The lawn goodbye: A desperate nation paints its yards green

The grass is always greener.Photo: ClaudiaAh, the American lawn! Symbol of prestige! Source of unending drudgery! Environmental nightmare! Why do we have this thing, anyway? The lawn originated in Europe, perhaps first as an area cleared near castles to allow for the easy sighting of potential attackers, then later maintained as a sign of social standing — all that open space without food growing on it meant you had to be pretty rich. These days, many American neighborhoods require a well-tended, well-watered lawn (although more environmentally friendly types of landscaping are sometimes acceptable as well). Failure to maintain the standard …


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.): …


The drugstore chains that ate America’s suburbs [VIDEO]

What is the fabric of the modern American community? Well, a big part of it consists of an endless parade of chain drugstores selling the kind of stuff chain drugstores sell (including booze!). That’s the landscape that Chris Weagel shows us from his hometown of St. Clair Shores, Mich. It is also a landscape that can be found in every state in America. Like it or not, this is the way much of our country looks. Our friends at Rustwire.com posted Weagel’s very funny and very depressing tour of the various Rite-Aids, Walgreen’s, and CVSs (CVSes? CVSi?) that line the …

How we roll

Pedaling away from the health care crisis

This is the third column in a series focusing on the economics of bicycling. In the United States, we have the most expensive health care system in the world. We collectively invest more than 15 percent of our GDP — that’s around $2 trillion, or $5,700 per person — into health care every year. The tragedy of these enormous numbers is that they fail to stem the tide of our increasing ill health. “Most of the money we’re spending on health care is going to treat preventable chronic diseases,” Michael Pollan told Grist in 2009. Our poor diet, he added, …

War! What is it good for?

The latest battle in the nonexistent ‘War on Cars’

Photo: IdiolectorSomewhere along the road, the phrase “War on X” became part of standard lazy American political rhetoric (see also: “Whatever-gate”). There are two primary ways the phrase gets used. First, the “this is a serious problem and we’re doing everything we can to stop it” usage, usually government-sponsored. It made a strong debut with LBJ’s War on Poverty and lives on in the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. The second usage is less common, and often shows up in right-wing contexts. It’s the “those bad people are trying to take away our beautiful freedoms” trope. Examples …

The fall of sprawl

Does sprawl development drive away talented professional people?

Troy, Michigan: can this place be saved?Photo: Wayne Senville, Planning Commissioners JournalThere’s a great discussion going on at the indispensable blog about the industrial Midwest, RustWire.com. It was prompted by their posting last week of a letter from Andrew Basile, Jr., the CEO of a legal firm with offices in Troy, Mich., entitled “Why our growing firm may have to leave Michigan.” Basile says the core issue for his business is that he can’t find qualified people who want to work in the state of Michigan, in large part because sprawl development has made life there so crummy. Let him …

Decongestant prescription

Putting a price on a city’s streets

Streetfilms has dropped the latest in its “Moving Beyond the Automobile” series, this time explaining the economics behind congestion pricing for automobiles. The idea behind congestion pricing for automobiles is really pretty simple: “One of the most precious resources in a city is space, and that space needs to be priced.” That’s how New York traffic expert Sam Schwartz explains the concept, which was first floated by Nobel prize-winning economist William Vickrey back in the 1950s. Singapore has been charging drivers a fee to enter a city’s central business district during peak hours for 35 years. Stockholm does it. In …

not in my subaru outback

Liberal NIMBYism: the most despicable form of hypocrisy?

Prospect Park’s new bike lane is worse than airborne weaponized AIDSPhoto: shannonvsimmsIn staunchly liberal enclaves all over the country, citizens who profess to progressive environmentalism in the abstract are thwarting local efforts to increase the sustainability of their immediate environment. Whether it’s suing over bike lanes in Park Slope, Brooklyn, or blocking a bus rapid transit system in Berkeley, Calif., the children of the summer of love appear to have grown up, grown old, and grown immune to the needs of their descendants. Ryan Avent, online economics editor for The Economist, says that there is something even more damaging to the environment …

File under: strange bedfellows

Edward Glaeser: Tea Party-style libertarianism could be good for our cities

Cities: Land of the free, home of the brave.Photo: Thomas HawkWhen I talked with economist Edward Glaeser last month about his new book Triumph of the City, he touched briefly on the idea that Tea Party activists, rather than being natural adversaries of city-dwellers, are actually natural allies — if only unwittingly. Here’s what he said then: To those Republicans, to those Tea Party activists who believe in the home mortgage interest deduction: Shouldn’t the U.S. government stop engaging in social engineering? Shouldn’t the U.S. government stop engaging in those policies that artificially push people out of the homes that …

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