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Critical List: Republicans vote to give states power over clean water; deer ticks in the Great Lakes

House Republicans voted yesterday to let states decide whether a company is living up to the Clean Water Act or not. The EPA's decision to prevent West Virginia coal companies from dumping waste into rivers prompted the bill to begin with, so it's pretty safe to assume that the bill's not meant to strengthen CWA protections. The federal government says the cost of carbon is $21 per ton; a group of pro-environment economists says the cost is closer to $900 per ton. China's feeding its "strategic pork reserve" with soybeans grown in Brazil on environmentally sensitive land. As Moscow more …

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Why do cities drive us crazy?

Could neuroscience someday get to the root of what cities do to our brains -- and our mental health?Photo: Stuart HerbertScientists have been doing studies for years that show you are more likely to suffer from mental illness if you live in a city. What they haven't figured out is why. Now, researchers in Germany have conducted experiments that they believe might begin to get at the neuroscience behind the crazy-making nature of urban areas. Publishing in the journal Nature, a group led by Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg of the University of Heidelberg's Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany, looked …

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What does the reverse Great Migration mean for urbanism?

Streets like my own are becoming more desirable for black Americans and others looking for better deals down South.Photo: Kristen E. JeffersCross-posted from The Black Urbanist. According to an article last Wednesday in The New York Times, a reverse Great Migration of African-Americans from the North to the South is occurring. Why is this happening? The Times piece cites the lack of jobs for young black graduates in the North; the relative ease of purchasing property in the South; for elders, the ability to retire in greater comfort; and a flip-flopped racial climate. Many of the elders feel the ancestral …

Read more: Cities, Family, Sprawl, Urbanism

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The American suburbs are a giant Ponzi scheme

Not real wealth, just the illusion of wealth.Photo: John "K"We often forget that the American pattern of suburban development is an experiment, one that has never been tried anywhere before. We assume it is the natural order because it is what we see all around us. But our own history -- let alone a tour of other parts of the world -- reveals a different reality. Across cultures, over thousands of years, people have traditionally built places scaled to the individual. It is only the last two generations that we have scaled places to the automobile. How is our experiment …

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Look how much more space we'd have without sprawl

  If we could just get everyone in the world to pack in a little tighter, we'd have a hell of a lot more open space to work with. Imagine the possibilities! We could pack everyone into the Midwest, fill Canada with wind turbines, and leave everything else for wildlife. Okay, maybe that's not realistic, but the point is that dense living frees up a lot of the Earth's surface area.

Read more: Cities, Sprawl

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Older Americans could be stranded without better transit

It's not just a bus. It can mean freedom, connection, and independence.Photo: Lynn FriedmanEarlier this week, Transportation for America released a report called "Aging in Place: Stuck Without Options." It looks at how as the enormous baby boom generation gets older -- the way all of us do, until we die, that is -- access to transit is going to be a bigger and bigger problem. Most people these days, the report points out, want to get old where they are currently living rather than move to a retirement community. "Aging in place" is what the demographers call it. But …

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As suburban office parks lose steam, Apple unveils the ultimate example

Back to the future in the Apple spaceship.Screenshot: Apple via YouTube The old-school suburban office park seems to be having a midlife crisis. A special report in Crain's about Chicago-area businesses such as Sears, AT&T, and Sara Lee looking to relocate from the suburbs to the urban core -- along with the news that Swiss megabank UBS may be abandoning Stamford, Conn., to move back to Manhattan -- has prompted a flurry of responses around the urbanist blogoverse. Meanwhile, two of the American companies nearly universally hailed as forward-thinking -- Facebook and Apple -- are betting their futures on super-fancy …

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An Indian boom city grows without planning, at its peril

In Gurgaon, gleaming residences, malls, and office buildings are like islands unto themselves.Photo: iamgurgaonYou hear a lot of people talking these days about small government. About letting the free market drive development. About how city planners are trying to do some kind of sinister social engineering. About how the feds and the states should just stay out of the way and let business do its thing, and the economy would take off. So what would that look like? Well, it might look something like Gurgaon, India, a booming suburb about 15 miles from New Delhi that has flourished economically over …

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Which part of Detroit really needs to be ‘right-sized’?

Photo: Trey CampbellCross-posted from the Natural Resources Defense Council. At the bottom of this post are two short videos about Detroit, both featuring architect and planner Mark Nickita, principal of the city's Archive Design Studio and a lifelong Detroit resident. In a very refreshing change from the mind-numbing negativity one usually hears about the city, Nickita is upbeat and hopeful. His point of view, emphasizing revitalization, is much closer to my own than much of what I read, which effectively takes the approach that the city has somehow been abandoned beyond redemption, leaving the only question how to manage its more-or-less …

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Critical List: EPA gives chemical industry a pass; Rolls-Royce owners snubs EVs

The EPA could ask chemical companies to report on Americans' exposure to their products, but it's not. "Where's there's coal, there's opportunity": The energy industry funds brainwashing -- sorry, "education" -- for students. The Grand Calumet river ferries about 200,000 cubic yards of toxic crap into Lake Michigan each year. The federal government is cleaning it up. Slowly. Bill McKibben lays out the strategy for pushing back on Obama's energy choices. Rolls-Royce owners poo-poo electric cars. The company's CEO thinks it's because his customers live in sprawly suburbs where 100 miles, the range of most EVs, just won't cut it.