Tag Archives: Cities

Can Removing Urban Highways Improve the Health of US Cities?

Mandela Parkway, a four-lane boulevard enhanced by a median with trees and a curving footpath, stretches along a 24-block section of West Oakland. It’s the fruit of a grassroots neighborhood campaign to block reconstruction of an elevated freeway leveled by the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 and reimagine the thoroughfare to replace it.

Since the parkway’s 2005 completion, 168 units of affordable housing have sprung up along its route. The air is measurably freer of pollutants than it was when the Cypress Freeway ran through the area.

A federal report heralded the project as the type of socially minded renovation that can make appropriate, if partial, amends for the devastation wrought on low-income neighborhoods by the freeway-building boom of earlier decades.

“Community involvement was a very important part of the rebuilding process,” said the report, which concluded, “West Oakland residents got what they wanted.”

Unfortunately, that’s not entirely the case.

Although the 1.3-mile strip of land that Mandela Parkway passes through has cleaner air and better amenities than when it was a freeway spur, many of the neighborhood’s original residents are no longer there to enjoy it, forced out by rising rents and housing costs. And West Oakland more broadly, bordered by the massive Port of Oakland, is still crisscrossed by elevated freeways where cars and heavy trucks spew hundreds of tons of pollutants every year.



Mandela Parkway in Oakland, California, with I-880, I-580, and I-80 in the distance.

The successes and failures of the Mandela Parkway are emblematic of the challenges faced by a new urban renewal movement that seeks to replace dozens of stretches of elevated urban freeways built in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s across the United States. These highways bisected cities, displacing residents and businesses in what were frequently lower-income, working-class, non-white neighborhoods. Pollution and noise plague the health of those who continue to live nearby.

Today, as many of these roadways near or pass the end of their intended lifespans, policymakers, social justice advocates and urban planners have called for them to come down.

President Joe Biden’s administration agrees. His infrastructure plan calls for highway removal to right historical injustices and improve the health of people who live nearby. At least four bills in Congress would fund such efforts, though none is assured passage.

But the Cypress Freeway conversion shows how complicated it is to accomplish highway removal in a way that improves the health and well-being of the longtime residents wronged by the roadways’ legacy. The effects of neighborhood “greening” can be paradoxical, leading to “green gentrification.”

There’s abundant evidence that living near highways is bad for human health: Research has linked it to higher rates of hypertension, heart attack, neurological illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis, worse birth outcomes, and asthma, especially in kids.

But the evidence is shakier on whether transforming the roadways reverses these problems, said Regan Patterson, a transportation equity research fellow for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

A 2019 study conducted by Patterson and Robert Harley of the University of California-Berkeley’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering showed that rerouting the Cypress Freeway — Interstate 880 — and building the Mandela Parkway cut nitrogen oxides by an annual average of 38%, and soot by 25%, along the parkway. But West Oakland in general is still heavily polluted by the rerouted I-880, as well as I-580 and I-980.

“You cannot talk about Mandela Parkway if you don’t talk about the impact of all three highways,” said Margaret Gordon, 74, a founding member of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, an environmental justice organization.

And the very upgrade of the area along Mandela Parkway — coupled with the arrival of Big Tech company offices in the area — has contributed to property values spiking and longtime residents leaving. Black residents, who made up 73% of the population around the expressway in 1990, accounted for only 45% in 2010, according to Patterson’s research. Median home values along the parkway jumped by $ 261,059 in that time frame.

“Green gentrification” is a paradoxical effect of projects intended to support healthier communities, said Jennifer Wolch, a professor of city and regional planning at UC-Berkeley. Her research, focused on the overall public health effects of urban greening, shows that rising housing costs and displacement of longtime residents can also damage their health. Other research has found that residents from marginalized groups reported a lower sense of community after “greening” transformations.

Longtime Latino residents, for example, reported avoiding segments of Chicago’s 606 pedestrian trail that run through mostly white neighborhoods because of concerns of discrimination. Well-off white residents were more likely than Black residents to use the Atlanta BeltLine, a 33-mile network of trails and parks.

None of these problems seal an argument against highway removal, say urban activists. The Congress for the New Urbanism, a nonprofit focused on sustainable urban development, has identified 15 highways in major U.S. cities that are ripe for removal in its 2021 “Freeways Without Futures” report.

The lesson, instead, is to pay attention to the wishes of longtime community members in planning these infrastructure projects, said Jonathan Fearn, a member of the Oakland Planning Commission and a founder of ConnectOakland, an advocacy group involved in plans to tear down 2-mile-long I-980 and redesign the area.

Highway removal and neighborhood renewal should focus on making communities less car-dependent, and adding affordable housing and other amenities, said Dr. Richard Jackson, professor emeritus at the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA and former director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For example, creating community land trusts — nonprofits that buy vacant lots in communities and sell them back to residents at reduced rates — can help ensure affordable housing and rent stability.

Some of the congressional bills under consideration have provisions that would require anti-displacement strategies. But the $ 1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework put forward by the Biden administration, which includes funding for a $ 1 billion “reconnecting communities” program, offers few details about ameliorating displacement.

If the projects get done, conversations about whom they benefit should happen early on, said Ben Crowther, program manager for the Congress for the New Urbanism’s Highways to Boulevards program. But it’s “very encouraging,” he said, that federal bills to fund the remakes include strategies for making sure current residents benefit.

This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation

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This post originally posted here Medscape Medical News

Afghan carnage as Taliban storm two cities after Biden withdrew troops- ‘Panic everywhere’

Joe Biden wants all American forces out by September, with most expected to leave this month. However, in the past few weeks, the Taliban have seized 50 local districts across Afghanistan.

Their forces have also entered the cities of Kunduz and Maimana, both provincial capitals.

Speaking to the New York Times Amruddin Wali, who sits on Kunduz’s provincial council, said fighting is ongoing.

He commented: “Right now, I hear the sound of bullets.

“The Taliban have appeared in the alleys and back alleys of Kunduz, and there is panic all over the city.”

Taliban fighters captured entrance points to Kunduz before dispersing into the city.

They briefly took the city in 2015 and 2016, before being forced back with the help of US airstrikes.

Fighting has been intensifying across Afghanistan, raising fears of a Taliban return when US troops leave.

At least 20 elite Afghan special forces were killed in one attack.

READ MORE: ‘I think there is a possibility’ Taliban might take control of Afghan

ISIS also have a presence in Afghanistan, with its fighters clashing with both the Taliban and the Afghan army in bloody battles.

Following president Biden’s announcement America’s NATO allies, including the UK, announced they would withdraw their troops as well.

Ben Wallace, the British defence secretary, said it is “a regret for most of the NATO allies” that Mr Biden didn’t make the US withdrawal conditional on the Taliban committing to peace.

Speaking in Parliament he added: “We will explore all options that we can to make sure that not only Britain’s interests and her citizens are protected, but also allies.

“We are also protected by international law to do what we need to do to defend ourselves.

“The one thing I would say to the Taliban, is they remember what happened last time they played host to Al-Qaeda.”

More than 400 British soldiers have been killed by hostile action in Afghanistan since their deployment began in 2001.

Defence Select Committee chair Tobias Ellwood MP has called for a “full inquiry”.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph he said: “This cannot be the exit strategy that we ever envisaged. We must understand what went wrong.”

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This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: World Feed

Feel the beat in the World's top music cities around the world

nash

Nashville has hosted some of the World’s best musicians (Image: Getty)

Rock band Kings of Leon also got their start in Nashville, playing open mic nights at the Bluebird Cafe, a famous listening venue where upcoming writers perform new material. To sample some of its best music, visit the Ryman Auditorium (ryman.com), known as the Mother Church of Country Music.

The Country Music Hall of Fame (countrymusichalloffame.org), is the definitive home of American music with more than 2.5 million artefacts, recordings, photographs, instruments and stage costumes.

Nashville’s much-anticipated National Museum of African American Music (nmaam.org) took place in January after its launched was postponed from September last year due to the pandemic. It is the first and only museum dedicated to promoting the legacy of African American Music in America.

  • More info: visitmusiccity.com

London

Seminal sounds have risen from the streets here for decades, making it a magnet for music lovers around the globe.

camden

Seminal sounds have risen from Camden, London (Image: Getty)

Many a music fan has travelled to St John’s Wood to take huge strides across the zebra crossing a la The Beatles on their Abbey Road album, or posed on the staircase of Stables Market in Camden like The Clash on their debut album cover. Britpop fans, however may prefer to be swung around in a shopping trolley in River Way, Greenwich, as seen in Blur’s Parklife video.

Or, simply wander the streets inspired the songs, including The Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset, Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue and Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street.

Seek out the former homes of Jimi Hendrix and George Frideric Handel in Brook Street or the Keith Moon blue plaque on the site of the Marquee Club at 90 Wardour Street in Soho.

Ziggy played guitar at 23 Heddon Street, on the cover of David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (there’s a plaque above the spot). A spectacular mural on Tunstall Road, Brixton, the area where he was born, celebrates the artist’s incredible legacy.

In Camden, The Dublin Castle, has seen Travis, Blur and Arctic Monkeys pass through its doors, KOKO has hosted Madonna, Prince and Coldplay, and Dingwalls staged The Clash, Sex Pistols and Amy Winehouse.

Discover grime in the area where it first took form, in London’s East End. Former pirate radio station Rinse FM was one of the first to give voice to artists such as Dizzee Rascal, Skepta and Wiley. Find it at The Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, near London’s most famous record store, Rough Trade East. To hear some top grime, try Oslo in Hackney and Fabric in Farringdon.

  • More info: visitlondon.com

Seattle

In the 1990s, Nirvana and Pearl Jam ruled the airwaves, heralding Seattle as the undisputed home of grunge. Devoted fans visit the unofficial Kurt Cobain memorial in Viretta Park, where love letters and lyrics are scrawled on two park benches near his former home, as well as MoPOP (mopop.org) which has a permanent exhibit devoted to Nirvana.

seattle

Seattle is the home of grunge music (Image: Getty)

Before grunge, there was Jimi Hendrix, who was born and raised in the city. Jimi Hendrix Park opened in 2017 and is dedicated to the guitar god with memorials, sculptures and lyrics etched into the purple-edged walkways.

These days the likes of Fleet Foxes and Death Cab for Cutie are linked to the city, thanks to recording label Sub Pop.

Venues such as The Crocodile, where Nirvana have performed, and The Showbox offer awesome nights out, while Seattle festivals Bumbershoot and ZooTunes showcase the city’s now diverse music scene.

    • More info: visitseattle.org

Seoul

No other city takes its fluffy pop music as seriously as the South Korean capital.

Seoul

Seoul takes its ‘fluffy pop music’ seriously (Image: Getty)

The spun-sugar hooks, slick choreography and bubblegum-coloured costumes of K-pop are a major part of the Korean Wave, or Hallyu, that disseminates its popular culture around the world.

Now a multi-billion-dollar industry, and South Korea’s greatest export, famous names include BTS, BlackPink, Secret Number, EXO and SuperM.

Perhaps most well-known, however, is Psy whose Gangnam Style of 2012 became a Number 1 hit in 27 countries and remains one of the most viewed pop videos on YouTube.

Sightseeing tours are available around this buzzing district of the hit’s title. Tourists can take in 1,000 years of history at the Bongeunsa Temple, browse the rails of the COEX Mall, a retail Mecca for global brands, as well as visit the Gangnam Underground Shopping Centre in Gangnam Station of Seoul Subway Level 2, ideal for keeping up with the so-called Gangnam style.

  • More info: english.visitseoul.net

Detroit

Home to four US car makers, Detroit was nicknamed the Motor City and the distinctive sound of its music became known as Motown.

detroit

Detroit’s distinctive music became known as Motown (Image: Getty)

Berry Gordy Jr founded Motown Records, launching the careers of Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, The Temptations, The Supremes and many, many more. Music fans can see how African-American soul and rhythm and blues crossed over into popular culture at The Motown Museum (motownmuseum.org) in Detroit, the former Motown recording studio that was known as Hitsville USA.

It’s still going strong and the city’s Movement Festival (movement.us), although cancelled this year, is the hottest place to hear it.

Rapper Eminem is another of Detroit’s famous sons. His former home, 19946 Dresden Street, features on the cover of his 2000 album Marshall Mathers LP and his 2013 Marshall Mathers LP 2. In the video for his 2013 single Survival, he walks past the boarded-up house.

Detroit’s iconic venue The Masonic remains a firm favourite among musical greats.

  • More info: visitdetroit.com

Vienna

More famous composers have lived here than any other city in the world. Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Mahler and Brahms studied and composed music here and you can visit the only one of Mozart’s Viennese residences that is still standing today.

While it may be famous for its waltz, Vienna’s musical credentials stretch far beyond the classical world. It’s a melting pot for many genres, with a pulsating jazz and electro scene, and boasts 120 music and theatre venues, providing spaces for 15,000 performances per year.

  • More info: vienna.info

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This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Travel Feed

Best cities in the world to live in right now – liveability ranked

10 most liveable cities in the world

1. Auckland, New Zealand, Index 96

2. Osaka, Japan, Index 94.2

3. Adelaide, Australia, Index 94

4. Wellington, New Zealand, Index 93.7

5. Tokyo, Japan, Index 93.7

6. Perth, Australia, Index 93.3

7. Zurich, Switzerland, Index 92.8

8. Geneva, Switzerland, Index 92.5

9. Melbourne, Australia, Index 92.5

10. Brisbane, Australia, Index 92.4

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This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Travel Feed

Cities have unique microbiomes which could be key to keeping us healthy

When the world gets lonely, just remember: We are all marinating in a shared vat of microbial life. That’s a good thing, for the most part. You might have heard of the human gut microbiome, the community of tiny organisms in our digestive tract that can influence our health in still-mysterious ways, but cities have microbiomes, too—and a recent study suggests that they’re actually unique, ranging in composition from city to city.   

The study, published on May 26 in the journal Cell, mapped out microbial communities in 60 cities across six continents, analyzing over 4,700 samples taken from subways and bus systems to get a sense of the bacteria, viruses, and archaea that live there. “What we knew before is that there were definitely thousands of species awaiting us at every turnstile and bench,” says lead author Chris Mason, an associate professor at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. “But we didn’t have a sense of how different these microbiomes are between cities.” 

An international team of researchers swabbed ticket kiosks, railings, seats, turnstiles, and other heavily-touched surfaces in the mass transit systems of cities around the world, including Bogotá, New York City, and Tokyo, over a period of three years. The researchers found a consistent group of 31 “core” species found in nearly all sites, including species like Cutibacterium acnes, a common bacterial species that lives on human skin. But they also found that microbial communities had distinct compositions, or “signatures,” in different cities. 

These differences could be partly due to different environments, with different temperatures and humidity levels, says Mason. Across cities, they also found different amounts of genes that signal potential antimicrobial resistance—a global health concern—which the researchers suggest could reflect the types of antibiotics being taken locally. The good news, Mason says, is that compared to soil or human gut samples, there are fewer genes signaling antimicrobial resistance in the city environment. The researchers also found a whole lot of DNA from viruses and bacteria that had never been classified before. 

“Every time you sit down [on the subway], you’re probably sitting right on top of a species that has not yet been discovered,” says Mason. 

“This paper presents the first comprehensive survey of built environment genes globally,” wrote Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, a professor of microbiology at Rutgers University who was not involved in the research, in an email to Popular Science. It’s important because it brings new information about our current environment, she writes, which is a very different environment than the one our ancestors evolved in. 

[Read more: Bacteria wars are raging in soil, and it’s keeping ecosystems healthy]

“Historically, when we’ve thought about microbes and the environment and health, we’ve really focused on pathogens and trying to sanitize surfaces as much as possible,” wrote Erica Hartmann, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern University, who was not involved in the study. This has been particularly true during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. “By taking a step back and looking not just at pathogens but all microbes and seeing what’s really there, it gives us a different perspective, one that will hopefully lead to better approaches to managing our microbial cohabitants”—like noting which microbes are present normally and reassessing when and which disinfectants may be needed. 

“There are microbes all around us, and while some of them might make you sick, the vast majority are neutral or maybe even beneficial,” Hartmann added. “It’s really important to work with the microbes, not against them, so that we don’t create worse problems for ourselves—like superbugs.”

With over half of the human population living in cities, city services like mass transit systems are “probably the greatest shared tactile ecosystem that we all have,” says Mason. Understanding what resides in this ecosystem, he says, could help us figure out how to preserve resilient, diverse, and more pathogen-resistant urban microbiomes.

Author: Claire Maldarelli
This post originally appeared on Science – Popular Science

With Homicides Rising, Cities Brace for a Violent Summer

Superintendent David Brown, the head of the Chicago Police Department, noted that the four deaths were the fewest in a decade, but said it was too soon to celebrate. “It’s a long summer,” he told a news conference on Tuesday.

Given the high numbers in 2020, no rapid decrease should be anticipated this year — the hangover from any significant crime wave continues after the peak is reached, the police and criminologists said.

“Even though the pandemic is receding, it casts a really long shadow, along with the social unrest related to policing,” said Max Kapustin, an assistant professor of economics and public policy at Cornell University who studies crime.

Overall crime figures were down during the coronavirus pandemic. Rape, robbery and petty thefts — which constitute the vast bulk of the numbers — tend to be crimes of opportunity, and with people staying home and businesses shuttered, there were far fewer chances. Those numbers should rebound as life across the United States returns to more normal patterns, analysts said.

Homicides were a notable exception, however, with almost every major city in the United States seeing large increases in 2020. In Chicago and several other cities, last year was the worst year for killings since the mid-1990s.

Homicides in Portland, Ore., rose to 53 from 29, up more than 82 percent; in Minneapolis, they grew to 79 from 46, up almost 72 percent; and in Los Angeles the number increased to 351 from 258, a 36 percent climb, according to statistics analyzed by Jeff Asher, a former crime analyst for the New Orleans Police Department.

Those increases have continued in many cities this year.

Homicides in Philadelphia are up almost 28 percent, with 170 through May 9, compared with 133 in the same period last year; in Tucson, Ariz., the number jumped to 30 from 17 through May 13, an increase of 76 percent.

Author: Neil MacFarquhar
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

This Arcane Manual Could Lead to More Human-Friendly Cities

There’s a reason that a stop sign in Sheboygan looks like a stop sign in Seattle. There’s a reason that road lanes are divided by white and yellow markings in both places too. There’s also a reason why, if a bicycle lane symbol etched on the street is accompanied by a word, like “SLOW,” the bicycle always comes first. The reason is 862 pages long and has been around, in one form or another, for 85 years: the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

The idea behind the manual is that, for roads to be safe, they must be consistent, no matter where people are driving, walking, or scootering. The manual is “a visual representation of what the rules of the road are,” says Jeff Lindley, the deputy executive director of the Institute of Transportation Engineers. It won’t tell you when to put in a roundabout, but it will tell you the sign you need to help clueless drivers navigate a roundabout. “It’s not a real fun evening bedtime read,” says Luke Schwartz, the transportation manager for the city of San Luis Obispo, California.

For transportation engineers, the manual is akin to a professional bible, which they consult weekly, if not daily. Inside is a mix of mandatory shalls, probably good shoulds, and OK-to-do mays. The Federal Highway Administration, the US Department of Transportation agency that has controlled what goes in the manual since 1971, maintains that engineers should always use their professional judgment to determine whether a particular road sign, lane marking, or bicycle stencil works for the situation.

Now the manual is getting its first update in 11 years. That’s brought out critics who say it is outdated and too focused on cars rather than people on foot or two wheels. Some city officials want the freedom to create traffic signs, markings, and street configurations that cater to their local roads, and the varied options—bus, moped, escooter—now available to their residents. They want the flexibility to choose different bike lane markings or to install colorful crosswalks, choices that are not endorsed by the manual. (Federal officials have issued sternly worded letters to cities including St. Louis, Ames, Iowa, and Lexington, Kentucky, urging them to bring creative crosswalks into compliance.) Earlier this year, several progressive transportation groups launched an effort to not just tweak the manual, but to reframe and rewrite it.

The tussle over an obscure set of federal rules points to a larger trend in transportation planning: a renewed focus on making streets equitable, climate-conscious, and safe for everyone, not just those in cars.

Nationwide, safety statistics are moving the wrong way. Preliminary data collected by the Governors Highway Safety Association found a 4.8 percent increase in pedestrian deaths last year. Factor in the reduced driving because of the pandemic and the number gets even more dire: a 21 percent increase in pedestrian deaths per vehicle mile traveled. That’s the largest jump since the government started keeping track of such numbers in 1975.

“This is the time to say, ‘What should the spirit of the document be? And what should be the best way forward?’” says Zabe Bent, the director of design at the National Association of City Transportation Officials, a group representing city departments of transportation in North America that is spearheading the effort to reframe the manual.

The Federal Highway Administration released a draft of proposed changes late last year. The last time the manual got an update, a few thousand people, mostly transportation professionals, submitted comments. This year, 26,000 comments poured in from all over the country.

Author: Aarian Marshall
This post originally appeared on Business Latest

Austin ranks among US cities where housing affordability is falling fastest

Austin Neighborhood, homes_128872
A home in east Austin (KXAN)
AUSTIN (ABJ/KXAN) — When it comes to housing, there are plenty of cities more expensive than Austin — but there are few that have seen affordability decline as rapidly recently.

Losing bang for the buck is now the American norm. After two years of steady affordability growth in the U.S. housing market, March brought a nationwide decline in affordability, according to a report by First American Financial Corp. (NYSE: FAF). The Austin metro area showed the fifth-biggest drop in housing affordability among 50 major markets.

The study used the real house price index, or RHPI, which measures changes in housing price, income levels and interest rates to determine actual homebuying power. The higher the RHPI, the less affordable the market.

Kansas City, Missouri, topped the list with a 16.2% year-over-year increase in RHPI, followed by Phoenix; Tampa, Florida; Seattle; and Austin, which had a 12.1% increase. 

Recently, Austin City Council voted to increase the fees commercial developers will have to pay to build high-priced condos in high rises that exceed height/density limits — and those dollars will go into the City of Austin’s Affordable Housing Fund. Alternatively, developers can elect to provide affordable housing on their property instead of paying the fees.

The City of Austin says it’s received about $ 1 million in fees for affordable housing since the program’s start in 2014.

The City of Austin is currently working on several projects to achieve its goal of housing 3,000 people in the next three years. This would entail creating over 750 new permanent housing units.

This graphic from housing advocacy group HousingWorks Austin illustrates what types of neighbors fall into different income levels in the city of Austin. (Source: HousingWorks Austin)
Advocacy group HousingWorks Austin shows what types of neighbors fall into different income levels (Source: HousingWorks Austin)

Current numbers show the City is well behind on its goal, however. According to its latest estimates, the City of Austin would need to develop over 13,000 affordable housing units per year to get back on schedule.

Housing affordability in Texas’ Capitol city has become even more of a focal point, as concerns over those without homes has grown into a contentious local issue. In order to house the city’s homeless, hundreds of units are being planned for construction.

To read more, visit Austin Business Journal.

Author: Russell Falcon
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin

How The CDC Change on Mask Guidance Set Off Confusion in States and Cities

SAN ANTONIO — Minnesota’s statewide mask mandate is over. But in Minneapolis, the state’s largest city, face coverings are still required.

In Michigan, Kentucky and Oregon, governors cheerily told vaccinated people that they could go out maskless. But mask mandates remained in force for New Yorkers, New Jerseyans and Californians.

So unexpected was new federal guidance on masks that in Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Quinton Lucas went from saying he would not change his mask order, to saying he would think about it, to announcing that he was getting rid of it altogether, all in the span of about seven hours.

Across the country, governors, store owners and people running errands were scrambling on Friday to make sense of the abrupt change in federal guidelines, which said fully vaccinated people could now safely go most places, indoors or outdoors, without a mask.

At least 20 states that still had mask mandates in place this week said by Friday evening that they would exempt fully vaccinated people or repeal the orders entirely, while at least five others with mask requirements had not announced any changes. The rapidly changing rules brought an end to more than a year of mandatory masking in much of the country, even as some said they were not yet ready to take off their face coverings.

“I’m going to wear a mask for a long time to come,” said Fanny Lopez, 28, who was grocery shopping in San Antonio on Friday morning while wearing a black cloth mask. “I trust the mask more than the vaccine. The government messages are confusing, telling us to wear a mask one day and the next day no.”

The sudden shift in public health advice resonated at every level of government, from City Hall in Hartsville, S.C., where a local mask mandate was allowed to expire, to Nevada’s Gaming Control Board, which said it was not practical “to attempt to enforce a mask mandate tethered to an individual’s vaccination status,” to the U.S. Capitol, where the attending physician said House members would still have to cover their faces on the floor of the chamber.

But the shift was perhaps most challenging for governors and big-city mayors, many of whom have expended significant political capital on mask orders in the face of protests and lawsuits, and who were not given a heads-up about the change in federal policy before it was announced on Thursday.

Mayor Lucas said he could not keep Kansas City’s order in place since there was no easy way to differentiate people who are fully vaccinated — now 36 percent of Americans — from the 64 percent who are not.

“While I understand the C.D.C.’s theory that they could just create a rule that says vaccinated folks go anywhere without a mask, and everybody else who’s unvaccinated will follow it, I don’t know if that’s the type of rule that was written in coordination with anyone who has been a governor or a mayor over the last 14 months,” said Mr. Lucas, a Democrat.

The new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which came amid a steep drop in new cases and an expansion of vaccine eligibility to everyone 12 and older, signaled a shift toward pre-pandemic social norms, when no one thought twice about buying groceries or sitting down in their cubicle with a bare mouth and nose. Walmart announced on Friday that fully vaccinated employees and customers would no longer need to wear masks, and Costco issued a similar announcement.

“At least 20 times today I kept grabbing my short pockets looking for my face mask,” said Erik Darmstetter, who is fully vaccinated and owns Office Furniture Liquidations in San Antonio. “It wasn’t there. I keep forgetting we don’t need it anymore.”

Others were moving more slowly. Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, a Democrat, said he would keep his state’s mask mandate in place, writing on Twitter that “we’re making incredible progress, but we’re not there yet.” And Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, a Republican, indicated he would revisit his state’s rules next week, but he did not announce any immediate changes.

That was fine with Kay McGowan, who owns a rug and furniture shop in Somerville, Mass. She said that she would not be taking off her mask, nor would she allow customers to do so.

“It feels too early to me,” Ms. McGowan said.

The C.D.C. announcement on Thursday caught mayors and governors off guard. Through the evening on Thursday, and into Friday afternoon, states and cities announced one at a time that they were revising or ending their mask orders.

Governors in New Mexico, Maine, Maryland and Colorado were among those who adjusted their rules Friday in light of the C.D.C. guidance. In Rhode Island, where officials learned about the new federal guidance in the middle of a news conference on Thursday, state leaders said on Friday that they would relax their mask rules.

But the new C.D.C. suggestions were not universally popular. Some public health experts questioned the wisdom of the relaxed guidelines, while local officials confronted the reality that, if they created separate rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated people, there was no real way of knowing who was who.

“The people that have been pushing the limits on not wearing a mask, as it is, are also the ones that tend to not be vaccinated,” said Mayor Kim Norton of Rochester, Minn. “To say vaccinated people can take their masks off will not give us any assurance that the person next to us has been vaccinated.”

Mayor Tishaura Jones of St. Louis, who announced Friday that mask rules would be loosened in her city, said she hoped business owners would ask about the vaccination status of maskless customers.

“But we don’t want this to turn into sort of like a show-me-your-papers moment,” said Ms. Jones, who said that she personally planned to continue wearing a mask. “We’ll just have to trust what people tell us.”

For more than a year, masking had been urged by public health experts, a key to stopping the airborne spread of the coronavirus. Some places allowed their mask requirements to expire months ago, but face coverings remained mandatory this week in more than 20 states, as well as many cities and counties. Just a few weeks ago, the C.D.C. said fully vaccinated Americans could usually forgo masks outdoors, but should continue wearing them in public spaces indoors.

The agency changed course on Thursday, saying people who were at least two weeks past their final dose of a vaccine could safely go most places, both indoors and outdoors, without a mask. The C.D.C. said everyone should still wear a mask in certain settings, including health care facilities, on public transportation and on flights.

In San Antonio, Sue Morgan, who said she is fully vaccinated and works at Mr. Darmstetter’s store, was happy to return to something approaching normal.

“I came in with a mask today and wasn’t sure how we were going to approach this,” said Ms. Morgan, who works in customer service at the store. “Then we all took them off. I must say, it’s nice to see faces again.”

But Rachael McKinnon, who said she left her teaching job in Massachusetts this year because of concerns about the safety of reopening schools, expressed doubts on Friday about the timing of the C.D.C.’s decision given how many people remain unvaccinated.

“At some point we need to move on with our lives, and we need to decide that there’s a point when things are safe,” Ms. McKinnon said, “but I just don’t know that it’s now.”

Edgar Sandoval reported from San Antonio, Kate Taylor from Cambridge, Mass., and Mitch Smith from Chicago. John Yoon, Benjamin Guggenheim Lauren Hirsch and Tracey Tully contributed to this story.

Author: Edgar Sandoval, Kate Taylor and Mitch Smith
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

Bill punishing cities that 'defund police' passes Texas House

Texas Politics
Austin police investigating homicide in busy north Austin shopping area April 14, 2021 (KXAN Photo/Andrew Choat)
Austin police investigating homicide in busy north Austin shopping area April 14, 2021 (KXAN Photo/Andrew Choat)
AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas House passed a bill on Friday that would punish cities that cut funding for police.

House Bill 1900 passed just before 12:30 p.m. with a vote of 90-49.

“Let’s support public safety in this state. Let’s support our police. Let’s back the blue,” state Rep. Craig Goldman, who wrote the bill.

Under the bill, a “defunding local government” is determined by comparing the money and personnel going toward law enforcement in a city’s budget to that of the previous year, starting this September.

If approved by the Senate, and signed into law by the governor, HB 1900 would cap property tax rates in cities that cut funding for police and deduct from sales tax revenue the cost of state-provided law enforcement services.

The bill only affects cities with populations greater than 250,000 people — that’s 11 in Texas, including Austin.

An amendment to apply the bill to all cities in Texas failed.

Background on the bill

In the past year, Gov. Greg Abbott promised there would be consequences for cities that decrease police budgets. His office worked with Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, on HB 1900.

It came as a number of cities around the nation reduced police budgets in response to calls for racial justice and transformation of policing amid protests sparked by the death of George Floyd.

Abbott has long criticized the Austin City Council’s decision to cut $ 20 million from the Austin Police Department budget. The council also unanimously voted to move $ 130 million from its budget to other public safety programs. This bill, which if passed would go into effect Sept. 1, would not affect Austin unless it decided to reduce the budget further for the next fiscal year.

Author: John Engel
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin