Smart Cities

Minneapolis to open 12 vacant lots to gardening

Minneapolis is opening up 12 vacant lots across the city to groups that will turn them into community gardens, because a lot strewn with tomatoes and strawberries sure beats one strewn with empty McDonald's cups. There's a long tradition of using empty space in cities for community gardens, and these programs can go wonky when the city decides the land's more valuable as a condo of office building. Minneapolis ran into this problem back in 2002. But the good news about these new plots is that the city has determined that they're "non-buildable," which means that if all goes well …

Transportation

The iPhone is the new Prius

Ditch the car and get a bike, a transit farecard, and a smartphone.Photo: NoktonCross-posted from Shareable. Two years ago, my California driver’s license expired. Living in Chicago at the time, where the smart resident uses bikes or public transit to avoid traffic, I hadn’t found a compelling reason to get behind the wheel of our car in months. With plenty of other pressing tasks on my to-do list, renewing or replacing an expired out-of-state license quickly plummeted to the bottom of my priorities. Two years later, the license is still expired, and I’m happier, healthier, and richer for it. There’s …

New app lets you identify the few remaining trees

Wouldn’t it be nice to get to know trees while they’re still around? Leafsnap can help. The new app, developed by a team of researchers at Columbia, University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution, contains a database of beautiful photos of leaves, barks, flowers, and fruits. All the lazy naturalist has to do to identify a tree is take a picture of one little leaf. It turns out, however, that you can't just point your iPhone camera at a tree, snap a picture, and find out what in the world it is. After gathering a leaf, fruit, flower or other …

Bloomberg wants to cover New York City’s landfills with solar panels

New York City's mayor Michael Bloomberg puts birds on things, if by "birds" you mean solar panels and "things" you mean the city’s myriad defunct landfills. The so-called greening of brownfields is a nationwide trend, since landfills and other plots of ruined land close to or even within cities are often not suitable for other applications. You can't build houses on a capped landfill, and short of turning them into parks — an expensive and, to some people, kinda gross proposition — they have few applications. Solar panel installations, however, tend to be light-weight and require nothing more than open …

Sci-fi skycrapers of the future

The cities of the future could combine dense living arrangements with energy innovation, according to the winners of architecture mag eVolo's annual skyscraper design competition. This design collects lightning and uses it to power hydrogen fuel cells. Some of the other winning skyscrapers are habitations, but others are recycling centers, turbines, and water purification facilities — and one's a moon base that looks like a Gaudi cathedral. Click through the gallery on Popular Science and imagine our vertical-living, clean-energy-running, Martian Chronicles-looking future.

Cities

The missing piece of Obama’s energy security plan: cities

Dude, you forgot the cities — like Denver.I had plenty of complaints about Obama’s big energy security speech last week — see here and here. Most of them centered on his crassly political decision to put supply-side solutions first, despite the fact that supply is a red herring; all the serious solutions are demand-based. There’s one complaint I didn’t say much about, which I wanted to amplify: In the speech and in the accompanying materials, short shrift is given to land-use change, urban density, and transit. For a gentle version of that critique, here’s urbanist champion Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.): …

Cities

World’s cities are the ‘battleground’ in fight against climate change

Or, the other option.The world’s cities are going to have to move aggressively to curb their greenhouse-gas emissions, or the whole planet is going to pay for it. That’s the word in a new report from the United Nations Human Settlement Program, or UN-HABITAT. The report is called “Hot Cities: Battle-Ground for Climate Change,” (you can find a summary and links to purchase the full report here). It paints a dire picture of how an increasingly urban and wealthy global population could mean “potentially devastating effects of climate change on urban populations”: Urban centres have become the real battle-ground in …

Dumbing down smart meters

PG&E to let customers disable their smart meters — for a price

Over the past year, a revolt against the rollout of utility Pacific Gas & Electric’s smart meters has swept through Northern California as some customers claimed the devices’ wireless transmission of electricity data was harming their health. In response, city councils in a number of cities tried to ban their installation. On Thursday, PG&E, acting under orders from state regulators, unveiled a proposal to let customers have their smart meter’s radio turned off — for a price. PG&E would charge a one-time fee ranging from $105 to $270 and then customers would pay between $14 and $20 a month for …

we had to destroy the village to save it

Only bulldozers and bison can save Detroit now

Aren’t these preferable to a statue of robocop?Photo: Cathleen ShattuckThe latest U.S. census reveals that not even Detroit natives are that into the Motor City anymore. The once-flourishing city saw the biggest population drop in 10 years — 25 percent — of any city ever, except for the special case of post-Katrina New Orleans. Civic-minded organizations have a plan for saving Detroit, however, and it’s got nothing to do with delusional hail-Mary attempts to restart old-style growth. It’s called managed decline, and basically it involves giving up on the city and finding something more useful to do with that space. …

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