Trends we like: India bans smoking in public places
Health-conscious travelers to India may have gotten a break today. The Associated Press reported today that the country has officially banned smoking in public places, including hotels and outdoor cafés. The ban includes not just manufactured cigarettes but also hand-rolled bidi, which contains chopped tobacco.
As of now, no one knows if this law will work. On the one hand, the new fine of $5 is a huge amount of money to many people. Consider that 100 rupees ($2.50) is a day's wages to lower class people—the very ones most likely to be on the street and within view of the police. Middle-class people could care less, though officials note that they have plans to raise the fine to $25.
On the other hand, it's India. The law's not all that enforceable because 1) bribery is generally more common there than in, say, the U.S. (per Transparency International surveys) and 2) people have a lot more pressing issues to worry about there than smoking (despite the 900,000 smoking-related deaths a year calculated by a study published this year in the New England Journal of Medicine).
A new way to get to the art of San Francisco
Last month the city of San Francisco began running a special bus line that connects many of its art galleries and museums. This Culturebus, which runs in a loop between downtown San Francisco and Golden Gate Park, cost $7 (cash only), and that gets you unlimited on-and-off service; the bus runs daily from roughly 9 to 6. At the San Francisco Citizen you can get a long list of links to all the places you can reach: They include SFMOMA, the new Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the California Academy of Sciences.
Shopping: Get a taste of Tokyo when visiting New York
On your next trip to New York City, consider spending a vicarious day in Tokyo by visiting the following three no-frills Japanese retailers. Muji (pronounced moo-jeh) carries housewares, office supplies, and some clothing, including the city's best values in stylish slippers. In Japan, there about 300 Muji stores and kiosks, but the New York branches are among the chain's first outposts in the U.S. Muji's name comes from: Mujirushi Ryohin, which I'm told translates as "brandless quality goods." The stores have a simple design that's very monochromatic, minimalist, and eco-friendly. You can't leave without checking out: New York in a Bag ($14) A set of small wooden blocks lets you build a mini-Manhattan. The Muji Chronotebook ($5) This planner has a non-linear approach to scheduling. With just a clock face to plan your day, the design of each page gives you a little more flexibility for writing long or short notes. Uniqlo (pronounced U-nee-clo) is a Japanese clothing giant known most recently for their successful launch of the UT (Uniqlo T-shirt) Project, which invited famous designers and artists to create tees for the store. In mid-September, Uniqlo Soho started an innovative project with Wakamuru, a high-tech Japanese robot. Designed by Toshiyuki Kita from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan, Wakamaru is in the U.S. to practice English, or so the story goes. (Think Rosie of the Jetsons come to life.) Wakamaru can walk around a given area, make eye contact with you, and chat about various topics, such as which cashmere sweater you might like more. Wakamaru is expected to be in the store until December. You can't leave without checking out: Uniqlo's 26ct, 2 ply v-neck cashmere sweaters for men and women, which come in a variety of colors ($99.50) Selvage denim jeans, available for both men and women with free same-day alterations (typically $79). Kinokuniya (pronounced ki-no-koo-nee-yah) is a Japanese store that focuses on Japanese books and magazines, including manga and anime, stationery, and some books in English about Japan. This three-story bookstore is a place where you could spend hours browsing. Although Café Zaiya on the third floor might be misleading (it serves miso soup right next to tiramisu), the aisles and aisles of manga and anime will make any tourist-san feel right at home. You can't leave without checking out: The stationery section on the bottom floor will fulfill any childhood desires for school supplies. The store also carries every possible color and style of oil and gel based pens ($1.85-$12.95). DETAILS Muji Times Square 620 8th Ave. and W. 40th St. 212/382-2300 Soho 455 Broadway between Grand and Howard Streets 212/334-2002 Hours at both locations: Monday-Saturday 11a.m.-9p.m.; Sundays 11a.m.-8p.m. JetBlue's new Terminal 5 at J.F.K. airport will also have a Muji. muji.com Uniqlo Soho 546 Broadway between Spring and Prince St. 917/237-8800 Monday-Saturday 10a.m.-9p.m; Sunday 11a.m.-8p.m. uniqlo.com Kinokuniya 1073 Ave. of the Americas between 40th and 41st Streets. 212/869-1700 Monday-Saturday 10a.m.-9:30p.m.; Sunday 11a.m.-7p.m. kinokuniya.com —Katie Jakub
This weekend: Chase more than 700 hot-air balloons in Albuquerque, N.M.
Every year, one of the most photographed events on Earth is the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. With more than 700 balloons, this year's festival offers a ton of activities over nine days. Expect to get up early: Opening ceremonies start at 6:45 a.m.(!) this Saturday, when the "Dawn Patrol" balloonists take to the skies to test the wind. Around 7:15 a.m., the Mass Ascension sees more balloons launch while the National Anthem plays. There's also a Special Shape Rodeo (bring on Mr. Potato Head!) and various competitions, including one modeled after Texas Hold 'Em poker. Expect to stay up late: Evening events include Balloon Glows, where tethered balloons are lit from within (the effect is something like a Christmas ornament) and fireworks. See the full schedule for details. Can't make it? The Fiesta website offers live Balloon Cams during festival days—so that you can enjoy these airborne monoliths, even from afar. Balloon Fiesta Park, 4401 Alameda Blvd NE. Tickets are $6 per adult per day; kids 12 and under are free. Parking is $10 per car. To order advance ticket packages, call 888/422-7277. MORE COOL PHOTOS Our first-hand report from last year's Balloon Fiesta
Rating cities by their effect on the environment
For the first time in history, more than half the world’s population now lives in cities. This accelerating urbanization raises serious concerns about how cities will thrive and accommodate newcomers’ needs. (Consider that by 2015, there will be 23 mega-cities of more than 10 million people, according to the U.N.) Researchers at SustainLane, a community devoted to sustainable living, began evaluating U.S. cities back in 2005 to determine which are best prepared to meet such 21st-century challenges—and which policies are most effective. This year, Portland, Ore., again ranks as the greenest of the 50 largest U.S. cities (determined by 2004 census data). Atlanta gets a most-improved nod for jumping up to #19 from #38 in 2006, thanks primarily to a boom in LEED-certified buildings. It’s encouraging to note that the median and average scores of all 50 cities have increased over the past three years. How do other cities rank and why? SustainLane’s methodology takes into account air and water quality, parks, public transportation networks, green building, renewable and alternative energy, and farmers markets. The 2008 rankings say a lot about a given city’s quality of life and reveal some national trends: more cycling (Portland, New York City, D.C., Minneapolis); revitalized downtowns (Columbus, Philadelphia); investment in public transportation (Phoenix, Charlotte, Seattle); growth of wind and solar energy production (San Francisco, Houston, Sacramento); and more community groups (Seattle, Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago.) SustainLane’s results will be showcased at the first global Sustainable Cities and Communities conference held this week in Geneva, Switzerland. In other news, Japan has begun using the organization’s methodology to rank its own cities; SustainLane hopes more copycats will follow. 15 greenest U.S. cities: 1 Portland 2 San Francisco 3 Seattle 4 Chicago 5 New York 6 Boston 7 Minneapolis 8 Philadelphia 9 Oakland 10 Baltimore 11 Denver 12 Milwaukee 13 Austin 14 Sacramento 15 Washington