Vertical farms and future cities

Sustainability a big theme at the World Science Festival

What do vertical farms, green roofs, soft cars, breathing walls, and Dongtan, China, have in common? They were all subjects of discussion at Friday's Future Cities event in New York City, part of the four-day 2008 World Science Festival. To a packed house, Columbia University microbiologist Dickson Despommier described his vision for feeding the planet's burgeoning, and increasingly urban, population. The vertical farm takes agriculture and stacks it into the tiers of a modern skyscraper. Instead of stopping at the corner pizzeria for dinner, Despommier suggested, you could pluck a nice head of lettuce, maybe some corn, and some tomatoes for a big salad, all in your own building, on the way to your apartment. You can't get fresher or more local than that. According to Despommier, the farms will be "grown organically: no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers." (Of course, being indoor, there won't be many insects to spray for.) The farms will also require much less irrigation since all water can be re-circulated, and they'll curb the growing pressure to turn forest into farmland. The vertical farm sounds (and looks) pretty amazing, and certainly Despommier deserves much credit for thinking boldly ... but I was left with several questions.

More employees encouraged to telecommute, work short weeks

Employers across the country are offering workers the option to telecommute or work a four-day week to help cut down on fuel costs. Compressed work weeks are particularly attractive to employees who work in places without reliable mass transit — especially since a 10-hour day can mean coming in early and leaving late enough to avoid rush hour traffic. As an added bonus, offices find that fewer employees on site means lessened energy costs. And allowing workers to cut down on commuting can also increase morale. “As the price of gas rises, the level of grumbling rises,” says a spokesperson …

Muddy footprints

What a ranking of cities can tell us — and what it can’t

There's a big carbon footprint report out yesterday from Brookings. It ranks cities [PDF] according to their per capita carbon emissions. Sort of, anyway. Before I pick on it a little, I guess I should mention that Pacific Northwest cities do exceptionally well. Out of the 100 cities in the analysis, Portland ranks 3rd, Boise is 5th, and Seattle 6th. There's very little difference between them. That's wonderful and all, but the analysis only covers about 50 percent of emissions. It excludes, for instance, commercial and industrial energy, maritime and aviation emissions, and some other significant pieces of the pie.

City residents emit less CO2, study says

Residents of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States emit less carbon dioxide pollution per capita than the U.S. average, according to a new study. The Brookings Institution analyzed data on household and transportation energy use and found that the average U.S. resident was responsible for about 2.87 tons of carbon pollution a year, but that residents of the U.S.’s 100 largest metro areas had footprints of just 2.47 tons a year on average. Among the 100 largest cities, Honolulu residents were responsible for the least per capita emissions: about 1.5 tons per person per year. Lexington, Ky., …

Notable quotable

Yes we can! (ride bikes)

“It’s time that the entire country learn from what’s happening right here in Portland with mass transit and bicycle lanes and funding alternative means of transportation. That’s the kind of solution that we need for America.” – Barack Obama, speaking to a rally in Portland, Ore., where an estimated 8,000 out of 75,000 attendees arrived on bikes (via Streetsblog)

Surely there must be some mistake

Branch of U.S. federal government accidentally passes bill that would provide $1.7 billion in grant funding for public transit.

He doesn’t say so explicitly …

… but this Paul Krugman column is about placemaking. On that note, don’t miss our Smart(ish) Cities series.

Greens celebrate two holidays today

If you saw a tiger riding a two-wheeler to the office this morning, that’s because it’s Endangered Species Bike to Work Day. Wait, wait, we’re getting a memo — oh, actually, it’s both Endangered Species Day and Bike to Work Day. (Then what the hell was that tiger doing?) In honor of Bike to Work Day, bicyclists in many cities picked up free swag along their commute routes this morning. In honor of Endangered Species Day, nearly one-third of the world’s species went extinct between 1970 and 2007. That’s 25 percent of land-based wildlife, 28 percent of salt-water animals, and …

Smart-growth advocates offer tips for changing your neck of the woods

This week we’ve profiled several cities that are changing the way their residents live, work, and get around — all with an eye toward fighting climate change and building a more sustainable future. So what can you do if your community hasn’t seen the light? We asked our sources for advice, and here’s what they had to say. Kimber Lanning. “Buy local whenever possible. Whether you’re hiring someone to work on your air conditioner, buying dog food, or buying produce, buy it from your neighbor whenever you can. If you think it’s more expensive, think about a city with nothing …

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