Author Archives: Richard Reiss

Climate writers: Cambridge wants to hear your story


Are you a writer in an undergraduate program or in grad school? Or, a recent graduate?

Do you have a personal story to tell about climate change: how it has affected you or those you care about, already? Not in the future, but now?

Cambridge University and the citizen journalism project Climate Tracker want to hear your story.

Cambridge is holding a series of lectures on the immediacy of climate change beginning February 15, and in advance invites young people to contribute their own experiences, through essays, YouTube videos, or radio interviews. A selected piece will be presented at the lecture series, and five will receive recognition from Cambridge. See the details on how to contribute your story, your ideas for solutions, and how to find a media partner, through their campaign co-host Climate Tracker. The deadline for entries is February 2nd, 2018. The contest is initially intended for university students but high school students are encouraged to submit essays as well.

Your voice is needed. Your voice is powerful.

For our politicians to be able to respond at a rate that can address climate change, it needs to become an everyday conversation, with everyday demands.

In the US, in 2017, climate change influenced extreme weather that struck Texas (Hurricane Harvey), Florida, the Caribbean, and Puerto Rico (Hurricanes Irma and Maria). Record heat in California contributed to fires in Sonoma County, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles.

In New York City, 2017 marked the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, from which the city has not fully recovered. The ocean facing communities of South Brooklyn and Queens are still rebuilding; NYCHA housing in Coney Island is still operating through this winter on jury-rigged temporary boilers while new systems are constructed. Next year, the MTA will shut down the L train between Brooklyn and Manhattan for 15 months, to repair corrosion damage in the Canarsie Tunnel caused by flooding during the storm.

Of all the stories affecting people in our area, Puerto Rico’s ongoing struggle to rebuild stands out. Four months after Maria struck the island, many areas are still without power.

84% of power generation is back, but 30% of residents remain cut off from the grid.

City Atlas will also publish selected essays we receive; you can copy us with a link to your content. All submissions will receive a reply.

For some thought provoking content, see this essay by Leah Stokes in the New York Times, on the fires in her backyard; an essay by Anya Grenier, writing in the Yale Daily News, on why she’s joined the group Climate Mobilization; and this inspiring, challenging and honest talk between climate scientists Hugh Hunt (one of the organizers of the Cambridge lectures) and Kevin Anderson (a speaker at the lectures last year):

Now: what is your story? 

British scientist gives best human rights talk of the year

This is not about just incremental change. This is about doing things differently, about whole system change, and sometimes it’s about doing less things. And this applies to all of us, whatever sphere of influence we have.”


This video makes us ask: where do we go from here? And – what’s holding us back?

Below are some themes that we’re developing for future pieces in City Atlas, based on the accelerating discussion among experts across fields.

While every global political discussion now includes climate change as a leading issue, and the Paris COP21 talks are coming at the end of next month, governments have not committed to solving the problem – nor may governments alone be capable, because it takes an entire cultural change to solve climate change at the source. It involves all of us, beginning to talk about it openly with each other.

The current commitments from nations do not achieve the emission cuts necessary for stabilizing warming at a level scientists believe society can tolerate, the 2°C limit. Current commitments equate to a likelihood of 3.5°C of warming.

Here in New York State, Governor Cuomo has taken a great step in signing on to a global 2°C commitment for regions and local governments.

As quoted in the New York Times (10/8/15), Governor Cuomo said “Climate change is an issue of society’s sustainability. To deny that climate change is real is to defy reason…denial is not a survival strategy.”

And yet New York State is simultaneously moving to modernize LaGuardia Airport (NYT, 7/28/15); air travel is a high emissions sector that likely does not fit into the 2°C limit. Substitutes need to be found, and lifestyles adjusted, because every part of the economy, and everything we do, needs to fit into the 2°C limit. Climate scientists are now among the signers of a petition to reduce academic air travel.

Broader adoption of the same document Governor Cuomo signed, by New York’s cultural leaders, by universities, and by corporations – which can cut high emitting activities like business trips – would be a step that could move us much closer to a realistic solution.

It’s already clear that no New York-based business or institution will prosper in a 3°C world; we need to slow the planetary changes that are underway. We are also dependent on a global response, so our actions must seem fair to the world in order to win the cooperation that will achieve our goals.

Rapid decarbonization is necessary to stabilize both emissions and the economy.

As Bows-Larkin points out, to reach the 2°C target takes a much bigger commitment from the people and politicians of high emitting countries, with the US among them; and within countries, a bigger commitment from those with high emissions, who have the most ability to change behavior and provide the crucial first steps towards rapid decarbonization.

In parallel to Bows-Larkin’s statements, but outside of the climate research community, the financial world is fully aware of the implications to the economy of a failure to decarbonize, and of tipping points where the economic landscape is abruptly shocked by sudden disinvestment of fossil fuel assets and reaction to the catastrophic risk portfolio of coastal property.

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England (Britain’s central bank), spelled out the perspective of financial experts in a speech to Lloyd’s of London on September 29, the conclusion of which is excerpted below:

Our societies face a series of profound environmental and social challenges.

The combination of the weight of scientific evidence and the dynamics of the financial system suggest that, in the fullness of time, climate change will threaten financial resilience and longer-term prosperity.

While there is still time to act, the window of opportunity is finite and shrinking. 31

When Carney’s words are matched to Bows-Larkin’s estimation of the need for rapid decarbonization, it reveals how the path to financial stability comes from national, regional and individual action to curb emissions. The world financial system will hit tipping points well in advance of the full effect of climate impacts (the loss of coastlines, diminished agriculture), and turmoil in the financial markets may only destabilize the global response to climate further.

Future outcomes brighten quickly if we begin to decarbonize immediately.

Enormous benefits come from fast action, and future outcomes brighten quickly as our collective emissions drop. But this means that public dialogue and understanding are key, and an open conversation is a place to start. By making visible your own steps to move to a low carbon lifestyle, you can provide trusted peer-to-peer leadership in change. Political engagement on climate is another lever for change at the policy level.

To fix what Bows-Larkin says is going wrong, experiment with the Global Calculator (and talk to your friends).

A much more basic iPhone app from Climate Interactive provides a pocket-size display of the importance of early action:

Climate Pathways App Introduction from Climate Interactive on Vimeo.


For many of the steps necessary for the 2°C target (flying less, consuming less), people need ‘social permission.’ It’s very hard for people to change on their own without the collective recognition of a common goal; once that is found in a circle of friends (or in policies at work), each person can arrive at the level of change they can manage, and some areas will be easier than others for different people. The most important thing is to begin, and to have each person move towards a decarbonization plan as far as they can, as fast as they can, given their circumstances – because the payoffs are immediate.

Why does it matter what you say to your friends? A year-long research project from the UK found that simply ‘getting more people talking to each other’ is among the first steps to pursue with the public. Here’s a fascinating description of how opinions and new social norms can rapidly spread. For success, we want to normalize mitigation that avoids climate change, not normalize the impacts of climate change.

And impacts are more transparent now. Climate Central has been mapping projections of sea level, with comparisons along the US coastline, and animations of cities under 2°C and 4°C scenarios.

A successful drop in our demand for energy means building fewer new machines that burn fossil fuels.

Dropping our demand for energy now gives us time to switch over to alternate technologies without a continuing boost in emissions. Fossil-fuel powered cars, trucks, planes, building furnaces, and power plants last from years to decades, and by 2018 building new ones may soon carry us past our carbon budget, because they will run for years after they are built. This analysis, from a paper by Steven Davis (UC Irvine) and Robert Socolow (Princeton) is explained in a short video.

Equity is not altruism; we need the cooperation of everyone, and so the carbon budget should be shared fairly.








And it’s the advanced nations that need to change the most rapidly.

[Post updated with new Climate Central links, 11/11/15.]

Dust and people, past and future

The cast of Dust Can't Kill Me (Photo: Dorothy Carney)

The cast of the musical Dust Can’t Kill Me, part of the Fringe NYC (Photo: Dorothy Carney)

For a thoughtful, creative person coming of age in a time of daunting ecological challenge, how does one make sense of the present moment?

One answer to that question can be found at Theatre 80 St. Marks next Saturday, for the final performance of a new musical, with a book written by Abigail Carney, the summer editor of City Atlas, and music and lyrics by Elliah Heifitz. Both the creators are entering their senior year at Yale, where the production originated on campus earlier this year.

The musical, Dust Can’t Kill Me, which takes its name from a Woody Guthrie tune, has received enthusiastic reviews as part of the New York Fringe Festival. The show looks back to the Dust Bowl era of the 1930’s, when farms and towns across the middle of the US vanished to drought, and tells a fable-like story that resonates with headlines in the present day.

One value of art is to make faceless events personal. Much of the subject of climate change can seem abstract. The numbers are huge, the effects are multiple and have a broad range of possibilities, and the majority of it happens in the future, commencing on an uncertain timetable. Populations involved in climate forecasts move from thousands, to millions, and hardest to grasp, to billions.

But the truth is that things happen to people one by one. The best reporting shows this, but art shows it too. In Dust Can’t Kill Me, a pregnant woman, lost on the prairie and low on food and water, dreams of one day giving her unborn daughter gifts of dozens of dolls, so many dolls that the girl forgets their names each night and in the morning has to name them all over again. A character with hope and imagination becomes a person, and serves as a reminder that the people around us, and people in the future (dealing with whatever hand we deal them) will have hopes too.

A Dust Bowl theme sounds bleak, but here the effect is the opposite. The cast is talented and exuberant, and the music is punchy, hook-filled and richly arranged. For a show about scarcity and misguided dreams, the writing and deft performance of this musical make the opposite case; they expose what we do have in abundance even in challenging times: ability and confidence, when we need it.

Dust Can’t Kill Me plays Saturday, 8/23/14, at 1 PM at Theatre 80 St. Marks in the East Village.

The jetstream and the potholes

Mayor de Blasio could have waited for the rain.

Mayor de Blasio got to the snow on Friday before the warm rain could take it away on Sunday. (Photo: AP)

After six inches of snow fell in 18° temperatures in Central Park on Friday, by Monday morning New York City was warm and rainy at 55°. Temperatures will plummet down again to a high temperature of 14° during the day on Tuesday.

Across the country record low temperatures are rolling in due to the ‘polar vortex,’ a mass of frigid air that has drifted down from far northern latitudes and settled over the central states — chilling the midsection of the US to below zero, including -15° in Chicago.

But it’s the yo-yoing temperatures that stand out here in NYC. Aside from the wardrobe confusion, rapid freezing and thawing is a cause of much expensive infrastructure havoc, including manhole fires from road salt penetrating Con Ed cables underground, new potholes, downed power lines, and streets and sidewalks glazed in treacherous ice.

Behind this chaotic weather pattern may be a shift in the way fronts have typically traveled across the continent, once brought to us on the East Coast via the historically reliable jet stream. It turns out that the jet stream has been stuttering in recent years — perhaps as a result of the vanishing sea ice in the Arctic, which has reduced the convection that formerly powered the northern winds. Researcher Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University makes a remarkably clear explanation of the effect — take a moment to watch:

Meteorologist Eric Holthaus expands on Francis’s theory in an article in the Daily Beast, “Thank Global Warming for Freezing You Right Now”, and includes a reminder that the cold we have in the US is not shared around the globe — in fact, Australia has been setting records for high temperatures across the interior. We may have the cold, but Europe has had a warm December (h/t also to Andy Revkin at Dot Earth for the global perspective). Here’s what the world beyond our borders looked like in December, with much of it warmer than usual:

If temperature starts to become entirely anomalous, is any of it an anomaly? (December 2013 via NOAA)

If temperature starts to become entirely anomalous, is any of it an anomaly? (Global Temperature via NCAR)










In fact, 2013 was the fourth warmest year on record, according to NOAA (with the warmest ever month of November).

In terms of what to expect in New York City in coming years, it seems that yo-yo like swings may be a new ‘normal,’ though climate in a period of rising emissions will not stay in any particular pattern indefinitely. Looking back, we really did have some strikingly warm days in ‘cold months’ of 2013. Just a few days before Christmas, it was 71° in Central Park (12/22/13). And at the beginning of the year, last January included a high of 61° (1/31/13). Drawing on deep memory; decades ago, Central Park had snow lingering for months, with kids sledding every day. Now a snowfall returns to bare earth usually within a week or so.

What is ‘normal,’ and who decides? For a child born in 2010, rapid jolts in temperature are already part of their young existence — to them, temperature swings will be familiar, and so will a much hotter New York. In that sense, maybe our infrastructure adjustments, in both cold and hot weather, are the most urgent practical form of resilience. And promoting the social ability of older folks to cope with continuous change, while hopefully, rapidly, reshaping our lives for much lower emissions. Just to keep from going off the deep end, where there is nothing familiar.

Andy Revkin looked at this kind of generational adjustment during a record heat spell in July of 2010, in pondering whether specific events made people more conscious of climate change:

“I asked [sociologist Robert] Brulle to weigh in afresh considering a slow shift toward more or hotter heat waves. His answer explains why the situation is worse than the image of a frog sitting in a pot. It’s more like a sequence of frog generations, each with a different sense of the normal temperature of water.”


Tacloban and New York

Tacloban City, November 11 (Photo: Noel Celis/AFP - Getty)

Tacloban City, November 11 (Photo: Noel Celis/AFP – Getty)

The horrific damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines has special, painful resonance in New York, where we’re just looking back at the one year mark from Hurricane Sandy. But Haiyan dwarfed Sandy in terms of lethal impact and in terms of power:

Scientists at the U.S. Navy/Air Force’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center infer that Haiyan produced sustained wind speeds of around 190 or 195 mph at its peak. John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist at Texas A&M University, says gusts blew up to 230 mph, which is as fast as a speeding race car. (NPR)

Tacloban, a city of 220,000, was knocked flat. Getting supplies into the relief zone may now be the biggest challenge, as there are few working vehicles to distribute goods. According to the New York Times, the mayor of Tacloban is urging residents to leave the city because of shortages of food and water, and because of an increasingly chaotic situation on the ground.

The storm hit just as the annual UN climate conference, COP19, began this week in Warsaw, leading to an emotional speech on Monday by the climate negotiator from the Philippines:

If you’d like to support the rescue effort in the Philippines, the New York Times has compiled a list of relief organizations.

Beyond sending support, hoping for the well-being of the people in the affected areas and their relatives (there are four million Filipinos in the United States), and acknowledging the resonance with all coastal cities, it’s important to step back and assess what meaning Typhoon Haiyan may have beyond the 24 hour news cycle, which will soon move on again.

What does a storm like this — unusually big even for the Philippines, where typhoons are common — mean in terms of a warming climate? What steps would the world take even if this storm could be shown to be influenced by added heat in the climate system, as a result from our rising carbon emissions?

A glimpse of what a densely populated world colliding with a radically changing climate system could look like.

Those questions are even more prominent because the typhoon hit land just as the United Nations nineteenth “Conference of the Parties” negotiating session on climate change, or COP19, began. The opening day of the conference turned personal when the representative of the Philippines, Yeb Saño, spoke about the unfolding calamity in his country (and in fact, in his own hometown). Saño began a fast in support of fellow Filipinos who are without food after the storm, and as a way to urge a global agreement on carbon emissions, which he describes as the only way to avert far greater catastrophes in the future.

Heat waves and sea level rise are two effects that are unequivocally associated with a warming world. On the other hand, the impact of more energy in the oceans and atmosphere is not yet fully understood in terms of the frequency or size of storms like Typhoon Haiyan. But researchers lean to the view that more energy in the system results in bigger storms. Both the Guardian and NPR have followed that question, and a piece in New York Times about the climate conference included these comments:

“The data suggests that things like this will be more frequent with global warming,” said James P. Kossin, an atmospheric scientist at the National Climatic Data Center.

[Kerry Emanuel, atmospheric scientist at MIT] said that as the planet warms because of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, the difference between sea and air temperatures increases. It is this difference that fuels these kinds of cyclonic storms.

“As you warm the climate, you basically raise the speed limit on hurricanes”

Not much is expected out of COP19, but perhaps the impact of the storm will jar the unwieldy negotiating system forward. The typhoon also may spur a new response to the real challenge of negotiating on climate while the world is dependent on fossil fuels for energy: wealthy countries produce the CO2, while poor countries will feel the brunt of the effects most harshly. As pointed out in the New York Times, the average Filipino produces less than a ton of CO2 per year (making an easy fit into the 5000 pound lifestyle through poverty, by American standards). The average American produces more than seventeen tons of CO2. A complete list of nations by per capita CO2 emissions is available on Wikipedia. Switzerland comes in at around five tons, so an affluent Western lifestyle can be compatible with a much lower rate of emissions.

Wealthy countries produce the CO2, poor countries feel the effects.

Typhoon Haiyan is a glimpse of what a densely populated world colliding with a radically changing climate system could look like. So maybe the longer term questions for a New Yorker, sparked by this year’s big storm, are: why would Americans want to change so drastically? The 5000 pound life represents a complete reset of one’s aspirations, or an entire, rapid rebuilding of our infrastructure, or both. And, how should we be prepared if we don’t find the will or the way to persuade each other to make the kinds of big steps that are involved in an adequate response? In a point blank talk from this June, Dan Schrag, the director of the Harvard University Center on the Environment, gives a sense of how big the challenge is, and how quickly we need to act — both to prepare, and to work to prevent the worst outcomes from a ‘business as usual’ emissions pathway. We’ll look at other dimensions of this puzzle in future posts.


The President visits P-TECH

Six presidential helicopters practice landing in Prospect Park in advance of visit (Photo: Tom Prendergast)

Six presidential helicopters practiced landing in Prospect Park in advance of the visit (Photo: Tom Prendergast)


Amidst the continued turbulence of his second term, President Obama will arrive in Brooklyn today to visit P-TECH, the innovative high school that counts IBM, CUNY and the city as partners. P-TECH was profiled in City Atlas, soon after opening. The President featured the school in his State of the Union Address this year, and his visit shows the continued focus by the administration on the importance of education, and also in specifically transmitting skills that will be part of the future economy to a broader section of the population.

To make the visit possible, part of Prospect Park is closed to the public today to allow the President’s helicopters to land. (Practice took place at the park earlier this week.) Understandably, kids at P-TECH are excited.

More information about P-TECH, including a link to the livestream of today’s event from Brooklyn, scheduled for 3 PM, is at the Citizen IBM site. Today’s speech will also be broadcast on MSNBC.

The city’s $20B plan for the future

The cover of the preface to the NYC Special Initiative on Rebuilding and Resilience report

The cover of the preface to the NYC Special Initiative on Rebuilding and Resilience report

Mayor Bloomberg spoke today to describe the sweeping plans his administration has for making New York stronger and more resilient in the face of continued climate change, including storms like Hurricane Sandy and prolonged heat waves.

The city’s full report on Sandy and the future is a massive document, rich in ideas and detail, and is available in chapter form via the Special Initiative on Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR).

The release of this report in response to climate effects on America’s greatest city may turn out to be a historic shift in perspective. An American politician known as a thinker, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is credited with the line, “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.” Moynihan might have made an example of the responses to Sandy on either side of the Hudson. East of the Hudson, the full intellectual and planning resources of New York have produced a 400 page report on climate change, the future, and how the city can adapt. West of the Hudson, there is an equal determination to rebuild, but climate change is not yet accepted as reality.

New York cannot control worldwide emissions, and New York can’t prevent the weather phenomena that result. The challenge to reduce emissions continues on across the Hudson and beyond, on both a global and individual scale — global, by leadership from the US and China, and our president and Congress; individual in the choices we all begin to make to adapt to a world in which 10 billion of us, or more, can share a planet successfully. And in which, astonishingly, “current concentrations [of CO2] are trapping an extra amount of energy equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima bombs exploding across the face of the earth every day.” (NYT, 7/10/13)

And so, communicating to each other, and across the Hudson, and beyond the Hudson, is really the most important chapter in New York’s climate adaptation plans if you care about this city. The SIRR sets a great example for taking the problem seriously. We will be digging in to the enormous content in the report on City Atlas in future posts, and we will reach out for responses from many stakeholders. But the single crucial fact, known well to the mayor in his other role as leader of the C40 group of cities, was evident even before today’s press conference: the long term solutions to New York and New Jersey’s climate challenges are on the national, and global, scale. Ultimately, the city can’t build its way out of this problem.

Reading the moving dedication in the preface to the report, a thought also occurs: do cities always have to be tough? Is that the purpose of a city? New Jersey is practicing being “Jersey Strong” right now as well. It could be that where we need to get truly tough is in our action to avoid preventable problems. That would be EVEN BETTER than tough. That would be smart.

Some takes on today’s announcement from around the web:

New York Times “Bloomberg Outlines $20 Billion Storm Protection Plan

WNYC “Mayor Details Climate Plan, Including New Neighborhood

Daily Beast “The Cost of Hope: $20 Billion

The Verge: “Mayor Bloomberg unveils $20B plan to build new NYC defenses against climate change”

Watch the mayor’s press conference:


The romance of the waterfront

Photo: Klaus Schoenwiese NYC via North Brooklyn Boat Club Facebook

Photo: Klaus Schoenwiese NYC via North Brooklyn Boat Club Facebook

Congratulations to the North Brooklyn Boat Club on being listed as one of the ‘8 Best Summertime Dates in Brooklyn,’ via Brooklyn Magazine. Kayaking and canoeing are great ways to see the city, but no promises on finding a dolphin. You can follow the boat club on Facebook, and for those interested, they are seeking a pro bono graphic designer:

“GRAPHIC DESIGNER WANTED: Are you, or do you know, a graphic designer with interest in doing pro-bono work for a creative young nonprofit? Emails to much appreciated.”


Seduced by cheap oil, do we now wake up with a desire for lost streetcars?

If any of these are still around, could they be put back on the streets so we can once again get from Brooklyn to Queens? (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/UCLA Library digital collection)

Could we restore trolleys like these to cities across the US, and even ride them again from Brooklyn to Queens? (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/UCLA Library digital collection; via Atlantic Cities)

Gushers of cheap oil have long shaped essential American ideas and the resulting American landscape. But as climate impacts become apparent, and supplies become more expensive to extract, the oil era will end. Eric Sanderson describes where we can go next in his new book Terra Nova: The New World after Oil, Cars and Suburbs. You can hear Sanderson, a wildlife ecologist by background, and a brilliant explainer, describe what prompted him to study America’s history with oil in this conversation on WNYC (with Leonard Lopate):


And you can read an excerpt of the book here.

Both at the end of his previous book, Mannahatta, and as a theme in his new book, Sanderson professes his love of an earlier mode of transportation, streetcars, which were common across the country before the tracks were ripped up and American cities became dominated by the automobile.

Streetcars also appeared in an astonishing recent post at Atlantic Cities. New Yorkers, and particularly Brooklynites perplexed over how to get across the borough from Prospect Heights to Williamsburg, or from Windsor Terrace to Flushing in Queens, can only look with envy at a map showing the density of trolley routes that once crisscrossed the boroughs and linked them to each other:

(, via Atlantic Cities)

The new discussion of streetcars, and the influence of oil, is a reminder of how prophetic Hollywood has been. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) was perhaps the first pop who-dun-it about the influence of industry on the removal of trolleys, and the shape of cities. Equally intriguing — when considered together — are two films released in 1973: American Graffiti, George Lucas’ nostalgic look back at the automotive Eden of his youth, California in the early 60’s, and Soylent Green, an early Hollywood eco-disaster flick made in the same year, set in 2022.

Eric Sanderson foresees a brighter future as we inevitably turn our skills to solutions for this next round of problems: we are, after all, nature’s greatest problem-solvers. (As they might say on The Simpsons, also nature’s greatest problem-causers, but the two probably go together.) Sanderson is now at work on a new interactive site to complement his Welikia project about the ecological history of New York City. The new site, slated to go online to the public in September of 2013, is encouragingly titled Mannahatta 2409, and will allow visitors to experiment with designs for the future city themselves, learning the costs and benefits of each approach through an accurate data-driven dashboard. Streetcars are a possibility.

The young Harrison Ford in American Graffiti, featuring the lifestyle that took the place of streetcars. (Universal Pictures).

The young Harrison Ford in American Graffiti, featuring the lifestyle that took the place of streetcars. (Universal Pictures). 

 India (source of Maruti billboard above) and China are following America's pattern and becoming the biggest markets for cars, even as young people in the US show signs of losing interest in the personal automobile. (photo: NYT)

India (source of Maruti billboard above) and China are following America’s pattern and becoming the biggest markets for cars, even as young people in the US show signs of losing interest in the personal automobile. (photo: NYT)













Meanwhile, young Americans are beginning to find smart phones more interesting than cars. (Photo: NYT)

Young Americans now value smart phones above cars, and are leading a trend to less driving in the US. (Photo: NYT)

Links to reporting on the growth of cars in other countries: ChinaIndia

And changed perception among young people in the US: “Young Americans Lead Trend to Less Driving” (NYT, 5/13/13); “Millennials choose computers and phones over cars” (City Atlas, 3/11/13)

Bike advice

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Premium Rush

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Premium Rush

On Monday, the city’s long-awaited bike share program will debut; clean new sturdy Citi Bikes will be loaded into docking stations across Manhattan and Brooklyn, and adventurous early adopters will be yanking them out (apparently it takes some force) and happily pedaling them around town.

WNYC and Transportation Nation have started to collect audio clips from regular riders to help prepare people who aren’t familiar with riding in NYC. (You can contribute your own wisdom via this link.)

A sample of their sound clips are embedded at the bottom of this post. Brian Lehrer’s suggestion for a mirror is good, but if you’re using a Citi Bike, you’d need to attach it to the bars yourself — is that likely? Alan Cumming suggests ‘don’t look up at buildings’ — that’s reasonable. I do sometimes look up at buildings, so I’d instead suggest acquiring a general heightened awareness in every dimension, like a deer in a forest. If you ride on Flatbush Avenue, Canal Street (which is more or less impossible), Houston, or 23rd Street, your body will produce this hyper-aware state automatically.

Other observations collected over my lifetime as cyclist in the city: the opening curbside door of a taxi becomes easier to anticipate over time. The sudden opening of the street-side door of a car or taxi is less common, more surprising and more dangerous.

Be aware of roadway features like giant potholes and the metal plates covering excavations. Metal plates are slick when it rains.

When riding in a bike lane, and especially on the busy bike paths running along the Hudson, assume another bicyclist is right behind you, and don’t stop suddenly. This is also true on the exhilarating downhill runs on the bridges across the East River.

Buses and trucks with long wheelbases are scary when you’re trapped between them and the curb, especially when they make a turn. Stay out of their way, and don’t try to pass them on the inside.

The city is big, and traffic accidents happen for everyone, including cars, pedestrians and bicyclists — but the city is safer than the suburbs simply because we’re not in automobiles all the time, and a mix of users on the streets makes everyone safer.

A bike is faster than being on foot, more open than a taxi, and has more continuity than a trip by subway — which shuttles you from one neighborhood to another, without the feel of the streets between changing; cycling is the quintessential way to experience the city.

(It’s true, he doesn’t look up at buildings.)

Fix it, give it, rethink it: newest Greenmap for NYC


New York City has been adapting, innovating, or neglecting its waste stream across four centuries of settlement and growth. Longtime cartographers of the city, globe, and environment Greenmaps have combined some of the history, and where we stand now, into one resource: a map for New Yorkers who want to consume and waste less. Which is handy, as research seems to show that you get a better return on different uses of money.

The pdf of the “Less is More” map for New Yorkers, which should be downloaded to see in rich full detail, is designed by fellow City Atlas contributor Aaron Reiss, with research help from Alex Purdy. Funding for the printed version provided by Con Edison. Among the highlights: our thrifty mayor has gone through three terms in office with only two pairs of shoes.

To find the printed map in local stores follow Less=More Green Map of NYC on Facebook.

A parallel tagged Google map with icons for waste and recycling resources is here.


Short takes: new recycling, and a White House honor

top_042413“‘Starting today,’ Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a news conference in City Hall Park, ‘if it’s a rigid plastic -– any rigid plastic -– recycle it.'” (NYT.) New York City gets closer to San Francisco this week, as Mayor Bloomberg announced the biggest expansion in recycling in 25 years. The mayor’s announcement can be watched here.

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, leaders of the Power Rockaways Resilience solar team were honored at a White House event called Champions of Change.

Walter Meyer, David Gibbs and Power Rockaways Resilience team receiving Champions of Change award from the White House

Walter Meyer, David Gibbs and Power Rockaways Resilience team receiving Champions of Change award from the White House




A survey on extreme weather for every New York City resident


We offer a new survey to City Atlas readers to help guide policy-making in New York City. As described by the survey designers:

“Study on: Impacts of extreme weather events on different social groups in New York City –  Please participate in an opportunity to inform policy making in your city.

The following link takes you to an online questionnaire that lasts between 20 to 30 minutes, depending on answers that you give throughout the questionnaire.

Thank you for contributing to our important study ‘Impacts of extreme weather events on different social groups in New York City’ developed by The Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED), Earth Institute, Columbia University.

The importance of this research has never been more evident given recent events with Hurricane Sandy and its impacts on New York and surrounding areas. However, we are not only investigating impacts of storms, but also other extreme weather events such as heat waves.

Extreme weather events impact different socioeconomic groups in different ways. Our project seeks to understand specifically how different income groups experience weather events such as heat waves and strong rainstorms.

We will happily share the results of the survey once it is completed and fully analyzed, which will roughly take until the end of the year. The study analyzes individual experiences and burden of impacts of strong rainstorms and heat waves, compares experiences across the 5 borough area, and suggests most efficient adaptation options in different parts of NYC.

We thank you very much again for your support in this important initiative!
Dr. Diana Reckien.

Prof. David Krantz, Director, Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, Earth Institute, Columbia University.”


Note on the survey from participants at City Atlas: we found on average it took about 15 – 20 minutes to complete, and provided an interesting opportunity for reflection on recent events, their aftermath, and the future in the city.




East River dolphin, met by canoe

While the St. Patrick’s Day parade rolled up Fifth Avenue on Saturday, a scene unfolded in the East River that might have been more common in the eighteenth century: canoeists met a dolphin in a gentle snowfall.

T Willis Elkins shot the footage on Saturday: “I paddled out with fellow members of the North Brooklyn Boat Club in snowy and foggy conditions to try and find the recently sighted dolphin in the East River. And we did! All footage filmed from a canoe near the shores of Greenpoint. Thanks to Fung Lim (bow paddler seen here).” h/t Nathan Storey

As reported in Gothamist and observed by the boaters, there are two dolphins swimming in the East River,  and they seem uninjured, healthy and active. And suggestions for names may be made here.

386176_487330667993083_290431941_n Photos: T Willis Elkins,

Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research

NYC gets a plastic-foam ban



According to the New York Times, Mayor Bloomberg will propose a ban on plastic-foam containers  in his State of the City speech on Thursday:

Mr. Bloomberg, in his 12th and final State of the City address, will propose a citywide ban on plastic-foam food packaging, including takeout boxes, cups and trays. Public schools would be instructed to remove plastic-foam trays from their cafeterias. Many restaurants and bodegas would be forced to restock.

In excerpts from his speech released on Wednesday, Mr. Bloomberg rails against plastic foam, even comparing it to lead paint. “We can live without it, we may live longer without it, and the doggie bag will survive just fine,” the mayor plans to say.

The ban would need to be approved by the City Council, headed by Christine Quinn, who is also the current favorite to be next mayor. Unlike bike paths, there seems to be no distance between the mayor and his favored successor on the subject of plastic-foam. Council Speak Quinn is quoted in the Times saying of plastic-foam: “It lives forever, it’s worse than cockroaches.”

(Plastic-foam is the correct description of the soft foam used for food containers, which is different from the harder material called Styrofoam that is made by Dow. So the ban will technically be a plastic-foam food container ban.)

As a preview of the mayor’s last State of the City speech, the administration also provides this infographic, showing accomplishments that preceded the plastic-foam ban:



Photo: Genpak

PlowNYC: the city’s online snowplow map gets put to use


New York City’s commitment to information technology continues to reap benefits, as now GPS-equipped sanitation trucks plowing the city streets can be followed online. PlowNYC, the city’s live snowplow tracker, actually launched last year, but Friday night’s blizzard is proving to be a great real-world demonstration of the system.

Screengrab: PlowNYC

A global movement forms to facilitate sharing


On the heels of the UN climate talks in Doha, facing a challenge beautifully summarized in this graphic by David McCandless, it is easy to feel the emphasis on ‘doing less’ in order to emit less CO2. The idea of ‘less’ is especially compelling in the Western half of the world, where fully developed industrial economies have produced the lion’s share of CO2 now scrambling the weather.

At the same time, a movement of inventive thinkers are developing the means to do ‘more’ in life, and do it more efficiently. Make more connections, be more productive, get better results, and do it in a framework that can enrich the future for succeeding generations. The key efficient step is sharing and collaboration, and tonight at the WNYC Jerome L. Greene space, is hosting a talk on collaborative consumption, to discuss just that. The panel includes speakers from future-oriented businesses Krrb, Weeels, Bright Farms, and SolarCity. The moderator is Brian Merchant, editor of the VICE spin-off Motherboard, and the hosts are Solar One and NYU-Poly. The panel starts at 7 PM, doors open at 6:30, tickets are $25 online here, with some available at the door. The talk will also be livestreamed.

Other notable sharing initiatives include the New York arts-oriented barter network, and their growing barter-for-learning project Trade School, an idea now spreading to more than a dozen cities around the world.

Which means you get to hear the Trade School concept explained with a charming Glaswegian accent, in this video:




Sandy volunteer info, day 8

Before the snow came in, the group Sandy Help worked to clear debris in the Rockaways (Photo via Sheva Tauby)

The city has teamed with AirBnB so you can offer space in your home to displaced fellow New Yorkers by signing up online.

NYC ServiceOccupy Sandy and other volunteer groups (including Sandy Help, shown above, featured early on in the NYT) continue to provide crucial support to people in distress, particularly by reaching homebound elderly that remain without power or heat.

If you can spare the time to volunteer in person this week or on the weekend, your help would be received with gratitude. Buildings along miles of beaches or waterfront, in view of the Manhattan skyline, are in rough condition from the storm and loss of heat; because of the second storm, progress in getting services back has been delayed. Volunteer groups have formed a bridge between the millions of New Yorkers and others around the country who want to help with donations and support, and the tens of thousands of trapped residents along the waterfronts:

A volunteer describes a trip to the Rockaways. A more challenging description of Red Hook comes from the Daily News.

Bob Hardt of NY1 continues his first person account.

596 Acres: “Here are today’s requests direct from people on the ground in the Eastern part of the Rockaway peninsula, where power is still absent and the train won’t run for a long time. Note that there are specific needs at some sites. GAS & oil for the generators is a priority. And 100′ extension cords would allow the creation of a warming site in a church in Far Rockaway. We continue to do our very best. We are so glad that you are doing your best too. Dress warm. Walk carefully on the ice.”

Surfers continue to respond.

A megalist of current information, via a shared Google doc — this shows the scope of the crisis and also the scale of citizen-to-citizen response. (It’s big and may take a few seconds to load.)

Ways to help from your desktop:

Solar generators: a way to leave the Rockaways better, and more forward-thinking, than before. They are fundraising here. (We can vouch for R. David Gibbs, the engineer on the right side of the photo — he’s a Pratt industrial design grad and a genius with solar and technology.)

Occupy Sandy’s Amazon gift registry has been popular. If you scour their online presence, you can find images of their central locations filling and emptying as goods pour in. And apparently they have made some unlikely allies, as even New Yorkers that might not be receptive to their OWS origins respect a team that gets stuff done. This is also the rare wedding gift registry that is now asking for gas cans to refill generators.

Sandy as a way to begin to change society, considered by Tina Rosenberg in the NYT.