Monthly Archive: December 2015

To-Dos: Your January Home Checklist (9 photos)

Make a fresh start in the new year with a healthy pantry makeover, organized files and a decluttered home. Of course, once the energy of those new year’s resolutions begins to fizzle, you may be in need of a midwinter boost — when that time comes, try cozy accents and a few light-enhancing tips to keep…

Our 15 Most-Read Posts of 2015

(Illustration by Andrea Posada)

Out of the thousands of stories we wrote on the leaders, policies and innovations driving progress in cities this year, here are the 15 you read the most. Thanks for reading, sharing and supporting our work. For more look-backs at 2015, check out the best and worst Urban Trends of the year and our Year in Review. See you in 2016!

A Germophobe’s Guide to Buying a Metrocard
We kicked off 2015 with a strangely compelling tale of one germophobe’s investigation into a cleaner commute.

How a Not-Entirely-Polite Card Game Is Changing Urban Planning
The members of “Do Tank DC,” planners, architects and activists, and the founder of Greater Places, an online hub for urban design, had a wild, not-entirely-sober idea to turn urban planning into a game.

The Just City Essays
These 26 essays on urban justice were so popular we turned them into a free ebook that was downloaded thousands of times. Now you can receive a beautifully designed, limited-edition print copy.

The Threat to Detroit’s Rebound Isn’t Crime or the Economy, It’s the Mortgage Industry
One of the most sinister legacies of urban development — redlining — is making a de facto reappearance in Detroit.

Lexington, Kentucky (Photo by Britt Selvitelle)

New Species of City Discovered: The University City
Post-industrial City. Metropolis. Border Town. Tourist Mecca. We like to classify our cities, giving them labels that signal what makes them tick, why they’re special. Op-ed contributor Scott Shapiro broke down new data which suggest there’s another urban typology to add to the list: The University City.

What an Urban Sociologist Thinks Harvard’s Planning and Design Students Need to Know
Tom Dallessio, Next City’s president, CEO and publisher, spoke with Diane E. Davis in June, soon after she was named chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. They chatted about everything from urbanization in the “global south” to her morning commute.

Why One Silicon Valley City Said “No” to Google
Big money and even bigger egos are colliding in the tech world’s new company towns, and at least one tiny California city has “Google fatigue.”

10 Must-Read Books for Urbanists on Cities, Race and Public Space
Contributing writer Anna Clark offers her picks for anyone looking to better understand the dynamics of urban life. In a year when the literary world’s race issues made headlines more than once, Clark’s picks were 100 percent produced by writers of color.

Are You a Helicopter Parent? Blame Gentrification.
Evidence continues to mount about the negative impact that overparenting has on children. This is our story of how the rising cost of being a middle- or upper-middle-class parent in America’s most rapidly gentrifying areas is causing anxious, well-intentioned moms and dads.

Appreciating the sunset on the aptly named Sunset Limited near Willcox, Arizona (Photo by Danya Sherman)

What Long-Distance Trains Teach Us About Public Space in America
The long-distance train is one of America’s greatest and least heralded public spaces. We explore how the train encapsulates many qualities of public spaces that planners and designers try so hard to create.

How One City Will Change Its Entire Bus System Overnight
Last July, Houston revamped its entire 1970s-era bus network — more than 80 routes, 1,200 buses and a quarter-million daily passengers — literally overnight.

A Radical Design Movement Is Growing in New Orleans
What happens when activists, architects and artists team up to change their city?

A large temporary plaza built by Rebar on the Embarcadero on San Francisco’s Pier 9 (Credit: Rebar)

Hacking Public Space With the Designers Who Invented Park(ing) Day
Bay Area urban designer John Bela writes about how he and a small band of guerrilla planners liberated a parking space and with that, catalyzed a new way of thinking about public space.

The Urban Planner’s Guide to a Post-COP21 World
Cities are leading the fight against climate change. Here’s the blueprint for action.

One Mayor’s Downfall Killed the Design Project That Could’ve Changed Everything
Can public interest design survive in the political jungle that is the contemporary American city hall?

Shop Houzz: Cheers to Your Healthiest You (49 photos)

You’re revved up on resolutions and robust with motivation. Good news: The Houzz Shop has all the equipment and accessories you need for your new active lifestyle. Upgrade your space with a home gym, stock up on tools to energize the athlete in you and turn your kitchen into wellness central. Invest…

In Minnesota, a Family Business Thrives Making Homespun Toys by Hand

Lark Toys

Lark Toys is a family business in Minnesota. 

Kathy Gray runs Lark Toys alongside her husband, daughter and son-in-law. Here she shares the backstory on their business and guiding philosophies. 

How did Lark Toys begin?  

Kathy: Lark Toys has been in existence for 30 years. It was started by Donn and Sarah Kreofsky, a couple of teachers who liked making pull toys for their kids. They started selling the pieces at art fairs, and then they opened their own factory.

How did your family get involved? 

About eight years ago, the Kreofskys were looking for a family to take over, and we were a family looking for a business. It’s me, my husband Ron, our daughter Miranda and son-in-law Scott. We didn’t have a ton of money, so it took a little while to figure out, but eventually we managed it. We loved the fact that the original toy maker was still working at Lark Toys.

Did your family already have experience making toys?  

We actually have a pretty crazy variety of experience among us—my husband Ron and I owned a gift-making business. Ron was also a youth pastor, my son-in-law is an artist who has led wilderness trips, and my daughter and I are both licensed in hypnotherapy. Above all, we are all very entrepreneurial.

Lark Toys, after 30 years, is obviously well-loved in the community. But you also get a lot of foot traffic from travelers. Why is that?    

People come from all over the world because the Mayo Clinic is really close, about a 45-minute drive. People come between their appointments, and they share their incredible, wonderful stories that just take my breath away. We have always tried to make Lark Toys a therapeutic, recreational, have-a-blast kind of place. We have a carousel, a cafe, a mini golf course, llamas to pet—people come and they stay. 

You mentioned that one of the original toy makers is still with Lark Toys. 

Tim Monson has been making these toys for 28 years. Originally the Kreofsky family made them themselves, but as they grew, they hired a very young man to help them—Tim. Now he’s a very young grandpa. We also have helpers who make wheels, assemble the toys. 

What’s the future of Lark Toys?  

It’s never been our intention to be an extremely big operation, but we do find ourselves making more and more toys every year. We estimate that we get about 100,000 visitors a year. Since our business is retail, we try to make and find the best, most educational and uplifting toys, books, games, and gifts. Underneath and surrounding our choices is a desire to nurture, affirm, welcome, and care for the guests who come to Lark Toys and the staff who help us do it. We realize, increasingly, the gift of being able to create and make toys in our own workshop, and we want to do it with skill and quality and love.

12 Ways to Beat the Home Decor Blahs (15 photos)

Sometimes I feel like my house has a case of the blahs — I look around and realize I’m tired of the same old arrangements. When I was interviewing an interior designer recently, she told me how she always asks her clients’ permission to dig through their stuff, because so many treasures may be hidden…

WowHaus Top 50 of 2015: The most popular properties of the year (numbers 30 – 21)

Hopefully you enjoyed numbers 50 – 41 and numbers 40 – 31. Now we have got to numbers 30 – 21 of the most popular properties of the year on WowHaus and again the rundown is in reverse order. Enjoy! 30. The Pavilion modernist property in Coldingham Bay, Scottish Borders (pictured above) A house by […]

2015’s Top Transportation Wins and Losses

Addis Metro, the first light-rail transit line in sub-Saharan Africa, opened September in Ethiopia.

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Not a week went by this year when some city somewhere wasn’t accepting bids, awarding contracts, breaking ground or cutting ribbons on new bus or rail projects. But there were also weeks where either elected officials or the public had second thoughts about some projects. As the year comes to an end, we took a look at four of the most noteworthy mass transportation developments, both starts and stops.

Rail Transit Comes to Sub-Saharan Africa, Courtesy of China
While it may seem that the news out of sub-Saharan Africa is dominated by civil wars and strife, some countries in the region are making progress with their infrastructure.

This year saw the opening of the first light metro system in sub-saharan Africa in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. The two-line LRT network underwent nine months of testing before opening to the public in September. A Chinese rail construction firm, backed by Chinese government financing, built the Addis Ababa light metro.

Not long after that, the Ugandan government announced that it had entered into an agreement with the Chinese government where a Chinese firm would build the first of several proposed LRT lines connecting the capital of Kampala with surrounding communities. Around the same time, the Ugandan government also announced the launch of a commuter rail pilot project in Kampala that would run for at least one year.

China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation is also building the first of several LRT lines proposed for Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. The Chinese will also supply the rolling stock after plans to use rebuilt Toronto subway cars were scrapped. Lagos’ first line is scheduled to open in 2017, and work on the second line, which the national government will finance, was authorized this past fall.

The FAST Act Giveth and the FAST Act Taketh Away
Just in time for Christmas, Congress approved and President Obama signed into law the first multi-year transportation funding bill in a decade. Lots of ornaments were hung on this Christmas tree called the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act, and several of the biggest ones brought joy to the hearts of urbanists and advocates for multi-modal transportation.

President Barack Obama speaks in Tarrytown, N.Y. in May about the need for a 21st century transportation infrastructure. (AP Photo)

For starters, there was the endorsement of other-than-cars-first approaches to street design in the bill’s provisions that allow federally funded road projects to use alternative street and road design manuals in designing their projects. There’s more money for transit equipment purchase overall and buses in particular, as well as provisions that allow most metropolitan areas to spend transportation dollars as they best see fit. Transit-oriented development also gets a seat at the funding table with eligibility for TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act) loans. But in one of the act’s biggest asterisks attached to its ornaments, the pot of money for TIFIA loans was cut dramatically. The federal match for New Starts project funding was also cut by 25 percent.

Rob Ford’s Ghost Haunts Toronto
Former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford ran for office on a platform that opposed an extensive network of light-rail lines the city had planned with the support of Metrolinx, the transportation planning agency for the Greater Toronto region, claiming it harmed the interests of motorists. Instead, he pushed for new subway extensions, calling the light-rail plan unnecessary and saying “the people want subways.”

Ford mostly lost the fight with Toronto City Council over the light-rail plan, but the city councillors representing Scarborough, the eastern Toronto district that was the heart of Ford’s power base, apparently agreed with the former mayor; during the debate over what to do with the aging Scarborough RT line, they argued that a proposal to replace it with a light-rail line that would extend a line under construction along Eglinton Avenue turned their constituents into “second-class citizens.” The council as a whole ultimately agreed with them, voting to substitute an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line on a new alignment for the light-rail route.

It turns out this decision is causing as many headaches as the light rail vs. subway fight. Where the province of Ontario offered to pay the full cost of the light-rail route, the city will have to make up the difference between that amount and the much greater cost of the subway, and some of the people who might stand to benefit most from the line — Toronto developers — object to the way the city proposes to raise the money, namely by adding a citywide development fee and a property tax surcharge.

Gov. Hogan Feels Purple, Baltimoreans See Red
Maryland urbanites knew what Governor Larry Hogan’s election to succeed Martin O’Malley would mean; he made it plain that he was going to throw his predecessor’s transit-heavy state transportation program out the window. But when both suburban Washingtonians and Baltimoreans protested, the governor opted to review their favored rail projects before reaching a decision.

That decision took him most of the year to reach, and upset even more Baltimoreans. He opted to save the Purple Line light rail transit project in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, but kill Baltimore’s proposed crosstown Red Line. Coming as it did on the heels of a PR release touting “transportation benefits for every county in Maryland” that included a map from which Baltimore City was missing, the decision added injury to insult.

Rendering of Baltimore street with dedicated bus lane (Credit: Maryland Department of Transportation)

Perhaps recognizing the damage done, Hogan soon afterward unveiled a radical restructuring of Baltimore’s chaotic local bus network that featured a downtown busway and promised faster service to more of the city. But that wasn’t enough to mollify some Baltimoreans: Last week, The Baltimore Sun reported that the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the ACLU of Maryland have petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation to launch an investigation into Hogan’s decision, claiming that the shifting of money from the Red Line to highway projects elsewhere in the state was merely the latest in a long line of discriminatory acts that deprive African-Americans of transportation benefits.

Know of a project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.