Feb 25, 2021

Axios Cities

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Situational awareness: Chicago has eliminated exceptions in its "Welcoming City" ordinance that allowed the police to cooperate with ICE if a suspect was in a gang database or had a felony conviction.

1 big thing: The modern way to hire a big-city police chief

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

When it comes to picking a city's top cop, closed-door selection processes have been replaced by highly public exercises where everyone gets to vet the candidates — who must have better community-relations skills than ever.

Why it matters: In the post-George Floyd era, with policing under utmost scrutiny, the choosing of a police chief has become something akin to an election, with the need to build consensus around a candidate. And the candidate pool has gotten smaller.

  • "This is a turning point for policing in America," says Gary Peterson, CEO of Public Sector Search & Consulting, a boutique headhunting firm that exclusively handles police chief searches.
  • "Communities are demanding — they want to have input in who's going to be their next police leader."

Driving the news: Following last summer's protests, there has been high turnover among police chiefs in big cities, with many retiring or switching jobs to other cities. High-profile searches are underway in San Jose, Albuquerque, Miami and Memphis.

  • In San Jose — where the police sprayed rubber bullets at protesters last summer, provoking a civil rights lawsuit — a top-down selection approach was scrapped in favor of exhaustive and rigorous community vetting.
  • Seven finalists — culled from an intentional effort to gather a highly diverse candidate pool — engaged in a public community forum where they answered some of 500 questions submitted by the public.
  • They then faced days of grilling from panels representing 50 community and internal stakeholders.
  • "I was looking for a process different from what we’ve done in the past," San Jose city manager David Sykes tells Axios.

The big picture: The job comes with a "tremendous amount of scrutiny," as Sykes puts it — far more than in years past, ex-chiefs say — and the changing nature of the position means that different skills are at a premium.

  • It's still necessary to have superb operational and leadership skills, but now the third leg of the talent tripod — community engagement experience — is coming to the fore.
  • "It used to be a 'nice-to-have' — now it's a 'must-have,'" says Peterson, the headhunter who's advising San Jose and handled recent searches for Dallas, Seattle and San Francisco, among others.

The candidate pool has shrunk under the weight of all the demands, police recruiters say.

  • "While demonstrably smaller, the folks in the pool are really committed to reimagining policing and advancing it to the next level," says Peterson. "That's really important."

Read the full story

2. Hot pandemic-era sport: Pickleball

Playing pickleball on the street in Charlotte, N.C., during the pandemic. Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

A racquet sport is taking the nation by storm during the pandemic, with cities building municipal courts and homeowners associations drafting regulatory ground rules.

Why it matters: At a time when safe, outdoor recreation options are at a premium, pickleball, which has become a craze among seniors in particular, is going increasingly mainstream — as are related noise complaints.

What it is: A cross between tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong, pickleball is played with a paddle and a plastic ball with holes on what looks like a miniature tennis court.

  • USA Pickleball, the sport's national governing body, says it has 40,000 members who play in all 50 states.
  • There's a growing roster of tournaments and corporate sponsors. (Here's a primer from Axios' Jeff Tracy on how to play.)
  • "If you've ever swung any sort of a racquet before, you can become competent in an hour," Stu Upson, CEO of USA Pickleball, tells Axios.
  • Plus: "It's so social, it's almost a lifestyle for so many folks."

Driving the news: While the Sun Belt states are the biggest pickleball hotbeds, demand for public courts is exploding everywhere.

  • In San Luis Obispo, California — where there's typically a 20-minute wait for a court — the city is spending $120,00o to build its first permanent pickleball courts, per the SLO Tribune.
  • New England's first dedicated indoor pickleball complex is about to open in Hanover, Massachusetts (just south of Boston) with six tournament-sized courts.
  • "It's crazy where all of a sudden, people are putting up courts in their driveways," Upson said.

The other side: The thwack of a wiffleball against a paddle is resonant, and condo and homeowners associations are being flooded with pickleball-related noise complaints.

  • “I can’t live with this constant ‘pong, pong, pong’ every morning," one resident of a South Florida retirement community laments.

Flashback: The sport was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island (near Seattle) by three dads — including Joel Pritchard, who became a U.S. congressman — "whose kids were bored with their usual summertime activities."

  • By one account, Pritchard's wife coined the name because the sport reminded her of "the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”
  • By another: "The game was officially named after the Pritchards’ dog Pickles who would chase the ball and run off with it."

Read the full story

3. Cable cars are in limbo

Not in service: This cable car and its operator were decked out for the Lunar New Year on Feb. 18, but only for people to take pictures of them. Photo: Jessica Christian/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

San Francisco's cable cars stopped running early in the pandemic and won't resume anytime soon, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Why it matters: Tourism was the city's biggest industry before the pandemic, and with a chief attraction hobbled indefinitely, it will hamper recovery for the businesses — and workers — that depend on it.

  • "City officials, business leaders and residents are urging a return of the nearly 150-year-old cable cars, but the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is grappling with hard choices about how to bring back service while facing long-term financial issues," per the Chronicle.
  • The agency's director, Jeffrey Tumlin, told the paper: “We love the cable cars, but I can’t understate how bad our structural deficit is."

Where it stands: Everyone agrees that the cable cars will return eventually — and that they're a huge boon to the city — but it'll take a "big lift" to get them going, as one city official put it.

  • Before the pandemic, 17,000 riders a day paid $8 each.
  • By now, a lot of the operators are doing other jobs. Training new ones will be laborious, and all drivers will need to be vaccinated first.

The big picture: Some marquee attractions in other cities — like the Washington Monument and the Boston Tea Party Ship — are also closed, but others are open.

  • You can still visit the Seattle Space Needle, the Empire State Building observatory, and the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

The bottom line: San Francisco's cable cars are "part of the city's identity," writes S.F. Chronicle columnist Heather Knight.

  • "We all love them. And our city won’t be back until their bells once again fill the air."
4. Goodbye, hellhole

The Port Authority Bus Terminal in Times Square, as seen from 42nd Street and 8th Avenue. I used to work across the street from it, and trust me, it's awful. Photo: Jennifer A. Kingson/Axios

The Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, attractive to no one but pigeons, may finally be replaced with a prettier facility with 40% more rider capacity.

Why it matters: The world's busiest bus terminal — a hideously dark and depressing place — encapsulates everything people hate about New York City (high crime, urban blight, pushy crowds).

  • A $10 billion, 10-year renovation proposal could (one day) turn that around.
  • "The project most likely depends on selling rights to build a commercial tower on top of the expanded terminal and three other high rises nearby," per the NYT.
  • The new bus terminal “will have greater capacity. It will have acres of green space, environmentally friendly. It’s going to take all the buses off the streets,” said Port Authority chairman Kevin O’Toole, per CBSN New York.

The bottom line: The fact that the city just completed a long-awaited improvement of Penn Station — the Moynihan Train Hall — gives hope to people gunning for a nicer bus terminal.

Rendering of the (possible) future bus terminal. Image: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
5. Worthy of your time

Fewer people are moving to big cities. Photo: Don & Melinda Crawford/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

One-way traffic: Cities aren't shrinking because everyone's moving out, but because no one's moving in (Slate)

  • New research from the Cleveland Federal Reserve shows a sharp drop in "in-migration."

Why you’ll be hearing a lot less about "smart cities" (City Monitor)

  • Privacy concerns, budget constraints and a retreat among vendors have taken their toll on the smart cities movement.

Poorly timed red lights cost drivers 17M hours daily: report (SmartCitiesDive)

  • An "analysis of 210,000 intersections found that nearly 7% of delays experienced during a trip are at poorly timed traffic signals, and those delays result in increased carbon emissions."

Remember Boston's "Big Dig," a 16-year project to "depress" an elevated highway called the Central Artery (by relocating it underground) and bore a new tunnel under Boston Harbor?

  • I was a cub reporter in Boston at the start of it, when my friend and mentor Matthew L. Wald wrote this NYT story in which he noted that the ugly highway "had few fans except for pigeons." (A line I adapted in the Port Authority item above.)
  • My favorite "Big Dig" dig: The late George Keverian, who was speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives when Gov. Mike Dukakis ran for president in 1988, used to say, "Mike Dukakis could depress the Central Artery just by talking to it." Then he would add, "He could bore the third harbor tunnel."

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