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Critical List: Tornado hits Joplin, Missouri; Chicago preps for climate change

A half-mile wide tornado leveled a Missouri town. And another volcano in Iceland poured ash into the sky. Cut it out, nature, we get it: you don't like airplanes. In Chicago, government officials not only believe in climate change, they are preparing the city for a steamier future. Local officials have been leading on adaptation for awhile, but, in this case, it probably doesn't hurt Chicago pols to say, loudly, that the city's destined to get less frigid. High gas prices means job-seekers are looking for employment closer to home. Sounds like it's time to invest in some public transportation …

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Three Gorges Dam has serious issues, China admits

When a country commits to any project as monstrous as China's Three Gorges Dam, it is bound to encounter occasional difficulties. The Chinese government, as governments are wont to do, has preferred to gloss over the dam's detriments and emphasize its attributes, like the 84 billion kilowatt hours of electricity it produced last year. But this week the government released a statement acknowledging that the dam has fostered a few "urgent problems" that need addressing. Numbered among those are: the increasing concentration of raw sewage and pollution and of the algae that feeds on it; the threat of landslides; the …

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Making power lines beautiful with the help of a giant reindeer

Here's the down side of increased renewables: It means an increase in unsightly overhead power lines. And if you can't put them underground (which isn't always feasible), the answer might lie in turning an eyesore into a triumph of design. Germany is abandoning nuclear and embarking on a big renewables push, but to make it work they'll need "energy autobahns" to transmit power -- large networks of overhead lines that are just crying out to be blocked by NIMBYism. Power masts that focus as much on aesthetics as on functionality might be the answer. I'm fond of the striking "Mirror …

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Fat city: The way your neighborhood is built could be killing you

Road to ruin.Photo: Alfonso SurrocaCrappy urban development isn't just ugly and noisy and dirty. It is turning out to be lethal. One Toronto study looked at how the quality of a community's streets can affect people's health, factoring into drastically reduced life expectancy. It's the focus of an article in The Globe and Mail that discusses how Toronto and other cities are segregated not just by race and income, but also by the quality of the built environment -- and what that division means for residents' health. People living in less walkable, outlying parts of the city, with less access …

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U.S. infrastructure needs a $2 trillion make-over

Like those bridges and roads and trains tracks you've got there? Want to keep them? That'll be $2 trillion. That's how much the Urban Land Institute estimates the U.S. needs to invest in infrastructure just to keep what's already in place from falling apart. Everybody else in the world gets this. In Europe, countries realize that investing in infrastructure might just create jobs while promoting economic growth further down the line. India, China, and Brazil are investing in roads and sewer systems and dams at a pace that will quickly outstrip the one set by our huff-puffing, faltering empire. To …

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Watch an entire country lose its sh*t for a bullet train

This surprisingly emotionally affecting video was shot in Japan right before the recent tsunami. It's a commercial for a new bullet train line, which completed a network running nearly the full length of the country, connecting all of Japan in a way that people clearly found deeply meaningful. The tsunami hit the day before the line opened, so the commercials were pulled -- but looking back, it's a pretty beautiful display of national togetherness and serious enthusiasm for rail. Can you imagine a day when the U.S. could unite like this in excitement over a train line? The words at the …

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A green roof grows in Brooklyn

Crimson clover blooms on the roof at the Linda Tool factory.Photo: Sarah GoodyearStanding on the barren, cracked sidewalk outside the nondescript brick building that houses the Linda Tool factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn, you would have no idea that there is a verdant meadow three stories above your head. Oh, but there is. And on this ridiculously beautiful spring day, about 20 wildflower enthusiasts -- including hippie-ish middle-aged women, hipster-ish young couples, and a trio of European guys in tight jeans -- are picking their way through the grass and blossoms on Linda Tool's green roof. They snap pictures of …

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Why are we so angry at the pump? Because we have no choice

Photo: A SiegelEuropeans want to know: "Why are Americans so angry about petrol prices?" An article on the BBC earlier this week looks at the question from a very high-minded, almost anthropological perspective. You can almost see the reporter screwing in his monocle to observe the colonists' colorful ways. Aside from a few man-in-the-parking-lot interviews in Tysons Corner, Va., insight into the perplexing American point of view is left to an "expert" -- The Wall Street Journal's automotive critic, Dan Neil, who took the grand historical view: "Anger is probably more tied up with a wider sense of decline and …

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The art of campaigning for high-speed rail

What if we recruited artists and designers to help sell the American public on the idea of high-speed rail?Illustration: Chris MurphyEarlier this week, the federal Department of Transportation announced $2 billion in new awards for 22 intercity rail projects that will improve the speed, aesthetics, and range of our existing rail system, while also studying the potential for high-speed rail in unexpected places like Texas. After a year in which Tea Party governors of Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin refused federal assistance and canceled high-speed rail construction, this is a shot in the arm for rail advocates. But there is much …

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Not just better for bikes: New York completes its streets [VIDEO]

Something has been lost in the recent kerfuffle over bike lanes in New York City. The rethinking and redesign of the city's streets is not just about bikes (and it is not a terrorist plot). It's about what is known in the land of urban wonkery as "complete streets," and it is a concept that is becoming more and more prevalent around the country. Here's how the National Complete Streets Coalition defines what it means to build a complete street: Instituting a complete streets policy ensures that transportation planners and engineers consistently design and operate the entire roadway with all …