Cities

Much sun, free beer

How a small Nevada town lures major solar investment

In 1995, Boulder City, Nevada, paid $1.3 million for a land buffer to make sure that Las Vegas didn't get any closer. It has since used that buffer to become a world leader in solar energy, and is making $2 million (and counting) in annual revenue from solar leases. How did the city pull this off? What is the key to their solar success? Read this excellent article in the Las Vegas Sun to find out. The city, 40 miles southeast of Las Vegas, averages 350 sunny days per year, allowing a local tavern to offer free beer on the days when the sun doesn't shine. That's got to have at least something to do with it.

Junior hints

RFK Jr. addresses green building conference in Seattle

“[Americans are] probably the best entertained and least informed people in the world,” Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., said Friday at the BuiltGreen Conference in Seattle, noting that we know more about the decline of Britney Spears than we do about global warming. It was one grim truth among many that he shared with the audience of architects, planners, and green building folks. Kennedy also lamented the current state of our economic markets — “rigged to reward the most filthiest producers, the expensive, ‘poisoniest’ and destructive fuels from hell, rather than the clean green cheap fuels from heaven” — and called …

Urban legend

Ron Sims of Seattle plans to green HUD as deputy secretary

Ron Sims. Ron Sims wants to bring a fresh, green perspective to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Sims — the county executive of King County, Wash., which encompasses the Seattle metropolitan area — is President Obama’s nominee for deputy secretary of the department. “President Obama has … challenged his Cabinet to prepare for the age of global warming,” Sims said in a statement shortly after he was nominated. “Success can only come if we transform our major metropolitan areas.” Urbanists are hoping for big, green things from HUD under Obama and Secretary Shaun Donovan. The addition of Sims …

The Transit Authority: Done with the Gipper

The aging of the Boomers means it’s time for new priorities

Ronald Reagan This past week saw the return of the annual spectacle known as CPAC — the Conservative Political Action Conference — to Washington. As is inevitable whenever conservatives gather, invocations of the greatness of Ronald Reagan ran thick. But with a new and charismatic president in office looking to roll back key aspects of the Reagan era, the usual reverie rang a bit hollow. Mr. Reagan, born in 1911, walked out of the White House a generation ago, and America is now a much different place. The country has been surprisingly slow to cotton to the general shift underway. …

Points for honesty

Houston surprised at own rank on EPA green-building list

The Houston Press, surprised by the city’s high ranking in the EPA’s recent list of metro areas with the most Energy Star-qualified buildings in 2008, called the agency to check things out. Turns out some of the listiness was based on voluntary reporting by building managers, which means, as Press blogger Richard Connelly put it, “It may be that we just like to brag about our green-ness more.” Aaaaaand speaking of bragging and Houston (thanks, universe), today also brings “news” of the nation’s first eco-car wash. The company behind it, called Eco-Suds, has plans to expand to other locations in …

Button 'er up

Canada, U.K. push green-building regs

A few green-building developments this week: On the heels of a federal budget that included $300 million to expand a home-retrofit program, Canada released its first LEED guidelines for homeowners and homebuilders. “We suspect some builders will be slow to warm to sustainable construction,” said Winnipeg-area developer Cam Dobie. “But we know when we build green, it improves our bottom line.” Meanwhile, across the pond, the U.K. Green Building Council called for a single sustainability code for non-domestic buildings that would mirror one already set up for homes. The code would replace a current hodge-podge of regulations. And finally, across …

Subway porn

A slideshow of mass transit’s massive artistic potential

Here’s some snowy-day fun (if you happen to live in one of the places getting socked by storms): Dave Burdick put together a slideshow highlighting the surprising beauty of subway maps old and new — yeah, New York City is in there, but you won’t want to miss the Milky Way!

McDonough agonistes, redux

Dutch call on green guru to open up cradle-to-cradle certification

A while back I noted Fast Company's big expose on green guru William McDonough. Despite the hype and promise around McDonough's intellectual work, it hasn't done much to change the business world, for reasons having to do with what his critics characterize as ineptitude and vanity. Specifically, his cradle-to-cradle certification process has remained jealously guarded, run only through his firm, woefully behind on assessing products and responding to requests. Now author Danielle Sacks has a short follow-up, about a Dutch attorney and several Dutch gov't organizations pleading with McDonough to open up the C2C process, if not completely open source then at least to public-private partnerships. It's odd. The notion of keeping this stuff jealously guarded, proprietary, and for-profit seems so counter to the spirit of McDonough's work. I can't make sense of it.

Taxing times

Sales tax shortfall could affect Seattle's public transit

Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives This whole "economic downturn" thing is tricky business. As I've mentioned, it may be helping boost transit ridership numbers as cash-strapped folks abandon their cars. But those same cash-strapped folks are also buying less stuff (even if they are buying locally). Buying less stuff means less sales tax generated in Washington state. And because Seattle's Metro bus service gets more than half of its revenue from a dedicated sales tax, this is not good news for Seattle's primary mode of public transit. To give it to you in (rather depressing) numerical form, King County administrators have said that Metro's sales tax revenue losses over the two-year 2008-2009 period could total $100 million -- that's 800,000 to 1 million hours of bus service. (And that doesn't count the time you'll spend standing around at bus stops waiting for a ride.)