Is your favorite beach polluted?

Photo: Tom Twigg American beaches “continue to suffer from serious water pollution that puts swimmers at risk,” concludes the Natural Resources Defense Council in an annual report. There were 22,571 pollution-related closures or warning advisories on 3,516 beaches in 2007, says the report, second only to the all-time high 25,643 closures or warnings in 2006. NRDC attributed the decline to less rainfall in the West and Hawaii in 2007, which caused less overflow from sewer systems and storm drains. But stormwater runoff still caused nearly half of the closures and warnings, and pollution at 7 percent of the beaches exceeded …

Google Maps adds walking directions

Taking another step toward complete indispensability, Google Maps on Tuesday became the first service of its kind to add walking directions. In addition to searches for car and transit travel, pedestrians — and, hell, Segway-ers too — can now find the most direct and flat route from Point A to Point B. The function works for trips up to 6.2 miles long, and recognizes that one-way streets only apply to the car-encased (suckas!). Searchers are advised to “use caution when walking in unfamiliar areas” as the directions, still in beta form, potentially lack information about pedestrian bridges, roads without sidewalks, …

Street arts

Artists and environmentalists team up to create vibrant cityscapes

The Olympic Sculpture Park. Photo: Jeff Wilcox. “Cities are what’s going to get us out of this mess … and what makes cities livable is art.” That was the take-home message, summarized by Cascade Land Conservancy President Gene Duvernoy, following a discussion Thursday on art and the environment at the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park. Built on nine acres of restored urban green space, the Olympic Sculpture Park was a fitting backdrop for a dialogue on shared interests between the arts community and environmentalists. Panelists including moderator and political journalist Michael Kinsley, Pacific Northwest Ballet Artistic Director Peter Boal, …

First statewide green-building standards adopted by California, natch

Photo: Patrick Dirden California has adopted the nation’s first statewide green-building standards in what is, according to ever-punny Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, “literally a groundbreaking move.” The new California Green Buildings Standards Code requires builders to reduce energy use by 15 percent beyond current standards, target a 50 percent reduction in water used for landscaping, and use more recycled materials. The code also identifies site improvements including bicycle storage and designated parking spots for low-emissions vehicles. The standards will become mandatory in 2010, assuming we’re not all living in flying space pods by then.

Major U.S. cities ranked by relative walkability

Software company Front Seat has released a ranking of the most walkable U.S. cities, rating the relative distance to and density of businesses like grocery stores, bars, book stores, and coffee shops to calculate an overall walkability score. San Francisco took top honors, followed by New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia; the lowest scoring cities were Jacksonville, Fla.; Nashville; Charlotte, N.C.; Indianapolis; and Oklahoma City. The rankings also singled out the nation’s most walkable neighborhoods, with Tribeca, Little Italy, and Soho in NYC placing first. “It’s both healthy for the Earth and for humans to be able to walk …

Dean Quixote

Nashville mayor stumps for public transit

Here’s Mayor Karl Dean of Nashville, Tenn., on MayorTV talking in almost jarringly common sense terms about the challenges facing cities and the solutions — public transit, diversity, economic development — that can overcome them: Good stuff.

Ferrocementally speaking, green building just got easier

RoofKrete makes thin flexible ferrocement that is also vapor barrier

I recently stumbled across a green builders' discussion of a product called RoofKrete, which claims to be a form of semi-flexible ferrocement that can be sturdy and self-supporting in shells as thin as a quarter inch. An additive to the cement makes it a vapor barrier as well, rated to last over 100 years and expected to last much longer than that. The obvious use for RoofKrete, and the major market at which it is currently aimed, is repairing failed flat roofs and constructing long-lasting, low maintenance new ones. But the reason it caught my eye was the potential for green buildings.

Driven to extinction

How transportation wonks can make your city rank

Here's an interesting ranking. For each major U.S. city, the list-happy editors at Men's Health calculated the negative effects of driving. They aggregated scores on transit ridership, air pollution, fuel consumption, and driving miles. (Presumably, the data are for metropolitan areas, not city limits.) Northwest cities do exceptionally well: Seattle ranks number one, Portland ranks third, and Spokane is eighth. Men's Health doesn't appear to include a methodology on the web, but I'll take a stab at the explanation. First, a minor point. Seattle and Portland benefit from a felicitous geographic situation: prevailing westerly winds tend to keep our air some of the cleanest in the country, so we do relatively well on air pollution scores. Second and more importantly, the list illustrates that urban areas control their own destinies. Smart policy matters, even if it's relatively small-caliber.

A whole new kind of local

Urban homesteading in Washington, D.C.

Today's slow yet steady movement towards sustainable foods has a decidedly urban feel to it. This morning, sitting at my backyard patio table and drinking my morning coffee, I looked appreciatively out into my backyard and took a satisfying breath. The highway behind my house roared with the morning rush hour traffic, the high rise apartments across the street were bustling with people hurrying off to school and work, and I was sitting in my own piece of urban heaven. In the past three months, my small yet robust rhombus-shaped backyard has turned into a garden oasis rarely found in even the fertile soils of rural areas. Three raised beds and several fence-side beds later, I was staring at the most satisfying seeds I had ever sowed -- and all of this in the middle of Washington, D.C.

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