Urban planning

2008 01 26
System compatibility, writ large

The NYT had a little blip today about the new freight train service between China and Germany. It’s interesting in itself, and especially so because apparently Russia and Mongolia’s national railroads use a different gauge than the national railroads of China, Germany, Poland and whatever other country the route passes through. So a single train can’t make the journey. They have to unload the freight and re-load it, to transfer between trains that run on the relevant gauges. I love this for reasons I’m having a hard time articulating fully. Giant systems, huge investments of resources and labor and time for their respective countries, where the decisions about the basic specs have huge ramifications, and it would be just a nightmare to fix.

But here’s where the NYT story surpasses itself into infrastructure geek sublimity. Because a similar problem of incompatible gauges has cropped up at other times in history, and the article links to the amazing example of the US southern railroads, which in 1886 converted almost 12,000 miles of track (and all their working trains too) to a different gauge in two days.

Nada (0)

2004 08 10
Rooftop Gardens

Matthew Yglesias, not exactly an environmentalist type, has got this right:

A little while back I talked to someone who was involved with some sort of program here in the District where they were planting grass and trees on the roofs of office buildings. In part this was a welfare-to-work initiative, but some non-trivial environmental benefits were also being claimed. The benefits are said to be several-fold. First, because soil is a good insulator, putting such a garden on the roof of your building helps moderate internal temperatures, hence reducing the need for energy expenditures on air conditioning and heating. Second, were such gardens to be widely planted, the increased foliage would allegedly help moderate city-wide. Third, the presence of more greenery would improve local air quality. Fourth, to some degree it creates carbon sinks which alleviates global warming. Fifth (though this is my addition, not an argument that was presented to me) it would look cool.

The claim was that because of the cost savings on the energy side, some relatively mild tax credits would make it worth property owners’ while to plant such gardens, thus bringing society various environmental benefits. Is all this true? I couldn’t say, though I’d like to know, it seems like the sort of innovating thinking that we could use more of. Plus I think it would look cool.

I might as well come out and admit that I get a strange little thrill from seeing trees on top of buildings. Hey, you gotta get your kicks somewhere.

Howls of outrage (2)