Charlotte, North Carolina, has found a silver lining in the housing crisis:
Charlotte's Habitat is among the first in the nation to start buying up houses in troubled neighborhoods where up to a third of the homes are vacant due to foreclosure. Average cost: $38,000 to $55,000, less than half the original price.
"We're getting them as low as $30,000, knowing we'll put in $10,000 of repairs," said Meg Robertson, an associate director with Habitat. "To build a new one is over $60,000 … we're $20,000 to $30,000 cheaper per home."
So what about Habitat's commitment to sweat equity? To having energetic volunteers "build houses together in partnership with families in need?" Robertson told the Charlotte Observer that she thought it was more important to house as many people as possible.
Besides, subdivisions built in the boom are already falling apart on their own or at the hands of vandals, so there should be plenty of sweat required to restore and maintain them.
As GM prepares to cut 21 percent of its US jobs and produce smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, it's mulling over changing the color of its logo from blue to green. The AP reports that the switch would be "an effort to show consumers that it is leaner and greener, more focussed on fuel efficiency and better able to make quick decisions."
Depending on your perspective, this is either a brilliant move or a monumental case of chutzpah. It might signal GM's shifting priorities, or it might come off as an effort to put a new coat of green paint on the same grimy clunker. Given how far GM has to go before it's as green as companies like Toyota or Honda, perhaps the strongest message behind the color change would be this: GM is green with envy.
EARLY ONE MORNING in August 2005, a small team of game wardens and deputies climbed through coyote brush and manzanita in the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve outside San Jose, California, searching for an illegal pot farm. As they crested a ridge, they discovered densely planted rows of cannabis stalks. Suddenly, a high-powered rifle cracked and an officer fell to the ground, shot through both legs. Seconds later, another deputy shot and killed a man wielding a sawed-off shotgun. "It was literally like a jungle firefight," recalls warden John Nores, who fired at the other shooter before he escaped into the woods. Left behind in a meadow just minutes from the heart of Silicon Valley were 22,000 marijuana plants worth some $88 million.
Over the past decade, marijuana patches known as "grows" or "gardens" have sprung up on public lands across the West, including a third of California's national parks and nearly 40 percent of all national forests. Where hippies once grew just enough weed to peace out, traffickers now cultivate more than 100,000 plants at a time on 30-acre terraces irrigated by plastic pipe, laced with illegal pesticides, and guarded by men with MAC-10s and Uzis. Grows have turned up everywhere from the deepest backcountry to the edges of suburban subdivisions. Farming pot on public land can be more profitable than smuggling it across the increasingly militarized border. The 3.1 million pot plants seized in national forests in the year prior to last September had an estimated street value of $12.4 billion.
Is the future of agriculture the neglected flower bed on Main Street? The San Francisco Chroniclereports today that Mayor Gavin Newsom has ordered all city departments "to conduct an audit of unused land--including empty lots, rooftops, windowsills and median strips--that could be turned into community gardens or farms." If the Mayor gets his way, you could just as well get an apple from the corner mart as from a tree growing on the street corner.
The announcement is the latest fruit from an "urban-rural" roundtable of food experts that Newsom convened last year to look for more ways to get locally-grown foods onto the plates of city residents. The effort began last summer with a quarter-acre "victory garden" in front of city hall--a big hit with locals and tourists; Newsom later announced plans to replicate the effort at 15 sites around the city. He also floated the idea of planting fruit trees on street medians, and experimented with a strawberry patch atop a bus shelter--ideas that could catch on under his new food directive.
Newsom's move builds upon a vibrant hyperlocal agriculture movement in the Bay Area and along the West Coast. Detailed in "Inside the Green Zone" in our March/April food issue, the movement encompasses everything from professional farmers who'll sow your backyard to urban fruit foragers who barter blackberries plucked from city parks. The efforts have taken on a timeliness in the midst of the recession as cities look for ways to fill lots that aren't being developed and provide healthy, inexpensive food. Indeed, the original "victory garden" was planted by Eleanor Roosevelt on the White House lawn in the waning years of the Great Depression to serve as a model for rugged self reliance.
Newsom plans to go a step further by also requiring the city departments serve only high-quality food. Within two months, he'll send an ordinance to the city's Board of Supervisors mandating that all food served in city jails, hospitals, homeless shelters, and community centers be safe, healthy, and sustainable. Of course, the switch will be much easier in San Francisco, which consumes a million tons of food a year but has 20 tons available within a 200 mile raidius, than it would in say, New York. Still, there's no reason an apple tree couldn't also thrive on a sidewalk in Brooklyn.