Radiant Cities: Driving It Home

One man’s plan to re-create suburbia, sans cars

California’s East Bay — the collection of towns, cities, and suburbs across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco — has a lot to boast about. There’s the perpetually great weather, enlightened inhabitants, and a halfway decent, if in my opinion overpriced, public transit system in the form of BART. Yet despite BART’s 43 stations spanning 95 miles, most folks in the area find they need a car, too. Sherman LewisBut one man thinks his town, Hayward — or at least a part of it — can make the leap to automobile-free. “I want to live a lifestyle that’s less dependent …

Recycling a House

How we found 133 Bourne St., and how we almost lost it

In May of 2008, the property at 133 Bourne St., Boston, Massachusetts was purchased from HBHC Bank by myself and Ken Ward. Ninety-nine years old at the time, it had long served the neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain and Roslindale as both a corner store and a family dwelling. At the time of purchase, the house had been abandoned, foreclosed, and uninhabited for four years. It would require an almost total rehab, but seemed to hold immense potential, with space aplenty for a blended family of three young boys, a large central area at the front of the house that called …

Welcome to the JP Green House

In which we chronicle the creation of a groundbreaking eco-home

Editor’s note: This month, Grist contributor Ken Ward and his partner Andrée Zaleska begin chronicling their conversion of a rundown, 100-year-old store into a green home that serves as both family living quarters and a public space for climate activism, green building education, and community gatherings. Recently, I visited the pair for a tour of the space — and an up-close glimpse of their dreams. When the JP Green House is finished, it will be a marvel to behold. From the eco-insulation to the stage for community performances, from the backyard beekeeping to the front-stoop organizing, the house will be …

Love in a time of cataclysm

Fighting climate chaos with a hammer and a heart

The intro question for the first gathering of activists in Massachusetts early this month was, “How do you feel, personally, about climate change?” Having worked on the agenda, I should have been prepared — but it still stumped me. When I spoke, it was a distillation of five years of hard thinking and writing; truthful, but packaged. We are offered, I said, but two choices: blind optimism of the sort that Waxman-Markey cheerleaders purvey, or deep despair, the feeling one gets from most climate scientists. I prefer, I said, a resolute hope that comes only in accepting reality — …

More riding tips and evolutionary insights

Got some more riding tips to share. I’ve learned that nothing catches people’s attention like a hand wave. It has been hypothesized that our brains have literally evolved the ability to detect hand waves against a cluttered background. I always wave at drivers before crossing in front of them. Try it. They can’t seem to ignore you no matter how much they would like to. I have also discovered an excellent bike light. I use rechargeable batteries and mounted it on my helmet. I turn it on superflash mode night and day. It is amazingly bright. By mounting it on …

Ray (and Shaun and Lisa) of Hope

Feds get cozy for sustainable communities

LaHood and Jackson look on as Obama signs a fuel-economy memo earlier this year.White HouseThere’s this crazy idea spreading through the Obama administration: not only can you work with your opponents to get things done, you can work with your allies. Like today, for instance, comes news that the EPA, Department of Transportation, and HUD have built upon an earlier DOT/HUD deal to create a Partnership for Sustainable Communities. The landmark collaboration identifies six “livability principles” for the agencies to keep in sight as they work on policy. Which means, said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, “For the first time, the …

Hot Data

Clean-tech and urban renewal in one fell swoop

Clearer skies ahead for Holyoke?Leslie Adams via flickrTo say that Holyoke, Mass., has seen better days would put you squarely in the running for Understatement of the Year. One of the poorest cities in the state, it is the sort of post-Industrial town that is scattered across New England: crumbling smokestacks, shuttered mills, “modern” housing thrown together in the shadow of manufacturers past. But Holyoke, which lies 10 miles outside  Springfield in the western part of the state, hit harder times than most. Compared to state and national averages, everything about Holyoke is high: unemployment, homelessness, poverty, crime. According to …

What would Gandhi drive?

A tour through Indian energy projects suggests small is beautiful

A local irrigation project in southern India.Courtesy Michael Foley Photography via FlickrGeorge Black has a fascinating story about how India might lift its people out of poverty without torching the environment in the current issue of OnEarth, the magazine run by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Written largely as a travelogue through clean energy innovations in northern India, Black’s narrative considers the three essentials the country aspires to deliver to its billion-plus citizens—water, energy, and mobility. The story includes the requisite bleak facts, like India’s booming population, its over-reliance on coal-fired electricity, the melting Himalayan glaciers that will threaten water …

Point A to Point Whee!

The best U.S. transit systems you never knew existed

When it comes to public transit in the U.S., there are certain predictable all-stars: the Metro in Washington, D.C., is convenient, efficient, and clean. The anthropomorphically nicknamed El and BART in Chicago and San Francisco are legendary. And everyone knows it’s easier to navigate New York City without a car than with one. But what about the rest of the country? As cities big and small rethink how their residents get around, new systems are taking shape — and as gas prices and paychecks fluctuate, riders are responding in droves. While the current economic crunch is forcing many cities to …

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