Duocon 2020

It’s been a little quiet around here the last few weeks—and for good reason.

Since last Fall, I’ve been working with the team at Duolingo and leading production on their annual conference, Duocon.

Our original plan to fill a warehouse in Brooklyn full of speakers, performers, and attendees … suddenly fell out of vogue earlier this year.

Instead, next Saturday, September 26th, we’ll be live-streaming a completely reimagined version of Duocon. We’ll be hosting presentations from the Duolingo team—sharing a peak behind the scenes at Duolingo as well as announcing product updates and new features.

We’ll also have guest speakers, including Dr. Anne Charity Hudley, Dr. Nicole Holliday, and David Peterson, joining us to present talks on languages of the Black diaspora, sociolinguistic competence, and constructed language.

Duocon will be broadcast live on Saturday, September 26th beginning 11am ET (8am PT). You can register to attend for free (over 70,000 people have registered already!), and watch live next weekend on Duolingo.com.

The Wuppertal Schwebebahn

Earlier this year, MoMA released film shot in 1902 from a suspended railway system in the German city of Wuppertal. The footage has since been color corrected and upscaled to 4K by YouTube user Denis Shiryaev, making it look like it was shot in present day.

The Wuppertal Schwebebahn is the oldest electric elevated monorail in the world, and, remarkably, is still in daily operation.

Related: the story of Tuffi the elephant, who leapt out of the Schwebebahn into the river below in 1950 after a publicity stunt went wrong. (Don’t worry, she survived!)

How US Public Transit is Like the Postal Service

From transit planner Jarrett Walker, Public Transit and the Postal Service Have the Same Problem.

Postal and transit services have the same problem. We want them to attract high usage and we want them to go everywhere, but those goals imply opposite kinds of service. Pursuing either goal will cause outcomes that look like failure when judged by the other goal’s measures of success. It’s like we’re telling our taxi driver to turn right and left at the same time. When they can’t do that, we just yell louder and call them incompetent. Is that taking us where we want to go?

Public Transit and the Postal Service Have the Same Problem, CityLab

Appeayl 2 U

After almost 10 years of silence, indie supergroup Gayngs have reappeared with a new song titled Appeayl 2 U.

A project of producer Ryan Olson, Gayngs members have included Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Doomtree’s P.O.S and Dessa, Har Mar Superstar, and members of Megafaun, Digitata, and The Rosebuds. Although I’ve never been especially enamored with any of the member’s individual output, Gayngs’ 2010 album Relayted is easily one of my favorite records. Here’s hoping this reemergence means more new material is on the horizon.

The Mail

Motherboard just announced a weekly newsletter about the United States Postal Service called The Mail, written by senior staff writer Aaron Gordon. You can subscribe to the email version for free, or pay $30 to receive a monthly zine, rather appropriately, in the mail.

The USPS is often confused as a private business that the government operates publicly—which is often the basis for debating its privatization—but it’s actually much, much more complicated than that. The post office should be thought of more as a public utility that manages the delivery of information and, increasingly, commerce. And it’s enshrined in law that it has to do so affordably and equitably to every citizen and resident of the United States.

I have a longer piece in me about this at some point, but, for now, if you’re interested in learning more about the history of the postal service in the U.S., I would very much recommend Winifred Gallagher’s How The Post Office Created America.

Residential Infill Project

Earlier this week, Portland City Council passed historic housing reform known as the Residential Infill Project, which re-legalizes middle housing like triplexes and fourplexes and incentivizes building more dense and affordable housing throughout the city.

The ordinance also makes the construction of driveways optional and removes on-site parking requirements, essentially removing mandated parking minimums city-wide.

This is a major victory in reversing racist and exclusionary zoning laws that were specifically written to displace people of color from living in lower-cost homes in much of the city.

It’s also a victory that was fought and won by grassroots activism. Council was flooded with testimony primary organized through Portland Neighbors Welcome and Anti Displacement PDX, who in turn were supported by countless other local organizations and activists.

We’re still deep in a housing crisis, but this is a major step in the right direction—and further proof that coordinated progressive activism gets results.

Transit Class

The City of Portland has just announced that they’ll be offering their annual Portland Traffic & Transportation course as an online class this year.

The course, co-founded in 1991 by everyone’s favorite bespectacled cycling enthusiast (and Oregon Congressman) Earl Blumenauer, has been offered free of charge to any Portland resident interested in learning more about the region’s transportation and planning policy.

I took the course last year and absolutely loved it. Admittedly, so much of what made it great was everyone getting together after class, and getting to nerd out with a bunch of other amateur city planners. I really hope this year’s class can find a way to carry on that tradition.

Applications are open until September 1st, with the 10 week course running from October 1st through early December.

Related: Last year I stitched back together this 2010 presentation from former Chief Transportation Planner Steve Dotterrer, which is a great primer if you’re interested in the history of Portland’s transportation and transit infrastructure.