Atlantic Cities
Year in Review

Urban Trends We Hope Die in 2013

Keeping track of emerging trends across the world's major cities is pretty much our job here at Atlantic Cities, but not every new idea or enthusiasm is worth repeating. Many, in fact, have already outlived their usefulness. Below, our collective plea to stop the (urbanism) madness and start getting real in 2013.

Pedestrians fighting bikers. Bikers fighting drivers. Bus riders fighting train commuters. Our transportation landscape is increasingly fragmented into single-mode interest groups who behave as if transportation infrastructure is a zero-sum game that can only be won by one form of locomotion at the expense of all the others. Los Angeles' transportation referendum failed in November, for instance, because bus riders worried that the additional tax receipts would benefit only rail commuters. Most of us, however, use a combination of all of these modes (even cars!), and we're getting tired of talking about drivers and bikers and pedestrians as if they were warring Balkan tribes. -Emily Badger

Moving away from hybrid cabs. New York recently made a major mistake by moving away from hybrid taxi models. We saw one short-term effect of that decision during Hurricane Sandy, when a gas shortage left some cabs off the streets, but the long-term effects on the environment will be much greater. –Eric Jaffe

Using public transportation to advance a hate-filled agenda. This year, an anti-Islam groups paid for subway advertising that was downright offensive, calling Muslims "savages." The ads went up in 50 New York subway stations, setting off a fierce debate about free speech and the rights of people to go about their day without confronting blatant bigotry. One of the great things about public transit is the way it can bring all kinds of people together, a microcosm of a city benefiting from a public good. These ads do nothing but agitate and irritate people who are otherwise minding their own business. - Amanda Erickson

Workers unload a truck outside the National Stadium, also known as the "Bird's Nest"  in Beijing on March 23. (David Gray/Reuters)

Building facilities for the Olympics that have no real use afterwards. Given crowding in global cities and slim resources for so many other worthy projects, there's no excuse for the empty Bird's Nest in Beijing, and the barely-used Olympic stadium in Montreal. Kudos, on the other hand, to London for staging the paraolympic games directly after the Olympics, which meant the facilities were in operation for a solid month. In my perfect world, it would be a prerequisite for any future Olympic committee that significant facilities have to be planned with a reasonable afterlife. I'd also require them to first make use of available sports facilities before any new construction can take place. –Micheline Maynard

Lax attitudes about subway "grinding." The New York Court of Appeals recently set a dangerous precedent by downplaying the severity of subway "grinding" — rubbing up against someone unwillingly in a crowded car. The problem isn't unique to New York, and it's one that cities everywhere must take seriously if they want their residents to feel safe riding transit. –Eric Jaffe

Downtown casinos. Thirty years ago, the only cities that had casinos were Las Vegas, Reno, and Atlantic City. Today, about 2,000 venues operate across the county. Politicians and cities see them as economy boosters, but often the social costs outweigh the economic benefit. –Richard Florida


Courtesy of Sam Martin/Exterior Architecture

Focusing on fancy bike lanes. There are ideas to heat, elevate, and elaborately paint bike lanes. What we really need are consistent and safe networks of lanes, not flourishes and finishing touches before we've completed the system. (See this list of what bikers really want.) –Sara Johnson

Yarn bombing. We're all for beautifying public spaces. But yarn bombing is little more than a nuisance. It gets wet and grimy after the first rain storm, insulating perfectly functional handrails and bike racks in a tube of mildew and mold. And for what -- covering up perfectly attractive tree trunks with twee stripes? Do trees really need to be any more beautiful? - Amanda Erickson


Twilight Taggers photography via Creative Commons

Selling naming rights to transit stations. Whenever a city's transit authority gets strapped, it inevitably turns to the quick-cash idea of selling the naming rights to a transit station. Time and again those efforts fail: the money's not much, the maps get confused, and commercialization follows a slippery slope. –Eric Jaffe

Pop-ups. Don't get us wrong, the now widely deployed tactic of bringing underused spaces back to life with a temporary use that's easier to push through cumbersome local zoning and occupancy regulations is a worthy one. It's really the term "pop-up" itself that we object to, which has led to some unfortunate byproducts. For one, with so many companies clamoring to appear cool and of-the-moment, we're seeing a surfeit of lame pop-ups. But more importantly, the flexibility for neighborhoods and entrepreneurs to try out new ideas shouldn't need a cutesy, diminutive name to convince local stakeholders to give them a shot. If temporary is truly the new permanent, cities should be focused on finding ways to ensure "pop-ups" have the tools they need to thrive regardless of their intended tenure. Let's let go of "pop-ups" and embrace temporary or semi-permanent projects for what they are: just as worthy of support as any other.  –Sommer Mathis

Keywords: Pop-Ups, Trends

Sara Johnson is a fellow at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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