In the Pacific Northwest, the municipal powers-that-be are catching on that it's no fun at all to ride a bike through a slippery pile of wet leaves. Actually, it's kind of terrifying. But big, car-lane-sized street sweepers can't do the delicate work of getting leaves out of protected bike lanes.
So, Portland bought a smaller, bike-lane-sized street sweeper to do the job, according to Bike Portland:
China is a notoriously difficult country for outsiders to get a handle on, but two things are immediately obvious the second you exit the airport. One, that the country is undergoing an unprecedented level of economic growth. Two, the country is in the midst of an ecological catastrophe. You literally breathe in both of them.
Despite all I had read before going to China last month, I was a bit blasé about Beijing’s famous smog. I’ve lived in cities all my life and once spent a few months in Moscow -- a place not exactly known for its pristine air quality. Surely, for a three-day visit, it couldn’t be that bad.
Unfortunately, my trip -- a journalism fellowship sponsored by the East-West Center and the Better Hong Kong Foundation -- happened to coincide with one of China’s worst smog episodes of the year: a giant cloud over most of China visible from space. Distances became difficult to judge, and the city’s famous downtown glowered menacingly out of the haze. On the ground in Beijing, conditions were what the U.S. embassy classified as “hazardous,” meaning: “Everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors; people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low.”
Thankfully, most of my agenda involved conversations with officials in climate-controlled offices, but whenever we were outside -- or riding a minibus though the capital’s bumper-to-bumper traffic -- the cloud would hit like a wall, drying my throat and making my eyes water. A slight lingering cold that I brought with me from Washington soon turned into a full hacking cough. It felt less like any urban environment I had ever been in than earlier this summer when I was a few miles away from massive forest fires in Idaho.
Things could have been worse, of course. I could have been in the northern city of Harbin, where the smog was so bad that schools, airports, and major roads were shut down. Or I could have come in January, when the air in Beijing was so bad it broke the air quality index.
No one plans to get a massive head injury when they hop on a bike. And most of the times you bike somewhere, you do arrive safely at your destination without a massive head injury. So it's easy to rationalize riding without a helmet -- especially as bikeshares become more popular and it becomes that much easier to take a spontaneous bike ride. How many people, really, are going to carry around an unwieldy piece of dome-shaped plastic everywhere they go, just in case?
So far, most of the solutions to this problem have been along the lines of reusable helmet dispensaries linked to bikeshare stations. But here's a simpler one: Make a helmet that's easier to carry around. That's British inventor Jeff Woolf's plan, anyway. His "Morpher" is a helmet that folds flat in half.
Initially, James Raby just wanted to save his school, Walter L. Cohen High, in New Orleans. Named after a prominent black businessman and political leader, the school sits in one of the more diverse neighborhoods in Uptown New Orleans, and has served a mostly black student population. Raby graduated three years after it opened in 1953.
Cohen High was one of the first schools to reopen after Hurricane Katrina, but it has struggled to stay alive since then. The school was in one of the few neighborhoods that didn’t flood, so it was filled with a lot of students dealing with the traumatic stress and disorder that came with Katrina. Since 2006, it’s had three different administrative operators, at least a half-dozen principals, and a ton of teacher layoffs as a consequence of the shifting leadership.
Cohen High was not included in the city’s “Plan for the 21st Century,” the post-Katrina reconstruction strategy devised through a city-wide community participation process to decide what would be rebuilt and how. The state wants to shutter it completely by 2015, and send the students to a new mega-high school, called Booker T. Washington, that is slated to be built about two miles away.
The Walter L. Cohen Alumni Association, over which Raby presides, opposes moving its alma mater to the new high school, arguing that, with the right leadership, Cohen High’s small class sizes could lead to better academic performance than a larger school. And as Raby learned during his campaign to keep Cohen alive, environmental assessments of the soil at the new site show high concentrations of dangerously toxic metals, including lead, arsenic, chromium, mercury, and barium.
Now, Raby’s mission has changed from saving his school to saving any student from having to go to a school that’s planted on contaminated land.
Normally, you don't want to leave a piece of furniture that looks an upholstered 18th-century chaise out in the rain. But this bench has a secret power. Water doesn't destroy it; in fact, it slurps up rain and traps the water inside. Fast-forward about three minutes into this video, and you'll see what I mean:
The bench, designed by Mars Architects, is meant to be a cheaper and smaller-scale -- and comfier -- way to harvest rainwater and create more water availability, FastCoExist writes.
In New York City, car owners complain all the time about parking. (Like, bike lanes are making for less of it, boo hoo!) And while there is a fair bit of competition for these public and often free resources, it can't be that bad, because there are a handful of people in the city who have found places to park giant RVs and live in them.
In an end run around high, high apartment costs, the Los Angeles Times reports, at least three people are living full-time in RVs in the city. It's actually a pretty brilliant idea: One urban RVer paid $5,000 for his RV and parks it in Gowanus -- close to yuppie neighborhoods but in a more commercial area where parking tends to be a little more available. Another paid $15,000 for his place. The median rental price in Brooklyn right now is $2,800 per month, so the RV starts to make financial sense really quickly.
It’s the next best thing to curling up by a crackling fire: warming your toes with the stinky heat of the London Underground!
London Mayor Boris Johnson announced Friday that excess heat from the subway tunnels and an electric substation will be funneled into British homes, hopefully slashing energy costs. And the timing is perfect -- last winter was one of London’s coldest in decades, so residents are gearing up to battle record heating bills again.
The initiative will help lower pollution too, according to Islington Council, whose executive member for sustainability estimated that carbon emissions will fall by more than 500 tons annually. It’s all part of the mayor’s grand scheme to make the city leaner and greener, according to Sustainable Review:
The city has been actively battling the bulge for years. Deep fryers were banned in school kitchens in 2010 and kids haven’t been able to buy soda in school vending machines since 2004, for instance. (On a related front, Philly has targeted Chinese takeout restaurants for excessive salt. No word on the fate of the fortune cookie.)
But the city’s most visible and far-reaching program, the largest of its kind in the country, has been the Healthy Corner Store Initiative. The city-wide project, spearheaded by Philadelphia-based nonprofit The Food Trust, is an attempt to convince corner stores, those one-stop shops for SunnyD and SnoBalls, to carry healthy food.
The program began as a small pilot project, with only 11 participating stores. In 2010, it expanded to more than 600 stores of an estimated 1,500 city-wide. “We had tested in a small sample, but we didn’t know if the store owners were going to respond,” says Brianna Almaguer Sandoval, the Healthy Corner Store Initiative's director. “But they are really stepping up. They’re reporting that they’re making money, that customers want those products.”
Of all the city-navigation sites and apps available -- the ones that tell you where to eat, the ones that plot your bike route, the ones that tell you when the next train is coming -- none is more likely to improve your New York experience than ToiletFinder.com, the site that tells you where to find a public toilet and how gross it's likely to be. (You think I'm exaggerating? Sit around and age for a while, then get back to me.) And now, you can apply to make ToiletFinder even better -- and earn some cash -- by becoming a professional bathroomologist.
ToiletFinder currently features user reviews, like a kind of poop Yelp. But founder Michael Li has decided to class up the joint by hiring a professional writer to scour New York's public pee spots. He's offering $100 a day plus a share of Google AdSense profits for the successful candidate, who must be funny, college-educated, and willing to be a little disgusting. (And even if you don't get the gig, he says he'll pay $20 for a good review.)