Category Archives: Environment

The Greenbelt

Many cities in the UK are surrounded by acres of protected land that form Greenbelts. They are what makes my house feel almost like it’s in the countryside, although it’s actually only 15 miles as the crow flies from the bustle of Trafalgar Square.

Greenbelts are the result of policies created in the 1930s to help combat urban sprawl. I believe in them strongly. They make rural experiences so much more accessible to urban dwellers. They help protect countryside that might otherwise go under tarmac, and that in a lot of ways is quintessentially English.

This is the first map I’ve seen that shows how green and belt-like the Greenbelts are.


LONDON / » The End of the Green Belt?

Visual police

Having got back from the Midwest after our Christmas break I can sort of empathise with this great New York Times article on the bland, cookie-cutter aesthetic of much of the US’s towns. And I like the idea of an organization that you can go to if you’re a planner, and you don’t like the state of things.

“To the left, the Wendy’s, like a gingerbread house from a child’s nightmare. To the right, the Burger King, like a highway restroom that sells hamburgers. And everywhere, the billboards and neon, the strip malls and parking lots, urging us to look here, here, no here, drive up, drive thru and, remember, drive safely.”


Having said that, there are many areas that are old and interesting. They don’t HAVE to be old to be interesting, but from my experience most are. We stayed in Neosho, Missouri, whose town square is historic and interesting, with small antique shops and plenty of parking. It’s clearly seen better days, and most residents clearly prefer to head for the WalMart on the outskirts of town, where the environment gets more like the one described in the article above. But Neosho is seeing its own signs of redevelopment, as is nearby Joplin. There’s hope that people would rather have that history and maybe even the pleasure of walking from one small shop to another.

We live near Staines, a town which I’ve tended to mistrust. It’s never seemed like a particularly healthy, cultural or friendly town. But I have to admire the way the shopping area has been renewed. They’ve successfully co-located some large stores (a big Tescos, PC World and so on) within walking distance of the high street. They were lucky to have the space. A lot of towns don’t. And what they’ve ended up with is the best of both worlds. A big shopping experience that encourages you to walk and experience the small shopping experience on the high street. It feels quite vibrant. For Staines.

Out with plastic bags

I guess one of the advantages of an autocratic government is being able to make sweeping changes like this. Not that I’m advocating that form of government. At all.

“In an un-expected move, China’s cabinet has completely banned super thin plastic bags and is imposing a compulsory charge on plastic carrier bags as of June 1st.  The familiar plastic bags that we receive from grocery stores have become a major source of pollution for China, with estimates suggesting that Chinese citizens use as many as 3 billion plastic bags a day!  The cabinet also announced that they plan on creating more incentives for companies separating bags out from waste for reprocessing”
China To Ban Plastic Bags on PSFK

Working on the High Line

The New York Times has a great set of photos of the conversion of the High Line rail route in New York into an urban park. Not a lot of progress to see yet, but still beautiful shots. I mean, I’m sure that there’s been a lot of work done, but not many trees and other green stuff yet. I know that it’s probably 80% preparation, though.


Speaking of great urban parks, if anyone is ever in the East End of London they should visit Mile End park and do a walk along its length. The Green Bridge near the Northern end is a fantastic way for a pedestrian to cross the busy Mile End Road beneath.



Big renewables

Great to see some BIG renewable energy projects taking shape…


Pacific Ocean Added To California’s Power Supply on PSFK
Pacific Gas and Electric, Nothern California’s natural gas and electricity utility, will buy 100% environment-friendly electricity generated by currents in the Pacific Ocean beginning in 2010.”


Air Force Switches on Largest Solar Power Plant
“The $100 million solar power plant at Nellis will supply about 25 percent of the total power used at the base, where 12,000 people live and work. The 14 megawatt photovoltaic array will generate more than 30 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.”

The art of arcology

SimCity’s ARCOs become a reality…

Planning underway for the world’s largest single building
“Described as a self-contained city within a city and spanning a massive floor area of 2.5million square meters, the planned 450m high structure will be one of the world’s tallest and will encompass a variety of mixed-use buildings including 3000 hotel rooms, 900 serviced apartments, an international school, offices, shops, museums, theatres and cinemas.”