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Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Little Houses Are a Big Step for Dallas Homeless

A 50-unit project nearing completion will provide housing for some of the city's most needy citizens and save the public a lot of money

Scott Gibson  ::  Green Building Advisor  ::  9 September 2015 

This rendering shows a cluster of houses in a Dallas project that will benefit the chronically
homeless. Each building includes a kitchen and sleeping area, a bathroom and a porch.

Houses far smaller than the norm are being marketed for their energy efficiency and their small environmental footprints, and now in Dallas a collaboration of public and private interests hopes really small houses will give at least some of the city's troubled citizens a way out of chronic homelessness.

The Cottages at Hickory Crossing is a $6.8 million project that includes 50 self-contained houses, each with a footprint of 420 square feet, a central building with laundry and other shared facilities, and common outdoor areas on a 3.5-acre parcel near downtown Dallas.

A number of public agencies representing housing, social services and the criminal justice system all are partners. Cottages are intended specifically for people who are chronically homeless, those who suffer from severe and persistent mental illness, and those who have a history of substance abuse and entanglements with the criminal justice system. In other words, people who have a very tough time finding a place to live.
"It's a trilogy in a way, like a Homer's Odyssey, like great projects often are," said Brent Brown, director of the bcWorkshop, the project architect. "It would be unfair if I didn't say the project almost didn't happen probably 10 times or more because it was hard. Partnerships are hard. Funding is hard. Building anything can be difficult."
But by early next year, Brown said by telephone, construction should be complete and residents should be moving in.

Houses are small, but complete

Each of the 50 cottages has a full bathroom, a main room with a kitchen, a sleeping area, a storage area, and a porch. Each has 325 square feet of interior conditioned space, Brown said, enough to give residents a private space. "Each resident has a door of their own," Brown said, "and their own house identity."

Cottages are grouped in clusters of six around a common green area. The site is big enough to have the potential for community gardens. The commons building will be open to the public. Residents will sign a no-cost lease and will have access to a variety of services on site.

Brown estimated each cottage costs between $25,000 and $30,000, with site development, studies and other costs making up the balance of the project cost.

Each wood-framed cottage is built on four concrete piers, rather than a concrete slab, partly because the clay-heavy soils on the site made conventional construction difficult, and partly because this approach will allow the cottages to be moved to a new home in the future and the site used for another purpose.

Brown said planners at bcWorkshop looked at a number of models in designing the site, including early New England settlements. For example, they found a Methodist community on Martha's Vineyard built in a pattern of circles surrounding a common green. But where these communities attached social standing based on the circle where the house was built — higher status for those living closer to the common green — Dallas planners looked for an arrangement were "everyone had an equal level of stature," Brown said.

Buildings at the project were designed with help from the community it will serve, Brown said, and "street experts" helped planners understand the difficulty of moving from life on the street to housing units. "There needs to be a way to retreat," he said, "but also a way to engage on your own terms, as well as being able to be all together."

Stable housing as a first step

The Cottages project is built on the "Housing First" model, which considers housing a first priority to be followed by whatever social services might be needed after that.

Given the common difficulties in the backgrounds of potential residents, planners assume a number of social service agencies will be needed. Even so, savings should be significant. According to an article in The Dallas Morning News, each person eligible for the project now costs the city $40,000 a year in services. But with a permanent home and a support system, that number drops to $15,000.

Brown said an annual survey in Dallas in 2014 counted 3,314 homeless persons, 413 of whom were considered chronically homeless. So a project the size of The Cottages is a beginning.

"We need seven more projects like this," he said.

Similar approaches have been proposed elsewhere. Last year, a New Jersey state senator suggested a $5 million "Tiny Home Pilot Program" in which clusters of 300-square-foot houses would be built for the state's poor. Earlier, a project called Quixote Village" near Olympia, Washington, replaced a tent village for the homeless with 30 dwellings of 144 square feet each.

Friday, 21 August 2015

A Trillion Bucks Says You’ll Sell Your Wheels

Todd Neff  ::  Rocky Mountain Institute  ::  17 June 2016

Say goodbye to traffic congestion, parking problems, dirty gasoline… and car driving as you know it. Meet the new mobility, which RMI — with industry partners — is ushering in.

Image copyright Thinkstock / Rafal Olkis.
Though driving is fun for some, for many it’s a simple necessity of getting where we need to when we need to. We pay dearly for that, whether we realize it or not. We spend tens of thousands of dollars — and plenty more on gasoline, maintenance, insurance, and taxes — for an asset that sits parked 95 percent of its life. Then, even though our cars can seat four or more people, we usually drive alone — 75 percent of American commuters are solo. There’s also the interminable traffic congestion, in which we spend an average 38 hours per year. And of course the air pollution from tailpipe emissions, accounting for ~20 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions.

This “privilege” doesn’t come cheap. Americans spend $1.2 trillion a year on our personal mobility — 20 percent of household incomes, on average. That equates to about $0.59 per mile, which adds up quickly when the typical American driver tallies ~13,500 miles per year. And none of those numbers include the additional $2 trillion or so annually that pollution, sitting in traffic, roads and parking lots, and accidents cost us.

But there’s a better way… one that can ultimately save $1 trillion of direct costs, 2 billion barrels of oil, and 1 gigaton of carbon emissions per year, according to Jerry Weiland, a 30-year veteran of General Motors and managing director of RMI’s mobility program. In this not-too-distant future, per-mile mobility costs are slashed from $0.59 to just $0.15. RMI views this opportunity as an enormous prize to be split among consumers, entrepreneurs, wise incumbents, and progressive cities.

The new mobility can save $1 trillion, 2 billion barrels of oil, and 1 gigaton of carbon emissions per year.

This new mobility builds upon RMI’s proud legacy of work on cost-effective, oil-free transportation embodied in the Hypercar concept, Winning the Oil Endgame, and Reinventing Fire. Expanding from the concept of more-efficient, better-designed vehicles, RMI’s team believes the future of mobility will look very different from its past. The confluence of several major trends is the front line of this fundamental mobility transformation.

On the societal front, the rise of peer-to-peer networks, smartphones, apps, and the sharing economy (think AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, Car2Go, ZipCar, and many others) are changing perspectives on whether we own and how we access and use assets like cars and houses. Plus, as a nation we’re driving less. Among Millenials there’s a distinct departure from the car-centric worldview of their Boomer parents, with vehicle ownership and even driver’s license rates on the decline. Meanwhile, total vehicle-miles traveled (VMTs) peaked in 2007, and per-capita VMTs have been declining even more sharply since.

Our vehicles are transforming too, seeming to come out of science fiction, and demonstrating a quantum leap from the internal combustion engine autos we’ve been driving until now: self-driving cars and electric vehicles like the Tesla Model S, Nissan LEAF, Chevy Volt, and BMW i3. Automakers already sell cars with parking automation, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, and other driver-assist features. And incumbents plus new entrants such as Google and Apple have put millions of miles on self-driving vehicles, which are already legal on the roads in California, Nevada, Florida, Michigan, and Washington, D.C.

Car sharing and public transit are part of an urban transition to mobility as a service.
Image courtesy of car2go North America.
The sum of these trends is far greater than the parts, and point to a very different future of new mobility with four elements at the core.

The first is mobility as a service. “We’re going to share cars,” says Weiland. “They’re going to be running 12-hour days at very high levels of utilization.” Since the mobility is there when you need it and not when you don’t, it’s essentially “mobility on demand,” like streaming your favorite movie. And when you’re not committed to a single vehicle (the one you own in your garage today, perhaps) then the mobility-as-a-service perspective opens up all sorts of possibilities to you — walking, biking, Ubering, Lyfting, a self-driving car, buses, trains. The new mobility gets you where you want, when you want, how you want.

Underlying mobility as a service is using the right vehicle for the right job. Forget giant SUVs with third-row seats shuttling a single person. The vehicles of the future — a future that will take shape in the next five to ten years, the RMI team says — will be a diverse lot, built for diverse needs. Comfy one-seaters could carry commuters between their homes and bus or train stations, finally cracking the infamous “last-mile” problem that has long vexed transit planners. SUVs might carry people to the mountains or the beach, pickup trucks to Home Depot and back. Minibuses might make sense where big buses now trundle along mostly empty (and thus costing up to 90 cents a passenger mile in many municipalities, says Jonathan Walker, a manager in RMI’s mobility practice).

The vehicles of this future will also be electrified. Why? In a high-utilization mobility future — where fewer vehicles are driving more miles and more hours of the day — operating costs dominate their total cost. That’s one place where electric vehicles (EVs), with an average 120 MPGe, have a huge leg up over gasoline-burning cars, because their drastically lower “fuel” cost more than offsets their higher purchase price. And, since EVs also have far fewer moving parts, Weiland says they can go 300,000 or maybe even 500,000 miles, compared to 150,000 miles on the average late model car. The combination of robustness and low maintenance costs makes EVs ideal for high-volume shared services. That includes corporate fleets, where EVs can seriously trim a company’s operating costs and carbon footprint.

In the new mobility, much higher utilization rates mean we’ll need far fewer cars to move more people more efficiently in less traffic with less cost and less climate impact.

Then there are the aforementioned self-driving vehicles. At first blush, self-driving capability might sound like another cool feature. For maybe $10,000 — the Boston Consulting Group’s estimate for the added cost of that capability and the actual price of California startup Cruise Automation’s Audi self-driving add-on — you can let your car drive you. Catch up on the news, read a book, do some work, take a nap. But think about it: if the car can drive you, why have it just park itself and wait all day for you? Why not share it, let it transport others rather than sit parked waiting for you? Self-driving vehicles thus only further support mobility as a service provided through ubiquitous retail fleets, instead of individually-owned cars.

Finally, there’s mobility-friendly cities, says Greg Rucks, a principal in RMI’s mobility practice. Today’s urban landscapes are built around the automobile: streets clogged with traffic; drivers circling city blocks searching for parking; curbside, garage, and underground parking. Mobility-friendly cities, on the other hand, can trade excess road capacity and parking for more parks… or homes or shops or anything other than catering to the almighty automobile.

Image copyright Thinkstock / alexandragl1.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles…

There are currently about 253 million registered cars and light-duty trucks on the road in the U.S. With a 2014 population of 319 million, that’s almost one car per person! That won’t be the case in the new mobility, where much higher utilization rates mean we’ll need far fewer cars to move more people more efficiently in less traffic with less cost and less climate impact. Of course, arriving at such a mobility Shangri-La won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be easy.

Weiland, Rucks, Walker, and the rest of the team believe we can reduce the number of urban/suburban vehicles on the road by up to 90 percent. Along the way, we will redefine cities and, probably, American life, just as the horseless carriage once did. The barriers will be formidable. Automakers, insurance companies, and other incumbents won’t be excited to cede 90 percent of a market, Weiland says, and would need to develop completely new business models to stay competitive — just as today’s electric utilities are facing with the rise of rooftop solar.

Psychology may prove a bigger hurdle than technology. People like the idea of being able to spontaneously take off somewhere in their own wheels, whether they do it very often or not. Plus, consumers may be slow to trust self-driving technology and reluctant to cede the steering wheel to a computer “brain” under the hood that’s wirelessly connected to the mobility world around it — even though self-driving cars are already safer than cars with human drivers. Data privacy could be a concern, too, though Rucks says the data at the heart of the new mobility would be anonymized. It’s not your personal secrets that matter, he adds, but rather “the aggregation of data in and across systems.”

“We have to devise a solution that’s 100-percent failsafe,” Weiland says. “The new mobility has to offer people a complete answer, not a partial one. Otherwise you’re not going to get rid of your car.” Or at least one of them as a starting point.

Nobody, the RMI team included, knows where exactly this all might go, and that’s not the point, Walker says. “We want to whet the appetite of businesses to go attack these trillion bucks,” he says. The road ahead looks very different from the one behind. But the question now is who will chart the course, who will come along for the ride, and who will be left standing on the side of the road.

Written by Todd Neff, a freelance writer who specializes in covering energy and climate. He wrote about retail electricity pricing in the Summer 2014 issue ofSolutions Journal.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Closing of the Canadian Mind
Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada, is creating a legacy of secrecy and ignorance.   Credit  Mark Blinch/Reuters

THE prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, has called an election for Oct. 19, but he doesn’t want anyone to talk about it.

He has chosen not to participate in the traditional series of debates on national television, confronting his opponents in quieter, less public venues, like the scholarly Munk Debates and CPAC, Canada’s equivalent of CSPAN. His own campaign events were subject to gag orders until a public outcry forced him to rescind the forced silence of his supporters.

Mr. Harper’s campaign for re-election has so far been utterly consistent with the personality trait that has defined his tenure as prime minister: his peculiar hatred for sharing information.

Americans have traditionally looked to Canada as a liberal haven, with gun control, universal health care and good public education.

But the nine and half years of Mr. Harper’s tenure have seen the slow-motion erosion of that reputation for open, responsible government. His stance has been a know-nothing conservatism, applied broadly and effectively. He has consistently limited the capacity of the public to understand what its government is doing, cloaking himself and his Conservative Party in an entitled secrecy, and the country in ignorance.

His relationship to the press is one of outright hostility. At his notoriously brief news conferences, his handlers vet every journalist, picking and choosing who can ask questions. In the usual give-and-take between press and politicians, the hurly-burly of any healthy democracy, he has simply removed the give.

Mr. Harper’s war against science has been even more damaging to the capacity of Canadians to know what their government is doing. The prime minister’s base of support is Alberta, a western province financially dependent on the oil industry, and he has been dedicated to protecting petrochemical companies from having their feelings hurt by any inconvenient research.

In 2012, he tried to defund government research centers in the High Arctic, and placed Canadian environmental scientists under gag orders. That year, National Research Council members were barred from discussing their work on snowfall with the media. Scientists for the governmental agency Environment Canada, under threat of losing their jobs, have been banned from discussing their research without political approval. Mentions of federal climate change research in the Canadian press have dropped 80 percent. The union that represents federal scientists and other professionals has, for the first time in its history, abandoned neutrality to campaign against Mr. Harper.

His active promotion of ignorance extends into the functions of government itself. Most shockingly, he ended the mandatory long-form census, a decision protested by nearly 500 organizations in Canada, including the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Catholic Council of Bishops. In the age of information, he has stripped Canada of its capacity to gather information about itself. The Harper years have seen a subtle darkening of Canadian life.

The darkness has resulted, organically, in one of the most scandal-plagued administrations in Canadian history. Mr. Harper’s tenure coincided with the scandal of Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto who admitted to smoking crack while in office and whose secret life came to light only when Gawker, an American website, broke the story. In a famous video at a Ford family barbecue, Mr. Harper praised the Fords as a “Conservative political dynasty.”

Mr. Harper’s appointments to the Senate — which in Canada is a mercifully impotent body employed strictly for political payoffs — have proved greedier than the norm. Mr. Harper’s chief of staff was forced out for paying off a senator who fudged his expenses. The Mounties have pressed criminal charges.

After the 2011 election, a Conservative staffer, Michael Sona, was convicted of using robocalls to send voters to the wrong polling places in Guelph, Ontario. In the words of the judge, he was guilty of “callous and blatant disregard for the right of people to vote.” In advance of this election, instead of such petty ploys, the Canadian Conservatives have passed the Fair Elections Act, a law with a classically Orwellian title, which not only needlessly tightens the requirements for voting but also has restricted the chief executive of Elections Canada from promoting the act of voting. Mr. Harper seems to think that his job is to prevent democracy.

But the worst of the Harper years is that all this secrecy and informational control have been at the service of no larger vision for the country. The policies that he has undertaken have been negligible — more irritating distractions than substantial changes. He is “tough on crime,” and so he has built more prisons at great expense at the exact moment when even American conservatives have realized that over-incarceration causes more problems than it solves. Then there is a new law that allows the government to revoke citizenship for dual citizens convicted of terrorism or high treason — effectively creating levels of Canadianness and problems where none existed.

For a man who insists on such intense control, the prime minister has not managed to control much that matters. The argument for all this secrecy was a technocratic impulse — he imagined Canada as a kind of Singapore, only more polite and rule abiding.

The major foreign policy goal of his tenure was the Keystone Pipeline, which Mr. Harper ultimately failed to deliver. The Canadian dollar has returned to the low levels that once earned it the title of the northern peso. Despite being left in a luxurious position of strength after the global recession, he coasted on what he knew: oil. In the run-up to the election, the Bank of Canada has announced that Canada just had two straight quarters of contraction — the technical definition of a recession. He has been a poor manager by any metric.

The early polls show Mr. Harper trailing, but he’s beaten bad polls before. He has been prime minister for nearly a decade for a reason: He promised a steady and quiet life, undisturbed by painful facts. The Harper years have not been terrible; they’ve just been bland and purposeless. Mr. Harper represents the politics of willful ignorance. It has its attractions.

Whether or not he loses, he will leave Canada more ignorant than he found it. The real question for the coming election is a simple but grand one: Do Canadians like their country like that?

A novelist and a columnist at Esquire Magazine who lives in Toronto.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on August 16, 2015, on page SR7 of the New York edition with the headline: The Closing of the Canadian Mind.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Healthy Eaters, Strong Minds: What School Gardens Teach Kids

Paige Pfleger  ::  NPR  ::  10 August 2015

Tall brick walls conceal a colorful garden at Eastern Senior High School in
Washington, D.C., where students like Romario Bramwell, 17, harvest flowers
and produce. The program is run by City Blossoms, a nonprofit that brings
gardens to urban areas.     Lydia Thompson/NPR
School is still out for the summer, but at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., students are hard at work — outdoors.

In a garden filled with flowers and beds bursting with vegetables and herbs, nearly a dozen teenagers are harvesting vegetables for the weekend's farmers market.

Roshawn Little is going into her junior year at Eastern, and has been working in this garden for three years now. "I didn't really like bugs or dirt," Little says, thinking back to when she got started. "Well, I still don't really like bugs, but I like the dirt," she laughs. She gathers a handful of greens, yanks from the stem and pulls up a baseball-sized beet.

During the summer, Little gets paid to work Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. with City Blossoms, a nonprofit that brings community gardens to schools, community centers and other places where kids gather in urban areas.

Little believes that working in the garden has taught her to try all sorts of new things — like eating different kinds of vegetables more often. And she's taken those healthy behaviors home with her. Little brings home vegetables from the garden, and she says her eating habits have encouraged her family to buy more fruits and vegetables.

Yanci Flores (left) and Roshawn Little harvest beets from the garden at
Eastern Senior High School on July 17.  Lydia Thompson/NPR
"We're a chubby family and we love to eat. Well, I do," she adds with a laugh. "We mainly live around liquor stores and snack stores. There aren't that many grocery stores. They're way out, and you have to drive so far" — a common problem in low-income urban areas. "It seems so pointless, when there are snack stores right there," she says.

City Blossoms is one of many groups across the country teaming up with local communities to install school gardens, like the one at Eastern, in areas with low access to fresh, healthy foods. These gardens, advocates say, are really an outdoor classroom where kids learn valuable lessons — not just about nutrition, but also about science and math, even business skills.

By The Books

Many of these groups have big ambitions to tackle complex problems. But there is research that shows the benefits of school gardens can be real and measurable, says Jeanne McCarty, the executive director of REAL School Gardens.

"There's a trend across the country where kids are not spending enough time outdoors, period," McCarty says.

Top Left: Nychele Williams, 15, gathers basil in the garden at Eastern Senior
High School. Bottom left: Yanci Flores rinses recently harvested beets.
Right: Carrots and beets are displayed at the Aya farmers market,
where students sell their produce on Saturdays.  Lydia Thompson/NPR
To counter that, the nonprofit, which operates in Texas and Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, works with schools to create "learning gardens" and trains teachers on how to use them to get students engaged and boost academics. For example, the gardens can be used for math lessons — like calculating the area of a plant bed — or learning the science of how plants grow.

McCarty says REAL School Gardens — which has built nearly 100 gardens — is constantly evaluating the outcomes of its programs, and the numbers are encouraging.

She says partner schools have seen a 12 to 15 percent increase in the number of students passing standardized tests — not just those in the garden program, but schoolwide.

Students at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., trim
bouquets to sell at the farmers market.  Lydia Thompson/NPR
And 94 percent of teachers in the REAL School Garden programs reported seeing increased engagement from their students, according to an independent evaluation conducted by PEER Associates and funded by the Rainwater Charitable Foundation.

She says the benefits don't end with the students, either. Schools that installed learning gardens saw less teacher turnover, McCarty says.

Principal Margie Hernandez tells us she's seen the effect firsthand among her teachers.

"They start realizing that they need something to invigorate themselves, so they can invigorate their classrooms and invigorate their students," she says. Her school, Pershing Elementary in Dallas, has worked with REAL School Gardens since 2011.

Rebecca Lemos-Otero (right), co-founder and co-executive
director of City Blossoms, helps Erwin Tcheliebou, 15,
pick flowers to sell at the farmers market. Behind her is a
wall featuring the painted portraits of Eastern Senior High
students who have worked in the garden.  Lydia Thompson/NPR
And for her students — who come from predominantly low-income backgrounds — the experience can be a nutritional eye-opener, Hernandez says. "It totally changed my kids' perceptions of where food comes from, and what it takes to produce food."

If They Grow It, They'll Eat It

Many studies have found that kids are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they help garden them. That's part of the motivating principle behind Colorado-based Denver Urban Gardens, or DUG, a school garden program that puts a heavy emphasis on having kids taste the produce they grow.

DUG has 13 garden programs at schools where more than 90 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. Some of the produce that students grow then gets sold to the school cafeteria. That way, kids can recognize the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor in the lunch line. DUG has found that 73 percent of the students who work in the school garden reported increasing their actual consumption of produce.

Rebecca Andruszka, who works with DUG, says her friend's children will only eat vegetables from the garden at school — not from the grocery store.

"I think it's just that it seems less foreign when you're a part of the growing process," Andruska says.

A Business Education

In D.C., the kids of City Blossoms are also part of the business process: They take their produce to farmers markets.

On a recent weekend at the Aya farmers market in Southwest D.C., the kids' table is decorated with handmade signs that read "onions" and "garlic," with little pictures drawn beside them. The kids greet customers warmly, shaking their hands and calling them "sir" or "ma'am."

Roshawn Little mans the table, inviting people to try their herbed salt with bread. Working at the market has helped her practice her public speaking skills, she says. Plus, it teaches her business and money skills.

Roshawn Little (left) invites customer Nate Kohring to try the herbed salt
with bread at the Aya farmers market on Saturday.  Lydia Thompson/NPR
"I used to spend money on anything, mainly junk food," Little says. "Now, as I'm working here, I learned how to use my money more responsibly."

Homemade signs decorate the table at the Aya farmers market,
where the kids of City Blossoms sell their produce
on Saturdays.  Lydia Thompson/NPR

Nadine Joyner of Nutrition Synergies LLC, a nutrition education company, has a booth next to the kids at the market. She often buys produce from them to incorporate into her quiches. She says she's constantly impressed by the kids' knowledge of what they're selling — they know how to grow it, how to prepare it, and how to cook it.

"It's a very impressive thing to see young urban entrepreneurs," Joyner says, looking over at the kids. "It's a refreshing thing."

Joyner believes that teaching young people the importance of healthy eating will have long-term payoffs.

"The payoff is exponential, because they'll be young mothers or young fathers someday, and they'll feed their children based on what they've learned now," she says.

Students from Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C.,
sell vegetables, soaps and salts at the Aya farmers market
on July 25.  Lydia Thompson/NPR
But the kids aren't thinking of that bigger picture. Instead, they're just enjoying the little things, like the way their hands smell after harvesting herbs, or the satisfying crunch of a freshly picked carrot.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Solar-Powered Noise Barriers Quiet Traffic While Generating Electricity

  ::  EcoWatch  ::  3 August 2015 
From the country that brought you the solar road comes solar noise barriers. Highway noise barriers are usually not very aesthetically pleasing and only serve one purpose—to quiet traffic for the surrounding community. But a researcher in the Netherlands, Michael Debije at the Eindhoven University of Technology, is trying to change all that.
Since April, Debije has launched two pilot projects along the A2 highway in the Netherlands to test a new kind of solar panel he has developed. Using an innovative technology known as luminescent solar concentrators (LSC), the translucent sheets “bounce light internally to the edges of the panels, where it is beamed onto regular solar panels in concentrated form,” saysFast Coexist. The year-long pilot project will help determine how well the barriers hold up in terms of power generation capabilities and with vandal-resistance and maintenance requirements.
Because the barriers are so aesthetically pleasing and translucent, they could be used in urban areas to reduce noise pollution. Photo credit: Eindhoven University of Technology
Because the barriers are so aesthetically pleasing and translucent, they could be used in urban areas to reduce noise pollution. Photo credit: Eindhoven University of Technology
The panels are ideal for the gray skies of Northern Europe because they work even on cloudy days. A single half-mile stretch can provide enough electricity to power 50 homes.
“The LSC panels can be made in different colors, so the result is something like an oversized stained-glass window,” says Fast Coexist. “Because light can shine through them, they could be used in urban areas, shielding noise without making either pedestrians or motorists feel cut off.”
Debije says thanks to recent breakthroughs with LSC panels, they are now a commercially viable product. Photo credit: Eindhoven University of Technology
Debije says thanks to recent breakthroughs with LSC panels, they are now a commercially viable product. Photo credit: Eindhoven University of Technology
Debije and his team published a paper in Nature this spring that shows how they have overcome previous problems with LSC panels, and the team now claims they are commercially viable, according to Tech Times. “Further benefits are that the principle used is low cost, they can be produced in any desired, regular color, is robust, and the LSCs will even work when the sky is cloudy,” Debije told Tech Times. “That means it offers tremendous potential.”

Friday, 7 August 2015

NASA Captures ‘EPIC’ Image of the Dark Side of the Moon

  ::  EcoWatch  ::  7 August 2015 
Calling all Pink Floyd fans, NASA recently released the latest image of the dark side of themoon. The far side of the moon, which is not visible from Earth and is often referred to as the dark side of the moon, has been captured by NASA’s aptly named EPIC (Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera) on board the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite.
The dark side of the moon was captured by a NASA camera as it crossed the face of the Earth. Photo credit: NASA
The dark side of the moon was captured by a NASA camera as it crossed the face of the Earth. Photo credit: NASA
The DSCOVR studies the solar wind (in layman’s terms: space weather) so that NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Air Force can better predict weather from activities like solar flares. But a side benefit is the breathtaking images of Earth’s surface that it snaps from its location about a million miles from Earth. The moon last month entered EPIC’s frame and the spacecraft caught the moon’s backside on camera. This is not the first image of the far side of the moon, which was captured by the Soviet Luna 3 spacecraft in 1959. Since then, several NASA missions have captured the moon’s far side “in great detail,” said NASA in a statement.
Michael Brown, an astronomer at Monash University, called the images “captivating.” He told The Guardian, “It’s unusual because you need a spacecraft that has gone beyond the moon to get a picture of the moon like this … We don’t normally get that perspective.”
A million miles may sound far away, but it’s much closer than the May 2008 image of the lunar far side, which was shot from 31 million miles away. “It is surprising how much brighter Earth is than the moon,” said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Our planet is a truly brilliant object in dark space compared to the lunar surface.”
If you’re wondering why we can’t ever see the far side of the moon, it’s because “the same side of the moon always faces an earthbound observer because the moon is tidally locked to Earth,” explains NASA.
Once EPIC begins regular observations next month, NASA will provide daily color images of Earth. These images, showing different views of the planet as it rotates through the day, will be available 12 to 36 hours after they are acquired.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

A Community Built Around Older Adults Caring For Adoptive Families

Ina Jaffee  ::  NPR Morning Addition  ::  04 August 2015
Whitney Gossett (seated, center) sits with her children (clockwise) Jeremiah, 7, Andrew, 12,
Patrick, 13, and Bella, 10 — along with her fiance Brad Burtcher.Ina Jaffe/NPR
Families who adopt foster kids need a lot of support. In Rantoul, Ill., families get help in a neighborhood called Hope Meadows from older adults who've moved there just for that purpose.

The Gossett family has definitely benefited from this arrangement. Whitney Gossett adopted four siblings from foster care: brothers Patrick, 13, Andrew, 12, Jeremiah, 7, and sister Bella, who's 10.

"It's a good thing that they all got to stay together," she says. "They were talking about having to split 'em all apart and send them to different places until I told them I wanted all of 'em."

Soon there will be a dad in the picture: Gossett's fiancé, Brad Burtcher.

"We just got together in January, but we're getting married in September, and I plan on adopting all of them. So they're my children," Burtcher says. "These are my kids."

But for a few years, it was just Gossett. "I went from single and no kids to having four. It was a big step, but it was well worth it," she says.

Hope Meadows (formerly Generations of Hope) was established 21 years ago to make sure that parents like Gossett wouldn't have to take that big step alone. Of the roughly 40 houses currently rented in Hope Meadows, only 10 are occupied by families who've adopted children from foster care. The rest are occupied by older adults. They get a break in rent for volunteering six hours a week. But a lot of them do more than that.

Carol Netterfield, 70, is one. Miss Carol, as the kids call her, meets Bella Gossett in the community center to teach her to cross stitch. Bella is making a big red heart.

"I wanted to learn how to do this because my mom is getting married, and this card is for her and her fiancé," she says.

Netterfield says she and Bella go back a long time. When Bella was around 5, she started taking her to story time at the library.

"But this little one didn't like story time," recalls Netterfield. "She wanted to read herself. She was hungry to read." And Bella's not finicky. She says she likes "most books."

An Adaptable Model

Brenda Krause Eheart founded Hope Meadows 21 years ago.Ina Jaffe/NPR
In recent years, communities modeled on Hope Meadows have been created in Oregon, Florida and Massachusetts. And a project called Genesis is under construction in Northwest Washington, D.C. It's adapting the Hope Meadows idea for young women aging out of the foster care system, all of them mothers of small children.

Fernando Lemos is the executive director of Mi Casa, the nonprofit developer that's building Genesis with a combination of public and private funds. "The goal of the program is to put together the two elements, the seniors with the teen mothers, to form a community and to support each other," Lemos says.

Actually, the teen mothers he refers to are not teens anymore. In Washington, D.C., kids age out of foster care at 21.

"Everyone will have to offer at least 100 hours [of volunteer service] every 3 months," Lemos says.

For example, the young mothers can take the seniors to the doctor, and the seniors can help out with child care while the moms are at school or at work. Lemos says that will "provide the support that the [young] mothers need to be successful in the outside world."

There are half a dozen more of these Hope Meadows-inspired communities in the planning stages. In two of them, seniors will be the neighbors of adults with developmental disabilities. And in New Orleans, older adults will live next door to veterans with traumatic brain injuries.

"I am so convinced that we have to do so much more to utilize the time and talents of older adults to address these social problems," says Brenda Krause Eheart, the former University of Illinois professor who founded Hope Meadows. 

Now she heads the Generations of Hope Development Corporation, which doesn't actually develop properties but works with those groups establishing similar communities across the country. She says originally, Hope Meadows was just intended to be maybe a dozen families adopting children from the foster care system who would offer each other mutual support.

"I just kept thinking about these [foster] children. I wasn't thinking about older adults at all," she recalls.

I am so convinced that we have to do so much more to utilize the time and talents of older adults to address these social problems.

Brenda Krause Eheart, heads the Generations of Hope Development Corporation

Eheart had been trying to get just 12 houses in Rantoul, Ill., on the Chanute Air Force Base when it was shutting down. But "They said, 'No, we're breaking this base into units,' " she says, "and they said 'you gotta take 82 housing units.' "

Did it ever. "I can tell you that if it weren't for the older adults, that program would have collapsed, absolutely would've collapsed," Eheart says.

A 'Hard Time' 

As the sun is setting, the Gossett boys are having dinner at the home of another Miss Carol — 72-year-old Carol Veit. And for the first time ever, 12-year-old Andrew is confronting eggplant that has not been breaded and fried.

"Try it," Veit encourages.

"But it's brown!" exclaims Andrew. "It looks like mushrooms."

"Put it in your mouth!" Veit implores. "C'mon, it's a little tiny piece."

This argument can only happen between people who are really used to each other. Veit has the Gossett boys to dinner almost once a week. They use her iPad to look up recipes to make.

"They can make anything they want that doesn't turn on the oven 'cause it's summer time and that's not sweet 'cause their parents don't like that," she says.

But Andrew doesn't wait until the weekly dinners to see Miss Carol. "I bug Miss Carol every day," he says with a grin. "In fact, Thursday is my day to bug her all day." That happens down at the Hope Meadows office where she works on Thursday mornings. "And I'm bugging her from the time I get down there until 1 o'clock," Andrew says, barely mentioning that he also helps her get out the community newsletter.

Before she retired, Veit was a physical therapist in schools in the El Paso area. So she's been around kids her whole life.

"Yeah, I knew what they were like before I got here," she says with a laugh. "And they were what I expected."

Thirteen-year-old Patrick agrees: "Yeah, a hard time."

But they're the kind of "hard time" you only give someone when you know them well — and you really care about them.