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Urban design - Aug 31

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City Dwellers Live Longer, Save More by Driving Less

Erica Barnett, WorldChanging
New York City, long seen as a mecca of hedonism and self-destructive indulgence, has witnessed a startling transformation over the past few years: life expectancy has increased dramatically to 78.6 years, nine months longer than the life expectancy in the rest of the US. Even more surprisingly, New York City's life expectancy is increasing at a faster rate than in other parts of the country; in 2004 alone, New Yorkers gained five months of life on average, far outpacing the national average increase of a month or two a year.

What accounts for this longevity?

... researchers believe that New York City residents may simply be healthier than other Americans, in large part because -- unlike many other Americans -- they walk almost everywhere. As New York Magazine notes,

New York is literally designed to force people to walk, to climb stairs -- and to do it quickly. Driving in the city is maddening, pushing us onto the sidewalks and up and down the stairs to the subways. What's more, our social contract dictates that you should move your ass when you're on the sidewalk, so as not to annoy your fellow walkers.

...[T]he very structure of the city coerces us to exercise far more than people elsewhere in the U.S., in a way that is strongly correlated with a far-better life expectancy. Every city block doubles as a racewalking track, every subway station, a StairMaster. Seen this way, the whole city looks like a massive exercise machine dedicated to improving our health while we run errands.

The city as a massive gym? It's not as implausible as it sounds.
(30 August 2007)


More people, more concrete, and lots more heat in Phoenix

Faye Bowers, The Christian Science Monitor
An 'urban heat island' effect, fed by the city's growth, is trapping heat and making temperatures soar.
---
,,,While news of global warming becomes as common as the wheeze of air conditioners here, Phoenix is fighting a different, if related, problem. In part because of heavy growth - particularly in the Phoenix metro area - heat is being reflected, trapped, and absorbed in concrete, rooftops, and a maze of buildings that blocks wind. At the same time, there's little vegetation to absorb the heat, and high energy usage generates more.

It's called the "urban heat-island effect," and whatever the impact of global warming here, this phenomenon is sending the mercury rising. On Tuesday, Phoenix tied the all-time record of 28 days at 110 degrees or greater in one summer, reached in 1979 and again in 2002. If the temperature rises to 110 degrees one more day this year, Phoenix will set a record.

"We're forecasting 111 for Wednesday, 109 for Thursday, and 110 again on Friday," says Keith Kincaid, a forecaster with the National Weather Service here. But if the temperature doesn't hit 110 on those days, he adds, "we have had 110-degree days in September before."

This summer is hot elsewhere, to be sure. But in few places can you fry an egg on a sidewalk as quickly and thoroughly as you can here. And you'd have to fry a lot of them: Experts say the main reason the number of 110-degree-or-higher days has risen so steadily - and steeply - is rapid growth. In the 1950s, for example, the temperature rose to 110 or higher an average of 6.7 days per year. In the 1960s it was 10.3 days per year; in the 1980s it was 19 days per year, and in the 2000s (through Aug. 21, 2007), 21.9 per year, according to the National Weather Service.
(30 August 2007)

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