Marketplace - American Public Media

College students discover the dorm stay-cation

Tue, 2015-01-13 02:00

It’s lonely in Alexander Poling’s campus apartment at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Like most students, his three roommates are gone for the month-long winter break. Poling, a junior, has a job in a university warehouse.

“I just don’t want to make that commute every day,” he says.

Plus, he’d rather be here than back home in Sparks, Md.

“Honestly, I like being on my own,” he says. “Especially since I have cats at home, and I’m allergic to cats.”

As college campuses become more diverse, students have lots of reasons to stay during breaks. For the growing numbers of international and low-income students, a trip home isn’t always affordable. Others hang around for winter classes or internships. On many campuses, traditional breaks are giving way to a new college tradition: the staycation. 

“We’re seeing a definite spike in students’ need to have somewhere to be,” says Allison Avolio, director of residential life at Johns Hopkins University. “So I think a lot of institutions are looking to find ways to accommodate those needs.”

This school year, for the first time, Hopkins opted to keep its dorms open for Thanksgiving and Spring Breaks. Around 300 to 350 students decided to stay for Thanksgiving, Avolio says.

Sophomore Jaya Jasty from New Orleans was one of them.

“It was quite depressing,” he says. “There was not much to do.”

Jasty had plenty of company, though, when he came back early from winter break to take a couple pass/fail classes and hang out with friends. About half of the university’s 2300 or so residential students come back for what’s known as Intersession, before the spring semester gets underway.

“We usually play video games nonstop in our common room since nobody’s here,” Jasty says. “We go to a lot of restaurants now, just explore Baltimore.”

Hopkins doesn’t charge students extra to stay during break, but keeping the lights and heat on may pay off in other ways. Students who live on campus and are more “engaged” in college life tend to do better in school.

Car sales in the era of $50-a-barrel oil

Tue, 2015-01-13 02:00

Detroit is hosting its annual North American International Auto Show this week and next. There are a few new green offerings on display, such as a new version Chevy’s Volt and an Audi Diesel plug-in hybrid. But with the price of gas so low, many consumers have lost some of their enthusiasm for fuel-efficient vehicles.

Edmunds' John O’Dell says as gas prices fell in the latter half of last year, truck and large SUVs sales ticked up and sales of smaller more fuel-efficient cars dropped slightly. But not all green cars were affected equally. O'Dell says consumers pulled back from hybrids, but electric cars remained popular with early adopters.

Ben Kallo, a senior research analyst at Robert W. Baird, says Teslas, in particular, have become an aspirational vehicle in the U.S., as BMW has been in the past.

You had me at "Like" on Facebook

Tue, 2015-01-13 01:30
3 million

That's how many copies of a special issue of Charlie Hedbo will be printed  on Wednesday, hitting newsstands in 16 languages. As reported by Bloomberg, the issue will feature the Prophet Muhammad on the cover.

84 percent

The portion of police raids that utilized flashbang grenades in Little Rock, Arkansas in 2014, almost exclusively in black neighborhoods. Those raids rarely turned up weapons or even drugs in some cases, a ProPublica investigation found, but the flashbang itself can be extremely dangerous.

1,500

That's about how many new orders each Airbus and Boeing reported in 2014. They also face a combined backlog of some 12,000 unfilled orders, enough to keep their profits stable for years to come. But some question how the tumbling price of oil will affect the jet makers' biggest customers

42-20

The score of the first-ever college football national championships, in which Ohio State upset Oregon to win the title. The Wall Street Journal has the strange story of "Mandrake," Oregon's frightening, muscular attempt at a new mascot to replace it's Donald Duck-aping "Puddles."

10

The number of Facebook "likes" a computer program must analyze to guess a subject's personality better than his or her coworker. The computer could only beat roommates and friends when it had about 70 "likes" to work with, the Washington Post reported, and it could beat a spouse with 300 likes.

Eight biggest takeaways from CES 2015

Mon, 2015-01-12 15:19

Here are the big takeaways from last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. In all, it was a nerd’s paradise.

1. Drones!

For the first time, drones got their own section of the floor at the Consumer Electronics Show—thanks partly to projections by the Consumer Electronics Association that the category will post 50 percent growth in sales this year, to about $103 million. Most drone makers showed  small- and medium-sized machines for consumers and hobbyists.  But China-based Harwar, displayed imposing, large commercial-grade drones that cost $15,000, can fly 15,000 feet, and weigh five pounds.

2. Gesture Control

Electronics companies are working hard to alter how we interact with technology: forget keyboards and mice, think hand gestures.  Laptops with gesture control, powered by Intel’s new 3-D technology, will hit  stores within weeks. Farther into the future, look for gesture control  in cars. VW was showing some of that off.  And Razer showed virtual-reality goggles that let gamers interact with screens using just their hands — no gloves required.

3. No Control

We all know automakers are  more deeply integrating smartphones, apps and tablets into their cars. Next up, smarter cars. BMW showed a video demonstration in which a car, communicating via a Samsung smartwatch, turns itself on, drives through a parking garage and locates its owner. Nvidia is working on a cloud-based smart learning system for cars, so they can warn each other about road signs, people and other objects.

4. Talk to Me

The “Internet of things” was a very buzzy CES term. These are products that connect everyday objects in the home via processors, sensors, and Bluetooth or other Internet connections. All that’s needed now is standard platforms, designs, technologies, and coding languages, so that products can be made to work with any ecosystem in the future.

5. Super Televisions

Samsung rolled out a new digital platform, Tizen, which is supposed allow for better connectivity between the TV, the Internet, streaming services, and, eventually, connected home devices. Meanwhile, Sony hitched its wagon to the Android TV platform with the same goals in mind. The two companies also announced new 4K televisions, known interchangeably – if not completely accurately – as Ultra High Definition TV. The technology for 4k, which upgrades a typical 2 million-pixel HD TV screen into an 8 million-pixel TV screen, has been around for a couple of years. But the price has begun to come down, and more players are entering the market. The sector is expected to double its business in 2015 to $4.9 billion in revenue, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

6. Streaming TV

Buried in all the new technology and gadgets was fairly big news from the pay-TV world. Dish Network announced its Internet-only, streaming-only TV offering, which will include many cable channels – even ESPN, hadn’t previously signed on with other streaming services. All for just $20 a month.

7. Just Wear It

Sales of wearable technology will grow 474 percent, this year, to $3.1 billion, says the Consumer Electronics Association. Much of that is being fueled by the expected debut of Apple’s smartwatch later this year. The show, though, had no shortage of smartwatches, digital bracelets and other fitness and health gadgets. There was even a baby thermometer in the form of a patch that can provide constant monitoring and app-based reporting on the baby’s temperature. One of the challenges facing wearables, though, is the availability of censors, which are mostly designed to work in mobile devices. Wearables need more durable, less power consuming sensors. And there aren’t enough of those right now.

8. Charge It!

Looking for better cell-phone charging technology? It’s coming. How about bolting a device to the bottom of your desk that turns the entire surface into a charging station? “The vision here is that we will eventually have the ability to charge your device everywhere,” says Kamil Grajski, President and Board Chairman of A4WP, the Alliance for Wireless Power.

We can’t wait.

'Smart' devices used to hunt for water leaks

Mon, 2015-01-12 14:32

Trillions of gallons of water are lost to leakage and bursts from pipeline utilities worldwide each year.

Amanda Little wrote a feature about the conservation efforts of one man, Amir Peleg, for Bloomberg Businessweek. Peleg is an entrepreneur who started TaKaDu, a water network management company that tracks leaks in pipes using data collected by sensors.

Little points out that the U.S. probably won’t be implementing anything like this for a while. “Utilities have very little incentive to implant these smart sensors in their networks and sort of absorb the costs of that,” she says.

TaKaDu primarily works with desert countries, or countries that have been experiencing drought conditions for decades. In those places, their pricing structures penalize water use. This differs from water use in the United States, which Peleg refers to as “all-you-can-eat water.”

Little describes a difference in attitude towards water: “There has been this consciousness in Israel and actually much of the world, that water is a life-or-death issue. It is the wellspring of their economy, and for that matter, their national security. Wars have been fought around water for thousands of years. In the U.S., we’re really only just beginning to develop this sort of consciousness around water.”

“This is a story about technology and a technological shift but it’s really a story about a changing of consciousness,” she says.

Quick facts about water:  

  • 8.6 trillion gallons of water worldwide are lost to leaks each year.
  • For every $1 spent on reducing water leaks, $5 worth of water can be saved.
  • 30-35 percent of water pumped through the pipelines of utilities worldwide is lost to leaks and bursts.

You can read Amanda Little’s piece, Israel’s Water Ninja, in its entirety online.

One man's water technology watershed moment

Mon, 2015-01-12 14:32

Trillions of gallons of water are lost to leakage and bursts from pipeline utilities worldwide each year.

Amanda Little wrote a feature about the conservation efforts of one man, Amir Peleg, for Bloomberg Businessweek. Peleg is an entrepreneur who started TaKaDu, a water network management company that tracks leaks in pipes using data collected by sensors.

Little points out that the U.S. probably won’t be implementing anything like this for a while. “Utilities have very little incentive to implant these smart sensors in their networks and sort of absorb the costs of that,” she says.

TaKaDu primarily works with desert countries, or countries that have been in drought conditions for decades. In those places, their pricing structures penalize water use. This differs from water use in the United States, which Peleg refers to as “all-you-can-eat water.”

Little describes a difference in attitude towards water: “There has been this consciousness in Israel and actually much of the world, that water is a life or death issue. It is the wellspring of their economy, and for that matter, their national security. Wars have been fought around water for thousands of years. In the US, we’re really only just beginning to develop this sort of consciousness around water.”

“This is a story about technology and a technological shift but it’s really a story about a changing of consciousness,” she says.

Quick facts about water:  

  • 8.6 trillion gallons of water worldwide are lost to leaks each year
  • For every $1 spent on reducing water leaks, $5 worth of water can be saved
  • 30-35 percent of water pumped through the pipelines of utilities worldwide is lost to leaks and bursts

You can read Amanda Little’s piece, Israel’s Water Ninja, in its entirety online.

Obama unveils cybersecurity proposals

Mon, 2015-01-12 13:30

President Obama announced a series of cybersecurity proposals Monday, in advance of the State of the Union address. He wants to require companies to notify consumers of a data breach within 30 days, and he says more companies will soon provide free credit scores. Those plans only address what happens after a breach, though. Are companies learning from the hacks at Target, Sony and Home Depot?

President proposes rules for companies hit by breaches

Mon, 2015-01-12 13:30

President Obama announced a series of cybersecurity proposals Monday, ahead of the State of the Union address. He wants to require companies to notify consumers of a data breach within 30 days, and he says more companies will soon provide free credit scores. Those plans only address what happens after a breach, though. Are companies learning from the hacks at Target, Sony and Home Depot?

Lovin' the McDonald's ad – and hatin' it

Mon, 2015-01-12 13:30

A new ad from McDonald's that aired during the Golden Globes is getting almost as much buzz on Twitter as a celebrity’s red carpet outfit. Reactions range from lovin' it: I think the @McDonalds spot that aired during the #GoldenGIobes2015 is the most human the brand has ever felt. Not bad for fast food. — Miranda Lemon (@lemonmira) January 12, 2015 To those who make the ad seem like a McDisaster: @McDonalds I just threw up in my mouth watching your commercial during the #GoldenGlobes. Desperate attempt to rescue your image. Blech! — Jessica Boaman (@JessicaBoaman) January 12, 2015 Against a musical backdrop of kids singing, the ad shows local franchises using their signs to support their communities — including "We remember 9/11" and "Keep jobs in Toledo." The chain also has a blog telling the stories behind each marquee. It's unclear if the company's portrayal of itself as a community-builder will be enough to strengthen its ailing brand. The whole thing has us wondering... what's the sign say at the McDonald's where you live? Is it more "Happy 30th Ed and Beth" or "Over 99 billion served"? Let us know on Facebook.

Lovin' the McDonald's Ad?

Mon, 2015-01-12 13:30

A new ad from McDonald's that aired during the Golden Globes is getting almost as much buzz on Twitter as a celebrity’s red carpet outfit. Reactions range from lovin' it: I think the @McDonalds spot that aired during the #GoldenGIobes2015 is the most human the brand has ever felt. Not bad for fast food. — Miranda Lemon (@lemonmira) January 12, 2015 To those that make the ad seem like a McDisaster: @McDonalds I just threw up in my mouth watching your commercial during the #GoldenGlobes. Desperate attempt to rescue your image. Blech! — Jessica Boaman (@JessicaBoaman) January 12, 2015 Against a musical backdrop of kids singing, the ad shows local franchises using their signs to support their communities — everything from "We remember 9/11" to "Keep jobs in Toledo." The chain even has a blog telling the stories behind each marquee. It's unclear if the company's portrayal of itself as a community-builder will be enough to strengthen its ailing brand. The whole thing has us wondering... what's the sign say at the McDonald's where you live? Is it more "Happy 30th Ed and Beth" or "Over 99 billion served"? Let us know on Facebook.

What makes medical debt detrimental

Mon, 2015-01-12 12:37

About 43 million Americans have overdue medical debt on their credit reports, according to a report released by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Julie Linsey, a part-time knitting instructor from Aurora, Illinois, is one of them. Hospitalized in 2005, she soon found herself in debt.

“It piled up a whole lot of bills and then the recurring, follow-up visits and prescription costs just really hit us hard,” she says.

When her doctor stopped taking her insurance, she ended up paying her bills out of pocket. Linsey says she faced "hundreds of dollars a month in bills." 

As the CFPB report highlights, medical debt isn’t the same as other debt. Many small collection agencies, with differing reporting and recordkeeping practices, try to collect the debt. In addition, medical debt is often involuntary. Someone could wake up after getting hit by a bus owing thousands of dollars.

Judith Fox, a consumer law professor at Notre Dame University, says consumers often think their insurance already paid a medical bill or don't realize a balance is due. 

“Sometimes [an] insurance company did pay for it, but they pay for it late and it goes to collection,” Fox says.

Lenders sometimes “park” unpaid debts on a report, even if they are beyond the statute of limitations. This means that the next lender to examine the report  will see an unpaid bill, even years after the fact. A Fox client who was trying to rent a new place ran into this problem.

“The landlord pulled up the credit report, and there was this old debt on there and they said: ‘Well, you’ve got collections, you’ve got to pay that or we won’t rent to you,’” Fox says. “Legally, they really didn’t have to pay it, but if they wanted to rent the apartment, they did.”

Inaccuracy is a widespread problem, according to Gail Hillebrand, associate director for consumer education and engagement at the CFPB.

“There are lots of smaller collectors, and they have a variety of practices. Some will put it on your credit report when it’s only 30 days late,” Hillebrand says. “It’s very hard to tell if you owe the money, when you owe the money, and how much of it you owe because of the intersection of the medical billing and what’s happening with your insurance company.”

Linsey had the same problem. Even after paying, it took time before the debt collectors updated their information and stopped calling her. “After a while I turned off my phone,” she says, with a sigh.

Until new rules are written, there’s really only one thing consumers can do: Keep a close eye on their credit reports.

Texan winks, plays 'let's make a deal' with customers

Mon, 2015-01-12 11:55

A furniture dealer in Houston — arguably the center of the American oil industry — is offering quite the deal: If a customer spends $7,000 or more at his store, he'll refund the money if oil is going for $85 per barrel or more by Dec. 31, 

Current forecasts put crude somewhere between $50 and $75 by the end of the year. 

So, you know, caveat emptor.

Auto shows are in the business of creating a buzz

Mon, 2015-01-12 11:44

More than 750 cars are on display at Detroit's annual auto show, which opened for media previews Monday. It is one of the largest auto shows in the country – setting up the exhibition space takes months, says Rod Alberts, executive director of the North American International Auto Show, which is the Detroit show’s official name. Lighting installation alone took two weeks.

Yet for all that work, no cars are available for sale. So what’s the point?

A primary goal, Alberts says, is to help auto manufacturers get media attention for their new cars. David Cole, a former professor of auto engineering and chairman of AutoHarvest.org, says manufacturers also use auto shows to see what upcoming offerings resonate with the public.

 

Farmers, big oil fight over railroad access in Dakotas

Mon, 2015-01-12 11:42

Railroads and rail shippers are trying to figure out how to prevent a repeat of last year's troubles in the Dakotas.

When demand and bad weather joined to make a perfect storm, farmers had a lot of trouble getting railroads to ship their crops to market. There was too much competition for locomotives and crews between South Dakota farmers and oil producers in North Dakota.

“Agriculture was derailed by big oil interests," says Dennis Jones, a corn farmer in Bath, South Dakota. "We were basically shoved off the tracks.”

South Dakota farmers produced a bumper crop in 2014, and the North Dakota oil fields were going gangbusters, too, Jones says. The railroads couldn’t ship everything, so they had to make a choice, according to Jones.

“The railroad got paid a lot more for shipping oil," he says. "Grain cars were unhooked so the locomotives could hook onto oil and pull more oil."

The railroads say they didn’t favor oil over agricultural products. They say last year’s shipping problems were caused by one of the most severe winters in decades. But it is true that they can charge more to ship certain things, if there’s competition and those products could be shipped another way, such as by truck or water.  

“The railroad can set any price they want to, anywhere, anytime, and they do,” says Denver Tolliver, director of the Upper Great Plains  Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University. 

If shippers think the railroads are charging too much they can complain to the federal Surface Transportation Board, he says. But not many do, because it’s a complicated, expensive and slow process.  

It wasn’t always this way. 

Railroads and their rates used to be tightly regulated. But they were deregulated in the 1980s, after railroads were devastated by a growing trucking industry. 

“There was a time when you used to have what’s called' standing derailments,'” says Frank Mulvey, a semiretired economist who spent about a decade at the Surface Transportation Board. “The railroad infrastructure was so badly deteriorated that trains that weren’t even moving, standing on tracks – waiting on tracks – would fall over.”

Some railroads went bankrupt, Mulvey says.  Those that were left improved tracks and bridges, and became viable, strong companies – strong enough to turn back recent attempts at re-regulation.

“The railroads have been very, very successful as a lobbying organization,” Mulvey says.

One railroad, BNSF, spent more than $2.5 million dollars on political contributions during the 2014 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The railroads say they can provide good service without more regulation. 

So far, so good this year in the Dakotas. There’s still a lot of oil being shipped out of North Dakota. But it’s balanced by falling demand from farmers, like Jones, who won’t ship their corn at today’s low prices.

“You’re selling corn today at below the cost of production," Jones says. "It would be suicidal almost – financial suicide – to sell it below your cost of production."

Farmers won’t ship their corn until prices go up, he says.  The railroads say they’ll be ready for the corn shipments, even if they start this winter. BNSF says it's added snow-removal crews and equipment and heaters on some rail switches.

Railroads try to avoid another Dakota bottleneck

Mon, 2015-01-12 11:42

Railroads and rail shippers are trying to figure out how to prevent a repeat of last year's troubles in the Dakotas.

When demand and bad weather joined to make a perfect storm, farmers had a lot of trouble getting railroads to ship their crops to market. There was too much competition for locomotives and crews between South Dakota farmers and oil producers in North Dakota.

“Agriculture was derailed by big oil interests," says Dennis Jones, a corn farmer in Bath, South Dakota. "We were basically shoved off the tracks.”

Jones says South Dakota farmers produced a bumper crop in 2014, and the North Dakota oil fields were going gangbusters, too. The railroads couldn’t ship all that stuff, and Jones says they had to make a choice.

“The railroad got paid a lot more for shipping oil," he says. "Grain cars were unhooked so the locomotives could hook onto oil and pull more oil."

The railroads say they didn’t favor oil over agricultural products. They say last year’s shipping problems were caused by one of the most severe winters in decades. But it is true that they can charge more to ship certain things, if there’s competition and those products could be shipped another way, by, for example, truck or water.  

In that case, “the railroad can set any price they want to, anywhere, anytime, and they do,” says Denver Tolliver, director of the Upper Great Plains  Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University. 

He says shippers can complain to the federal Surface Transportation Board if they think the railroads are charging too much.  But not many do, because it’s a complicated, expensive and slow process.  

It wasn’t always this way. 

Railroads and their rates used to be very tightly regulated. But they were deregulated in the 1980s, after railroads were devastated by a growing trucking industry. 

 “There was a time when you used to have what’s called standing derailments,” says Frank Mulvey, a semi-retired economist who spent about a decade at the Surface Transportation Board. “The railroad infrastructure was so badly deteriorated that trains that weren’t even moving, standing on tracks – waiting on tracks – would fall over.”

Mulvey says some railroads went bankrupt.  Those that were left improved tracks and bridges, and became viable, strong companies – strong enough to turn back recent attempts at re-regulation.

“The railroads have been very, very successful as a lobbying organization,” Mulvey says.

In fact, one railroad, BNSF, spent more than $2.5 million dollars on political contributions during the 2014 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The railroads say they can provide good service without more regulation. 

So far so good this year, in the Dakotas. There’s still a lot of oil being shipped out of North Dakota. But it’s balanced out by falling demand from farmers, like Jones, who won’t ship their corn at today’s low prices.

“You’re selling corn today at below the cost of production," Jones says. "It would be suicidal almost – financial suicide – to sell it below your cost of production."

Jones says farmers won’t ship their corn until prices go up.  The railroads say they’ll be ready for the corn shipments, even if they start this winter. BNSF says it's added snow-removal crews and equipment and heaters on some rail switches.

Quiz: What matters most in online education?

Mon, 2015-01-12 08:07

U.S. News & World Report released rankings for more than 1,200 online programs.

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PODCAST: Golf greens go green

Mon, 2015-01-12 03:00

First up, we have a preview of the North American International Auto Show. Plus, the first-ever college football playoff championship game is played Monday under the most generic name possible: the College Football Playoff Championship Game. We look at the marketing strategy behind the non-name. And since the recession, hundreds golf courses have been closed in the U.S.—but what happens to all that green? Turns some golf courses are going even greener— in some cases they're getting turned into wetlands by conversation groups.

It's all about the hardware at Detroit auto show

Mon, 2015-01-12 02:00

The North American International Auto Show kicks off in Detroit this week. This year’s show is going to be all about showing off hardware after a year of booming sales, falling gas prices and growing consumer confidence. Trucks sales are expected to strong in 2015, especially small and midsize models.

“Pickup trucks in particular, from parts of the market that have not been well represented until now,” says Bill Visnic, Edmunds.com editor. 

While cheap gas may be driving sales of trucks and SUVS for now, automakers are doubling-down on fuel-efficiency.

“We’re living in this new trend where everything is going to be kind of environmentally responsible too,” says Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports. “So those high performance vehicles and sports cars, they’re going to be hybrids, they’re going to be plug-in hybrids, they’re going to be electric.”

General Motors also hopes to make a splash with plug-in electric cars. GM has rolled out an upgrade to its hybrid-electric Volt, as well as new Bolt concept car. With a range of 200 miles and a cost of around $30,000 (including state and federal rebates), the Bolt would be a cheaper alternative to rival Tesla.

“We don't make $100,000 cars, this is what the [Chevy] brand is about,” says Stuart Norris, director of advanced vehicle design at GM. As with other automakers, GM is banking on a return to higher gas prices.

“This is a long-term vision. We can't have our electrification strategy being driven by local gas-price fluctuations," he says.

The Bolt is scheduled to hit the market in 2017.

Old golf courses become new kind of wilderness

Mon, 2015-01-12 02:00

I'm in a dry overgrown field of thistles and goldenrod with Michael Enright, the conservation manager with Five Rivers Metroparks.  

“I’ve been to Africa several times and it reminds me of the savannah there when I look out across it,” says Enright.

Not too long ago, this was a trim, manicured golf course called Larch Tree. The private course in the Dayton suburb of Trotwood went out of business after the recession, and the parks district bought it to turn the 190 acres back into a mix of wetlands, streams and grasses. The property is adjacent to wetland restoration area of over 350 acres already owned by MetroParks, so the project will result in more than 500 acres of contiguous wildlife habitat just west of Dayton.

A Clean Ohio restoration grant helped cover much of the cost of the purchase. Enright says it helps that property values around here are low and not much is getting built; they weren’t competing with developers for the land.

“The economic downturn certainly has aided open space preservation,” Enright says.

Golf courses have been closing down by the dozens, and old greens have gone wild in Michigan, Tennessee and even California in the last few years. Florida attorney Dawn Meyers says in her neck of the woods, developers often grab up property quickly, but she says the neighbors usually don’t want a bunch of buildings going in.

“They like the view, they like the open space and they don’t want to see it developed into anything else,” Meyers says. She says parks or wildlife areas could be a good option.”No matter what happens on this property, it’s not going to be a golf course any more.”

For Dayton’s parks district, the deal is working out pretty well: once the restoration is done, MetroParks will pay it off by selling wetland mitigation credits to developers who’ve destroyed wetlands elsewhere—it’s called mitigation banking. In California, at least one company is working on a golf course conversion into a mitigation bank as a private enterprise.

As we’re leaving Larch Tree, a neighbor, Elmer Williams, pulls up in a van.

“Are you allowed to fish in here?” He’s been fishing the pond since the golf course closed—he’s happy it’s gonna be a park. “I think it’s great! You know, someone needs to take it over and make it back to something good. Add more fish.”

The marshy ponds and crumbling trails are already open to the public.

A preview of the North American International Auto Show

Mon, 2015-01-12 02:00

The North American International Auto Show kicks off in Detroit this week. This year’s show is going to be all about showing off hardware after a year of booming sales, falling gas prices and growing consumer confidence. Trucks sales are expected to strong in 2015, especially small and mid-size models.

“Pickup trucks in particular, from parts of the market that have not been well represented until now,” says Edmunds.com editor Bill Visnic. 

While cheap gas may be driving sales of trucks and SUVS for now, automakers are doubling-down on fuel-efficiency.

“We’re living in this new trend where everything is going to be kind of environmentally responsible too,” notes Jake Fisher, Director of Auto Testing at Consumer Reports. “So, those high performance vehicles and sports cars, they’re going to be hybrids, they’re going to be plug-in hybrids, they’re going to be electric.”

General Motors also hopes to make a splash with plug-in electric cars. GM has rolled out an upgrade to its hybrid-electric Volt, as well as new Bolt concept car—that’s Bolt with a “B”. With a range of 200 miles and a cost around $30,000 (including state and federal rebates), the Bolt would be a cheaper alternative to rival Tesla.

“We don't make $100,000 cars, this is what the [Chevy] brand is about,” says Stuart Norris, Director of Advanced Vehicle Design at GM. As with other automakers, GM is banking on a return to higher gas prices.

“This is a long term vision. We can't have our electrification strategy being driven by local gas-price fluctuations," he says.

The Bolt is scheduled to hit the market in 2017.

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