WBEZ | urban development http://www.wbez.org/tags/urban-development Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en High-speed evolution http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/high-speed-evolution-105523 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mambol/5787422021/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/squirrel-by-mambol-via-flickr.jpg" title="Evolution may seem remote, but urban species are evolving before our eyes. (mambol via Flickr)" /></a></p><p>Humans&rsquo; impact on nature has a tendency to eclipse our expectations, from our capacity for population growth to our hand in altering atmospheric chemistry. Scientists studying urban ecology were similarly surprised to learn that animals in metropolitan areas appear to be evolving faster than our classic understanding of the process would predict.</p><p>Joel Brown, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, said that knowledge demands a new framework for environmental decision-making. He calls it evolutionarily enlightened management.</p><p>&ldquo;Evolution happens,&rdquo; said Brown, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift/2013-02-01/afternoon-shift-where-wild-things-are-105292">who was on The Afternoon Shift Feb. 1</a>. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just an academic thought.&rdquo;</p><p>It is surprising that evolution could be happening before our eyes, but at the same time it shouldn&rsquo;t be &mdash; species accustomed to our urbanized habitat meet the major criteria for speciation, the process of forming new species through evolution. Subject to different pressures than their more rural counterparts, and sufficiently separated from them by habitat loss, urban animal populations can spin off new &ldquo;ecotypes&rdquo; &mdash; not quite new species, taxonomically speaking, but genetically different nonetheless.</p><p>Recent research has shown the way we manage species induces rapid evolutionary changes. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/scitech/science/chicago-scientist-finds-evidence-high-speed-evolution">Scientists found populations of white-footed mice have shrunk over time</a>, in correlation with changes in climate and human population density. It isn&rsquo;t that they&rsquo;re just going hungry. A look at urbanized species reveals their mitochondrial DNA &mdash; their actual genes &mdash; have changed overnight, evolutionarily speaking.</p><p>&ldquo;We have this sense that nature is on hold until we make our decisions,&rdquo; Brown said. &ldquo;But evolution is happening around us.&rdquo;</p><p>We are not going to wake up and find our wolves have turned into Chihuahuas, he said, but &ldquo;backyard ecotypes&rdquo; are edging out their native counterparts in interesting ways. Red squirrels have developed tougher jaws to crack the harder nuts that fall from our deciduous hardwood trees. And some are getting fatter.</p><p>Squirrels in the Morton Arboretum, Brown said, build sizable seed caches for the winter &mdash; a 401acorn plan. In the city, packed together with other squirrels who might plunder their stash, they fatten up instead &mdash; they carry their money in their wallet.</p><p>No one knows exactly why this is happening. It could be that urban environments are more manic-depressive for mammals, so to speak, with greater heights and lower lows than in the wilderness. If that&rsquo;s true for squirrels, larger bodies could act as a check against lean times.</p><p>But Brown said the important thing is just to incorporate the knowledge that it is happening into environmental management. We catch these stories after the fact, he said, but we are facilitating and accelerating the evolution of urban ecotypes with almost every action, or inaction.</p><p>&ldquo;Oftentimes by making no decision, we&rsquo;re making a decision,&rdquo; Brown said, observing at least 80 Canada geese patrolling the UIC lawn outside his window while we spoke over the phone. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re rewarding those geese that don&rsquo;t migrate by giving them so much food.&rdquo;</p><p>Repatriating an errant raccoon to &ldquo;the wild&rdquo; may feel like a good idea, Brown said, but over time as more people dump urban-born animals into natural areas it will speed up the creation of these non-native ecotypes.</p><p>&ldquo;This becomes a societal decision,&rdquo; Brown said. &ldquo;Everybody has to get involved in this discussion.&rdquo;</p><p>Brown asked rhetorically, do we want to declare open hunting season for Canada geese after December 1? Evolutionarily enlightened management could be another tool in ecologists&rsquo; arsenal, he said, but it is also a responsibility.</p><p>&ldquo;If I&rsquo;m going to wield the evolutionary sword,&rdquo; Brown said, &ldquo;I have to be willing to die by it.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Follow Chris Bentley on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley.</a></em></p></p> Thu, 14 Feb 2013 06:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/high-speed-evolution-105523 Smart cities: can technology usher prosperity and equity? http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/smart-cities-can-technology-usher-prosperity-and-equity <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/archives/images/cityroom/wv_20100610c_large.png" alt="" /><p><p><em><a href="http://www.chicagopublicradio.org/Program_WV_Series.aspx?seriesID=169" target="_blank">Barry Weisberg</a>, our global cities contributor is in Shanghai, China for the 2010 World Expo, which runs through October. He reports for us as part of our continuing series, “<a href="http://www.chicagopublicradio.org/Program_WV_Series.aspx?seriesID=167" target="_blank">Global Cities: Challenges and Choices</a>.”</em></p><p><em>As mega cities expand, Barry hopes that governments and citizens will push for a future of intelligent, humane urban planning.</em></p><p><br> We have been living with dumb cities for decades. There is no better example than in the United States. In 2007, road traffic congestion squandered 2.8 billion gallons of petroleum and 4.2 billion hours of time. This cost the US $87.2 billion annually and is a result of the oil and automobile industries preventing the development of mass transit systems, while smart technology is largely reserved for military uses.<br> <br> What is a smart city? And smart according to whom? Well, IBM believes they have some answers. They want a “smart planet.” This means that we are interconnected, becoming instrumented with data, and becoming more intelligent about the use of the two. Their focus, presented persuasively by IBM Chairman Samuel J. Palmisano at the Shanghai Smart Cities Forum recently, focuses on smarter transportation, energy and utilities, health care, public safety, water, government services and education. For example, everyone hates to fill out paper forms. But smart (digital) records would save 25% of administrative costs, or up to 1.5% of annual Gross Domestic Product.<br> <br> Another powerful example is water. Cities normally lose 50% of the water supply because of a leaky infrastructure. This could be prevented by smart water management systems. The possibilities for increased efficiency and cost savings are evident. But more important than smart growth is equitable growth.<br> <br> If such innovations become universal, the drive toward smart cities may be one of the most important developments in human culture, comparable in importance to the industrial revolution. This is imperative for China, with 15 million annually and 300 million people in twenty years moving into cities. It is hard to imagine a functional or equitable city of twenty or thirty million people without a dramatic improvement in smart services. But the danger also exists for a dystopia.<br> <br> First, the drive for smart cities arose as a reaction to urban sprawl, congestion and a call for high-density urban living. This triggered the explosion of vertical urban growth. But who should decide density levels of urbanization? Can we leave that to the market?<br> <br> Second, as George Orwell explained in his famous book 1984, it is the potential for the enormous concentration of power in the hands of those that provide and manage smart services. However, Orwell never imagined the extent to which human activity, down to the molecular level, could be monitored and manipulated by a malevolent power.<br> <br> “Smart Cities” has become a tool of social control. For example, the IBM Forum lauded Operation Virtual Shield in Chicago, the citywide camera security system. This “smart” technology has been used to intensify the “war on crime and drugs,” which has become a war on community members who are affiliated with or related to gangs, or who live in those communities.<br> <br> Third, there is little evidence that such systems are evolving as two way streets, in which service providers insure smart services, but the recipients also have the capability for oversight of the service providers. Put in other terms, it is one thing to improve technology, but quite another to improve government. Albert Einstein understood this when he said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”<br> <br> Do we have the potential, as Palmisarno argued, “both technological and political," to make our cities smarter, more prosperous, more progressive? Only if creating smarter cities leads to equitable cities can we rest assured that the “smart city” is more than a creative business plan…<br> <br> <em>Barry Weisberg's commentaries reflect his own views and not necessarily those of Worldview or 91.5 WBEZ.</em></p></p> Thu, 10 Jun 2010 14:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/smart-cities-can-technology-usher-prosperity-and-equity