If you want to improve air quality, end the sprawl

interchange los angeles

For centuries, people have fled the supposed squalor of cities in pursuit of the fresh air that is so vital for our health and well-being. Before Louis Pasteur’s development of germ theory, most scientists and physicians subscribed to the belief that miasmas – essentially the foul smells associated with rotting organic matter – were the source of major diseases. The cure for illness, they argued, was for people to escape cities to get fresh country air. Doctors prescribed fresh air as a treatment for various illnesses into the 20th century. American physicians encouraged their patients suffering from tuberculosis to head West in pursuit of the restorative benefits of the clean air. This movement helped foster the growth of many prominent Western cities, including Denver and Phoenix. The clean air premium Today, we tend to refer to the deleterious emissions that plague many cities by a different term: air pollution. But that … Continue reading

Our pursuit of the American Dream is undermining it

suburban cul de sacs

When I was in high school, a teacher once asked my class to use a word or term to describe the United States. A classmate of mine said it was “a meritocracy.” The teacher, who wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, wrote “Ameritocracy” on the chalkboard. It was pretty funny — because words are hard — but it gets to a larger issue, albeit purely by chance. For most people, the US is so closely synonymous to meritocracy that they might as well be the same word. America is the land of opportunity; the American Dream claims that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed and make a better life for your children. One of the key vehicles by which to achieve the American Dream is home ownership. It’s the way most people set down roots and accumulate wealth. But what happens if the … Continue reading

Happy 3rd birthday to my site

groundhog day

Three years ago today, I officially launched this website. That came after I spent nearly a month trying to figure out how to get all the details squared away on the back end to ensure that the site would actually function, everything from selecting a host to choosing a CMS to creating a MySQL database. After a while, I was beginning to wonder if I should have just started a blog on another host site, rather than creating a standalone one, but it eventually came together and went live on February 2, 2013. A lot has changed in the past three years. I finished grad school, moved back to Cleveland, got a couple of different jobs, got engaged, and lost two cats (RIP Snowball and Daisy). I also think the site has come a long way since that point. This is my 120th post, meaning I’ve averaged 40 per year, … Continue reading

New images show how freeways tore apart Cleveland’s neighborhoods

Carnegie-Ontario 1951

Earlier this week, Chris Olsen of ESRI uploaded some amazing aerial maps of Cleveland into ArcGIS, which document the land use changes in the region over the past 65 years. As we all know, since 1950, while Cuyahoga County’s population declined from 1950 to the present, the remaining population has spread out throughout it and neighboring counties. As a result, whereas just 26% of the county’s land was developed in 1948, this number exploded to 98% by 2002. One of the major factors contributing to this trend was the development of the interstate highway system, which began after the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. Accordingly, the aerial maps from 1951 provide us with a snapshot in time just after the City of Cleveland’s population reached its peak of 914,000 and just before the highway system helped usher in decades of population loss and decline. But, beyond just aiding the movement … Continue reading

Air pollution adds to a number of Cleveland’s ills. So why does no one talk about it?

vehicle exhaust

A few weeks ago, Rachel Dissell and Brie Zeltner from The Plain Dealer released their roughly 26-part series, “Toxic Neglect,” which provided an incredible deep dive into the City of Cleveland’s chronic lead poisoning crisis. The series is truly outstanding journalism, something that is becoming increasingly rare in Northeast Ohio these days, and enough to max out your rage meter. If lines like “[Cleveland puts] more money into baiting for mosquitoes to curb West Nile virus and to prevent rabies in raccoons than we put into lead poisoning” and “national policy for decades has been to use primarily poor, minority children as household lead detectors” don’t enrage you, you don’t have a heart. Dissell and Zeltner’s thorough investigation shines a light upon a major issue that is too often ignored in this region – the fact that at least 2,000 Cleveland children are poisoned by lead each year – and documents the … Continue reading

That ‘Cleveland rail shutdown’ looks more likely by the day

red line winter

WCPN has a story today from Nick Castele on the untenable fiscal position in which the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) finds itself. All Aboard Ohio, the rail advocacy organization, recently ran a post arguing that GCRTA’s rail cars are rapidly approaching the end of their useful life, and the system faces an “unavoidable” rail shutdown sometime after 2020 without a substantial infusion of capital. Castele interviewed GCRTA’s General Manager Joe Calabrese, who confirmed much of All Abroad Ohio’s account, though the agency has sought to downplay the hysteria around the issue. According to Calabrese, GCRTA needs to raise $280 million in capital funds by 2025 to replace 65-70 of its aging rail cars. He emphasized that GCRTA “can’t get there alone. It’s going to take a more major investment.” What Calabrese failed to discuss is what happens if that influx of funding doesn’t materialize. As I have discussed on a number of … Continue reading

Study estimates that Volkswagen’s ‘defeat devices’ caused 59 premature deaths in US

vw emissions test

Since the EPA announced on September 18 that Volkswagen had installed “defeat devices” in its so-called clean diesel vehicles for model years 2008-2015, analysts have been attempting to quantify the public health costs of this single action. A range of outlets from The New York Times to the Associated Press to Mother Jones offered up their estimates. (My personal favorite came from Brad Plumer at Vox, though that’s probably because I pointed him to the EPA technical support document containing the mortality factors that he used for his calculations…) Each entity used a different methodology and came up with different numbers, demonstrating just how hard it is to tabulate the real world impacts of pollution. Well, last week, a group of researchers from MIT and Harvard published the first peer-reviewed assessment of the public health effects of the diesel scandal in Environmental Research Letters. This study finally gives us a reasonable baseline against which we can … Continue reading

The 1948 Donora Smog and the birth of air quality regulations

lunch time smog

Sixty-seven years ago today, residents of Donora, a town of around 14,000 lying along Monongahela River some 24 miles downstream of Pittsburgh, woke up to find a dense, yellow smog had blanketed the town. Donorans were accustomed to such smogs, as the town lay in a river valley ringed by hills that could reach up to 400 feet high. During the “smog season,” pollution from the industrial base of the city – including a steel mill and a zinc works – would collect in this natural depression and develop into smog until changes in meteorological conditions (shifting winds, rainfall) would dissolve the cloud. But that didn’t happen on October 27. Or October 28, 29, or 30. Instead, a strong atmospheric inversion, which occurs when a blanket of lighter, warmer air flows in over heavier, colder air, sealed the smog in place. As this happened, emissions from the town’s factories, which included sulfuric acid, … Continue reading

How VW forced drivers to ‘roll coal’ & what it tells us about the flaws in our emissions testing systems

rollin coal

Last summer, a few media outlets reported on a strange phenomenon that was on the rise in certain corners of the country. For whatever reason, a group of Good Ole’ Boys had decided that the best way to show how much they hated environmental regulations and loved fossil fuels was to alter their trucks’ exhaust systems to release massive amounts of black soot. This practice – called “rolling coal” – has inexplicably become highly popular in some communities; its official Facebook page has more than 18,000 followers. For the coal rollers, tampering with the emissions controls on their trucks was a way to make their personal and political ideologies manifest. Never mind the fact that the exhaust they were spitting out is a known carcinogen. No, the coal rollers claim, the people who are on the receiving end of their soot cloud probably deserve to suffer the consequences because they have the audacity … Continue reading

Rep. Bill Patmon to fight infant mortality through the power of condescension

bill patmon planned parenthood

Last month, two seemingly unrelated reports came out. The first involved a series of leaked videos from an anti-abortion activist group that purported to show Planned Parenthood employees trying to sell the tissue and organs of aborted fetuses. The second was a report updating Ohio’s abysmal record on infant mortality rates. Now, at first glance, these two stories have nothing to do with one another. That is, unless you’re Representative Bill Patmon of Cleveland. On July 28, Rep. Patmon stood on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse to announce that he had introduced House Bill 294, a bill that would bar the state from issuing state and certain federal funds from “any entity that performs or promotes elective abortions.” Apparently Rep. Patmon and his primary co-sponsor, Rep. Margaret Conditt (R-Liberty Township), decided that the controversy over the Planned Parenthood videos provided perfect cover for them to try and defund the organization in … Continue reading