A Brief History of Music Festival Fails

To avoid the next Fyre Festival-style debacle, organizers should heed these five lessons.  

When the first wave of attendees arrived at the Fyre Festival in the Bahamas last night, they encountered a scene that didn’t seem to square with the five-figure entry fees some had paid. Instead of a weekend of beachside music, luxurious private-island glamping, and highly Instagrammable gourmet food, attendees were confronted by half-built tents, sad cheese sandwiches, and a general air of menace and chaos. Many took to Twitter to fire off disgruntled missives and photos—setting the stage for tone-deaf comparisons to refugee camps. Soon, guests started bailing for the airport. Then the festival was canceled entirely.

If there’s a lesson here, perhaps it’s that (shocker) you can’t trust everything you see on Instagram. That said, the internet delighted in watching the festival—the brainchild of Ja Rule and technology entrepreneur Billy McFarland—descend into dysfunction. The whole set-up—rich kids flock to an exotic island festival shilled by tastemakers like Kendall Jenner and headlined by Blink-182—stank of everything wrong with Kids These Days.

Fyre Festival’s Twitter-fueled schadenfreude may be the most spectacular megafestival meltdown in recent memory, but it’s hardly the first. The logistical challenges involved in housing, feeding, and attending to the bodily functions of hundreds of thousands of festivalgoers are often beyond the capacities of those who organize these events. These are, after all, essentially pop-up cities, often sited in impractically remote locations and architected by young visionaries with little feel for such infrastructural necessities as toilets, transportation, and tents. Fyre co-founder McFarland appears now to understand this, somewhat belatedly. “We were a little bit ambitious,” he told Rolling Stone. “There wasn’t water or sewage. It was almost like we tried building a city out of nothing.”

Yeah—almost! Indeed, some of the most memorable moments in festival-debacle history offer would-be organizers lessons that city leaders should know all too well.

Altamont, 1969: Avoid overpolicing

Note: Do not hire motorcycle gang members to work security. (AP)

The Rolling Stones wanted to headline a bigger, better Woodstock when they led the effort to scrape together a Bay Area megafestival in the wintry waning weeks of the 1960s. But when the location was moved from bucolic Golden Gate Park to desolate, toilet-deficient Altamont Speedway in Livermore, California, things went south fast. The weather was cold, the vibes were bad, and the Hell’s Angels got hired as “security. (Also, they were paid in beer.) The hippies did not mix well with the sloshed-up bikers, and violent spats erupted all over the grounds. Altamont attendees, in a sense, were both overpoliced and underprotected—a tragically familiar story for many communities in American cities now. By the end of the night, a teenager had been stabbed to death near the stage, a pregnant musician had her skull fractured, and the Jefferson Airplane’s Marty Balin had been knocked unconscious. “A day when everything went perfectly wrong,” Rolling Stone concluded at the time. But the Stones did get a great movie out of it: the 1970 documentary Gimme Shelter.

US Festival, 1983: The tech lords will not save you

The Woz, mid-US Festival. (Lennox McLendon/AP)

Much like Fyre instigator Billy McFarland, back in 1982 Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was a young technology tycoon with a vision and a limitless budget when he hatched plans for the US Festival, a three-day tech-music-mash-up-fest in the California desert. Wozniak imagined a kumbaya-style gathering that rejected the 1970s “me” ethos for “us.” Instead, he ended up demonstrating the limits of cutting-edge technology and the corrupting power of consumerism at the dawn of the Greed-is-Good decade. The 1982 version of the festival consumed a year of planning, featured tents laden with Apple computers so attendees could play Choplifter!, and lost $12 million. Undaunted, the Woz doubled down on US for the second and last 1983 edition, a four-day festival featuring a banger line-up of period stars. Wozniak decided at the last second to lure David Bowie off his world tour with a $1.5 million booking fee, angering headliners Van Halen, who demanded an extra half-million on top of their fee. That really angered the Clash, who’d only made that much to begin with, and let the audience know onstage. Both concerts bled money, and Wozniak was tens of millions in the hole by the time he decided to go back to the computer business.

Woodstock, 1999: Beware the urban heat island effect

At least Limp Bizkit left: A festivalgoer scavenges the post-apocalyptic aftermath of Woodstock ‘99. (AP)

This crass 30th anniversary money-grab showcased any number of terrible ‘90s things, from the music of Creed to the creepiness of the World Wide Web (the festival’s website delighted in posting photos of topless female festivalgoers). But for our purposes let’s focus on the festival’s inability to properly mitigate the urban heat island effect. Unlike the ‘69 original’s woodsy dairy farm, Woodstock ‘99 made its home on an old Air Force base in Rome, New York, where more than 200,000 attendees broiled atop acres of treeless tarmac in the late-July sun. Hundreds were treated for heat-related illness and dehydration, compounded by a lack of water, inadequate security, shitty music, and general atmosphere of rap-rock-addled idiocy that climaxed in fires and rioting as the show closed.

Isle of Wight, 2012: Invest in walkable infrastructure

No U.K. music festival is complete without mud. (Jim Ross/AP)

Too many people, too much rain, not enough road: That was the story of the 42nd edition of the U.K.’s flagship countercultural festival, held on an island off Wight County. A recurring theme in Brit festival fails involves a lack of weather resiliency (see also perpetually soggy Glastonbury), but this one was particularly spectacular. Nonstop downpours turned the island’s dirt roads to slurry, which caused such a back-up of cars stuck in the mud that ferry service from the mainland had to be suspended. Roughly 600 people spent a night stranded in their vehicles on the boat, with thousands more unable to enter the concert grounds at all. Organizers urged festivalgoers to ditch their cars, and use the alternative ferry for foot-traffic only—perhaps that should have been the message all along.

TomorrowWorld, 2015: The painful price of sprawl  

An astonishing lack of contingency planning led to the undoing of North America’s largest electronic dance music festival, which drew tens of thousands of revelers to a rural corner of unincorporated Fulton County, Georgia every year. In 2015 torrential rains caused campgrounds to flood almost immediately, forcing attendees to seek alternative accommodations—which was tough, since the shuttle stops were literally miles from the mud-soaked 8,000-acre concert grounds. Then concert organizers told everyone who had managed to flee that they weren’t allowed in the next day—a particularly unbecoming look for a festival whose slogan was “Unite Forever,” since many of those who’d stayed were VIP ticket-holders whose plush accommodations hadn’t turned to sludge.

America’s State Capitols: An Architectural Explainer

Like much of the built environment in the U.S., they are a bit more similar than you’d hope, and yet harbor plenty of intriguing variety.

You might, in the abstract, expect a dazzling range of difference in 50 variants on the same theme. But if states are laboratories of democracy, architects of state capitols have been copying over their lab mate’s shoulders.

Consider a few traits: Thirty-nine of them have domes; a considerable majority feature symmetrical wings for senate and house chambers; porticos and rotundas seem almost obligatory; almost all are built of granite or limestone.

Obviously, these traits bring to mind that most familiar of capitol buildings, the national one, and yet the imitative lineage is more complicated than that. The U.S. capitol derived inspiration from earlier state predecessors.

States selected the finest architects of their day to design their capitols about as often as they selected their finest citizens to be governors—not very frequently. The vast majority of these buildings were the work of architects of lesser-to-vanishing renown. There are a few works by eminent American architects, one by McKim Mead and White, two by Cass Gilbert, and one partially to Henry Hobson Richardson’s credit. And yet the first three of those are obvious experiments on familiar models, all looking far more like the national and state peers than anything else.

The capitol is a unique American building type. Like much of the built environment in the U.S., capitols are a bit more similar than you’d hope, and yet harbor plenty of intriguing variety. In 1976, Henry Russell Hitchcock wrote the only substantial appreciation of their form and design, Temples of Democracy: State Capitols of the U.S.A. He noted:

Skyscrapers and state capitols are America’s unique contribution to monumental architecture. The skyscraper is a product of function and structure; the state capitol owes its special character to symbolism. To most Americans today architectural symbolism means church design—the steeple and the pointed Gothic arch. Yet far more significant to the United States are earlier, Classically inspired architectural features, first built by colonial legislatures long before the opening guns of the Revolution. Their creators were legislators who saw in the dramatic possibilities of architecture a means of expressing the spirit of liberty. The vision was an accurate one: Those architectural features developed into symbols for the young nation, eventually taking on an abstract authority in the architecture of state capitols. Since the second decade of the nineteenth century the symbols have dominated every legislative building erected in the United States. Their story through two centuries of American building is a chronicle more continuous than any other, even that of the church and private house.

The Virginia capitol was the first to eschew the traditional colonial “state house” naming convention (which a number are still called) and invoke the grander antecedent of the Capitolium overlooking the Roman forum. The oldest State House, Maryland’s, preceded the Declaration of Independence, begun in 1772. It introduced spectators’ galleries and pioneered some aspects of the capitol form that have proven subsequently dominant, such as balanced legislative chambers and a central steeple or dome.

If the prevailing definition of “professional architect” was still nebulous in the early decades of the United States, almost none of the architects who designed capitols met it. Many were, in effect, designed by committees and executed by master builders. Some unlikely suspects had a hand in their creation. The Virginia State Capitol’s basic plan was the work of Thomas Jefferson and French Architect Charles-Louis Clérisseau and executed by others. The Ohio State Capitol was partially the work of Hudson River School artist Thomas Cole.

Construction on Maryland’s state house in Annapolis preceded the Declaration of Independence. (Library of Congress)

Capitol design was often considerably local work. Charles Bulfinch was one enterprising exception, whose work on the Massachusetts State House led eventually to commissions for the Maine State House and work on the national.

Federalism of some sort was an early common trend, soon supplanted by Greek Revival styles, particularly in the Southeast, where it’s well-represented by the capitols in Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Revivals are made to fade away, however, and this one did, virtually dying off by the Civil War.

Louisiana built a mock Gothic castle in Baton Rouge, abominated by one frequent river traveler. Mark Twain wrote in Life on the Mississippi:

It is pathetic enough that a whitewashed castle, with turrets and things—materials all ungenuine within and without, pretending to be what they are not—should ever have been built in this otherwise honorable place; but it is much more pathetic to see this architectural falsehood undergoing restoration and perpetuation in our day, when it would have been so easy to let dynamite finish what a charitable fire began, and then devote this restoration-money to the building of something genuine.

It’s still there, although it’s a wonder what Twain might have thought of its replacement—more on that later.

Formulas emerge

The Civil War roughly inaugurated a lengthy and more familiar mode of capitol construction. Most of the capitols that rose between then and the early 20th century explicitly aped the national model. Both state capitals and capitol buildings themselves were often on the move in this era, if not to new towns then from small plots in the center of town to grander crests somewhat outside of them. Swelling domes were de rigueur. Decor was frequently ornate. Width decisively supplanted depth as a prevailing characteristic, with wings ubiquitous.

The two examples by familiar architects stand out. Cass Gilbert’s splendid Beaux-Arts Minnesota capitol was a personal showcase for the architect, a son of St. Paul returned from New York for a plumb commission.

Such local favoritism is an abiding trait in capitol design throughout any era. The other great capitol of the era, McKim Mead and White’s Rhode Island State House, was only a result of unsatisfactory outcomes from a first round limited to in-state architects. Their Italian Renaissance capitol, with a dome modeled on St. Peter’s Basilica and Rome (one of the largest unsupported domes in the world) is a rightful landmark.

Competitions limited to in-state architects were fairly common: Pennsylvania’s capitol, designed by a Philadelphia firm, would seem to vindicate nativist approaches, others may not. Nationally-prominent architects entered other competitions—and often lost to competitors savvier in cultivating design commissions and local taste. As Hitchcock wrote, “Architects with less training learned more readily that radical architectural concoctions must be made palatable with familiar spices.”

Michigan’s state capitol in Lansing was designed by Elijah Myers, who also designed state capitols for Texas and Colorado. (Shober & Carqueville Lithograph Co./Library of Congress)

The most intrepid traveling salesman of the era was Elijah Myers, who designed the Texas, Michigan, and Colorado capitols, trading on a reputation for accessible grandeur. Myers was no hack, however, displaying a repeat tendency to experiment with projecting colonnades, and the considerably unusual coloration of the Texas capitol’s brown granite. Alfred Piquenard designed two capitols, in Illinois and Iowa, both quite different, with the latter the nation’s only to boast five domes, a structure slightly reminiscent of the Reichstag. Cass Gilbert later completed a second commission, the West Virginia state capitol, with his son.

The era featured plenty of good old-fashioned graft and scandal. There were disputes both over over the exhaustion of local quarries and the use of out-of-state stone. Myers was fired from both his Texas and his Colorado commissions over cost disputes. One Colorado commissioner stated: “The state has got his plans, and has paid for them. You see we don’t need him.” Myers also regarded the Wyoming state capitol as a flagrant ripoff of his own work.

New York State’s capitol’s construction history, to no one’s surprise, was likely the most scandal-ridden. It was originally designed by Thomas Fuller, who built the Canadian Parliament buildings, but he was relieved due to cost overruns and a lingering disrepute with the recently-deposed Tweed Gang. Henry Hobson Richardson and Leopold Eidlitz overhauled the entire plan of the capitol, steering an Italian Renaissance base in a Second Empire and Richardsonian Romqnesque direction before they were also fired by new Governor Grover Cleveland for perceived profligacy. The capitol was finished by another architect largely along the lines of their plans. It ultimately required 32 years to finish.

Virginia’s state capitol in Richmond as seen in 1860. (Library of Congress)

Decades-long construction periods and multiple architects are traits that strongly link most capitols to their principal stylistic predecessors, temples and churches. These projects often frustrate simple attributions of authorial agency.

There are some interesting quirks: for instance, the Wisconsin State capitol is a rare cruciform structure. Washington State’s capitol complex is the fullest domestic realization of a classical hilltop campus—the Roman Forum or Acropolis with much better landscaping. Richard Upjohn’s Connecticut capitol is a rare French and Gothic revival fusion.

Modernism arrives

Nebraska’s Capitol in Lincoln as seen in 1938. (John Vachon, Library of Congress)

Nebraska’s capitol launched a new modern era of capitol construction with a tower bearing a strong resemblance to Eliel Saarinen’s work. Continuing this trend of prairie modernism, North Dakota’s capitol is an an Art Deco skyscraper that looks like a piece of Rockefeller Center on its way to the Badlands.

The tallest, and probably most infamous, of these tower capitol’s was Louisiana’s. It’s the sort of result that might come about had Twain issued his earlier wish to the wrong genie. This Art Deco monument to Huey Long was completed with blinding speed in 15 months. Just a few years later, it was the site of his assassination (the grounds contains his tomb, to wrap up that thread neatly).

Modern forms didn’t always prevail. Delaware’s capitol complex in Dover is a 1930s throwback, a kind of Colonial Williamsburg to actually use, and Oregon’s is a hybrid of traditional and contemporary forms.

Hawaii’s state capitol is high-modern, but details that reference the state’s geography emerge with a closer look. (Library of Congress)

Supplementary structures were built to accommodate growing governments in the 1960s, most of them highly immemorable. Frank Lloyd Wright proposed a spiked glass-canopied Arizona capitol which he titled “The Oasis.” Instead, Arizona built three drab structures to house its state government. New Mexico’s capitol is designed to resemble the Pueblo Zia Sun Symbol from above, but does not make nearly as strong an impression on the street level. Edward Durrell Stone’s North Carolina legislative building is better, a fine example of “New Formalism,” but also the source of widely conflicting critical and popular evaluation.

The last capitol, Hawaii’s, is certainly the most unusual. A collaboration of the Hawaiian firm Belt, Lemmon and Lo and the San Francisco firm John Carl Warnecke and Associates, it looks like a high-modern concrete structure. Then, natural details emerge: Columns supporting its roof resemble palm trees; its fantastic Senate and House chambers were built to evoke volcanoes. An open-air central atrium offers a permeability unthinkable in most state climates, barring dome disasters. Fitting nicely into Hitchcock’s description of the building type, symbolism really does define its character—perhaps more than most of its brethren.

The Gentrification of Gotham

A new report from the New York City Comptroller’s office compares economic and demographic profiles at the neighborhood level in the Big Apple from 2000 and 2015.

As America’s mightiest metropolis, New York City serves as both outlier and example. The Big Apple’s economy dwarfs nations, but slice the city into its five boroughs and stark class divisions appear. A new report from New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer reveals just how profoundly the city has been transforming in the 21st century by comparing business and neighborhood details in 2000 and 2015. Dig around in the data and you’ll find detailed portraits of the city before and after gentrification, for better or worse.

The report leads with the good news: The number of businesses has increased and business establishment growth picked up more in the 22 lower-income communities of the city (an increase of 41 percent) than the 33 higher-income districts (an increase of 12 percent). The report touts the growth of high-income industries in these neighborhoods.

Data from United States Census Bureau. “Zip Code Business Patterns.” 2000-2015. (NYC Comptroller)

But business growth was even more pronounced in gentrifying neighborhoods. The 15 gentrifying neighborhoods as identified by the Furman Center saw a 45 percent jump in the number of businesses (a 45 percent increase from 28,132 to 42,261). As the report notes, all but one of the neighborhoods with the fastest business growth were gentrifying, with the biggest increases in Central Harlem and Crown Heights. Greenpoint and Williamsburg weren’t far behind.

The ten New York City neighborhoods with the largest business growth from 2000 to 2015 (NYC Comptroller)

Another thing to celebrate according the report: more grocery stores, banks, and restaurants.

The number of supermarkets—defined as grocery stores with 10+ employees—rose 68 percent (from 189 to 318), retail banks 47 percent (from 199 to 292), and retail and restaurants 62 percent (from 10,562 to 17,144). In East New York and Starrett City, the number of supermarkets jumped from 7 to 29; in Bedford Park, Fordham North, and Norwood from 17 to 31; and in Crown Heights North and Prospect Heights from 6 to 17.

The summary also points to business growth that create jobs with higher average wages outside of Manhattan. Businesses in professional and technical services more than doubled (from 992 to 1,987) in the four boroughs where those jobs pay an average yearly wage of $56,666. Information business increased from 278 to 547 in an industry that pays an average wage of $73,062 outside Manhattan. They point to increases in middle-class industries as well, with another 931 construction businesses growing, 380 transportation and warehousing businesses, and 222 wholesale trade businesses.

But there’s bad news in the report, too (even when it looks good). The largest business growth outside of Manhattan from 2000 to 2015 was a 128 percent increase in accommodation and food services. But this big job growth has been in a low-wage sector: The average yearly wage is $21,538 outside of Manhattan.

While businesses increased citywide, 82 percent of business establishments in lower-income neighborhoods had fewer than ten employees. Worse, New York City has gone in the wrong direction on black-owned businesses—a steep 31.4 percent decline from 2007 to 2012, compared to the national average of 2.4 percent increase, as indicated in the table below.

Black-owned businesses in America’s 25 largest cities with at least 500 businesses (NYC Comptroller)

The second part of the report, the Neighborhood Economic Profiles, is a data-rich snapshot of the city’s five boroughs and 55 sub-boroughs in 2000 and 2015. With top-lines on the number of businesses, median household income, and the unemployment rate, it’s a good way to take stock of how each individual neighborhood has changed in a decade and a half.

Borough Businesses in 2015 Percent Change Median Household Income Unemployment Rate in 2015 Unemployment Rate in 2000
Bronx 17,705 26% $35,000 10.3% 13.5%
Brooklyn 56,341 48% $50,200 7.7% 9.9%
Manhattan 105,553 -2% $74,600 5.9% 8.1%
Queens 48,477 33% $60,000 6.9% 7.3%
Staten Island 9,122 22% $71,000 5.2% 5.8%

The report rolls through neighborhood-level business creation stats (14 industries and eight sub-sectors), employment numbers, and the population of individual income brackets.

However, the report’s neighborhood-specific format does not lend itself easily to parsing out a comparison of this granular data on neighborhood demographics (age, education, birth place, race) and urban indicators (land use, work place, and commute method). So CityLab asked the NYC Comptrollers Office to compile the data they collected into a spreadsheet.

Ten neighborhoods with the largest percent decline in population of black residents from 2000 to 2015, compared with white population. (Andrew Small/CityLab)

With a few adjustments, such as highlighting the neighborhoods according to the Furman Center’s definitions of gentrifying (yellow), high income (green), and non-gentrifying (blue) neighborhoods and adding column filters to sort the data by each variable, we can dissect the neighborhood changes a lot more closely. The above table, for example, ranks the ten sub-boroughs where the population of black residents has had the largest percentage decrease. Or take a look at this next chart, which shows where the white population has increased the most since 2000. In Bed-Stuy, the share of white residents increased by 1,235 percent, while the black population decreased by 17 percent.

Ten neighborhoods with the largest percent increase in population of white residents from 2000 to 2015, compared to black residents. (Andrew Small/CityLab)

Though some scholars dispute gentrification’s impact on displacement, with regression analysis failing to see a one-to-one relationship between people moving in and people out, the raw demographic turnover suggests not everyone shares in a neighborhood’s economic success. The Comptroller’s report acknowledges these disparities and has recommendations to address the barriers to entry and advancement.

With a set of more sophisticated statistical tools, this data could reward further study, especially given its population profiles for different economic tiers: We’re working an a fuller map to show what these factors look like across the city. Until then, click away here or download our spreadsheet on Dropbox and let us know what you find in this data trove.

Can L.A. De-Stink Its Metro?

The city is installing lavender-smelling deodorizers in train cars to address rider complaints.

L.A. Metro

Public transit doesn’t have to reek, says L.A.’s Metro. As part of its ongoing fleet improvement, the transit authority is installing a bunch of hefty, in-train deodorizers, which it hopes will tamper offensive odors like rancid sweat, clinging cigarette funk, and worse.

“The idea is to try and neutralize any strong smell, bad or good,” says Rick Jager, a Metro communications manager. “There have been complaints [about] odor issues on trains, from individual body odor, smokers, people with very strong perfume, strong-smelling food brought on board the trains, etc. Facilities maintenance decided to see if it was possible to place deodorizers on the trains, and found there was space to place them near the HVAC air filters.”

Anna Chen/The Source/L.A. Metro

The deodorizers (brand name: “Odor Genie”) are going in four-to-a-car on the Red and Purple lines. If they work out well, the Metro might install them on more lines, where they’ll passively absorb scents into charcoal sponges until needing to be changed in about two months. Chances are that riders might not even notice.

“From personal experience, the lavender-vanilla scent is very light and you need to be pretty up-close to smell it,” says Jager. “That said, I observed anecdotally that the scent might be more noticeable in a place that doesn’t see much movement, like a bathroom or bedroom, but on a moving train it’s not that noticeable at all.”

Jager says he hasn’t heard of any other transit agency currently using deodorizers, so it’s possible L.A. is a modern-day pioneer of nose-pleasing commuting. Of course, if we were to go way back, New York City did roll out an experimental subway car in the 1950s that included not just deodorizers but germ filters and soft, piped-in music, though it’s uncertain if those scent-killing devices ever saw widespread adoption.

H/t L.A. Magazine

The Lawsuits Over NYC’s Subway Inaccessibility Are Long Overdue

Advocates allege that the entire MTA system discriminates against riders with disabilities.

The subway is often cited as the most convenient way to get around New York City, but for Chris Pangilinan, riding the system is like playing a game of Russian roulette. “There are some 20 elevators out every day, and we don’t know which stations they’re going to be at,” says Pangilinan, a transit planner who uses a wheelchair. “That’s impossible to plan your life around.”

It was only a matter of time before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority would be hit with another accessibility complaint—this time, in both federal and state court. Earlier this week, the nonprofit Disability Rights Advocate (DRA) filed two lawsuits on behalf of a handful of individuals, including Pangilinan, and a coalition of disabilities-rights organizations that say the MTA is discriminating against people with disabilities by running the least-accessible subway among U.S. major cities.

This latest pair of lawsuits is unprecedented, says DRA’s litigation director Michelle Caiola, because they’re going after the entire system. The federal suit contends that the existing subway elevators “aren’t maintained, that they break down too frequently, and [are] out of service too long,” Caiola tells CityLab. “When they do break down, there isn’t adequate notice given to people who rely on those, and there’s no alternatives to help people who are stuck.” Meanwhile, the state complaint alleges the overall system is generally inaccessible, and calls on MTA to come up with a plan to change all that.

When Pangilinan moved to Brooklyn more than two years ago, he made sure to live close to a subway station with an elevator—which only about 100 of the 472 stations have. In fact, according to the lawsuits, three-quarters of all subway stations are not wheelchair accessible, lacking elevators and lifts. Factor in the two stations that are on street level, and the accessibility rate of NYC’s subway sits at just 22 percent. By comparison, the Washington, D.C., and San Francisco transit systems score 100 percent in accessibility. Even Chicago’s system—which started service in 1892, 12 years before NYC’s subway began its operations—is more than 60 percent accessible.

Pink dots indicate stations that are completely inaccessible to wheelchair users. Blue dots represent stations that are only accessible in one direction, while green indicates that not all lines that run through station are accessible. (Disability Rights Advocate)

To get to his office near the Bowling Green station in lower Manhattan, Pangilinan first propels his wheelchair 10 minutes from his house to the nearby Borough Hall station. Then he takes two elevators down to the northbound platform and gets off at the next stop. That trip is just 25 minutes. Coming home, however, is a different story. “I can’t take the reverse path because Borough Hall is not accessible in the southbound direction on the A-C line,” he says, adding that he has to add an extra 10 minutes to his commute to reach a different station and essentially take a different route home.

And that’s just on a good day. Pangilinan says the elevators are down at the stations he frequents at least once or twice a week. When they’re out of commission, that adds 20 to 30 minutes to his commute each way. The lawsuit alleges that elevators at about 25 stations are likely to be broken at any given moment—and they stay broken for hours, sometimes even weeks. Pangilinan says he’s counted nearly 220 elevator outages since he’s moved to the city. There have been times he’s had to decline invitations to events because the destination sits in what he calls an “elevator desert.”

The MTA has not commented on the lawsuits, but told CityLab in a statement that the agency is spending over $1 billion to make 25 stations more accessible, and putting $334 million toward replacing existing elevators and escalators in the coming years. The agency also says that, while the elevators aren’t always operable, they’re generally available to the public over 96 percent of the time.

Caiola’s nonprofit previously filed other suits alleging that the MTA had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to improve accessibility during multi-million-dollar renovations to stations in Manhattan and the Bronx. (The ADA requires that at least 20 percent of budgets for upgrades be dedicated to improving accessibility.) Now, Caiola’s group is invoking the city’s human rights law, “which is a great civil rights statute with a lot of teeth,” she tells CityLab. “We believe [the MTA] is not doing what they need to do to include the disabilities community into the fabric of New York City.”

Both Caiola and Pangilinan say they’re optimistic that the MTA will take action. San Francisco and Boston both score high for accessibility, and that is largely the result of cases like this latest one. In the 1990s, the DRA won a lawsuit that forced the Bay Area Rapid Transit system to fix and replace broken escalators and elevators, clean them regularly, and conduct preventive maintenance. And a landmark case against the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in 2006 resulted in $310 million overhaul of the entire public transit system.

Still, these cases are small—but not insignificant—battles in the greater national fight for accessibility across the U.S. public transportation network, and that goes beyond elevators to broader station design. In some systems, the level between the platform and the train is uneven, making the gap a major obstacle to boarding. Other systems may still lack adequate accommodation for visually impaired riders. Just last year in D.C., for instance, a rider who is almost totally blind fell between the gap of two metro cars after mistaking it for a doorway. “It felt normal,” he told local radio station WAMU after the incident. Above ground, broken sidewalks may make it hard to get to a bus station.

One major concern that Pangilinan has for the future of public transit is the increasing integration of private companies like Uber and Lyft, which have yet to make rides convenient for wheelchairs. “NYC had a mandate for 50 percent of all yellow cabs to be wheelchair accessible by 2020, which is great,” he says. “But if the taxi industry is being overrun by Uber and Lyft, then it’s not very helpful, now is it?”

He adds that if ride-sharing companies are going to become part of the public transportation system, they all have to be truly wheelchair accessible. “And I don’t mean that they’re going to call some van that’s not affiliated with them to get you 10 minutes later,” he says. “I mean equivalent service. That you and your friend can board the same vehicle seamlessly—that needs to happen today.”

Lab Report: What School Segregation Looks Like in 2017

A morning roundup of the day’s news.

School segregation, version 2017: A federal judge’s ruling in Alabama allows a predominantly white city to separate from its more diverse school district. The judge acknowledged the racial motivations of the secession, but based her decision in part on concern for black students caught in the middle. (Washington Post)

Stepping aside: The head of Uber’s self-driving car program has recused himself from those duties amid accusations that he stole trade secrets from Google’s Waymo—Uber’s biggest rival in the driverless car frontier. (New York Times)

Sweet dreams: Santa Fe prepares for a vote next week on a soda tax that would fund early childhood education programs, with proponents getting a boost from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Meanwhile, Seattle’s similar proposal is revised to include diet drinks, for equity reasons. (Santa Fe New Mexican, Seattle Weekly)

Return of the big box: Companies like Starbucks and Apple are counteracting Amazon with “bigger, immersive” experiences, for example: the world’s biggest roastery planned for Chicago’s Magnificent Mile and Apple’s “town square” model. (Co.Design)

Better urbanism in three words: A Canadian urbanist this week invited the Twittervese to offer succinct ideas for better urbanism. Sample responses: “Create joyous moments,” “Transit! Transit! Transit!” (Next City)

Smoking ban: New York City is moving to prohibit smoking in city housing, including nearly 140,000 planned affordable units, as the business community bucks against proposals to raise cigarette packs to $13 and halve the number of stores selling tobacco. (Crain’s, NY Daily News)

The urban lens:

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Poems That Show How Gentrification Is Personal

To close out National Poetry Month, we rounded up poems that translate gentrification and the housing crisis into personal terms.

Terms like “gentrification” and “housing crisis” get tossed around so much that they’re often stripped of their human context, framed as abstract, hypothetical, and overwhelming concepts. Good poetry can take what is unwieldy and make it specific and human, showing viscerally how policy and development translate to everyday lives. As National Poetry Month comes to a close, here are a few poems that capture the physical and emotional consequences of urban transformation. (Be sure to also check out this collection of favorite poems from The Atlantic and CityLab staff, too.)

Dispatches From The Black Barbershop, Tony’s Chair. 2011,” Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, Sidekick Lit

jeff got knocked out on east main by a sucker punch that broke up the 4th of july cookout in front of brenda’s hair shop and when he woke up it was a whole foods see that’s why you sittin up here talkin bout you lonely while my rent goin up every month but I still got my name on the door

There is a Street Named After Martin Luther King Jr. In Every City,” Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, Sidekick Lit

after all / are you less / of a ghost / if you die on a street / named for a man who / they will say / could have saved you?

Gentrification,” Sherman Alexie, The New American Poetry Review

Let us write poems

For she who found that wasp nest

While remodeling the wreck.

But let us remember that wreck

Was, for five decades, the nest

For a black man and his father.

Housing for All,” Tyrone Lewis, The Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development

Lewis, from the Bay Area, wrote this when he was 12 about his own family’s struggle to find an affordable place to live.

We’ll Work hard

Day by day

‘til everyone has

A place to stay

I shouldn’t see couches

On the sidewalk

I should see a street

Full of U-haul trucks

This Is Home,”Deandre Evans, Will Hartfield, and Donte Clark, Off/Page Project

This poem, produced in conjunction with The Center for Investigative Reporting, touches on the mismanagement of public housing in Richmond, California and the dreams and needs of people who live there.

For more, you can find poems about architecture here; explore the role of coffeehouses, poetry workshops, and open mics as third places; or consider the potential of poetry to reintroduce concepts of proportion and beauty to the architectural mainstream.

Denver’s Trees Just Turned Blue

The freaky forests are an artistic cry against global deforestation

Denver’s flora right now seems more suitable for Planetoid Zorp than Earth. Groves of downtown trees have incurred a shocking transformation, their branches turning as unnaturally blue as the glowing water in a reactor core.

This urban surrealism is the work of Australian artist Konstantin Dimopoulos, who is in the process of painting 150 city trees an eye-popping cerulean shade. Though an application of primer and oil-based paint is typically best for exterior wood surfaces, Dimopoulos is using a water-based colorant that’s safe for trees.

“It’s a vibrant, electric blue. The most striking element is how it contrasts against the green leaves,” says David Ehrlich of the nonprofit Denver Theatre District, one of the groups that helped bring the project to town. “I think that people are clearly intrigued because it is striking but also slightly unexpected.”

Adam Larkey Photography

Dimopoulos’ “Blue Trees” installations—over the years he’s done others in Seattle, Vancouver, London, Melbourne, and elsewhere—are meant to draw attention to the death of the world’s forests. Each year loggers rip up a forested area half the size of England, causing habitat and species destruction, accelerated climate change, and perhaps the total loss of all rain forests in the next hundred years.

The artist hasn’t responded to our request for comment, but he described the project this way to The Park People, a tree-planting organization that is also involved:

I chose to use blue because blue trees do not exist in nature. I want people to notice the trees, to see them as more than just wallpaper in their lives. Change can be threatening. Changing a local environment through color is both disconcerting and even uncomfortable. The trees I color blue will revert back to their natural state. Yet the old-growth forests and rainforests that are being removed from the planet—trees that we cannot see, trees that are hundreds of years old—are irreplaceable, at least in our lifetime.

Adam Larkey Photography

“We align closely with Konstantin Dimopoulos’ concern over global deforestation and his desire to raise awareness about the importance of forests to the health and sustainability of our communities and our planet,” says The Park People’s Kim Yuan-Farrell. “We hope that Denverites will come away with a new or renewed appreciation for the important role that our trees play.” One way to do that, she suggests, is by volunteering or donating to give free trees to those who can’t afford them.

The artist and his paintbrush, aided by volunteers, will continue blue-washing branches until the beginning of May. The trees will remain that way for the next several months until the paint, aided by whatever rain comes, gradually wears off.

Adam Larkey Photography

Every U.S. County Has an Affordable Housing Crisis

This is a problem that transcends the rural-urban divide.

The affordable housing crisis has spared no county—rural or urban. From small towns like Traverse City, Michigan, to big expensive cities like San Francisco, a cheap and decent place to live is hard to come by. And it would be even harder without government support, according to a new report by the Urban Institute.

Nationwide, only 21 units are available per 100 extremely low-income renter households (those earning below 30 percent of the area median income) without government assistance. With assistance, it’s 46.

UI has also created a neat interactive map, which is an update from a previous version. It lets users explore the gap between the demand and supply of affordable units in every single U.S. county. (The National Low Income Housing Coalition released a similar report for states and metros this year, based 2015 one-year American Community Survey data. The UI report is based on 2010-2014 five-year estimates, which is better for a county-level analysis.) The UI map also lets users toggle the impact of assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Here’s what the affordable housing deficit looks like in Hays County, Texas. (Urban Institute)

The map shows how much more severe the problem is in urban counties. Overall, they have 42 units per every 100 low-income renting household, compared to 62 among rural counties. But in a blog post, the UI researchers note that while housing costs are lower in the countryside, so are incomes. And poverty rates are higher. The researches detail the challenges of some of these small towns:

In some small towns, rising rents are making the affordability crisis worse. Small resort towns, like Breckenridge, Colorado, and Traverse City, Michigan, are feeling the squeeze of gentrification. Tourism fuels the economy, opening up jobs for locals and seasonal workers, but affordable rentals are hard to find. And many landlords can earn more from short-term rentals to tourists than long-term leases to residents.

In some communities, like Sunflower County in the Mississippi Delta, deep-seeded economic distress from manufacturing job loss and changes in the agriculture industry has made it harder for families to cover basic expenses. With the poverty rate and unemployment rate nearly double the national average, many Sunflower County households have too few resources to afford housing.

Without federal assistance, rural counties would lose 40 percent of the housing stock that’s affordable to residents who live in deep poverty. Urban ones would be down by 57 percent. Here’s what America would look like:

Here’s what America looks like without housing assistance. (Urban Institute)

It might follow that, for the Trump administration to achieve its stated goals of making rural America more prosperous and fixing the “inner cities,” it would boost USDA and HUD assistance programs instead of cutting them, as it has proposed. That, and measures to alleviate the pressures renters have faced since the Great Recession, would go a long way toward making America affordable again.

A Look Back at Expo 67’s U.S. Pavilion

Bold on the outside, campy on the inside—the Buckminster Fuller and Cambridge Seven Associates project showed visitors that the world’s superpower could have fun, too.

Expo 67, which opened 50 years ago today, brought optimistic and mostly temporary architecture from around the globe onto three sites along the Saint Lawrence River in Montreal under the theme of Man and His World. One pavilion that still stands today provided some of the most memorable fair experiences.

In Design for a Fair: The United States Exhibition at Expo 67 Montreal, Canada, viewers can immerse themselves in the playful cultural exhibits by Cambridge Seven Associates inside a 20-story geodesic dome by Buckminster Fuller.

Filmed by Peter Chermayeff, a founding principal of Cambridge Seven, Design for a Fair uses the voices of the pavilion’s creators to explain their mission and the user experience.

Inside, visitors were greeted to seven levels of exhibits showcasing “Creative America,” which included the space program, Hollywood, popular music, and contemporary art. They could either experience them quickly, by taking the fair’s train through the the structure, or walk in and travel up via a slow-moving escalator.

Despite all of its visual delights, one of the designers recounts in the film that they received complaints from U.S. congressmen lamenting the lack of industrial might and weaponry. In 2013, Daniela Sheinin wrote for the Journal of Transnational American Studies that the pavilion was admired by most visitors from abroad and people along the U.S. coasts, but not as much in the American heartland:

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung called the U.S. Pavilion a “masterpiece of intelligent wit and… self-irony.” “Alas, the exhibit inside the dome is… scandalous,” reported the Birmingham Sun-Bulletin; “It is vulgar, ostentatious and somehow suggests the false but blatant victory of the homosexual.”

In fact, the exhibits conveyed an ironic and campy side of America—a liberating departure from what Sheinin describes as a “stodgy, heavy-handed past in U.S. propaganda.” She also notes that the campiness wasn’t always an inside joke.

Fuller’s idea for a dome had been previously rejected for the 1964 New York World’s Fair by its president, Robert Moses. The dome in Montreal leaked and there were reports of droppings falling from a NASA satellite where birds were nesting. Nearly a decade after Expo 67 closed, a fire melted the translucent skin on the dome, leaving only its steel bones.

Fuller, who died in 1983, was interested in better connecting modern architecture to environmental needs. Fittingly, after it sat vacant for another 15 years, Environment Canada purchased the structure, turning it into a museum devoted to the water ecosystem of the Great Lakes–Saint Lawrence River region. Today, it is known as the Montreal Biosphère and focuses on environmental issues and sustainable development. No American camp left to be found.