City Shifts: Weekly News Roundup

City Shifts is a recurring Blueprint series that rounds up the latest and greatest content from writers and publishers across the web. From urban development and architecture to culture and technology, these articles are sure to help you up your virtual water cooler conversation game.

1. Sliding Walls, Hideable Offices: How the Pandemic Could Change Home Design (World Economic Forum)

Photo: Mikey Harris | Source: Unsplash

In Brief

As many of us brace for a second lockdown, this article from Sophie Davies (published by World Economic Forum) explains how architects across the world are exploring ways to make the next generation of living spaces more flexible, including planning for multi-functional rooms, home offices with sliding panel walls (for that ever-elusive work-life balance), and indoor-outdoor spaces.

Why We Care

COVID-19 has highlighted a range of housing design and affordability challenges. It’s making us take a hard look at current housing standards and what we consider to be “livable.” There’s a real need to raise the standard of living for lower socio-economic members of our community while keeping square footage—and consequently prices—down. The pandemic could usher in an era of equitable housing, bringing better ventilation, connectivity, and safety to more people than ever before.

2. The Healing Power of Garden Class (The Atlantic)

Photo: Markus Spiske | Source: Unsplash

In Brief

The Atlantic contributor Danielle Dreilinger profiles Rahn Broady, a New Orleans public-school teacher who’s using hands-on activities to teach students about sustainable agriculture and nutritious eating, which has proved particularly important for children who live in buildings without verdant outdoor space.

Why We Care

There are myriad reasons ecological education is important: it promotes proper nutrition, helps curb childhood obesity, and teaches the younger generation to be environmental stewards, to name a few. But the psychological importance can’t be understated—being in nature is a key factor in trauma healing, including post-traumatic stress disorder. While we can’t yet speak confidently about what the psychological impacts of growing up in a pandemic will be, programs that promote mental wellbeing and recognize the interdependence between people and the natural environment are worth encouraging.

3. Ethical Tech Starts With Addressing Ethical Debt (Wired)

Photo: Chris Montgomery | Source: Unsplash

In Brief

According to Wired contributors Casey Fiesler and Natalie Garrett, the pandemic has caused an uptick in “Zoombombings” (a phenomenon where trolls circumvent Zoom’s security measures to interrupt the video conferences of unsuspecting strangers), leading tech ethics experts to call on developers to take greater care in predicting antisocial user behaviors during the design process to avoid “ethical debts.”

Why We Care

We can agree that no one wants to have strangers hurl abuse at them on a conference call, right? Zoombombing is the latest in a series of digital ethics concerns that have led to mounting pressure on tech giants for greater proactivity in deterring negative user behaviors and greater accountability when things go awry. It’s an area that the big four (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) have repeatedly come under fire for—without much movement so far.

(And for good measure, here are some tips to keep your Zoom meetings private.)

4. A Brief Cultural History of the Parking Lot (The MIT Press Reader)

Photo: Uygar Kilic | Source: Unsplash

In Brief

Parking lots as a symbol for women’s liberation? Yes, really. In this excerpt (published in The MIT Press Reader) from Rethinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking, Eran Ben-Joseph explores parking’s impact on city development, mobility, consumerism, and curb blow-outs.

Why We Care

There’s never been a better time to look at the history of parking, with changes afoot both on- and off-street. On-street, many restaurants are reclaiming their parking areas as “patio space” in order to stay open during the pandemic. Off-street, organizations like REEF are transforming lots and garages into community-oriented hubs. And generally, there are increasing calls from urban designers to turn parking spaces into “people spaces.”

5. The Uncertain Future of Corporate HQs (Harvard Business Review)

Photo: Nastuh Abootalebi | Source: Unsplash

In Brief

Is COVID-19 the start of the end for corporate HQs? In this article for the Harvard Business Review, Blueprint’s own principal urbanist, Richard Florida, predicts most corporations will rely on a hub-and-spoke model post-pandemic, with corporate HQs remaining in urban centers and satellite complexes popping up to support remote workers.

Why We Care

There’s a lot at stake for urban areas when it comes to corporate headquarters, as demonstrated in last year’s race for Amazon HQ2. They have huge social and economic repercussions for surrounding areas, like “brain gain.” On the other hand, they’re perceived to drive up house prices and accelerate gentrification. In any case, climbing commercial vacancy rates and a redistribution of the workforce are sure to have an impact on our cities and towns and spur a wave of creative thinking around urban space and how to use it.


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