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Envisioning possible green futures helps create a greener future

Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. There has been much discussion lately of the need to turn the green agenda from a negative to a positive one. I think that an important part of this is developing some more positive visions of what living in a sustainable future might be like. My organization, Forum for the Future, has set itself this task. Partly because we think the green movement needs more credible and aspirational stories of the future if we are to take people …

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Granted, it’s early yet

Just met with Laura Carstens, planning services manager for Dubuque. The money quote: "For years, we turned our back on the river. Now we're making it our front door." Later today, Sarah and I will get out on the river for the first time. The tourist riverboat stopped running this weekend because the weather turned, but yesterday one of our sources called a friend with a boat. The friend agreed to pick us up this morning and take us for a ride. And that right there tells you plenty about Dubuque.

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… or Kansas, for that matter

Here's what the sign says on the back of the bathroom door in our hotel: Hotel Laws of Iowa Fixing, Limiting, and Determining the Liability of Keepers of Hotels, Inns, Eating-Houses, and Steamboat Owners to Inmates Thereof. Sorry, was that ... steamboat owners? Holy crap.

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Exploring Dubuque’s riverwalk, tourist-style

While Katharine spent the day getting free lunch and talking to city planners, I spent my day exploring what, exactly, all those city planners have spent all their time planning. Namely, the America's River project I mentioned earlier today. I toured the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium with Teri Goodmann, the director of national advancement for the museum and, as it happens, a fairly knowledgeable Mississippi River fish enthusiast. (Did you know there are hugemongous catfish and sturgeon lurking in the muddy waters of the Mississip?) Then, I climbed aboard the William M. Black, a 1934 steamboat that's nearly …

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A meeting of the minds in the Masterpiece on the Mississippi

There's no free lunch -- unless you happen to be a Grist reporter crashing a sustainability conference in Dubuque. I showed up, hungry, for a 12 p.m. presentation by City Manager Mike Van Milligen that was kicking off a three-day Sustainable Design Assessment Team visit. I was rewarded not only with more inspiring examples of this city's initiatives, but with a sandwich. Let me back up a little. Dubuque -- which, as Sarah said, is turning out to be a more progressive place than either of us realized -- was chosen this year as one of six cities to receive …

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A morning meeting with the mayor of Dubuque

I wish I could tell you I wrote this from atop a log raft while floating down the Mighty Mississippi, but sadly the wifi access out there ain't so mighty. Instead, I'm sitting at a table inside the Grand Harbor Resort and Conference Center complex, which is part of the $188 million riverfront development project here in Dubuque, Iowa, our first of three stops during our week traveling The Great River. The development project -- and the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium that's part of it -- is what first drew us to Dubuque, but the more we explore, …

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Grist pulls a Huck Finn

Grist is rollin' (rollin'!) on the river this week, and we're taking you with us. We're bound for the Mississippi -- the legendary waterway recently deemed an "orphan" of the federal government. Just call us Sarah van Sawyer and Huckleberry Wroth. We've ventured here to find out how three cities are reinventing their once-industrial waterfronts, and how they're re-embracing the river. During the week's coverage, which is supported by the McKnight Foundation, we'll be talking with city leaders, historians, architects, planners, and Real People about the transformations happening all along the river. We might even take a dip -- if …

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Even the greenest suburbs can’t touch low urban emission rates

Last Sunday, the Washington Post published a piece by Joel Kotkin and Ali Modarres which sought to debunk the ideas that dense urban areas are greener than their suburban counterparts and that encouraging dense growth might play a significant role in reducing America's carbon output. The piece was wrong or misleading on practically every point, to the extent that any complete response would take up far more time and space than I have available. Some of the authors' most egregious errors simply must be addressed, however. Kotkin and Modarres spend the first half of their op-ed arguing that cities contribute …

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Bikeways pay for themselves

A decade ago, we wrote that the bicycle is one of the world's seven everyday wonders because it's so simple, effective, affordable, and pollution-free. To that list, we might have added "enriching." Bicycling for transportation pumps money into local economies. Bikes are wheels of fortune. (Thanks to Flickr photographer hanbyholems for the picture to the right.) If your community spends money building bikeways, you and your neighbors will cycle more. Your cycling will put extra money in the local economy. (I'll explain how in a moment.) The extra money will make the community rich enough to pay for more bikeways. …

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Commuters in Seattle avoid congested roads by driving less

Apparently, folks in Greater Seattle are responding to congestion by ... driving less! Which is, quite literally, no surprise at all. A comprehensive study of transportation patterns in cities across the globe found that high levels of congestion are linked with low overall energy consumption. When roads get congested, people adjust, and find alternatives to long, time-consuming commutes. And that's what seems to be happening in Seattle. Highway congestion has grown in the region, as it has virtually everywhere in the U.S. But per-capita car ownership is on the decline, and total vehicle miles per capita has begun to level …

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