Jan 14, 2021

Axios Cities

These are parlous days.

  • People using the hashtag #DontRentDC are urging residents not to lease their homes to outsiders (who may have bad motives).
  • The FBI has warned of plans for armed protests in state capitals and elsewhere pegged to next week's inauguration.

Please stay safe and vigilant, and enjoy this comfortingly apolitical newsletter — which, at 1,432 words, will take you 5½ minutes to read.

1 big thing: Cities prepare for home delivery by drone

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Federal Aviation Administration has released new and looser rules for flying drones over highly populated areas and at night, effectively laying a welcome mat for future aerial deliveries of takeout food, Amazon packages and prescription drugs.

Why it matters: While the prospect of Jetsons-style convenience with less street gridlock is tantalizing, there are still plenty of logistical hurdles, and it will take some time for cities to figure out how to manage low-altitude air traffic as routinely as they do today's road traffic.

Driving the news: FAA rules — handed down late last month — will require drones flying over cities to use remote identification technology so people on the ground can tell what they're doing and who owns them.

  • This safety and security system will amount to "a digital license plate for drones," according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Reuters reports.
  • "With a single announcement, the Federal Aviation Administration is formally pivoting from approving case-by-case exemptions [for urban drone-flying] to setting broad safety standards the industry has long sought," per the WSJ.
  • The new rules replace "stringent protections that currently bar practically all home-delivery options" and will take effect in about two months, the Journal said.

What's happening: Cities like Los Angeles have just started preparing citizens for the change, disruption and unanticipated weirdnesses that the era of drone delivery will bring.

  • Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the Urban Air Mobility Partnership to get people used to seeing unusual flying things in the sky — and to develop a policy toolkit that could serve as a national blueprint.
  • A company called Urban Movement Labs will lead "a year-long effort to educate and engage Angelenos around [the] low-noise, electric aircraft expected to fly in L.A.’s skies as soon as 2023."
  • The plan involves building a demonstration "vertiport" where people can try out the newfangled aircraft.

The big picture: The effort isn't limited to LA.

  • The National League of Cities has formed a panel of 25 cities and towns that will advise the federal government on integrating drones into U.S. communities.
  • Wade Troxell, the mayor of Fort Collins, Colorado, will represent urban interests by serving on the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee.
  • The World Economic Forum — in collaboration with Garcetti's office — has developed seven Principles of the Urban Sky to help cities consider how best to integrate drones.

The bottom line: Expect to get mightily accustomed to the acronym "UAV," or unmanned aerial vehicle.

Read the full story.

2. A "forever" drought takes shape in the West

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Southwest U.S. is mired in an ever-worsening drought, which has left deer starving in Hawaii, turned parts of the Rio Grande into a wading pool and set a record in Colorado for the most days of "exceptional drought."

Why it matters: These conditions may be the new normal rather than an exception, water experts say, as climate change runs its course. And worsening drought will intensify political and legal battles over water — with dire consequences for poor communities.

Where it stands: The U.S. Drought Monitor — the nation's official tally — shows Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico mired in "exceptional drought." This type of drought is only supposed to happen every 50 years, but it's now a regular occurrence.

  • Even if rain and snow arrive this January, February and March, parched soil and vegetation will slurp it up, leaving less for riverbeds.
  • An ongoing "snow drought" is delivering fewer flakes, which means there'll be less snowpack to melt into Western watersheds this spring.
  • Officials are bracing for what could be an unusually devastating wildfire season — the second in a row — and farmers are scrambling to ensure they can irrigate their crops.

"The word 'drought' can be a little misleading if we use it to imply we're here temporarily," John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico's Water Resources Program, tells Axios.

  • "We've been here 'temporarily' for 20 years now, with a preponderance of dry years and only a few wet years sprinkled in."

How it works: Conditions were dry heading into last summer, when the annual Southwest monsoon — which runs from June to September — was supposed to bring much-needed rains.

  • But the 2020 monsoon failed to materialize — some called it a "non-soon."
  • Fall and early winter have seen less-than-average precipitation.
  • La Niña conditions — which suppress rainfall — strengthened in October and are expected to continue.

Keep it 💯: Even if cities and states imposed draconian water restrictions, it wouldn't make much difference.

  • Agriculture consumes much more water than households, so the water we use to wash our cars or run our dishwashers is a metaphorical drop in the bucket.
  • Water inequity means that "Phoenix and LA are not going to run out of water, but if you’re on a remote part of the Navajo Nation, you very well may," Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist, told me.

The bottom line: There's still time for conditions to improve — which meteorologists hope for, but don't anticipate.

  • "A likelier outcome is that the situation gets worse," says Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the USDA's snow survey program in Colorado.

Read the full story

3. Bloomberg to hold contest for cities to address pandemic

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Mike Bloomberg is staging a global competition that asks mayors to describe nimble responses to the pandemic in their cities, with 15 winners receiving $1 million grants.

Why it matters: Urban areas around the world have been the hardest hit by COVID-19, and by pinpointing approaches that have worked particularly well — or that have the potential to do so — Bloomberg Philanthropies hopes to foster long-lasting societal improvement.

Driving the news: In an announcement provided first to Axios on Monday, Bloomberg Philanthropies introduced the 2021 Global Mayors Challenge.

  • Cities with populations of 100,000 or more are asked to submit ideas at any stage of development about how to better address COVID-related challenges in various areas.
  • Applications will be taken through March 21, then 50 finalist cities will be selected and given support to strengthen their ideas. The 15 winners will be named in December.

What they're saying: During the pandemic, "cities innovated boldly and at scale in a way we rarely see outside of a crisis," said James Anderson, head of government innovation at Bloomberg Philanthropies.

  • "We saw new ways of delivering services, new forms of governance, imaginative new uses of public spaces, and new ways of building community — we expect to see ideas in these areas and more."

Of note: This is Bloomberg Philanthropies' fifth Mayors Challenge, but it's the first that's global in scope. Providence, Rhode Island, won a 2013 competition with an early childhood literacy initiative called Providence Talks.

  • The program gives families a recording device called a "talk pedometer" that counts adult words spoken in a child’s presence, to foster maximum language exposure.
  • It's been so successful that in 2019 Bloomberg Philanthropies funded the expansion to five more cities: Birmingham, Alabama; Detroit; Hartford, Connecticut; Louisville, Kentucky; and Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Winning the contest has been "a big source of pride for the entire city," Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza told me. "It positions Providence as one of the leaders in city innovation, and that's a mark that we that work really hard to uphold."

Read the full story

4. For plentiful rental apartments, go south
Data: RENTCafe; Chart: Axios Visuals

RENTCafé, an apartment search website, went looking for the suburban areas that have added the most apartment units in the last five years — places offering plentiful options for renters who have been drawn away from city centers during the pandemic.

  • The top-20 list includes five suburbs of Dallas (Frisco, McKinney, Garland, Grand Prairie and Farmers Branch) as well as two suburbs of Orlando, Florida (Maitland and Four Corners), and two each of Denver and Houston.
  • No places in the Northwest made the cut, but three in the Northeast did: Quincy, Massachusetts (outside Boston); King of Prussia, Pennsylvania (outside Philly) and Tysons, Virginia (near Washington, D.C.)

The big picture: According to RENTCafé, more than 501,600 apartments were brought online nationally since 2016. Garden apartments were the most popular type.

5. Worthy of your time

Two boys play basketball outside the former home of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Jackson, Miss., in 2015. Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Medgar and Myrlie Evers home in Jackson established as national historic monument (Mississippi Clarion Ledger)

  • In December, the Trump administration upgraded the modest residence of Medgar Evers — who led the NAACP in Mississippi — from "landmark" to "monument." The civil rights leader was murdered there in 1963 by a racist sniper who hid in the bushes across the street.

U.S. sees jump in "million-dollar cities" (Barron's)

  • There are now 312 cities where the typical home is $1 million, 45 more than a year ago, according to Zillow, and "about 70% of those cities are part of nine metro areas on the coasts, with the most found in and around San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles."

This California city just ended chronic homelessness (Fast Company)

  • Bakersfield — near where country music legend Merle Haggard famously grew up in a boxcar — tracked people by name who were experiencing long-term or recurring homelessness and got them housed.

The impact of Uber and Lyft on vehicle ownership, fuel economy, and transit across U.S. cities (Cell)

  • Counterintuitively, when the big guys come in, vehicle registrations per capita go up, this scientific study found.

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