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Found 5 results

  1. Changing the plans America’s oil capital is throwing up a few environmental surprises Jul 14th 2012 | HOUSTON | from the print edition STEVE KLINEBERG, a sociologist at Rice University, mentions a couple of events that made Houston’s leaders take notice of a looming problem. One was the day, in 1999, when their city overtook Los Angeles as America’s most polluted—evidence that the rise in asthma attacks among the city’s children, and the students passing out on football pitches, were no coincidence. Another was when Houston came up short in its bid to compete to host the 2012 Olympics. No one on the United States Olympics Committee voted for it, despite the fact that Houston had a brand-new stadium and had promised to turn an old sports field into the world’s largest air-conditioned track-and-field arena. At a casual glance, Houston looks much as it ever did: a tangle of freeways running through a hodgepodge of skyscrapers, strip malls and mixed districts. A closer inspection, though, shows signs of change. The transport authority, which branched into light rail in 2004, is now planning three new lines, adding more than 20 miles of track. Most of the traffic lights now boast LED bulbs, rather than the incandescent sort. More than half the cars in the official city fleet are hybrid or electric, and in May a bike-sharing programme began. Every Wednesday a farmers’ market takes place by the steps of city hall. Other changes are harder to see. The energy codes for buildings have been overhauled and the city is, astonishingly, America’s biggest municipal buyer of renewable energy; about a third of its power comes from Texan wind farms. Houston, in other words, is going green. Laura Spanjian, the city’s director of sustainability, says that businesses are increasingly likely to get on board if they can see the long-term savings or the competitive advantages that flow from creating a more attractive city. She adds an important clarification: “We’re not mandating that they have to do this.” That would not go down well. Houston is the capital of America’s energy industry, and its leaders have traditionally been wary of environmental regulation, both at home and abroad. In fact the city has been sceptical of regulations in general, and even more of central planning. Houston famously has no zoning, which helps explain why the city covers some 600 square miles. It is America’s fourth-largest city by population, but less than half as densely populated as sprawling Los Angeles. People are heavily dependent on cars, the air quality is poor and access to green space is haphazard. At the same time, Houston has jobs, a low cost of living and cheap property. Many people have accepted that trade-off. Between 2000 and 2010 the greater metropolitan area added more than 1.2m people, making it America’s fastest-growing city. Still, the public is taking more interest in sustainability, and for a number of reasons. As the city’s population has swelled, the suburbs have become more crowded. Some of the growth has come from the domestic migration of young professionals with a taste for city life. And despite living in an oil-industry hub, the people of Houston are still aware of the cost of energy; during the summer of 2008, when petrol prices hovered around $4 a gallon, the papers reported a surge of people riding their bicycles to bus stops so that they could take public transport to work. The annual Houston Area Survey from Rice’s Kinder Institute also shows a change. This year’s survey found that 56% think a much better public transport system is “very important” for the city’s future. A similarly solid majority said the Metro system should use all its revenue for improvements to public transport, rather than diverting funds to mend potholes. In the 1990s, most respondents were more concerned about the roads. People’s views about houses have changed, too. In 2008 59% said they would prefer a big house with a big garden, even if that meant they had to use their car to go everywhere. Just 36% preferred a smaller house within walking distance of shops and workplaces. By 2012, preferences were running the other way: 51% liked the idea of a smaller house in a more interesting district, and only 47% said they wanted the lavish McMansion. http://www.economist.com/node/21558632
  2. (Courtesy of Gothamist) I know its New York, but its interesting to see the DOT wants to do something like this.
  3. Cataclaw

    Montreal Riot

    Cataclaw's Montreal Riot 21/04/08 experience: HOLY SHIT What a crazy night... i just got home from downtown. Was anybody else there? My friend and I wanted to meet up at 3 brasseurs corner ste-catherine/crescent right after the hockey game, but when we got there people were starting to gather, and within 10 minutes they started jumping on a cop car... the riot police came in, everyone started running, pushing, shoving, stuff was being thrown back and forth, it was crazy. Half an hour later, cars were on fire everywhere, people running around, total mayhem. Jesus christ. I have photos and i'll upload them soon... At one point one of the police cars that was on fire exploded and sent parts flying, a piece of metal nearly hit me. That's when i decided i had enough and tried to get out, but there was riot police everywhere and so many people that it took a while just to get out! The metro was closed, i couldn't get a taxi because it was mayhem everywhere, so i ended up walking home across the Jacques-Cartier bridge. Crazy night... What a paradoxically terribly disgusting night, yet equally exciting at the same time. I just hope this doesn't happen again... i don't want to see my city destroyed. I just want to say one thing -- i was there for the entire riot and the people that vandalized and were rowdy and dangerous were 90% NOT Habs fans (at least, they didn't have jerseys on). The trouble was caused by people who just wanted an excuse to go nuts.
  4. For next rating downgrade, S&P may look at France Commentary: France has lots of debt, and dysfunctional politics LONDON (MarketWatch) — The U.S. is broke? Been there. Italy is bankrupt. Done that. Spain is teetering on the edge? Got the T-shirt. There is, however, one major industrial country that has so far managed to sail through the market turmoil without anyone seriously questioning its credit-worthiness: France. And yet, if you‘re looking for the next downgrade, and the source of the next shock to the global markets, it’s France you should be looking toward. The country’s debt is exploding. It is steadily losing competitiveness against Germany, and running up huge trade deficits. Its political system is every bit as dysfunctional as America’s. And, of course, it is about to be presented with a massive bill for bailing out Italy and Spain. A French downgrade may only be a matter of time. If it happens, it’s going to be a huge blow to already-fragile markets. The country has the fourth largest debt in the world, and its paper is heavily traded by global investors. There would be some nasty losses on a French downgrade. True, there is not much sign of it yet. Almost at the same time as it was downgrading the United States, Standard & Poor’s was reaffirming France’s status as the most rock-solid of borrowers. According to the French newspaper Liberation, an S&P spokesman stated that there were no plans to downgrade France. There were no question marks over the solvency of the nation. Really? Take a closer look and you might start to wonder. First, French debt is escalating rapidly. It might not be as big as that of some other countries yet, but it’s getting there fast. Last year it ran a deficit of 7% of GDP. French debt will total 90% of GDP this year and 95% in 2012, according to estimates by Capital Economics. That isn’t exactly running out of control — but it is getting very close. Indeed, it’s around the same levels of debt-to-GDP that earned the U.S. a downgrade. And France is racking up fresh debt at a faster rate than countries such as Italy or Spain. It is hard to see how you can feel comfortable about that. Next, France is steadily losing competitiveness against Germany — in exactly the same way that countries such as Italy and Spain have, except not quite so quickly. France, a major manufacturing center, used to run healthy trade surpluses; now it runs big deficits. The balance of trade for the six months to June showed a deficit of 37.5 billion euros compared with a deficit of 27.6 billion euros in the last six months of 2010, figures released last week showed. The deficit with Germany, its major trading partner, is running at a billion euros a month. Back in 2004, it was regularly running surpluses of a billion euros a month. Countries with big, persistent trade deficits — as any American can testify — have to borrow to fund themselves. The bigger the debts they run up, the greater the risk of a downgrade. Third, if the U.S. has a dysfunctional political system, then France is not much better. Like the U.S., it has separate elections for the president and the legislature, creating a system that is often close to paralysis. And no other country in the developed world is quite so resistant to economic reform: Any modifications to working hours or pensions or welfare plans brings out rioters and is usually swiftly abandoned. And like the U.S., it has a president who came to power on a wave of optimism, and has since turned out to be fairly ineffectual. France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy is deeply unpopular. He is scoring in the mid-20s in the polls — a slight recovery from the nadir early this year, but hardly a secure position. Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front leader, is scoring around 20%, and she advocates pulling out of the euro and restoring the franc. Indeed, of all the main euro-area countries, France is the only one where a major (if not exactly mainstream) political movement argues for breaking up the single currency. Far-reaching ramifications Finally, if Italy and Spain have to be rescued, then it will be France that foots a lot of the bill. Germany can afford it; France can’t. Once you add Spanish and Italian debts, the French balance sheet looks in terrible shape. “With the turmoil in Europe there have been many politicians suggesting that the size of the [European Financial Stability Fund, or EFSF] has to be increased,” noted Gary Jenkins of Evolution Securities in an analysis on Monday. “But any suggestion that the EU is turning into a fiscal union (even if by default) could well have an impact on individual sovereigns’ ratings as well as the EFSF structure.” Indeed so. Every time a euro-area country has to be bailed out, it puts more pressure on the finances of the few that remain completely solvent. Add it all up, and if the U.S. is getting downgraded there is no reason for the ratings agencies not to turn their fire on France next. That matters hugely for the financial system. While countries such as Greece and Portugal are largely irrelevant to the global system, France is very important. The country has a lot of paper out there — the government has total outstanding debts of $1.7 trillion, making it the fourth largest debtor in the world after the U.S., Japan and Italy. And that debt is far more widely held — 38% of French debt is held internationally, which is a lot more than Italy (24%), the U.S. (21%) or Japan (2%), according to calculations made by the research house TheCityUK. The cost of insuring against a French default is starting to rise. The markets have started to notice the country’s dire position. It can’t be that long before the rating agencies catch up. If France does get downgraded, then it is going to be a very serious blow to the markets. Just about every bank and every bond portfolio in the world is going to take a hit. Matthew Lynn is a financial journalist based in London. He is the author of "Bust: Greece, the Euro and the Sovereign Debt Crisis," and he writes adventure thrillers under the name Matt Lynn. Il y a déjà des milliers de français qui viennent vivre au Québec chaque année, je crois que cela laisse présager que le mouvement va encore plus s'accentuer...