Briefing / Americas
Mexico City's taxi fleet plans to go green, all change at Chattanooga, and how Twitter is helping track the spread of illness through cities.
Chattanooga, Tennessee, was known in the 1960s as “the dirtiest city in America”. Today, thanks to the efforts of architects, environmentalists and urbanists, the small town of 170,000 people often features in American top 10 lists for its quality of life.
Now the town faces yet another challenge. Volkswagen likes the place so much that it has chosen to locate a billion-dollar plant, set to open in early 2011, just outside town.
Between the plant, its suppliers and spin-off businesses, a projected 11,500 new jobs will be generated. Studies predict that Chattanooga’s population will grow by up to 15,000 by 2020. The city will become richer by as much as $55m in new annual tax revenues.
The question is, will it get better? The city will publish proposals for a new masterplan in July, which will show how to incorporate the factory without damaging the environment.
However, many fear this is the end of the great quality of life they worked so hard to create. “Already, approximately a million trees were removed to prepare the site,” says Sandy Kurtz, co-founder of the environmental group Urban Century Institute. But even the dissenters can see the upside – the 6.5 sq km site was always designated for industrial use. Now it’s finally got a taker. General Motors can really blame the Germans now.
Recipe for success: ways to keep Chattanooga cheery
- Spend a lot of the new tax revenue to make sure the town’s arts, culture, and sports keep thriving.
- Promote a “Volkswagen Academy” to train potential employees in building the cars of the 21st century.
- Build a high-speed train link between Chattanooga’s Lovell Field airport and busy Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson nearby.
- Protect surrounding agricultural land from sprawl.
It’s catching USA [health]
How do you find out how sick a city is? Sickcity.org, set up in March, monitors Twitter for key words like “food poisoning” or “sore throat” in over 300 cities worldwide.
Founder John Geraci, who is based in Brooklyn, New York, believes online chatter directly charts how diseases are spreading in real time.
“It’s crazy that cities aren’t doing this already to improve public service,” he says. “But I think that in a year they will.” Geraci wants to use blogger conversation to track crime and fires next.
The only time Sickcity’s method will not work, he admits, is when there’s a pandemic and people Twitter out of fear, not because they’re sick.
Q&A - Gilberto Kassab
Mayor of São Paulo
Which cities are setting the benchmarks for quality of life?
São Paulo has made progress with its Clean City Law, which banned 30,000 outdoor adverts in the city. In terms of reducing emission of greenhouse gases, New York is leading the way. London’s congestion charge needs to be observed to see if the benefits last.
What are the most important challenges facing cities today?
Pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases. The C40, uniting the mayors of the 40 biggest cities in the world, was created because most of the pollution is produced in these cities. If we are successful, the world will benefit.
Which cities are beacons for environmental progress?
London set a strong example by reducing the pollution of the Thames. Seoul has done the same thing with its river.
If you could move to another city, where would you go?
I’ve been living in São Paulo since I was born, 49 years ago. I don’t see myself anywhere else. But I want to change it to the way it was in my childhood, before the 1960s and 70s when economic development made it such a polluted city.
Mexico City [TRAFFIC]
A new zero-emissions car could soon be joining the ranks of Mexico City’s already colourful taxi fleet. Designed by Alberto Villarreal following a call for proposals by local government, it is specifically devised for Latin American cities. A prototype is in the works.
What’s it got?
The roof: to make the most of the lengthy rainy season, the roof has a dish-like shape to collect rain for the cooling system.
The door: passengers and driver enter and exit through the same sliding door to avoid accidents with the many vehicles on the capital’s packed streets.
Sun screens: a vertical windshield offers drivers who are stuck in traffic additional protection from the scorching sun. The matte-finish paint job also helps avoid the sun reflecting in other drivers’ eyes.
Sociable seating: because taxi journeys are social events where even strangers share rides, a fourth passenger seat faces other passengers to facilitate conversation.
Spot the difference
How divided is your city? Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington DC, Miami and New York have similar levels of inequality to those of Abidjan, Nairobi, Buenos Aires and Santiago.