Weekly Roundup: Can Silicon Valley Build the City of the Future?

INSIGHTS :  Jul. 7, 2016

The folks behind Y Combinator want to put their tech prowess toward urban improvements.

Empty lawn chair

The folks behind Y Combinator want to put their tech prowess toward urban improvements.

While the Urban Edge strives to provide readers with daily news and insights about urban policy, we’re also voracious readers of city news ourselves. As part of a new weekly feature, Senior Editor Ryan Holeywell highlights the week’s most interesting articles from around the web about urban policy and city life.

Behind Silicon Valley’s Latest Push: To Create A New Kind Of City

Image via flickr/Jaume Escofet Image via flickr/Jaume Escofet

Y Combinator — the famed Silicon Valley startup accelerator — has announced plans for a new research project focused on building better cities. It's calling for a reboot of zoning laws and government structure, among other reforms. The organization projects it will eventually have $100 million in funding, with a target of $20 million this year. But can the tech class really help solve cities’ problems? Buzzfeed talks to those who work in technology and urban planning to assess the program.

The Shrinking of the American Lawn

Image via Wes Peck. Image via Wes Peck/flickr.

Since 1978, the size of the average American home's lawn has shrunk by more than 26 percent, according to an analysis by the Atlantic. The trend comes as the square footage of homes is rising — so essentially, the larger house footprint is coming at the cost of the lawn. Interestingly, the trend doesn’t appear to be due to the influence of renewed interest in urban living and attached homes like townhouses. Instead, consumers are making a tradeoff, accepting smaller lawns in exchange for big homes and closer access to jobs.

Why Living In Some U.S. Cities is Literally Like Living In The Middle Ages


While homicide rates in Western Europe are about 1/50th what they were in the Middle Ages, that’s not true for many U.S. cities. “The murder rate in Los Angeles in 2015 is similar to England’s murder rate in the time of Shakespeare,” Washington Post's Wonkblog reports, citing an Oxford economist's data. “Living in Chicago today is similar to living in Italy in 1700, murder-wise.” The Post acknowledges the apples-to-oranges comparison is problematic -- it's comparing cities to countries -- but emphasizes it's still a useful way of looking at crime in a historical context.

The Reality of Living in Anytown, USA

Image via Mike Babiarz/flickr Image via Mike Babiarz/flickr

Every city — like every person — likes to think it’s unique. Whether it’s the claim that a place is really a “city of neighborhoods” or has unique, “fiercely independent” voters, Governing writes, most of those claims fall flat. In the modern world, American cities are increasingly uniform, and they don’t really differ in the ways locals insist. But maybe, the magazine writes, the key to a city's success is that residents think their hometown is unique, even if it's not.

How Self-Driving Cars Can Make Cities Better


Vox gives an overview of a new report from the National Association of City Transportation Officials that outlines the group's policy recommendations for self-driving vehicles. It wants to see self-driving vehicles in urban areas that travel no faster than 25 mph and can safely mingle with bikes and pedestrians. It also wants to see autonomous vehicles supplement, rather than replace, public transit, primarily by serving as a first-mile/last-mile solution.

Ryan Holeywell


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