05/09/16 2:15pm

UBER AND LYFT PULL OUT OF AUSTIN, PREPARE FOR CAPITOL Meanwhile, in Austin: Uber and Lyft ceased operations today after a city proposition to overturn requirements for drivers including fingerprint-based background checks was shot down by voters over the weekend. The measure was blocked by 56 percent of the vote, despite $8.6 million in campaign spending by the 2 rideshare companies. State senator Charles Schwertner immediately promised to file state legislation to overturn the matter during next year’s session, implying that the Austin rules (which are less stringent than those required by Houston) are “for the sole purpose of stifling innovation and eliminating competition.” El Paso state representative Joe Pickett, however, suggested that “the most minimal thing that state government could do” would be to leave the issue up to individual cities. [Austin-American Statesman; previously on Swamplot]

05/04/16 2:45pm

ENTIRE LOUISIANA ISLAND POPULATION TO BE TRANSPLANTED WITH FEDERAL ‘CLIMATE RESILIENCE’ FUNDS Meanwhile, in Isle de Jean Charles: Planning is currently in the works to resettle roughly 60 people following the gradual disappearance of more than 90 percent of their island due to a combination of industrial and climate change factors, including sea level rise, subsidence, erosion along manmade channels, and the blocking of wetland-rebuilding sediments by levees and other flood-control structures. The community, mostly members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Chocktaw tribe, is frequently blocked by flooding from jobs and schools on the mainland. In January, the first-ever  federal National Disaster Resilience Competition awarded $92 million dollars to the state of Louisiana, which has lost nearly 1,900 square miles of coastal land since the 1930s. Some of the money will go to the Isle de Jean Charles move, and the rest will seed a state fund to help finance other coastal “resilience” projects anticipated in the coming years. A total of $1 billion dollars for similar projects was awarded through the competition to 13 applicants (8 states and 5 communities); the city of New Orleans received a separate grant for $141 million. [New York Times, U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development]

03/10/16 4:45pm

SPANIARDS MOCK CASTLE RESTORED AS SMOOTH CEMENT BLOCK Meanwhile, in Villamartín: Restoration work was recently warpped up on the Matrera castle in southern Spain, fueling backlash from locals, Spanish social media, and the national cultural preservationist group Hispania Nostra, which calls the building’s redo “truly lamentable” and “a massacre of Spanish heritage.” The architect behind the castle’s renovation — which appears to have involved the embedding of the remaining crumbling stone walls into a smooth white box roughly echoing the pre-deterioration volume of the structure — says the project’s main purpose was to prevent the ruins from collapsing; 2011 plans had to be modified after flooding destroyed one of the walls in 2013. Before that, “we couldn’t even get 100 signatures together to restore the building,” says the curator of the local museum. Now that the privately-funded project is complete, he says, “there’s been an outcry. It makes me very frustrated.” Check out video of the castle’s makeover here. [New York Times, Guardian]

02/11/16 4:45pm

SOME HELPFUL TIPS FOR PLACING A PARK ON TOP OF AN UNDERGROUND FREEWAY Meanwhile, in Dallas: What goes into the equation to span a park across a multi-lane underground freeway tunnel, as TXDoT’s latest updates on the planned I-45 redo suggest might be possible? Planning for Klyde Warren Park, which covers an underground section of the Woodall Rogers Freeway between I-35 and I-45 at the edge of downtown Dallas, had to take into account everything from the weight of hundreds of thousands of feet of fill, potential damage to structural elements from root systems, anticipated visitor weight, and all the other little projects that private donors wanted to add. Project coordinators also faced mid-project fire code changes, limited freeway closure allowances for construction, and a $16.7-million funding shortfall that was eventually closed by 2009’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The park officially opened in 2012 with a concert headlined by Trombone Shorty and the Polyphonic Spree. [D Magazine, Klyde Warren Park]

02/03/16 5:05pm

MAPPING URBAN METHANE LEAKS BY DRIVING GOOGLE’S STREETVIEW CARS THROUGH THEM Meanwhile, in Los Angeles: Researchers are teaming up with Google to outfit Streetview camera vehicles with sensors to detect methane gas leaks in urban settings. The project, coordinated by the Environmental Defense Fund, found an average of 1 leak per every 4 miles driven around Pasadena, CA, and 1 leak per 5 miles in Chino and Inglewood.  Drives through Boston and Staten Island registered as many as 1 leak per mile.  The project is expanding to map more cities; no maps of Texas or Gulf Coast cities have yet been published. Researchers connected to the mapping initiative have also turned similar methane sensors on the neighborhood near the ongoing methane plume in Aliso Canyon, which has been uncontrollably leaking thousands of tons of natural gas since late October. [EDF via 538; Atlas Obscura]

01/28/16 4:15pm

AUSTIN POWERS-STYLE CONDO GOES INTERNATIONALLY VIRAL DURING SEQUEL SALES ATTEMPT Meanwhile, in Chicago: A 3-bedroom 1970s condo fully decked out with brilliantly patterned wallpaper, period light fixtures, and the requisite shaggy rugs was  pulled off the market today, after the listing for the originally-furnished condo went viral. The psychedelic penthouse was previously listed for several months starting in late 2012 but was pulled in early 2013 due to a lack of interest; the new listing hit the market on Monday and has since been pulled following an overwhelming responseCanadian and British outlets have reported on the condo, and even the funktacular Zillow listing has been viewed more than 170,000 times. [NBC Chicago, Huffington Post Canada, Telegraph, Zillow]

01/20/16 4:45pm

U.S. GOVERNMENT WILL TRY TO TRACK ANONYMOUS CASH REAL ESTATE BUYERS Meanwhile, in Manhattan and Miami: The U.S. Treasury Department announced an upcoming trial run for keeping tabs on the identities of “luxury real estate” buyers in 2 high-volume markets, citing concerns that cash purchases by anonymous shell corporations are being used to safeguard ill-gotten assets. From March through August, title insurance companies in Manhattan will be required to identify and report the buyers of any property priced above $3 million; in Miami-Dade County, the threshold will be $1 million. The Department says that permanent nationwide reporting requirements could be developed if many sales involving suspicious money are uncovered during the trial period. [New York Times]

01/18/16 11:30am

H-E-B EXPLORING TINY STORES AS WALMART THROWS IN THE TOWEL Meanwhile, in San Antonio: As big-box giant Walmart nixes all of its Express mini-stores amid a larger batch of closures, H-E-B is making way for a full-service convenience store with an attached Wendy’s near the northwest corner of Loop 1604. H-E-B officials have been slow to confirm details of the new store, which is reportedly on the order of 7,500 sq. ft. and estimated to cost roughly $2.7 million. The Texas grocery chain frequently operates a small kiosk at its gas-proffering full-sized store locations, but only a handful of the full-service convenience stores currently exist; the one in Lytle, TX, contains a Whataburger. [Virtual Builders Exchange, via PaperCity]

01/11/16 4:30pm

ST. PAUL SUBURB REFUSES BUS CONNECTIVITY IN ORDER TO STAY “PRETTY RURAL-LOOKING” Meanwhile, in the Twin Cities: The Gold Line Busway, intended to connect downtown St. Paul with east-lying Washington County, will likely now terminate in the rapidly growing Woodbury area instead of rural Lake Elmo as planned, after the community’s City Council voted reject the plans (intended to spur further development in the city of 8,200). The suburb, which contains over 2,200 acres of lake park preserves alongside extensive farmland, declined the project in a 3-to-2 vote in an effort to “keep this rural community pretty rural-looking”, as Council Member Jill Lungren put it. Council Member Julie Fliflet adds that the bus line “is a good project, I fully support it and what it brings — I just don’t feel it’s the right fit for our community.” [Star Tribune]

01/08/16 4:30pm

PONDICHERI NYC WILL DEVELOP ITS ARTISTIC SIDE Meanwhile, in New York City: Restaurateur Anita Jaisinghani will be opening a second location of Houston’s Pondicheri, this one in the Flatiron district on W. 27th St. between Broadway and 5th Avenue. During the day, the outpost will offer casual and to-go options, including some of the signature pastries from the Houston locale’s bakery counter; a finer dining menu more in line with Jaisinghani’s Indika will appear at night. Jaisinghani says that the food at the NYC spot will be more experimental than the fare offered in Texas: “We’re just going to make [the dishes] more interesting. New York is a great opportunity to do something more creative and exciting. Why wouldn’t we do that?” [Eater NY]

01/06/16 4:15pm

NATIONAL GUARD TO DEPLOY DISCARDED CHRISTMAS TREES TO RESTORE LOUISIANA WETLANDS Meanwhile, in New Orleans:  The US Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the Louisiana National Guard’s 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, will conduct the city’s annual Christmas Tree Drop, in which thousands of fir trees collected this week will be deposited by Black Hawk into the 23,000-ac swamp that sits within the city limits. The dead trees placed in the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge allow sediment to collect and provide habitat, creating a base for recolonization of degraded wetland areas by native marsh grasses and birds; about 175 acres of wetlands have been restored in this way since the program began. [The Times-Picayune, Mother Nature Network]

01/04/16 3:30pm

THE “UBER OF COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE” IS STRETCHING ITS REACH FROM MINNESOTA TO TEXAS Meanwhile, in the Twin Cities: Online commercial real estate matchmaking startup Crelow, originally founded to connect building owners to potential tenants online (and pocket a share of the would-have-been brokerage fees) is expanding its reach cross-country as 2016 rolls in. Crelow launched in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area at the end of 2014 and opened up shop in Denver last March; Houston and Phoenix came online in early December, and entry into more cities is planned. The company has since revised its business model to allow tenant reps to participate, but still offers incentives to those flying solo. [HBJ, Minneapolis Business Journal]

12/30/15 4:15pm

EPA ASKS FOR NEVADA’S HAND IN CLEANING UP RADIOACTIVE GROUNDWATER AT BP’S ANACONDA MINE Meanwhile, in Yerington: The EPA is pushing to place Nevada’s Anaconda Copper Mine on the Superfund list, after 15 years of investigating the area’s uranium-contaminated groundwater and a nearly $20 million resident settlement: a 2013 class-action suit accused mine owner Atlantic Richfield and parent company BP America of intentional and negligent concealment of the extent of contamination from the site. The EPA sent a letter to Nevada governor Brian Sandoval last week, giving the state about a month to respond with any concerns about the intended listing. Nevada has previously fought the listing of the site 65 miles south of Reno, hoping to avoid drops in property values. In 2004, former Anaconda cleanup supervisor Eddie Dixon was fired by the Bureau of Land Management for alienating groups that help the agency to work “in an efficient and effective manner” — a 2008 panel upheld that Dixon was actually fired for insisting that health concerns be publicized. Dixon also documented irregularities like changes to content in his presentations by company marketing consultants. (Some dozen Superfund NPL sites are listed around the Greater Houston Area, including sites adjacent to or within a few blocks of 610 North, 610 South, and I-10 east of downtown.) [NYTimes, High Country News, Houston Chronicle, previously on Swamplot, HBJ]

12/29/15 4:15pm

A SAMPLER OF 2015’S MOST FOGGY, BEST FORESTED, AND OTHERWISE INTERESTINGLY UNHELPFUL ARCHITECTURAL RENDERINGS Meanwhile, in the digital ether: Designing any building comes with the concurrent challenge of producing appealing and informative renderings of the new project — a feat which not every project manages to achieve. To wrap up the year, the folks over at CityLab have pulled together 2015’s most um, “memorable” renderings. Notable entries include the museum shown entirely obscured by fog, a skyscraper optimistically covered in mature trees, and developments set in blank space and mysterious marshes. [CityLab]

12/28/15 4:15pm

FLOODING IN SOUTHEAST INDIA WORSENED BY MANMADE ISSUES OTHER THAN JUST CLIMATE CHANGE Meanwhile, in Chennai: An unusually heavy winter monsoon season led to serious flooding in the coastal Indian city earlier this month, costing hundreds of lives, disrupting local infrastructure and economic sectors, and interrupting access to food and water for millions of residents. The city’s plight precipitated discussions during the Paris Climate Conference of how the impacts of extreme weather events may be exacerbated by poor urban planning. The New Delhi-based Indian Express released a short video walking through some of the local planning issues that contributed to the catastrophic flooding — including illegal construction in floodplains or on top of filled-in water bodies, stormwater runoff infrastructure built without crucial topographic data, and valuable projects never executed at all. [Indian Express, Citylab]