Heroin vials and vacants and the demise of a 3D printing dream

Hey all. Just wanted to share two new longreads of mine that published this week:

1. The first, at Curbed, is about Baltimore’s quest to turn 16,000 vacant houses into valuable properties. They do this through a city program called Vacants to Value, which now has an uncertain future: It began in 2010 under Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, but she leaves office in just a few days. So we look at how effective “V2V” has been, and do it through the eyes of Shea Frederick, someone who’s rehabbed a couple vacants—and found a sawed-off shotgun, heroin vials, and human shit in the first vacant he ever had to rehab.

2. The second, at Backchannel, is about Brooklyn 3D printing company MakerBot’s quest to make desktop 3D printers as popular as microwaves—and how it failed, thanks to layoffs, founders’ feuds, sky-high rhetoric that never matched reality, and decisions that burned their most loyal supporters.

If you’ve ever wanted to…

If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to be the first superstar of a brand new sport, then this Wired longread about Charpu is for you. That’s not his real name: It’s Carlos Puertolas, and he’s the first household name of drone racing, which pits pilots steering shoebox-size quadcopters at speeds more than 80 miles an hour against each other. Charpu, as he’s known in the drone community, is famous worldwide. Millions of pilots watch his YouTube videos (Mark Zuckerberg even knows who he is), and he’s best known for flying through abandoned landmarks.

That’s how Charpu became the unofficial face of drone racing. Just one problem: He hates it. And he’s pretty bad at it. So that’s the story I told for Wired’s September magazine (forgive the self-promotion). Check it out here—and be sure to watch the awesome video Wired’s team put together of Charpu zipping around in the skies.

Can former felons save Freddie Gray’s neighborhood?

Just wanted to share a story of mine published in the Washington Post Magazine, about Baltimore using former violent criminals to mediate gun conflicts in some of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods through a group called Safe Streets—which is in danger of closing entirely.

They’re doing this in Freddie Gray’s neighborhood of Sandtown now, and that’s what the Post Mag piece was about. We followed the group over a period of 3 months after they officially started up in March. The city doesn’t fund Safe Streets, though; it relies totally on grant money. But without additional funding, all 5 Safe Streets sites, including Sandtown, are going to close. Today, after a fight with Maryland governor Larry Hogan, the city just got half a million to keep this going through January. Whether it lasts past then is still uncertain.

Story photos by Andre Chung.