Cities

Look, Ma, no brakes

Cures for congestion can come cheap

When I was a little kid, I remember being stuck in gridlock on I-5. (Seattle had congested freeways even back in the 1970s, shocking as that sounds.) And I remember being perplexed that all the cars would slow down in heavy traffic. Instead of spacing out so far, I wondered, why couldn't they all just maintain 55 miles per hour and drive inches apart. As long as everyone agreed to drive the same speed and not hit the brakes, heavy traffic wouldn't require us to slow down. Right? My parents didn't get it. Typical parents.

Monstrosity or innovation?

World’s largest building approved in Moscow

Catching up on some late-December news (how dare the world keep spinning during vacation?): The city of Moscow approved plans for Crystal Island, a 27-million-square-foot complex designed by the fellow behind London’s notorious Gherkin. Set to include 3,000 hotel rooms, 900 apartments, an international school for 500 students, theaters, offices, and stores, the gargantuan development is, said architect Norman Foster in a company press release, “a paradigm of compact, mixed-use, sustainable city planning, with an innovative energy strategy and ‘smart’ skin which buffers against climate extremes.”

Milan, Italy, institutes congestion charge

In Milan, congestion pricing is the new black. (Oh, like you have a better fashion pun?) Under Milan’s new plan, which kicks off as a one-year trial, vehicles driving into the urban center on weekdays between 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. must pay up to $14 per day; low-polluting cars are exempt from the charge. Milan has the third-highest number of cars per capita in Europe, and some 89,000 cars enter the city center every day. The money raised will be put toward public transportation and bicycle paths, and Mayor Letizia Moratti hopes pollution will be reduced by 30 percent …

Green building is the new black

Rising hopes for 2008

Remember how, way back in 2007, green was the new black? Watch for a new new black in 2008: green building. The press is gushing with green-building news: According to a report from the American Institute of Architects, the number of cities with green-building programs has increased 418 percent since 2003, and AIA — which has issued a list of 50 strategies for reducing buildings’ fossil-fuel consumption 50 percent by 2010 — says more cities are on track to start programs this year. The American Society of Landscape Architects says clients both residential and commercial are keening for green, SelfBuild …

Scooter planet

As personal transportation becomes cheaper, the poor benefit and the climate suffers

In an interesting bit of synchronicity, the Times ran two nearly identical articles on the rocketing popularity of motor scooters in the developing world, one focusing on Iraq, the other on Laos. Although neither article mentions global warming, the pieces do neatly wind together some of the threads that will continue to pressure our climate system well into this century. The first thread is the rise of China as the world's factory floor. In this case, cheap Chinese bikes are flooding foreign markets. Available for as little as $440, these scooters are within reach of the very poor.

The greening of Greensburg

How one small town in Kansas is turning disaster into progress

There wasn't much to be happy about on today's media spectrum. So I thought I'd share one heartwarming story about one Kansas town's efforts to pick up the pieces after a devastating tornado: Townhomes are beginning to rise from the ragged tree trunks, weeds and ruins off Main Street. They mark a radical departure from traditional low-income housing, according to Duncan Trahl, who is from Pennsylvania and on contract with the National Renewable Energy Labs.The townhomes are "LEED gold certified," Trahl said. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The rating is based on a system which rewards energy savings. Trahl said gold certification means these places will be almost twice as efficient as they used to be.Building to this standard for working-class families is unusual, Trahl said."A lot of what's happening in Greensburg is some of the first in the country," Trahl said. Leveraging environmentalism to rebuild a community. It's an idea that's helping revive New Orleans and now a small town in the Midwest. To be sure, the disaster that struck Pakistan yesterday morning is one of a very different nature, but I wish them speed and strength in recovery. I also look forward to the day when "stability" in the Middle East is the norm so that things like "sustainability" can be the new goal. At moments like this, that time seems painfully far away.

Humans have intruded on large-mammal habitat, says study

Humans have driven out large mammals in, um, droves, says a new study in the Journal of Mammalogy. Since the year 1500, at least 35 percent of mammals weighing over 44 pounds have seen their range cut by more than half, thanks to humans moving on in. Well gee, maybe if the animals had brought over a welcome basket we would have been more neighborly.

Portland, Ore., green-building plan will be delayed

Portland, Ore., proposed an ambitious green-building plan last month that was to go before voters in January. But the building and real-estate industries were taken aback by the announcement and have expressed concerns; City Commissioner Dan Saltzman now hopes to have a draft before the city council in three to six months.

The depth of the Mississippi River’s influence, in numbers

Fifty-eight semi-truck trailer loads traveling over 9 feet of water. Photo: Sarah van Schagen   10 — states that border the Mississippi River 31 — states drained by the Mississippi River watershed 1 2 — Canadian provinces drained by the Mississippi River watershed 1 50 — cities that rely on the river for their water supply 1 40 — percentage of U.S. that’s part of the Mississippi River basin 1 2,300 — length of the river, in miles 1 326 — species of birds that migrate along the Mississippi corridor 1 260 — species of fish that call the Mississippi …

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