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Sunday, March 06, 2005

Top tech city?

Now that I have denigrated mass-media ramblings on science and tech, I have to point out a recent article in Popular Science describing their very subjective opinion on the top tech city in the USA.
Minneapolis ranked first among U.S. cities in innovative transportation solutions, fourth in energy technology.
It ranked first among U.S. cities in innovative transportation solutions, fourth in energy technology. the city fell above the 50th percentile in every category measured, a broad-based showing of tech savvy that set it apart from the competition. With everything averaged together, there is no city in America where a culture of high technology has a more pervasive presence.

What happens when things get too cold?
The streets are clean enough to eat off, and seem curiously devoid of pedestrians--a ghost-town ambience that can be attributed to the Minneapolis skyway system running overhead. Back in 1962, city planners gave up trying to deal with the northern winters, where temperatures have bottomed out at 34 below, and began turning the entire center of the city into a giant human habitrail. The skyway is a series of sealed bridges above street level that winds for mile after disorienting mile through arcades of shops and plazas, opening on vast atriums with indoor waterfalls and trees to remind the tunnel-dwellers of the outside world. It's not a dome over the entire city, but it strikes me as being admirably close.
How can you heat a building in the middle of winter?
... Mayor Rybak drops me off at the Green Institute, a nonprofit that promotes environmental tech- nology and sustainable energy use--another area in which Minneapolis scored high points, with its eight EPA-rated EnergyStar buildings. The institute's building is a textbook on green technologies. It has no furnace but is kept at a constant temperature by a nontoxic antifreeze (so green you could actually drink it) circulating through a series of geothermal wells dug into the bedrock below. Mirrors above skylights follow the sun to reflect it inside, and sensors lower all electric light correspondingly, hibernating when people leave the room. Teused steel forms the bulk of the support beams, and the building has an insulating living roof planted with minnesota prairie species. The electrical system, run partly from an array of solar panels on the roof, kicks power back to the grid when it overproduces. Shelving consists of pressure-treated boards of soy and newspaper that look just like shiny black marble.

What about heating a honking big building in the middle of winter? Like the Mall of America?
There is no heating system in the 4.2-million-square-foot building; the entire place is heated by the lighting system and the body heat of tens of thousands of bustling shoppers. It is a biosphere of consumers. The 400 trees in the mall's vast atrium are kept pest-free by tens of thousands of ladybugs. There is a 1.2-million-gallon aquarium and a whole amusement park under a roof big enough to dock the hindenburg . (This may be the only place on earth one could feasibly pick up wi-fi on a roller coaster.) The completed light rail slithers from the skyway in downtown minneapolis straight into the belly of the beast.

Amazing how much they equate metropolitan high-technology with beating the cold. On the down-side, too bad the writer did not mention anything about the low-tech/high-tech transportation convergence in Minneapolis. Mayor Rybak has been relentlessly pushing for bike paths and alternate means of transportation. For example, both buses and the light-rail transit have spaces for bicycles (buses carry bikes on the outside, the LRT has bike hooks on the inside).


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9:18 PM  

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