Superblocks and Sustainable Malls

In the past 20 years, most American cities have added sustainability departments to their city government offices. These councils generally think of ways to reduce the city’s carbon footprint, ecological impact,  and save money by using energy more efficiently. You might curse them when your main streets dedicate lanes for bicyclists or carpoolers, but these regulations are paved with good intentions.

Vox has been producing really fascinating content on a number of global issues and innovations in sustainable policies recently. Their episode on the Superblock policy of Barcelona is definitely worth 10 minutes of your attention.

It all started in 2014, when Barcelona failed to meet EU air quality targets. Studies showed that air quality was causing about 3,500 deaths per year in the region. Not only that, but noise pollution was also causing negative, stressful effects. So they developed an Urban Mobility Plan which included the concept of Superblocks.

These Superblocks take nine square blocks, which are literally square in Barcelona, and close off the perimeter. Within the Superblock people are free to walk, bike, and jog around without being exposed to the city traffic pollution that plagues most of Barcelona.

In the main Superblock at the city center, pedestrian space increased from 45 percent of the total surface area to 74 percent. With so much less traffic, noise levels dropped from 66.5 dBA to 61 dBA. Most impressive of all, there was a 42% reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions and a 38% reduction.

This also helps the small businesses as people are more likely to stop by storefronts if they are walking or biking, than if they are driving.

This got me thinking, how can this idea be implemented in America? American cities and states are interconnected by a network of streets and highways designed in the 20th century for the internal combustion vehicle.  Mega-malls used to be a very big part of the American landscape, however lately, many of them have been shutting their doors.  With the growing behemoth Amazon spreading its tentacles across the nation, gobbling up Whole Foods this month, allowing it to deliver groceries, books, and drones to our doors, not only are mom and pop stores shuttering, but large big box superstores and malls are leaving abandoned lots across America. The mall as we know it from the 1980s and 1990s is simply not built for the “4th Industrial Revolution” with automation and online shopping dominating the market. In fact, there is dead mall series on YouTube, documenting the downfall of these antiquated structures, as entire malls are being abandoned and sold for as little as $100. It makes you think, what would you do with a middle America mall, if you bought one for 100 bucks?

The superblock idea, and integration of residential, commercial, and recreational areas might be a great way to utilize the massive amount of real estate malls take up. America needs more recreational playing fields, parks, and jogging tracks, which could be built in place of parking lots. The malls themselves could be opened up to allow more natural sunlight and greenscaping, re-imagined to include office, residential, and commercial spaces. This would logistically make it more sustainable, as everything people need would be on the mall property.   And possibly, being able to walk to a store and get something will be competitive with a few clicks and waiting for Amazon to deliver to your door a few days later.  Just a thought, but it would be complicated by government regulations on commercial and residential space zoning.
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Thankfully, there are companies working on navigating the tricky world of sustainable redevelopment.  For example, Brightworks Sustainability is working on revitalizing a failing mall in Cupertino located adjacent to Apple’s new headquarters in Silicon Valley.

The community of Cupertino will revitalize the failing Vallco Shopping Mall into a vibrant, sustainable, walkable and safe new neighborhood with a mix of retail, dining, entertainment, recreation, offices, housing, open space, and public amenities…

In place of the existing 1.2-million-square-foot mall, Sand Hill Property Company and its design team will build public parks and plazas; educational, retail, office, and entertainment space; and up to 800 residential units.  Atop the modern and sustainable buildings, the world’s largest green roof will provide over 30 acres of public park with a 3.8-mile network of walking and jogging trails, meadows, vineyards, orchards and organic gardens, children’s play areas, and a refuge for native species of plants and birds.  It will be Cupertino’s largest park when complete – and entirely open to the public.  The rolling shape of the green roof mimics the forms of the foothills surrounding Silicon Valley and provides privacy for residents of an adjacent neighborhood from the public uses planned for the new development.

Pretty cool right? Hopefully we will see these types of projects not only in the tech savvy innovative communities in California, but also the Rust Belt and Midwest where failing mall blight and suburban sprawl is a big problem.

How Does Tesla’s Autopilot Mode Work?

Coldfusion made a really detailed explanation of the four pillars of Tesla’s autonomous driving system, and its implications in transportation safety and the technology sector.

Tesla’s Autopilot mode can do almost anything, including lane maintenance, cruise control, emergency braking, automatic parallel parking, and it will even park itself without the driver inside. Further, you can summon the car to you if you are on private property.

Part of how Tesla cars learn is almost like science fiction. Somewhat like herd mentality, each Tesla is learning from its own driver, and sharing that knowledge with every other Tesla on the network, so the vehicles are constantly improving as more drivers log miles. Musk says Model S drivers add about 1 million miles of data every day.

The fundamental hardware of Tesla Autopilot is based on the four pillars for autonomous driving. Firstly, Teslas have a long distance radar system that can see through virtually anything. Second, is image recognition software that can decipher objects surrounding the car. Third are the ultrasonic proximity sensors. And finally Teslas come equipped with satellite GPS data that sees local traffic data.

Seeing this technology in action really makes you see how limited our fleshy consciousness is, as there are several videos of Teslas reacting to cars driving erratically a couple rows ahead in traffic, beyond what the driver can see. In another short video, a Tesla driver has stopped in the road and another car approaches it at a high speed, so the Tesla quickly accelerates before the other driver rear ends it.

This technology is certainly not going away, and is not going to be a “bubble”. In fact, some day it may be illegal to drive your own car, once we see how limited we are individually as drivers.

All Tesla Supercharger Stations to Be Solar Powered, Says Musk

Fed by the virtually unlimited supply of money emanating from the Koch Brothers to influence the media, plenty of people are convinced that electric cars are not as green as they pretend to be. That includes Teslas that recharge at Supercharger locations.

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After all, they have to get their electricity from somewhere and in many places worldwide, that somewhere is a coal-fired generating plant. The critics ask, what good is it to have zero tailpipe emissions if the stuff that makes the car go is derived from burning coal? One such critic posed that question to Elon Musk yesterday and got an unexpected response.

Tesla has embarked on a campaign to double the number of its Supercharger locations in 2017. In a blog post earlier this year, it said,

“As Tesla prepares for our first mass-market vehicle and continues to increase our Model S and Model X fleet, we’re making charging an even greater priority. It is extremely important to us and our mission that charging is convenient, abundant, and reliable for all owners, current and future. In 2017, we’ll be doubling the Tesla charging network, expanding existing sites so drivers never wait to charge, and broadening our charging locations within city centers.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists has published data refuting the hackneyed claim that electric cars are not all that green. Its study finds that two thirds of all Americans live in an area where driving an electric car contributes fewer total emissions than driving the most fuel efficient hybrid.

The only parts of the country where that is not true are places like West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, where the majority of electricity comes from coal-fired plants.

In fact, driving a Tesla in Wheeling, West Virginia creates more carbon pollution than driving a 64 Chevelle with the 396 engine. That’s because West Virginians are proud of their ability to poison themselves and their families with coal pollutants.

How soon will it be before all Tesla Supercharger locations are solar powered? Musk left the answer to that question somewhat vague. Suffice to say, it will be sooner than the charging equipment offered by any other automaker.

This article was originally published on CleanTechnica.

Inside the Vanda Dendrobium

Vanda Electrics is a Singaporean electric vehicle company. Up until now, they have produced electric mobility products such as the quirky electric Motochimp bike and the Ant Truck.

So their all-electric hypercar, the Vanda Dendrobium is a stark contrast to what the small manufacturer has introduced before. The name, Dendrobium is a species of orchid native to Singapore. Much of the concept’s design is inspired by nature, with honeycomb patterns a recurring theme. The rear-hinged roof and doors in particular are intended to echo the petals of an orchid, and look suitably dramatic as they unfold. To me, it looks more like a hornet, or wasp you might find in the countryside, because of it’s rear abdomen and visible leg-like suspension.

So far, the Dendrobium is a 1-of-1, and the company still shirks off questions about whether the high performance EV will ever go into production. But if the goal was to generate press for the company with a very uniquely designed, midlife crisis, they certainly succeeded.

In the video above, the fullycharged host never gets to take the Dendrobium for a spin, but Vanda assures us that the F1 inspired vehicle can accelerate from 0-60 in about 2.6 seconds and has a top speed of 200 mph. It appears these numbers are subject to change, depending on what the battery and motor configuration will be in the final product.  But the Dendrobium will probably be a 4 motor, at the wheels, electric vehicle. At the time of the fullycharged video, the battery pack was located behind the 2 seated cockpit, but that is subject to change.

Pricing on this Dendrobium hasn’t been specified, but it is estimated to be in the millions. If Vanda follows through with production, only 10 to 20 units of this car will be produced in 2018-2020.

A Conservative Foundation, Citizens for the Republic, Still Has a Website Dedicated to Slandering Elon Musk


Have you heard of Citizens for the Republic (CFTR for short)?  They are one of these conservative “political action committees” that are largely funded and established by southern fossil fuel companies and their employees.  There are many organizations, think tanks, and SuperPACs like them, and they generally have the same agenda: To fabricate skewed industry friendly studies to create a perceived argument against peer reviewed climate and health science, then support a candidate that peddles their bias views, and implants useful conservative politicians  and administrators in office.

For example, just follow the money that supported Scott Pruitt, who somehow is the lead administrator in the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency the 17th Attorney General of Oklahoma swore to dismantle.

As you can see in this diagram, courtesy of Desmogblog, there has been a close relationship for quite some time between Scott Pruitt, and fossil fuel interests through these conservative foundations, including foundations backed by the billionaire Koch brothers.  The affiliation was highlighted in more than 7500 emails and other records released by the Oklahoma attorney general’s office. In fact, Scott Pruitt was found to be simply copy and pasting letters made by Devon Energy to object to recently proposed federal regulations on fracking. How embarrassing.

These fossil fuel backed conservative leaning organizations that tend to utilize Republican politicians are pretty easy to identify. With some cursory research into who founded and donates to these operations through the years, we can find out who really fuels their agendas. Most of them have some abstract Americanism in their name of tagline like “freedom, liberty, our rights, our family, our individuality in order to garner de facto patriotism and thus public support for their purposes, which are almost always to diminish anything against fossil fuel industry interests.

Anyway, the primary campaign of Citizens for the Republic is no exception in plastering these stock patriotic foundational beliefs on their website, but the first thing you see in their featured story gallery is a Tesla Model S on top of a pile of money and a url: stopelonfrommfailingagain.com.

I’m not sure what they are implying with the url, stopelonfromfailingagain.com. With Tesla’s market capitalization now greater than those of Ford and General Motors, you would think Elon Musk would be recognized as a pretty successful businessman.

When you follow the link to the site, you find a really transparent attempt to sully, slander, and defame one of the brightest technological innovators of the 21st century. And the thing is, who doesn’t like Elon Musk, except maybe his ex wives? He literally represents everything the American dream should represent, an immigrant who developed a billion dollar website to help people spend their money online in Paypal, a billionaire that uses all of his resources to help the world travel more efficiently, safely, and cleanly, and then trying to colonize Mars on top of all that other stuff. Why would an American established and funded institution be out to prove to the world that he’s not great unless they have an obvious vested interest in his downfall.

As you scroll down you see bold all caps headlines like YES, ELON MUSK IS ACTUALLY REALLY BORING, ELON MUSK THINKS WE’RE ALREADY CYBORGS, ELON MUSK PUSHED FOR A CARBON TAX AT MEETING WITH TRUMP, SPACEX LOST A QUARTER OF A BILLION DOLLARS AFTER ONE OF ITS ROCKETS BLEW UP, and of course let’s not forget ELON MUSK’S GRAND AMBITION IS BORING. It makes you wonder who are the people fervently reading these, and praying on this gentleman’s downfall.

You might ask, why would  a national organization “dedicated to revitalizing the conservative movement through education, grassroots organization, advocacy and political activism” be so dead set on posting unflattering pictures, attempting immature potshots, disparaging him for his companies slightest misfortunes, and calling his marketing strategies “shitty”? Well, all you need to do is some cursory research to find someone who found somebody reputable who’s job it is to track where money is coming from.  In this case, Desmogblog sources the Center for Responsive Politics

The Center for Responsive Politics found that two of the major funders of Citizens for the Republic—the Wellspring Committee and the Annual Fund—which together donated nearly $1 million to CFTR between 2010 and 2011, are part of the powerful Koch network. Wellspring in particular was described as a “dark money conduit” by the Koch brothers. [24], [25]

Citizens for the Republic Funding (Source):

Donor & Year Total
Annual Fund $475,000
2011 $475,000
Jerry Perenchio $27,475
1981 $2,500
1982 $5,000
1983 $5,000
1984 $5,000
1985 $4,975
1989 $5,000
Wellspring Committee $360,000
2010 $360,000
Grand Total $862,475

 

Further, DailyBeast reported Wellspring was actually founded in 2008 by Charles and David Koch.

There you have it, plain and simple:  Koch>Wellspring Committee/Annual Fund>Citizens for the Republic>Stop Elon Musk. I don’t like to get into politics, but it seems fairly obvious which side is simply a surrogate organism for established fossil fuels.  I can’t really be mad at the Koch brothers for protecting their industry and profits, but politicians are acting against the interests of their constituents. If anti-innovation, anti-environment, pro trickle down policies where economically sound, peer reviewed, and had an understandably foreseeable benefit to the American public, I might support them. But as I see it, simply forcing outdated policies and bashing innovators that will shape the economic fortunes of this country in the 21st century, because the people that gave you money told you to do so, is low class, malicious, and a little bit treasonous.

Here’s Why the Tesla Model X Is an Awful Car

Doug DeMuro has some interesting opinions on the Tesla Model X.  A few things he demonstrates about his rented Model X: how the “pigeon” wing doors operate under low ceilings, Tesla autopilot, utilizing interior space, and the electric SUV’s 257 mile range.