For Your Health, Get Out Of Town

What’s the best way to avoid being laid low by the flu bug as we head into flu season?  It might be that getting out of town is more effective than getting a flu shot.

crowded-subway-istock-458985557A recent study has concluded that big cities have longer, “more vicious” flu seasons.  One of the researchers in the study explained:  “Larger cities have more organized movement patterns, and these patterns connect pockets of high population density together.”  The density factor is significant given how flu is transmitted.  As the researcher noted:  “Flu spreads from person to person by virus-bearing moisture droplets that an infected person exhales or coughs or sneezes out. This creates what you can think of as a moving cloud of risk around an infected individual.”

“A moving cloud of risk around an infected individual,” eh?  Make you want to go sit on the bus or the subway with a bunch of potentially sick strangers, doesn’t it?

None of this is a surprise to anyone who’s had kids, because it’s just the “preschool effect” writ large.  Once your kids go to preschool and are exposed to a bunch of other germy, sniffling rugrats, you suddenly notice that everybody in the family, including you, is sicker than they’ve ever been before.  Preschool undoubtedly helps to build up the immune system of children, because it is a living testament to the communicability of every different kind of cold, contagion, and virus.  Cities, and particularly mass transit settings in cities, are like one big preschool, where that “moving cloud of risk around an infected individual” is a lot more likely to find you.

Last winter’s flu season was a particularly savage one, and is estimated to have caused 80,000 deaths and a record number of hospitalizations.  If you want to avoid the bug this year, you might just want to get the heck out of town.

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Belle Views

Belle Isle is a great example of how a good park can make a difference in a metropolitan area. It offers a beautiful view of downtown Detroit, lots of green space for picnics and dog walking, great roads for biking and jogging, and features like a beautiful white fountain and pond ringed by cherry trees.

There’s also a conservatory and a nifty little aquarium — both of which are free to the public, although a donation is encouraged. That’s a great benefit for a family that is living on a budget and trying to stretch their paychecks. And, in fact, Belle Isle was packed with people today, who were enjoying the amenities and some beautiful weather.

How many American cities offer these kinds of free benefits anymore? Not many. It’s one reason why the Detroit boosters are confident the Motor City will bounce back.

On The Old Commons


Established back in the early 1600s, the Commons remains a popular gathering spot for the people of Boston — and its tourists.  Along with the Boston Public Garden, located right next door, the Commons provides a merry-go-round, a frog pond, a towering memorial to the Bostonians who fought in the War Between the States — and some of the shady, grassy spots that city dwellers crave on a hot summer day.

Helping Birds Make It Home

Who doesn’t like birds — at least, birds other than pigeons?  They are pretty and colorful, they add happy chirping and warbling to our world, and they are a pleasure to watch as they soar, dip, and dive and make us wish we could fly, too.

But birds have a big problem.  Every year, millions of them are killed in urban settings for reasons collectively known as fatal light attraction.  They become disoriented by the mirrored surface of an office building, believe the reflection of a tree is the real thing, and are killed by the resulting collision.  Or they think they have a clear flight path to the tree and pond in the glass-walled atrium and fatally crash into the unseen window. If you’ve ever seen a bird strike a window — from inside or outside — and heard the terrible hollow thud the unfortunate bird makes you probably won’t forget it.

Scientists also worry that the bright lights of cities may be altering migration patterns because the lights interfere with the bird’s ability to navigate by starlight.  In addition, bird deaths from fatal light attraction interfere with normal evolutionary processes.  Whereas survival of the fittest is supposed to mean the genes of the strongest, healthiest birds are passed to the next generation, death from a window collision can strike down even the healthiest of our flying friends.

People are trying to do something about the problem of fatal light attraction.  The National Audubon Society sponsors a “lights out” program designed to reduce light confusion, with local chapters across the country.   In Canada, an organization called FLAP — for Fatal Light Awareness Program — is encouraging the construction and lighting of buildings in ways that will help to minimize unnecessary bird deaths.  And authorities are starting to take notice, too.  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo just announced that non-essential outdoor lights will be turned off in state-run buildings between 11 p.m. and dawn during the peak migratory seasons in the spring and fall.

Right now, there’s a bird outside my window, chirping with pleasure as dawn approaches.  Fewer soulless mirrored buildings, an end to generic office building atriums, and turning off bright lights during the early morning hours — which presumably would be a financial and energy savings, too — so that birds can migrate safely seems like a small price to pay to ensure that we can continue to enjoy their sweet morning song.

The Long, Hot Summer

There was rioting in Baltimore Saturday night.  Demonstrators protesting the death of Freddie Gray broke windows, smashed storefronts, threw rocks, and vandalized cars.  Gray died from spinal injuries a week after being arrested by police, and his funeral is today.  The Baltimore protests follow protests last year in Ferguson, Missouri.

Gray’s death, the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police, and other recent incidents involving African-Americans and police have raised tensions in our urban communities.  One incident follows on the heels of another, and the barrage seems to be having a cascading effect.  Many African-Americans feel that they are being racially targeted and, at times, brutally mistreated by the police, and the police in turn feel that they are under siege and unfairly maligned for a handful of incidents out of thousands of uneventful apprehensions and arrests.

Those of us who lived during the ’60s remember summers where rioting and violent clashes with police seemed to be routine and block after block of inner cities in America were looted, vandalized, and left gutted and smoking by arson.  Many neighborhoods that were destroyed never recovered and are still haunted ruins even now, decades later.  The ’60s were an especially turbulent time for many reasons, but that doesn’t mean what happened then could never happen now.  Simple protests can turn into riots when people feel sufficiently desperate and hopeless.

At this point, many of us are holding our breath and hoping that we can avoid another high-profile incident that might prove to be the tipping point.  Having lived through the ’60s, I have no desire to see another long, hot summer.

Riverside

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We’ve been spending much of our time during this Jacksonville visit just knocking around Richard’s Riverside neighborhood. It’s an older area just south of downtown, with some grand homes — such as this striking place along the river — as well as tidy apartment buildings, Victorian houses that have been converted to doctor and lawyer offices, nice parks, and a neat commercial area called Five Points — as well as the occasional orange tree.

It’s one of those neighborhoods that draws people because it’s got a lot to offer and is entirely walkable, bikeable, and joggable. It’s what a “mixed use” area aspires to be. Why don’t American cities have more neighborhoods like Riverside?

Car2go 4 Cols

Car2go has come to Columbus.  Walking in to work this morning, I saw two of their cars parked along Gay Street — which is appropriate, because Gay Street is the coolest street in downtown Columbus and car2go is a pretty cool idea.

IMG_1617According to the website and its FAQs, it works like this.  You fill out an application form and make one $35 payment to register after your application is accepted.  You are mailed a membership card.  You download the car2go app to your smartphone then use it to locate cars.  When you find one, you swipe your card, answer some questions, get in, and drive.  You are charged 38 cents a minute for use of the car, and you return it to a metered space within the car2go home area, which covers German Village, downtown, the University district, and Clintonville.  The charges are billed to your credit card.

It’s an interesting idea that is based on a core reality of urban living — owning your own car can be a pain when you live in a city.  You don’t need a car most of the time.  Parking spaces can be hard to find, and figuring out where to put your car can be a hassle.  With car2go, you only have a car when you really need it, and you only pay for it as long as you use it.  The two car2go vehicles I saw today were the small, two-seater models that seem well-suited to their limited purpose.

Will Columbus car2go work?  Beats me.  But if you want to offer an urban living lifestyle, as Columbus does, it seems like a pretty good idea that would fill a void.