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It’s the ‘burbs, stupid: on the Ezra Klein/Tom Vilsack dustup

Carried away: Ezra Klein and Tom Vilsack ride an imaginary "raft of subsidies." This week, an interesting -- and, I think, bizarre -- argument broke out between Washington Post political blogger Ezra Klein and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. The topic was whether rural residents deserve what Klein called a "raft of subsidies," when in fact, "we still need cities." Klein's contributions to the debate were widely hailed as "brilliant" and Vilsack's were widely deplored (see here and here); but I was left wondering what precisely the two were arguing about -- and whether either one of them actually knew what …

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James Howard Kunstler: The old American dream is a nightmare

Photo: Charlie SamuelsThe Great Depression gave rise to hobos and Hoovervilles. The Roaring Nineties brought us what New York Times columnist David Brooks termed "bobos in paradise." Now our current round of layoffs and foreclosures has unceremoniously transferred millions of folks from the "affluent" to the "afflicted" category, exiling them from Brooks's mythical exurban Eden. But instead of setting up tents, these newly poor live in a perpetual state of nestlessness, couch-surfing, or flitting from one basement rec room to the next. And rather than revisiting Hooverville, they've given our national landscape the barely-lived in, already abandoned suburban ghost towns …

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‘Slugging’ lets commuters hitchhike to work without ass, gas, or grass

Photo: BankbryanFor the last 30-plus years, commuters in the D.C. area have been commuting to and from work via modified hitchhiking. Commuters wait in "slug lines" for a driver who's going their way -- it's a little like catching a SuperShuttle at the airport. These spontaneous carpools are beneficial for the drivers, who get to use speedy HOV lanes; for passengers, who get a free ride to work; and for the environment, because it means fewer cars on the road. The popularity of slug lines shows that people are willing to sit with strangers, put up with someone else's schedule, …

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Maybe selling off government-owned fossil-fuel infrastructure isn’t such a bad idea

Might a little bit of the free market be just what we need to get Americans paying something closer to the true cost of driving?Photo: Marius WatzEveryone knows about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's unhinged attack on his state's unions, but did you know that he's also pushing for the right to "sell any state-owned heating, cooling, and power plant [PDF] or ... contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount"? Walker's not alone in his inclination to sell off public infrastructure; for the past several years, budget-strapped …

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Are ‘smart cities’ not as smart as they think they are?

Smart cities like Masdar, in Abu Dhabi, are all the rage. But are they intelligent in the right way?Photo: Trevor PattCross-posted from the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Intelligent cities" and "smart cities" are all the rage right now, especially in corporate image advertising related to emerging technology. But is there a downside? I think there may be, insofar as those phrases are used to describe tech-based panaceas for urban problems whose roots lie not in a lack of sophisticated information flow, but in a half-century or more of dumb growth patterns, central-city disinvestment, and poor neighborhood design.    Just a …

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Hit by cars, pedestrians are ticketed in hospital [VIDEO]

Imagine that you get hit by a car when you're trying to cross a busy road in a place where you can't even see the nearest crosswalk. You're airlifted to a hospital for treatment of your injuries. And before you leave, you get a traffic ticket. Yes, that really happened. You can hear people talk about how our built environment discriminates against pedestrians, and how engineers are trained to build for cars rather than people. You can read about how law enforcement is biased in favor of people who drive over people who walk. But nothing has quite as much …

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SYMPATHY RAGE: Watch Henry Blodget yell about this country’s complete lack of an energy plan

Feeling angry that America's economy is about to fall apart because oil and gas industries have a stranglehold on our political landscape, sprawl rules your city and no one seems willing to move toward a more rational energy and transportation future? You're welcome.

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Peter Calthorpe on why urbanism is the cheapest, smartest way to fight climate change

Peter Calthorpe.Cities may be the trendy topic du jour, but Peter Calthorpe has been talking about the benefits of urbanism since the 1970s. In 1993, he was one of the founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism, an influential national organization that promotes walkable, mixed-use, transit-rich development. Now Calthorpe has come out with a new book, Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change. In it, he argues that sustainable urban development must play a key role in the fight to reduce carbon emissions and counter climate change. He writes: Confronting climate change is a little like the war on …