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A magical meter and friendly competition help one community dial back energy use

The Island Energy Dashboard gives residents a real-time look at how much electricity they're sucking from the grid. When Puget Sound Energy announced plans to build a new substation to meet rising electricity demand on Bainbridge Island, Wash., in 2009, it apparently didn't know who it was dealing with. Bainbridge is a well-to-do suburb of Seattle (a 35-minute ferry ride will drop you right in downtown), and home to more than a few techies, computer programmers, and folks who have letterhead with lots of fancy degrees in front of their names. Eric Rehm, a software-engineer-turned-marine-biologist, says that "a mosh pit …

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Green giants: Seattle gets even greener, starting with its biggest buildings

Brian Geller, executive director of the Seattle 2030 DistrictPhoto: Greg HanscomSeattle, a.k.a. the Emerald City, looms Oz-like in the imaginations of eco-minded architects and designers. Its reputation for being uber green drew architect Brian Geller to the city from New York a few years ago. Now, he looks at the skyline rising above Elliott Bay and sees how much greener the place could be. More than 70 percent of the electricity generated in this country goes to heating, cooling, lighting, and otherwise powering our homes, offices, and other buildings. This accounts for a whopping 38 percent of our globe-warming carbon …

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Spandex wars: Chicago bike critic looks crappy in tights

Photo: Steven VanceThe two-wheeled revolution has arrived in the Windy City, thanks to its bike-loving mayor, Rahm Emanuel. (Finally, a way to describe the man without calling him a potty mouth!) During his campaign, Emanuel pledged to build 100 miles of new separated bike lanes within five years. The first of them went in this summer. Under the steady hand of Chicago's new transportation commissioner, Gabe Klein -- who arrived in Chicago from Washington, D.C., where he helped create the nation's first bike share program -- things seemed to be running smoothly. It was a remarkable feat, particularly when you consider …

Read more: Biking, Cities

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Good cop, bad cop: How the police became a public enemy

Police subdue a protester at an Occupy Wall Street rally in New York City.Photo: Audrey Pilato Over the past couple of weeks, the fight between "the 99%" and the powerful Wall Street and Washington elite has devolved into a street battle between protesters and the police. Black-suited cops have pepper sprayed peaceful protesters, bloodied kids who blocked New York streets, and clubbed an old lady. It's too bad -- for everyone involved. It's easy to scapegoat people like John Pike, the UC Davis police officer who doused a group of students with pepper spray -- and was promptly escorted, along …

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The next small thing: How sustainable neighborhoods could reshape cities

Lower Downtown Denver has become the city's night life hub -- and a laboratory for community-level sustainability.Photo: Wally GobetzI once worked for a New Yorker who loved to wisecrack that the only difference between Denver and yogurt was that "yogurt's got culture." Looking at the Mile High City's endless sprawl of lookalike, Anywhere, U.S.A. subdivisions, it's easy to understand where he was coming from. But in a former warehouse district just off of downtown, an innovative experiment in neighborhood-level sustainability is underway that could show New York and the rest of the country what really rocks the house when it …

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Stuffed to the gills: How crap took over my life — and how I intend to take it back

Photo: Peretz PartenskyIt's hard to put a finger on the exact moment the crap took over Americans' lives, but I know exactly when it happened to me. And as we head into a day of national gluttony followed by a collective, orgiastic display of shopping, I've resolved to do more than weather the onslaught. I want to look into my own personal relationship with crap -- and I hope others will, too. My story starts in 1997, when I moved from Montana to a small town in Colorado, where I'd landed my first paying job in journalism. I made the …

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Occupy Wall Street can shake up a city — but can it create lasting change?

Photo: Lauren DeCicca via weeklydig"Mike check! "MIKE CHECK!" "Mike check!" "MIKE CHECK!" This call-and-response has become a familiar refrain for those who have attended Occupy Wall Street protests or followed the movement from afar. When police banned sound systems in many encampments, protesters responded by creating human amplifiers: Anyone who has something to say to the crowd cues up the mike, and people standing nearby chant the speaker's message in unison. The routine is a hallmark of the movement's spirit of plucky, hacker-style innovation and its egalitarian, anyone-gets-a-chance-to-speak ethos. It also gets incredibly tiresome. Once you've heard enough self-important babble …

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Guerrilla bike lanes and asphalt devils: Remaking the streets with protest art

Photo: c/o Peter GibsonWhen Peter Gibson first set out with spray paint and stencils into the streets of Montreal, he had protest on his mind, not art. He had little sense that his small act of sabotage would usher him into the boundary-pushing realm of street art -- or land him in the back of a police car, facing serious criminal charges. It was just after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and Gibson, a university-trained pianist who was 27 at the time, watched as the U.S. and its allies searched for an object on which to inflict their …

Read more: Biking, Cities, Politics, Urbanism

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Street-art film fest! Reverse graffiti, urban archaeology, and other writings on the wall

The walls of our cities are becoming canvases for creative expression in the hands of a new generation of artists. These kids are street-smart and engaged. (And, OK, they're not all kids.) They work, on some levels, in the same spirit as Occupy Wall Street, reclaiming and transforming the urban landscape, and infusing their art with social and environmental consciousness. "Street art is showing that there can be these locations and public spaces that are temporarily taken over with artwork -- spaces we would traditionally think of as non-art space," says Martin Irvine, an associate professor at Georgetown University. Irvine has …

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Grimy to green: Three cities that have cleaned up their acts

Jad Daley with the Trust for Public LandPhoto: Hanna Welch All right, we know that no place with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants deserves to be described in these terms -- but let's face it, some cities are known for being dumps. Yet every dump can be cleaned up. Few understand this better than Jad Daley, director of the climate conservation program at the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit that acts as a "conservation real estate agent," helping to procure parks and green spaces for public use. The Trust is notable among green groups in that it works in …