The Indicator from Planet Money - The 99% Invisible City With Roman Mars

Podcast host and co-author of The 99% Invisible City Roman Mars joins the show to talk about his new book, the ways people shape their cities, and how to combine beauty & function in design.

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hey moon is Cardiff. This is the indicator from Planet Money. There's an almost endless debate with an economics about how much the government should do in the economy versus how much should be left to Market, you know, people and businesses using their own private initiative and in ways that we don't always recognize that tension ends up shaping the world around us. And I mean that quite literally the shape of the building we live in and the design of parks and storefronts and of the public spaces Wii walkthrough, they are often the result of government policies and regulations clashing with or combining with individuals were implementing their own creative ideas and creative designs and maybe nobody knows where to look for examples of this creativity better than Roman Mars Roman is the founder and host of the really great hall of fame OG podcast 99% invisible.

I need to call tour of a new book about these ideas called the 99% Invisible City so that we are speaking with Roman and he's going to tell us about his favorite examples of people taking the design of their own cities into their own hand. That's right after a quick break.

Support for this podcast and the following message come from Barclays investment Banks podcast the flipside from globalization to Innovation and sustainability to Market volatility. There's always more than one side to a story explore different perspectives on today's most important business and economic issues here to research analyst in a lively debate and get insights from every angle to further inform your views. Listen to the flipside on your favorite podcast platform always better when it's someone else's podcast. Why don't you tell us about this team in your book that there is this never-ending tension between the things that a government has to do for a city like building a subway line.

No individuals using their private creativity from the bottom up should contribute themselves to shape your city. And how does tension has all these kind of interesting results Last Airbender book is cold urbanism and it really is about that conversation between top-down designers and bottom-up interventionist. And I love that I can be as simple as sometimes it's really act as really people like thinking about these things and there, you know better design signs on the subway so that people are directed into simpler directions or more direct actually and the so much so that they they will match the font of the subway lettering and make it seem official and then there's a little dirt path that that cuts across that corner get to get more directly to where you want to go. And once one person does it a take Trump down the grass a little bit then other person does it and then it becomes a a path that you can see and it reinforces and desire paths are a huge indicator of that.

Types of ways that people use a city and why it is often different than how people design a city about kind of mischievous operations where citizens kind of took City design into their own hands might have cut a few quarters broken a few laws. Do you have a favorite one that you'd like to share two? I mean one of the simple ones that that happened that summer based here in the Bay area where I'm from are the idea Park lights in in parking day. So, you know, this is an effort to like to recognize that we devote a ton of space inside of these two parking of cars and they're often not used and so what the temp in surprising people came up with this idea that they would you go feed the meter of a parking space. But is it a bargain a car there? They would put down sod they would put on shares it maybe make a little tiny miniature golf course.

And they would make a statement of this space is valuable and we can use it for other things and not just for cars and it uses new the apparatus of of the city like you don't be home for rent parking space and use it towards that your unintended goals. And that's a pretty simple one and it's it's so popular and it kind of has some delight and it's it's Mischief that the city adopted it and it's like it's okay thing. There are other examples that are less so not a sanctioned I love but it is not recommended. So there's a story in the buck and and we told this on the on the show to the artist Richard ankrom and he noticed that he was always so we're missing his turn off the 110. Because it wasn't a good sign that showed that there was no exit there. And so he studied the California Municipal uniform traffic control devices standards for her.

Make a sign and he made an actual sign an exit sign that he wanted on the morning of August 5th 2001. He actually like hung off of an overpass and installed this phony sign that was so real that nobody noticed it for like a year. And then when when the authorities did not encounter trans did when they were tipped off to it, they inspected it and it it conforms their standards so much so that they left it up for another decade.

I just love the idea that this guy broke the laws to make the design better and did such a good job that it went from being unsanctioned to Total Recall not totally cool and I have to stress this is hanging over a highway, you know in the morning with like I just I just can totally picture him dropping a wrench and hurting someone in it. It terrifies me. It's like it's like a father I can like picture this you don't like this sort of like moments. I like as much as I kind of love the result of this one. I have to caution people to 10. You don't hang off of a highway with with a really large heavy sign and a wrench in and try to do this on your own isn't it is not recommended podcast your book or your work is unveiled. He's hidden interesting designs that are so easy for most of us to overlook. So what advice would you give to people so that when they're walking through?

Cities are visiting another city. They can like start spotting these things themselves and and maybe see the world a little bit the way that that you see it when the first thing to do is walk. I love walking. I think it's good to get out there and explore the the landscape and just slow down and think the first layer to look at is this information later that's written on the landscape like the sidewalk stamps in the plaques and stuff. There's actual words there for you to read it. You don't have to really interpret them or or no much. You just have to be able to read and there's so much richness and fun stuff when it comes to Des plaques and markers and then yo the the the words on sewage gradients in the words on sidewalk stamps and graffiti that those are things I would I would go out there as a reader first and then you can explore deeper of what a great answer reminds me of the manhole covers chapter in your book. Yeah.

I love metal covers. There's good. You ask Municipal design and stuff. But if it would put so most every country to shame or the manhole covers of Japan because they were specifically meant to exalt in the glory of Municipal Water Systems, like there they were trying to modernize and I knew it would cost a lot of money and so different municipalities put beautiful pictures on their manhole covers just a sort of like saying, you know this thing this Modern Marvel that we have right underneath our feet. It's amazing and it's worth paying for and we're going to put pretty pictures on it that remind you of that. I love that. It's also kind of a reminder that beautiful design or interesting design does not have to be in conflict with something that's functional something. It's meant to be strictly like utilitarian. You know what I mean? It would you can have both things. Absolutely so you can balance them both. I like to think about design is problem solving more than aesthetic, but you can

Always present things as beautiful and functional the same time. It's one of the one of the great Joys is at a really beautiful functional object. Like the Golden Gate Bridge is like a perfect example. This is like there's something about that. That's really really special. Thank you so much. Oh, thank you. Had a great time.

December 7th indicator was produced by Jamila Huxtable and fact check by Sean Saldana our editors Patty Hearst and the indicator is a production of NPR.
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