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This abandoned Walmart has been reclaimed as a public library

The McAllen Public Library in McAllen, Texas, is the size of 2.5 football fields -- the largest single-story library in the United States. But in its former life, its size wasn't all that unusual. That's because the McAllen library used to be a Walmart.

Read more: Cities, Sprawl


Visualize a shorter commute — or a better job

If you lived at the Watergate, this is how long your commute would be around the city by car. Good news is that should you be heading to, say, the White House, you can get there in about 10 minutes. (Probably faster under cover of darkness.)

Should you choose instead to travel by public transit, the trip takes slightly longer, but it's easier to blend in with crowds.

These images were generated by Trulia's awkwardly named "Visual analysis of local data" tool, henceforth known as the Commute-o-matic.™ It's less complicated than it seems. The tool looks at known public transit routes (bus stops, train stations) and the travel times between them. What makes it look magical is the speed with which it makes the calculations.

In most cities, you can almost always get more places in less time by car. That revelation won't shock you, though the extent of the problem might. Compare San Jose with San Francisco. Huge difference in what public transit allows.


These elderly fatality statistics may spoil your affection for big-box stores

Photo by Trevor Stoddart.

Obviously, everyone loves a nice strip mall. The parking lot, the low-slung, cheap-looking buildings, the pedestrian walkways that no drivers pay attention to.

And big-box stores! The lots! The long walks down busy parking lanes! The Brutalism-meets-Brady-Bunch aesthetic! What's not to like?

So it pains me, truly,  to be the bearer of this bad news. There's a slight (actually, not-so-slight) correlation between strip malls and big-box stores and increased deaths among the elderly.

A recently released report [PDF] from the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M is the bearer of this bad news. Anticipating that some 10 percent of the population would be 75 or older by 2050, they set out to study how the design of traffic flow within a community related to accidents involving pedestrians and drivers at that advanced age.


Read a prophetic Ray Bradbury story about car culture

Indelibly important science fiction author and giant of my childhood Ray Bradbury, who died last night, would probably never have described himself as writing about environmentalism -- "A lot of lousy novels come from people who want to do good," he said in an interview. But he did write about the relationship between humans and the worlds (Earth and otherwise) that sustain them, a relationship he often seemed to view as "tiny, stupid, heedless little insects scrabbling across the surface of something incomprehensibly old." He had some unconventional ideas about fixing the future, too. Go read "The Toynbee Convector." I will wait here for you.

To really get a feel for Bradbury's vision of the world, the humans in it, and how they can live (or fail to live) together, you'll have to read his 2035809180 books. But I found one relevant piece online, a very short 1951 story that prefigures America's codependent love affair with cars.

Read more: Sprawl, Transportation


Romney, once an anti-sprawl crusader, created model for Obama ‘smart growth’ program

Mitt Romney in front of a treeMitt Romney pushed for smart-growth policies in Massachusetts. (Photo by Gage Skidmore.)

Everyone knows that "Obamacare" was modeled on Mitt Romney's Massachusetts health-care law. But did you know that a key Obama "smart growth" initiative -- the Partnership for Sustainable Communities -- was also created in the mold of a Romney program?

Tea Partiers rallied to quash funding for this Obama partnership last fall. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), conservative darling, criticized the idea for the partnership when it first arose and accused the Obama administration of trying to impose "an urban-utopian fantasy through an unprecedented intrusion of the Federal Government into the shaping of local communities." The Republican National Committee recently warned that smart growth is part of a U.N. conspiracy (green helicopters, anyone?).

This is yet another issue on which the party's presumptive presidential nominee looks to be seriously out of sync with the GOP base.


Politically conservative cities suck for pedestrians

Photo by Steve Snodgrass.

Walkin' in politically conservative cities, walkin' in politically conservative cities, nobody walks in politically conservative citiiiiies. Okay this is not very catchy, but Will Oremus at Slate has noticed that it's true. The most walkable cities are reliably politically liberal -- the 19 most walkable are all in states that voted for Obama in 2008, and even the largest conservative cities didn't crack the top 20.

Read more: Cities, Politics, Sprawl


Walmart is bigger than Manhattan and richer than Norway

Image by Mother Jones.

Mother Jones has an investigation of Walmart in its March/April issue, and it comes with some pretty stark statistics. Among the facts on display in MoJo's chart: Walmart stores use five times as much electricity as the state of Vermont; Walmart's net sales exceed the GDP of Norway; Walmart stores' combined square footage dwarfs Manhattan; and Walmart stores emit more CO2 than the 50 lowest-emitting countries combined.


Millennials love cities because they provide the one thing their boomer parents couldn’t give them

Why is Gen Y migrating to the cities? Because millennials are craving the things they didn’t get in their suburban upbringings, like connectedness and adventure. Basically, they’re throwing off their cul-de-sac childhoods and seeking out authenticity.

Nathan Norris, urban infrastructure planner, lays it all out at the PlaceShakers blog:


Car-centric neighborhoods linked to childhood obesity, finger-wagging

Photo by Jym Ferrier.

It should come as no surprise that children who live in neighborhoods that aren't walkable, lack playgrounds, and are full of fast food joints are twice as likely to be obese as kids in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods with access to healthy foods.


If everyone used as much energy as Americans, we’d run out of oil in 9 years

Unlike gluttonous American industry, Europe's most profitable companies plan to make even more money by getting ahead of this whole peak oil trend, reports Der Spiegel. And it’s a damn good thing, because if everybody guzzled oil like Americans, we’d be even more screwed than we are now.

Case in point:

If every person on Earth used as much energy as the average person in the United States, today's known oil reserves would be exhausted within nine years.