Today, billionaire clean energy philanthropist Tom Steyer held a press conference to debunk the myths that the Keystone XL pipeline will lead to major economic growth and national security. Keystone is an "export pipeline" that would transport toxic tar sands from Alberta down to a tax-free zone in Texas and out to foreign markets. In other words, the EU, China and Latin America get the oil, the foreign-owned oil companies get the profits and North Americans are left cleaning up oil spills and shouldering the pollution burden from extracting and refining the dirty tar sands. It's a complicated issue for sure, so I've tried …
Music festivals have become big business in the music industry. According to CBS News, "the festival scene is thriving, with concert ticket sales tripling from $1.5 billion to $4.6 billion between 1999 and 2009." Just about every city and genre has gotten in on the action, hungry for a piece of the pie. Last year, the Coachella festival alone took in $47 million.
Most festivals, however, remain fairly unpleasant on a human level. It's nice to catch multiple bands in one location, but attendees are milked mercilessly, crammed in like sardines, plied with $8 beers and $12 burritos, herded from one generic stage to another past corporate advertisements and scowling security guards, and surrounded, everywhere, always, by trash: plastic water bottles and soda cups and greasy styrofoam.
At least one festival is trying to do things differently. It takes place over three days in August on Pendarvis farm, in Happy Valley, Ore., about 20 minutes outside of Portland. Like Grist, Pickathon is entering its 15th year; it was founded in 1999. And like Grist, it has grown, organically, steadily, and improbably, from modest beginnings to ... well, somewhat less modest heights. It is the medium chill of festivals.
Cars have shaped much of the North American West, where drive-through restaurants, shopping centers, highway strip malls, and single-family neighborhoods miles from commercial services dominate much of the urban and suburban landscape. Less obvious to the casual observer is the impact that parking regulations have had on architectural forms.
Cities have established parking regulations, often called off-street parking minimums, for each possible land use. When you build a new house or shop, or often when you simply remodel a building or change its use, you must provide a minimum number of off-street parking spaces. These regulations are meant to address demand for parking that cannot be met by nearby on-street spaces, but they have also led to increased development costs, less flexibility for adaptive reuse of existing buildings, and some pretty unattractive architecture.
This photo essay looks at some of the ugly architecture that has resulted from parking minimums. Many of the photos were sent in by Sightline readers who responded to our request for examples from their communities.
One obvious example is the ubiquitous seas of suburban parking. The commercial building pictured below is set so far back from the street, behind its legally required parking, that it’s hard to figure out what type of business operates there.
In Western Oregon, a mixed-use developed community called Fairview Village (below) has a Target store as its retail anchor. Although the development has won awards for livability and smart planning, this sea of required parking looks pretty standard.
I have not owned a car in seven years, but I do own a garage. It’s pictured above. In fact, I am legally required to own an off-street parking space; that’s written in the land-use code for my city, Seattle, as for virtually every city. The driveway that leads to my garage, meanwhile, eliminates almost exactly one parking space from my street. Parking in front of a driveway is illegal, and a regular curb cut is almost exactly the size of a parking space, as illustrated below.
The net effect -- one mandatory off-street parking space plus one car-less household -- is a one-space reduction of parking supply on my block. Repeat: My obligatory driveway and garage deprive the universe of one on-street slot. This is ironic, but it’s only the tip of the irony iceberg where car-storage is concerned.
If I did own a car to keep in my garage, the net effect would no longer be a net reduction. It would be zero. My driveway subtracts one on-street space; my garage adds it back. Think about that for a while. The 4.6 million single-family houses in cities across the Northwest, and tens of millions more across the U.S., are each required to have at least one off-street parking space. Yet many of these city rules add no net parking spaces to their cities’ supplies. Worse, if you’ve ever narrowly escaped a car backing out of a garage, or almost backed into someone while you were driving, you can quickly grasp the fact that all these millions of mandated off-street parking spaces turn sidewalks into danger zones, especially for children and the disabled.
Clearly, parking rules can lead to absurd and unwelcome results. In fact, I will argue in this new series, they have surprisingly pernicious effects not just in single-family homes but across entire cities. Requirements that builders provide ample quotas of off-street parking spaces worsen traffic, multiply collisions, push up housing prices, dampen business profitability, amplify sprawl, and pollute both air and water. Parking rules are a surprisingly potent hidden force shaping -- or misshaping -- our communities. Fortunately, new approaches and new technologies allow better ways to manage parking, and these better ways turn out to be among the biggest opportunities open to cities for improving residents’ lives.
I’ll get to all of that soon. I promise. But let’s go back to my garage. Understanding how off-street parking rules for single-family houses pile up ironies, absurdities, and injuries is a case study of the larger dynamic of urban parking.
Woody Harrelson could put the crunchiest Grist staff member to shame. The Academy Award nominated actor lives off the grid in a solar-powered, organic farming community in Hawaii. He’s been a vegan for 26 years and eats a mostly raw diet. Scratch dairy or meat cravings. He just craves cooked food.
Harrelson, who calls himself a “lover of the forest,” first became involved in environmental causes back when he was playing the part of a bartender on Cheers. In '92, a bipartisan bill in Congress aimed to make millions of acres of virgin Montana wilderness available to logging companies. Harrelson joined forces with a coalition of environmentalists, including Peter Bahouth of Greenpeace, that was pressuring lawmakers and pushing to weaken the legislation. While the bill ultimately failed, it got him thinking, “Geez, even if you do stop the deforestation here or there, the timber industry just goes somewhere else. You really need to change systems.”
For Harrelson, that meant finding a replacement for paper made from wood. And so, in the late '90s, Harrelson started working with Canadian entrepreneur Jeff Golfman to figure out how to make paper without using wood. After 15 years of research and development, the company has a product made from 80 percent wheat straw waste. Today, the company, Prairie Pulp & Paper, is announcing the sale of its Step Forward Paper at Staples stores.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Harrelson made brief calls to the media about the announcement. I took the opportunity to ask him about everything BUT paper, but he managed to squeeze in some paper talk anyway. Golfman, Prairie Pulp & Paper's president, joined us for the call. Here's our lightly edited conversation:
"If you have ants in your house," the great Harvard ecologist EO Wilson once said, "be kind to them." Keep this in mind the next time you want to flick one off the kitchen table: The tiny critters, which collectively weigh about as much as all of humanity, could wield a big weapon in the fight against climate change.
In the U.S., corn-based ethanol is a big business, consuming 40 percent of the domestic corn crop and providing roughly 10 percent of the fuel supply, which would otherwise be dirty fossil fuels. But the practice of topping your tank off with corn is fraught with problems: Some argue that the crop should be used for food; it's sensitive to drought; and the ethanol-making process might be contributing to an E. coli epidemic, to name a few. That's why the Obama administration recently announced a plan to invest $2 billion in organic fuels that rely on things other than corn, including switchgrass and gas from cattle poo.
But this weekend, a group of scientists discovered a chemical key that could revitalize corn-based ethanol by allowing it to be made from stalks, leaves, and other bits beside the cob itself. This won't help much with the drought problem (less corn is still less corn), but it could alleviate the food-vs.-fuel debate and the E. coli problem as more kernels are saved to go straight to livestock. Turns out, the savior of ethanol could be the South American leafcutter ant.
TransCanada swears that once the Keystone XL pipeline is operational, it will be totally safe. The company is apparently so confident -- despite already having had to dig up and replace faulty stretches of the pipeline’s southern leg -- that it doesn’t see the need to invest in state-of-the-art spill-detection technology. TransCanada is like that obnoxious seventh-grade skateboarder too confident in his sick moves to bother with a helmet.
The internal spill detectors TransCanada currently uses -- in which sensors alert remote operators if pressure along the pipeline drops -- are standard for the industry, but they’re designed to catch high-volume spills. Bloomberg Businessweek reports:
Keystone XL would have to be spilling more than 12,000 barrels a day -- or 1.5 percent of its 830,000 barrel capacity -- before its currently planned internal spill-detection systems would trigger an alarm, according to the U.S. State Department, which is reviewing the proposal.
Nearly eight months after Hurricane Sandy destroyed almost three miles of historic boardwalk along the Rockaway peninsula at the southern end of New York City, the shore hums with sounds of $140 million worth of beach recovery: circular saws, jack hammers, and tractors. While construction continues around the clock, officials have reopened beaches in hopes that a vibrant tourist season will kick-start the local economy; on this hot June day, a handful of surfers catching breaks on the city's only legal surfing beaches is one tangible sign that the work to remediate 1.5 million cubic yards of displaced sand [PDF] has been successful.
Now, beyond immediate relief work and the big-ticket city spending -- the A train is finally rumbling along elevated tracks to Far Rockaway -- community organizers can rattle off a shopping list of daily small-dollar needs that don't usually get their own entries in big-name relief agency spreadsheets: community garden maintenance, recovering lost furniture, or hiring a killer grant writer to ensure the money keeps flowing.
As relief turns to long-term recovery, community activists have their eyes on a group they know has some money left unspent: Occupy Sandy.
After Superstorm Sandy hit New York last October, Occupy Wall Street -- the global protest movement against economic inequality that started in downtown Manhattan -- set up a new group, Occupy Sandy, and mobilized thousands of supporters to raise more than $1.37 million, according to finances made public on its website.
But here's the thing: Roughly $1 out of every $5 raised -- nearly $300,000 -- remains unallocated. According to interviews with Occupy Sandy organizers, it's been more than three months since the group began the process of giving this remaining money over to community groups in the hardest-hit areas. Only a fraction of the $150,000 that has already been allocated to the Rockaways has so far been disbursed.
Meanwhile, as Americans face an ever-increasing number of natural disasters and extreme weather events, more recent victims like those in tornado-devastated Moore, Okla., are looking to Occupy Sandy as a model to replicate, warranting a closer look at how the group balances its books.
Are you a fan of electric vehicles who doesn't want to own your own car?
Get thee to Indy.
A company that operates electric-vehicle sharing programs in France is looking to expand, and its executives have settled on Indianapolis for their first American foray. Bolloré Group's $35 million plan will provide 500 shared cars and 1,200 charging stations at 200 locations throughout Indiana's capital. The company's inaugural American initiative will be modeled on its French Autolib program, with sharing slated to begin next year.
Trying to change the world for the better -- being an activist, social change agent, do-gooder, whatever you want to call it -- can be exhausting and dispiriting, especially for young people launching into it full of energy and hope. What activists need most is ... well, money. They're all stressed about funding.
But what activists need next most is, for lack of a better term, recharging. They need to get together and relax, share stories, celebrate each other's victories, commiserate over defeats, and get back in touch with deeper convictions and purposes. That's what gives them the energy they need to keep going in the face of setbacks.
Remarkably, though, there are very few venues or programs devoted specifically to that purpose. Occasionally organizations will have their own retreats, but those tend to be glorified company picnics. Changemakers see each other at conferences and professional events, but bad PowerPoint presentations and awkward small talk around the coffee dispenser are less than fully rejuvenating.
There should be more recharging stations for social change agents. It's on my mind, because I visited one a couple weeks ago.
It's a place called Hollyhock, which bills itself as a "lifelong learning center ... to inspire, nourish, and support people who are making the world better." It's on Cortes Island, up at the north end of the Salish Sea, perched between the British Columbia mainland and Vancouver Island. You will rarely see a more beautiful place, like some artist's technicolor dream of what the Pacific Northwest should look like: gentle seas lapping in deep inlets, evergreen trees towering everywhere, mountains looming in the distance, bald eagles dive-bombing for fish, deer nibbling at the edges, each sunset and sunrise a major motion picture event. It's like waking up in a postcard.