We’ve covered a lot of urban ground in the past year, so we thought it would be fun to take a look back (and a couple of peeks forward) by going from A to Z in the urban alphabet. Here are some of the things we’ve been watching, and will continue to school ourselves on.

A RC Tunnel: When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie singlehandedly put the brakes on the biggest public works project in America, he sent a signal to Washington that a lot of governors out there seem to be echoing: You can’t make me take on infrastructure projects I don’t want to (See “High-speed rail,” below).

Whether you think Christie is a fiscally responsible hero or a short-sighted grandstanding obstructionist, you’ve got to admit he gained clout and recognition for his actions. And considering how often he’s being mentioned as a presidential contender, that’s probably just fine with him.

Photo by Svennevenn.

Bicycles as transportation: This has been a banner year for people who use bikes to get around. From the creation of hundreds of miles of bike lanes in New York, to the launch of bike-share systems in Denver and Washington, D.C., to the bike-friendly statements of U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood at the Bike Summit, there’s real momentum for the idea that two-wheeled transport can be a meaningful alternative. Grist columnist Elly Blue will continue to cover all the latest developments.

Civil rights and transportation policy: In October, I had a conversation with Angela Glover Blackwell of PolicyLink about transportation as a civil rights and social justice issue. It’s a connection, she pointed out, that runs all the way from Plessy v. Ferguson to Rosa Parks to the Freedom Riders to urban renewal and the abandonment of the inner city for highway culture.

Today, said Blackwell, the battle to maintain our public transportation systems in the face of budget cuts is another chapter in that
history, and “we’re beginning to see a movement stirring all across the country of people making their voices heard on this issue.”

Detroit: Battered but still standing, this Michigan city has become the poster child for what’s wrong with Rust Belt America — and for what could go right in the future. Tom Philpott made a trip to see what new agricultural initiatives are sprouting up through the cracked streets of the city. He spoke with Ashley Atkinson of Greening of Detroit, who said this: “[I]f you’re here in the city, you cannot hide from poverty and suffering. It’s right there in your face. You can either embrace humanity and try to live every moment to try to make everyone’s life easier, or you leave … if you have the option to.”

Tom also had one of his best meals of the year at Slows Bar-B-Q, an outpost of good cooking that represents the positive, entrepreneurial spirit that is thriving against the odds in Detroit.

Energy efficiency: Improving the energy efficiency of homes and commercial buildings in our cities is a no-brainer. We can do it on a large scale with smart grids and similar technology, and on a smaller scale by weatherizing existing homes. We can also aim for the very highest standards in the new buildings we construct.

Freeganing: Freeganing — aka Dumpster diving — is just one aspect of a bigger movement toward sharing and reusing objects and food, rather than getting caught in the hamster wheel of our throwaway culture. Bartering, sharing, and freecycling all fit into the same frame of mind. The movement is discussed by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers in their book, What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption.

Things I have freeganed or freecycled recently, in some cases giving and in some cases getting: a barely worn pair of kids’ winter
boots; a great pair of Levis 501 jeans; and perfectly good butternut squash discarded by my local produce stand. What about you?

Green roofs: They can be modest affairs, put together by a homeowner to insulate the house and provide a fine setting for a beehive or two. Or they can be full-scale urban farms. You can even find one atop Chicago’s City Hall. Green roofs are being used by some cities, including New York, as part of a larger strategy to combat sewage and wastewater runoff.

Photo: Tim Gilliam.

High-speed rail: The prospects for high-speed rail coming to the United States on a large scale looked pretty good a few months ago, when the Obama administration unveiled a plan to link many American cities with a modern train system. But as newly elected Republican governors make good on campaign pledges to scuttle their sections, the network is looking a lot less comprehensive.

Which is too bad. As recent nationwide delays in air travel have demonstrated, we could use a lot more redundancy and resiliency in our transportation systems.