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Roundup: Car-Free Suburbs, Climate Politics, and D.C. on Zipcar
Martin Specht for The New York Times
Picket Fences, No Driveways If you thought woonerfs were cool, check this out: in Vauban, a suburb of Freiburg, Germany, nearly all streets are car-free and there are only two places to park. Residents, 70 percent of whom don't own a private vehicle, report feeling safer and happier as a result of the suburb's "smart planning." In a world where millions still treasure the space and pace associated with suburban life, car-free suburbs might be one solution for please multiple factions. From The New York Times:
In Germany, a country that is home to Mercedes-Benz and the autobahn, life in a car-reduced place like Vauban has its own unusual gestalt. The town is long and relatively narrow, so that the tram into Freiburg is an easy walk from every home. Stores, restaurants, banks and schools are more interspersed among homes than they are in a typical suburb. Most residents, like Ms. Walter, have carts that they haul behind bicycles for shopping trips or children’s play dates.
For trips to stores like IKEA or the ski slopes, families buy cars together or use communal cars rented out by Vauban’s car-sharing club. Ms. Walter had previously lived — with a private car — in Freiburg as well as the United States.

According to the article, developers in California have gotten special permits from Hayward County to create a similarly "car-reduced" suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area ... if they can drum up enough financial backing to support the concept. Will America be able to get behind a car-free suburbia? (JL)

Congrats, Dawn!
Congratulations to Worldchanging contributor and former board member Dawn Danby, who was named one of Fast Company's 100 Most Creative People in Business. You can find her on page 70 of the magazine's June issue.

Climate Politics are Shifting in America
A clear majority of Americans of all political stripes now favor climate action. Given that the U.S. has been the major barrier to international progress towards a climate agreement, this is heartening: (AS)

"While some Republican leaders, like John McCain and John Warner, have been forthright in recognizing the need to reduce global warming, others, who deny the problem and discourage solutions, are out of touch with their own base.

Yes, Democrats are more concerned about the problem than are Republicans, but that does not mean Republicans are unconcerned. Far from it — as Mr. Perkowitz’s own data conclusively demonstrate. While 90 percent of Democrats believe global warming is happening, so does a 54 percent majority of Republicans. While 84 percent of Democrats believe global warming is harmful to people, so do 56 percent of Republicans. While 87 percent of Democrats call it their “duty” to stop global warming, 60 percent of Republicans also feels duty-bound to join the battle."

designboom0002_300.jpgUrban Infill Eye Candy
Via designboom, a new concept for building green urban infill in Vancouver, BC. The design, from Roomses Architects, was a winning entry in the 2030 Challenge-focused FormShift Vancouver architectural competition.

The concept capitalizes on new zoning codes approved by the Vancouver City Council in late 2008 that allow laneway housing in single-family residential areas. Laneway houses are accessory dwelling units built where the garage would normally be. To preserve neighborhood character, the new regulations stipulate that the homes -- which can be used by the owner or rented out -- must be no taller than 1.5 stories, and must leave backyard space intact.

Roomses' design presents modular, mobile prefab laneway homes outfitted with water catchment systems, green roofs, living walls, renewable energy systems and more as a means of harvesting both energy and food for the city.(JL)

3524201700_3c9f7909a4.jpgWhat does INC stand for again?
Worldchanging contributer and ally Micki Krimmel recently opened up a coworking space in Los Angeles (pictured right). While it's no secret that we love coworking and other smart, collaborative third space solutions, we were especially charmed by the name of this lovely loft space: Idyllic Nerd Commune. (JL)

Local Government of Washington D.C. to Use Car-Share Model
To dramatically cut the number of cars they maintain in their fleet, local government officials in Washington D.C. are teaming up with car-sharing company Zipcar to shift their municipal fleet from permanently assigned to jointly shared. This unprecedented move (for the U.S.), will reduce the total number of government-owned vehicles from 360 to 48. D.C. officials state the transformation will save the local government more than $6.6 million over the course of five years. Zipcar is calling this new venture FastFleet, in which local government's purchase and own the cars while Zipcar maintains the information technology systems. The company already has plans to take this model to more than 12 other local governments across the United States. (SK)

2814744240_32005a40a9_m.jpgPlanet Reuse
Construction debris accounts for an estimated 40 to 50 percent of all municipal solid waste in the US. And most of that waste is simply unnecessary, because most construction materials are well suited for reuse. Searching for the perfect reclaimed materials is often half the fun for DIY-ers, but the time it takes can be a deal-breaker for professional builders trying to finish a project. That's why PlanetReuse caught our eye. The new company is trying to make salvage less of a hunt-and-peck operation by making reclaimed materials (in commercial quantities) easy to search for. The site's material listings read like a craigslist for construction, offering reclaimed bricks, steel, wood, flooring, glass and more. And for those with specific requests, the online service that matches designers with reclaimed materials providers who have what they're looking for.

(Think that's cool? Check out Jer's post about a home in Argentina built almost entirely from reclaimed bottles. And read Green Futures' article from last month on Reuse-It-Yourself stores opening across the UK.) (JL)

Ashden Awards International Finalists Announced
We've covered the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy several times in the past here on Worldchanging. The 2009 international finalists, announced May 11, present inspiring innovations representing Nicaragua, India, Uganda, Ethiopia and the U.S. When the finalists are recognized in London on June 11, one "Energy Champion" will be awarded a £40,000 cash prize. (Read more about the awards, and the UK finalists, here.)(JL)

Ladakh, India: A highly insulated, heat-retaining greenhouse powered only by the sun enables villagers to grow vegetables through the winter, even when outside air temperatures fall below -25oC. Since 2005 nearly 600 greenhouses have been built cheaply by masons using mainly local materials.
Bihar, India: A new biomass gasification system generates electric power for eight hours per day, providing a popular alternative to an unreliable grid supply. Electricity is currently sold to ten businesses which previously used diesel generators. Most of the biomass is ‘dhaincha’, a local woody plant which grows in water-logged areas where crops cannot be grown.
US: A cheap and efficient stove saves 30-50% fuelwood and reduces polluting emissions by 50-75% compared to traditional cooking. It is manufactured in a factory in China and used in programmes as widespread as South Africa, India, and Argentina. 33,000 stoves were sold during the first year of production.
Nicaragua: 2,000 solar home systems and 560 larger solar energy systems have been sold and installed in rural areas by a 25-year-old family-run business, for uses including light and communications for schools and police stations; vaccine and blood refrigeration for clinics; pumps for village water supplies; and power for mobile phone masts.
Ethiopia: A village scheme pioneering rented small photovoltaic (PV) solar-home-systems in each of 1,100 homes was successfully trialed to replace kerosene lighting and dry cell batteries. It has now supplied a further 1,000 systems to outlying areas, and has established a centre providing training for solar technicians.
Uganda: A business started making briquettes from agricultural waste for its own use, but now sells over 100 tonnes per month to schools and other businesses, and has installed over 1,300 large, efficient stoves for cooking using briquettes. Briquettes replace fuelwood and charcoal, thus reducing deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.
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Yes, I was writing myself about the car-free German suburbs. I think, this is a great idea as long as the distances to drive aren't too long. I'm curious how this trend will arrive in the US.

Posted by: Sikantis on 16 May 09

While I do not know of any suburb in the US that has gone completely car free - the idea of designing pedestrian friendly communities is nothing new. Sir Ebenezer Howard was one of the first promoters (back in the late 1800s) of "garden cities" - and his ideas took root in the US in places such as Radburn, NJ and the Woodbourne neighborhood of Boston. The more recent growth of "Ecovillages" - intentional communities, rooted in place, with a focus on sustainable ways of living - is also worth mentioning. Folks interested in learning more about Ecovillages - and how to design them - should check out a studio course being offered this summer in intentional community design through the University of Vermont. Learn more at

Course description is below:

"This course provides a broad overview of planning, zoning, ecological, social and construction issues of community design based on eighteen years of history and construction of an intentional community in Charlotte, Vermont. Participants should be prepared for a five day immersion and intensive study of history and concepts. They will create their own version of a small community/neighborhood located on a real or fictitious piece of land."

Posted by: Noah Pollock on 16 May 09

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