Good Griddance

Ask Umbra on living off the grid

Q. Hi Umbra, You’ve made several mentions of living off the grid in previous columns, and I was wondering where someone should find such things? It seems as though there are secret communities and communes that everyone seems to know about but me. How would you find an off the grid community, or go about living off the grid yourself? AnicaCorvallis, Ore. A. Dearest Anica, No one is hiding anything from you, don’t worry. You just haven’t met any off-the-grid folks. By the way, if you do find anything that could qualify as a secret community, off the grid or …

Green Light: Charge it

Nissan to bring EV network to Seattle

Like many other urban places, Seattle will welcome an electric vehicle network to the Emerald City. In a nonexclusive partnership with Nissan North America, the city of Seattle will promote the development of electric-charging infrastructure. “The city is committed to creating an environment that is kind to EVs,” said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels (D). However, the agreement between the manufacturer and the municipality does not go so far as to commit to any specifics. Instead, Nissan will take the lead in establishing local working groups to evaluate sites for possible charging stations. The city will in turn “consider” adopting those …

Not Faring Well

The United States of Transit Cutbacks

This is eye-opening, by which I mean brutally depressing: Transportation for America has a map of transportation systems considering fare hikes, service cuts, or layoffs — and sometimes all three. The map went up in late January; they’re still compiling the news and updating the map as best they can, inviting the public to write in with stories and photos.

Radiant Cities: Project Robinhood

New York City’s plan to make luxury affordable

It took a long time for the real estate bubble to burst in New York City — longer, it seemed, than just about everywhere else; we were still selling $45 million penthouses at the Plaza when subdivisions were going bust out in Sprawlville. Which meant that the bubble had time to stretch farther and wider than any other; prices shot up as much as 57 percent in a single year in some neighborhoods, like trendy TriBeCa. A condo grows in Brooklyn.Seth W via flickrBut burst it finally did, after more than 100,000 new units, most of them in the luxury …

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 …

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