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Covering the Issues

Home Alone...  Have you been wondering why so many small apartments are planned for the Seaport District? Today, twice as many American adults live alone as a half-century ago, and that number’s growing, writes Eric Klinenberg in “The Solo Economy” (Fortune, February 6, 2012). According to the latest census, 38 percent of Boston households have just one occupant. And contrary to the views of some cultural critics, Klinenberg argues that most solo dwellers do so by choice, and are happy and socially active. They also spend more money than their married counterparts. Home-improvement retailers, developers, and urban planners are taking note.

Sticks, not stones... “Can wooden skyscrapers transform concrete jungles?” asks CNN.com (posted March 15, 2012). Vancouver, Norway, and Austria all have such towers proposed, the tallest at 20 stories. Proponents promote the environmental benefits of wood —  producing concrete and steel requires tremendous amounts of energy, after all — and argue that heavy timber is actually quite resistant to fire. One architect-advocate declares that now is wood’s “Eiffel Tower moment” — the time to demonstrate wood’s possibility. The online comments make clear that the public remains far from convinced. But then again, the Eiffel Tower once seemed radical, too.

Water, water everywhere...  “Venice Sinking More Than Previously Thought,” reports Rossella Lorenzi for DiscoveryNews (posted March 26, 2012). New satellite data shows that as the city continues to sink, it is slowly tilting, too. This means that in this, the world’s most famous urban sea-level laboratory, sidewalks will flood more frequently, the flood-protection gates (due to open in 2014) will operate more than originally anticipated, and that ideas for pumping water back into the city subsoil should be developed now. Meanwhile, The Atlantic Cities reporter John Metcalfe presents new aquatic models for urban areas closer to home, in “Mapping How the Seas Will Eat Coastal US Cities” (posted March 15, 2012). Southeast Florida; Washington, DC; New York City; and Boston face the greatest risk. The maps are interactive: plug in your ZIP code and see your fate. With a predicted seven-foot rise above high tide, 2060 Boston looks a lot like its colonial predecessor.

Back to School...  In an unusual move, Design Observer has republished a press release. “NYC Design Schools: Catalysts for Economic Growth?” (posted March 18, 2012) promotes a report by the Manhattan-based think tank, Center for an Urban Future. The report notes that New York has twice as many design and architecture graduates as any other US city; that the number of design students is rising faster than other disciplines; and that these graduates are more likely than their peers to stay in New York and start their own businesses. Statistics can be misleading — “design” is very broadly defined, and even the report admits that Boston and Cambridge still have more architecture graduates —  but the report’s themes bear noting. With the Common-wealth’s recent focus on the innovation economy, our design schools’ contributions beg similar examination.

Big moves...  On the 30th anniversary of its completion, Paul Goldberger pens a short love letter to Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in his first column as the new in-house architecture critic for Vanity Fair (April 2012). “It’s still far and away the greatest memorial of modern times — the most beautiful, the most heart-wrenching, the most subtle, and the most powerful.” The most controversial, too. That said, Goldberger seems to be creating a minor stir himself. After 15 years at The New Yorker, he’s jumped ship. “Is this the end of architectural criticism for The New Yorker?” wonders Matt Chaban in the New York Observer (posted April 2, 2012). Once the literary home to Lewis Mumford, The New Yorker helped launch good writing about buildings, cities, and how design affects regular people. If The New Yorker no longer supports such commentary, who will?