Cities

Steve Frillmann, community-garden guru, answers questions

Steve Frillmann. With what environmental organization are you affiliated? I am the executive director of Green Guerillas, New York City’s oldest community-gardening group. What does your organization do? At Green Guerillas, we help people carry out their visions for what community gardens can be in a dense, vibrant urban area — urban farms, botanic gardens, performance spaces, community centers, lungs that help the city breathe. Some of our activities are fairly simple, like giving gardeners a few seedlings. Some are very complex, like organizing coalitions or helping grassroots leaders fight to protect gardens from development. New Yorkers appreciating a community …

It's a BUI!

Should bicycling drunk be illegal?

Some important bicycle-related debate has been going on in South Dakota for the last few weeks. That's right, South Dakota. Should cyclists and horseback riders be able to ride while intoxicated -- since it's usually a much safer alternative than drunken driving? The state Supreme Court just ruled that the current law says No: Bicycling can be considered "driving" because it qualifies as operating a vehicle. So cyclists still can be, and sometimes are, cited for DUIs in South Dakota. While this comes as bad news for imbibing anti-car velorutionaries (who needs a DD when you have your trusty cruiser? I mean, really?), from a legal standpoint it could provide a solid basis for enforcing cyclists' rights on the road. After all, as any Critical Mass rider will tell you, cyclists don't block traffic, we are traffic. Meanwhile, South Dakota's legislature, concerned about drunk driving but much less so about drunken cycling and horseback riding (and rightfully so, as I see it) have introduced a bill that would effectively make the court ruling moot and allow drunken cycling once again. The bill has already passed the state House, with a Senate vote expected soon.

Al Gore and electric car star in films unveiled at Sundance

At 25 years of age, Sundance is the country’s premier festival of independent film. But a lot has changed over that quarter century. Well, actually, one thing has changed: m-o-n-e-y. There’s a ton of Hollywood cash spent at Sundance, and I could see it everywhere I looked last week. The “VIP” corporate parties on Main Street. The piles of free stuff for celebrities. The Moviefone flacks in their garish red suits. The furry boots worn by nearly every female in town. In the midst of the hype, plenty of not-so-glamorous films were being screened. In fact, some watchers called this …

Book Your Guilt Trip Today!

British enviros curb flying to protest airplane emissions A growing number of British enviros are quitting or cutting back on air travel, resisting the siren song of low-fare, no-frills airlines. “I just realized that all my other efforts to be green — recycling, insulating the house, not driving a giant 4×4 — would be totally wiped out by a couple of holidays by air,” said Michael Gibson, one participant in this fledgling movement. A round-trip flight from the U.K. to Florida produces about as much CO2 as a year’s worth of driving by the average Brit, and the number of …

Two Prongs Make a Right

New coalition lobbies Big Auto to build plug-in hybrid cars Plug-In Partners is not, as the name might indicate, a swingers’ club. Rather, it’s a diverse national campaign — encompassing cities, electric utilities, national-security hawks, and others — pushing for plug-in hybrids: gas-electric vehicles with batteries that can be recharged via a regular wall socket. Once powered up (ideally at night, when electric rates tend to be lower) such vehicles could go 20 to 35 miles or more on electricity alone and achieve fuel efficiency of 80 to 100 miles per gallon. The coalition says plug-in hybrids could substantially reduce …

If not suburbs, then what?

Only concrete alternatives will cajole people out of the suburbs

Often, the first step to helping people make better choices is showing them that there are choices. One of the biggest and most important -- albeit frequently overlooked -- steps toward combating global warming, improving public health, reducing air pollution, and restoring a sense of community and fellow-feeling to American life is changing the structure of our communities. Right now, conventional wisdom is that the choice is between suburbs -- big houses, plenty of privacy and safety, big, cheap retail readily available -- and tight, cramped, dangerous, dirty living in a city, with corner stores the only source of provisions. This perception is off, but it's not that far off. There are still too few concrete examples of dense, safe, mixed-use walkable communities with all the conveniences of the suburbs. So, forthwith, Dave's Two-Step Plan for Cleaner, Safer Communities:

Chattanooga

The city has transformed itself into one of the nation’s most forward-thinking

I've always thought that if I had to move back to my home state of Tennessee, I'd kill myself live in Chattanooga. It used to be one of the most polluted cities in the country. I remember driving through it on the way to Atlanta -- it was nasty, dirty, bleak, and oh my god, the smell. A real shithole. But in the last 20 or 30 years, the city has completely turned around, and now it's one of the most forward-thinking, progressive cities in the Southeast. Sprol has a great piece on the transformation: While most cities, nationally and globally, make an effort to reduce negative affects on the environment; few (if any) have attained the level of success enjoyed by Chattanooga. Here, industry is not the enemy, but instead has offered viable and effective solutions. Here, the citizen and the government official aren't at odds. Rather, they work together to creatively address the environmental challenges the city has faced. Chattanooga has become one of the few cities designated as an EPA attainment city. This has been due, in large part, to combined efforts of Chattanooga citizens and city officials. An inspiring read.

Tailpipe Spin

NASCAR plans switch to unleaded racing fuel Mechanics, crews, and NASCAR dads will be able to wheeze a little easier beginning in 2008 — that’s when the racing body plans to switch its cars and trucks from leaded to unleaded fuel. Though it’s exempt from the Clean Air Act’s unleaded requirement, NASCAR’s nonetheless been looking for a high-performance alternative that lubricates the engine while getting the lead out. It says its new fuel does it without using MTBE, the health-hazardous fuel additive barred by some states. Clean Air Watch has been after NASCAR to clean up its exhaust; just this …

Gardeners: Man the green barricades in LA

Why greens should join forces with gardeners to face down the bull dozers in LA.

Even though I abandoned Brooklyn for the Appalachians, I'm no sentimental pastoralist. I'm a long-term disciple of the great urban theorist (and champion of cities) Jane Jacobs. Human history since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago has been a history of cities. Cities are the future; as David Owen's superb article "Green Manhattan" (PDF) shows, they may be our only hope. The trick is to create agricultural systems within and just outside of cities, minimizing the ruinous effects of long-haul freight transit, slashing the fossil-fuel inputs embedded in food production, maximizing availability of fresh delicious food, and boosting local and even neighborhood economies. Farmers' markets have been the most visible effort at creating sustainable urban food networks. Equally if not more important, although virtually invisible to well-heeled urban foodies who laudably support farmers' markets, inner-city gardening projects represent a vanguard in the effort to overthrow industrial food and reintroduce sustainably grown, delicious food to populations that were knocked off the land a generation or two ago. There's been a lot of talk around here about whether or not humanity's future requires messing up Bobby Kennedy Jr.'s ocean view from "the Vineyard." (I say, the hell with him. Mess it up!) This story may be more important, though: An LA developer wants to bulldoze a 14-acre community garden, with 360 family plots, right in the middle of an industrial zone in South Central. The city should be paying these people to do what they're doing, for all the environmental and social benefits they're creating. At the very least, the city should buy the land back from the developer and make the garden permanent. LA greens, and I know you're out there, get out and man the barricades with those brave gardeners.

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