Eco-celebrity, design, and social justice coalesce in a new Brooklyn green space

Sun, open space, and celebrity — the opening of Brooklyn’s “Garden of Hope” had them all. On an unseasonably warm and sunny afternoon last month, Bette Midler was in high spirits as she celebrated the transformation of a slice of land between two century-old brownstones from a paved walkway with a few trees into a park-like oasis. “I hope anyone who wants to be married will come and be married here,” said Midler with a supernova smile to the neighborhood residents, nonprofit types, local officials, and other invited (and lightly sweating) guests. “I hope that everyone on the block uses …

Converting a Yaris into a plug-in hybrid

Toyota may have something up its sleeve

The first car I ever owned didn't have power anything. Today you will be hard pressed to find a car without power brakes and steering. But those features also consume energy. This explains how the first wave of economy cars from Japan got such notoriously high mileage (they didn't have power anything either). One reason I chose a Yaris for my next car is that it has electric power steering and power brakes. In theory, you should be able to turn the engine off without losing power boost. I asked a mechanic at the dealership before I bought the Yaris if the power steering and brakes would continue to function with the engine turned off. "No, no," he said definitively. "It's just like any other car." Surprise! The mechanic didn't know what he was talking about. I've turned the Yaris engine off several times now while going downhill and the power boost systems continue to function just fine. Don't try this at home. [update] Seriously, don't try this at home. The mechanic was partially right. I've discovered that, given enough time, the brake boost system will eventually depressurize leaving you with insufficient braking at the bottom of a long hill. The Toyota engineers left power boost running just long enough to get you out of a pickle in the event of inadvertent engine shutdown.

San Francisco approves giant solar incentive program

San Francisco has become the proud owner of the largest municipal solar program in the United States. The Solar Energy Incentive Program, approved by the city board of supervisors on Tuesday, will provide rebates to home- and business owners who install solar panels on their buildings. Individuals can receive up to $6,000; businesses can be granted $10,000. Supervisors also approved a one-year pilot program that will provide funding for solar installations at low-income housing and buildings owned by nonprofits. The program should soon be signed by the willing pen of Mayor Gavin Newsom, and could be ready as early as …

Notable quotable

Even green space can’t get us off our lazy you-know-whats

“This study shows you don’t really need green space.” – Dutch researcher Jolanda Maas, commenting on a new study showing that living near green space doesn’t correlate to exercising more

High-speed train to victory?

Swing states need green manufacturing

Suppose you just became the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic party, and suppose you really could use some of those Midwestern swing states in order to win the general election. Suppose, further, that you have mentioned how it would be a good thing to have high-speed rail coming out of Chicago, and that "the fight for American manufacturing is the fight for America's future." And further, suppose that there is a Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission that has plans in place to construct just such a network. Well, whaddaya know, all of those things have actually happened! In fact, according to an excellent study I found called "High-speed Rail Projects in the United States," coming out of the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, there are a whole basket full of such proposals, some further along than others, spread all over the United States -- and many plans are in swing states. Consider the pathetic level of rail funding that the report highlights -- and transit isn't much better:

Richer, greener

Focusing population growth in the right places will make us both

The New York Times looks at the impact of high gas prices in communities across the nation today and concludes that increases are most painful in rural areas. Part of this analysis involves an examination of money spent on gas as a share of total income. The big middle of the country does badly, and Appalachia and the deep South do very badly. We can explain some of the excessive spending on fuel in these places by noting their dependence on trucks and the lack of transit alternatives, but the biggest factor, without question, is simply that those places have …

Commuting can drive you crazy — no, literally

Think your commute drives you crazy? Well, you might be right. In a culture so accustomed to being on-the-go, sitting immobile in traffic for hours each day can take a toll on mental health, researchers say. “If you’re stuck in traffic, there’s a feeling of being out of control,” says psychologist Laura Pinegar, who says she’s hearing more and more complaints of traffic anxiety in her practice. Psychologist Ronald Nathan says it can get even more intense than that: “We can start to over-generalize by saying, ‘My life is worthless. All I am is somebody who gets into a piece …

Public transit ridership is up, but no one’s talking about a better system

But how long will they wait for infrastructure improvements? Photo: Sharat Ganapati One year ago, as America prepared for the traditional summer-driving crush, op-ed pages nationwide fretted over a disturbing trend. Only a decade earlier, oil had plumbed depths near $10 per barrel, and dirt-cheap gas had allowed us to roll over the nation’s blacktop in vehicles of monster-truck proportions. But now something odd was happening: In just nine short years, real oil prices had quadrupled. The steady upward march threatened all that we held dear, like Chevy Tahoes, the open road, and driving alone. How, the nation’s pundits wondered …

For all the world to see

California launches database of green state buildings

Some day I’ll stop being surprised at the eco-dreaminess of California. But for now, I’m still tickled by even relatively minor developments — say, the creation of the country’s first statewide map of government-run green buildings. Sites are color-coded (and searchable) by whether they’ve achieved LEED certification, are pursuing it, or are being “retro-commissioned.” And yeah, OK, it’s basically a Google map and a self-delivered pat on the back, but it represents real progress on the ground.

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