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Urbanism

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You work 3.84 minutes per day to pay for your bicycle, 2 hours for your car

James D. Schwartz of The Urban Country recently calculated that Americans work on average two hours out of every day to pay for their cars. Now he's figured out that a bicycle costs only 3.84 minutes. And that's being conservative, assuming you'll drop $1,500 on a new commuter bike every five years, after which it will have zero value.

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Why the 21st century will see migration back to the Rust Belt

In the 20th century there was a mass migration to the Sun Belt, because everyone thought that living in a warm climate and having a big house would make them happy, even though actually it made us diabetic and addicted to oxycontin.

But now that climate change means the Sun Belt is becoming the Drought Belt, you might want to go north, says NRDC's Kaid Benfield -- unless you like living in a desert slum made out of crumbling McMansions and ruled over by teen superpredators whose street-legal assault rifles sport Ron Paul stickers, that is.

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The McMansion trend has peaked

Americans' ideal home size declined to 2,100 square feet from a peak of 2,300, according to real estate research firm Trulia. (The full account of this trend was laid out by Kaid Benfield at Atlantic Cities, and it's worth checking out.)

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America has 40 million McMansions that no one wants

Americans, especially generations X and Y, want shorter commutes, walkability and a car-free existence. Which means that around 40 million large-lot exurban McMansions, built primarily during the housing boom, might never find occupants.

Read more: Cities, Sprawl, Urbanism

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Dirty cities make us happy

What features of a city make for happy inhabitants? Most of them are pretty predictable: Mass transit, an environment conducive to raising kids, and affordability all ranked highly in a survey published in Urban Affairs Review.

Read more: Cities, Urbanism

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Urban farmers vs. NIMBYist vegans, round one

Urban farmers are raising and slaughtering their own livestock, and a shadowy organization called Neighbors Opposed to Backyard Slaughter is up in arms about it. Writing at Mother Jones, Keira Butler gets the scoop on what's sure to be the biggest civil war in the Bobo universe since the great “tomatoes in winter: is it OK as long as they're local?” debate of '09.

This bunch of NOBS has taken the time to put together a flyer and a website in opposition to urban farming -- a tiny subset of farming that looks even more harmless when you consider the awful state of animal welfare in industrial agriculture. Sure, we may be talking about a minuscule number of animals that are being hand-raised in humane living situations, while the vast majority of our meat comes from deplorable conditions … but on the other hand, the NOBS members’ kids might have to think about a chicken getting killed! MAN THE TREBUCHETS.

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Austin gets a super swank zero-energy suburb

How do you build a (nearly) net-zero-energy suburb in 2008, at the nadir of the economic crash, when no bank in the country is convinced you'll be able to sell your more energy-efficient but pricier homes?

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Design o’ the times: Empowering minorities to shape urban landscapes

Photo by Bridgette Wynn.

When people ask me why I write about architecture, design, and cities -- why I focus on these topics instead of all of the others -- I like to tell the story of a park bench.

I first read this story many years ago in a book of essays on urbanism. It starts auspiciously enough with the development of a new neighborhood outside of Los Angeles. The developers promoted the neighborhood as one of inclusivity, a place where community would reign supreme. They designed everything from the houses to the garbage cans and the sidewalks.

The park benches they selected were shaped like horseshoes. I assumed the design was to encourage people to face one another and strike up a conversation, but I was wrong. A person cannot sleep on a curve. The bench was designed to be “bum proof” in order to keep the “wrong” kind of person out of this “inclusive” community.

Design is everywhere and it has the power to galvanize community or to thwart it. It can empower or it can disenfranchise. Today there is a growing awareness about the role that design plays in our day-to-day lives. The profession is waking up to the idea of human-centered design, which focuses on the needs of the community as a whole and a belief that good design is that which serves the greater good.

There’s only one problem: Large swaths of our communities are not participating in the design process.

Read more: Cities, Urbanism

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This old house: Why fixing up old homes is greener than building new ones

Remodeling an old pad like these ones, in Baltimore, is more eco-friendly than building a new one. (Photo by cinderellasg.)

Looking for the ultimate earth-friendly bungalow? No need to engineer some LEED certified space pod. Buy an old house and gird yourself for an eco-friendly remodel.

A study released Tuesday finds that in almost every instance, remodeling an old building is greener than building a new one. Beyond that, it shows that reusing old buildings provides immediate results in the fight against climate change, while a relatively energy efficient new building won’t pay climate dividends for decades.

Taken to the scale of the city, the study has some fascinating implications. Cities, it turns out, serve as a sort of carbon sink -- the existing buildings hold a tremendous amount of “embodied energy.” Conserving that energy by sparing these buildings from the wrecking ball does a lot of good for the planet, too.

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Sick of the suburbs: How badly designed communities trash our health

Richard Jackson, from the PBS miniseries, Designing Healthy Communities.

This story is excerpted from a longer piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Researchers can have revelatory moments in remarkable places -- the African savannah, an ancient library, or the ruins of a lost civilization. But Richard J. Jackson’s epiphany occurred in 1999 in a banal American landscape: a dismal stretch of the car-choked Buford Highway, near the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

Jackson, who was then the head of the National Center for Environmental Health at the CDC, was rushing to get to a meeting where leading epidemiologists would discuss the major health threats of the 21st century. On the side of the road he saw an elderly woman walking, bent with a load of shopping bags. It was a blisteringly hot day, and there was little hope that she would find public transportation. 

At that moment, Jackson says, “I realized that the major threat was how we had built America.”