Urban Insights From Around the Web

Ryan Holeywell | @RyanHoleywell | July 23, 2015

Pope Francis is increasingly being viewed as an urban thinker. Image via flickr/hotosmartinschulz

Pope Francis is increasingly being viewed as an urban thinker. Image via flickr/hotosmartinschulz

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 and the staff of the Kinder Institute highlight the week’s most interesting articles from around the web about urban policy and city life.

Pope Francis the Urbanist

As the Pope welcomes more than 60 mayors from around the world, it’s worth taking a look at his urban agenda. Citiscope highlights a letter in which he calls for improved housing, better transit and more welcoming neighborhoods. It also dives into the role the Vatican has played in coordinating urban planning projects with Rome.

What the people who do New York, Chicago, and DC’s subway voices look like

Those distinctive voices that offer instructions on subway systems – like “step back to allow the doors to close” – aren’t computer-generated. They’re real people with real stories. Vox compiles interviews with three of those voices, including the former car dealership employee who said she gained “instant celebrity” after becoming the voice of Washington, D.C.’s Metro system.

Paying for Schools With Property Taxes Doesn’t Work

Education Week blogger Dave Powell argues that property taxes aren’t a smart way to fund schools, in part because they’re so closely intertwined with politics. “We’ll have to work on a solution but should start here: providing inconsistent funding for schools, and tying it to the political process, as we do now, is a recipe for mediocrity,” Powell writes. At a time when people can easily move from place to place and globalization is knocking on the door, funding schools with local property taxes seems like a 19th century idea, he says.

The World’s Largest Indoor Water Park (VIDEO)

Remember when Harris County Judge Ed Emmett visited Germany to inspiration about how to repurpose the empty Astrodome? British entertainer Tom Scott takes viewers on a tour of the facility Emmett saw: the Tropical Islands Resort. Located within an airplane hanger that was never used, the massive indoor waterpark is large enough to house British Parliament – twice –with room to spare. Featuring beaches, water slides, an area for camping and even hot air balloon rides, the resort may be the world’s most creative re-use of a building.

Back in the Saddle: Can the State’s Quintessential Car Capital Be Made More Bike-Friendly?

Texas Observer explores the contradictory nature of Houston’s quest to become more bicycle friendly. Thanks in part to new Houstonians (aka “Newstonians”), more and more people here are riding their bikes. Meanwhile, the city is working to create an updated bike plan. At the same time, there are hundreds of bike crashes annually on Houston roads, and advocates are frustrated at the pace of change.

The Unintended Consequences Of A Program Designed To Help Homeowners (AUDIO)

As part of an effort to help homeowners, Maryland required mortgage servicers to draw up a list of people struggling to pay their mortgage. The idea was that the companies, once they identified those people, would offer them better financial terms in order to keep them from losing their homes. Sometimes that happened. But in other instances, the servicers used those lists to speed up foreclosure proceedings. NPR offers a lesson in how laws that have good intentions can actually backfire.

The University of Michigan Built a Fake Town for Driverless Cars

Mcity, the new driverless car research center in Ann Arbor, is built on a 32-acre campus and meant to simulate everything a driverless car might encounter in the real world. Fusion reports on the mock city, which includes roundabouts, freeways, bridges and railroad crossings, among other road features.

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