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Sarah Laskow's Posts


London’s newest urban farm is underground

Growing Underground via WAN

Underneath London's subway lines, there are other tunnels -- they were used as air raid shelters during World War II, but now they’re lying vacant. And two entrepreneurs, Richard Ballard and Steven Dring, want to use them to produce “fresh ingredients with a minimal carbon footprint" -- pea shoots, arugula, mizuna, chives, mustard leaf, radish, basil, and more, grown hydroponically in the tunnels under LED lights.

Energy-wise, the tunnels actually aren't a terrible place to grow food, World Architecture News says:

Due to the site depth 100ft below street level, the tunnels enjoy a stable temperature of 16°C [60°F] all year round, meaning that production can continue throughout the year and additional energy costs can be kept to a minimum. Any additional energy will be sourced from green suppliers.

Read more: Cities, Food, Living


These colorful maps show what your city really looks like without a car

san fran copy

Andrew Hardin, a grad student at the University of Colorado, designed these neat, colorful maps that show how long it will take you to move around Boulder, Denver, San Francisco, or Seattle using public transit. Just click any point on the map, and colors pool out around it -- like a heat map, but for time spent on buses or subways.

These maps aren't meant to tell you exactly how minutes it'll take a person to get from her front door to a favorite restaurant. FastCoExist:

Hardin's maps, which are based on Open Street Map data, aren't completely accurate. For example, they assume people cross rivers directly, when normally people take bridges or tunnels. "Frankly, better tool exists for planning your commute," he admits. The point is to offer approximations, so you know immediately how far two destinations are from each other.

Read more: Cities, Living


The number of monarch butterflies that made it to Mexico is at all-time low

Philip Bouchard

Monarch butterflies have it tough. Farmers have eradicated milkweed, the butterflies' favorite food, and drought and heat are messing with butterfly reproductive cycles. Normally, monarchs migrate in droves from the U.S. down into Mexico for the winter. But surveys showed that last year there were fewer monarch butterflies spending the winter in Mexico than in any year since the surveys began in 1993.

In 2013, butterflies were found in just 0.67 hectares of forest, a 44 percent decrease from 2012. That's after it had already dropped 59 percent over the previous two years. This is a pretty good indication of butterfly suffering. From the University of Minnesota:

Forest area inhabited by monarchs in Mexico is used as an indirect indicator of the number of butterflies arriving from Canada and the United States each year following a migration of more than 4,000 kilometers. The butterflies spend November through March hibernating in Mexico’s temperate forests.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Utah’s transit system is giving away iPads to student riders


When we talk about places that are doing great work improving transit, it's easy to focus on the country's coasts and its biggest cities. But Utah's been doing a pretty good job: Last year, the Utah Transit Authority opened up new light-rail lines, Salt Lake City's first streetcar in 50 years, and has been working diligently on bus rapid transit. The UTA also came up with a simple-but-effective incentive to increase ridership from college kids: tempt them with an iPad.

The Deseret News reports:

Each month until April, UTA will give away iPads to students from BYU, LDS Business College, Salt Lake Community College, Utah Valley University, the University of Utah, Weber State University, and Westminster College.

To enter, students need to ride UTA trains and buses with their student pass. Once a student has made at least 10 round trips during the month, he or she will be automatically entered into the giveaway.

The giveaway is designed to encourage students to opt for public transit when commuting to campus.

Read more: Cities, Living


This treehouse inside a Brooklyn loft will make you powerfully jealous

cabin copy

We're always up for a good tiny house. But Terry Chiao has done us one better -- she's built two tiny houses inside her Bushwick apartment. The place is in a converted textile factory, and it also serves as a part-time art studio. (Chiao describes herself as "a multi-disciplinary artist and designer.") We're most charmed by what she calls the treehouse: a simple cabin-like structure, lofted on stilts above the rest of the apartment.


Chiao lives in the treehouse herself -- now with her partner, artist Adam Frezza. When she first built the space, she rented out the other cabin to roommates for several years. But now it’s listed on Airbnb. “It’s nice to have it to ourselves sometimes while still making the rent a little more affordable,” she says. “Travelers also tend to have less stuff and be around less than full-time roommates, so that helps our home feel more like ours.”

Read more: Cities, Living


Sweet video answers the question: What the hell are winter bikers thinking?


When it gets cold, fewer people bike, because cold sucks out loud. And even dedicated bikers might be forgiven for wondering, of the well-bundled few who are biking in freezing temperatures, "What in the world are they thinking?"

Well, Transportation Alternatives and Bike NYC asked three of them and got wonderful answers: "It's a liberating thing to take yourself where you want to go" … "I just don't want stop. Just because it's cold out, I don't want to forgo the pleasure" … "It's fun to be a New Yorker even when things in New York are tough" … "You feel like you're part of this growing group of people who are doing this no matter what."

Another lovely thing about this video is that out of three featured riders, two are women.

Read more: Cities, Living


This amazing-looking electric Porsche was made in 1898

Back in the beginning of car history, carmakers experimented with all sorts of fuel sources, including electricity. And one the very first cars that Ferdinand Porsche -- yes, that Porsche! -- ever created was an electric car modeled on a carriage:

Via Engadget

He made this thing in 1898! And it had a 50 mile range! Which, even today is not bad at all.

Porsche held on to this thing -- wouldn't you?

Read more: Living


This vegetable vending machine is our kind of fast food

Farmers Fridge

Sure, we all want to eat reasonably priced bowls of vegetables, whole grains, beans, and whatnot, but what if you’re just trying to grab a quick snack at a rest stop or a train station or in between classes? More likely you end up with stale peanut butter crackers from the vending machine. But, Modern Farmer reports, a fellow named Luke Saunders is working to close the gap between health and convenience: He's making the vending machine work for fresh food.

Saunders' "veggie machine" is called the Farmer's Fridge, and the concept is simple, Modern Farmer says:

[Saunders] figured the only two things preventing distributing healthy food was a high upfront cost and convenience.

A vending machine neatly solves both problems, he explains. It’s cheap to maintain -- electricity costs about $10 a month -- quick and easy to use. ...

[T]he machine dispenses the salad or snack in a clear plastic jar which can be brought back to the kiosk for the reuse. Saunders eventually hopes to offer recycling incentives to frequent customers.

Read more: Food, Living


White roofs are better than green roofs, and everything’s better than black

white roof

We're all on board with the idea that black roofs are so out. But scientists are still establishing what the best alternative is. The most popular alternatives to black are white and green, i.e. painting the roof white to reflect heat or growing plants on it. You’d think a green roof would be best -- imagine growing vegetables in your very own sky garden! -- but in reality they’re not so great. Gardening’s hard enough when you don’t have to climb out on top of the house to do it, and a new study shows that white roofs are better for the environment anyway.

Popular Science describes new research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory:

White roofs reflect sunlight and heat so well, they help counter global warming, the team found. Green roofs don't reflect as well. However, both kinds of roofs keep their own buildings cool on hot days.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Squirrels are the true threat to America’s infrastructure


We may worry about hackers taking down the electrical grid, says Eugene K. Chow at The Week, just like we worry about, for example, bikers hitting frail old ladies crossing the street. But both threats are overblown. Like biker-on-old-lady violence, cyberattacks are so rare that they're notable -- we fear them and talk about them precisely because they don’t happen very often. But the true threat lies elsewhere, with more common villains. On the street, of course, it's cars. In the nation's electricity infrastructure, it's squirrels.

Chow explains:

Even squirrels are proving to be, well, a squirrelly problem. No one really knows how much damage the rodents do, but it's certainly more than hackers manage. A cursory analysis in The New York Times found that over a four month span last year, squirrels caused at least 50 power outages across the country -- and those were just the ones that made the news.