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Slum residents get a giant escalator for Christmas

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSYAOr0xUUo&feature=player_embedded If you had $7 million to use on behalf of the residents of your poorest slums, how would you distribute it? For Medellin, Colombia, that's a no-brainer: Blow the whole wad on a MONSTER ESCALATOR. Wait, wait! It’s actually a good idea. The giant escalator helps slum residents get to their hillside homes from the city center -- a nonsensically steep climb of more than 1,200 vertical feet. To fully appreciate how radically this thing changes the landscape of the slums, you need to watch the video above -- the BBC reports that the moving stairway turned a more-than-30-minute …

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Nature is trying to reabsorb the exurbs

Great news for folks who have watched the value of their exurban McMansions circling the drain over the past few years: These fringe habitations can be returned to nature to find new life as wildlife habitats. It’s basically the real estate version of composting. Okay, so there's not really an official effort to make subdivisions into sanctuaries, but apparently nobody told bears that. In Hopatcong, N.J., a cable TV repairman recently descended into 85-year-old Frank Annacone's basement and found a 500-pound black bear slumbering there. The folks at Gothamist dubbed it the "Reverse Goldilocks Bear," and in a true case …

Read more: Animals, Cities, Sprawl

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Barbie gets a bike, and knees to ride it with

Barbie’s finally got an awesome set of wheels to go with that solar-powered dream house. The good folks at the One Speed Go blog in Phoenix recently tipped us off to the Barbie Glam Bike, a sparkly pink beach cruiser with matching fenders and chain guard. What’s more remarkable, though, is the accompanying doll, who sports flat human-style feet (guess those pointy toes caused problems with the pedals) and authentic leg movement. This may be the first time something about Barbie’s physical features has been called "authentic." Given that bike-functional Barbie is coming out just a few months after the new …

Read more: Biking, Cities

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10 bicycling myths debunked

These gents are putting the lie to myth No. 4 in a big way.Photo: Donna RutherfordHere at Grist, we are all about accuracy. So when it comes to bicycling, the pastime that can solve all of America's most pressing problems (well, most of them -- see, accuracy!), we're like heat-seeking missiles in search of myths and misinformation. Our goal is simple: to get you to trade in your four-wheeled gas guzzler for a lean, clean, calorie-burning machine. Here are the top 10 myths that we debunked this year, all linked up and annotated for your enjoyment. Read on, ride on …

Read more: Biking, Cities

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Bikestravaganza: Grist’s top bike stories of 2011

Photo: John Monoogian IIII spent the day yesterday digging through 18 -- count 'em, 18 -- pages of search results in a quest to find Grist's Overarching Narrative of the Bike in 2011. I laughed. I cried. I almost blew tea on my laptop. Then I biked home on streets that were blissfully bereft of automobiles. Without further ado, I give you the good, the bad, and the pee-your-pants funny from the past year in bicycling. Watch for more bike-related highlights later this week.

Read more: Biking, Cities

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Merry Bikesmas: A 1970s Schwinn livens up a family holiday

Photo: Joe Penniston This year, as we have in years past, my wife and I packed up the kids and flew across the country to spend the holidays with her family in suburban Baltimore. Christmas at the Thomas house is always a festive affair: crab soup, wine by the bottleful, quality time with grandma and grandpa and sundry cousins. And for my benefit, they keep the Barry Manilow Christmas tunes to a minimum. (Sincere thanks for that, guys.) There's just one problem: Put me in the 'burbs for more than about 48 hours and I go completely batshit. I'm not …

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Unzipped: Car sharing takes a bite out of Americans’ drive time

Kids these days -- they don't like cars. What's up with that? A new survey by the car-sharing company Zipcar finds that Millennials just don't see cars as the ticket to freedom that their parents did. According to the survey, 55 percent of Millennials have actively made an effort to drive less, while 78 percent say that the high costs of gas and maintenance make owning a car difficult. That's good news for Zipcar: The company says that Millennials make up more than half of its members. But here's a little secret about Zipcar: It's just cool enough to make …

Read more: Cities, Transportation

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Top cities stories of 2011

It's that time of year again: When public schools everywhere cast about desperately for a holiday celebration that doesn't involve Jesus or a dude in a red suit; when families gather from thither and yon to spend a few days remembering why they've scattered thither and yon in the first place; and yes, it's time to take stock of the year past, and look ahead to the one coming up. As the guy charged with keeping an eye on all things urban around here, I curled up with my laptop on a winter's night that was definitely not as cold …

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The city speaks — and artist Candy Chang finds fresh ways to listen

Photo:Randal FordThe house was a nightmare. "It had been collecting dust and graffiti since Katrina and there was something very shabby and Brothers Grimm about it," says Candy Chang, an artist and graphic designer who lives just a few blocks from the place in New Orleans. But where others saw blight, Chang saw an opportunity, and armed with a few buckets of paint, she transformed the derelict house from a symbol of the community's decay into an emblem of its collective aspirations. With permission from the property owner and neighborhood groups, Chang turned the front wall of the house into …

Read more: Cities, Urbanism

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Cities: Not quite as awesome as we like to think

Photo: David Graham If you Google the term "a scholar and a gentleman," the first result to pop up is a picture of Witold Rybczynski -- or it would be if there were any justice in the world. Rybczynski is an architect, author, and professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania. He has written a dozen or so books on technology, architecture, real estate -- even a natural history of the screwdriver. He knows The City like it's nobody's business. So it was notable when, in a blog post a few weeks back, Rybczynski opened a can of Jedi-style …