Big City Oasis

1200px-SFParkletAs a supporter of green spaces, especially so in urban environments, I was intrigued by the concept of parklets when I first read about them in this recent NYT article.

Parklets are defined as pavement/sidewalk extension that provides more space and amenities for people using the street. Usually parklets are installed on parking lanes and use several parking spaces. These “pocket parks” are all different, but tend to include a number of key features such as cycle parking, seating, planters, trees and flowers. This simple concept seems such a great idea in high density areas, where there is a lack of greenery and relaxing outdoor seating areas are virtually none existent.

While a new concept to me, it seems it has been around for a while. While other big-city planning concepts, like roof gardens and green walls, claim environmental benefits, this seems to be the first concept that is just about social improvement. My view is that they provide a little oasis of calm in the extreme pressure of the city. These simple opportunities for just relaxing are a really welcome introduction in urban spaces, and I’d be pleased to see them being  introduced more widely.

 

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Airlander in the air

Anyone driving along the A421 near Bedford, England will wonder what are those two massive buildings that sit just off the road, but at enough distance to be near-unrecognisable. The locals know that what were once derelict giant ex-aircraft hangers are now hubs of industry. Being near enough to Bletchley Park, and with numerous active military airfields nearby, maybe there is a reluctance to let on what goes on there. But now all is revealed. It’s an airship

It is Big, And it is clever (hopefully). And apparently its not an airship, as it is not lighter than air! Watch the video for a few minutes in and you will see the giant airlander get inflated like a child’s beach toy, you can tell this is English technology! Interesting background and story. The actual company making this, have an interesting website for more information. There are some fascinating images of the Cardington Hangers and related pictures of RAF stations and equipment. And of course next door they filming Superman!

Too fast for Solar Impulse

Still way too fast for the Solar Impulse – The cycling world hour record has been broken. Bradley Wiggins completed 54.526km (33.88 miles)in the long-awaited attempt at Lea Valley in the UK. Beating the previous recent record held by fellow cyclist Alex Dowsett, who had done 52.937km (32.89 miles) back in May. So that’s it for a while.

And no it wasn’t all downhill!

Panama Hats

A bit like tax exiles with their endless excuses (*). Many of the big ships that plow the trade seas fly the panama flag – Flags of convenience, just like tax exiles. In some ways it is fitting for the ships as at least there is a great merchant tradition in Panama. Of course they’re also thinking of expanding. A similar huge feat of engineering is being considered for the Suez Canal.

At least panama flagged vessels however “fake” and pretentious are at least nominally from Panama. Unlike Panama Hats which are from China. Oh only kidding. They’re from Ecuador. Panama hats are light-colored, lightweight, and breathable, and now associated with the seaside and tropical locations. Originally from Ecuador the highest quality “superfino” Panama hat can hold water, and when rolled for storage, can pass through a wedding ring.

So I don’t like tax exiles. I do like panama hats although I don’t actually own one. And my sympathies begin to lie with pirates, surely they could hit some tax havens and so us all a favour. Um. Maybe the wealthy ones actually live in tax exile, maybe that’s why tax domains are havens from piracy!

* Just admit it, You’re doing it to be richer. You grew up in a community with all the benefits that brings and now you have the money, you want to keep more and more of it. So now its all about you and your wealth and nowt to do about being social or being part of the fabric of society. You’re now entitled to it. Why? Because you have it.

Driverless Cars

I thought there were already. Maybe it’s just their actual style of driving…anyway. Looks like the UK Government have decided to go ahead with the idea and allow them on the roads (good job really as they would be rubbish cluttering up the pavements). Um so there an idea.

The new city of Milton Keynes is one of those trying out the concept. Here’s more information about these MK Driverless cars, similar in concept to the Heathrow pods.

But it seems rather than some sort of real-life Scalextric we are now going for actual driverless cars. As the Cambridge driverless bus took years and never worked it will be curious to see how the new era of motoring gets off. Maybe they will have a bloke with a red flag walking in front of them!

Railway Mania

The recent revitalisation of our railways is very welcome, albeit a little unexpected. Leaving aside the day-to-day fiasco’s of delayed trains, overcrowding, expensive tickets, as well as the usual day-day exasperations. Or the HS2 debacle of an entire new planned (sic) route that will take thirty years to build, on the promise to save a half hours journey time (presumably sometime within that time period) and obliterate entire green belts in the process. Beyond all that – there are encouraging signs that the railways are no longer the forgotten and under-valued public transport it seems to have been regarded in the past decades.

For a start there are revitalised lines. After a short campaign of some 41 years, a restored train service between Swanage and Wareham is to happen by 2015. This is a picturesque line in the tourist county of Dorset with Enid Blyton type views of the dramatic Corfe Castle. Should be a great tourist attraction as well as practical rail route. While up in Whitby the Coastal Communities Fund is investing in the North Yorkshire Moors Railway which will fund a new platform at Whitby for this heritage railway. Along with other renovation work this will hopefully boost the tourist economy. Rumours that the Dracula line is to be dug up are untrue say local reporter Bram Stoker. OK I made that last bit up!.

More seriously, many of our great train stations are being restored. There is the newly rebuilt St Pancras station in London. A great restoration of this grand gothic style building. Nearby King’s Cross station is also been revitalised. What used to be a dirty scruffy looking area has been re-modelled to represent our traditional railway architecture in an impressive contemporary setting. The Grade 1 listed building, designed by Cubitt in 1852, has been restored in partnership with English Heritage, retaining and displaying many of the original features. With a stunning new concourse, the largest single-span structure in Europe, along with its glass mezzanine walkway already built, the final phase is due soon with the removal of the tatty old green signage and the installation of the new public square, bringing a European feel to the place.

The new London Blackfriars station, to be built on the Victorian bridge of 1886, is set to be a landmark, being the first station to span the river Thames. An innovative roof, made up of over 4K solar photovoltaic (PV) panels will provide over 50% of the stations energy needs, and will reduce CO2 emissions. There will also be a rain harvesting systems and sun pipes for natural lighting. While in Birmingham New Street there will be a whole new larger concourse, as well as a giant atrium, allowing natural light throughout the station and to all 12 refurbished platforms, which should be completed by 2015.

Further afield the Grand Central terminal in New York has just celebrated one hundred years, the brainchild of William Wilgus who is reputed to have said “It was the most daring idea that ever occurred to me”. And it is not just trains and buildings. Recently thousands of people applied for the 18 jobs as train drivers on the new Borders to Edinburgh rail route. Scotrail says that they are dealing with the sheer volume of applications, representing that 125 people applied for each post. It seems affection for our railways is endemic and at last our national institution is being looked after.

Michelin Tyres

Always being a convert to Michelin tyres, I know its going to be a bit of an expense whenever I need some new tyres. After a heavy winter I needed two new front tyres so thought i’d better try and shop around.

You’d think it would be quite easy to replace the tyres but you need to faff around with exact tyre sizes and then you get a mutitude of different ones to opt for (the cheapest?). After google search (what did we do before that!)I realised that a lot of the codes on tyre relate to the speed rating. So for mine it meant “R” represents a speed rating up to 106mph, “T” is 118 mph, “H” is 130 mph and “V” is 150 mph. Of course the prices go up as the speed rating, so let me have a quick thought – oh i know as i drive like Mr Magoo and the national speed limits are 70 mph I’lle opt for the R rating! Then I had a look at some websites for prices and a lot had “call for our best price” and “this weeks special offer are 4 Pirelli tyres” but I don’t want 4 of anything!

I had a look at the actual Michelin website and they seemed to have quite a good deal using their preffered provider which turn out to be one of those vans that come to you. Which could be a good idea if you know that they are any good. There was actually quite a lot of these “vans-to you” service and their prices went from as low-as-you-can-get to a lot higher than a normal tyre shop. I wanted tracking done as well and as wasn’t sure whether these people could do that decided to stick with a real bricks & mortar shop.

While doing that tho I came accross the likes of ATS who do have real places in certain locations then use vans for areas like mine so that was a bit in-between! As you had to book online I wasn’t sure I wanted to try that out, it being a lot easier for me to just drive down to my local tyre shop.

Which in the end I did, because when i called them for a quote they told me they did price-matching and would go with the lowest quote from a real shop nearby. So I got the best price, maybe not the exact lowest, but one that was affordable and convenenient. And I get to go back in a few weeks to check the tracking is still all OK.