Category Archives: Cities/Architecture

A Requiem for Florida, The Paradise That Should Never Have Been

Michael Grunwald reports for Politico:

17908_grunwald_palmtrees_Getty.jpgThe first Americans to spend much time in South Florida were the U.S. Army men who chased the Seminole Indians around the peninsula in the 1830s. And they hated it. Today, their letters read like Yelp reviews of an arsenic café, denouncing the region as a “hideous,” “loathsome,” “diabolical,” “God-abandoned” mosquito refuge.

“Florida is certainly the poorest country that ever two people quarreled for,” one Army surgeon wrote. “It was the most dreary and pandemonium-like region I ever visited, nothing but barren wastes.” An officer summarized it as “swampy, low, excessively hot, sickly and repulsive in all its features.” The future president Zachary Taylor, who commanded U.S. troops there for two years, groused that he wouldn’t trade a square foot of Michigan or Ohio for a square mile of Florida. The consensus among the soldiers was that the U.S. should just leave the area to the Indians and the mosquitoes; as one general put it, “I could not wish them all a worse place.” Or as one lieutenant complained: “Millions of money has been expended to gain this most barren, swampy, and good-for-nothing peninsula.”

Today, Florida’s southern thumb has been transformed into a subtropical paradise for millions of residents and tourists, a sprawling megalopolis dangling into the Gulf Stream that could sustain hundreds of billions of dollars in damage if Hurricane Irma makes a direct hit. So it’s easy to forget that South Florida was once America’s last frontier, generally dismissed as an uninhabitable and undesirable wasteland, almost completely unsettled well after the West was won. “How far, far out of the world it seems,” Iza Hardy wrote in an 1887 book called Oranges and Alligators: Sketches of South Florida. And Hardy ventured only as far south as Orlando, which is actually central Florida, nearly 250 miles north of Miami. Back then, only about 300 hardy pioneers lived in modern-day South Florida. Miami wasn’t even incorporated as a city until 1896. And even then an early visitor declared that if he owned Miami and hell, he would rent out Miami and live in hell.

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California vs Trump: The Fight Begins

Alexander Nazaryan reports for Newsweek:

Image result for California v. TrumpIt began with a tweet, as so much does these days. The first shot in the coming war was fired in a 140-character burst by Shervin Pishevar, a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. “If Trump wins I am announcing and funding a legitimate campaign for California to become its own nation,” said the first in a volley of tweets by the Iranian-American technology investor. “As 6th largest economy in world,” he said three tweets later, “economic engine of nation, provider of a large % of federal budget, California carries a lot of weight.”

This call to arms was retweeted thousands of times in those bewildering first hours of the Age of Trump. By the next morning, the movement for California to secede from the United States had made national headlines, with Pishevar anointed the movement’s leader. It even had a name, Calexit, an echo of the Brexit movement, which will eventually cleave Great Britain from the European Union. The nativist tone of Brexit foreshadowed the xenophobia of Donald Trump. Calexit is a kind of nativism too, except it’s fundamentally sunny in disposition—a Brexit for American liberals much more closely aligned with Western Europe than West Virginia.

Unrelated to Pishevar’s tweetstorm was a Sacramento rally held the day after the election (but planned long before) by Yes California, a secession group run by a young man from San Diego named Louis Marinelli. Marinelli, 29, wants to use California’s ballot measure process to have his fellow citizens vote for secession, much as they have voted to ban plastic bags and legalize recreational marijuana. Unlike Pishevar, whose secessionary tweets were plainly fired off in a fit of frustration, Marinelli has been long at work on this issue and will eagerly lay out his reasoning to anyone willing to listen. “America is a sinking ship, and the strongest position for California to take is one on its own lifeboat setting its own course forward,” he tells me. “A strong California holding its ground and attempting to influence the decisions of those in Washington at the helm of this sinking ship will find itself at the bottom of the ocean with them.”

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Pentagon Video Warns of “Unavoidable” Dystopian Future for World’s Biggest Cities

Nick Turse reports for The Intercept:

The year is 2030. Forget about the flying cars, robot maids, and moving sidewalks we were promised. They’re not happening. But that doesn’t mean the future is a total unknown.

According to a startling Pentagon video obtained by The Intercept, the future of global cities will be an amalgam of the settings of “Escape from New York” and “Robocop” — with dashes of the “Warriors” and “Divergent” thrown in. It will be a world of Robert Kaplan-esque urban hellscapes — brutal and anarchic supercities filled with gangs of youth-gone-wild, a restive underclass, criminal syndicates, and bands of malicious hackers.

At least that’s the scenario outlined in “Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity,” a five-minute video that has been used at the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations University. All that stands between the coming chaos and the good people of Lagos and Dhaka (or maybe even New York City) is the U.S. Army, according to the video, which The Intercept obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

The video is nothing if not an instant dystopian classic: melancholy music, an ominous voiceover, and cascading images of sprawling slums and urban conflict. “Megacities are complex systems where people and structures are compressed together in ways that defy both our understanding of city planning and military doctrine,” says a disembodied voice. “These are the future breeding grounds, incubators, and launching pads for adversaries and hybrid threats.”

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Instead of Trump’s Wall, Why Not a Binational Border City?

Tanvi Misra reports for City Lab:

Donald Trump keeps talking about the big, beautiful wall he’s going to erect on the U.S.-Mexican border. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton wants to build bridges—metaphorical ones, that is.

Mexican architect Fernando Romero has taken a more literal approach to Clinton’s proposition. He’s long been a proponent of “building bridges,” and believes that boundaries are obsolete. “With technology, those borders are just becoming symbolic limits,” he recently told Dezeen Magazine. “The reality is that there exists a very strong mutual dependency of economies and trades.” That’s why he has now designed a master plan for a walkable, super-connected metropolis straddling the U.S.-Mexico border.

Back in the early 2000s, Romero’s architecture firm conceptualized a tunnel-like “Bridging Museum” in the Rio Grande Valley, which would act as “both a funnel and a window between the borders.” But his vision for a utopian border city, on display at the London Design Biennale, is much more complex and detailed.

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The Palace of the Soviets: A Brief History

Detroit Renaissance? Mike Papantonio Interviews Abby Martin

‘Abby Martin, Breaking the Set, joins Mike Papantonio to discuss her visit to Detroit, the city’s “tent city,” the water shut offs, bankruptcy and how the city is still feeling the effects of the foreclosure crisis.’ (The Big Picture)

An Entrepreneur’s Unique Way To Beat Sky-High Rents In U.S. Cities

Bronx Activists Take Local Fight Against ‘Environmental Racism’ to a Global Stage

Alice Speri reports for VICE News:

‘For more than two years, a group of South Bronx residents has been fighting against the planned relocation of a giant online grocery store to their doorstep — arguing their case at an endless string of court hearings, community meetings, and street rallies.

But last month, South Bronx Unite took its campaign against FreshDirect to a very different stage — the UN Climate Summit.

The neighborhood’s issues — from food sovereignty, to clean air, to climate-related displacement — are the same that affect poor communities across the world, the group says. And, while they feel marginalized in New York City, local residents have been building connections “with communities of color, working communities and the global south who, like the people of the Bronx, are often on the frontlines of climate change,” the group wrote in a statement announcing their participation in the international event.’

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Detroit Faces “Humanitarian Crisis” as City Shuts Off Water Access for Thousands of Residents

‘We are on the road in Detroit, broadcasting from the “Great Lakes State” of Michigan, which has one of the longest freshwater coastlines in the country. But its residents are increasingly concerned about their access to affordable water. A judge overseeing Detroit’s bankruptcy recently ruled the city can continue shutting off water to residents who have fallen behind on payments after a judge concluded there is no “enforceable right” to water. The city began cutting off water to thousands of households several months ago, prompting protests from residents and the United Nations. Today, some 350 to 400 customers reportedly continue to lose water service daily in Detroit, where poverty rate is approximately 40 percent, and people have seen their water bills increase by 119 percent within the last decade. Most of the residents are African-American. Two-thirds of those impacted by the water shutoffs involve families with children. We speak with Alice Jennings, the lead attorney for residents who have lost their water access. “What’s happening here is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis,” Jennings says. “In a military way, the truck would start at one end of the street, and by the time it reached the other end maybe 50 percent of the homes were shut off.”’ (Democracy Now!)

UN Report Finds the Number of Megacities Has Tripled in Since 1990

Charley Cameron reports for Inhabitat:

los angeles, megacities, mega city, mega-city ,population growth, urban‘A United Nations report has found that the number of megacities in the world has increased almost three-fold in the past 24 years. A megacity is defined as an urban area with over 10 million inhabitants—New York City formed the world’s first in the 1950s—and as of 1990, ten such cities had grown up around the globe. But as of this year, there are now a staggering 28 megacities. And while dense urban environments may provide certain environmental benefits, they also create significant hazards.’

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The Destruction of Mecca

Ziauddin Sardar writes for The New York Times:

Image ‘When Malcolm X visited Mecca in 1964, he was enchanted. He found the city “as ancient as time itself,” and wrote that the partly constructed extension to the Sacred Mosque “will surpass the architectural beauty of India’s Taj Mahal.” Fifty years on, no one could possibly describe Mecca as ancient, or associate beauty with Islam’s holiest city. Pilgrims performing the hajj this week will search in vain for Mecca’s history.

The dominant architectural site in the city is not the Sacred Mosque, where the Kaaba, the symbolic focus of Muslims everywhere, is. It is the obnoxious Makkah Royal Clock Tower hotel, which, at 1,972 feet, is among the world’s tallest buildings. It is part of a mammoth development of skyscrapers that includes luxury shopping malls and hotels catering to the superrich. The skyline is no longer dominated by the rugged outline of encircling peaks. Ancient mountains have been flattened. The city is now surrounded by the brutalism of rectangular steel and concrete structures — an amalgam of Disneyland and Las Vegas.’

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Liberalism and Gentrification

Gavin Mueller writes for Jacobin:

1871 Mitchell DC-1000x1000Like a lot of cities, Washington is really two cities in the same space. We’ve got “Washington,” the place of popular imagination, gleaming white marble monuments and Aaron Sorkin speechifiers, the mostly-from-out-of-town professional class keeping the rusty wheels of state administration turning.

We’ve also got “DC,” the city distinct from the operations of the federal government, made up of “residents,” who are mostly poor and mostly black. These two cities are locked in a one-sided war of attrition, with affluent “newcomers” and their local allies conducting clear-and-hold operations against their less well-heeled neighbors. I can watch from what Forbes magazine, that barometer of bohemianism, has labeled the sixth-hippest neighborhood in the US, where I live.

This is gentrification, which, if you’re reading this and live in a city, is a process you’re caught up in. There’s a violent side of gentrification — think Rudy Giuliani and his “broken windows” alibi for crackdowns on petty crime. But there’s a softer side to this war as well, the liberal project of city governance whose patron saint is the activist Jane Jacobs, author of Death and Life of American Cities.’

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The Dystopian City and Urban Policy

Annalee Newitz writes for Slate:

Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images‘Perhaps because cities are hotbeds of social and technological innovation, they often have starring roles in futuristic stories. But these aren’t generally tales of a better tomorrow. They’re ugly and dystopian, with drone-patrolled slums, pollution, overpopulated high-rises, and ubiquitous surveillance machines. But we can’t dismiss these stories as pure nihilistic sensationalism. They are also twisted messages of hope. If we could just heed these fictional warnings to city planners about how our cities might fail, we might figure out how to fix them before disaster strikes.’

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​Lagos: Africa’s Fastest Growing Megacity

London overtakes Hong Kong as world’s most expensive city

Rupert Jones reports for The Guardian:

‘London has overtaken Hong Kong as the world’s most expensive city to live and work in, with a new study suggesting it is almost twice as pricey as Sydney, and four times more than Rio de Janeiro.

The estate agent Savills said that in London, rising rents and the strong pound had pushed up the typical cost per individual employee of renting somewhere to live and leasing office space to $120,000 (£73,800) a year.

That puts the UK capital well ahead of other global hubs such as New York and Paris which, aside from Hong Kong, are the only other locations where the combined annual costs of renting residential and office space top $100,000 per employee.’

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Study: Workers who cycle, walk and use public transport are “happier than drivers”

The Daily Mail reports:

No traffic: Including a form of exercise such as walking to the bus stop, and then 'switching off' during the ride to work improves mental and physical well being ‘Active travel’ such as cycling or walking to the bus stop improves well-being, while those who get behind the wheel of a car feel under strain and less able to concentrate, the University of East Anglia suggests.

While most commuters associate public transport with cramped Tube carriages and delays, it appears that they are better off than those in their cars. Including some form of exercise in the daily commute, whether it’s cycling the entire way or simply walking to the train station, improves mental well-being as well as physical.  ‘Switching off’ during a ride on public transport is also beneficial.’

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U.S. army sees ‘megacities’ as the future battlefield

Paul McLeary reports for The Army Times:

‘When the Army looks to the future, it sees cities. Dense, sprawling, congested cities where criminal and extremist groups flourish almost undetected by authorities, but who can influence the lives of the population while undermining the authority of the state.

And the service is convinced that these “megacities” of 20 million or more people will be the battleground of the future.

The problem from a military strategists’ point of view, however, is that no army has ever fought it out in a city of this size. So in thinking through the issue of what to do about the coming age of the megacity, the Army’s Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) got together with US Army Special Operations Command, the chief of staff’s Strategic Studies Group and the UK’s Ministry of Defence in February to explore these types of urban operations.’

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Business Insider’s 18 Most Innovative Cities

Drake Baer writes for Business Insider:

Cape Town, South Africa‘Cities might be humanity’s greatest invention — if you listen to Harvard economist Ed Glaeser, author of  “Triumph of the City.”

“So much of what humankind has achieved over the past three millennia has come out of the remarkable collaborative creations that come out of cities,” he said in an interview. “We are a social species. We come out of the womb with the ability to sop up information from people around us. It’s almost our defining characteristic as creatures. And cities play to that strength.”

Indeed, many modern metros are pushing the limits of industry, design, and urban planning, while rethinking the way people live and work.’

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Shutoff: Detroit’s Water War

‘Earlier this year, Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department began turning off water utilities for overdue or delinquent accounts. Since April, the department has cut off the water for nearly 3,000 households per week — meaning roughly 100,000 Motor City residents are without water. Entrenched at the bottom of Detroit’s current economic crisis, many of those without water are the city’s poorest resident. The city’s shut-off campaign has garnered international press attention, and has been called “an affront to human rights” by representatives of the United Nations. VICE News traveled to Detroit to see first-hand how residents are dealing with the water shut-offs, speak with local government representatives about the issue, and discuss possible resolutions with activist groups.’ (VICE News)

Despite Calls for Humanity, Detroit Resumes Water Shutoffs

Lauren McCauley reports for Common Dreams:

‘Despite widespread public outcry and international condemnation, the city of Detroit on Tuesday resumed shutting off the water supply to thousands of city residents. Ending the month long moratorium on shutoffs, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) public affairs specialist Gregory Eno confirmed to Common Dreams that the city turned off the water to roughly 400 households that are delinquent on their water bills and have not yet set up a payment plan. More shutoffs are expected.

According to the citizens group Detroit Water Brigade, the only thing that changed since shutoffs began in March is that the city has lowered the required down payment water bills from 30% to 10%. “The water is still too expensive for Detroit,” they said. Detroit is one of the poorest cities in the United States with over 38% of the population living below the poverty line, according to Census Bureau statistics.

Members of the Detroit Water Brigade are calling on the city to halt the shutoffs altogether and consider alternatives for helping people pay their bills, arguing that restricting access to water for the city’s poorest residents is “doing nothing more than hurting people,” DWB volunteer DeMeeko Williams told a local CBS affiliate.’

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Street lighting getting smarter and greener

New Scientist reports:

‘Hundreds of lights are being erected in a Danish industrial park in a suburb of Copenhagen. When ordinary citizens pass through the area, they’ll be taking part in a massive experiment to work out how we should light our cities in the future.

[…] Several cities around the world are already investigating smart street lighting. Last year, in the biggest project of its kind to date, Los Angeles swapped its entire system for LED lamps – along with a pilot remote control system made by General Electric. The Spanish city of Barcelona, too, is rolling out lights that can detect motion and weather conditions. DOLL wants to encourage more cities to make the change by demonstrating what different types of lamps can do.

[…] Fitting street lamps with complex sensors – and hooking them up to a larger network that controls the city will have implications far outside of lighting, says Robert Karlicek, director of the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. If a street lamp senses a sudden rush of people in an area that’s usually deserted at night, police could be tipped off to go check the area out.’

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Amazing Satellite Photos That Will Change Your Perspective On Planet Earth

From Demilked:

Bourtange, Vlagtwedde, Netherlands

satellite-aerial-photos-of-earth-1

53.0066°N 7.1920°E. Bourtange is a village with a population of 430 in the municipality of Vlagtwedde in the Netherlands. The star fort was built in 1593 during the Eighty Years’ War when William I of Orange wanted to control the only road between Germany and the city of Groningen. Bourtange was restored to its mid-18th-century state in 1960 and is currently used as an open-air museum.

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Extreme Rainfall Is The New Normal, And We’re Not Ready For It

Emily Gertz writes for Popular Science:

Map of heavy rainfall increase across the USA, 2014

‘This is weather common to tropical regions of the world, not temperate Michigan. But it’s in line with the National Climate Assessment, which found that over the past six decades incidents of extreme precipitation have increased across the continental U.S. due to human-propelled climate change. Rising temperatures increase the evaporation of water into vapor, and warmer air can take on greater amounts of water vapor than cooler. When all that vapor finally condenses into rain (or snow), there’s more of it to dump onto the communities below. This new normal of extreme precipitation is hitting Northeastern states the hardest, followed by the upper Midwest.’

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Invertebrate populations have seen a 45% decline over the last 40 years

Kriston Capps reports for CityLab:

‘A recent article in Science found that most known invertebrate populations have seen a 45 percent decline over the last 40 years. That’s a particular problem for cities, where we don’t know nearly enough about the invertebrates that live alongside us. What we do know about their roles tell us that arthropods are critical for all kinds of things that we take for granted. Without urban insects, our lives might be transformed in ways large and small. City bugs nevertheless remain critically understudied.

Amy Savage has devoted her life to myrmecophily, which is an extraordinary word for the interaction between animals and ants, typically denoting positive associations. Her work in entomology focuses on the community-wide consequences of mutualisms, or inter-species interactions and adaptations—like the relationship between ants and aphids, for example. Savage’s work in the more tailored field of urban entomology leads her to believe that invertebrates, and especially insects, play an underexamined role in the human ecosystem.’

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Slaves of Happiness Island: Abu Dhabi and the Dark Side of High Art

Molly Crabapple writes for Vice:

‘[…] Reports about the conditions of workers in the Gulf have been wide and probing. Articles contrast the glittering skyscrapers they build and the scant wages they receive. In May, the New York Timespublished a scathing exposé of labor abuses at NYU Abu Dhabi.

But what’s often lost in much of the reporting about foreign labor in the United Arab Emirates—and Abu Dhabi specifically—is the agency of the workers themselves. The men I met in the Gulf are brave and ambitious—heroes to their families back home. They dared to chase better prospects and were met with repression instead. In a country where the faintest whisper of dissent can get you deported, more than a hundred strikes have rocked the construction industry in the past three years. While workers may be lied to and forced to live and work in brutal conditions, they also—improbably—are fighting back.’

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Blackmail Insurance Sale & The Germ Code

‘In this episode of the Keiser Report, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert discuss reputational apartheid and delusion insurance as we all become blackmailable. In the second half, Max interviews microbiologist, Jason Tetro, author of The Germ Code, about what germs can teach us about the modern economy and about the similarities between Las Vegas and C.Dificile.’ (Keiser Report)

Facing mass protests, Detroit temporarily halts water shutoffs

‘Detroit is temporarily suspending its policy of cutting off water for low-income residents who are delinquent on their bills. In March, the city sent out 45,000 shutoff notices and began turning off water for thousands of citizens. After a public backlash, rallies against the policy and even calls to the UN for humanitarian assistance, the bankrupt city decided it may need to reevaluate how it is handling the situation.’ (Meghan Lopez)

NYC Approves Apartment Building With Separate Entrance for Poor People

Andy Cush reports for Gawker:

NYC Approves Apartment Building With Separate Entrance for Poor People‘It would be difficult to come with a more on-the-nose metaphor for New York City’s income inequality problem than the new high-rise apartment building coming to 40 Riverside Boulevard, which will feature separate doors for regular, wealthy humans and whatever you call the scum that rents affordable housing.

Extell Development Company, the firm behind the new building, announced its intentions to segregate the rich and poor to much outrage last year. Fifty-five of the luxury complex’s 219 units would be marked for low-income renters—netting some valuable tax breaks for Extell—with the caveat that the less fortunate tenants would stick to their own entrance.’

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Report: Dubai will overtake Paris on list of world’s most visited cities by 2019

Andy Sambridge reports for Arabian Business:

‘Dubai has risen in a new list of the world’s top destinations for international travellers and is expected to welcome nearly 12 million visitors this year. London topped the annual MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index for the third time in four years but Dubai rose two places to fifth globally, behind Bangkok, Paris and Singapore.

Visitor figures for the emirate this year represent an increase of 7.5 percent on 2013. This has helped boost the position of Dubai ahead of New York and Istanbul – both of which ranked higher than Dubai last year. MasterCard added that Dubai is one of the fastest growing cities in the global top 10, and is on track to overtake Paris and Singapore within five years.’

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Scientists warn against China’s plan to flatten over 700 mountains

Stuart Clark reports for The Guardian:

Construction machines are lined up on a mountain during the ground-breaking ceremony for the Lanzhou New Area project in Lanzhou city, northwest Chinas Gansu province, 26 October 2012. In what is being billed as the largest mountain-moving project in Chinese history, one of Chinas biggest construction firms will spend GBP 2.2 billion to flatten 700 mountains levelling the area Lanzhou, allowing developers to build a new metropolis on the outskirts of the northwestern city.‘Scientists have criticised China’s bulldozing of hundreds of mountains to provide more building land for cities. In a paper published in journal Nature this week, three Chinese academics say plan to remove over 700 mountains and shovel debris into valleys to create 250 sq km of flat land has not been sufficiently considered “environmentally, technically or economically.”

Li Peiyue, Qian Hui and Wu Jianhua, all from the School of Environmental Science and Engineering at Chang’an University, China, write: “There has been too little modelling of the costs and benefits of land creation. Inexperience and technical problems delay projects and add costs, and the environment impacts are not being thoroughly considered.”’

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