The Cities This Week: Edition 36


Mock-up of Siemens' Inspiro train proposal for the London Underground.

Mock-up of Siemens’ Inspiro train proposal for the London Underground.


The Hungarian parliament has passed a law which aims to clear several thousand homeless people off the streets of Budapest and other towns. The government says the law is designed to help the homeless, and that there are enough places in homeless shelters. But critics deny that, and say the law criminalises the homeless, who could face community work, fines or even imprisonment. The law is due to come into force next week. Those caught sleeping rough in urban areas can be sentenced to community service or a fine, if they either refuse to move on when requested to, or are caught in the same area again.


Hundreds of Brazilian security officers, backed by armoured vehicles and helicopters, have occupied 12 shanty towns in Rio de Janeiro. The major operation is part of an ongoing drive by authorities to push drug gangs away from poor areas. Two new police pacification units (UPP) will be set up in Lins de Vasconcellos, home to about 15,000 people. Since 2008, another 34 UPPs have been set up across the state but there have also been reports of police brutality. Rio will host the 2016 Olympics and matches of next year’s football World Cup.


Siemens has unveiled a full-sized mock-up of the train which it intends to offer when Transport for London calls tenders for new fleets for London Underground’s small-profile tube lines. Part of Siemens’ Inspiro family, the articulated design for London would feature wide through gangways, air-conditioning and an option for fully-automated operation. The trains would use the same traction package as the Inspiro rolling stock being delivered to the Warszawa metro, but would feature a smaller-profile body suitable for London. This would include a distinctively styled cab with a front end not dissimilar to the LU roundel logo. Siemens is working with a specialist partner on a novel concept to provide onboard air-conditioning, a major challenge in London because of the tight tunnel profile and the problem of dispersing heat generated by operations. The proposed system features onboard tanks containing a phase-changing polymer which would be cooled below its freezing point when the train was running on surface sections of the network. On underground sections heat transferred from the air-conditioning system would be used to melt the polymer again.


The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) has lost millions of rands to irregular and wasteful expenditure, the Sunday Independent reported. It failed to meet 52% of its targets in the year, according to the agency’s annual report tabled in Parliament this week. There was irregular spending of R14.9-million due to procurement awards being made without quotations. Fruitless and wasteful expenditure of more than R3-million was incurred because invoices were not paid on time and disciplinary processes were not conducted with the required 30-day period. Forensic investigations were underway into an official who was referring fleet vehicle repairs to a service provider in which he had a business interest, and into a middle management official accused of unethical behaviour.


At least 44 people died in clashes across Egypt on Sunday as the country’s two largest political factions gathered in competing commemorations of Egypt’s participation in the 1973 war with Israel, a day of deep significance for many Egyptians. Both opponents and supporters of the country’s ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, rallied in their thousands – ostensibly to mark the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war, which is viewed in Cairo as an Egyptian victory, despite ending in a stalemate that favoured Israel. But rather than emphasising Egypt’s unity, the different messages conveyed by each faction’s demonstrations underscored divides. Morsi’s supporters, whose marches filled whole highways in west Cairo, used the day to protest against the leader’s ousting – while his opponents took to Tahrir Square to praise the role of General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in his overthrow.


The Vatican published its first financial report in its 125-year history Tuesday, amid allegations of money laundering and other financial scandals. The aim, insiders say, is to increase transparency at the secretive institution. The Institute for Religious Works (IOR), the Vatican bank, rose more than four-fold in 2012 as net trading income rebounded from a loss in 2011, the report said. The IOR said it earned a net profit of $117.2 million in 2012, as compared with its 27.4 million net profit in 2011. More than $67.7 million of its 2012 profit was given to the pope for his charitable works. The picture may not be so rosy for 2013, with rising interest rates cutting into profits and millions of dollars earmarked for the IOR’s ongoing transparency process, which has involved hiring outside legal, financial and communications experts to revamp its procedures, review its client base and remake its image.


New York City politicians, listen up: Among people who go to the polls on a regular basis, two-thirds say they support better bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure on the city’s streets. A survey commissioned by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives showed that 67 percent of likely voters in the city’s five boroughs either “strongly support” or “somewhat support” installing protected bicycle lanes and pedestrian islands in their neighborhoods. The study [PDF], which included responses from 875 New Yorkers, was conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based strategic research and communications firm. The bike lane question was cast in terms of safety benefits, stating that protected lanes and pedestrian islands “have been proven to reduce injuries to pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and passengers by nearly 50%,” a phrasing based on data from the New York City Department of Transportation.


Athletes and spectators attending the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February will face some of the most invasive and systematic spying and surveillance in the history of the Games, documents shared with the Guardian show. Russia’s powerful FSB security service plans to ensure that no communication by competitors or spectators goes unmonitored during the event, according to a dossier compiled by a team of Russian investigative journalists looking into preparations for the 2014 Games. In a ceremony on Red Square on Sunday afternoon, the president,Vladimir Putin, held the Olympic flame aloft and sent it on its epic journey around the country, saying Russia and its people had always been imbued with the qualities of “openness and friendship”, making Sochi the perfect destination for the Olympics.


Seventy-nine percent of Americans believe they should walk more, but forty percent say they do not do so because their neighborhoods do not have nearby services, shops, schools and work, according to a national survey released this week. The lack of nearby walkable destinations ranks as the second most often cited reason for not walking. The survey found that the biggest neighborhood barriers to walking include a lack of sidewalks, drivers who speed, and drivers who talk on their phones or text. Crime ranks eighth overall out of 15 items as a neighborhood barrier to walking, but it ranks 5th among both African Americans and Hispanic respondents compared to 12th among white respondents. While six in 10 Americans describe their neighborhood as “walkable,” individuals who live in more walkable neighborhoods (“with places where it is convenient to walk to services, shopping, schools and jobs”) do, in fact, walk more. Four in 10 describe their neighborhood as “not very'” or “not at all walkable.” A majority of Americans do not choose their neighborhood based on its perceived walkability, however.


The London cab is to make an appearance in Australia – but coloured white rather than the traditional black. The London Taxi Company has exported a test sample of 98 TX4 taxis to the Western Australian city of Perth for trials over the next few weeks. The cabs will be painted white to take account of the perpetual Perth sunshine. If the trial goes well more cabs will be ordered, with the Australian state of Victoria expected to be the next area to take the UK taxis. The export order is one of the first to be fulfilled since the relaunch of production by the London Taxi Company at its UK factory in Coventry, West Midlands, last month. The company’s chief executive, Evan Simeon, said: “The response has been phenomenal. We couldn’t have asked for a better welcome. One Perth operator who purchased a fleet of the 50 bright white used TX4s has already had a stampede of drivers who want to be the first ones to buy a cab and partake in the trial.