The 61 New Best Things About Boston
2. Somewhere in an MIT Lab, a Researcher Is This Close to Saving the Planet
Amid all the reports of out-of-control energy costs, melting ice caps, and vanishing natural resources, the headlines, to say the least, are not encouraging. But take heart— the brilliant minds at MIT are on the case. Our favorites of the many earth-savers being cooked up in Cambridge:
Carbon’s Grave. You don’t have to stare at many smokestacks to realize those grimy plumes of smoke are no good for the air. For decades, solutions have focused on removing as much of the nastiness as possible before it gets airborne. But what if the smoke could be kept out of the sky altogether? Scientists have played with pumping it underground or even under the sea, but those attempts have been foiled by cracks that allow the gas to bubble to the surface. Assistant professor Ruben Juanes, however, has a potentially fail-safe fix: He’s scouring the earth for underground pools of salt water, where the CO2 will dissolve in the briny depths and stay out of the atmosphere for good.
Sea Power. It turns out there’s more to the New England surf than grist for postcards: A new form of clean energy can be harnessed from our wave action, says professor Chiang Mei. One of his experiments taps into the rising and falling of a deep-sea buoy tethered in the currents to create mechanical energy; another uses crashing waves to push trapped air out of tubes placed just offshore to yield artificial wind, which would spin energy-producing turbines standing nearby.
Green Concrete. The Romans may have invented concrete, but professor Franz-Josef Ulm’s work on the world’s second-most-consumed resource could prove just as revolutionary. He’s looking at concrete’s nanocomposition, searching for ways to cook stronger batches at lower temperatures. Cooler ovens mean a greener process, one that could slash global CO2 emissions by 10 percent—a reduction that’d be about the same as closing every power plant in the country. —Geoffrey Gagnon
3. Swimming in the Charles
Talk about audacity: Simply cleaning up the Charles River—once our famously dirty water, now a rehabilitated ribbon of aquatic grandeur—wasn’t good enough for the folks at the Charles River Conservancy. They’re out to make the Chuck the country’s only swimmable urban waterway. When the river played host last summer to a 68-person race, it was a mere harbinger of things to come, says Ben Martens, hired by the conservancy to be the Charles’s full-time swim coordinator. He says the water’s ready for swimmers, but with the beaches of old now long gone, Bostonians lack an appealing way into the drink. One solution being tossed around: floating bathhouses akin to ones popular in Switzerland. Would Bostonians go for such a thing? They did when pontoon platforms bobbed in the Charles a century ago. —G.G.
A Bostonian we love (and what she loves about Boston)
4. Robin Young, 57, public radio doyenne
We could gush about the effortless charm with which she entertains listeners on the WBUR-produced Here and Now, or her three-decade career as one of Boston’s savviest and most likable journalists. But to get a sense of Robin Young’s spirit, you only need consider the wooden bench that sits on her living room floor—which she just happens to have taken from the locker room at the Garden years ago when she was a cub reporter with Channel 38. It is a uniquely wonderful sort of woman who makes off down Causeway Street with a stolen piece of history on her back.
Though her program has become popular nationwide, Young never has to look far from home to find captivating subjects, calling on everyone from author Atul Gawande (#5) to musician Lori McKenna (#6) to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin (#7). “I see all of Boston as a potential guest,” she says. “As the host of a national show, at times I feel we need to book someone in Cleveland so they won’t feel left out.”
There’s plenty about Boston to keep Young intrigued away from the microphone, too, particularly the city’s greenery. She enjoys the lilacs in the Arboretum (#8), the magnolias on Commonwealth Avenue (#9), and the leafless trees reflected off the Charles during the winter (#10). “It’s hypnotic,” she says, “but it makes my heart jump a little at the same time.” —G.G.
We Love This Town Because…
11. French superchef Guy Martin has chosen the Regent hotel for his first U.S. restaurant, explaining his decision thus in the New York Times: “There’s more to America than just New York.”
12. Whitey Bulger sightings are the new Elvis sightings.
13. Donnie Wahlberg and the New Kids apparently are getting the band back together.
14. Bobby Brown is on the market again.
15. As we were just vividly reminded, the classic New England winter has not, in fact, gone extinct.
16. Despite the big crackdown, a lawn chair will still safeguard your hard-won parking spot.