Cities of the Future
Photo courtesy matteroffact via FlickrIn this feature series, Grist will spotlight cities of all sizes that are taking innovative steps to build sustainability into everyday life. They’re promoting mass transit and renewable energy. They’re painting bike lanes and planting green roofs. They’re turning vacant lots into small farms.
As more Americans make their way back into urban centers, cities have the opportunity to forge new ideas and new practices that make it possible for people to work, eat, and entertain themselves without taking such a heavy toll on the planet.
Ellensburg, Wash., for example, figured out a way to make solar power affordable to ordinary folks. In Charlotte, N.C., residents overcame their car culture to build a sprawl-killing light rail system. Cities of the Future documents and applauds their efforts, and encourages other commuities to follow suit.
Stories in this series:
How a city got real about solar energy
Photo courtesy of Gary ShaverWhen the city of Ellensburg asked the Washington State University energy program for help designing a community solar project, the state folks weren’t sure the city folks were serious. At the time, just a few years ago, solar projects were few and far between. But WSU energy consultant Gary Shaver jumped on board, helping with everything from financing to choosing the right solar panels. Now he’s president of Silicon Energy, which manufactures solar energy panels and inverters in Marysville, Wash. Q. Did the city know right away how they wanted to design the project, or …
City brings renewable energy to the little guy
Solar power nerds are fond of an estimate that 100 square miles of Nevada desert — filled with solar panels — could provide enough electricity for the entire United States. But right now, solar supplies just 1 percent of the country’s energy. Cost is one reason that figure is so low. Unless you’re an independently wealthy solar hobbyist, chances are you can’t afford the $30,000 or so it takes to install panels at home. That’s why Gary Nystedt, as resource manager for Ellensburg, came up with a way to bring solar power to all the people in this smallish city …
Planning politics: How Charlotte’s mayor championed light rail
Pat McCrory, former mayor of Charlotte, speaking at a transportation summit in 2009.Photo courtesy Willamor Media via FlickrPat McCrory, elected mayor of Charlotte in 1995 at the age of 39, had no idea transit would be the defining issue of his tenure as leader of the city. “I did not run on the issue of transit whatsoever,” he says. But when he took office, he came across a land use plan that showed Charlotte was in dire need of different ways for people to get around the city. He took the parts of the plan that seemed viable and turned …
Charlotte does light rail right
Charlotte is car-loving NASCAR country, a vast suburbia of cul-de-sacs and strip malls. Yet its new light rail line is a national model for success, outstripping ridership projections and inspiring millions of dollars in high-density development. How did sensible transportation planning come to sprawlburbia? Not by appealing for “sustainability,” that’s for sure. In the end, the winning pitch that sold voters on light rail was none other than Charlotte’s love of growth. The development it lured — several thousand condos and apartments, dozens of new restaurants and stores, and roughly half a billion dollars in private investment — showed skeptics …
The future of Rust Belt cities in the post-LeBron era
Keith AllisonContrived news hooks based on LeBron James are so last week, but Aaron Renn at New Geography has a good link between the departing free agent and a struggling Rust Belt city: In a sense though, Cleveland’s disappointment was inevitable. LeBron James was never going to turn around the city. No one person or one thing can. Unfortunately, Cleveland has continually pinned its hopes on a never-ending cycle of “next big things” to reverse decline. This will never work. As local economic development guru Ed Morrison put it, “Overwhelmingly, the strategy is now driven by individual projects. …
Salt Lake mixes sacred space and sustainability
An artist’s rendering of City Creek CenterPhoto courtesy of City CreekSalt Lake City is the world headquarters for the fastest growing church in America, and the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is everywhere. The six gray spires of the Salt Lake Temple rise above the city. A gleaming granite convention center dominates an entire city block across the street. Even in subtle ways — street names, for example — one is reminded of the church’s impact on city planning. Are you driving down 400 South? Then you’re four blocks south of the temple. But now …
Getting the Mormons on board with mixed use
As former planning director for Salt Lake City, and as an artist wanting to create live/work spaces for other artists, Stephen Goldsmith has played a key role in bringing mixed-use development to the downtown core of his city. He now teaches at the University of Utah’s College of Architecture and Planning. He also founded the Temporary Museum of Permanent Change, a virtual museum that frames the city’s massive downtown construction efforts as an ongoing exhibit of cultural and social ideas. Q. Describe your early meetings with the developers of City Creek. A. They weren’t looking at developing City Creek. They …
Wading into a water war between two countries and two states
Ed Archuleta, of the El Paso Water Utilities, had to figure out how to make water resources last while sharing them with Mexico and another state.
Arid El Paso makes every drop count
Deep in the desert, El Paso has found a way to conserve its precious water. Despite a growing population, water usage has actually gone down.
22 cities that are smart about energy
Several cities around the country are finding ways to get smart about energy, at the same time saving money and pumping up their eco cred.
Chicago takes the LEED in eco building
Skyscrapers and other enormous buildings are environmental horror shows. So you might think that Chicago -- birthplace of the skyscraper and home to nine of the world's 100 tallest buildings -- is like a City of the Eco-Damned. Not so. The Windy City has plenty of proof that it's building a foundation on building green.
How Chicago became the city of green shoulders
What started as a simple beautification project -- flower planters, parkways, and whatnot -- eventually led Chicago to take on the larger challenge of green building. A leading architect describes how leadership from the mayor's office, key changes in the city's building permit program, and cooperation from developers made it happen.
San Francisco watches its waste line
Most cities send thousands of tons of unwanted flotsam and jetsam to landfills every day. But in San Francisco, garbage is treated like a resource that shouldn't be wasted. And that means formulating a plan to reduce the city's garbage output to zero. Yes, that's right: zero.
The city that said no to garbage
If you want to keep garbage out of landfills, you have to stop thinking about it as garbage. Instead, think of it as resources. This is how Jack Macy thinks. He developed San Francisco’s trailblazing composting program and is currently Zero Waste Coordinator for the city. Here, he shares the city’s secrets to success.
How will cities be shaped by transit in the future?
We constructed four future scenarios of transit in cities, speculating how forces like gas prices and city politics might change the way we move.