The stubborn neighbor

You’ve heard of the woman who lived in this house, haven’t you? Here’s the lead to the story in the Seattle P-I:

Edith Macefield died at home, just the way she wanted.

The Ballard (Wash.) woman who captured hearts and admirers around the world when she stubbornly turned down $1 million to sell her home to make way for a commercial development died Sunday of pancreatic cancer. She was 86.

No one knows exactly what will happen to the house now. She left no heirs.

— Hat tip: Andrew Sikora

‘Is America’s suburban dream collapsing into a nightmare?’

The above is the provocative headline on a story on cnn.com. After some description of the foreclosures in suburbia, the story focuses on the shifting attitudes of homeowners.

“The American dream is absolutely changing,” (Christopher Leinberger, an urban planning professor at the University of Michigan and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution,) told CNN.

This change can be witnessed in places like Atlanta, Georgia, Detroit, Michigan, and Dallas, Texas, said Leinberger, where once rundown downtowns are being revitalized by well-educated, young professionals who have no desire to live in a detached single family home typical of a suburbia where life is often centered around long commutes and cars.

Instead, they are looking for what Leinberger calls “walkable urbanism” — both small communities and big cities characterized by efficient mass transit systems and high density developments enabling residents to walk virtually everywhere for everything — from home to work to restaurants to movie theaters.

The so-called New Urbanism movement emerged in the mid-90s and has been steadily gaining momentum, especially with rising energy costs, environmental concerns and health problems associated with what Leinberger calls “drivable suburbanism” — a low-density built environment plan that emerged around the end of the World War II and has been the dominant design in the U.S. ever since.

We don’t want to wish ill on the suburban dweller, but times may get tougher out there before they get better.

Read the whole story here.

— photo by respres on Flickr

Bacteria that eat waste and poop petroleum

What in the world? We’re talking about

the genetic alteration of bugs — very, very small ones — so that when they feed on agricultural waste such as woodchips or wheat straw, they do something extraordinary. They excrete crude oil.

Unbelievably, this is not science fiction. Mr Pal holds up a small beaker of bug excretion that could, theoretically, be poured into the tank of the giant Lexus SUV next to us. Not that Mr Pal is willing to risk it just yet. He gives it a month before the first vehicle is filled up on what he calls “renewable petroleum”. After that, he grins, “it’s a brave new world”.

The story in The Times of London is a great read and may challenge some of your assumptions — Is oil really a non-renewable fossil fuel, or is formed by abiogenic processes? Also, the story notes plenty of hurdles that need to be cleared before you can pour bug excrement into your gas tank, especially the problem of large-scale production:

However, to substitute America’s weekly oil consumption of 143 million barrels, you would need a facility that covered about 205 square miles, an area roughly the size of Chicago.

The best byproduct of high fuel prices has been the opportunity to discuss issues like New Urbanism, sprawl and our nation’s exclusively automotive transportation network. But what if oil supplies suddenly blossom? If peak oil is a myth, or if it can be averted, will our hopes for renewed cities be in vain?

I hope not. Although it seems some New Urbanists are almost happy that oil prices have gone through the roof, we should not place all of our bets on that happening. Our arguments in favor of true, good cities should be able to exist even with dollar-a-gallon gas.

— Hat Tip: Douglas Wilson

Better bike signs

If you drive by one of these “Share the Road” signs along a Fort Wayne street, do you in any way adjust your driving? What should you do when you see such a sign?

Do you even notice the signs?

I really appreciate the intention of the bicycle signs. But I’m not sure drivers get good, firm instruction from them.

Now, my dear wife tells me that the signs remind her to keep her eyes open for bicyclists. That’s great!

But it looks like Utah and other states have tweaked the idea and come up with something better. Check out the photo below that I discovered on Flickr:

Very nice! Now drivers and bicyclist have a shared understanding of their relationship on the road.

My only suggestion is to replace the “Share the Road” portion with something like “Allow 3 Feet.” The words would be easier for drivers to read and “Share the Road” doesn’t add any important information.

Such signs would help the relationship between motorist and cyclist be a little less rocky.

— Sign image is from the Manual of Traffic Signs, by Richard C. Moeur

New updating service available!

Where have I been? Well, I’ve been the same place you have been: Looking at this blog, wondering where the next post will come from.

I’ve spent most of the past week thinking about the focus of this blog, and I’ve decided to follow what readers have been most interested in — local commentary and photos. I get many more comments and interest in hyperlocal coverage rather than links to stories elsewhere that I find interesting.

The down side is that I will likely not be able to post every day. To make it easier for you to follow, you can now get emailed updates via FeedBurner whenever a new post goes live.

For those savvy, the RSS feed still operates, of course. Have you heard of RSS, but wondered what it is? Check out this easy-to-understand video from Common Craft.

You can find Google Reader here. And the links to the update services are at the top right, and right here for your convenience.

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