Green goes the Lower Ninth

The Nation reports on sustainable revitalization of the New Orleans neighborhood

This article by Rebecca Solnit is reprinted from the Sept. 10, 2007 issue of The Nation, released today, which focuses on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, two years later. Solnit is the author of a dozen books, including, most recently, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics. ----- The word "will" comes up constantly in the Lower Ninth Ward now; "We Will Rebuild" is spray-painted onto empty houses; "it will happen," one organizer told me. Will itself may achieve the ambitious objective of bringing this destroyed neighborhood back to life, and for many New Orleanians a ferocious determination seems the only alternative to being overwhelmed and becalmed. But the fate of the neighborhood is still up in the air, from the question of whether enough people can and will make it back to the nagging questions of how viable a city and an ecology they will be part of. The majority of houses in this isolated neighborhood are still empty, though about a tenth of the residents are back, some already living in rehabilitated houses, some camped in stark white FEMA trailers outside, some living elsewhere while getting their houses ready. If you measured the Lower Ninth Ward by will, solidarity and dedication, from both residents and far-flung volunteers and nonprofits, it would be among the best neighborhoods in the United States. If you measured it by infrastructure and probabilities, it looks pretty grim. There are more devastated neighborhoods in New Orleans and neighboring St. Bernard Parish, let alone Mississippi and the Delta, but the Lower Ninth got hit hard by Katrina. Its uncertain fate has come to be an indicator for the future of New Orleans and the fate of its African-American majority.

China and the long-distance runner

Will bikes or cars win?

China has an environmental problem. No, I'm not talking about weathering huge dust storms, opening one coal power plant a week, surpassing the U.S. as the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, or flooding ecosystems with huge dam projects. I'm talking about something serious: If pollution does not get better in Beijing in time for the 2008 Olympics, the long-distance track events may be canceled. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, "China's new middle class in love with cars -- big cars": The auto boom has dire implications for next summer's Olympic Games in Beijing because it contributes to the noxious cap of smog that makes it the world's most polluted capital city. Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president, suggested at a ceremony in Beijing on Aug. 8 that events such as long-distance races might have to be postponed if the smog remains too heavy a year from now. "My concerns, which I believe are the concerns of everyone, are the climate and the environment, and especially the air environment," he said. This weekend, in a test of the drastic anti-pollution measures expected for the eve of the Games next year, Beijing authorities are banning half of all vehicles from city streets, alternating days between odd-numbered and even-numbered license plates. Also, Chinese car ownership is projected to increase dramatically: The biggest car-buying boom in world history is under way in China as vast numbers of people join the middle class, abandon their bicycles for autos and sport utility vehicles -- and, in the process, add to China's already fast-growing emissions of greenhouse gases ... total car ownership is expected to surpass the U.S. level by 2025.

How bad is peak oil, really?

Would the biosphere care?

Recently we've had a couple of discussions here at Gristmill concerning various aspects of peak oil; that is, the assertion that very soon (if it hasn't happened already) the global supply of oil will peak, and even though demand is going up, supply will start to come down, so prices will skyrocket. It seems to me that some of the contention in these discussions boils down to the question: would it really be so bad if the oil started running out? After all, we would stop mucking up the planet with the pollution, carbon emissions, and infrastructural damage we have been inflicting for these hundred-years-plus of the petroleum age. Wouldn't it force humanity to live within our means if gasoline was $10 or even $20 dollars per gallon, as it will eventually be? As it so happens, I've recently been investigating the question of what kind of civilization we would need to have if we wanted to live without fossil fuels, and I wanted to know how we are currently using oil in order to understand how to live without it. Using government data detailing the use of oil, in dollars, the conclusion I came to was this: over 90 percent of petroleum in the U.S. is burned by internal combustion engines. So the question needs to be reframed: would it really matter if we couldn't use internal combustion engines? The answer, in the long run, is that it would be much better if we didn't use internal combustion engines. But that leads to another question: How do we get from here to there, and how will that transition affect the planet?

Speedy urban living is healthier

And New York City is the healthiest of all

As rural and suburban areas have grown, they have become more car dependent. Meanwhile, cities have reduced air pollution. As a consequence, the old urban health disadvantage has disappeared. City dwellers have higher life expectancies and better health on average [PDF] than people in suburbs or the country. And according to New York Magazine, New York City, probably the most urban of U.S. cities, has the greatest health advantage. The difference seems to boil down to walking. People in urban areas walk more than people in rural or suburban areas (on average). Why do New Yorkers do better than, say, people in Portland or Seattle, which are also pretty walkable cities? Apparently people in New York walk faster. The people who promoted the whole power walking thing got it right. Walking quickly is healthier than walking slowly. On Edit: one other relevant difference between rural/suburban and urban: city dwellers, by driving fewer miles, are less likely to be invovled in auto accidents.

Umbra on community-supported agriculture

Umbra, Please illuminate CSAs for us, how they work, and how your readers can join one. Thanks! (And by the way, that photo of a peach in your recent column is an apricot.) Bobbe Santa …

The traffic is jammin'

Fear of traffic snarls led to easier commutes in Seattle

We tend to think of traffic as an immutable -- that there's literally nothing we can do in our day-to-day lives to drive less. But Seattle's continued and mostly unexpected free-flowing traffic -- in the midst of a major construction project that some feared would trigger a morass of congestion throughout Puget Sound -- shows that this is simply false. Far from being rigid and incompressible, traffic and travel patterns are surprisingly fluid. Seattle's experience demonstrates that, when drivers are given good travel choices and the right kinds of information and incentives, they can get out of their cars. And in Seattle's case, when lots of people got out of their cars, it made getting to work a relative breeze.

So That’s What Those Trains Are For

Beijing enacts four-day ban on vehicles, pushes public transportation Today marks the start of an experimental four-day vehicle ban in Beijing, China. While the motivation for the scheme is finding ways to clear the air …

Policies to reduce and increase driving at the same time

Subsidizing drivers needs to end

This article in the NYT highlights the absurdity of current transportation policy. While New York City is trying to get federal funding to help it pay for a congestion pricing and traffic congestion policy, the federal government is, at the same time, handing out large tax breaks to help people reduce the costs of driving to work. It's yet another example of government policy gone awry, badly. The solution isn't sexy, won't get you on TV, and doesn't make for great headlines that will earn prestige: eliminate all government subsidies, and either cap pollution or tax it. It's not rocket science.

Ask a Brokeass: Won't you be my neighbor?

More high-tech solutions for low-tech ideas

I first mentioned “neighborrow” a few weeks ago, in a column on the virtues of sharing. This week, we’ve got an interview with neighborrow founder Adam Berk, who gives us some background on how and …

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