• Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, Google — it seems everyone is in the smart-grid fray, trying to transform our electromechanical power grid into a digital network that saves energy, taps alternative sources, lowers costs, and boosts reliability. But Boulder is the first U.S. city to pilot a large-scale smart-grid system, allowing residents to monitor use and control appliances remotely. Xcel Energy has installed 21,000 meters since the $100 million program started in 2008. Early adopters cut energy use by as much as 45%.

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  • "We were staring into the abyss," says Baiju Shah, CEO of BioEnterprise, recalling the 2000 recession that had slowed Cleveland's economy to a crawl. "It wasn't just a cyclical thing; there were global forces at work that were going to leave us behind for good." As the city bled jobs in traditional sectors, such as manufacturing, committed competitors — including Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University, and Summa Health System — banded together to save the city and themselves.

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  • New York's concrete jungle is about to get more green — and tasty — thanks to Gotham Greens, which is building a hydroponic rooftop farm in Brooklyn. The eco-efficient farm will take a small bite out of the $2 billion in produce that's trucked into the city each year. Here's how it works.

    1. Power Feed
    The $2 million, 16,000-square-foot farm — which opens this spring — is powered by a 60-kilowatt solar-voltaic array.

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  • Encouraging people to use public transportation by giving them free access to cars may seem counterintuitive, but Austin is doing just that. Last fall, the city partnered with Daimler to launch Car2go, the nation's largest car-sharing initiative. The program lets city workers tap a free network of 200 smart cars and designated parking spaces for work errands — and pay by the minute to check a car out for personal use. In the first four months, demand was triple original estimates, and more than 1,000 employees climbed into the (shared) driver's seat.

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  • What would a city be without culture? No place we'd want to live. Yet most attempts to seed thriving centers are fraught with stumbles. The new AT&T Performing Arts Center solidifies Dallas's arts district by bringing a red-hot heart to the city's downtown, already home to a symphony hall and sculpture museum. The center, which opened in October and includes the Wyly Theatre and Winspear Opera House, attracted more than 100,000 visitors its first season. "It's not just the number of facilities but the nature of the facilities," says center CEO Mark Nerenhausen.

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  • During the '90s and aughts, many of Savannah's poorest neighborhoods spiraled into disrepair. Aging residents lacked the money and energy to maintain their properties; younger residents and business owners were fleeing in search of livelier communities. Fed up with rising crime and plummeting property values, residents staged protests. "They needed help," says Martin Fretty, who oversees Savannah's Department of Housing, "and they needed it soon." In response, the city launched Neighborhood Renaissance Savannah in 2000.

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  • Boston has become a beacon for displaced and emerging artists, thanks to the city's innovative housing program. The Artist Space Initiative (ASI) is dedicated exclusively to artist housing issues, from surveying artist needs in live-work units to implementing zoning tweaks that allow them to reside in industrial areas. It encouraged foot traffic by securing ground-floor galleries in emerging neighborhoods and also created a peer-review system that guarantees artist spaces will be used only by artists.

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  • Buses and trains may trump cars on the carbon front, but for true sustainability, why not power public transit with alternative fuels? AC Transit has three hybrid-electric, hydrogen fuel-cell buses up and running in Oakland and surrounding areas, with plans to add 12 next-gen models to its fleet by the end of this year. Each diesel bus that is replaced saves 130 tons of carbon-dioxide emissions annually.

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  • Studies show that top-notch teaching talent is the biggest factor in a student's academic success, and Senator Michael Bennet, the former head of Denver Public Schools, thinks it's high time we start reflecting that in teachers' salaries. "We haven't changed the way we pay teachers in this country since we had a labor market that discriminated against women," Bennet says. But reform efforts almost always end in gridlock among teachers unions, school districts, and residents.

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  • Portland has long been lauded for its farmers markets, but in February, the city welcomed a new high-tech tool to bring large-scale, farm-fresh foods to city hospitals, public schools, corporate cafeterias — even Oregon state prisons. Think of FoodHub as the Match.com for the locavore movement. Wholesale food buyers log on to access thousands of small and regional producers, as well as info on varietals sold, minimum orders, insurance, and delivery options.

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