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Stockholm-ward Bound

Stockholm is second Euro capital to charge for driving into the city All the cool cities are doing it! (Wait, is Stockholm cool?) This week, Sweden's capital began a trial run of a new system that will charge for the privilege of driving into the city, and officials have declared it a success so far. On the first day of the new fees -- which can run up to $7.50 a day -- the number of cars traveling into central Stockholm fell by a quarter, and commuters reported bigger crowds on public transit. The government hopes the congestion-charge system will …

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Umbra on co-housing

Dear Umbra, How does one begin to gather a group of people to live in a modern city commune? My dream is to own in common an energy-efficient and sustainable house or apartment building inhabited by 10 or so people who are neighbors but also share the duties of the house (cooking, laundry, gardening), much like an extended family. I think this setup would be far superior to the current situation, where my spouse and I live in a large apartment building completely isolated from our neighbors, and I suspect there are other people living in relative isolation who have …

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Two new books on nature reveal three writers’ ways of seeing

"It was on Cape Cod during fall a few years back, after the century fell but before the towers did, that I began paying a series of visits to the writer John Hay." With this opening line in The Prophet of Dry Hill, David Gessner sets the tone for a quest that is both personal and transcendent. Like "Call me Ishmael," this sentence also lets us know that we are in the hands of a writer with a strong grip on the helm. It's safe to lean back and relax into the journey. Someone to look up to. Photo: iStockphoto. …

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Enviros need to get social, says activist-turned-sociologist Marshall Ganz

Most of us can probably name a grandfather or great-aunt who was active in a chapter of a national association. My own uncle was a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Yet how many of us can say the same about ourselves? Marshall Ganz. Photo: Harvard University/Justin Ide. As voluntary associations fade from our cultural landscape, political participation is threatened, especially on the left, says sociologist Marshall Ganz. And, he says, that trend is undermining the environmental movement, which has long depended on engaged members to carry its banner. That's why Sierra Club leaders recently turned to …

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Small Wonder

Sales of some big SUVs drop by half It's an early Christmahanukwanzakah present for the planet, and a chunk of coal in the stocking of Detroit's Big Three automakers: The American love affair with huge SUVs seems finally to be on the wane. Really this time! Sales of once-hot vehicles like the Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Suburban are about half what they were a year ago. Auto-industry watchers blame plummeting SUV demand for much of Detroit's financial woes, saying consumers have woken up to the volatility of fuel costs. Auto execs, on the other hand, blame ... anyone but themselves, …

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Character Building

Sierra Club celebrates eco-friendly building projects in new report The Sierra Club has often gone to court to stop bad development schemes, but now the venerable green group is trying the carrot instead of the stick. The group has released its first "Guide to America's Best New Development Projects," which gives kudos to builders putting up environmentally sound mixed-use projects around the country. Most of the developments singled out for praise, like the Pearl District in Portland, Ore., have been built on the sites of old or abandoned stores, factories, or other properties instead of undeveloped land. The Sierra Club …

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I Wish They All Could Be California Copycats

New York, Massachusetts to adopt tougher auto-emissions standards The New York State Environmental Board voted unanimously this month to adopt California's toughest-in-the-nation rules for cutting automotive greenhouse-gassiness. The new rules, which will be phased in with 2009 model-year cars, aim to cut carbon dioxide emissions about 30 percent by 2016 -- effectively improving auto fuel economy by roughly 40 percent. Massachusetts is set to adopt the same standards by the end of the year. The stricter standards are expected to eventually sweep the Northeast and the entire West Coast, which together comprise about a third of auto sales in the …

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Beep Beep, Beep Beep, Yeah!

Car mileage testing will catch up with reality, EPA declares After years of criticism from greens and independent testing groups, the U.S. EPA announced on Friday that its rules for testing automobile fuel economy will finally be updated and revised. New standards should be in place for testing 2008 model year cars. It's a move long opposed by the automobile industry, since the revisions could decrease mile-per-gallon estimates for new vehicles by as much as 10 percent. EPA chief Stephen Johnson says the new standards will reflect the realities of driving conditions and auto technology in 2005 -- rather than, …

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A Bottle of Red, a Gas Tank of White

France's wine glut turned into biofuel It was the best of times for French drivers; it was the worst of times for French oenophiles. Beset by fierce international competition and flattened domestic sales, France's vintners this year will distill about 133 million bottles' worth of surplus wine into ethanol, which will be added to gasoline -- part of an overall European effort to increase use of biofuels. "If my grandfather could taste what I'm turning into alcohol, he'd turn over in his grave," said winemaker Olivier Gibelin. But faced with a massive oversupply that could only be sold at rock-bottom …

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The End of the End of the Affair

SUV sales regaining strength in the U.S. Showing characteristic signs of short-term memory loss, the American public is apparently renewing its love affair with the SUV. When gas prices spiked to over $3 a gallon following Hurricane Katrina, demand for hybrids was in the headlines and chatter about fuel-efficiency standards was all the rage. Now gas prices in the U.S. have fallen to an average of $2.38 a gallon, and Americans on a cheap-gas buzz are making booty calls to SUVs. Prices for used SUVs have started to rise in recent weeks, after plummeting for most of the year. And …

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