Living

Transportation today and tomorrow

Two books that blew my mind

I have a piece in the latest issue of the American Prospect called “This Is How You’ll Get There.” It’s a review of two books: Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), by journalist Tom Vanderbilt, and Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century, by three brilliant supergeeks (two from GM’s advanced auto division; one from MIT’s Smart Cities program). I know book reviews aren’t the most exciting genre in the world, but I quite like this one, mainly because the books kind of blew my mind. The first is …

Politic tac toe

Ask Umbra on political activism, donating light bulbs, and BPA in canned food

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, A while back, you said that political activism was really important. I think I can tear myself away from my new(ish) organic garden long enough to do a little, but I’m not sure what to do. How can I be politically active with my busy schedule? Jon B.Lakewood, Ohio A. Dearest Jon, Happy Presidents Day, a perfect occasion to reflect on how you can get more involved in the political landscape of our great country. Let’s face it — your garden is probably in deep freeze mode at the moment, so you …

Checkout line

Pom-Pom club: Just how ‘Wonderful’ are pomegranates?

In Checkout Line, Lou Bendrick cooks up answers to reader questions about how to green their food choices and other diet-related quandaries.  ————— Dear Checkout Line, For months now, I can’t seem to walk through my local natural-food market without smacking into a vast display of pomegranates — and I usually put one in my cart. Not that long ago, the fruit with the deep-red seeds would show up in the market in a tiny pile, and just for a short time in October. What gives? Did someone put in a giant monocrop of them somewhere in California? Are they …

Food for thought

Ask Umbra’s pearls of wisdom on supermarket shopping

Dearest readers, Sometimes when I’m down in the stacks researching answers to your latest dilemmas, I enjoy taking a stroll down Ask Umbra archives lane. Here are some glossy tidbits I culled from my past advice on lessening your impact when it comes to grocery shopping. Have any of your own green grocery tips? Let me know in the comments section below or shoot me an email. Let your guilt out of the bag.You probably already know the answer to “Paper or plastic?” is neither — opt for a reusable bag. However, for those times you forget your own bag, …

To half and to hold

I paid $50 for this book and all I got was this lousy feeling of hope and goodwill

I received a free review copy of The Power of Half, but it ended up costing me $50. Fifty bucks that won’t go toward a much-needed (fine, much-wanted) pedicure, about a dozen cinnamon lattes, a month of cable or my cell phone, or a couple of weeks worth of bus fare for my ride to and from work. The just-released book, written by former Wall Street Journal reporter and editor Kevin Salwen and his 17-year-old daughter Hannah Salwen (check out Ask Umbra’s Change Agent interview with Hannah), details the Atlanta family’s decision to jump off of the bigger, better, faster, …

Picking up the PACE

San Francisco commits $150 million to green homes

Monday night I was having drinks in downtown San Francisco with some seriously smart people — top-level IBM scientists and strategists involved in Big Blue’s Smarter Planet initiative.  Given the room’s collective interest in creating smart electrical grids, smart water systems, advanced electric car batteries and other green technologies, the talk naturally turned to how to create sustainable cities. Solar panel installation in San Francisco.Photo courtesy bkusler via FlickrThe technology largely exists, the IBMers agreed, but what’s really needed is a great leap forward in financial engineering to allow cities to finance all the cool stuff being developed in labs …

To Half and Have Not

Ask Umbra’s Change Agent: Hannah Salwen

What would you do with half? Half the house, half the lattes, half the TV watching, half the Tweets, half the email checking? More importantly, what would you do with the other half — the extra space, funds, and time? Dearests, meet 17-year-old Atlanta Girls’ School junior Hannah Salwen (you may have read about her in New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s column last month), whose family not only asked these questions of themselves but also answered them in a pretty grand way. Co-author of The Power of Half, released today from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hannah was the instigator behind …

One Less Car; One More Terrified Biker

Car free in Boston, for all the wrong reasons

I’m currently in transportation transition. By the end of the month, I will have transferred my aging VW into my partner’s name, and canceled my own insurance. I will have tuned up my bike, spent a good chunk of money on a metro pass, and signed up with the local car-sharing business. But I’m not here to moralize (unlike in most of my posts). I tanked the car for all the wrong reasons. It was an easy decision to make, after I took my soon-to-be-ex car into the mechanic for a tune-up and came out minus $2,500; and after the …

NEXT STEPS

Walking: A simple focus for the Smart Growth movement

I expected to hear a lot more about sexy green urban design projects at the New Partners in Smart Growth conference in Seattle last week. I expected more sleek design and big new developments akin to Dockside Green in Victoria, British Columbia, or Vancouver’s Olympic Village. Maybe American urban planners are better at keeping it real, or maybe the real estate market isn’t allowing many such ambitious projects, but shiny New Urbanist developments didn’t get a lot of attention. Instead, discussions kept returning to a recurring problem: Americans live too damn far from where they work. Decades of bad development …