Cities

Transportation today and tomorrow

Two books that blew my mind

I have a piece in the latest issue of the American Prospect called “This Is How You’ll Get There.” It’s a review of two books: Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), by journalist Tom Vanderbilt, and Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century, by three brilliant supergeeks (two from GM’s advanced auto division; one from MIT’s Smart Cities program). I know book reviews aren’t the most exciting genre in the world, but I quite like this one, mainly because the books kind of blew my mind. The first is …

Take this show off the road

Want to green the Olympics? Stop moving them around

Photo courtesy BinoCanada via FlickrFor all the efforts to minimize the impact of the Olympics, one big solution never gets taken seriously. So much of the environmental and financial cost of the games comes from cities trying to build facilities that suit both a massive, two-week influx of athletes and spectators and also the long-term needs of locals. So you get things like Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, built for the 1976 summer games and not paid off in full until 2006. Or the “spookily quiet, deserted” Olympic village Tom Philpott saw in Turin, Italy, two years after the games there. The …

If only they had snow

The 10 greenest and brownest things about Vancouver

Courtesy Ecstaticist via FlickrAll eyes are on are Vancouver this month — not just on the Olympics, but on the city itself.  Is the world’s biggest athletic circus making the city a better place to live in the long term?  A worse one?  Or is it just putting the global spotlight on strengths and weaknesses that will persist long after the games?  The David Suzuki Foundation, a prominent Canadian environmental group based in Vancouver, has a mildly optimistic take. It gives the games a “bronze” medal for green efforts, praising the smartly designed venues, fairly compact layout of the games, …

Unnatural Habitat

What do coyotes want in Manhattan? Real estate

Early Sunday morning, a campus security officer at Columbia University saw three unusual animals hanging out in front of Lewisohn Hall, one of the school’s classroom buildings. The officer called NYPD, and according to a memo from the school’s public safety chief, the responding officers spotted one of the animals before it slinked away. They recognized it as a coyote. A second sighting was also reported by school employees on Sunday, the memo said, although police couldn’t confirm that one. I’m a graduate of Columbia’s journalism school (just two buildings south of Lewisohn Hall) and an adjunct professor there, so …

Picking up the PACE

San Francisco commits $150 million to green homes

Monday night I was having drinks in downtown San Francisco with some seriously smart people — top-level IBM scientists and strategists involved in Big Blue’s Smarter Planet initiative.  Given the room’s collective interest in creating smart electrical grids, smart water systems, advanced electric car batteries and other green technologies, the talk naturally turned to how to create sustainable cities. Solar panel installation in San Francisco.Photo courtesy bkusler via FlickrThe technology largely exists, the IBMers agreed, but what’s really needed is a great leap forward in financial engineering to allow cities to finance all the cool stuff being developed in labs …

what it looks like

Smart Growth even makes snowstorms better

Mixed land use is a tenet of Smart Growth development that has a lot of virtues. But the name is boring and not very descriptive. Here’s Matt Yglesias describing what it’s like to live in a mixed-use D.C. neighborhood: The building where I live turns out to be a really good place to pass a prolonged snow emergency. The complex includes a supermarket, a gym, a delicious sandwich place, and a coffee shop so you can easily meet all your key needs without leaving for days at a time. The downside is that I’m now realizing it’s been almost 48 …

One Less Car; One More Terrified Biker

Car free in Boston, for all the wrong reasons

I’m currently in transportation transition. By the end of the month, I will have transferred my aging VW into my partner’s name, and canceled my own insurance. I will have tuned up my bike, spent a good chunk of money on a metro pass, and signed up with the local car-sharing business. But I’m not here to moralize (unlike in most of my posts). I tanked the car for all the wrong reasons. It was an easy decision to make, after I took my soon-to-be-ex car into the mechanic for a tune-up and came out minus $2,500; and after the …

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 …

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