Weekly Urban News Update
March 1, 2019
In This Update: 
Turkish Amnesty For Illegal Building Structures May Threaten Residents' Lives
The Smart City Success of Small Cities
The Crisis of Housing Vacancies in Chinese Cities
The Rise of Black-Majority Cities in the United States 
Rio de Janeiro Makes Strides To Reduce Carbon Emissions
In the News and Around the Web
Turkish Amnesty for Illegal Building Structures May Threaten Residents' Lives
Turkish engineers are cautioning against government amnesty granted to illegally-constructed residential buildings and extensions. According to data by Turkey's Environment and Urbanization Ministry, more than half of its 13 million buildings violate housing regulations. A government program that began in 2018 provides amnesty to the owners of illegal structures, provided they pay taxes and levies. But, engineers say that the program, which has brought $3.1 billion in property taxes and registration fees to the government is "very dangerous." Earlier this month, a residential building in the Kartal district of Istanbul collapsed, killing 21 people. Its three illegally extended stories had been recently granted amnesty. Cemale Gokce, Chairman of the Chamber of Civil Engineers warns that amnesty will "mean transforming our cities, notably Istanbul into graveyards and result in coffins emerging from our homes."

Read more here.
The Smart City Success of Small Cities
Smart City notions often evoke images of mega-cities like Shanghai or tech hubs like Silicon Valley, but this week CNN Business highlights the success of Smart City planning in smaller cities around the world.  Because smart city planning focuses less on infrastructure development and more on employing an interconnected system of technological devices, smaller cities like Matera, Italy or Kalasatama, Finland have effectively improved the livability and efficiencies of their cities.  Kalasatama, a city built from the bottom-up, promises to save its its citizens up to an "hour each day," through smart city planning. Kerkko Vanhanen, Program Director of Smart Kalasatama says: "Five more minutes walking in the park, five more minutes with the kids before I have to leave for work, five more minutes earlier at home when I don't have to spend on logistics...Your life is easier because of living in the most functional city in the world."

Read more here.
The Crisis of Housing Vacancies in Chinese Cities
More than 1/5 of urban housing in China is vacant, says a new report by researchers at Southwestern university of Finance and Economics in Chengdu. Linda Poon, at City Lab, notes that Chinese limits on overseas investments has led individuals to invest their wealth in housing and land, leading to ruinous property speculation. Holding onto land has increased housing and rental prices and excluded first-time home buyers from the market. President Xi Jinping has staunchly opposed housing speculation, last year announcing that: "Houses are built to be inhabited, not for speculation," but the national government to crack down on housing speculation and levy property taxes has proven ineffective. 

Read more here.
The Rise of Black-Majority Cities in the United States
This week, Brookings Institution fellows David Harshabarger and Andre M. Perry released important research findings about the rise of black-majority cities. Harshbarger and Perry note this demographic trend began during the 1970s in cities like Baltimore, Detroit, and Memphis. But, the significance of this development is especially important today "amid a national conversation surrounding whether they can improve and develop while retaining their black majority." Black-majority cities are here to stay, conclude the authors, and recognizing their development potential and worth presents opportunity for sustainability, investment, and positive growth.

Read more here.
Rio de Janeiro Makes Strides Towards Carbon Emission Reduction
Rio de Janeiro is making important strides towards meeting its 2050 zero carbon emission goals, says the Thomson Reuters Foundation. A new approach to municipal waste management has been significant in countering the environmental degradation of growing deforestation and delayed environmental projects in Brazil. The plan uses a waste treatment plant outside of the capital to capture the methane gas released by household and industrial food and yard waste and turn it into biogas to sell to industries or the state's gas company. According to Jose Miguel Carneiro Pacheco at the city's Department of Conservation and Environment, rotting landfill waste releases methane gas that can drive climate change at a pace faster than cars or air conditioners. Pacheco asserts that addressing this has been key to carbon emission reduction in Brazil: so far,  the program is responsible for 2/3 of emissions reductions.

Read more here.
In the News and Around the Web
  • Moscow Shares Smart City Solutions: Moscow purports to share smart city technology with countries like India, Bangladesh, and Kazakhstan, primarily through video surveillance techniques.
  • Hong Kong Will Appropriate Golf Course for Housing: The government of Hong Kong plans to appropriate part of a 129 year old golf course for housing, angering club patrons and members, but also housing activists who see the government as doing too little to fix its housing crisis.
  • Tech Giants and Affordable Housing: Companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft hope to fund affordable housing.
  • Concrete Creations: As part of its week-long series on the negative impacts of concrete, The Guardian has featured photos of striking concrete structures in cities across the world.
In Prague, a concrete ventilation structure connects to the metro.
(Photo cred:  Cait Greeley/Guardian Witness)

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