Sunday, January 30, 2011

Where Should the Cast of Jersey Shore Party Next?

For whatever it's worth, I think Jersey Shore, for as trashy and lame its storyline is, is able to provoke nearly everyone in some way. As the most ridiculous logical extension of reality TV culture yet, it's symbolic of our pop culture, for better or worse. Whether out of schadenfreude or just plain morbid curiosity, you're fooling yourself if you haven't at least heard of the show within the past two years.

Snooki already has a book out. Apparently one of its best lines is Snooki describing "feeling like a bunch of Ellis Island immigrants stepping off the Mayflower..." So in other words, the same feeling you get the morning after you take a shot of Jager mixed with Four Loko and then chase it with a Vicodin? Followed by much fist-pumping action!

So far the show has taken its brave contestants from the decayed decadence of the Jersey Shore to the (juiced!) locales of Miami Beach. Next season will be in Italy - bring these guidos back to black out the old country, shall we?

This brings us to the question of where their next party destination should be for the following season. Time had a great run-down of possible locations:

1. Rimini, Italy:
It would be fun to send the group to Corelone, Sicily to escape the repercussions of their crazy shenanigans at Seaside Heights – aka the town Michael Corelone in The Godfather was exiled to after his restaurant shoot-em-up. But, sending an Italian with mainland heritage to stay on the island is almost equal to blasphemy.
Located near the Adriatic Sea for that must-have tanning time, Rimini’s got tons of discos to replace Karma. Oh yeah and there’s many monuments including the Tiberius Bridge and the Church of San Giuliano Martire to give them a taste of the real Italy because that’s the reason you watch Jersey Shore - for the culture.
2. Ibiza, Spain

Everyone knows that Ibiza is the party capital of Europe and, some might argue, the world. The place where fist-pumping electronic music lives and breathes, Ibiza has featured some of the world’s top techno, house and trance DJs – and hopefully soon DJ Pauly D. That mandatory Spanish siesta can only help this group to keep going strong on Ron Ron Juice into the wee hours of the morning.

Not only is Ibiza full of some of the world's largest (and douchiest) nightclubs - see, for instance, the annual 10,000 person foam party at Privilege. It is also home to world-class beaches, beautiful Mediterranean coastline, friendly locals, and my 21st birthday bender. See Facebook evidence below.

Even their graffiti is sexy
Pacha - this is an off-season off-night at one of the most famous clubs in Ibiza

 3. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The girls in the house, who already wear skimpy clothing that sometimes doesn’t even cover their nether regions, will feel at home in Rio De Janiero. With guidos and guidettes mingling with the local Cariocas, there will be plenty of guys around for Snooki to smush and plenty of girls Sammi to slap and punch away from Ronnie.
Isn't she beautiful?

4. Phuket, Thailand
Let’s move the (mostly) Long Island residents from one island to another and send them to Phuket. See MVP put their brawling skills against the best muay thai fighters in the world. What will The Situation make for family dinner when he only has the local fare to work with? Also, we hear it’s pretty cheap to get those, um, enhancements that JWOWW loves to show off.  
Megan, since you were in Phuket, can you confirm/deny Phuket's appeal as a Jersey Shore destination? Can the full moon parties handle Ronnie and "The Situation"?

5. Sarah Palin's Alaska?

Let’s see if the crew can survive in a place with no GTL. If they can party here, it would prove that they can party anywhere. The drinks would always stay cold – and the temperature even colder. Instead of hunting for people to take home and avoiding grenades, they’ll be hunting for meat and avoiding buckshot. Bonus: If they could combine at least one episode from these two shows, that would be classic. We’d love to hear Sarah Palin versus The Situation on foreign policy.
Other suggestions:

6. Barcelona - aside from having one of the world's most exciting nightlife scene (most bars close at 5-6, with the clubs open until 8-9am!), fantastic scenery, and beautiful people, this city has enough booze and soccer fans to satisfy the most hardcore guidos/guidettes.

7. Madrid - this city has the most bars per capita of any city in Europe, enough said.

Via: Time

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

So...What Do You Do Exactly?

Every so often, I find an article that hits the nail on the head for exactly what I wish I could say, if only so eloquently. When I was in school at UW and told people that I studied urban planning (don't even get me started with Geography!), I was met with blank stares and mild eye-rolling 90% of the time. You wanna do what now? The other 10% probably has some idea of the profession and assumes you are either a) an architecture school reject or b) a lost hippie who wants to create urban farms to feed organic food to the homeless - don't worry, some of us still do!

Really urban planning is much more simple than that. I want to be able to take people's vague ideas of what a "sustainable" future is supposed to look like and put them into practice. Are you happy with your current lifestyle? Do you worry about pollution and its effect on your health? Do you hate your morning commute and wish there was an alternative to sitting in your car wasting fuel while you idle? Do you wonder why you can't walk to your corner store the way your parents could? Ever wonder how your city will restructure itself due to the recession? Where its jobs will come from? Well, that's where urban planners come in. Because I'm terrible at explaining things like this, I'll leave it to a PhD student at UMaryland whose full article is below:
It happened again, as it invariably does every holiday season. In the midst of spiced eggnog and office holiday parties or visiting with family and friends, I get asked a simple question: “What do you do?” I politely say, “I study urban planning.” And then there’s the inevitable silence as I wait for the quizzical follow-up – “What’s that?” – and another brooding year of Christmas heartache. However, this year something changed. After I uttered my usual phrase, “I study urban planning,” my speech was met with a “Wow, that’s really cool,” and “Ah, that’s interesting, I have a friend who is studying that,” or my personal favorite: “I wish I had gone into planning rather than settle for law school.”  Yes, the field of urban planning was met with unbridled enthusiasm as I made the rounds this holiday season. A Christmas (or Hanukkah) miracle? I think not.
The plain truth is that urban planning is hot. If we take a look at the numbers, according to the Department of Labor, the urban and regional planning field is expected to grow by nineteen percent, from 38,400 jobs in 2008 to 45,700 jobs by 2018. Moreover, quite apparent is that a burgeoning global population has created the need for additional infrastructure including transportation systems, affordable housing, and schools while simultaneously existing infrastructure needs repair and restoration. It is no wonder that U.S. News and World Report included urban planning as one of the fifty best careers for 2011. But this is really just the beginning. 
In his notable work, Planning in the Face of Power, John Forester describes planning or designing as “a deeply social process of making sense together.” Planners, to appropriate the sociologist’s C. Wright Mills language, translate personal troubles into public issues.  Moreover, they help individuals and communities communicate and develop visions for the future based upon shared interests, values, and norms. In a time and place where the prospect of the future seems uncertain, unsettling and even frightening at times, the expertise that planners bring is needed more than ever. In this context, a perfect storm of factors is contributing to an auspicious growth for the field. 
Let’s be straight: Urban planning is and traditionally has been a relatively obscure field in a relatively obscure set of disciplines known as the social sciences (we like to talk things out). In her article “Planning Theory’s Emerging Paradigm: Communicative Action and Interactive Practice,” Judith Innes writes, “There are probably 1,500 people today who hold a planning Ph.D. The proportion of educators with a Ph.D. in planning is steadily increasing.” This was in 1995. Today, my educated guess is there are in the range of 2,500-3,000 people with planning Ph.D.’s and they are in more places than walking the corridors of the Ivory Tower both here and abroad. You can find them in think tanks, NGOs, law firms, and public policy organizations. In terms of academia, one only need take a glance at the Job Bank on the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) website to see the plethora of faculty jobs available. Indeed, the L. Douglas Wilder School at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) alone has announced it will be filling ten or more tenure-track or tenured positions in the coming two years. Ten positions! That’s larger than the entirety of many planning departments, and along with a number of new positions, the field is seeing whole programs commence and become newly accredited including those at Boise State University and the University of Louisville, among others. To put this in perspective for those new to the field, the annual planning conference for academics draws between 400-500 individuals yearly. The field is not large; we aren’t talking a department of history, economics, or political science here. We are talking about a field where there are at present fifty-four openings for urban planning faculty (I counted). 
Why all the activity?  A constellation of factors are at play, including:
• The first full generation of trained planners are on the eve of retirement
• The growing relevance and significance of planning, both locally and globally from Dubai to Detroit reflected by the ascent of wealth and the capacity to build mega-project (e.g. as in Dubai), but also the ascent of poverty resultant from failed public policy, markets, and structural economic forces (e.g. Detroit)
• The growing visibility of planning through media (including this magazine) and the blogosphere thereby precipitating more interest from the general public

As both supply and demand factors continue to incentivize the field, the explicit notion that both individuals and communities are looking for answers and find themselves increasingly reflected in the language of planning, whether tacitly or knowingly, begs the question: What does this emergence mean for how we train planners for the future? It is a question that generations of planners have considered, including Paul Davidoff and Judith Innes. 
Davidoff, regarded as the founder of advocacy planning, described in his 1965 article Advocacy and Pluralism in Planningthe need to broaden the scope of a planners’ education. He wished to widen the focus of planning to include all areas of concern within government. He speaks to the primary role the planner has as a coordinator and suggests that two years of graduate study may be insufficient to broadly train planners for this difficult job. Judith Innes, writing in the mid-1990s, notes the importance of allowing students to take over their own learning processes. She references an anecdote in a teaching workshop she attended which imbued her with a Deweyian lesson, “that learning by doing has far more power than simply learning by reading or listening and that social learning – learning as part of a group effort – has important advantages over the solitary investigation of the lonely researcher.” More recently, Leonie Sandercock contends the need for “therapeutic” processes to transform urban spaces from places of fear (racial, socio-economic, etc) to places of cohabitation and coexistence. Such processes could be structured in helping residents organize meetings in moving from fixed positions to shared interests. These three scholars are but three voices over planning’s lifespan that add to the discourse on planning pedagogy. The ascent of issues such as all things sustainability-related, social justice, and international development planning only contribute to the dialogue on what a planner should be learning.   
Peter Bosselmann, a professor of urban design in architecture, city and regional planning, and landscape architecture at the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley, notes that among his students,
There’s an interest in international work right now, which probably has to do with the economy . . . Geographically, China is very important, as is India, and we assume that soon the urbanization of Africa will start becoming of interest. [Topic-wise], the environment is becoming stronger and stronger, especially the forces of nature and how they’re acting on cities, such as the rising of water tables.”
What so many of us love about planning is that it is dynamic. And urgently so. From the growing wealth gaps in the United States and globally, to environmental issues, individuals come to planning because they wish to effect change. We can only hope that as the institution of planning moves into the next decade, planners will be more cogent of their past, their context, and their responsibilities to their craft in embracing this dynamism. No Christmas (or Hanukkah) miracle required. 
Via: Planetizen

Why Your State Sucks...

Back in October, I posted a map of the 50 states with their most iconic movies that define the state's history and culture. How about a map of the states' dirtiest little secrets? I think so :) Thank you, Time!

A few of my favorites:

Washington - bestality? Unfortunately, this one's true and true. I'm going to quote the multiple sclerosis awareness industry here for a second, but: Is it the Trees?

North Dakota - ugliness? Maybe at the country fair.

Wisconsin? Binge drinking? Milwaukee is the drunkest city in America. Thank you Miller and PBR!

Via: Time

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ecotality's EV Project Gives Coulomb's ChargePoint a Run for Its Money

Last month I wrote about how Coulomb Technologies' ChargePoint America program plans to install 4,600 EV charging stations across nine metro areas in the next several years. So far, however, the EV stations have been geographically limited, especially in the Puget Sound area. Long story short, it's going to be hard to ease questions of "range anxiety" that many potential EV buyers will have if the only available ChargePoint stations are at Bellevue City Hall, UW Bothell, and a high-end condo building in Downtown Seattle (residents only). That's hardly the way to expand a network and create the necessary perception that plugging in your electric car will be as seamless and convenient as filling up at any gas station.

Luckily, that necessity breeds invention, and Ecotality's EV Project has filled in to give Coulomb's ChargePoint America program a real run for its money. The EV Project has a much larger budget, having landed a $99 million grant from the DOE - nearly three times the size of the grant awarded to ChargePoint.

The EV Project began in August 2009 and will be completed by the end of 2012 and takes a markedly different approach to the implementation of EV infrastructure than Coulomb. Rather than focusing on installing public charging stations, the EV Project is assisting customers who bought the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf by providing then with over 8,300 home charging systems. Not to be outdone in terms of public visibility, Ecotality is also installing 15,000 public charging stations. The project spans six states - WA, OR, CA, AZ, Tennessee (odd choice, although they've installed some of Ecotality's charging stations at the Cracker Barrel!), and DC.

Courtesy of The EV Project
Ecotality's EV Project also has the advantage of having major funding outside of the federal government. Swiss power grid corporation ABB just agreed to invest $10 million in the EV Project.

The bulk of the 15,000 plus residential and commercial charging stations will be primarily on the West Coast, as well as Texas and Tennessee. Just where will you be able to soon find your Ecotality charging station? One of the coolest things to come out of Ecotality's EV Project has been the official maps it has released showing station density in several cities.


According to a September press release, Ecotality plans to install 1,100 charging stations in four Oregon cities: Portland, Euguene, Salem, and Corvallis. The stations seem to be logically aligned along Portland's major arterials, like Burnside Street, Sandy Blvd, MLK, and the downtown core.

Map of Portland charging stations

The EV Project plans to install 1,200 charging stations in Washington State, which will be a great complement to plans already underway to create an electric highway on I-5. With the help of planners at the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), Ecotality has finally released a detailed map of charging station density in the Seattle area.

Via: GigaOMElectric Vehicles

When Horoscopes and Data Geeks Collide...

Ever wonder how the horoscope gurus of every astrology website or your favorite alternative weekly gets their grains of wisdom to produce your horoscope? Does it ever seem like the horoscope you get is repetitive, dull, or not-quite-spot-on?

Well, thanks to the folks at Information is Beautiful, there is now a graphic continuum of the most commonly used words in a sample of over 22,000 horoscopes, filtered by astrological sign.

For my fellow Pisces, here are the most common words:

  • better
  • life
  • feel 
  • happy
  • change
  • matter
  • sure
  • keep
  • emotional
  • energy
  • decision
  • moment
And here's a generic horoscope that could apply to anyone, any sign, at any time of the year, using this same data mining technology:

Here are some of the unique words mentioned for each horoscope across the range of data the researchers at Information is Beautiful catalogued:

Finally, the full range of horoscope traits they found:

Does this fit with your ideas of astrology? Leave a comment and let's hear your take :)

Via: Gearfuse

Thursday, January 20, 2011

IFC's Portlandia Debut - Hipster chickens, co-op love, bookstore hate, and other beautiful nuggets of Portland life

A few weeks back I wrote about the new IFC series Portlandia that pokes fun about the unique alternative and hipster subcultures of our cute small-town sister to the south.

The show stars SNL's Fred Armisen alongside former Sleater-Kinney lead singer Carrie Brownstein (remember them?). Produced by NBC's Lorne Michaels, there are many guest cameos, including Steve Buscemi (which hipster movie hasn't he been in?) and Jason Sudeikis. With the power of SNL and Portland combined....

After watching its debut episode, I was definitely entertained and in stitches (quietly, at work, I should say). The show hits right on the head every stereotype you could possibly have about the Rose City. There's the fanatical obsession with local, organic food, the feminist co-op bookstore divas, adult "hide and go seek" leagues at the public library, and the most hilarious, stifled romance I've ever seen.

The wait for this long-anticipated show is happily over. Check out the debut episode below!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Looking Up Your Bus Route Should Not Be a Chore - Seattle Transit Frequency in One Easy to Use Map

Don't you hate it when you try to look up a bus time, and 10 minutes go by as you try to understand the oh-so-cryptic bus schedule information and route maps? For many of us, it's one of the biggest turn-offs to taking public transportation.

I can remember so many times when I would become trapped in remote areas like Factoria, Kingsgate, or Overlake because I misread a bus route map and caught the wrong bus, only to find that the next bus I was looking for didn't come for another two and half hours!!!

Thankfully, the good people of the Seattle Transit Blog have come to the rescue with this handy map of bus frequency in Seattle. This is an easy-to-use resource that shows all bus routes that have a frequency of 15 minutes or less - that is, they stop every 15 minutes. Realistically, people are only going to use public transit if they don't have to plan every single trip according to its schedule (hence the 15 minute frequency) and if routes are logically placed.

What's not surprising about this map is the extent to which it shows how imbalanced the transit density of Seattle is - Downtown, Capitol Hill, and the U-District pretty much have the greatest number of high-frequency buses, while the rest of the city is left high and dry. Part of this is due to the fact that it's easier to build transit in high-density areas, and part of it is due to budget cuts and bad planning on the part of King County Metro. In particular, the scarcity of frequent buses in West Seattle and Lake City is astonishing - these areas aren't exactly out in the boonies!

I'm sure this map will become my best friend as soon as I start taking the bus more due to the horrendous tolls coming this spring on 520.

Check it out!

Via: Seattle Transit Blog

Friday, January 14, 2011

NASA Gets a Boost From Planet Earth-like Commercial

How do you make an agency like NASA cool again?

This is the question that my favorite new nerd blog, Gearfuse, is asking in their latest post, "The Frontier is Everywhere." I love blogs like Gearfuse because they dare to ask questions that seem too bizarre, sciencey or out-there for most other writers. Everything from amazing music videos by bands with names like the Freelance Whales to the world's largest ice-core drilling operation, to alternate endings to Return of the Jedi.

Which brings us back to NASA. You probably haven't thought of NASA since the shuttle launch you saw when you were in the fifth grade, maybe even the Discovery tragedy. It's been ages since the last (failed) Mars Rover mission. The Chinese may well soon beat us in terms of astrophysical prowess and investment. Everyone's talking about how American students are trailing other countries in math and science education.

So if you happened to be a NASA executive, as thrilling as a job like that might be, it would be tempting to think that the glory days of your agency are behind you. Perhaps, but their marketing division is clearly at the top of their game. They definitely borrowed a lot of cinematic touches from Planet Earth, but it's all in good faith. With unemployment more or less permanently stuck at 10% and states and cities billions of dollars in the red, many people may need convincing that a national space program still deserves our attention (and $$). Happy Friday, everybody! This should lift your spirits just a bit:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

This is Not Covered by the Second Amendment

Here's an interesting story I found from GOOD magazine about the rules in place in other countries (hell, states other than fucking Arizona!) that would have made Jared Loughner's horrific shooting spree this past weekend impossible. If anything should come out of the Giffords tragedy, it should be either stronger gun-control laws nationwide (good luck, Obama!) or the annexation of Arizona by Mexico. Take your pick!

First Arizona essentially makes it a crime to be of non-white descent, by requiring police to arrest anyone they have a "reasonable suspicion" of being illegal immigrants and send them to jail if they fail to produce a passport or Social Security card. A.K.A. anyone who is a brunette and has a tan, and has the gumption to not carry around priceless government documents on their person at all times. Everyone from pop stars to major cities have boycotted the state in response, as so they should have.

Second, Arizona officially bans "ethnic studies" in all forms in its public schools and universities. Even more heinous than its borderline-fascist anti-immigration measure, this law specifically criminalizes certain types of knowledge and political ideologies - any historical/cultural source that expresses an explicitly non-white frame of reference is out the window. Goodbye Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, Saul Williams, many writings of Martin Luther King, James Baldwin, Sandra Cisneros, and many other key figures to our history. According to the state of Arizona, unless you either are white, or were assisting or placating a white man, you cannot be discussed in a classroom. Sweet Jesus, isn't shit like this what we have the CONSTITUTION for?

On November 30, 2010, in Tucson, Arizona, suspected gunman Jared Loughner was able to buy a Glock 19 semiautomatic handgun, which he then outfitted with a special extended magazine that afforded him 18 more bullets than a standard magazine would have.
Here is a list of places in the world where the legal system does not enshrine into law the types of ethnic and political hatred that ended in the Giffords tragedy:

Brazil: You have to be 25 years old to buy a gun in Brazil, and it’s illegal for civilians to carry guns outside their homes.

China: China has a blanket ban on all gun ownership by private citizens—perfect for suppressing an uprising, but also perfecting for suppressing mad gunmen.

India: People who apply for a gun license in India have to prove a “grave and imminent threat” to their lives in order to be approved. Most cannot.

Germany: To buy a gun in Germany, anyone under the age of 25 has to pass a psychological exam (which Loughner would probably have failed). You also have to answer a 4,000-question licensing exam.

Finland: Handgun license applicants in Finland, which has some of Europe’s slackest gun laws, are only allowed to purchase firearms if they can prove they are active members of regulated shooting clubs. What’s more, applicants have to provide two references, both of whom are interviewed before they can get a gun.

Italy: Again, Italy’s requirement that gun owners be screened by mental health professionals would surely have weeded out Loughner.

United Kingdom: Handguns are illegal in the United Kingdom, with most citizens agreeing police shouldn’t even carry them routinely.

Japan: Japan also outlaws handguns, allowing licensed citizens who have passed a mental exam to purchase only shotguns for hunting. Unlicensed citizens aren’t even allowed to touch a gun.

South Africa: Though guns are legal in South Africa, it’s nearly impossible for private citizens to get one. Wannabe gun owners must first offer up three references for police interview, and guns are denied automatically to known drug abusers (Loughner’s drug use kept him out of the military).

Luxembourg: All guns are banned in Luxembourg.

France: Firearms applicants in France must have no criminal record and a clean bill of health from a mental health professional. Once again, Loughner would have failed on both accounts.

Spain: Not only would Loughner have failed Spain’s medical exam, following a shooting spree in December that killed four people, new gun sanctions on the table would restrict anyone from owning a semiautomatic weapon that holds three or more bullets.

California, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, and Chicago: All of these places prohibit the kind of extended magazine that gave Loughner 33 shots instead of 15.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Guest Post from Chutzpah and Karma

I have to admit that I'm not the best at covering current events - I'd much rather be geeking out about something that isn't a situation blaring across the CNN news ticker 24/7. The tragic attempted assassination of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (along with 12 wounded and 6 killed) is something so shocking that I wouldn't even know where to begin touching the subject with a blog like this.

Lately I've been spending some quality time with a good friend of mine. She goes by many names - Jewbaby, Slice, @jewthedew, and my personal favorite - her blog persona, Chutzpah & Karma.
Rachael is one smart cookie - a 2009 graduate of the University of Oregon, she is set to take the non-profit world by storm. We are watching the BCS Bowl game tonight, which will probably be the one and ONLY time ever I root for the Oregon Ducks - quack, quack, quack! Ughhh, my inner Husky is dying inside... Her blog is a wonderful mix of politics, music, nightlife, and more. Her take on the Giffords tragedy is so dead-on I am dedicating today's post to Chutzpah & Karma. See her full post below:

I’m just going to go out there and say it, I abhor guns. To be honest, it makes me feel uneasy of the thought of a gun in general. I do support people who want to have it as protection, as that is their right.

In light of the recent events of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords from Arizona who is also a Democrat, got shot at point blank range, wounding her and 12 others as well as killing six people yesterday at a grocery store in Tucson, AZ; I felt that the issue of gun control needed to be addressed.

Every time I hear something “new” in Arizona, it makes me cringe. Nowwww what, AZ? What did you do NOW?

Congressman Giffords was making a speech at the store when the perpetrator fired off shots, seriously injuring several and putting Giffords in critical care. She may not recovery at all from this, although it is expected that she should.

I can’t help but think, but what the hell is going on down there? Maybe it’s something in that nasty, brown desert water that possesses people to shoot U.S. representatives and almost leave them for dead. Or it’s the legacy of the Sunbelt politics.

Political analyst and author Kevin Phillips coined the term “Sunbelt” back in the 1970s. The Sunbelt compromises of the Southern Area of the United States ranging from Arizona to Florida. This is not to be confused with the Bible Belt, which is comprised of some of the similar states, but what one would deem classically South, also known as the Southeastern part of the country.

The Sunbelt is an incredibly interesting and puzzling place for me. Some people would argue that California is part of the Sunbelt, but I would have to respectfully disagree, as I believe that California is part of what I would regard as West Coast Politics, including Oregon and Washington as well. Progressive, and all about sustainability.

The Sunbelt has become a driving force of today’s politics, thanks to the influx of people moving into that area. The influx of people are elderly folks looking to retire and immigrants (illegal or otherwise). Both demographics tend to vote (if not illegal) classically conservative/Republican, as it is a more blue-collar area because of the industries of aerospace, defense and oil.

I have absolutely no problem with the Sunbelt as a whole, or conservatives/Republicans whatsoever. What I have a problem with is the lax gun control laws in Arizona and the Sunbelt, and how easy it is to shoot innocent people.

In the State of Arizona, a law abiding person over the age of 18 does NOT need a state permit to possess a shotgun, rifle, or handgun. Nor is there is registration or licensing either. The only permit in Arizona required for gun control is handguns.
Ridiculous doesn’t cover for me, but I’ll refrain.

That really means that any Tom, Dick or Harry can go and get a gun anytime in Arizona. I’m all for constitutional rights and liberties, specifically the Bill of Rights, but Congresswoman’s Gifford’s shooting has brought up a frenzy of gun control conversations in Arizona. Everyone should have the right to the Second Amendment, for the right to bear arms, but action needs to be taken, as innocent lives were at stake.

For me, I’m a flaming liberal/Democrat but I’d like to think of myself as pragmatic and practical. People are taking sides, and people are forming alliances with this issue of what they believe to be right. Despite what political party you align with, it’s not about democrats and republicans, it’s about protecting our fellow person from showers of bullets. The suspect they believe shot Rep. Gifford is mentally disturbed. Precisely the reason of at a minimum putting harsher regulations on buying and owning a gun not just in Arizona, but in the Sunbelt in general.
Time for a New Era of Political Correctness, off The Swampland Blog on Time Magazine Online, said it perfectly, “There is certainly less harm being overly sensitive than overly violent.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’d rather be overly politically correct and proactive about this issue than overly violent. Violence is never the answer, especially with guns.

Here’s to a speedy and safe recovery for Representative Gifford and the other wounded people affected by the shooting. My thoughts and sympathy goes to those families affected by the shooting as well as the families who lost a loved one because of the awful turn of events.
That’s right, Arizona, you in some deep shit now (not that you weren’t before). And yes, your shit does literally reek of racism (whole different can of worms) and retro-activity. There’s still hope for you, make it a comeback. Here’s hoping for a more progressive, accepting and responsible tomorrow.

Carpe Diem.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Seattle Bike Share Comes Closer to Reality

In the past six months, there's been a wealth of attention devoted to starting a bike-sharing system in Seattle. In November, I wrote about the first feasibility study done for bike-sharing in Seattle, a collaboration between SDOT and the UW.

The UW study divided the city into 10-square-meter cells and ranked them based on factors like residential population density, job density, retail density, proximity to transit, and existing bike infrastructure.

The result is a detailed portrait of where bike-sharing is most likely to succeed in Seattle. The results of their analysis suggest that bike-sharing should first be rolled out in the downtown core, Lower Queen Anne, and Capitol Hill neighborhoods. These neighborhoods both have very high residential density and walkability, extensive bike and transit infrastructure, and are full of retail and tourist destinations.

Photo courtesy of Publicola and the UW Bike Share Studio

Phase 1 of the proposed bike-share system begins with the green zone of downtown and its immediate neighbors Lower Queen Anne and Capitol Hill, along with parts of the Sodo stadium district. Continuing down the hierarchy of density, the system would be later expanded in Phase 2 to include Upper Queen Anne, Eastlake, the Central District, Beacon Hill, Ballard, Fremont/Wallingford, and the U District. Lower density neighborhood centers, known in City of Seattle parlance as "urban villages" would be the last to be added in a Phase 3. 

According to Seattle Transit Blog, King County is currently seeking a $150,000 federal grant to get the pilot Phase 1 off the ground. The program would launch first in the green downtown areas with between 800 and 1,000 bikes, with a capital cost of $3,500 - $4,500 per bike. Operational costs would average $1,200 to $1,600 per bike, which would be paid through monthly or annual user subscription fees in the range of $45-$75 per year with an hourly rate after the first free half-hour.

The King County planners STB interviewed seemed to indicate that Redmond (with its large high-tech workforce) be included in the Phase 1 and the suburban centers of Bellevue, Kirkland, Renton, and Kent would be included in the Phase 2.

The UW study explicitly recommended against this approach of including outlying population centers in the initial phases so as to not create a disjointed, less functional system. They even recommended not including the U District in the initial Phase 1, despite the high student population and retail density, because of the lack of bike connectivity with the downtown center. We'll have to see if King County follows this reasoning in their final proposal.

Also unclear is whether the County would require helmets on users of the bike-share system - most European systems have done away with their helmet laws completely to boost their ridership, and this approach seems to have been its saving grace. Will our litigious American culture subside enough for helmet laws to be relaxed? Or worse still, will there be vending machines at the bike stations to sell helmets? That just sounds like nanny-state ridiculousness, but with Seattle you never know!

A second interesting study was done in April by an STB writer, Adam Parast. He did a GIS analysis of the current bikeability of Seattle versus Portland. The project compared factors of street connectivity, existing bike infrastructure, slope, land use (proxy for density) and barriers (like a freeway interchange or an impassable slope). The result? Not surprisingly, Portland takes the cake on bikeability in nearly every respect.

Due to a combination of our more challenging geography (Portland has it easy lying in a mostly flat river valley) and our comparative lack of bicycle infrastructure, Seattle is reduced to "islands of bikeability" in a hostile, car-centric sea. One of the more surprising and extensive bike-friendly areas is Ballard. Should this area be included in Phase 1? It's about 10 minutes away by bike from the downtown core via 15th Ave. W and Elliott. Also in its favor: its fast-rising residential density, numerous tourist attractions, and largely self-sufficient retail district.

Current bikeability comparison, blue = high bikeability, red = low bikeability

Potential bikeability comparsion

More good news for bike sharing: bikes travel faster than cars during rush hour in most cities! According to a study out of Lyon, France's bike share system, bicycles are faster and more direct than cars in high-density areas during rush hour because of the complications of circling the block to find parking and then finally walking to your destination. Intuitively, this makes sense in Seattle - you can ride your bike between Downtown, Capitol Hill, and the U-District faster than rush hour car traffic.

King County is looking to launch the Seattle bike-share system by summer 2012, so there's sure to be a lot more going for bike-sharing locally, and a lot more reporting to come from Green My Fleet!

Via: Planetizen and Publicola

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Taxis of the Future Soon to Hit New York Streets

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission has announced the three finalists for the vehicle they will choose to replace New York's aging taxi fleet. The winning cab will replace a large chunk of over 13,000 cabs that traverse the city. Whichever design is chosen will have a major impact on which green fleet technologies get adopted - New York has the largest taxi market in the US - and which don't.

These are the criteria that will determine the winning bid:
  • Meets highest safety standards
  • Superior passenger experience
  • Superior driver comfort and amenities
  • Appropriate purchase price and ongoing maintenance and repair costs
  • Smaller environmental footprint (lower emissions and improved fuel economy)
  • Smaller physical footprint (with more usable interior room)
  • Compliance with appropriate Americans with Disabilities Act requirements
  • Iconic design that will identify the new taxi with New York City
It will be especially interesting to see how the winning cab stacks up, in terms of fuel efficiency, with the city's current crop of hybrid-electric cabs, or Chicago's CNG (compressed natural gas) cabs that I wrote about here. This is to say nothing of San Francisco's Japanese-made all-electric cabs that received a huge federal grant earlier this year. 

Here are the finalists:
Turkish automaker Karsan's entry, the only cab that is wheelchair-accessible

Ford Transit Connect Taxi

Nissan's finalist

Via: Planetizen

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Paris Starts All-Electric Car Sharing Service

We've all heard of Paris' famous bike-sharing program, Velib. It has become a model for many other citiesaround the world rolling out their bike share systems. With low-cost stations, mobile and credit-card payment systems, and a cost per bike of around $1,000, bike share systems seem relatively simple to run and maintain.

But what about a similar service that rented out electric cars in the same way? Like an all-electric, omnipresent version of Zipcar? Now we're talking about a bit more overhead.

Paris is about to launch the world's first all-electric car-sharing service with publicly accessible stations, called Autolib, modeled just like its successful Velib bike-share system. The program could be operational as soon as September of this year! More details from Inhabitat:
Here’s how it will work: cars will be stored both in parking garages and on the street as part of a public-private partnership between Autolib and the city of Paris. No word yet on how much the program will cost, but Autolib claims that it will be significantly lower than the approximately $7,000 per year that it costs to own a car in the city.
It should be interesting to see how Paris deals with the problem of theft, which has notoriously plagued the Velib bike-share system. An estimated 80% of the initial 8,000 bikes (valued at $3,500 each) were either stolen or damaged in the year 2009, according to The New York Times. Parisians are also known for lighting cars on fire when they get angsty, as well. Perhaps dousing the Autolib cars with flame-retardant finish would do the trick?

Then again, having the support of one French billionaire, to the tune of a $131 million initial investment, should help make sure the cars stay in good shape. Tycoon Vincent Bollore has dropped this change in return for supplying the Autolib system with its first model vehicle, the Pininfarina Bluecar, according to Autoblog Green. The car's lithium battery pack allows a range of 155 miles, roughly the distance you could feasibly drive doing a day's worth of only short jaunts across the city neighborhoods. You'd have to be crazy to want to do long-haul trips on an Autolib car...have you seen their traffic?

If the program launches successfully, this could do wonders for Paris' infrastructure, as well as its reputation as one of the world's greenest cities. They are even looking at banning SUV's and other gas guzzlers from their city center! Can you imagine a New York or San Francisco doing the same? That Paris is even considering measures like these is a testament to their commitment to multimodal transportation - bikes, subways, and above all, walking truly take precedence here. To get people out of their cars, you must first give them a valid choice - that is the lesson American cities are still learning.

Like congestion pricing, with its successful implementation in London, ideas tend to spread among the global cities first (to New York and then San Francisco) and then trickle down the urban hierarchy.

Which means that by 2030, Seattle will have completed three multi-million dollar studies, hired international consultants to review the studies and conclude they're garbage, submitted the proposal to public comment and town meetings, then put it to a vote and, after it's voted down by the public, finally discover that Seattle's more expensive housing and lack of parking is itself the most effective form of "congestion pricing". Oh, you wanted electric car-sharing, too? That can wait until the next election cycle. We're just masters of the process, now, aren't we?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"Ugly Tourism" Takes Off - Welcome to Cleveland, Bitch :)

As if by some stroke of God, one day I'm writing about the schadenfreude of looking at Detroit's "feral neighborhoods" and how the city could be cashing in on a micro-niche of "ugly tourism." Today we are serendipitously greeted with this perspective on Detroit's slightly less corroded neighbor to the east, Cleveland.

Like Detroit, Cleveland has been shedding jobs and residents for decades, and there is little hope for its long-term economic future. But why be such a debbie downer about it? The upsides of economic decline are cheap (cheap!) housing, affordable bars and restaurants, and an unpretentious, no-frills attitude towards life. Why stress out about which college you'll go to when there are no jobs for college grads in your city anyway? Poverty is simple and low-maintenance, argues Mike Polk in the video below:

"Come and look at both of our buildings"
"Watch poor people all wait for buses"
"Here's the place where there used to be industry"

Can you make a rap like this about your city?

Come on, Tacoma, you know you want to :)

Via: GOOD magazine

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Feral Houses of Detroit - Part Deux

Last week we covered one of the more spectacular and haunting side effects of the dramatic decline of Detroit - the rise of "feral houses" and even "feral neighborhoods" that are so thoroughly abandoned they revert to a natural state.

Part of the City of Detroit's economic rescue plan involves essentially withdrawing from nearly one-quarter of the city's land area and letting it become wild. Cut off your nose to spite your face. For those living in Detroit, this must be a stunning reality that not only has the city been in sharp decline since the 1960s, it is completely evacuating large sections of once elegant neighborhoods just to remain financially solvent. Once among the richest of American cities, it now seems more like an internationally famous ghost town. Our version of Somalia, if you will.

A note for the Detroit Chamber of Commerce: "ugly tourism" is all the rage right now in Europe. Like "slum tours" through the favelas of Rio de Janeiro or "grief tourism" to the killing fields of Cambodia and Auschwitz, Detroit needs to take advantage of its clear monopoly on decay and the powerful story of its riches-to-rags downfall. Might I suggest a marketing slogan to tempt the more thrill-seeking among us? "Zombieland Detroit: And You Thought it Was Just a Movie"

This series from the Guardian has excellent photos of the interiors of some of Detroit's most tragically derelict buildings. The incredible thing about many of these shots is that so many of the buildings appear to have been abandoned so suddenly and without planning, with knicknacks and personal belonging still left untouched decades later. In many ways it's eerily reminiscent of post-Katrina, except this disaster was entirely man-made. All photographs by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.
East Methodist Church
Detroit’s Vanity Ballroom with its unsalvaged art deco chandeliers. Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey once played here.

The biology classroom at George W Ferris School in the Detroit suburb of Highland Park

Dentist's station, Broderick Tower

Light court - Farwell Building
Michigan Central Station

Michigan Theater - now a parking lot?
Former police station, Highland Park
The ballroom of the 15-floor art-deco Lee Plaza Hotel, an apartment building with hotel services built in 1929 and derelict since the early 1990s

The ruined Spanish-Gothic interior of the United Artists Theater in Detroit. The cinema was built in 1928 by C Howard Crane, and finally closed in 1974
Waiting Hall, Michigan Central Station

Livingstone House, designed in French Renaissance style in 1893, demolished after this picture was taken.

Via: Planetizen

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Crazy and Outrageous Buildings of 2010

2010 has thrown up some buildings and developments that are out-of-this world, spectacular, outrageous, and even absurd. All despite the worst recession in thirty years. Here's a look at some of the best, courtesy of GOOD magazine.

The tallest freestanding structure on the planet, the Burj Khalifa, will open in Dubai in January, standing 2,717 feet above the desert. Designed by Adrian Smith, the tower is the centerpiece of a $20 billion development named Downtown Dubai, but it opens at an ominous time. The tower itself, known as the Burj Dubai, is re-named after Sheikh Khalifa al-Nahyan, the President of the United Arab Emirates, who gives it the economic bailout necessary to complete it. Dubai is plagued with financial problems, and in October, only 825 of the 900 apartments are rented, overlooking a city where cranes hang motionless across the sky.

Meanwhile, a few months later in China, the new tallest tower in the world officially opens in Guangzhou, Guangdong. Designed by Information Based Architecture with Arup, the Canton Tower twists up 1,968.5 feet (beating out Toronto's CN Tower) into a hyperboloid (or double-ellipse) structure. An observation deck is planned for its rooftop. Meanwhile, Nanjing Greenland Financial Center and the International Commerce Centre in Hong Kong are also completed this year, meaning China secures the titles of the second and third tallest buildings in the world.

After years of speculation about the future of the Santiago Calatrava-designed Chicago Spire, which would rise 2,000 feet over Chicago's waterfront, a foreclosure suit threatens to end construction for good. If ever completed, it would be the tallest building in the United States, topping the neighboring Willis—formerly Sears—Tower in Chicago. But since 2008, the construction site (literally a huge hole in the ground) has been abandoned, symbolic of the nation's waning power in the skyscraper race.

It officially opened in late 2009, but 2010 sees the completion of the final phase of CityCenter in Las Vegas, a spiky, fantastical, starchitect-studded collaboration featuring hundreds of A-listers like Daniel Libeskind and Cesar Pelli. The $8.5 billion project is the largest privately funded development in U.S. history, and one of the largest LEED-certified projects in the world. Yet reviews slam the development for its faux-urban nature, and suffering Vegas hotels blame its 6,000 new rooms for glutting the market. In November, Norman Foster’s troubled and still uncompleted tower, the Harmon, is slated for demolition. Um, what does that do to the LEED ratings of the other buildings?

At the Shanghai World Expo this year, plenty of architects had a chance to flex their muscles while designing the various national pavilions. While the U.S. architecture was a dismal failure, there were otherstandouts from countries like Denmark, who featured a working bike track, equipped with bikes, that wound through the Bjarke Ingels-designed sculpture. But nothing tops Thomas Heatherwick's Seed Cathedral for the United Kingdom, a stunning tribute to biodiversity. More than 60,000 fiberoptic rods showcase specimens from Kew Gardens' Millennium Seedbank, which will hold 25 percent of the world’s plant species by 2020. Which makes it even more fitting that it was nicknamed "The Dandelion."

In October, official renderings are revealed for Park51, an Islamic community center that plans to occupy the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory in Lower Manhattan. Instead of the design by SOMA Architects, the media focuses on the fact that it's three blocks away from where the 9/11 attacks took place, inaccurately dubbing it the “Ground Zero mosque” (even though it's not a mosque, and there are already other mosques in the area). Although there's no explicit commentary about what the design means, the exteriors seem to evoke an Islamic star pattern while flooding the interiors with daylight.

Also in October, a family of five finally moves into what's widely regarded to be the first billion-dollar house, a private, 27-story tower in Mumbai that's built for India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani. Designed by Perkins+Will, the "house" has a health club with a gym and dance studio, swimming pools, a 50-seat cinema, three helicopter pads, a garage for 160 vehicles on the ground floors, and 600 full-time staffers to maintain the house, which is widely regarded to be the most expensive permanent residence in the world.

In December, after perhaps the most ambitious World Cup proposal in history, the tiny Middle Eastern country of Qatar wins its bid to host the 2022 games. Its radical plan to host millions of soccer fans in 130-degree heat include building 12 stadiums that will later be disassembled into 22 new stadiums for neighboring countries, and mysterious solar-powered air conditioners that will keep even open-air stadiums cool. Well, at least they’ve got 12 years to figure it out.


40 Drunkest Cities in America

Are you hungover on New Years Day, 2011? Lord knows I am. It's the one day of the year where binge drinking is socially acceptable, at least according to the Good Book - but what do they know, really?

Whenever I've traveled and gone out in different cities, I've always wondered whether the city I'm in is particular drunker (or more full of drunks?) than any other.

In the Bay Area, for instance, drinking is the most popular local sport - friends from there can invariably drink me under the table. Levels of drunkenness regularly approached the worst of my Fratterdays.

When I lived in Spain, however, blacking out was deeply frowned upon by the local people. Having a drink or two with your lunch on a Tuesday, however, was completely normal. This, of course, does not include Cadiz Carnaval, where the whole city shuts down so entire families can get debauched together for a solid week.

Drinking in Israel was a big disappointment. Not only is it the custom to nurse a beer or two for your entire evening, there's also a slight possibility the club you're in will be blown up by Palestinian terrorists. your city among the drunkest in the US? The study linked below measured the percentage of adults who are "binge drinkers" (more than four drinks in two hours) and the percent suffering from alcoholic liver disease.

Let's have a look at the rankings:

  1. Milwaukee, WI - colddddd
  2. Fargo, ND - even colder!
  3. San Francisco, CA - gays + sunshine = party people
  4. Austin, TX - live music, go figure
  5. Reno, NV - gambling :) sinners
  6. Burlington, VT - do they drink a lot of maple syrup, or what?
  7. Omaha, NE - BOW DOWN TO WASHINGTON, BITCHES!!! That should do something to their alcohol consumption, dontcha think?
  8. Boston, MA - let's get drunk in hahvahd yahd
  9. Anchorage, AK - is there a sarah palin shot up there?
  10. San Diego, CA - German for "whale's vagina"
Rounding out the list:

21. Spokane, WA - I would drink myself to sleep, too, if I were from here
24. St. Louis, MO - How my Dad manages to not do so is nothing short of a miracle
29. Chicago, IL - you have to drink if you're gonna eat a Chicago dog, those things are huge!
30. Seattle, WA - Goooo 206!
32. Portland, OR - microbrews are yummy :)

Via: The Daily Beast