Claudine Benmar

Claudine Benmar is a freelance writer and editor based in Seattle, Wash.

LEED was an offer they couldn't refuse

How Chicago became the city of green shoulders

What started as a simple beautification project -- flower planters, parkways, and whatnot -- eventually led Chicago to take on the larger challenge of green building. A leading architect describes how leadership from the mayor's office, key changes in the city's building permit program, and cooperation from developers made it happen.

Power play at city hall

22 cities that are smart about energy

Several cities around the country are finding ways to get smart about energy, at the same time saving money and pumping up their eco cred.

Does this old mall have an emergency exit?

Getting the Mormons on board with mixed use

As former planning director for Salt Lake City, and as an artist wanting to create live/work spaces for other artists, Stephen Goldsmith has played a key role in bringing mixed-use development to the downtown core of his city. He now teaches at the University of Utah’s College of Architecture and Planning. He also founded the Temporary Museum of Permanent Change, a virtual museum that frames the city’s massive downtown construction efforts as an ongoing exhibit of cultural and social ideas. Q. Describe your early meetings with the developers of City Creek. A. They weren’t looking at developing City Creek. They …

McCrory's Story

Planning politics: How Charlotte’s mayor championed light rail

Pat McCrory, former mayor of Charlotte, speaking at a transportation summit in 2009.Photo courtesy Willamor Media via FlickrPat McCrory, elected mayor of Charlotte in 1995 at the age of 39, had no idea transit would be the defining issue of his tenure as leader of the city. “I did not run on the issue of transit whatsoever,” he says. But when he took office, he came across a land use plan that showed Charlotte was in dire need of different ways for people to get around the city. He took the parts of the plan that seemed viable and turned …


City brings renewable energy to the little guy

Solar power nerds are fond of an estimate that 100 square miles of Nevada desert — filled with solar panels — could provide enough electricity for the entire United States. But right now, solar supplies just 1 percent of the country’s energy. Cost is one reason that figure is so low. Unless you’re an independently wealthy solar hobbyist, chances are you can’t afford the $30,000 or so it takes to install panels at home.  That’s why Gary Nystedt, as resource manager for Ellensburg, came up with a way to bring solar power to all the people in this smallish city …


How a city got real about solar energy

Photo courtesy of Gary ShaverWhen the city of Ellensburg asked the Washington State University energy program for help designing a community solar project, the state folks weren’t sure the city folks were serious. At the time, just a few years ago, solar projects were few and far between. But WSU energy consultant Gary Shaver jumped on board, helping with everything from financing to choosing the right solar panels. Now he’s president of Silicon Energy, which manufactures solar energy panels and inverters in Marysville, Wash.   Q. Did the city know right away how they wanted to design the project, or …


Hidden health costs of transportation

Photo: BikePortland$142 billion in obesity-related health care costs and lost wages due to illness. As much as $80 billion in health care costs and premature death caused by air pollution from traffic. A whopping $180 billion from traffic crashes – lost wages, health care costs, property damage, travel delay, legal costs, pain and suffering … do we need to go on? These are some of the hidden costs of a car-centric society. The American Public Health Association, in a recent report, argues that these costs have been ignored for too long as decision-makers hash out transportation policies. Instead, transportation projects …


How to make cities more foot-friendly

Walking in heelsPhoto courtesy loungerie via FlickrOf all the commuting options available, perhaps the most overlooked is also the cleanest, healthiest, most affordable, and given to us by our mamas — feet. In a weekend column for The Washington Post, architect Roger K. Lewis outlined various steps that cities can take to make their streets more inviting to pedestrians. (Get it? Steps!) Sure, streets should be safe and easy to navigate, but he also suggests trees, outdoor café seating, and stores with nice, big windows — not only to drum up business but also give walkers something to look at. …

The End is Nitrate

Tracking down the public-health implications of nitrogen pollution

Picture a hot summer day in California farm country, say 112 degrees. In the tiny community of Tooleville, surrounded by olive trees and orange groves, there’s one thing you won’t see here that you’d see almost anywhere else in the sunny state — kids splashing in backyard pools. “People don’t let their kids swim in pools here,” says resident Eunice Martinez. “They’re scared of what would happen if they accidentally swallow the water.” Martinez, 44, and the other 350 people who live in Tooleville haven’t been able to drink their tap water since 2003, due to unsafe levels of nitrate …

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