Cities

From Washers to Wind: Obama in Iowa

Yesterday was the 39th anniversary of Earth Day, and to mark the occasion President Obama was in Newton, Iowa, to speak about clean energy. Newton is one of those towns where most of the residents are employed by one major employer, and until October 2007, that employer was Maytag. So when Whirlpool bought Maytag and shut down the Newton plant, over 12% of Newton’s 16,000 residents lost their jobs. If you didn’t lose a job, your husband, sister, or neighbor surely did. But now Newton’s a shining example of what’s possible. Instead of dishwashers and washing machines, the people of …

Hoosier guru

An interview with author Scott Russell Sanders

Scott Russell Sanders, author of A Conservationist ManifestoCourtesy of Indiana University PressI’ve had some great teachers over the years, but none quite like Scott Russell Sanders, the gentle guru of Bloomington, Indiana, and a leading light of Midwestern environmentalism. To call him articulate doesn’t begin to do justice. He exudes a sort of intellectual clarity, in both his works of non-fiction and fiction and in his teaching at Indiana University. (As a former student, I’m a thoroughly biased source.) Sanders’ book Staying Put offers a countercultural vision of what it means to live rooted in a place — not far …

Training wheels

Obama lays down plans for high-speed rail

The Obama administration has big plans to create a “world-class passenger rail system” across the country, the president announced this morning. “What we need … is a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century,” said Obama. “A system that reduces travel times and increases mobility. A system that reduces congestion and boosts productivity. A system that reduces destructive emissions and creates jobs.” Vice President Joe Biden — a rail enthusiast — joined Obama in making the announcement. “With high-speed rail system, we’re going to be able to pull people off the road, lowering our dependence on …

Radiant Cities: Mallternatives

A shopping mall becomes a city

The poor shopping mall. That once impenetrable fortress now seems as susceptible to the ailing economy as the rest of us. Vacancies are at an all-time high. Dead and dying malls continue to plague the landscape. And, perhaps worst of all, the mall has transformed from an icon of American life — see Fast Times at Ridgemont High — to a scourge, a symbol of the poor judgment of developers and the government policies that supported them. The mall, at this point, is not only unsustainable, it’s downright unfashionable, and not just for urban planning aficionados; regular old mall-loving Americans …

Trouble at home

Why Obama’s bank bailout could be bad for the environment

Back to the future?Photo: Julep67The Obama administration’s plan for reviving the banks is predicated on the idea that the “toxic assets” weighing down balance sheets aren’t really all that toxic at all; that the banks, in other words, aren’t actually insolvent, but  just the victims of temporary investor panic. If that logic proves true, then we may be in the process of delaying a much-needed reckoning of how we arrange our built landscapes. in short, the Obama administration is placing a massive bet, with public cash, on the resiliency of suburbia — at a point when climate change and hair-trigger …

Pimp my ride

Brief hybrid electric bike update

That’s a picture of my Hybrid Electric parked next to an especially stupid looking Hummer. Dark tinted windows make it impossible for cyclists to make eye contact with drivers. You’re playing Russian roulette when you cross in front of a car that has them. I noticed that this particular Hummer would not move for days at a time when gas prices were high last summer. A commenter wanted me to post an update on my Hybrid Electric bike. Specifically, he wanted to know how the cheap mountain bike frame was holding out. The answer is just fine. My only complaint …

Driving downhill

“Peak” gas in 2007?

The Wall Street Journal reports that an increasing number of energy analysts think that U.S. gasoline sales will never surpass their 2007 record: Among those who say U.S. consumption of gasoline has peaked are executives at the world’s biggest publicly traded oil company, Exxon Mobil Corp., as well as many private analysts and government energy forecasters… Many industry observers have become convinced the drop in consumption won’t reverse even when economic growth resumes. In December, the EIA said gasoline consumption by U.S. drivers had peaked, in part because of growing consumer interest in fuel efficiency. US VMT trends through Jan …

Competition for greenest car heats up

The competition for greenest car is really heating up. My favorite is the Bolloré Bluecar, which will be available as a lease option in several European countries next year. That’s OK with me because I am not an early adapter. People who willingly act as guinea pigs by paying exorbitant prices to be the first to purchase gadgets do us all a favor by helping manufacturers flush out bugs in new technology. This car has, in addition to an advanced solid-state Lithium Metal Polymer battery, a large ultracapacitor to handle regenerative braking and acceleration. If I were the engineer in …

A Nobel Effort

Wangari Maathai film shows Kenyan tree planting as political subversion

Planting trees in Kenya is about more than just helping the environment.Alan Dater Planting trees in deforested areas brings a host of benefits, as any good environmentalist knows. Trees provide cleaner air, richer soil, wildlife habitat, and shade. They conserve water and protect lands against floods. They absorb carbon dioxide. Under the rule of an oppressive regime, tree planting can also be a profoundly subversive act. This is the focus of Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, a documentary about the Kenyan activist that premiers on the PBS series Independent Lens this Tuesday, April 14. Wangari MaathaiMartin Rowe By …

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