Cities

NEXT STEPS

Walking: A simple focus for the Smart Growth movement

I expected to hear a lot more about sexy green urban design projects at the New Partners in Smart Growth conference in Seattle last week. I expected more sleek design and big new developments akin to Dockside Green in Victoria, British Columbia, or Vancouver’s Olympic Village. Maybe American urban planners are better at keeping it real, or maybe the real estate market isn’t allowing many such ambitious projects, but shiny New Urbanist developments didn’t get a lot of attention. Instead, discussions kept returning to a recurring problem: Americans live too damn far from where they work. Decades of bad development …

Distribute This

The little solar that could

I spotted a rare critter on the streets of San Francisco this week — a smiling, optimistic businessperson. Then again, Ron Kenedi is in the solar panel business.  “The big news as I see it is the demand — demand keeps growing everywhere,” says Kenedi, vice president of Sharp Solar, the renewable energy arm of the Japanese conglomerate. “What really amazes me every day is how much demand has grown throughout the world.” Kenedi is not one for Pollyannaish optimism — he started in the business around the time Ronald Reagan took down Jimmy Carter’s solar panels from the White …

(IS IT REALLY SO) SMART GROWTH?

My whiz-bang light rail is your pain in the asphalt

Seattle light rail. Photo courtesy LeeLeFever via Flickr One train, two views: Getting to the airport from Seattle’s north side — its wealthier, whiter half — on public transit first involves a bus ride downtown. From there, as of two months ago, you can take a new light-rail line, instead of another bus, to Sea-Tac Airport. This north-side resident found the light rail underwhelming — the train chugs along at street level at a modest speed, stopping 10 times, even stopping at times for traffic lights. It’s still faster to take the express bus from downtown. So it was interesting …

Freeway in LA…for bikes?

Advocates in famously car-centric Los Angeles are advocating for a new freeway system.  For bikes. The weather is great, the streets are gridlocked, and the city is flat-ish.  No brainer.

grow job

The jobs are in the trees

With Congress and the White House considering spending scarce dollars to jump-start employment, they’ll need to get the biggest jobs bang for the buck to give Americans confidence that they’re spending our money wisely. Probably the biggest jobs generator of all, and one of the least recognized, is investing in forest and land restoration and sustainable management, with conservation, watershed projects, and park investment coming close behind. Heidi Garrett-Peltier and Robert Pollin at The Political Economy and Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts report the following numbers for jobs created per dollar of investment. To summarize, reforestation and restoration …

Bottoms up

Large-scale distributed energy is here: Recurrent Energy signs 50MW power purchase agreement

This morning, Recurrent Energy will announce that it has signed a power purchase agreement with Southern California Edison (SCE) for 50MW of solar. This might not seem like a big deal — California utilities seem to sign solar agreements every week these days — but there’s something special about this one. Recurrent’s power will not come from a single large-scale solar power plant out in the desert but from three small-scale solar PV projects, one 6MW and two 22MW installations in Kern and San Bernadino counties, which it will own and operate. In other words, Recurrent is selling distributed solar …

Invested interests

One step ahead of the carbon cops

What was it that Joe Friday in the old radio and TV show “Dragnet” used to say? “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.” Facing just the facts last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ruled that publicly-held companies must disclose their exposure to potential losses from climate change, including carbon emissions that are the subject of growing regulation in the U.S. (and already highly regulated in Europe). Reaction has been both partisan and predictable, but make no mistake — the carbon cops are coming and the SEC is simply pointing out how to stay one step ahead of …

Knockin' the suburbs

Cities vs. suburbs: The next big green battle?

Alex Steffen—futurist, Worldchanging editor, tall person—makes the provocative argument that there’s really no way to make outer-ring suburbs sustainable. He thinks cities vs. suburbs is the political conflict that will define the next decade, a fact that climate-focused groups have been slow to acknowledge. The real potential, he suggests, lies with urban dwellers who don’t identify as activists or environmentalists–people working in architecture, design, planning, community development, housing, building, local energy, local food, alternative transportation, and the like. Some of this is in my piece on activism after Copenhagen. Here’s more: Q. Where do the suburbs fit into the urban …

Keep up the PACE

How innovative financing is changing energy in America

Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, has taken off like wildfire since the concept was first introduced in Berkeley, Calif. in October ’07. PACE allows private property owners to pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects through an addition to their property tax bill, overcoming the high upfront costs that prevent most property owners from investing in such retrofits. PACE financing has the capacity to be transformative: property owners realize immediate savings on their utility bills with minimal money down; local green jobs are created through increased demand for retrofitting goods and services; and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are …

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