Category Archives: Cities

Traffic jams can hurt the heart

Anyone who has experienced Los Angeles gridlock likely can attest that traffic may cause one’s blood pressure to rise. But UC Irvine researchers have found that, beyond the aggravation caused by fellow drivers, traffic-related air pollution presents serious heart health risks — not just for rush hour commuters, but for those who live and work nearby.

Research by UC Irvine joint M.D./Ph.D. student Sharine Wittkopp contributes to evidence that the increased air pollution generated by vehicle congestion causes blood pressure to rise and arteries to inflame, increasing incidents of heart attack and stroke for people who reside near traffic-prone areas.

“While the impact of traffic-related pollution on people with chronic lung diseases is well known, the link to adverse heart impacts has been less described,” said Wittkopp.

Her research project, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, focused on residents of a Los Angeles senior housing community who had coronary artery disease.

Study participants spend the vast majority of their time at home, which meant they had prolonged exposure to traffic-related air pollution at the site. Because of their age and preexisting heart conditions, they were thought to be more vulnerable to small, day-to-day variations in air quality.

“They are really in the thick of it,” Wittkopp said. “They are the ones that are going to suffer the most, and who are the least likely to be resilient.”

Up to now, most studies on the impacts of air pollution have focused on its effects over much larger populations, with difficulty capturing accurate exposures and short-term changes. Wittkopp and her team wanted to look at how daily fluctuations in traffic and air quality would affect those residing in the immediate vicinity of congested roadways.

The research team, led by advisor Ralph Delfino, associate professor and vice chair for research and graduate studies in the Department of Epidemiology at UC Irvine’s School of Medicine, set up air quality monitors at the residences of the study participants. They looked for daily and weekly changes in traffic-related pollution such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter.

What they found: “Blood pressure went up with increased traffic pollutants, and EKG changes showed decreased blood flow to the heart,” Wittkopp said.

Read the full story

Exploring Urban Trends through Selfies

Vintage Selfie

The term ‘selfie’ took on a life of its own in 2013, especially after the Oxford English Dictionary selected it as the ‘international word of the year’. The Internet and mobile phones were awash in self-portraits as consumers purchased more smartphones with front-facing cameras – turning the selfie into a truly worldwide phenomenon.

Now, the Software Studies Initiative –– led by UCSD Comp Sci professor Lev Manovich –– has been working on a project called selfiecity, which investigates selfies using a mix of quantitative, theoretic and artistic methods.  Looking at five cities around the world, they randomly select 20,000-30,000 photos per city, per day.

Here are some of their findings:

  • People take less selfies than often assumed –– depending on the city, only 3-5% of images analyzed were actually selfies.
  • Moscow is at the bottom of the selfie smile index. (Bangkok is at the top.)
  • In every city analyzed, there are significantly more women selfies than men selfies.
  • Men over 30 share more selfies than women over 30. “Women may take them, but they don’t post them.”
  • And it’s a young person’s game. The median selfie age is 23.7 years.

What will they look at next? Perhaps Manovich will compare selfies taken in cities with those taken in suburbs or rural areas … or selfies that have professional polish with those of a more casual nature.

[The image above is from the Museum of the City of New York.]

Future traffic challenges of flying cars

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US aerospace start-up Terrafugia unveiled the TF-X recently, which is a concept car of the future… a very near future with additional plans to build a street legal airplane that can convert from flying to driving in under a minute.

UCLA researcher Mario Gerla who studies intelligent transport weighed in on the concept:

“We always think how nice it would be if we’re stuck in a traffic jam, to all of a sudden, just take off from the road pavement and go where you want.  I can understand the idea of flying from airport to airport, folding the wings and becoming a car. In the air, you’re just one more plane. But if you take off from your parking lot and fly a few blocks away, it is more like a helicopter. It becomes much more flexible, and interesting, but maybe dangerous.”

Read the full story on Fiat Lux, our new Flipboard magazine for mobile devices: http://flip.it/fiatlux

Urban heat islands – why is it warmer in the city?

urbanheatisland

Summer in the city can be especially hot and sticky, because urban heat islands exacerbate the warm weather. Researchers at Berkeley Lab are testing materials that battle that effect, making pavements cooler and safer.

Causes

The properties of urban roofs and pavements, as well as human activity, contribute to the formation of summer urban heat islands:

  • Urban surface properties. Roofs and pavements can constitute about 60% of the surface area of a U.S. city. These surfaces are typically dark in color and thus absorb at least 80% of sunlight, causing them to get warmer than lighter colored surfaces.1 These warm roofs and pavements then emit heat and make the outside air warmer.
  • Human activity. Air conditioning, manufacturing, transportation, and other human activities discharge heat into our urban environments.

Consequences

Urban heat islands can negatively affect the urban community and the environment.

  • Increased energy use. Warm temperatures in cities increase the need for air conditioning (A/C) to cool buildings. This elevated demand can strain the electrical grid on a hot summer afternoon, making it more susceptible to brown-outs and black-outs.
  • Impaired air quality. Warmer air accelerates the formation of smog (ozone) from airborne pollutants like nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Elevated demand for cooling energy in the form of A/C use can also increase the emission of air pollutants and greenhouse gases from fossil-fuel power plants.
  • Illness. Higher air temperatures and lower air quality can aggravate heat-related and respiratory illnesses, and also reduce productivity.

Learn more

(Source: heatisland.lbl.gov)

The urban heat island effect and how cool pavement can help

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On sweltering days you can fry an egg on them. But, now, Lawrence Berkeley Lab and UC Davis researchers are testing surfaces designed to make them cooler and safer.

“Cool pavements are paved surfaces that are more effective at reflecting sunlight. So, by reflecting more sunlight than traditional paved surfaces, they’re able to absorb less heat from the sun and keep cities and communities cooler.  We’ve teamed with industry partners and we’re hopeful that this can get the ball rolling on some local government action for cool pavement.”
– Ben Mandel, Heat Island Group, LBNL