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How Chicago became the city of green shoulders

Photo: John AlbrechtToday, Chicago is overflowing with architects who know the ins and outs of the LEED rating system, but just a few years ago John Albrecht was one of the first. He worked on the Center for Green Technology -- the city building that started it all -– as well as several green building projects that followed. He's now in private practice, with the firm NELSON. He shared his thoughts on Chicago's success. Q. Describe how Chicago got started with its green building initiative. A. It was a confluence of events stated in the late ‘80s. It was a …

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22 cities that are smart about energy

Reno replaced the lightbulbs in its famed Reno Arch with LED lights to conserve energy.Photo courtesy of davegriffiths via FlickrWhen cities are struggling to keep cops on the street and teachers in the classroom, giant solar arrays or towering wind turbines might not be the most attractive line items in the budget. But several cities around the country are finding ways to get smart about energy, and at the same time saving money and pumping up their eco cred. The Natural Resources Defense Council, as part of its ongoing Smarter Cities initiative, recently identified 22 U.S. cities as the cream …

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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 …

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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 …

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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 …

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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 …

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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 …

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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. …

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Tracking down the public-health implications of nitrogen pollution

A Tulare County resident with some of the risky water. (Photo by Erin Lubin; courtesy of the Community Water Center.) Nitrate contamination of water supplies is particularly common in agricultural areas, where mountains of livestock manure and synthetic nitrogen-based fertilizer seep through the soil into groundwater. "Half of the fertilizer you're putting on your crops never makes it to the plants you're growing," says Townsend. "It washes out." A study published last summer in the journal Southwest Hydrology estimated that California farmers applied 740,000 tons of nitrogen to 6.7 million acres of irrigated farmland in 2007. Of that, 110 pounds …

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