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Rubber Ducky, You’re the $100

Thanks to "Sesame Street," everybody over the age of two knows that rubber duckies make bath time lots of fun -- but who knew the little yellow guys could make oceanography a bit more fun, too? Eleven years ago, a shipping container carrying 29,000 rubber bath toys (frogs, turtles, and beavers, as well as the familiar duckies) fell overboard in a storm in the North Pacific. Now, the company that made the toys, The First Years, is offering a $100 reward to anyone who finds one. The goal of the reward program is to help scientists better understand how foreign …

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The Fat of the Land

Sprawl has been accused of many evils, but here's a new one: It may make you fat. While suburban residents drive to get most places they go, many city dwellers walk or ride bikes, and that physical exercise seems to keep urbanites slimmer. "[I]f you choose to live in a sprawling environment, you are more likely to be overweight," says Lawrence D. Frank, a professor of urban planning at the University of British Columbia and author of a new study on the links between sprawl and obesity. His research seems to make a case for more dense, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development. …

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Not By the Air of Our Chinny-chin-chin

Meanwhile, things aren't looking so hot for air-pollution regulation on the federal level, either. Republicans in the Senate are drawing up a transportation bill that enviros say could water down the efficacy of the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Provisions in a draft legislation would allow states to postpone or avoid complying with air-pollution laws when planning new transportation projects. The bill could also weaken the role of environmental authorities in determining the likely impact of federally funded projects on communities, waterways, wildlife habitat, and other natural resources, and would allow states far greater leeway in …

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Country House, City House

Once upon a time, the Russian dacha, or country house, was the domain of the wealthy few, those who could afford to escape the grime and grit of Moscow and St. Petersburg for wooded lawns and rural vistas. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia's mushrooming business class has poured millions into building lavish second homes, making the highway from Moscow to the surrounding countryside look like the route between New York City and the Hamptons on summery Friday afternoons. Environmentalists fear that the popularity of dachas is endangering the region's wildlife, as well as its …

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Driving Reign

Seventy-five percent of U.S. workers drive alone to their jobs, according to data from the 2000 U.S. Census, while only 4.7 percent get to work via public transportation and 0.4 percent commute by bicycle. Ridership on mass transit has increased 22 percent since 1996, says the American Public Transit Association, but highway driving has increased at a faster clip -- unsurprising, considering that roads and highways get far more government funding than mass transit projects and transportation alternatives. Another cause of our car-centric culture, say some enviros and urban planners, is that many developments are built with only automobiles in …

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Idle Trucks Are the Devil’s Playthings

New gadgetry at truck stops could help slash pollution from idling big rigs. Most truck drivers across the U.S. leave their vehicles' engines running all night while they're parked at truck stops because it's the only way to keep the heating or air conditioning on while they get some shuteye. Between 840 million and 2 billion gallons of gasoline are burned each year in the U.S. by these idling trucks, according to an estimate from the South Coast Air Quality Management District in southern California, and that results in a lot of dangerous diesel exhaust that can damage lungs and …

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A Man With a Plan

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, made a bid for green votes on Friday when he unveiled an energy plan that would, among other things, tighten fuel-economy standards for automobiles and push the U.S. toward getting 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Kerry wants to end U.S. dependence on Middle East oil imports within a decade. "The threats that America faces today don't just come from gun barrels, they come from gas pumps -- and we need to disarm that danger," Kerry told an audience in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "No …

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Adding Fuel Cells to the Fire

The Bush administration has been busily touting fuel-cell cars as a critical component of its energy plan and the solution to many an environmental woe. But what if the solution turns out to cause its own problems? According to new research published in this week's issue of Science, the technology used in hydrogen fuel cells could contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer, which protects the Earth from excessive doses of ultraviolet light. If fuel cells were used to power everything from cars to utilities, the researchers found, large amounts of hydrogen would drift into the stratosphere and increase …

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Reader responses on family cars, the internal combustion engine, and more

Dearest Readers, How I enjoy your letters! I'm sorry I'm unable to answer them all; lest you fear that they vanish into the void, I assure you they do not. I read each and every one of them down here in Stacklandia. I must in particular thank those of you who write in to correct, amend, or expand on issues I address in my columns. Almost without exception, those perspicacious readers who venture to mention my errors (linguistic, scientific, or moral) do so in the most delicate and sensitive manner, doing Ms. Manners proud and leaving her fellow advice columnist …

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Invasion of the Habitat Snatchers

Roads have long been considered the enemy of the environment, creating (literal) avenues for deforestation and development. Now, it seems, they are also to blame for another major environmental woe: invasive species. According to a pair of recent studies conducted at the University of California at Davis, new roads are one of the quickest ways to introduce nonnative species to an area, at a tremendous cost to local flora and fauna. The studies found that invasive species are more likely to be found near roads, and that they spread further with every improvement to roadways, such as grading or paving. …

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