City Shifts: Weekly News Roundup

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City Shifts is a recurring Blueprint series that rounds up the latest and greatest content from writers and publishers across the web. From repurposing vacant office space to improving air circulation in buildings, these articles are sure to help you up your virtual water cooler conversation game.

1. Midtown Is Reeling. Should Its Offices Become Apartments? (The New York Times)

Photographer: Zastolskiy Victor | Source: Shutterstock

In Brief

The landlord-tenant relationship has grown tense in Midtown, Manhattan, as reported by Matthew Haag and Dana Rubinstein of The New York Times—14 percent of office space is currently vacant due to the pandemic, and New York City’s commercial real estate industry wants to turn that property (over 1 million square feet) into housing.

Why We Care

The pandemic has emptied office towers and storefronts in Manhattan and around the world. While commercial tenants and their landlords are at loggerheads over who must shoulder the financial burden of maintaining currently unworkable space, perhaps the more fundamental question is how to make underused space useable—and useful—again. What do cities, citizens, and businesses need most now, and what will serve our communities best moving forward? Can a city like New York benefit more from storefronts and office workspaces or additional housing? And how can we build the necessary flexibility into our municipal policies to permit innovation and make cities more resilient and responsive to crises?

2. The 15-Minute City Aims to Build More Liveable Neighbourhoods (The Globe and Mail)

Photographer: Elton Luz | Source: Unsplash

In Brief

The Globe and Mail’s Alex Bozikovic, Joe Castaldo, and Danielle Webb report on how the majority of Canadian cities and the communities therein do not measure up to the ideals of the amenity-rich, walkable 15-minute neighborhood. But, the health, socio-economic, and community benefits that this urban planning blueprint brings have Canadian city planners brainstorming how to best rework neighborhoods to be denser and more convenient for residents.

Why We Care

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has popularized the concept of the amenity-rich and walkable 15-minute neighborhood with a very high-profile push to make Paris a 15-minute city. Several municipalities around the world have now expressed interest in creating more workable, walkable, people-first neighborhoods that better fulfill residents’ everyday needs.

For cities built to serve vehicle traffic first, like many in North America, the transition to 15-minute neighborhoods is a massive undertaking, requiring careful consideration and participation from myriad stakeholders, including city officials, community members, and local businesses. But the conversation of what we want our neighborhoods to look like—what we want them to be—is a necessary first step in creating meaningful and lasting improvements to the livability of our urban, suburban, and rural communities.

3. As Remote Work Becomes the Norm, Codi Raises $7M to Expand to NYC (Boston Real Estate Times)

Photographer: Jonathan Kemper | Source: Unsplash

In Brief

Codi—a San Francisco–based company that offers daytime coworking spaces in private homes—has expanded to New York City, according to the Boston Real Estate Times. Capitalizing on the massive shift to remote work by NYC’s office workers, Codi’s hybrid work-from-home model provides employees with safe spaces to work in their neighborhoods, minimizing commutes while providing an opportunity for in-person collaboration.

Why We Care

A proportion of office workers will undoubtedly return to downtown towers once the threat of the pandemic has receded, but many employees will continue to work remotely and demand the flexibility to do so from their employers. With the future of work in flux, now is the time to rethink traditional live-work models.

Working remotely, rather than commuting to a central business district, helps take cars off the roads and reduces emissions, but some argue that the isolation of remote work can stifle the creativity that arises from a spontaneous meeting of minds in a collaborative office environment. The challenge, then, is how to marry the benefits of working in an office with the benefits of working from home while trimming away the downsides. The Codi model offers one possible answer that moves us closer to the 15-minute neighborhood ideal where everything you need (including your job!) is within walking distance from your home.

4. The Next COVID Dilemma: How to Make Buildings Breathe Better (Wired)

Photographer: PhotoHouse | Source: Shutterstock

In Brief

One of many things that the pandemic has forced us to reconsider is air circulation and quality in our buildings. But as Wired contributor Adam Rogers reports, existing HVAC systems are often poorly maintained with most attention paid to temperature control and little regard for filtration and ventilation performance—all the more worrisome as the temperature drops and people spend more time indoors.

Why We Care

In architecture and urban planning, form and function are married, but perhaps our definition of “function” has been too narrow. The way we design our buildings and our cities demands a holistic approach that prioritizes health, wellness, and happiness—and as unsexy as it may be, an effective HVAC system is necessary for securing the health of a building and the people who use it.

The few options that experts are exploring to most effectively and affordably increase the air exchange rate and improve air quality in buildings, including better ventilation and filtering, will have significant health benefits beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Acting now to improve air quality in buildings is a strong step toward preventing the spread of future illnesses as well as this one.

5. Here Are the Recipients of the 2021 Creative Capital Awards (Literary Hub)

Photographer: Andrian Valeanu | Source: Unsplash

In Brief

Rasheeda Saka of Literary Hub reports that Creative Capital—a New York City–based nonprofit that provides awards and advisory services to artists across many disciplines—selected 35 projects created by 42 artists as recipients of its 2021 awards, which offer career development services to artists on the rise and up to $50,000 in project funding.

Why We Care

The arts are perpetually underfunded and gaining an audience as an independent artist is incredibly difficult—no less amid a pandemic. But a flourishing arts scene is an essential component of a vibrant community—it brings character to our neighborhoods, draws in tourism dollars, and provides a ready source for conversation (and debate), strengthening social connection. Nonprofits like Creative Capital and other organizations dedicated to supporting artists are helping to secure a future where creativity and uniqueness are woven into the fabric of all our neighborhoods.

Blueprint contributor Micah Golomb-Leavitt

Micah Golomb-Leavitt is a writer and digital publishing intern for Blueprint.


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