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Readers write: Defending 'sponge cities' after Zhengzhou floods

Letters to the editor for the September 13 & 20, 2021 weekly magazine. Readers discuss flood mitigation and the four-day workweek. 

​​Stranger danger

The Aug. 16 Q&A with Joe Keohane, author of “The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World,” left me frankly suspicious of his base theory. Both the author and the correspondent are white men. To me, they belong to a privileged class that has always felt physically secure in this society. There is no mention about how women and people of color might be physically threatened by talking to random strangers. As a woman growing up in the 1960s, I quickly learned past puberty that addressing any remark to male strangers was risky, and I think the #MeToo movement bears out that this still happens. Avoiding sexual assault became a prudent habit in my daily life when planning errands. I don’t think most men ever considered this in their daily life.

I think it is likely that this applies as well to people of color, considering the Black Lives Matter movement and recent hate crimes against Asian people. Unless the author addressed this in his book, his theory is a fantasy for white men only.

Shelley Scott
Bellflower, California

Long weekends for all

I’m writing in response to the Aug. 16 Overheard item “Spain’s labor experiment,” about the debate over the four-day workweek. As a frontline 24/7 emergency medicine specialist, I have the option of committing to four 10-hour shifts to complete my workweek. In that instance, the appeal of a three-day weekend, with either Monday or Friday off, is in the cards. 

I also accrue leisure and social time by commuting less, since I’m working four instead of five days a week. Australian workers “chucking a sickie” would, I’d imagine, be far less prevalent if employees were allowed to work 10-hour days with the carrot of an automatic Monday or Friday off. Billions of dollars could be saved for those calling in sick when they are not, on either Monday or Friday, in order to access the coveted unscheduled long weekend.

Joseph Ting
Brisbane, Australia

True sponge cities

As CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects, I feel the need to correct fallacies contained in the Aug. 23 article “To curb urban flooding, China is building ‘sponge cities.’ Do they work?” You wrongly claim that China’s use of the so-called sponge city approach has been ineffective, citing the recent floods in Zhengzhou. But according to Kongjian Yu, who was quoted in your article and is credited for inventing the sponge city approach, Zhengzhou is not a “true sponge city.” Rather, it is a city overbuilt with skyscrapers, highways, concrete, and other urban infrastructure – not approaches rooted in nature that have been used so effectively since ancient times. 

The most water-resilient approach would have sponges, in the form of ponds, wetlands, and water-absorbing parks, evenly distributed throughout the city, and capture rainfall at its source. The nature-based but planned and designed sponges would be permeable enough to retain enough water at their sites, to obviate the need to move the water elsewhere. 

Professor Yu believes that if properly designed, sponge cities would feature a locally managed “democratic water management system,” which, if working properly, could provide adequate flooding protection for Zhengzhou and other large cities. Success of the green sponge approach can today be found in Qunli Stormwater Park in Heilongjiang province and Tianjin Qiaoyuan Park in Tianjin city.

Torey Carter-Conneen
Washington

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