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A bill of goods: With their latest transportation bill, GOP sides with the suburbs

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled their version of a national transportation bill this week. This is the legislation that doles out billions of dollars annually to highways, train lines, and -- at least in the past -- to bike lanes, pedestrian walkways, and a program called Safe Routes to School that helps kids get to home room each morning without being flattened by a passing car.

The last few would seem like a populist no-brainers, but if House Republicans have their way, even Safe Routes to School will get no more love from Washington.

I mean, really. Is nothing sacred?

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Rocky’s road: One of the country’s greenest mayors guns for the White House

Rocky Anderson shows off the solar panels on his roof. (Photo by Kate Sheppard.)

When we last spoke with Rocky Anderson, he was kicking some serious butt for the planet from his position as the supergreen mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah. Anderson, an unflinching champion of issues ranging from climate action to gay marriage, quit politics in 2008 after two terms in office. But now he’s back, and this time he’s trained his sights on the White House.

Running for president under the banner of the Justice Party (his Facebook followers reportedly came up with name), and backed by a tiny, mostly volunteer staff, Anderson promises a grassroots, social-media-powered campaign that will give Obama and his yet-to-be-determined Republican rival a run for their money.

It will be no small task: Obama has raised a war chest of close to $100 million, according to The New York Times. Mitt Romney is sitting on $32 million. Anderson, whose platform centers on ridding American politics of the “corrupting influence of money,” is remarkably uncorrupted by that measure. Accepting a maximum of $100 per donor, he has raised less than $1 million so far. Like, way, way less.

But Rocky is fierce and determined, and he’s pissed about what short shrift American workers and the environment keep getting while the political elite and Wall Street fat cats get ever fatter. Given the outrage we’ve seen in the Occupy movement in recent months, his message is bound to strike a chord.

We caught up with the former mayor this week to see what in the world has gotten into him.

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This old house: Why fixing up old homes is greener than building new ones

Remodeling an old pad like these ones, in Baltimore, is more eco-friendly than building a new one. (Photo by cinderellasg.)

Looking for the ultimate earth-friendly bungalow? No need to engineer some LEED certified space pod. Buy an old house and gird yourself for an eco-friendly remodel.

A study released Tuesday finds that in almost every instance, remodeling an old building is greener than building a new one. Beyond that, it shows that reusing old buildings provides immediate results in the fight against climate change, while a relatively energy efficient new building won’t pay climate dividends for decades.

Taken to the scale of the city, the study has some fascinating implications. Cities, it turns out, serve as a sort of carbon sink -- the existing buildings hold a tremendous amount of “embodied energy.” Conserving that energy by sparing these buildings from the wrecking ball does a lot of good for the planet, too.

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Shocking but true! The director of ‘Revenge of the Electric Car’ wants to chat with you!

Chris Paine, director of Revenge of the Electric Car.

Director Chris Paine chatted with Grist readers about his latest film, Revenge of the Electric Car, which comes out on DVD this week after a nationwide tour.

Paine’s 2006 documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car?, told the tale of the EV-1, a prototype electric car created, then buried, by General Motors. Revenge of the Electric Car is the sequel, and follows the saga of four men, all racing to create a plug-in vehicle for the mass market, for the luxury set, or just for the pure awesomeness of it. (Read our review of the film here.)

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Seeing red: Where do the GOP candidates stand on urban issues?

Photos by Gage Skidmore.

How times change. Four years ago, a Washington Post op-ed gushed that the Democratic primary had turned into “a sharp competition among the leading candidates to become champions of urban America.” Skip ahead to the 2012 Republican primaries, and cities are getting dissed. Big time.

The national Conference of Mayors is having its annual meeting in Washington this weekend. Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry were all invited. Romney said he had a scheduling conflict. (OK, fair’s fair: The South Carolina primary is a legitimate excuse -- but he couldn’t swing by Sunday? Oh, right.) The other two didn’t even bother to reply. The chorus seemed to be: “Cities -- who needs ’em?”

Truth be told, cities won’t likely decide this election. America is still firmly rooted in the suburbs. (Emily Badger wrote in The Atlantic Cities last week that both Romney and President Obama have drawn most of their campaign cash from the “moneyed ’burbs.”) But this is just the latest in decades of insults slung at cities by Republicans in Washington.

“The core of the Republican constituency in metropolitan America are the growing, racially and economically exclusive ‘outer suburbs’ whose privileged status Republicans seek to protect at all costs,” former Albuquerque Mayor David Rusk told Daniel Denvir in his excellent primer on the subject for Salon.

But the Republicans currently taking pot shots at each other in the presidential primary never cease to surprise. While there has been almost no mention of urban policy on the campaign trail, a look at their sordid pasts reveals that (surprise!) some of them have actually had some sensible ideas over the years, albeit often grounded in some pretty weird logic. Here’s a quick peek.

Read more: Cities, Politics

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Up with people: What is Obama doing about our cities’ chronic problems?

Photo by Bob With.

This is the second of two stories examining President Obama’s record on urban issues. Read the first here, and read about the Republican presidential candidates' positions here.

The conversation about cities today often centers on “creative class” innovation, urban design, and transportation alternatives. But it’s going to take a whole lot more than flashy New Urbanist condo developments and bamboo bikes (awesome though they are) to turn American cities around. Deep seeded social and economic issues still cripple much of urban America, ranging from abysmal public schools to a criminal justice system that creates huge race and class disparities.

President Obama gets this, at least on paper. Here he is in a speech, made on the campaign trail in 2008, talking about poor urban neighborhoods:

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President Obama and the forgotten urban agenda

Photo: Racoles It’s safe to say that Barack Obama came to the White House with more street cred than any president in recent memory. As an African American, Obama was certainly privy to the forces of institutional racism that still shackle much of urban America. Before he got into politics, he worked as a civil rights lawyer, and before that, he worked as a community organizer in the mean streets of Chicago. (You will recall that Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin took turns mocking him for that last one at the 2008 Republican national convention.) When Obama became president, hopes were …

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Water cyclists: An epic ride to raise awareness of a scarce resource

Joost Notenboom and Michiel Roodenburg.On July 4, 2010, Joost Notenboom and Michiel Roodenburg set off from Deadhorse, Alaska, on a more-than-18,000-mile journey to the southern tip of Argentina. Their chosen mode of transport: bamboo bicycles. Their mission: to raise awareness of the global water crisis that leaves more than 1 billion people without access to safe drinking water. Eighteen months, 14,000 miles, and 62 flat tires later, we caught up with them just long enough to ask a few questions about their trip so far -- and their plans for when they finish, which, if all goes as planned, will happen …

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Mexico City’s move: Take this dump and close it!

Photo: United NationsGarbage. It's wonderful stuff. You can do so much with it! Harvest gas from it to fuel your airplanes, build a boat out of it and sail around the world, or make a giant junk mosaic. Heck, if you're plucky enough, you can feed a family on the stuff. If it gets too stinky, blast it with giant deodorant guns! "Waste management" kept groceries in Tony Soprano's fridge, no? But you know what they say about too much of a good thing. When the garbage piles up, it can be bad news. Remember the Chicago couple who were …

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Gingrich scraps planned book chapter on climate change

If Newt Gingrich were backpedaling any faster on climate change, he might actually come full circle and turn into Al Gore. But what can the man do? He’s totally damaged his right-wing reputation by believing in science and giving a crap about the future survival of anything. What Republican can run with the hideous heart of environmentalism beating under his floorboards? That scene on the love seat with Nancy Pelosi was bad enough. Now it turns out Gingrich -- or at least his co-editor -- was planning to include a whole chapter on climate change in a new book about …

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