Mike Langberg, a technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, dropped by a conference on "smart parking" recently. What he found was mind-boggling. Among the big ideas: You'll be able to use the Internet to reserve a parking meter before leaving home. Even if you forget to make a reservation, a navigation screen in your dashboard will direct you to a vacant spot.
The London bombings show the promise and limitations of surveillance cameras. In the July bombings, the cameras were extremely valuable as investigative tools, capturing the bombers and an accomplice on tape, but did nothing to deter the crime itself.
Last time you saw a parade, probably there were politicians perched on the back seats of convertibles or marching along, with supporters holding signs identifying them by name and office. If the parade was in Boston, then you can be sure that the grinning politicians paid for their places in the procession. It's a tradition, the Boston Globe reported recently.
When American Airlines pulled 200 daily flights out of St. Louis's Lambert Field airport in 2003, it wrecked the airport's finances. As you might have guessed, airports are weighted down with fixed costs-- things they must pay for regardless of how many people they serve, such as runways, terminals and baggage systems.
Corporate leadership of cities is at an all-time low. Business consolidations swallowed many of the local banks and newspapers that once called the shots in cities, and globalization has broadened the horizons of surviving companies. But as CEOs step back, others are stepping forward, including philanthropists.
Mayor Bill White's efforts to speed traffic on Houston's freeways spawned the "Safe Clear" program, under which any car stalled on a city highway would immediately be towed away, even if it were in an emergency lane and the driver could fix the problem. Cost of the tows: $75. The public response was overwhelmingly negative. After a few weeks, White softened the program, directing that people with flat tires would be towed for free.
In the future, we'll study different cities for how they managed the great urban turnaround at the end of the 20th century. We'll go to Philadelphia to learn how to revive a downtown and manage homelessness. We'll study Chicago for urban vision and street beautification.
Mark this in your diary: The great American free ride is fast coming to an end. In the years ahead, the solution to traffic congestion will be toll roads. From San Francisco to Houston, Washington, D.C. to Atlanta, transportation officials have decided that the next great wave of highway construction will come with an explicit price--and sometimes not a cheap one.
The 18th-century historic district in Charleston, South Carolina, has become so popular that very wealthy people are buying homes there to live in for a few weeks a year. What's wrong with that? It makes the area more like a museum than a real neighborhood.
Public art is a great thing, not least because of its ability to communicate complex ideas through symbolism. That was on the minds of city officials in the San Francisco suburb of Livermore, California, when they completed a new public library a few years ago and commissioned a $40,000 mural near the entrance to portray the tree of knowledge, with small portraits in its branches of great artists, writers, scientists and other historic figures.
Sometimes love can't be easily explained. Take the affection that skateboarders have for Philadelphia's John F. Kennedy Plaza--better known as LOVE Park. This small park, just across from city hall and home of the bright-red sculpture with four letters--L-O-V-E--stacked in two rows, is the most popular site in all of urban skateboarding.
In some parts of the country, playing sports in the street is part of the urban culture, like stickball in New York. Generations of suburban kids have grown up, too, with a basketball hoop on the cul-de-sac and after-school games.
Nationally, six straight years of revenue declines have put enormous pressure on state and local governments, nevertheless, some are thriving. Standard & Poor's, the credit-rating agency, reports that it issued more bond upgrades than downgrades in 2012.
The Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act are in full swing. With the influx of people who will be applying for benefits and the ACA requirement for online enrollment, it is more important than ever to verify the identities of those accessing benefits up front.