Urban Notebook

Small Cities Struggle to Battle the Rise in Heroin Abuse

The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman from a heroin overdose shed new light on a startling truth: The drug has not only resurfaced, but is back with a vengeance. And unlike the 1970s and 1980s when it devastated inner-city neighborhoods, this time heroin is spawning a whole new generation of addicts in rural areas and smaller, struggling cities. 

The amount of heroin seized each year at the Mexican border increased 232 percent from 2008 to 2012. Meanwhile, the number of new heroin users jumped by almost 80 percent over a similar time period, according to surveys by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This has put a lot of pressure on cities already suffering from years of economic decline. These cities, some with multiple generations of heroin users, are worried they don’t have the resources to fight this latest scourge, which is being blamed on a successful crackdown by law enforcement on prescription painkillers. READ MORE

Setting Zero as a Goal Can Be a Useful Policy Fantasy

The lazy curly-cues of white smoke would collect over the reporters' computer terminals and hover thickly behind the glass-walled office of my direct editors.

I can’t remember the exact policy then – this was the late 1980s at The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk – but reporters and editors did smoke in my newsroom in one of the suburban bureaus. READ MORE

Seniors Create Their Own Communities in Cities

Why do people live in cities? Well, obviously, there are a lot of reasons, from work opportunities to cultural amenities. But for our purposes, one of the reasons is independence. Unlike rural or suburban locations where movement is largely dependent on owning a car, people who live in cities have so many more options for getting about, thanks to dense, walkable neighborhoods and extensive public transit.

Independence is a key reason why people tend to enjoy aging in cities, too. This desire has led, in part, to a growing trend whereby seniors cluster together in cities. These clusters, first noted in 1986 by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Michael Hunt, are called naturally occurring retirement communities. NORCs, as they are known, aren't purposely built for seniors. Rather, they evolve naturally, as adult residents age in place. READ MORE

Gentrification's Not So Black and White After All

What does a bus have to do with gentrification? In San Francisco, plenty. For years, high-tech firms such as Apple, Facebook and Google have been using private buses to transport workers from where they live in the city to where they work in Silicon Valley. As the companies have grown, so have the number of buses and so have the number of complaints about blocked public bus stops and bike lanes. But the real battle isn’t about buses clogging the streets. It’s about the rapid gentrification of San Francisco’s iconic neighborhoods by these wealthy, mostly white tech workers.

While frustrated San Franciscans have grabbed headlines with charges that “invaders” and “aliens” are bent on turning the City by the Bay into “Google-land,” they are not alone in their concerns. As cities have become increasingly popular in the past decade, gentrification has become a hot-button issue everywhere. READ MORE

Can Mayors Really Be Robin Hood?

After weeks of rallies and get-out-the-vote efforts, followed by weeks of careful ballot counting, residents in the small city of SeaTac, just south of Seattle, learned that a measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour had passed. The big move by the little municipality of 27,000 last November electrified advocates for the poor and working class.

At the same time, on the other side of the country, New York City elected its new mayor, Bill de Blasio. During campaigning, De Blasio spoke often about the yawning gap between the rich and poor in the nation's largest city, and promised to raise -- modestly -- the city's income tax on the rich to help pay for programs aimed at lifting up the city's poor. READ MORE