Wednesday, August 30

The Debunker: Why Does Washington, D.C. Have Its Strict Limit on Building Height?

by Ken Jennings

On August 28, 1565, the feast day of St. Augustine, a Spanish admiral named Pedro Menéndez de Avilés sighted land in Florida. His men founded a settlement there which is still called St. Augustine, making it the oldest European-founded city in the United States. This August, we've asked Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to cast his keen, cosmopolitan eye on American cities coast to coast, the better to debunk some misinformation about them that's as old as the hills, almost as old as St. Augustine itself.

The Debunker: Why Does Washington, D.C. Have Its Strict Limit on Building Height?

Visitors to the nation's capital often remark on Washington's broad boulevards and lovely vistas of the city's monuments, just like city planner Pierre L'Enfant drew things up in 1791. Washington's spacious vibe wasn't a happy accident; it was a result of Congress passing the Height of Buildings Act of 1899, which keeps high-rise development out of the District of Columbia. As many Washingtonians will tell you, backed by any number of books and articles and tourism bureaus, this far-sighted measure was taken to preserve the supremacy of the city's landmarks—by law, they say, no building in town can be higher than the Capitol dome. But that's not why the height limit was enacted at all.

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Wednesday, August 23

The Debunker: Is New Orleans Located Below Sea Level?

by Ken Jennings

On August 28, 1565, the feast day of St. Augustine, a Spanish admiral named Pedro Menéndez de Avilés sighted land in Florida. His men founded a settlement there which is still called St. Augustine, making it the oldest European-founded city in the United States. This August, we've asked Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to cast his keen, cosmopolitan eye on American cities coast to coast, the better to debunk some misinformation about them that's as old as the hills, almost as old as St. Augustine itself.

The Debunker: Is New Orleans Located Below Sea Level?

When the levees broke in New Orleans in 2005, I heard more than one person (thousands of miles away and unaffected by the disaster, of course!) note, with a smirk and a shrug, that, hey, that's what happens when you build a major coastal city below sea level. But I was shocked when this actually became a political talking point in the post-Katrina conversation. When House Speaker Dennis Hastert (recently in the news again doing prison time after accusations of being a serial child molester!) was asked about rebuilding New Orleans, given its low elevation, he replied, "I don't know. That doesn't make sense to me."

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Wednesday, August 16

The Debunker: Did Peter Minuit Pay $24 for Manhattan?

by Ken Jennings

On August 28, 1565, the feast day of St. Augustine, a Spanish admiral named Pedro Menéndez de Avilés sighted land in Florida. His men founded a settlement there which is still called St. Augustine, making it the oldest European-founded city in the United States. This August, we've asked Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to cast his keen, cosmopolitan eye on American cities coast to coast, the better to debunk some misinformation about them that's as old as the hills, almost as old as St. Augustine itself.

The Debunker: Did Peter Minuit Pay $24 for Manhattan?

It's hard to walk around the densely crowded canyons of midtown Manhattan, home of the world's most expensive commercial real estate, and imagine the island as a primeval forest wilderness, purchased by Dutch colonist Peter Minuit from local Native Americans for just $24 in beads and trinkets. Twenty-four dollars! You can't even get into the Museum of Modern Art today for that!

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Wednesday, August 09

The Debunker: Are San Francisco's Cable Cars the Only Mobile National Monument?

by Ken Jennings

On August 28, 1565, the feast day of St. Augustine, a Spanish admiral named Pedro Menéndez de Avilés sighted land in Florida. His men founded a settlement there which is still called St. Augustine, making it the oldest European-founded city in the United States. This August, we've asked Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to cast his keen, cosmopolitan eye on American cities coast to coast, the better to debunk some misinformation about them that's as old as the hills, almost as old as St. Augustine itself.

The Debunker: Are San Francisco's Cable Cars the Only Mobile National Monument?

The Debunker

Years of Rice-a-Roni commercials might make you think you're an expert, but in fact out-of-towners get plenty wrong about transit in the city by the bay. BART, for example, is a regional train system that only has eight stops in San Francisco city limits; the lesser-known Muni Metro is the light rail that locals use to get around San Francisco (or "Frisco," as they like to call it). The Golden Gate Bridge isn't golden, it's painted a color called International Orange. (In fact, the name "Golden Gate" pre-dates the bridge and even the 1849 gold rush.) And the city's iconic heritage streetcars and cable cars are often confused, but are in fact are two completely distinct transit systems. The streetcars are electric trolleys that ride on rails, while the three cable car lines are pulled up the city's steeper hills by an underground cable that moves continuously.

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Thursday, December 29

 

Wednesday, May 21

 

Tuesday, August 27

Watch This First: The World's Tallest Slum

by Jason Toon

Sometimes, Seattle, the city where I live, feels like a difficult place to find an affordable home in. But I'm ashamed to even think that when I consider a place like Caracas, Venezuela. The housing shortage there is so acute that in 2007, squatters took over a unfinished skyscraper that had been abandoned for thirteen years. Since then, the 2,500 residents of Torre de David have done what they can to turn this construction site into a home. A communal electrical grid, an aqueduct water system, shops, and other basic services all function illegally in this vertical slum. This short documentary by Vocative is a rare look inside this spontaneous frontier outpost in the middle of a vast city.

 
 

Watch Watch This First first, every weekday morning. Because the best way to start the day is to start it a few minutes later.

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Tuesday, May 21

There Can Be Only Pun: Cat Cities!

by Sean Adams

You guys, I have an addiction. I'm addicted to puns. I need them. I can't get enough of them. I HUNGER FOR THEM. That's why I've set up this weekly blog feature: so you guys can feed my addiction. Every week, I'll name the topic, give you some examples, and then you'll pun away in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter. I'll choose the best ones and post them here next week. Sound good? Good! Let's do it!

THIS WEEK'S EPISODE: Cat Cities

Imagine any city in the world. Now cat-ify it. It's that easy. Check out these examples:

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Wednesday, May 02

The Trivial Eye: Transit Maps

by Jason Toon

When you're riding the subway in a strange town, you just need to know which line will take you to which station. Further detail is just a distraction. So metro route maps around the world have evolved into clear, simple diagrams, where the messy crags and bulges of geography are reduced to rational angles and clean lines. But their heritage shows in their station names, their design sense, their alphabets. Can you see the city behind the diagram?

Answers are here. Please post your guesses, speculations, or arguments, below! But know this: the Trivial Eye is presented for public amusement and no prizes are offered other than that familiar feeling of aggravation that so much of your mind is occupied by useless trivia.

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Wednesday, March 28

The Trivial Eye: Naked Cities 2

by Jason Toon

The first time I did a Naked Cities quiz, the most common complaint was that the unmarked satellite images of world cities weren't focused tightly enough on the cities themselves. So this time, I've zoomed way in on eight capital cities around the globe. Each one contains a famed monument, plaza, cathedral, or palace, or the capital building itself - and most of these images feature more than one of those landmarks. Will you fare better with this ALL CAPS edition than you did last time?

Answers are here. Please post your guesses, speculations, or arguments below! But know this: the Trivial Eye is presented for public amusement and no prizes are offered other than that familiar feeling of aggravation that so much of your mind is occupied by useless trivia.

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