Who should be responsible for urban congestion?

Regarding your Feb. 7 editorial, "A rush-hour tax on urban drivers": We often overlook two questions. Why do so many people drive from outside a metropolitan area to the urban core of a city? And why do they travel such long distances?

One key issue is affordable housing that is available in the far-flung suburbs but not in the urban core, or at least not near a mass transit station (it's the middle-class house-buying approach of "drive till you qualify for the mortgage"). These people work in one area, shop in another, and their children attend school or play ball in yet another area. It seems most people would want to live in affordable middle-class housing that is transit-accessible.

To achieve this aim, urban planners and municipal councils must allow for high-density mixed-use buildings (commercial use on the ground-floor, residential use above) around mass transit hubs and along their corridors.

A massive increase in supply of these types of buildings would drive down housing prices. And this would allow people to use their cars less and mass transit more. And there would also be less need to be on the move, whether by car or by mass transit.
David Seto

I agree that steps such as those in your Feb. 7 editorial on traffic congestion need to be taken to curtail driving and reduce urban congestion and petroleum use. However, the well-to-do, who can easily afford the additional fees, must also share in needed behavioral changes. Otherwise, we will end up with more "Lexus lanes," such as the supplementary toll lanes through the heavily congested Santa Ana River Canyon in California.
Christopher Jarosz
Arcadia, Calif.

Use thermal energy to conserve water

After reading the Feb. 7 article, "Mining heat from the earth? New technology shows promise," I wondered about all the water that would be required to produce this steam. Many areas have water shortages during the summer as it is. I wonder if anyone has considered using waste water to create the steam? This could offer a free supply of water and perhaps reduce the load on the local water treatment plant. In effect, it might be a cheap way to partially treat waste water. The water would be pumped miles beneath the earth and heated to kill bacteria.
Sam Woodson
Harvest, Ala.

Don't romanticize Rio de Janeiro slums

In response to the Feb. 6 article, "The pulse of Rio de Janeiro's slums luring foreign guests": The difference, of course, between "gringos" taking up residence in Rio de Janeiro's favelas (slums), is that they can move back to the middle-class neighborhoods they came from, whereas the Brazilian slum dwellers around them have no other option.

There is a huge psychological difference between being stuck living in a slum, wherever it may be, because one can't afford anything else, and living there simply because one thinks it's a cool thing to do. Of course, middle-class Brazilians aren't interested in hanging out in favelas; the millions of Brazilians forced to live in them would rather not be there, either.

I've walked around Rocinha, reputedly Rio de Janeiro's largest favela, just on the other side of the hill from fashionable Ipanema and Leblon. I don't see anything charming about this huge, sprawling, dirty, dangerous, and polluted hillside slum.
Christopher Corbett
San Francisco

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