Cities

Utility will pay for solar on Habitat for Humanity houses in California

Recognizing that solar electricity is a good investment in the long run but a bit spendy up front, utility Pacific Gas and Electric has agreed to pay for solar power on some 65 houses built by Habitat for Humanity in northern and central California next year. PG&E will donate about $1.2 million for panels and installation; low-income residents will see radically reduced electric bills. “For us it’s not so much an environmental thing — it’s a cost issue,” says Mark Crozet of Habitat. “It’s a piece of their income that these families don’t have to spend on electricity. It’s a …

Seeking reader opinions

Should USGBC certify a 15,000-sq.-ft. home as green?

A "speculative 15,000 square foot mansion in Manalapan, Fla., will be the first home of its size to be certified green by the U.S. Green Building Council and the Florida Green Building Council." Is that a good idea for USGBC? That's my question to you. Obviously people are going to build big homes -- and it is better if they have green features. But should USGBC single out such "eco-mansions" for positive recognition? On the big side, the mansion has: ... eight bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, two elevators, two laundry rooms, two wine cellars (one for red, one white), a movie theater and guesthouse. On the green side, the mansion has a: ... state-of-the-art air purification system and eco-friendly light fixtures that will reduce energy consumption by 90 percent. Making this mansion green, probably tacked on additional costs of between 7 and 10 percent ... For instance, instead of using a rare Brazilian cherry for the home's hardwood floors, he's using reclaimed teak -- thus sparing 7.5 acres of Brazilian rain forest ... The house will also have a massive solar panel system (price tag: $120,000), a water system that uses "gray water" from the showers and sinks to irrigate the lawn and gardens, as well as a series of pools, reflecting ponds and water gardens to cool down the 1.5 acre property by 2 to 3 degrees.

Give me a sign

Bike routes need names

I recently bicycled from Seattle to Bellevue, Washington, across Lake Washington on the I-90 floating bridge. This trip is not complicated. Once you're on the wide, well-shielded bike lane, you'd think that getting to Bellevue would be assured. You'd be wrong. First, you have to get across Mercer Island. On the island, the bike route leaves the freeway and vanishes into a labyrinth of branching paths. They're beautiful bikeways, no doubt: wide, separated from traffic, well-graded, gracefully curved for smooth cornering -- a pleasure to ride. But they're almost entirely unmarked. Where there are signs at all, they only say "Bike Route." (All of them are bike routes. Duh!) Imagine traveling in a city without street signs -- or with ones that only say "Car Route." Next time you see a sign like the one above that says "Bike Route," remember, it's a symptom of Car-head. (Photo by orangejack via Flickr.)

Because I know Grist readers love them

Green mansions!

Is eating local the best choice?

Strengthening community is an important benefit of eating locally

The following is a guest essay originally posted at AlterNet by David Morris, vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Some 30 years ago NASA came up with another big idea: assemble vast solar electric arrays in space and beam the energy to earth. The environmental community did not dismiss NASA's vision out of hand. After all, the sun shines 24 hours a day in space. A solar cell on earth harnesses only about four hours equivalent of full sunshine a day. If renewable electricity could be generated more cheaply in space than on earth, what's the problem? A number of us argued that the problem was inherent in the scale of the power plant. Whereas rooftop solar turns us into producers, builds our self-confidence, and strengthens our sense of community as we trade electricity back and forth with our neighbors, space-based solar arrays aggravate our dependence. By dramatically increasing the distance between us and a product essential to our survival, we become more insecure. The scale of the technology requires a global corporation, increasing the distance between those who make the decisions and those who feel the impact of those decisions. Which, in turn, demands a global oversight body, itself remote and nontransparent to electric consumers.

Something good grows around Ground Zero

Rebuilding the NYC financial district has resulted in a walkable residential community

On this anniversary of that horrible morning six years ago, perhaps we are starting to see some good rising from the ashes. The southern part of the island of Manhattan, which used to turn into a ghost town after work, is starting to take on some of the characteristics of many of the other neighborhoods in New York City -- what University of Michigan architecture and urban design professor Christopher B. Leinberger calls "walkable urbanism": From an urban planning point of view it means a place where, within a quarter- to half-mile radius, you can get pretty much everything you need and maybe even walk to work. According to the New York Times, the financial district is becoming home to a considerable residential population -- albeit tilted toward the wealthy -- but this permanent population enriches many other aspects of the area: Optimism abounds now among developers and merchants, who are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into real estate along the narrow streets of Lower Manhattan. They are counting on the district, in its next incarnation, to be not just a collection of office towers and trading floors, but also a self-sustaining residential neighborhood that will appeal to families. Back before the World Trade Center was built starting in the late 1960s, the area where it stood was known as an electronics district -- my dad used to go there in the 1930s to find parts for radios. The first retail television set was sold there.

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