher-income individuals.

Opponents of the law say that it places to much of a burden on landlords, though we already require various disclosures in the real estate world (e.g. lead-based paint disclosure). Providing voter registration information would likely be very easy and will become routine in the same way that throwing in the standard lead-based paint disclosure in your packet of information has become routine.


Atlanta To Offer Over $1 Billion to Amazon…Possibly, Maybe

From The AJC. The race to attract Amazon’s HQ2 campus is a humiliating charade that clearly exposes the power of corporations in our society as city officials have been willing to do just about anything (including renaming their cities) to get Amazon. Now we have a price tag to go along with the charade. The AJC recently uncovered a document showing Atlanta’s intention of offering over $1 Billion in incentives to Amazon to locate its HQ2 campus in downtown’s vast vacant parking lot known as “the gulch.”

This comes on the heels of reports that Amazon is hiring an economic development specialist in the northern Virginia/DC area, which led to speculation that the company has already chosen the DC area for the HQ2 campus. It also comes on the heels of Seattle’s mayor warning other cities of the potential negative consequences of hosting a large tech hub. And don’t forget the massive public expenditures for the new Mercedes Benz stadium.

In a larger context it simply seems ridiculous to offer one company that much money to locate in any city let alone a city that is already doing very well relative to so many others. Atlanta isn’t Buffalo or Cleveland. It has a burgeoning tech scene, a now established film scene, and an otherwise vibrant economy while still maintaining relatively affordable housing. It’s understandable that the city wants to attract high-end businesses to not only maintain economic health, but to increase its economic health. It seems that underlying this economic rationale is some desire to make people perceive Atlanta as one of the country’s and world’s great cities. I guess we’ve already forgotten that we hosted the summer Olympics, a distinction shared with world-class cities like London, Sydney, Paris, and Los Angeles.

Perhaps we’re constantly trying to live up to that standard. In doing so, are we not falling into the “keeping up with the Jones’s” trap? Are we so focused on being considered one of the elite world cities that we’re willing to impose the self-inflicted wounds of higher housing costs and economic segregation that has plagued Seattle and San Francisco? Tax incentives have mixed reviews with some states and cities shelling out millions only to see companies and industries leave. All of this isn’t to say that Amazon shouldn’t come here, but many city and state officials don’t appear to be taking seriously any analysis of the costs and benefits.

Atlanta Downtown Gulch

Atlanta’s beloved downtown gulch


Vienna Tops List of Most Livable Cities, Atlanta Falls in Ranking Due to Riots

From The Economist. The Economist recently released its 2018 ranking of the most livable cities in the world. After holding the top spot for the past 7 years, Melbourne fell to number two while Vienna leapfrogged it into the top position. These rankings are fun to look at and possibly provide some macro-level look at the state of affairs throughout the world, but they’re inherently subjective since The Economist determines the categories, the weight assigned to each category, and the numerical scores for each category.

The Economist uses over 30 factors, grouped into 5 categories, to assign a final livability score to major global cities. Each of the 5 categories (stability/crime, healthcare, culture/environment, education, infrastructure) is also assigned a weight with education composing 10% of the final score and stability composing 25% of the score (the other categories fall between those two extremes). It doesn’t appear that any factor exists for cost of living or public education, though the ranking graph does mention that Copenhagen’s score increased due to more affordable housing. The final report must be purchased and we didn’t purchase it, so someone please add or correct these thoughts if you did buy the report.

The U.S. did not have any cities in the top 10, though Canada scored three with Calgary (4), Vancouver (6), and Toronto (7). Atlanta was ranked 50th, slightly ahead of Detroit and New York, but below Chicago. Strangely, The Economist says Atlanta fell several positions due to “riots.” It’s unclear what the magazine is referring to, but it’s most likely the Georgia Tech and Donald Trump protests. Most U.S. cities saw peaceful protests against the president (including Atlanta), but police cars were set on fire in response to the shooting of an unarmed student by Georgia Tech police and protesters were charged with inciting a riot. Regardless of the riots, 50th isn’t a great ranking. Perhaps this story was a good segue from the proposed $1 billion for a company that’s already worth many more times that number.


Land Use

In America, 100 People Own As Much Land as the State of Florida

From Bloomberg. America loves cows and rich people. Bloomberg put together a series of charts exploring how we use land in America. A few notable points: the 100 largest landowning families own as much land as the land that comprises the State of Florida, urban areas make up 3.6% of land but around 80% of people live on that land, and 41% of our land is dedicated to cows. Think about that. Almost half of the land in America is dedicated to pastures for cows or to growing crops to feed cows.

The 100 largest landowning families own roughly 40 million acres of land. Compare that to the roughly 94 million acres preserved as national parks and wilderness areas. So 100 families own a little less than half the amount of land that governments own for the purpose of preserving it for the other 300+million Americans.

Image Credit: Bloomberg


Ancient Romans Roads Strongly Predict Current European Prosperity

From The Washington Post. Economists in Denmark discovered a positive correlation between ancient Roman roads and modern prosperity. Those areas in Europe with the highest population densities are centered around locations where the ancient Romans invested the most in transportation infrastructure. Perhaps this isn’t too surprising. Since the Romans successfully unified much of Europe for long periods of time, people are reliant on transportation infrastructure for trade (though less so today), cities thrive at the intersection of trade routes (see Atlanta), and people don’t often abandon developed areas absent a catastrophic natural event, it makes sense that modern development would correlate with relatively recent historical development.


California’s Carr Fire Produced Michael Bay’s Version of Twister

From Wunderground. It seems like we say this every year, but California is in the midst of perhaps its worst fire season on record. To add insult to injury, some meteorologists believe Redding, CA recently experienced a fire tornado. California has only recorded two EF-3 tornadoes in state history, so a fire – a fire – may have produced the third recorded tornado of that magnitude.

Fires are notorious for producing their own weather in the form of gusty winds, pyrocumulus clouds, and lighting. Brief spin ups from fires, called “fire whirls,” aren’t that uncommon and can produce strong winds and extend hundreds of feet upwards from the ground. A tornado, on the other hand, is a rotating column of air that extends from a cumuliform cloud down to the ground. This stuff gets technical, so if you want a more accurate explanation please go to the Wunderground article.

On July 26, the Carr Fire produced such a strong updraft that a normal fire-induced pyrocumulus cloud was transformed into something akin to a more traditional supercell thunderstorm that produces actual tornadoes. While fire whirls and landspouts (tornado-like rotating vortex produced from updrafts) rarely produce winds in the EF-2 range (111-135 mph winds), the California fire tornado produced EF-3 level winds of 150 mph and lasted for nearly an hour. Meteorologists are still deciding whether the fire tornado should officially be classified as an actual tornado.

National Weather Service’s initial assessment of the event


Atlanta Was the Nexus of Three Major Native American Tribes

From Native Lands and Kottke.org. We often forget that America was not a sparsely or uninhabited area before Europeans arrived centuries ago. Dozens of communities existed along the east coast consisting of millions of people. The Cherokee usually come to mind when we think of native peoples in Georgia – they were the subject of the court case that led Andrew Jackson to allegedly say “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it,” referring to US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. But Georgia was predominantly dominated by two other communities of people as well: the Chicasaw, and the Muscogee.

Those three groups of people overlapped in the area that is now modern day Atlanta. The site Native Land shows the territory of native communities in America, Australia, and New Zealand. It’s worth exploring if only to get an understanding of the shear number of people who lived here prior to the arrival of Europeans. Also check out Charles C. Mann’s 1491 if you’re interested in learning much more about pre-European America.


The Native American territories of the southeast U.S. Image Credit: Native Lands




Gwinnett Approves MARTA Expansion

From the AJCThe Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners voted last week to allow voters to decide if they want MARTA rail services in Gwinnett. This leaves Cobb County as the last transit holdout of the major counties in the Atlanta metro area. Like Cobb, Gwinnett has a long history of animus towards transit in general and MARTA in particular. The vote is in response to the Georgia Legislature passing HB-930 last session, which created a regional transit system known as the ATL. The question now is whether Gwinnett citizens will vote this November or next November to join the ATL and impose a 30-year sales tax to raise transit funds.


The Great Streetcar Conspiracy

From The New York Times. The Gwinnett vote also comes on the heels of a recent New York Times piece that focused on the efforts of the Koch brothers, through their lobbying group Americans for Prosperity, to disrupt local transit initiatives in small to midsize cities like Nashville and Birmingham. The effort is reminiscent of the Great Streetcar Conspiracy where General Motors and other auto-related businesses worked to buy popular trolley lines and replace them with buses. This led to more people buying cars, which supported General Motors and the larger auto industry. While “conspiracy” may be a strong word, there was a widespread effort to undermine a viable transportation option for the benefit of a few industries and businesses. The Koch brothers are heavily invested in similar auto-oriented industries.

Atlanta was apparently spared of the Koch’s influence. Perhaps the coalition in support of transit in Georgia is just too large at this point for them to consider Atlanta as a viable propaganda market. While the Koch brothers were victorious in killing a major transit project in Nashville, other cities such as Atlanta, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Raleigh recently passed major transit expansion legislation.

Despite the propaganda, transit will not deprive you of your car or freedom. If you want a car then you can have one. Many people can’t afford cars, though. A recent report showed that it costs over $10,000 a year to own a car in Atlanta while a MARTA pass costs a few hundred dollars. Even those who can afford cars simply want additional transportation options.  If you approach a financial adviser asking how to invest your lifetime savings, it’s doubtful the adviser will tell you to put it all in one stock. But investing in one stock is essentially what we’ve been doing with transportation for decades as we’ve focused little effort on building anything other than highways.

The Los Angeles streetcar system was one of the largest in the country through the first part of the 20th Century. Photo via Wikipedia.

Weather + Climate

This Chart Shows You a Clear Warming Trend in Atlanta

We’ve introduced a new chart to compare Atlanta’s monthly temperatures to historical monthly temperatures. The chart on the right (desktop) or below this article (mobile) with the colored dots shows Atlanta’s current average monthly temperature up to this point in the month (black star) and the corresponding temperatures for all years going back to 1930. The bottom chart shows you exactly where this month ranks compared to previous years. All of this is updated on an hourly basis. We will be tweeting and posting to Facebook updates on the numbers at the end of each week. Please see our Weather + Climate page for more charts and further explanation of the charts to the right.


A Lack of Sewer Infrastructure is Fueling the Rise of Tropical Diseases in the South

From The Montgomery Advertiser. “In most countries in the Western world, it’s assumed governments will one way or another make sure basic facilities like clean running water, sewage, and sanitation are available…”.

A lack of sewer infrastructure throughout the rural south is causing a health crisis reminiscent of a third world country. We take for granted sanitary infrastructure, but it’s a critical component of healthy societies. Local and state governments have little funding to update infrastructure and low-income individuals often cannot afford to install septic systems This has led to a wave of tropical disease outbreaks, which is only exacerbated by warming temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns.


Atlanta Recommends Riding Scooters on the Highway

From Facebook and CurbedThis post from a satirical City of Atlanta Facebook account shows a not too uncommon scene in Atlanta (note: a previous version of this article questioned the sincerity of the post – we now know it’s from a satirical account. For consistency, we’ve maintained the original title of the post). It’s probably safe to say that doctors, lawyers, and police officers would not recommend you ride your scooter on the highway. The City and Georgia DOT did officially disapprove of this scooter driver’s actions.

Given the anecdotal evidence supporting the frequency of scooter drivers venturing onto the roadways, perhaps the actual City of Atlanta needs to be more proactive in discouraging the behavior and advertising the rules of the road. We’ve previously written about this in the context of drivers needing to be clearly and repeatedly told that they must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. While legally we’re all expected to know the thousands of statutes and local regulations, governments should do a better job of educating and reminding the public.

The city held a public meeting on Friday morning to discuss dockless scooter legislation, which are badly needed as users are leaving scooters and dockless bikes on sidewalks and streets. The proposed legislation would prohibit scooters from obstructing sidewalks and streets, require operators to scatter the scooters across the city (most are clustered in affluent areas), and would also require the operator to carry $3 million in liability insurance.


Hate Crimes Spiked in 2016 For Some Reason

From The Conversation. This week we saw a video of a man harassing a women for wearing a Puerto Rico t-shirt. That’s right, for wearing a shirt with the flag of Puerto Rico. A police officer who failed to intervene subsequently resigned. We also learned that a 91-year old Latino man was attacked with a brick and told to go back to his country.

Since the FBI began record-keeping on hate crimes in 1992, the fewest number of such crimes were reported in 2014. Since then the number has steadily increased with a spike around the 2016 election. African-Americans continue to be the most targeted group, but in 2017 they were at their lowest proportion of all hate crimes since 1992. Anti-Muslim hate crimes increased by 99% between 2014 and 2016. Gays, lesbians, whites, Jews, and Latinos rounded out the top 5.

We are far below the levels reported in 2001 and all crimes have fallen steadily since 2006, but there is a clear correlation between the 2016 election and spikes in hate crimes. In the two weeks following the election, the average number of daily hate crimes reported increased by 92%. There may also be some connection with Russian interference as we know those Russians who created bot and other fake accounts on Twitter and Facebook routinely used race to sow division among voters.

Wearing a t-shirt with the image of a flag on it, kneeling during the national anthem, and speaking about a controversial topic on a college campus are all forms of speech that are clearly protected by the 1st Amendment.  Inciting violence is not.


Sixty Percent of Americans Believe Humans Are Influencing Global Warming

From the University of Michigan. This represents a new high. The poll, conducted by the University of Michigan, found that 73% of respondents said there is solid evidence of global warming while only 15% said there is not solid evidence. This same poll has been conducted since 2008 and this year’s 73% figure represents the fifth year in row that more than 70% of respondents said there is solid evidence of global warming. Sixty percent, a new high, believe humans are either primarily or partially responsible for global warming while only 12% believe humans are not contributing to climate change. The rest either don’t believe there is evidence of climate change or they are not sure.

Unsurprisingly, there is a huge gap between Democrats and Republicans. While 90% of Democrats believe there is solid evidence of global warming only 50% of Republicans believe the same. When we look at whether respondents thought humans were contributing to the global warming, 78% of Democrats said humans were contributing while 35% of Republicans said the same. That 35% number is down from 39% in 2008.

Keep that 15% data point in mind next time you hear the head of a federal agency say that global warming doesn’t exist or is a hoax. Then show up at the next election.



Property Rights/Law

The Blockchain Will Save Private Property Rights

From The Conversation. Property rights are considered essential elements of democratic, liberal societies and often form the basis for social and economic stability. Documenting real estate ownership is essential to substantiating property rights, but it can be difficult even in developed countries. It’s often nearly impossible to accurately document ownership in countries with rampant government corruption and/or weak government organization and oversight. In such countries, records can often be purposefully erased or lost or destroyed due to natural disaster. Professor Nir Kshetri of the University of North Carolina – Greensboro believes a blockchain-based land registry may be the answer.

The blockchain, which is the backbone of bitcoin, works by decentralizing a database spread across the internet with every transaction being done using cryptography. That’s an extremely simple explanation. A blockchain system for property records would do the same thing for deeds, surveys, plats, and other documents integral to accurately conveying property ownership. Transactions would be done using cryptography and records would include signatures showing when changes were made to documents and by whom. We’ll save a deeper analysis into the pros and cons of applying the blockchain to property records for a later article, but there are obvious advantages to the concept’s basic ideal of providing transparency, security, and decentralization, the last of which is primarily important in developing countries.

Societies, though, must still have favorable land ownership laws for any documentation system to be of any meaningful use. Governments, courts, and law enforcement must be free from corruption and willing to enforce and uphold laws in a fair and just manner. Working to promote more stable, democratic, and equitable societies is the ultimate solution to protecting property rights, though that’s a much harder task than implementing a better land ownership registry.


Do You Live Near a Sir Isaac Newton Tree?

From Atlas Obscura. In 1665, Sir Isaac Newton fled to Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, England, his family home, to avoid an outbreak of the plague. It’s there that he made his famously observed an apple fall from a tree, which led him to publish his theory of gravity in 1687. That same tree is likely still growing today.

Clones and descendants of the tree are growing across the world today, most on the grounds of universities and research institutes. Atlas Obscura has a nice map with pictures of those trees, including the closest one to Atlanta at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. It’s difficult to get a tree, but the University of Georgia needs one so that Athens can be home to both a Newton Tree and the Tree That Owns Itself.


The Resurgent Chesapeake Bay

From The Washington PostIf you don’t live in the Mid Atlantic you may not care about the Chesapeake Bay, but you should. The Bay is the country’s largest estuary and is an economic engine, supporting commercial fisherman, recreational businesses, and providing seafood up and down the east coast. In 2011, nearly a third of the Chesapeake was considered a dead-zone, but a recent report shows that the first time in 33 years the Bay is showing improvements in every sector with 7 of the 15 sectors showing significant improvement.

Much, if not all, of the credit goes to a $19 billion, 15-year EPA cleanup plan started in 2010, which required surrounding states to limit runoff from farms and improve wastewater treatment facilities. Even the lowest estimates of economic activity created by the Bay far exceed the EPA’s $19 billion over 15 years in cleanup costs. The regulations could only work, though, if all states contributing water to the Chesapeake (those in the Chesapeake Bay watershed) had to follow the same rules. That meant that West Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania were bound by the rules even though the Bay does not touch their borders.

President Trump attempted to eliminate the program in his 2018 budget and cut it by 90% in his 2019 budget, though Congress rejected both plans. Despite successful results, a strong campaign exists to prevent the EPA from creating rules binding states to participate in such programs. Georgia filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court in 2015 opposing the EPA’s ability to limit pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay and some Republicans continue to amend spending bills to limit the EPA’s ability to enforce pollution restrictions.


A New Map Every Day

From National Geographic and Kottke.orgNational Geographic is going through its archive and sharing a new map every day. Subscribers get immediate access to all the maps, but non-subscribers can see a new one each day by following them on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. National Geographic is perhaps best known for its photographs, but the magazine’s extensive reporting on environmental and social issues around the world is very much underappreciated. Oh, and their maps are pretty good, too.

Map of London


Nothing to See Here, Folks

From Governing. Over the past several years, states have enacted statutes or rules designed to limit public access to documents. We take for granted the federal Freedom of Information Act and similar state open records statutes that require the government to turn over requested information. The open records laws are just statutes, though, not constitutional rights, so states are free to amend them to limit public oversight. For example, the Kentucky attorney general recently ruled that correspondence between public employees on their personal phones is exempt from public disclosure. Florida, a long-time leader in open records laws (sometimes referred to as “sunshine” laws), has over 1,100 exemptions limiting public access.

Georgia has over 50 exemptions to its open records, though the Georgia Supreme Court recently gave consumers a victory when it ruled that Kennesaw State University was not prohibited from disclosing information related to a study done by a professor on behalf of a payday lender group. Those in Georgia and elsewhere should keep an eye out for under-the-radar legislation that attempts to curtail the public’s oversight of the government.


Cover Photo Credit: Paul Sableman via Flickr

Law/Urban Planning/Georgia

A Meaningful Meeting About Meaningful Things

From The Georgia Supreme Court. If your neighbor submitted an application to rezone their property would you want to know about it? Would you want to be a given a chance to make objections to your elected officials? Georgia law requires affected landowners and interested citizens be given a chance to be heard when a fellow citizen has submitted a rezoning application.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week that not only do people need to be made aware of rezoning applications, but they have to be given a meaningful opportunity to be heard on the proposed zoning changes. In other words, you can’t do what Pickens County did: allow citizens to voice complaints to the planning commission during a hearing, then have the planning commission submit a short, 1-page memo on the hearing (excluding details of the complaints) to the board of commissioners, and then have the board of commissioners approve the zoning change in an unadvertised hearing several months later. This, the court said, is hardly a meaningful opportunity to be heard since only elected officials (the board of commissioners, not the planning commission) can approve of zoning changes.


Where the Sidewalk Ends

From Daily ReporterAtlanta is being sued for failing to comply with a 2009 settlement agreement it entered into with the US Department of Justice over its crumbling sidewalks. In the agreement, Atlanta is required to make necessary repairs in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit alleges that the city has done very little in the 9 years that have elapsed. A 2010 audit found that 18 percent of the city’s sidewalks and 15,000 intersections were in such disrepair that they were inaccessible to people with disabilities. A 2016 audit found that less than 5 percent of those sidewalks and intersections had been repaired.

The lawsuit was announced with Mercedes Benz stadium as the backdrop. The city was able to spend millions on a new stadium and pedestrian walkway, but has allegedly done very little to improve infrastructure for those in need. We talk about this with transit frequently – you can’t just build the big projects. You have to invest in the supplementary infrastructure, such as sidewalks, in order to make those big projects work. This is particularly troubling since we’re talking about basic infrastructure necessary for people with disabilities to get around and not simply wider or better sidewalks.

Sidewalk repairs in Midtown. Image Credit: SustainAtlanta



Federal Court to EPA: Turnover Documents Backing Up Climate Change Claims

From Scientific AmericanEPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has long claimed that humans are not the primary contributors of climate change. A Freedom of Information Act request was given to the EPA back in 2017 for documents related to the science behind this assertion and so far the agency has refused to turn over anything. Last week, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the EPA to produce all relevant documents.

This comes in the wake of several other high-profile cases where those denying climate change or those denying the human contribution to climate change are being forced to produce actual evidence supporting their claims. Unlike the campaign trail or cable news, courts require actual evidence to support claims. While those asserting that climate change is not happening or that humans have contributed nothing to climate change may be able to convince certain voters, they are increasingly finding resistance in the federal rules of evidence and procedure. They’re also finding resistance from insurance companies, shareholders, and investors. An actuary in an insurance company likely isn’t going to be swayed by a tweet from a politician doubting climate change when their job depends on accurately assessing risk; a task that requires looking at actual data and evidence.

A recent study released by the international insurer Zurich Insurance Group, found that the best way to spend disaster-related money is not in cleanup costs and protective structures, but in environmental protection. It turns out (and who knew?), wetlands, forests, and barrier islands are irreplaceable in mitigating disaster-related damage. From a business and financial-perspective, it’s a better use of money to protect the environment than to spend money cleaning up damage or retrofitting buildings. As we referenced in a previous post, Philadelphia learned that planting trees is a significantly more cost-effective way of dealing with flooding than building massive concrete structures.

Perhaps one political party is right: government should be run more like a business. The name of that party, though, is becoming harder to identify.


Is it Hotter or Colder Than Normal in Atlanta?

We have a new tool that tracks and puts into historical context the daily and monthly weather in Atlanta. The charts on the right (desktop) or below this article (mobile) show basic temperature data including the high and low for the day, the record high and low for today, the average temperature today, and the normal average temperature for today. Records go back to 1930, the first year data was recorded at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. NOAA determines the normal temperature for the day based on recorded temperatures between 1980 and 2010. All of this information is updated on an hourly basis.

The second chart shows the temperature that must be reached each day for the current month to be the warmest or coldest on record (again, back to 1930). For instance, based on the average temperature from June 1 to June 3, the average temperature on June 4 needs to be at least 100.2°F for June 1-4, 2018 to be the warmest June 1-4 on record; but, it needs to be no greater than 1.4°F for June 1-4, 2018 to be the coldest on record. These numbers may get even more extreme. For instance, May temperatures were so far above normal that on May 31 the average temperature could be no greater than -215°F for May 2018 to be the coldest May on record. However, the average temperature only needed to reach 77.5°F on May 31 for May 2018 to be the warmest May on record (it reached 79°F and May 2018 was the warmest May on record).

The last chart shows how temperatures up to this point in the month compare to temperatures in previous years. On June 3 the chart said “So far, this month is the 14th warmest June on record”. This means that the average temperature in Atlanta from June 1 to June 3, 2018 was the 14th warmest June 1 to June 3 on record. This information will also update on an hourly basis, so the ranking may change throughout the day as temperatures increase or decrease.


Paul Newman Talks Zoning, Destroys Shadows

From YoutubeIn a video from the 1980’s, Paul Newman explains why New York City’s zoning revisions allowing taller buildings is bad for residents of the Upper East Side. The major complaint, and one we continue to hear today, is that taller buildings upend the human-scale of neighborhoods while casting large shadows over streets and apartments. As Newman states, “[tall buildings] reduce the play of sunlight on the street, which invites people out of their homes to enjoy the outdoors.” Wise words from a wise man. We need taller buildings to provide more affordable housing units, but through creative zoning regulations they can be built in ways that don’t suck the energy and light from neighborhoods.

Housing/Urban Planning

Ignoring Historical Rules, Baby Boomers Join in the Renting Craze

From The Washington PostBaby boomers are one of the fastest growing groups of renters, bucking the historical rule that says you must rent, buy a starter home, buy a better home, and so on. The main attraction in renting for older generations and younger generations alike is mobility. While older generations aren’t necessarily moving into downtown areas like millennials, they are opting for town centers and more urban areas in traditional suburban communities. Renting adds the additional benefit for older generations of providing community and eliminating maintenance and yard work.

Moreland Avenue, Atlanta. Image Credit: SustainAtlanta


US Supreme Court Strikes a Major Blow to Employees

From ScotusBlogThis will sound boring, but it’s important for both employees and consumers (aka everyone). Last week, the US Supreme Court ruled that under the National Labor Relations Act and the Federal Arbitration Act, employers can mandate in employment contracts that employees arbitrate claims against employers on an individual basis. Meaning they can’t join a class-action suit against the employer or arbitrate a claim against the employer along with other aggrieved employees. We’re highlighting this because our recent article about tenant’s losing again in court hit on the larger issue of consumers routinely being prohibited from exercising their rights to sue in court.

If an employer improperly withheld $20 from you paycheck every month, your total damages against the employer may only amount to a few hundred dollars. This may not be a large enough sum to warrant your (or a lawyer’s) time, effort, or money in arbitrating or suing to get your money. Without federal or state regulators enforcing regulations to prevent or rectify unlawful acts, you essentially have no remedy. But, if the employer was withholding money from all their employees then all the employees could get together, hire a lawyer, and sue or arbitrate the claim together. This is a much more attractive case for both lawyers and employees. You can imagine a similar scenario playing out between banks and consumers, internet providers and consumers, etc.

The US Supreme Court, though, said that employers are free to include in their employment contracts clauses that prohibit employees from banding together to arbitrate their claims. The good news is that the ruling was based on statutory interpretation grounds and not on constitutional grounds, so Congress is free to amend federal statutes to make clear that employers are not allowed to include such clauses in their contracts.

Cover Photo Credit: Gryffindor via Wikipedia


Roanoke is Betting Big on Beer

From GoverningLots of cities, including Atlanta, have seen beer-related investment soar over the past several years with new breweries, craft beer shops, and beer-conscious restaurants acting as catalysts for neighborhood revitalization. Roanoke, though, is taking it to a new level by incorporating beer into their official economic sustainability platform. In Athens, the Creature Comforts brewery infused life into a sleepier and less-traveled portion of the downtown area.

Roanoke, VA. Image Credit: Joe Ravi


All the Transit Money Can Buy

From The AJC. MARTA recently released its plan for using the money generated by the new transit sales tax. Many Beltline enthusiasts are less-than-pleased with the result, as the plan calls for much of the funds to be used on other projects. Ryan Gravel, the architect of the Beltline, as long stated that light-rail is a critical component of the project since it was designed to move people around the city quickly. In order for the Beltline to realize its intended purpose, transit must accompany the walking/biking path. The city and region, though, need transit in other areas as well as on the Beltline.

In order for transit to really be effective, we need to increase density in the areas that will soon be served by light rail and bus rapid transit. The Clifton Road light rail project that has long excited northeast Atlanta needs to be accompanied by greater density. That perhaps could be the greatest struggle as many who generally support transit often don’t support the density around their homes that must come with the transit.

Atlanta Streetcar. Image Credit: SustainAtlanta


California to Require Solar Panels on All New Homes

From VoxThe California Energy Commission voted to require all residential buildings up to three stories to have solar panels starting in 2020. Vox provided a nice article on the pros and cons of this policy. While rooftop solar panels are one of the most expensive ways of reaching emission targets, they may force utility companies to make the changes they’ve needed to make for decades.


Panel installation on Edwards Air Force Base. Image Credit: US Air Force.


Housing Crisis? What Housing Crisis?

From The ConversationProfessor Alex Schwartz takes a look at the proposed reforms to how the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) helps low-income Americans pay for housing. The proposed changes would be startling in any context, but they are particularly starting given the housing crisis occurring in most major cities. The real estate industry and policy makers have long considered housing to be affordable when it doesn’t surpass 30 percent of one’s income. That number is used for both rent and obtaining a mortgage. Accordingly, the federal government has used that number as the assistance threshold: housing recipients are generally required to pay up to 30 percent of their income on housing. Given the substantially debt almost every graduate of a public school has in America, 30 percent may be too high even for relatively well-off people let alone those living in poverty.

The policy reforms would increase rents for subsidized Americans from 30 percent to 35 percent. Those who earn less than $2,000 a year and pay the minimum $50 in rent would see their rent increase to $150 a month – an entire year’s income for those earning $1800. Elderly and disabled people would still have their rents capped at 30 percent of their incomes, but their incomes would no longer be adjusted for medical and childcare costs so the effective cost of housing would be much higher.

Remember, this comes at a time when we are in a major housing crisis. More than half of renters spend more than the 30 percent of their income on rent while a quarter spend more than 50 percent. Among very low-income renters, 83 percent spend more than the half of their income on rent. In only 12 counties across the country could someone earning the minimum wage actually afford a market value apartment based on the 30 percent affordability threshold.

New higher-end apartments in Atlanta. Image Credit: SustainAtlanta



Sweden Introduces Electrified Roads

From The GuardianA 1.2 mile stretch of roadway in Sweden is now fully equipped to charge electric vehicles as they drive. While newer models of electric vehicles have longer ranges than previous models, the major drawback for such vehicles has always been the inability to drive as far as gasoline-powered vehicles between charges/fill-ups. It also takes several hours to charge an electric vehicle to full capacity. The new roadway technology means cars can travel much longer distances without having to re-charge. This also means batteries do not need to be nearly as large, which lowers costs. Of course, the electricity used to power the cars must come from renewable sources for there to be any widespread environmental benefit.

Stockholm in the rain. Image Credit: Lex Kravetski


How to Find an Industrial Prehuman Civilization

From Scientific AmericanWhile many are looking for life and civilizations on other planets, some are focusing on Earth for signs of past, prehuman, civilizations. “Consider our own industrial age, which has only existed for about 300 years out of a multimillion-year history of humanity. Now compare that minuscule slice of time with the half-billion years or so that creatures have lived on land. Humanity’s present rapacious phase of fossil fuel use and environmental degradation, Frank says, is unsustainable for long periods. In time it will diminish either by human choice or by the force of nature, making the Anthropocene less of an enduring era and more of a blip in the geologic record. “Maybe [civilization like ours] has happened multiple times, but if they each only last 300 years, no one would ever see it,” Frank says.”

New Orleans is a sinking city, which means it’s more likely to become part of the geologic record. San Francisco, on the other hand, is rising which makes evidence of its existence more susceptible to being erased by erosion. Image Credit: SustainAtlanta

Urban Design

As Walking and Cycling Increases, So Do Hit-And-Run Incidents

From The Wall Street Journal (paywall) and AAAThe number of hit-and-run incidents has increased at a rate of 7.2 percent per year since 2009. The authors of a recent study done by AAA say this is largely due to increasing numbers of cyclists and pedestrians. In 2016, there were 1,980 hit-and-run crashes and almost 1,400 of those involved non-vehicle occupants (aka pedestrians and cyclists). Southern and western states generally had the most hit-and-run fatalities per 100,000 people.

The study is full of interesting data points, but the most interesting points might be those related to methods used to deter hit-and-run crashes. Studies have found that increasing penalties have no effect on hit-and-run crashes. A study out of California showed that hit-and-run crashes decreased once legislation was passed allowing illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. There was little mention of how we could improve roadways, particularly in urban areas, to make them safer for pedestrians and cyclists. The study was done by AAA, though, and AAA has a strong financial incentive to get more people driving since they’re in the business of offering driver-related services. Urban and street design that favors, or at the very least takes into account, pedestrians and cyclists could lead to fewer drivers, which might not be great for AAA.

Miami’s Brickell District. Image Credit: SustainAtlanta


President Trump’s Environmental Policies Are Widely Unpopular

From The Hill and Change Research. A recent poll done by Change Research found that by fairly significant margins, Americans oppose President Trump’s environmental policies, but they are split on whether cutting the National Weather Service’s budget puts the country at risk. You should keep in mind that Change Research is considered a left-leaning organization and 41 percent of respondents identified as Democrats while 33 percent identified as Republicans (other polls show that 44 percent of Americans identify as Democrats and 37 percent identify as Republicans). However, 47 percent said they voted for Mr. Trump while 49 percent said they voted for Mrs. Clinton in the 2016 election (Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote 48.2 percent to 46.1 percent). Forty-six percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of Mr. Trump while 54 percent had an unfavorable view. This compares to FiveThirtyEight’s average of polls showing 40 percent of the country approves of Mr. Trump. So while the study was done by a left-leaning group, respondents in the study had a more favorable view of Mr. Trump than in almost every other poll.

The poll by Change Research shows that only 36 percent of respondents approve of Mr. Trump’s environmental policies with 68 percent saying solar and wind energy should be favored over fossil fuels. Only 28 percent of respondents think we are on the right track when it comes to protecting and preserving our planet for future generations. Nearly 70 percent of respondents have an unfavorable view of Mr. Trump’s plan to sell public lands for mining and development. A separate poll from Public Policy Polling shows that EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who is mired in wasteful spending scandals, has a 29 percent approval rating.

The numbers aren’t too surprising. Previous polls have shown similar cross-party support for environmental protections and opposition to this administration’s environmental policies. In deep-red Mountain West states like Idaho and Montana, a recent poll showed residents overwhelmingly oppose Mr. Trump’ plan to sell public lands. Despite all of this only 48 percent of respondents said Mr. Trump’s environmental policies will play a role in how they vote in the 2018 midterm elections.

Perhaps the most surprising data point comes from a question related to the National Weather Service. Only 54 percent of respondents said Mr. Trump’s proposal to cut the budget of the National Weather Service by 25 percent would put the country at a greater risk. This is surprising since 2017 was one of the worst hurricane seasons on record. Much of Puerto Rico is still without power after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last September. Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas last August, went from a disorganized remnant of a tropical storm to a strong category 4 hurricane in just two days. It is tied with Hurricane Katrina as the costliest tropical cyclone on record and damaged or destroyed over 300,000 structures in Texas. And then there’s Hurricane Irma, a storm that caused widespread damage in Florida and Georgia and came within a few miles and hours of striking Miami as a strong category five storm.

A drastic reduction in the budget of the agency responsible for monitoring storms and providing warnings will almost certainly hurt Americans. Your local weather station and The Weather Channel don’t produce many data themselves; they heavily rely on information from the National Weather Service.

Flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Image Credit: US Dept. of Defense



Everyone’s Favorite Meridian is Moving East

From WundergroundThe 100th meridian has long represented the divide between the moister eastern part of the United States and the more arid western part. Recent data suggests that this divide has shifted 140 miles east and is now closer to the 98th meridian. This means the divide between moist and arid has moved from Abilene, TX to Ft. Worth, TX. While this may not directly affect Georgia in the immediate future, it will make those areas that were safely tucked in the moister part of the country a bit more arid going forward. In the image below, the 100th meridian is roughly the line running though Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas separating the green, light blue, and dark blue from the light brown.

Image Credit: Wikipedia



It Costs Almost $12,000 a Year to Drive in Atlanta

From The AJCDriving isn’t cheap. Major recurring costs include car payments, car insurance premiums, gasoline, maintenance, and parking fees. INRIX, the company that recently told us that Atlanta has some of the worst traffic in the world, has calculated that Atlanta drivers pay $11,500 annually. This ranks 8th in the country. The study noted that the average drivers spends around $3,000 a year on parking-related costs. Interestingly, it doesn’t look like INRIX included indirect parking fees; they only included those direct costs that drivers pay to park. But as we recently wrote, parking is never free. Even though you may park in a free lot, it costs money to maintain that lot and those costs are transferred in the form of higher prices for goods or rent.

By comparison, a monthly unlimited-use MARTA pass costs $95. A similar unlimited-use subway and bus MetroCard for New York City (where it’s actually feasible to not own a car) costs $125 a year. That compares to the almost $19,000 it costs each year to drive in New York City.

Atlanta Traffic


The “Scourge of the South” Resurfaces in France

From Discover MagazineAlmost 100,000 Americans, mostly in the South, died between 1900 and 1940 from a strange disease called pellagra. Recently the same disease was found in ‘cannibalized’ hamsters in France. In the early part of the 20th Century, researchers believed the disease, which had symptoms ranging from rashes to dementia, was caused by flies. It turned out that farming practices were the main culprit. As southerners began to invest heavily in the growing of cotton, they planted vegetables and raised less livestock. This resulted in high-refined cornmeal and molasses being the main food sources for many in the south. Like many other problems, beer came to the rescue: it turned out that simple brewer’s yeast prevented pellagra. You should still eat vegetables, though.

Image Credit: Kimberly Vardeman

Politics/Land Use

Public Access to Beaches is Under Attack

From The Tampa Bay Times and SeaGrant Florida. Florida recently passed a law prohibiting local governments from passing ordinances designed to protect the public’s access to beaches. Under the Florida Constitution, the state holds in trust for the public all land from the mean high-tide outward (basically the wet sand of a beach). But what about the rest of the beach? Under the customary use doctrine, which is recognized in Florida, the public has a right to access private beaches (the dry sand of a beach) that have historically been used by the public. This is a gross generalization of the customary use doctrine, but the point is that an avenue exists for the public to claim a right to some of the dry sand on a beach. Some local governments have passed ordinances ensuring this customary use right.

The Florida legislature and Governor Rick Scott passed a law prohibiting counties from passing customary use laws. This is yet another example of state governments passing laws prohibiting local governments from doing something (see North Carolina preventing Charlotte from passing a bathroom bill and the Georgia legislature attempting to ban Tybee Island from banning plastic bags). The law, though, only applies to local ordinances passed after January 1, 2016. Only Walton County, in Florida’s panhandle, passed a similar ordinance after January 1, 2016.

So why target Walton County? Comments opposing the law outnumbered comments supporting the law by an 8 to 1 margin and the law was opposed by by local governments, environmental groups. realtors, and the business community. Is it because former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and influential political consultant Karl Rove have beachfront houses in Walton County and they just happen to be of the same party as Governor Rick Scott and many of the legislators who passed the law? Could it be because Rick Scott owns a beachfront property in Naples? There’s no question that the public can cause damage to private beaches and occupy them in ways that aren’t protected by the customary use doctrine. Those issues certainly need to be addressed, but could Florida not do it in such an unpopular and seemingly corrupt way?

The United States Supreme Court is currently decided whether to accept a challenge to a California law requiring landowners to obtain permits prior to closing access to private beaches that have previously been open to the public. That discussion requires a separate article, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Miramar Beach, Walton County, Florida. Image Credit: Skye Marthaler

Urban Design

Let’s Add a Bike Lane or Two Here and…

From Kottke.org and StreetmixIf you love Sim City or any other urban planning simulation game then you’ll probably love designing a street. Streetmix allows you to customize your own street by adding sidewalks, rail, bike lanes, etc. This is a pretty neat tool, but it would be even cooler if they added some economic element. It’s easy to point out all the aspects of a street that should be changed, but it’s another thing to improve the street on a budget.


Could Ridesharing Services Help Fund Mass Transit?

From The Detroit Free PressJohn Gallagher of the Detroit Free Press does a great job summarizing the debating argument over traffic congestion and autonomous (or self-driving) vehicles. On one hand, autonomous vehicles offer the hope of fewer parking lots and more mobility, but on the other hand they could easily lead to worsening traffic. The latter argument relies primarily on the idea that if you make driving easier then more people will choose driving over other transportation modes, which leads to more traffic congestion. This is something that transportation and urban planning professionals (including GDOT) know well and it’s the reason why traffic does not decrease when roads are widened or new roads are built.

Previous studies have already shown that ridesharing increases traffic congestion in cities as more people opt for this service over walking, biking, or using public transportation. Regulators need to take this into consideration. The Georgia Legislature debated adding a tax for ridesharing services to pay for public transportation, but ultimately chose not to include that in the metro Atlanta transportation bill. This was a major mistake.

Ride-sharing services and autonomous vehicles should supplement other modes of transportation, not replace them. It’s ill-advised to put all your resources into one mode of transportation; we’ve learned this over the past several decades as we’ve focused primarily on highways and cars, which has led to worsening traffic. Additionally, many states are struggling with tax revenue despite a strong economy largely because services (like ridesharing) are not taxed like goods. Since we’ve dramatically shifted from a goods-based to a service-based economy, states are taking in less revenue.

Self-Driving Car in San Francisco. Image Credit: Dllu



Cities Should Annex Suburbs

From The WeekRyan Cooper argues that cities should annex suburbs in order to create more uniform governance. While the trend has reversed over the past 10-15 years, wealthy people for decades abandoned cities for suburban communities. This left poorer individuals in the city, though wealthy people still relied on the city for jobs. City governments were therefore cash-strapped and unable to provide adequate levels of service to residents while wealthy suburbanites used city services on a daily basis.

We’ve seen this problem in Atlanta for a long while, though fortunes are changing since wealthier people are now moving into the city. That means poorer people have to live in the suburbs, though. Today the argument could be made that instead of large central cities benefiting from annexation, suburbs could now be the beneficiary of annexation. More governments, of course, necessitates increasing cooperation in order to get any regional projects approved. This is exactly what’s been happening in Atlanta. In Georgia (and probably in most states) the state legislature has to approve any change in a city’s boundaries, so even if the suburb and city agree on annexation, a legislature dominated by rural interests could veto the proposal.

Atlanta’s Boundaries in 1883. Via ScholarsBlog



The Bi-Partisan Caucus to Combat Climate Change

From The Economist. The Climate Solutions Caucus is a congressional caucus dedicated to supporting legislation to address climate change. It also has an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. While some members are dedicated environmentalists, 12 of the 33 Republicans in the caucus are from districts that Donald Trump won by ten or more percentage points. What makes the caucus unusual is that congressional members can only join if they bring a member from the opposite party. Formed in 2016, the Climate Solutions Caucus is so popular that it has a long waiting list to join and currently ranks in the top tenth percentile in terms of size among the 598 caucuses in the US Congress.

This story comes on the heals of Exxon recently admitting in federal court that they knew about the impact of fossil fuels on climate back in 1988. It appears to be the case that an increasingly small group of older Republicans are the only people who don’t believe in climate change. Insurance companies and large corporations certainly aren’t questioning the overwhelming evidence that the climate is changing. The denial of climate change among Republicans is somewhat baffling. There are certainly a number of moderate, educated voters who support some of the Republican economic agenda, but are turned off by Republican’s complete disregard for evidence and the long-term vitality of the planet. Why continue to deny climate change when you could admit it’s happening and win over voters with a conservative approach to solving the problem? Very conservative voters and oil companies aren’t going to start supporting Democrats if the Republican party decides that climate change is happening.

Land Use/Environment

Sandstorms: The Tsunamis of Land

From The Atlantic. Sandstorms are both beautiful and terrifying. They can simply be a wall of quickly moving sand across the landscape or they can take the shape of a cyclonic storm spinning over the desert. Though less dangerous than tsunamis, sandstorm are similar in that they quickly inundate everything in their path.

The Atlantic put together a beautiful photo gallery ranging from images of walls of sand hundreds of feet high moving into downtown Phoenix to satellite images of hurricane-like sandstorms spinning over Africa. Several weeks ago we posted NASA’s simulation of how tropical cyclones and other atmospheric forces can spread sand, dust, aerosols, and other particles thousands of miles across the world.

Phoenix Sandstorm

Sandstorm Moving Over Phoenix. Image Credit: Alan Stark


Law/Urban Planning

Children Can Finally Walk the Streets Alone in Utah

From The Washington Post. Last week Utah passed a “Free-Range Parenting” law designed to exempt from the definition of child neglect certain activities including walking to and from school and local shops without parental supervision. Exemption, though, is based on the child being of “sufficient age and maturity” to do these activities alone. The lack of a clear definition allows the analysis of neglect to be on a case-by-case basis, which is similar to other tort laws (things like negligence, nuisance, etc.).

Utah lawmakers said they were motivated to pass the law from reports of unreasonable arrests and citations of parents in other states, though they acknowledged that such citations are rare. Despite fear-mongering from news outlets and some politicians, America’s cities have experienced historically low crime rates for many years. Children are much more likely to be injured in a car accident than to be abducted by a stranger. Drivers are likely the biggest threat to children walking the streets alone, particularly in suburban areas where intersections are larger and cars are travelling at high speeds.

Buford Highway

Buford Highway in Atlanta is probably not the best place for younger children to be walking around unsupervised. Image Credit: Thomson200



America’s Quietest Roads

From GeoTab. Speaking of roads, the data firm Geo Tab put together a list of the least-traveled roads in each state. They also created a list of the most scenic, least traveled roads in America.

Unsurprisingly, the top three most-scenic, least traveled roads are out west, but the east coast is well represented.

Colonial Parkway, Virginia

Virginia’s Colonial Parkway. Image Credit: Rogerd



Millennials Hate Fruit, But Love Eggs (They’re Also More Educated and Paid Less Than Older Generations)

From Associated Press, NonProfit Vote, The Hill, and the Bureau of Labor StatisticsAsking what Millennials think about any given issue is like asking about the Beltline in a discussion that involves Atlanta; society requires us to ask these questions to an absurd degree. There is no exact definition of the term”Millennial,” but it generally refers to those people born between the early 1980’s and the late 1990’s/early 2000’s.

While talking about Millennials has become tiresome, it is important to understand the issues and problems facing each generation. Millennials have faced harsh criticism from older generations for being lazy and buying too many avocados and bread and then recklessly combining the avocados with the toasted bread. Criticism of a younger generation by an older generation is hardly new, though. However, recent hard data and poll numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Associated Press show the criticism of Millennials to be largely without merit.

Milliennials work longer hours and take fewer vacation days than older generations. They’re more educated, have more debt (due to that education), are paid less, have higher housing costs, and are less likely to have a job with health insurance and retirement benefits compared to older generations at the same age. Interestingly, Millennials spend more on fresh vegetables and eggs than older generations, but older generations spend more on fresh fruit. Millennials do spend 6 percent more of their income on take-out food than older generations, but spend fewer actual dollars than older generations on that take-out food.

Politically, Millennials are not fans of Donald Trump. In the 2016 election, Mr. Trump did, however, receive a larger percentage of votes from Millennials than Mitt Romney did in the 2012 presidential election (though both received far fewer votes than the Democratic candidates). A recent poll by the Associated Press of Americans aged 15-34, shows that 67 percent disapprove of Mr. Trump with 47 percent strongly disapproving. Only 4 percent of respondents believed that elected officials cared a great deal about their issues.

Fortunately for Mr. Trump and incumbent elected officials, young people have low voter turnout rates. According to Nonprofit Vote, in the 2014 midterm elections only 24 percent of eligible voters between ages 18 and 29 voted. However, the AP poll asked respondents to indicate how likely there were to vote in the 2018 midterm elections using a scale of 0-10 with 10 indicating they were certain to vote. Thirty-four percent responded with a 10 while an additional 37 percent responded with numbers between 5 and 9.

Water Wars

Georgia Attacks Tennessee (Again)

Tennessee River Map

Look at all the free water just sitting there north of our border

From WABEThe Water Wars is a battle between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama over access to regional water – so what does Tennessee have to do with this? Legislators introduced a resolution to explore re-drawing the Georgia-Tennessee border in an effort to make part of the Tennessee River flow through Georgia. This is Georgia’s third front in the war. Their reasoning is based on old maps showing the border to be slightly north of its current position; meaning in the eyes of some legislators, the Tennessee River should have always flowed through part of Georgia.

Re-drawing the border would alleviate the pressure put on Georgia by Florida and Alabama to reasonably use water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin (ACF Basin) since Georgia could now take water from Tennessee. This is a stupid plan for many reasons beyond Georgia’s legal ability to get the border re-drawn. The Supreme Court is set to make a ruling in the Florida v. Georgia case about Florida’s right to water in the ACF Basin as early as Monday.



California Attempts Japanese-Style Zoning to Increase Affordable Housing



From The New York Times. In an effort to provide more affordable housing, California legislators introduced a bill that would allow high-density affordable housing development near transit stations by-right. The law would supersede any local zoning regulations that prevent less development in those areas. We wrote an article in 2016 about solving NIMBYism (Not in My Backyard) problems by adopting the Japanese model of removing some land use decisions to a higher governmental levels. The theory being that when communities make land use decisions those decisions are often heavily influenced by small groups of activists, which often prevents sensible policymaking.

The need for more housing in San Francisco and other California cities is obvious. The problem is obvious as well: too many regulations prevent housing units from being built. Despite understanding the problem and the cause of the problem, a solution can’t be reached because local activists often prevent the solution from being enacted. Despite widespread support for more affordable housing, people organize against increased density near them even though basic supply and demand economics tells us that in order to reduce the price of housing we need more housing units. California has attempted to solve this problem by mimicking Japan’s model of having the state, not local communities, create basic zoning laws. Theoretically, this should reduce the influence of community activists. Of course, it hasn’t prevented the Sierra Club and others from protesting.


Tree Love

Trees Get Email Addresses, Receive Love Letters

Swanston Street, Melbourne

Beautiful Swanston Street in Melbourne. Credit: Alpha via Flickr

From The Atlantic. “As I was leaving St. Mary’s College today I was struck, not by a branch, but by your radiant beauty. You must get these messages all the time. You’re such an attractive tree.”

The City of Melbourne, Australia began assigning email addresses to trees in 2013. The purpose was to allow residents to report broken tree branches or other problems that required attention from the city. Instead, people began writing greetings, love letters, and other general day-to-day thoughts to the trees.



The Combustible River and Other Niceties of Pre-EPA America

Burning Barge Ohio River

Burning Barge on the Ohio River. Credit: EPA

From Popular Science. It’s hard to believe that rivers used to catch fire in America. The most famous example is the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, but rivers catching fire used to be a rather common occurrence in America. Popular Science has a photo gallery of the environmental disasters in the pre-EPA America. It’s rarely seen today, but entire towns that just happened to be located next to chemical dumping grounds used to come down with odd sicknesses and diseases. Congress was finally pressed in the 1970’s to pass sweeping bi-partisan legislation (over Nixon’s veto) to clean up our water, air, and land.

If you haven’t seen it, the 90’s movie A Civil Action (John Travolta, Tony Shaloub, William H. Macy, James Gandolfini) is a great portrayal of why tort law is not effective in addressing environmental issues and why federal laws and regulations are badly needed.



What Does the Term “Orwellian” Actually Mean?

From Ted-EdOrwellian is a term frequently used to describe authoritarianism. It’s also often used by someone to rebut an argument that they simply don’t like. While both aren’t really correct, the latter is closer to an example of someone acting in an Orwellian manner to dismiss something as being Orwellian.

As the Ted-Ed video below shows, Orwellian is more about the deceptive and manipulative use of information than it is about authoritarianism. A certain political figure has provided a fairly good lesson in this over the past 2 years, though politicians frequently act in Orwellian ways.


Land Use

How Light Pollution Affects the Night Sky

From Sriram MuraliIn this beautiful time-lapse video, Sriram Murali shows viewers what the night sky looks like at various light pollution levels.



Atlanta Gets Serious About Transit 

From The AJC. Over the last few days, metro Atlanta has scored several major transit victories. Regional transportation bills that would dramatically increase funding for transit across the region passed both the House and Senate, MARTA named a new CEO, and the federal government awarded MARTA $12.6 million for bus rapid transit (BRT). The proposed BRT line would link Georgia State University and Midtown. A true BRT line features dedicated bus lanes with limited stops. In this scenario, a BRT line can be just as effective as heavy rail at a much cheaper price. However, the effectiveness of the line relies on dedicated bus lanes; the more you co-mingle buses with general traffic, the less effective the service.

BRT Line in Quito. Produced by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy



Parking Increases the Price of Housing

Development on Highland Avenue in Atlanta

From Bloomberg View. Cities around the country are facing massive shortfalls in affordable housing. The often overlooked, though not by transit and planning nerds, is the cost that parking adds to construction. Even more overlooked is the fact that many cities have minimum parking requirements; meaning each new commercial or residential project must provide a certain number of parking spaces. It’s estimated that in Los Angeles one surface parking space costs $27,000 and one underground space costs $35,000. When two spaces are required by law for each residential unit, it’s easy to see how construction costs (and consequentially rent) can skyrocket.


Urban Planning

What Trailer Parks Can Teach Us About Good Urban Planning

From Strong Towns. Trailer parks are often the butt of jokes, but they offer a lesson in good urban planning. As Nolan Gray writes, local governments often attempt to provide little land for trailer parks, but where trailer parks do exist they are often subjected to very few land use regulations. This results in denser communities that have a more European or Japanese-feel to them. Given this, trailer parks may provide an example of how we should approach low-income housing. While Mr. Gray points out that private regulations (think homeowner’s associations) often take shape in these communities to provide order and cleanliness, homeowner’s associations can often be the cause of bad urban planning and the source of scorn among residents.



College Republicans Resurrect the Carbon Tax 

By Dave Sizer via Flickr

From The New York Times. College Republicans across the country are resurrecting the carbon tax as a way to combat climate change. This may seem strange to people under age 30 since, after all, Republicans aren’t supposed to believe in climate change. However, the phenomenon of a major political party denying the existence of climate change is a relatively new concept. The debate between the two sides used to be more focused on how best deal with climate change, and less focused on whether climate change exists.

The real take-away from the story is that young people are tired of being ruled by a generation of Americans who seem disinterested in critically thinking about issues and who fail to acknowledge actual problems. This sentiment has been voiced by young black Americans, high school students in Florida, and now by young Republicans. Many of the College Republicans believe their party is undermining future generations and repelling voters by denying science and running from problems instead of confronting them. Younger Democrats have similarly pushed their party to stop hiding, denying, and forgiving rampant sexual assault and harassment. It’s clear that young Americans – across the political spectrum – believe this country will be made great again when we start acknowledging and confronting problems with meaningful discourse and debate.

Westerners Really Love Their Public Land

Grand CanyonFrom Colorado College. A recent poll conducted by Colorado College shows that residents in the Mountain West states overwhelmingly support public land. Since most of our public land (national parks, monuments, preserves) are located in western states, it’s important to understand how people living in those states view public land. Vast support is seen across the political spectrum with those in more conservative states, such as Idaho showing similar levels of support as those in more liberal states like New Mexico.

Overall, 76% percent of residents in the Mountain West states identify as conservationists and only 26% support opening public lands to private companies for the purpose of mining and extracting other natural resources. Perhaps DC should take note since the current policy of reducing the size of national monuments and opening land for mining is premised on the idea that residents in those areas want less public land.


Want to Track a Tsunami? There’s An App For That. 

From The Economist. In additional to creating waves in the ocean, tsunamis also produce waves in the atmosphere. The U.S.’s Global Positioning Satellite system and similar systems from other countries, known collectively as the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), is capable of tracking such atmospheric waves. The signal between satellites and GNSS receivers is impeded by atmospheric tsunami waves, so a network of GNSS receivers is potentially capable of tracking tsunamis. Luckily, most cell phones have GNSS receivers so the widespread use of an app could help detect tsunamis and provide an early warning system.



Uber, Lyft Are Creating More Congested Cities

Atlanta TrafficFrom The Associated Press. Despite claims from ride-sharing companies, several studies have shown that Uber and Lyft create more traffic and congestion in large cities. This is mainly due to people choosing ride-sharing services over public transit, walking, and biking – three forms of transportation that take cars off the street. In additional to putting more cars on the street (and presumably more pollutants in the air) while transporting passengers, ride-sharing vehicles congest streets when they are waiting for new customers.


Mapping the Regional Economic Impacts of Climate Change

From Governing. Well it’s not good for us in the southeast, though this data isn’t too surprising. The United States General Accounting Office produced a map showing the economic impacts of climate change and the southeast is in store for more coastal infrastructure damage and heat-related deaths. While some regions may experience positive impacts, there are far more potentially negative impacts across the rest of the country.

GAO Climate Map

 Correctly Mapping Elections 

From Vox, xkcd, and Alan Cole‘s Twitter. This map from xkcd of the 2016 US Presidential Election results circulated around the internet several months ago. It’s a good example of how maps can inadvertently (or often purposefully) provide misleading information. Traditional election result maps that color-code counties based on election results misrepresents where people actually live in this country.

Most large states in the Midwest are large, rural, and vote Republican, so they appear red on election result maps. This makes it appear that most of the country voted for the Republican in 2016 when in reality it was a close election with more people voting for the Democrat. Case in point, there are about as many Democratic voters in Los Angeles County as Republican voters in Oklahoma, Nebraska, Montana, and Wyoming combined. Some maps that attempt to correct this by representing the vote by population can under-represent Republican-voters in some states with large populations. Economist Alan Cole believes the xkcd map is the best attempt he’s seen at representing election results by population.

Traditional county-based map (left) and xkcd map (right)


Visualizing Time with Isochrone Maps

London Travel DistancesFrom Atlas Obscura. You want to meet a friend across town, but neither of you can agree on the most equitable location in terms of distance and time. Enter isochrone maps. Needless to say, these are much prettier and more dynamic than the  time-distance line maps found in the back of old Rand McNally atlases.




Watch Smoke From California Make it to England

From NASA. The good people at NASA put together this beautiful visualization of smoke, aerosols, and dust circulating through the air.



Cities Strengthen Airbnb Regulations

From The AJC. Many cities across the country are tightening short-term rental regulations – here’s a local example from Sandy Springs, GA. The new regulations include fees, mandatory posting requirements, and mandatory building inspections. Even if your city doesn’t have a particular regulation for short-term rentals, you could still be in violation of the terms of your mortgage, lease, local zoning laws, or FHA regulations.


Which City Has the Most Unpredictable Weather?

From FiveThirtyEight. In what American city can you most accurately predict weather conditions days, months, or years in advance? Atlanta’s weather is fairly predictable, but not as predictable as cities in the southwest.







Mayan Civilization Had Advanced Cities Complete with Raised Highways 

Mayan LiDAR ImageFrom National GeographicLaser technology called LiDAR was used to remove the tree canopy in Guatemala and the results were a bit stunning. The imagery showed evidence of an advanced Mayan civilization comparable to ancient Greece or China.



The Icy City of Stilts

Yakutsk SiberiaFrom National Geographic. The Siberian city of Yakutsk is probably the coldest large city in the world. Photography Steeve Iunckher spent some time photographing the city, though he could only shoot in 15 minute sessions to prevent his film from freezing. Since the soil is almost always frozen, most structures are built on stilts.




Americans Overestimate How Easy it is to Move Up the Social Ladder

Statue of LibertyFrom The Economist. Americans overestimate how easy it is to climb from the lowest economic quintile to the highest economic quintile in this country (spoiler: it’s not easy). Europeans, on the other hand, underestimate how easy it is to make this move in their respective countries (spoiler: it’s easier than in the US, but it’s still not easy).



It Pays to Keep a Clean Environment

From The Bureau of Economic Analysis. Hikers, fishermen, and those who supply outdoor recreators account for 2% of the US GDP. Perhaps more importantly, the Bureau of Economic Analysis found that growth in Outdoor Reaction Activity is outpacing the growth of the US as a whole.


Germany, Like Chattanooga, Looks to Reduce Pollution Through Free Transit

Berlin TrainFrom The Washington Post. Germany is going to experiment with free public transportation in an effort to reduce pollution. Chattanooga, TN has free electric buses in its downtown district paid for by parking revenue. It too decided to make the leap in an effort to reduce severe air pollution.



Tolkien-Style National Park Maps

UK National Park MapFrom Middle Earth’s Maps. Like maps? Like The Lord of the Rings? Like National Parks? Then Middle Earth’s Maps has just the right thing: Tolkien-style maps of UK National Parks.






Satellite Data Confirms Sea-Level Modeling

From Inside Climate NewsU.S. and international satellite data confirms that sea-level rise is accelerating. This is important because it shows that our observations are matching our models. The latest federal budget dedicates additional funds for resilient coastal community programs, but many federal politicians still publicly deny sea-level rise and climate change despite these observations.


Cover Photo by Steeve Iuncker via National Geographic



The NHL has an impressive environmental scorecard

Atlanta Thrashers

RIP Atlanta Thrashers

From The EPA and The Balance. Not only is the National Hockey League the only professional sports league in the United States to issue a sustainability report, it’s also the 25th largest consumer of green energy in the country. In addition to receiving the Leadership Award from the EPA in 2015, the NHL has an ongoing partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council dating back to 2008. As of 2016, 148% of it’s electricity use comes from biomass and wind energy. That 148% is not a typo.



Maybe you’ve heard: Atlanta has bad traffic

From INRIX. According to the INRIX Traffic Scorecard, Atlanta has the eighth worst traffic in the world. What’s most concerning is that it’s sandwiched between Paris (9th) and London (7th); cities that not only have two to three times the population of metro Atlanta, but much higher density levels as well. Somehow these cities have managed to support more people and commerce while having the same amount of traffic as Atlanta. Density and transportation diversity have something to do with it.


What’s better, a traffic circle or a 4-way intersection with protected turn signals?

From Kottke. Speaking of traffic, the developers of the game Cities:Skylines created a pretty fun video of traffic patterns at different types of intersections. While traffic circles are more efficient than a standard 4-way interchange, they take up much more land and are poorly designed for pedestrians.


Reducing property taxes will solve the affordable housing crisis

From The AJC. Opinion writer Kyle Wingfield believes that high property taxes are the culprit for the increasing lack of affordable housing in metro Atlanta. It’s a take that many can support, though it’s not the whole story. While reducing property taxes or preventing them from escalating too quickly would directly help owners, it doesn’t solve the problem of too little housing in good neighborhoods. Reducing an owner’s property taxes may cause the owner to reduce rental rates, but it may not. High demand with a lack of supply will drive prices up in an unregulated market. His point, though, is important in the ongoing debate over affordable housing.


Gerrymandering met its match in Pennsylvania

PA Congressional DistrictsFrom The Economist. Several weeks ago the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down districts gerrymandered to help Republicans as a violation of the state’s constitution. Pennsylvania Republicans asked the US Supreme Court to step intervene. The Court declined the invitation since the districts were struck down under the state constitution and not under the US Constitution. The US Supreme Court currently has several cases on it’s docket to determine if political gerrymandering is a violation of the US Constitution. While many Republicans may be disappointed with the ruling, it’s important to remember that both Democrats and Republicans gerrymander when given the opportunity. And that’ bad for all of us.


A Snowy Street May Lead to Better Urban Design

Converted StreetFrom 99% Invisible. It turns out that noticing where cars drive after a snowfall can lead to better designed streets. Snowfall makes it pretty clear that cars do not need the amount of road currently provided. Among various other conversions, the space not used by vehicles can be converted to lush street islands that have a traffic calming effect and encourage pedestrian activity. That’s exactly what happened in Philadelphia. We missed our opportunity, Atlanta!



Cover photo by: Onehiroki via Wikipedia Commons