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A pop-up urban experiment: The BMW Guggenheim Lab

Brainstorming at the BMW Guggenheim Lab.Photo: Sarah GoodyearYesterday, I headed over to Houston Street in Lower Manhattan to check out the opening of the BMW Guggenheim Lab, a temporary mobile structure on a vacant lot that is billed as "part urban think tank, part community center and public gathering space." The lab will be in New York until October before traveling to Berlin and Mumbai. The pop-up space, designed by Atelier Bow-Wow, was airy and inviting, with the feeling of an open-air theater. It will be the site of workshops, screenings, experiments, performances, and more over the next several weeks, …

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Nissan wants you to power your house with your electric car

What if you could buy power at night, when it's cheap, and run your house off it by day, when it's expensive (and, in Japan at least, in short supply)? Nissan wants to give customers who buy its Nissan Leaf just this ability, by selling them special chargers for their electric cars that can be reversed to feed power back into a home. The lithium ion batteries in a Leaf can store up to 24kWh (kilowatt hours) of electricity, which Nissan estimates is sufficient to power an average Japanese home for about two days. That means if the system was …

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'Solar highways' transform our crumbling infrastructure into something useful

Okay, we know YOU ride your bike everywhere. But the country’s 4 million miles of roads, and 50,000 miles of interstate highway, probably aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Isn’t there anything productive we can do with this giant car playground? Well, we can cover it with solar photovoltaic panels, so it’s at least providing some energy. Oregon's already testing the idea, installing panel arrays along highway shoulders. Others want to embed the solar panels directly into the road surface, and have already received funding to test the idea. California wants to try it along parts of Route 101. If …

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For the first time ever, renters can get solar incentives, too

There's a reason California is the largest solar market in the country -- I mean, aside from its abundance of sun. Namely, its regulators keep coming up with new ways to allow people to DIY-up their own distributed energy systems. Their latest brainstorm is a measure that allows renters to take advantage of the same solar incentives as people who own their own homes. The program is called “virtual net metering,” and the way it works is that any renter can get together with others in their building to put solar on their rooftop. The electricity it produces is sold …

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Panasonic capitalizes on earthquake by replacing factories with ‘smart towns’

Panasonic, the largest appliance maker in Japan, has announced plans to shutter 20 percent of its 230 factories in order to cut costs. But rather than lose that land, the company is capitalizing on Japan’s post-earthquake need for housing. It’s replacing the factories with “smart towns,” featuring "solar panels, energy-efficient refrigerators and rechargeable batteries," the company tells Bloomberg. It's all part of the company's wider strategy to make the best of the contraction in its TV set business, and capitalize on the Japanese peoples' renewed interest in energy independence in the wake of blackouts caused by the shutdown of the …

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Environmental education center built out of recycled materials

An LA-based design think tank called APHIDoIDEA has an idea about how to build an environmental education center that practices what it preaches. They imagined an Environmental Center of Regenerative Research & Education -- or eCORRE -- Complex that would teach visitors about green ideas like solar energy and passive cooling techniques. It would have classrooms, offices, an exhibition hall and a public plaza. Here's the cool part: the building would be made of 65 shipping containers. The idea is to begin with containers stacked in a rectangle. Next, the designers propose elevating some containers, leaving others down low, and …

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How smart growth reduces emissions

Cross-posted from the Natural Resources Defense Council. Rob Steuteville has posted a terrific analysis on the New Urban Network rebutting the claim by the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) that "the existing body of research demonstrates no clear link between residential land use and greenhouse-gas emissions." Rob responds with Todd Litman's excellent research and writing [PDF] on the subject, along with the great mapping from the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) of CO2 emissions per household for every metro area in the U.S. As Rob points out, CNT's research shows a very consistent geography in just about every region: The …

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New Orleans proves passive houses work just as well in hot climates

New Orleans might be turning into an island, but by God, it will be a stylish, energy-efficient one, if some Canadian architects have anything to say about it. We already knew passive houses were all kinds of awesome, capable of staying warm in even harsh winters without any kind of heating at all. But NOLA is hot as hell and only going to become more so. So the architects’ mandate was to create a passively cooled shotgun-style home. They came up with a design that marries the air-circulating powers of a traditional shotgun shack to the privacy concerns of the …

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Reviving a river in Mexico City

Mexico City has treated its rivers badly: They tend to be paved over and filled with sewage. But Elías Cattan, a green building leader in Mexico City, wants to turn one of these f*cked-under resources back into a healthy, flowing river. Under Cattan’s guidance, the trash-clogged Río Piedad would become a viable waterway with a park on its banks and a transportation infrastructure dominated by walking, biking, and mass transit. Just give him two years and $1 billion. The city government does not share Cattan's enthusiasm and is more inclined to target less toxic and more easily mended rivers. (Río …

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Great places: smart density as part of economic flourishing

Bring people together in a great place and great things happen.This is part four in a series on "great places." Read parts one, two, three, and five. So far I've written that great places are green and groovy. (Yeah, I said groovy.) Lest I make the whole notion sound like a smelly commune, though, it's worth noting that great places are also fecund: They generate economic and social capital. Done right, density can be an engine of prosperity. Business executives should love great places just as much as hippies like me do. Here's the basic idea: When smart, skilled people …