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Reality Bites

U.S. automakers acknowledging that gas prices are likely to stay high Expect gasoline prices to stay between $3 and $4 a gallon for the rest of the decade, says ... no, not some fearmongering environmentalist or peak-oil nut, but Chrysler CEO Thomas LaSorda. In fact, all of Detroit's Big Three automakers have resigned themselves to current gas prices and are revamping their business models accordingly. "We are looking at it as if it's going to be much higher, rather than hoping it comes down," LaSorda said this week. Ford's chief sales analyst agreed, but declined to cite a price range, …

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A new exhibit lets New Orleans residents tell their own stories

In the beginning of July, I arrived in New Orleans for an internship at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. I met with Anne Rolfes, the coordinator and one of the founders of the nonprofit health and environmental-justice organization, and we discussed the work I would be doing. I was to organize a photo exhibit displaying images of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, taken by the residents of St. Bernard Parish. For three weeks I worked with members of the community to create a collection of more than 300 photographs taken by 18 parish residents and four visiting photographers. The result was …

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Can a mom in middle America survive a month without a car?

Not 20 minutes after the Amtrak clerk said our train would be at least an hour late -- "probably much more" -- I almost caved. "We could rent a car and drive home," I thought, and maybe even muttered. "Nobody has to know." I had just hit my breaking point. Carolyn rides the bus. Photos: Christine Gardner My husband, Steve, and I were pushing our two daughters along a searing sidewalk built precariously close to a major road, beer-bottle shards crunching underfoot. We were in Illinois' state capital of Springfield, just 70 miles from our Normal home, and I was …

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Sticker Shock Absorber

Some hybrids can pay back their price premium over time High price of hybrids got you down? According to the gurus at Edmunds.com, the cash some hybrid owners save on gas can make up for the sticker price. Hybrid cars and trucks cost between $1,200 and $7,000 more than their gas-chugging counterparts, but as analyst Alex Rosten says, "High gas prices and generous tax credits now offset the high sales prices of some hybrids, assuming owners keep their hybrids for a few years." We feel better already! According to Edmunds, owners of Toyota Prius and Ford Escape hybrids driving 15,000 …

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Umbra on electric cars

Dearest Umbra, Why are electric cars considered so great? They don't pollute the air where they are driven. But certainly when they are plugged in they use energy from a power plant, which does pollute and also contributes to global warming. Doesn't this just move the pollution from one area to another? Then you have to consider that there are power losses when electric energy travels over transmission lines. Are electric cars more efficient -- using less energy per mile? What gives here? Patricia Rice Lafayette, Colo. Dearest Patricia, Many people think electric cars are the bee's knees. They do …

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Umbra on washing your car

Dear Umbra, What can I do about washing my car in a more eco-friendly way? Is phosphate-free soap enough, or should I just suck it up and go to the drive-through car wash every time? Katie North Carolina Dearest Katie, You are one of those fastidious people I see busily washing their cars on Saturdays. I always wonder why some people are driven to go to such lengths, while others consider washing their cars somewhere below replacing their toothbrush on life's long list of things to conveniently forget about. One of the little mysteries. Fun for the kids, bad for …

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Are people smart enough to abandon the ‘burbs?

A fairly speculative piece on MSN yesterday asks the question, "Could rising gas prices kill the suburbs?" Its talk of infill and vertical cities may be the stuff of urban planners' dreams, but how will it resonate with real people? Someone I know read the piece and took away this message: Housing prices in the suburbs are about to drop because everyone's going to leave! Sweet! And if last night's House Hunters -- in which a couple with a baby upgraded from a 2,800-foot house in the 'burbs to an even bigger one because there "wasn't enough room" -- is …

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Umbra on dropping out of society

Dear Umbra, Although I have always been one to conserve, recycle, etc., it is only in the last year that I have realized the extent of the catastrophe coming upon us in terms of climate change. I am 40-something, live in a city, own an older home with a sizeable mortgage that requires my husband and me to work, two kids, two cars, etc. I've done all the usual stuff: changed the light bulbs, we've each started biking to work when we don't have to pick up our kids, and I've gotten politically active, writing emails and organizing my first …

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Engineers Gone Wild

Automakers combine forces to develop new hybrid transmission Tired of getting their rear ends handed to them by the Prius, GM, BMW, and DaimlerChrysler plan to invest over $1 billion in R&D toward a new hybrid transmission that, boosters say, will leave Toyota's market-leading hybrid in the dust. "Dual-mode" hybrid technology includes an onboard fuel-optimization computer that will calculate whether the vehicle should be using its electric motor or its gasoline combustion engine, and determine how the onboard battery will be recharged. The system can be adjusted to emphasize either improved value or high performance. GM plans to introduce the …

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Umbra on carpooling to a reunion

Dear Umbra, You have told us, in no uncertain terms, that traveling by train is better ecologically than traveling by car. Several members of my family plan to carpool to an upcoming family reunion 600 miles away. I have considered trying to talk them into taking the train instead, but face the following problem: It would cost about $130 each, round-trip, and involve inconvenient hours guaranteed to annoy the elder generation. The car will cost about $40 each, round-trip. I myself, having a very tight budget, am considerably swayed by this, and have no doubt they will be also. Consequently, …

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