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California’s runaway train

US

Political, environmental and planning disputes have held up California’s long discussed high-speed rail project, which should finally break ground this year. But without a CEO, it’s also lacking leadership.

Fuelling change

US [ENERGY]

It’s not easy living in an economic boomtown – just ask the residents of Midland and Odessa, two Texas cities where the quality of life is suffering owing to a massive influx of people.

They both straddle the Permian Basin, a hotspot for oil and gas exploration that produces 17 per cent of US crude oil. In Midland, Bobby Burns of the Chamber of Commerce estimates that the city has swelled by 10 to 20 per cent since 2010, from 111,000 people to around 130,000. “We can’t grow fast enough to catch up,” he says. Housing is in short supply, all the hotels and motels are full of oil workers and some have doubled or tripled their rates.

In Odessa, the population has grown 6 or 7 per cent to around 107,000. There are so many oil workers there that a spring Junior Olympics event was cancelled because there were no hotel rooms, despite the construction of 10 motels over the past two years. One option on the table is to build “man-camps” for energy workers. “It would be a modified barracks system with a common dining area,” says Mayor Larry Melton. “If we can get that done it might take the pressure off.”

Three more US energy booms:

  1. Mojave desert: Private firms and utilities plan to sprinkle the deserts of California, Arizona and Nevada with solar power plants.

  2. North Dakota: With over 550,000 barrels of oil per day, it is rapidly closing in on Texas, the country’s top producer.

  3. Northeastern states: The Marcellus Formation contains huge reserves of natural gas, but the extraction process – fracking – has raised environmental and health concerns.

Third wheel

US [TRANSPORT]

With the number of cyclists having doubled between 2007 and 2011 thanks in part to the introduction of bike lanes and easy storage areas, New York’s Department of Transportation is set to offer more to cyclists later this summer. Citi Bike will be New York’s first bicycle sharing scheme with plans for 10,000 bicycles across 600 stations throughout the city’s five boroughs.

Stairway heaven

Colombia [TRANSIT]

Daily life for the 12,000 residents of Comuna 13, a notorious hilltop slum in Colombia’s second city, Medellín, just got a little easier. Until now, locals had to hike a steep hill for 35 minutes – the equivalent of climbing a 28-storey building – to get from the city centre to their homes. Now the journey takes six minutes thanks to a $6.7m outdoor escalator completed in May. The 384m-long electric stairway is split into six sections and is billed as the world’s only escalator aimed at providing mass transport to marginalised communities. And it’s free. Officials from Rio de Janeiro are eyeing up the project to see if something similar could work in the city’s hillside favelas.

Bright future

Peru [ENVIRONMENT]

Energy firm Imtech is set to make the most of Peru’s climate with an €800,000 investment in the country’s solar energy sector.

No stranger to these projects, Imtech invested 30 per cent of its €5.1bn revenue last year in similar green technology schemes. The work will be a collaboration with San Pablo University in Arequipa and create a prototype heating system for homes in an area where medical conditions are poor and life expectancy is shorter. It is the first scheme of its kind to take advantage of the ideal conditions offered by Peru’s altitude and local natural wonder – the Atacama Desert – a likely hotspot for future solar energy developments.

Q&A

Graeme Stewart

Founder, Tower Renewal Project

Toronto

They’re the unacknowledged icons of Toronto – the city’s stock of more than 1,000 post-war high-rise apartments, many of them located in the inner-suburbs. Under the Tower Renewal Project, local architect Graeme Stewart is working to reevaluate high-rises as urban assets.

What was the impetus for the Tower Renewal Project?
These modernist, inner suburban high-rises are a 40 or 50-year-old idea frozen in time. The buildings are energy inefficient and need significant repairs. The areas are reception zones for new Canadians because it’s relatively affordable. But in many ways they’re not meeting residents’ needs.

How can we think of these buildings as assets rather than liabilities?
Toronto took a different course than the US when it came to suburbanisation. We weren’t afraid of high-rises in suburbs. So we’re in a better position to look towards the future because we have these decentralised, high-density nodes giving Toronto double the regional density than Greater Chicago.

How will the project help Toronto’s immigrants?
One of our priorities has been to rezone these sites so occupants can open local businesses. It’s about social innovation and cutting red tape.

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