Cities

Urbanism

The man who thinks Manhattan isn’t dense enough

New York City may not be the best example of a place that hasn’t lived up to its potential for greater density.Photo: Randy von LiskiCross-posted from the Natural Resources Defense Council. New York County, which comprises all of Manhattan, is the densest county in America at 71,166 people per square mile. It is twice as dense as No. 2, Brooklyn (which, incidentally, is followed by two more New York City counties, Bronx and Queens, at Nos. 3 and 4, respectively). Manhattan is over four times as dense as No. 5 San Francisco. This makes me wonder about Ed Glaeser, a …

Cities

Fat city: The way your neighborhood is built could be killing you

Road to ruin.Photo: Alfonso SurrocaCrappy urban development isn’t just ugly and noisy and dirty. It is turning out to be lethal. One Toronto study looked at how the quality of a community’s streets can affect people’s health, factoring into drastically reduced life expectancy. It’s the focus of an article in The Globe and Mail that discusses how Toronto and other cities are segregated not just by race and income, but also by the quality of the built environment — and what that division means for residents’ health. People living in less walkable, outlying parts of the city, with less access …

Urbanism

Bringing a dead public plaza to life in Dallas

Cross-posted from the Natural Resources Defense Council. Although it sometimes makes “ugliest building in the world” lists, I rather like I.M. Pei’s iconic Dallas City Hall, featuring his trademark architectural triangles. Photo: Chris Zúniga But I’ll grant that it is imposing. What I don’t like is the vast, forlorn “plaza” and pool that separates the city’s most important civic building from its citizenry and from the street. By all accounts, it’s six acres of dead space, except perhaps when various protests need a place to gather. “A concrete desert,” wrote Ryan Jones on the FrontBurner blog, hosted by DMagazine. “Almost …

Minneapolis to open 12 vacant lots to gardening

Minneapolis is opening up 12 vacant lots across the city to groups that will turn them into community gardens, because a lot strewn with tomatoes and strawberries sure beats one strewn with empty McDonald's cups. There's a long tradition of using empty space in cities for community gardens, and these programs can go wonky when the city decides the land's more valuable as a condo of office building. Minneapolis ran into this problem back in 2002. But the good news about these new plots is that the city has determined that they're "non-buildable," which means that if all goes well …

Cities

Win-win situation: Using competition to change behavior

Ready, set … change!Photo: Jon MarshallA couple of weeks back, I went to a conference at the Garrison Institute, located in a former monastery in the Hudson River Valley of New York. The presenters included municipal officials from around the country, many of them somewhat weary veterans of battles to motivate citizens to recycle, or make energy-efficient retrofits to their homes, or change their incandescent light bulbs for  CFLs. There was no real consensus on what works, or whether anything works in every case. But one mantra kept being put forward by the conference’s organizers: Attitudes follow behavior. Behavior does …

Project Aura bike lighting system puts wheel reflectors to shame

Project Aura is the brainchild of two Carnegie Mellon students, who challenged themselves to make a bike lighting system that would make night riding more secure. Currently, most bike lights focus on the front and back of the bike, and are all but invisible from the side; with Project Aura's wheel-mounted LEDs, bikes are unmissable from the side and more visible overall. You still need a headlight — these distributed LEDs don't look like they generate enough light for you to see the road, and it's not like you want to be hit from the front or rear any more …

Say Earthalujah! Reverend Billy preaches the green gospel

The Reverend wants you to believe the Earth can be saved! Amen.Photo: Brennan CavanaughThe Reverend preaches: “It’s not easy for Americans to slow down their consumption. No, it ain’t! We’ve got to help each other out. Give each other the power. Yes we do! To back away from the product. To turn. To escape the big box. The hypnosis of corporate greed! Amen, hallelujah.“ And the choir sings: “Eartha-lu, Eartha-lu, Eartha-lu-jah! Eartha-lu, Eartha-lu, Eartha-lu-jah!” “This force is inside each of us,” the Reverend continues. “It’s in the air. It’s coming through the floorboards. Earthalujah. Yeah, yes, amen. Give us the …

U.S. infrastructure needs a $2 trillion make-over

Like those bridges and roads and trains tracks you've got there? Want to keep them? That'll be $2 trillion. That's how much the Urban Land Institute estimates the U.S. needs to invest in infrastructure just to keep what's already in place from falling apart. Everybody else in the world gets this. In Europe, countries realize that investing in infrastructure might just create jobs while promoting economic growth further down the line. India, China, and Brazil are investing in roads and sewer systems and dams at a pace that will quickly outstrip the one set by our huff-puffing, faltering empire. To …

Coal

Will Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s new mayor, deal with the city’s coal pollution problem?

Will new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel get tough on coal?Photo: Daniel X. O’NeillChicago has a major coal problem. The city’s Fisk and Crawford coal-fired power plants, which have been operating for nearly 100 years and were rebuilt more than 40 years ago, were grandfathered in under the 1970 Clean Air Act amendments. The assumption at the time was that these plants would be shutting down within a few years since they were already so old. Needless to say, that hasn’t happened — yet. Some key facts about the Fisk and Crawford plants: These are the only large coal plants in …

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