The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Los Angeles of the future

Carl Abbot, writing for CityLab, discusses Blade Runner's impact:

Blade Runner fused the images, using noir atmosphere to turn Future Los Angeles into something dark and threatening rather than bright and hopeful. Flames randomly burst from corporate ziggurats. Searchlights probe the dark sky. But little light reaches the streets where street merchants and food cart proprietors compete with sleazy bars—a setting that Blade Runner 2049 revisits. The dystopic versions of New York in Soylent Green and Escape from New York are set in a city crumbling from age and overuse. In contrast, Blade Runner uses the imagery of the future for similar stories of deeply embedded inequality.

When it comes down to it, of course, there’s more fun and schadenfreude in imagining trouble striking a big city than a small town. Terminator 2: Judgment Day would not be half so exciting if T-1000 chased Arnold Schwarzenegger along the banks of the puny Miami River in Dayton, Ohio, rather than the concrete arroyo of the Los Angeles River. In the 1980s, the fictional destruction of New York was old hat. Los Angeles was a relatively fresh target and, for the film industry, a logistically convenient one. Moviegoers were increasingly willing to disparage it, too.

Blade Runner was a catalyst for a dystopian decade that was accentuated by the rioting and violence that followed the April 1992 acquittal of police officers accused of beating Rodney King. Moviegoers would soon get Falling Down, whose filming was interrupted by the Rodney King riots, Pulp Fiction, and Independence Day, with its total obliteration of the metropolis. In print in the early 1990s were Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Cynthia Kadohata’s In the Heart of the Valley of Love, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, all depicting a near-future Los Angeles fragmenting into enclaves and drifting toward chaos, capped by Mike Davis’s The Ecology of Fear.

 

I've got tickets to Blade Runner 2049 already. Can't wait.

The most disgusting story you'll hear all day

A 140-tonne blob of fat and other horrible things is blocking a sewer in East London:

What has been named the Whitechapel fatberg is a rock-solid agglomeration of fat, disposable wipes, diapers, condoms and tampons. It was discovered to the east of the city’s financial district, occupying a sixth of a mile of sewer under Whitechapel Road, between one of London’s largest mosques and a pub called the Blind Beggar, where walking tours are taken to reminisce about a notorious gangland murder.

Thames Water, the capital’s utility, said the fatberg weighed as much as 11 of the city’s double-decker buses: more than 140 tons. That is 10 times the size of a similar mass that the company found beneath Kingston, in South London, in 2013, and declared the biggest example in British history.

To prevent the contents of the sewer from flooding streets and homes nearby, the utility is sending an eight-member team to break up the fatberg with highpowered jet hoses and hand tools. The task is expected to take them three weeks, working seven days a week.

I mean...yuck. Citylab explains how fatbergs form:

But while it’s easy to shudder at, there is no easy fix for the fatberg problem, especially in a city like London where rising population is matched with an antiquated sewer system. “London is a sort of perfect storm for the phenomenon,” says Dr. Tom Curran, a lecturer at University College Dublin’s School of Biosystems & Food Engineering department, who has studied the problem extensively. Curran says that another problem, in addition to the growing population and various utilities sharing responsibility for the sewer networks, is the burden that the commercial sector places on the aging pipes. “London has a very high concentration of restaurants, hotels, pubs and takeaways, so you have a readily available source of grease waste,” Curran says.

The materials with which cities are built exacerbate the problem, too. Urban waste water often develops a high calcium content after flowing through or over calcium-rich concrete. When that water mixes with cooking grease in the sewer, it transforms the fat into a dense lump via saponification—yes, believe it or not, fatbergs are created by the same chemical process as bars of soap.

And quit flushing "disposable" wipes.

Cheers for the humble disposal

A 1990s study by New York City showed that in-sink garbage disposals punch above their weight in environmental benefits. So why are they so rare in the city? Misconceptions, apparently:

The city installed more than 200 of the devices in select city apartments for a 21-month trial run; they then compared apartment units that had disposers with disposer-less units in the same building. Careful analyses from this study and others formed the basis of DEP’s report: the projected impact of citywide disposal legalization was minimal, and the Department estimated a $4 million savings in solid waste export costs.

Waste disposal is a thorny problem even in small towns, but for New York City, the trash pile continues to mount: The Department of Sanitation handles nearly 10,000 tons per day of waste generated by residents and nonprofit corporations, and the cost of disposal in Manhattan has grown from $300 million in 2005 to about $400 million today. Commercial establishments are serviced by private carting firms who also collect about 10,000 tons per day. All of that trash must be transported to landfills—often hundreds of miles outside the city—where it is converted into methane gas.

[L]andlords may still be reluctant to install the fixtures because of first-time installation costs (which can exceed $600), concerns about maintenance, or because they simply aren’t aware disposers are permitted to begin with. Perhaps the greatest block to in-sink disposal adoption, however, are our own misconceptions about them. Water and electricity use are minimal (according to InSinkerator, disposers account for less than 1 percent of a household’s daily water usage, and the total energy cost is about $0.50 per year); the devices don’t require much maintenance and often last a decade or more; clogged pipes are rare because scraps are entirely pulverized; almost everything can go down the disposer (veggies, fruit, meat, pizza), and newer models are nearly silent (and not deadly).

They also help your kitchen garbage smell better. But that's nothing compared to recapturing millions of tons of methane.

How wet is Houston?

Via WGN-TV, the fourth-largest city in the U.S. has received more rain in the last week than Chicago receives in an average year. 

Chicago's average annual precipitation is 910 mm. Since last Friday, Houston has gotten 1,070 mm. The wettest year in Houston history (1900) dumped 1,851 mm on it. So far this year, with 4 months left to go, Houston has gotten 1,798 mm. Of course, the odds are pretty good that the city will get another 53 mm of rain before December 31st.

We have no idea how bad the damage is yet. The entire Houston Chronicle website is about the flood. At least the rain has stopped for now—but officials worry about additional reservoir overflows and levee breaks.

We're just beginning to understand the magnitude of this disaster. And with key Federal posts, including FEMA Director, yet to be filled, President Trump is so out of his depth one can only hope that state and local governments can help.

Not looking good in Houston

Hurricane Harvey has dropped so much rain on Houston that two 1930s-era dams have been overwhelmed for the first time in history:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed Tuesday morning that water was spilling from around the dam gates of the Addicks Reservoir, which has been overwhelmed by extreme rainfall from Hurricane Harvey. Officials said they expect the Barker Reservoir, to the south of Addicks, to begin overflowing similarly at some point Tuesday.

A Harris County Flood Control District meteorologist said the overflow from the reservoirs would eventually flow into downtown Houston.

The reservoirs, which flank Interstate 10 on the west side of Houston, flow into the Buffalo Bayou and are surrounded by parks and residential areas. Water levels in the two reservoirs had already reached record levels Monday evening, measuring 32 m at Addicks and 30 m at Barker.

Engineers were unable to measure water levels at the Barker Reservoir on Tuesday because its gauge was flooded overnight, said Jeff Lindner, the Harris County flood control meteorologist.

In response, City Lab asks, why can't the U.S. manage flooding?

For New Orleans, whose below-sea-level position makes it particularly imperiled, the August floods were a reminder of something we should take much more seriously than we have. We ought to apply more aggressively the lessons we claimed to be learning from the Dutch after Katrina. It’s a course of action that would amount to a sea change in how we approach the wet threat that surrounds us on every side.

We need to get as smart and wily about water as Rotterdam. New Orleans’s continued viability as a population center and commercial hub depends on it. We must learn to live with water, to absorb rainfall and storm surge in massive retention facilities, to designate greenspaces that double as parks. We need to stop paving our yardsto make nifty little pads for the family car. We need to build absorbent rooftop gardens on as many buildings as can be put to that purpose.

Speaking of, I'm planning to visit New Orleans this weekend. Harvey is expected to pass northwest of the city tomorrow and land in the Tennessee Valley by Friday afternoon. I'm still bringing water shoes and an umbrella.

Economics 101; or, why taxi fares are regulated

Yesterday, a man reportedly threw himself in front of a CTA train at the Fullerton El stop, shutting down the three busiest lines in the system during the morning rush hour. Commuters faced hours-long delays and an already at-capacity bus system struggled to adapt to the demand.

So did Lyft and Uber, as people found out. Lyft presented one of my friends with a $75 fare to go six kilometers; she wound up taking a bus and suffering through a two-hour commute. (I wasn't affected because I had the option of walking to work yesterday.)

Chicago's City Hall is outraged:

"It is unfortunate that at least two ride share companies chose to take advantage of this morning’s difficult commuter situation," said Lilia Charcon, a spokeswoman for the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection spokeswoman.

But that's their business model. If demand goes up faster than supply, prices rise.

Graph: Ray Bromley.

The only way to stop that from happening is through regulation. Like the way we regulate taxis. But then there is no way to get a taxi when demand goes up like it did yesterday, because they're all in use.

Welcome to economics.

Everything but the parents

A new apartment building called "Common Damen" is geared towards millennials who don't want to make commitments:

All furnishings (beds, couches, etc.) are included in the rent, as well as utilities, cable, high-speed WiFi, in-unit laundry, a cleaning service every other week, and an on-site group leader who organizes events like potluck dinners, yoga and book clubs.

“Renters are able to walk right in and have many of the things it could take years to establish — a place in a great neighborhood, access to their workplace and popular destinations, a core social network. For people who are mobile, professional, and have other priorities besides owning property, this is an ideal solution," [the developer] said.

So, for about the same rent as your own 1-bedroom apartment on the same block, you can live with random roommates for a few months with all the comforts of your parents' house, including, possibly, a random couple living in the master suite.

I don't know whether this is a good idea or evidence of the ever-extending adolescence of millennials. Possibly it's just an effort to capture consumer surplus from them?

The low-down on Robert Moses and the Southern State

Robert Moses was well known as a bigot during his lifetime. But there has always been some question about a story Robert Caro told in his 1974 biography of Moses, The Power Broker. In his book, Caro said that Moses deliberately designed the bridges along Long Island's Southern State Parkway too low for buses to keep "those people" out of Jones Beach.

Well, Cornell historian Thomas J. Campanella has analyzed data from the era and concluded...Caro was probably right:

There is little question that Moses held patently bigoted views. But to what extent were those prejudices embedded in his public works? Very much so, according to Caro, who described Moses as “the most racist human being I had ever really encountered.” The evidence is legion: minority neighborhoods bulldozed for urban renewal projects; simian-themed details in a Harlem playground; elaborate attempts to discourage non-whites from certain parks and pools. He complained of his works sullied by “that scum floating up from Puerto Rico.”

But Moses was complex. He gave Harlem a glorious pool and play center—now Jackie Robinson Park—one of the best public works of the New Deal era anywhere in the United States.

And contrary to a claim in The Power Broker, Moses clearly meant buses to serve his “little Jones Beach” in the Rockaways—Jacob Riis Park. While oriented mainly toward motorists (the parking lot was once the largest in the world), it is simply not true that New Yorkers without cars were excluded. The original site plan included bus drop-off zones, and photographs from the era plainly show buses loading and unloading passengers.

Limiting my search to only those arched stone or brick-clad structures in place or under construction when Moses began work on the Southern State, I recorded clearances for a total of 20 bridges, viaducts and overpasses: 7 on the Bronx River Parkway (completed in 1925); 6 on the initial portion of the Saw Mill River Parkway (1926) and 7 on the Hutchinson River Parkway (begun in 1924 and opened in 1927). I then took measure of the 20 original bridges and overpasses on the Southern State Parkway, from its start at the city line in Queens to the Wantagh Parkway, the first section to open (on November 7, 1927) and the portion used to reach Jones Beach. The verdict? It appears that Sid Shapiro was right.

Overall, clearances are substantially lower on the Moses parkway, averaging just 2.73 m (eastbound), against 3.08 m on the Hutchinson and 3.13 m on the Saw Mill. Even on the Bronx River Parkway—a road championed by an infamous racist, Madison Grant, author of the 1916 best seller The Passing of the Great Race—clearances averaged 2.94 m.

It's a very pretty road. But clearly, Moses didn't intend it for the masses.

The cost of climate change (and France's contribution)

Citylab has two complementary stories today. First, the bad news. A new study in Science shows that climate change will cost the southeast U.S. a lot more than the northeast:

Overall, the paper finds that climate change will cost the United States 1.2 percent of its GDP for every additional degree Celsius of warming, though that figure is somewhat uncertain. If global temperatures rise by four degrees Celsius by 2100—which is very roughly where the current terms of the Paris Agreement would put the planet—U.S. GDP could shrink anywhere between 1.6 and 5.6 percent.

Across the country’s southern half—and especially in states that border the Gulf of Mexico—climate change could impose the equivalent of a 20-percent tax on county-level income, according to the study. Harvests will dwindle, summer energy costs will soar, rising seas will erase real-estate holdings, and heatwaves will set off epidemics of cardiac and pulmonary disease.

The loss of human life dwarfs all the other economic costs of climate change. Almost every county between El Paso, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina, could see their mortality rate rise by more than 20 people out of every 100,000. By comparison, car accidents killed about 11 Americans out of every 100,000 in 2015.

But in the South and Southwest, other damages stack up. Some counties in eastern Texas could see agricultural yields fall by more than 50 percent. West Texas and Arizona may see energy costs rise by 20 percent.  

And now the good news. France has banned the manufacture and sales of cars with internal-combustion engines by 2040:

The Thursday announcement justifiably sent ripples through the automotive and environment world, as it would greatly aid new President Emmanuel Macron’s drive to make France carbon neutral by 2050. This isn’t the first plan of its kind—Norway already plans to phase out petrol and diesel car sales by 2025—but given France’s status as a major car manufacturer and a state with over 66 million citizens, it’s by far the most drastic announcement to date. Achieving this goal—calling it “ambitious” is an understatement—will require not just a slight change of lifestyle, but a massive cultural shift.

But if any city is laying the groundwork for this new world, it’s Paris, where a slew of car-calming, anti-diesel policies is already forcing people to rethink their relationship to cars. This radically different future for cars is surely unsettling for some, but Paris might just know how to ease people into it.

Nous esperons bien.

How the Windy City got its name

By boasting, it turns out. And writing in the New York Times, Mayor Rahm Emanuel carries on the tradition of thumbing New York's eye:

On Thursday, in the wake of a subway derailment and an epidemic of train delays, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York declared a state of emergency for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the busiest mass transit system in America. That same day, the nation’s third-busiest system — the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — handed out coupons for free coffee to riders stuck in the second year of slowdowns caused by repairs to prevent chronic fires.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, a recent survey found that 85 percent of passengers are satisfied with service on our transit system, the nation’s second most used.

The L, Chicago’s system, turned 125 this year. The elevated railway began as four wooden cars powered by coal and steam. Last year, more than 238 million rides were taken on the system, which, unlike the ones in New York and Washington, has not been troubled by systemic failures, breakdowns and delays. Even during a 28-day stretch of arctic temperatures in 2014, the L was never interrupted.

I mean, hey, it's the one bit of infrastructure Chicago has going for it. Of course, New York City's roads aren't great either.