Foreign-born workers in the UK share their fears for the future

This report aired on PBS NewsHour Weekend on June 26, 2016.

Uncertainty prevails in Britain after Brexit has left immigrants feeling vulnerable. The service sector, a large part of the British economy, is also a big employer of foreigners, which means these workers may be hit hard.
Producer: Saskia de Melker
Associate Producer: Melanie Saltzman
Camera:  Saskia de Melker and Melanie Saltzman
Editor: Michael Pilgrim
Correspondent: Hari Sreenivasan

The case for starting sex ed in kindergarten

This story was published on PBS NewsHour on May 27, 2015.

Spring Fever class discussion
Teacher Janneke van den Heuvel leads her 8-year old students in a group discussion during Spring Fever week in the Netherlands. NewsHour photo by Saskia de Melker

“Who here has been in love?” Anniek Pheifer asks a crowd of Dutch elementary school students.

It’s a Spring morning in Utrecht, and the St. Jan de Doper elementary school gym is decked in heart-shaped balloons and streamers. Pheifer and Pepijn Gunneweg are hosts of a kids television program in the Netherlands, and they’re performing a song about having a crush.

Kids giggle at the question. Hands — little and bigger — shoot up.

Welcome to “Spring Fever” week in primary schools across the Netherlands, the week of focused sex ed classes… for 4-year olds.

Of course, it’s not just for 4-year-olds. Eight-year-olds learn about self-image and gender stereotypes. 11-year-olds discuss sexual orientation and contraceptive options. But in the Netherlands, the approach, known as “comprehensive sex education,” starts as early as age 4….read the full story at PBS NewsHour


A tale of two grid defectors: Why some are quitting electric companies in Hawaii

This story was published on PBS NewsHour on April 11, 2015.

Dave Greene, who is living off the grid in Hawaii, stands in front of his house. NewsHour photo by Saskia de Melker Dave Greene, who is living off the grid in Hawaii, stands in front of his house. NewsHour photo by Saskia de Melker

In Hawaii, the combination of sky-high electricity prices and abundant sunshine have made installing solar panels enormously popular. In fact, the state has the highest percentage of rooftop solar users in the country.

And while most of those who have installed panels still remain tied to the local electrical grid in order to store the energy they produce and get energy when there’s no sunshine, some residents have also installed their own battery storage system to move off the grid completely.

In the video above, learn more about how two men in Hawaii have cut manged to cut ties with local utility providers and live off the grid.

Whether as a hobby or as an experiment in energy independence, both agree it’s only a matter of time before more people make the switch to also become grid defectors.

Video by Saskia de Melker

Four wrongfully convicted men, four very different outcomes

This story was published on PBS NewsHour on November 9, 2014.

Alan Newton, Jeffrey Deskovic, Drew Whitley, and Johnny Pinchback were all exonerated in the past decade. Credit: NewsHour
Alan Newton, Jeffrey Deskovic, Drew Whitley, and Johnny Pinchback were all exonerated in the past decade. Credit: NewsHour

When a wrongfully convicted person gets released from prison, it is a major news event: Local television crews capture the first moments of freedom and the speeches on the steps of the state capital, audiences empathize as they grapple with gratitude and rage, and the exonerees take their first steps into an uncertain future.

Jeffrey Deskovic, who was in prison for 16 years after being wrongfully convicted for the rape and murder of his high school classmate, said it was the most surreal moment of his life: “It felt like a dream,” he said. “When I stepped up to the microphones at the press conference, I asked ‘Is this really happening?’”

But when the limelight fades, the wrongfully convicted face the reality of navigating the world they were yanked from, often with limited financial and social support.

According to the Innocence Project, it takes exonerees three years on average to receive any compensation after their release. More than a quarter get nothing. Among those who are paid, 81 percent get less than $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment.

NewsHour spoke to a number of exonerated men from different states about their experiences reintegrating post-release. All of them, regardless of compensation, say they would pay anything to have the years they lost in prison back… more at PBS NewsHour.

New Jersey court strikes down murder conviction based on violent rap lyrics

Updated Story — published on PBS NewsHour on August 4, 2014

The New Jersey State Supreme Court on Monday overturned, by a vote of 6-0, the attempted murder conviction of an aspiring rapper and small-time drug dealer Vonte Skinner, arguing that the extensive reading of Skinner’s violent rap lyrics during his trial unfairly prejudiced the jury.

As the PBS NewsHour reported last month, rap lyrics are increasingly being used by prosecutors nationwide as evidence of motive or intent, or in some cases, treated as confessions to specific crimes. Some legal scholars alarmed by this trend argue that rap lyrics are largely fictional, artistic works, and introducing their sometimes violent and graphic content at trial unfairly taints juries….read more at PBS NewsHour.

Rappers respond: ‘This is how we express ourselves’

This story was published on PBS NewsHour on July 2, 2014.

Rappers Respond

A man shoots his foe in the head over and over again, leaving him to bleed out on the street. The man has no remorse. He even brags about it.

Only this man isn’t real. He’s a character in a rap song written by Vonte Skinner, who was sentenced to 30 years in a New Jersey state penitentiary for the attempted murder of Lamont Peterson.

In Skinner’s case, prosecutors relied on two eyewitnesses who claimed he was the shooter, though their stories had changed several times. They also read 13 pages of violent rap lyrics to the jury, taken straight from Skinner’s own notebooks, to show his violent intentions and aspirations.

Across the country, police and prosecutors are increasingly using a suspect’s own rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases. Law enforcement argues that they help establish motive or intent and in some cases even contain confessions. But critics argue that rap music is just that: music. It’s not a diary.

NewsHour recently reported on this growing trend and the issues of relevance, prejudice and first amendment protections that are being weighed when the criminal justice system probes lyrics.

We wanted to know more about what artists and others in the hip hop industry think about this trend and the various arguments about why it does or does not make good evidence…read more at PBS NewsHour.

Researchers measure increasing sexualization of images in magazines

This story was published on PBS NewsHour on December 21, 2013.

In a 2011 photo spread for French Vogue, models stretched and slinked on an array of exotic animal furs. Their bodies were covered in jewels. Their faces were flush with rouge. They stared seductively into the camera. Nothing about these scenes would be out of the ordinary in the haute fashion magazine, except that in this case, the models were as young as 10 years old.

The controversial spread caused a flood of criticism from media watchers and feminist bloggers alike — especially here in the U.S.A. But in a culture where sexuality is more accepted, had the French finally gone too far?

In response to the Vogue controversy, the French Senate opened an investigation into whether there was a problem with hypersexualzation affecting French children and if so what to do about it.

And here in the United States a growing body of research has also taken a more critical look at the sexualization of our society.

Social psychologist Sarah Murnen has studied the hypersexualization of women in media for more than 25 years. The research that she and her colleagues at Kenyon College conducted over the last several years found a steep increase in the pervasiveness of images in magazines that show young women in highly sexual ways. The American Psychological Association defines hypersexualization as “occurring when a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior to the exclusion of other characteristics.”

“We’ve seen three trends associated with these images,” said Sarah Murnen, “It’s now common to see more parts of the body exposed. There is more emphasis on the size of women’s breasts. And easy access to all these images has made it all more acceptable to us.”

In Murnen and her team’s recent analysis of Seventeen magazine’s advertisements and articles, they found that the average number of sexualizing characteristics almost tripled over three decades. In particular, depictions of low-cut tops and tight fitting clothing increased.

In a 2008 study of 1,988 advertisements from 50 well known American magazines, researchers from Wesleyan University found that half of them show women as sex objects. A woman was considered a sex object depending on her posture, facial expression, make-up, activity, camera angle and amount of skin shown.

In images where women were shown in victimized roles, the study found that most of the time they were also portrayed as sex objects. The authors noted that such images may function to normalize violence against women.

Sociologists at the University of Buffalo reviewed more than 1,000 Rolling Stone cover images published over four decades. They found that sexualized representations of both men and women have become more common over time. In the 1960’s 11 percent of men and 44 percent of women on the covers were sexualized while in the 2000’s, 17 percent of men and 83 percent of women were sexualized. However, they concluded that women were much more likely to be “hypersexualized” — showing a combination of multiple sexualized attributes.

“It’s the intensity and extent of being sexualized — not just one or two elements, but much more — that we are seeing increase in the portrayals of women.” said Erin Hatton, coauthor of the study.

Researchers from these studies used their own coding systems to rate the images for sexualizing traits. Those traits vary from study to study but include: body parts shown, body pose, facial expression, activity, camera angle and clothing. Some studies, like the analysis of Rolling Stone covers, assigned a sliding scale of points for each coded trait in order to get a more accurate rating of images. For example, exposure of body parts is usually coded high for sexualization, but does not always register. In the absence of other traits, a woman wearing a bathing suit might not be coded as a sex object while a fully clothed woman in a suggestive pose could be considered a sex object.

To get an idea of how the coding systems work, we decided to put it to the test. While reporting our story in France on the subject of hypersexualization, we picked up a selection of women’s fashion magazines that were on display at an everyday newsstand. From those magazines, we picked out a sampling of representative images of women in photo spreads and advertisements.

We asked experts Sarah Murnen and Erin Hatton to analyze these images using their research methods. Hatton clarifies that her coding system isn’t perfect and was intended for images in American social context.

“Sexuality is very much a social construction and, thus, a product of a particular socio-cultural environment,” said Hatton. “What we deem to be appropriate to “wear on the street” is likely not the same in other countries, including those in which women are expected to be fully covered and those in which women are not.”

We also want to hear what you think about these images, and the trends towards hypersexualization? What are your thoughts on the increasing sexualization of people depicted in popular culture? Let us know in the comments.

For more on the research behind sexualized images in American media, read the full study “Equal Opportunity Objectification? The Sexualization of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone.”

Also of interest:

Low-Cut Shirts and High Heeled Shoes: Increased Sexualization Across Time in Magazine Depictions of Girls

Women as Sex Objects and Victims in Print Advertisements

Western Sahara: the world’s forgotten refugees


Located in the sweltering desert of south-west Algeria, the refugee camps of the Sahawari are home to more than 200,000 people, displaced from Western Sahara in 1979 when Morocco annexed the disputed territory in a conflict the world has long since forgotten. A new generation is growing up in the camps – eager to return to their homeland by whatever means, and frustrated by the Polisaro movement’s slow dealings with Morocco and the UN.

Why Three Syrians Fled to Lebanon

This story was published on PBS NewsHour on June 7, 2013.

Boys stand outside a camp settlement of 35 Syrian families in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Photos by Saskia de Melker.

BEIRUT — The odds that you’ll see a Syrian refugee in Lebanon are high. Nearly 500,000 Syrian refugees reside in this country with a landmass the size of Connecticut and a population of just over 4 million.

Scattered throughout the country, people are settling wherever they can. They often are living among Lebanese families, many of them poor themselves, and are at the mercy of local municipalities to welcome them into their communities.

With rents very high, families cram as many people as possible into small spaces. They build tents out of found materials and donated plastic and turn dilapidated buildings into makeshift shelters.

Unlike Syria’s other neighbors, Turkey and Jordan, there are no official camps in Lebanon and no plans to build them. Lebanon is still haunted by memories of an explosive refugee crisis a generation ago when Palestinians fled north. They never left and those teeming camps have become permanent neighborhoods.

Lebanon also is deeply divided over its relationship to Syria. The government has an official policy of disassociation from the conflict, and some factions worry that building camps would send the wrong message to the Syrian regime.

Whether conditions in a large-scale camp like Zaatari in Jordan are actually better is debatable. However, without a centralized camp structure in Lebanon, there are long delays to register refugees with the United Nations and many are unsure where to go for assistance when they arrive.

Even those who were not poor in Syria now find that the money that would buy them food for a week back home barely lasts a day in more expensive Lebanon.


Eleven-year-old Ali arrived in Lebanon just two weeks after being shot in the face. Fearing reprisals on their families back in Syria, most refugees don’t want to reveal their last names and many cover their faces to protect their identities.

A sniper shot through the window of his father’s car in Daraa, Syria. The bullet went through his nose, his eye and out the right side of his head.

When the fighting in the southern Syrian city intensified, his family had no choice but to take him out of the hospital prematurely and flee. Now 20 family members are living in a windowless back room of an upholstery shop owned by a Syrian friend.

Ali is blind in one eye and still has fragments of shrapnel in his chest and face. “I can feel the shrapnel in my chest and my nose when I breathe. It hurts,” he said.

He needs to have surgery to remove the rest of the shrapnel, but the family is having a hard time finding the money to pay for it. Aid agencies, they’ve been told, need to use their limited medical resources for life-threatening cases. So the family is considering moving onto the street temporarily to save the rent money for his procedure.


Nasser came from Yarmouk, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria located outside Damascus, where he said he had a nice house and a good job as a businessman.

When the camp was bombed in December and gangs tried to kidnap him and his son, the two fled — leaving his wife and other children behind — to find work and a house for all of them in Lebanon.

They spent their first month in Lebanon sleeping under a bridge and have had difficulty finding work or receiving assistance.

Nasser feels because he is Palestinian, he is being discriminated against in his job hunt. Fed up and frustrated, he has joined a group of other Palestinians from Syria in camping out for the past several months on a highway in front of the Beirut office of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which is tasked with helping Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.

“I came here needing help, and I realized that the Palestinians in Lebanon need help as much as I do,” he said.


Tawasseef, 29, was pregnant with her third child when she and her husband fled Homs, Syria, after their house was bombed eight months ago. Her son was born shortly after arriving in Lebanon and she spent the last months of her pregnancy sleeping on a bare floor of their hastily made tent.

They have since taken out debts to build a tent out of scrap wood, cardboard, and plastic in a settlement in the Bekaa Valley, where 35 Syrian families have taken up residence. There is no clean water or plumbing in the settlement and her children are frequently sick.

Like each family in the settlement, they must pay $200 a month to the Lebanese landowner to use their plot of land.

Tawasseef said she isn’t sure what her family would do if the rent is raised. They are relying on vouchers from the U.N. refugee agency and other aid organizations for food.

“We used to talk about how poorly the gypsies lived back in Syria,” she said. “Now we are living worse than they were.”

Tawasseef said she has found some comfort in sharing her experiences with other women in the settlement, and despite the hardships, at least her family is safely out of Syria.




Trouble in the Water: Coral Reefs and Shellfish Battle Acidifying Oceans

Coral Reefs and Shellfish Battle Acidifying Oceans | PBS NewsHour | Dec. 5, 2012 | PBSThis story was broadcast in two parts and was published as a single multimedia story online on PBS NewsHour in December 2012 as part of the Coping with Climate Change series.

Slip beneath the water’s surface and you’ll find a world teeming with life. Schools of yellowtail fish dart through colorful coral reefs. Spiny lobsters emerge from the crevices of ocean rocks searching for a tasty meal. And sea anemones nestle in the nooks of oyster beds.

But there is trouble in the world’s ocean.

Scientists are learning more about how carbon dioxide is dramatically changing the makeup of the oceans and the communities that depend on them.

“Over the last 200 years, 550 billion tons of carbon dioxide have been absorbed by the oceans,” said Richard Feely, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That’s enough carbon dioxide to fill enough train cars to wrap around the world seven times each year.

Feely, one of the world’s leading researchers on ocean acidification, has been studying this uptake of carbon dioxide for the last 30-some years. Feely and other scientists once saw an upside to the ocean acting as a carbon dioxide sink: it kept the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere. But over the last two decades, they’ve discovered that it’s having an unprecedented effect on the chemistry of the oceans.

Carbon dioxide decreases the pH of the water. The lower the pH, the higher the acidity. Oceans have acidified by 30 percent from pre-industrial levels, and scientists expect that number will climb to 100 percent by the end of this century.

“Ocean life had not seen a significant change in pH for 800,000 years or more, said Sarah Cooley, a chemical oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.“So marine life has been accustomed to conditions being consistent, and what we’re doing is we’re changing the game significantly.”

Slight changes in pH levels can have dramatic effects. Consider this: the pH of the blood running through your arteries is between 7.35 and 7.45. A drop of .2 pH units can cause seizures, heart arrhythmia or even send a person into a coma.

“That change in direction toward more acidic conditions is very important to your biological systems,” Feeley said. “It’s the same thing for many marine organisms.”

Watch the video report on how acidifying waters are impacting the U.S. shellfish industry

Producer/Writer: Katie Campbell and Saskia de Melker, Camera: Katie Campbell and Saskia de Melker Editor: Saskia de Melker  Narrator: Hari Sreenivasan

We can already see ocean acidification at work in the oceans. In recent years, oyster larvae on the northwest coast have been dying off by the billions. The seawater is so corrosive that it eats away at the young oyster shells before they can form.

Renee Carlton of NOAA’s Coral Health and Monitoring Program, compared the effect that acidification has on marine mammals to osteoporosis, which causes brittle bones in humans. As acidity increases, animals like scallops, oysters, and clams have a harder time extracting the calcium carbonate they need to build their essential shells. Shells become thinner, growth slows down, and death rates rise.

For coral reefs, the challenges presented by increased carbon dioxide are even greater.

Watch the video report of how Florida’s coral reefs are impacted by ocean acidification.

Producer/Writer: Saskia de Melker, Camera: Saskia de Melker, Underwater camera: Frazier Nivens, Editor: Saskia de Melker, Correspondent: Hari Sreenivasan

Reefs are extremely sensitive to both warming and acidification.  High water temperature causes corals to ‘bleach’ or expel the colorful algae that live in their tissue, exposing their skeletons. When pH dips, they have a harder time generating sturdy skeletons, and evidence shows that it’s harder for corals to reproduce when the ocean acidifies.

“If a coral dies, there is less likelihood that a baby coral is going to be able to replace it in the future,” said Chris Langdon, a coral biologist at the University of Miami. He has been conducting lab experiments to see how corals will cope with future conditions and found that the one-two punch of carbon dioxide and warmer waters aggravate their effects on the reefs. “That means that the corals can show signs of bleaching at a lower temperature than they would have before the increased carbon dioxide,” Langdon said.

This leaves the animals more vulnerable to disease, pollution, and predators. And that has cascading effects for the rest of the ecosystem, all the way up to human communities, said Paul McElhany of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center studies the effects of acidification on marine species.

Shellfish and corals are the foundation of marine ecosystems. Reefs provide habitat for thousands of other animals, and more than a quarter of all fish live in coral reefs at some point in their lives. And many shellfish are at the bottom of the marine food chain and are eaten by fish and other animals.

“We’ve seen that these increases in acidification can really reorganize these food webs, both directly and indirectly,” McElhany said, adding “What happens in the marine environment is likely to affect you.”

Reporting contributed by Heather Goldstone of WGBH and Katie Campbell of KCTS9.


Two Texas Towns Run Out of Water


This report was aired/published on PBS NewsHour in March 2012 as part of the Coping with Climate Change series.

 Mark Twain said that ‘Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting’ – that adage is becoming increasingly true in Texas as demand continues to outweigh supply and scrambles for water intensify.

As drought and record temperatures across the Southwest put an unprecedented strain on water resources in Texas, we went to the state to see how residents of two dry towns were coping. In Robert Lee, we showed how residents were trying to cope with a dramatically reduced reservoir by building a $1.2 million pipeline to a neighboring town. In Spicewood, where the wells have run dry, we showed how people now depend on water brought in on trucks.


Producer/Writer: Saskia de Melker
Camera: Dieter Kaupp and Saskia de Melker
Editor: Saskia de Melker
Correspondent: Hari Sreenivasan


Two Texas Towns Run Out of Water | PBS NewsHour | March 20, 2012 | PBS

Protecting New York From Future Superstorms as Sea Levels Rise

This report aired on PBS NewsHour in November 2012 as part of the Coping with Climate Change series.

NYC Sandy
See the full report at PBS NewsHour



Superstorm Sandy pummelled New York City, leaving millions without power for days, destroying thousands of homes and businesses along the coast and the New York harbor and causing billions of dollars in damage.

As thousands of residents continue to clean up from Hurricane Sandy, many are anticipating future disasters and considering how New York will cope with rising seas and potentially more devastating flooding.


Producer/Writer: Saskia de Melker
Camera: Brian Dentz and Saskia de Melker
Editor: Saskia de Melker
Correspondent: Hari Sreenivasan]

From Rooftop to Alleyway, Chicago Fights Extreme Urban Heat With Greener Ideas

This full multimedia report was published on PBS NewsHour and the video portion of this report aired on PBS NewsHour’s broadcast on October 9, 2012 as part of the Coping with Climate Change Chicago resident Luxora Coleman lost her husband in the 1995 heat wave / NewsHour photo by Michael Werner

CHICAGO | On a sweltering day in July 1995, Luxora Coleman returned to her Chicago home to find her husband, Oliver, unmoving on his living room couch. With a weak heart and only a ceiling fan to battle temperatures that had soared to 106 degrees, the heat wave had proved too much for him. He was pronounced dead later that day.

Coleman’s husband was one of thousands of residents left without air conditioning over the four days that summer when the heat index reached 120 degrees. Roads buckled, cars broke down and many areas lost power. And by the time it was over, more than 700 people, mostly the elderly and ill who live alone, had died due to heat-related causes.

Since that devastating heat wave, the city has been working to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again by improving heat emergency warnings, opening summer cooling centers and stepping up efforts to monitor seniors during extreme heat events.

But they’re also working to engineer a city that can stay cooler even as temperatures rise.

Producer/Writer: Saskia de Melker Camera: Michael Werner and Saskia de Melker Editor: Saskia de Melker Correspondent: Hari Sreenivasan

Global climate data shows the Earth has been warming increasingly over time.

Chicago is part of that trend. The city’s annual average temperature has increased by 2.5 degrees since 1945, according to this climate assessment created by a consortium of scientists and commissioned by the city.

Like many urban areas, Chicago is also victim to something called the urban heat island effect. Simply, concrete and pavement, which absorb and trap heat, make cities like Chicago hotter than surrounding rural areas. Buildings soak up the sun’s rays during the day and release that heat into the night.

Joseph Fernando of University of Notre Dame has been studying the urban climate in both Chicago and Phoenix. He’s also been studying the influence of climate change on the urban heat island effect. Fernando’s research shows that Chicago is about four to five degrees warmer than the neighboring rural town of DeKalb, Ill., for example. That’s partly due to continued urban development as well as global temperature rise, he said.

The heat island effect, climate scientists are quick to point out, does not skew the global trends that indicate climate change is occurring. After all factors that impact temperature at different locations are accounted for, research has shown that urban sites are warming at about the same rate as rural sites, said Thomas Peterson, chief climatologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Climate change basically exacerbates the effect at night,” Fernando said. As the global temperature increases, a city’s developed areas will retain even more nighttime heat than other areas.

To battle the heat, city officials have undertaken an ambitious $7 billion plan to build a “new Chicago,” said Karen Weigert, the city’s chief sustainability officer.  That means renovating citywide infrastructure from sidewalk to rooftop.

Central to the city’s plan is adding green space and vegetation wherever they can, which has a natural cooling effect

Chicago’s City Hall, for example, contains a spectacular rooftop garden. From native woodland grasses to sunflowers and asters, plants arranged in radiating bands of color bloom throughout the seasons in a sunburst pattern. The roof, 12 stories high, contains 23,000 square feet of more than 100 plant species.

“It’s really the Rolls-Royce of green roofs.” said Michael Berkshire who administers green projects for the city. Some areas of the roof have rolling terrain with an added 18-inch layer of soil to support trees and shrubs. A rainwater collection system irrigates the roof and several bee hives pollinate the many flower varieties.

The plants on the rooftop soak up the sun’s heat to evaporate water, keeping both the buildings underneath and the air above it cooler. One half of City Hall’s roof used to be black like most roofs, and on a hot day when they measured the difference between the two sides, the surface temperature was nearly 80 degrees hotter on the black top side than the green side. Chicago estimates that this green roof saves City Hall about $3,600 a year in heating and cooling savings.

“If every rooftop in Chicago was covered with a green roof, the city could save $100 million in energy every year,” said Jason Westrope, a developer for Development Management Associates, who has overseen the building of green roofs in the city.

See images of some of Chicago’s most impressive green roofs.

Green roofs also help absorb stormwater runoff. That’s important because the city’s stormwater drains through its sewers, and if the system gets overloaded after a big storm, that wastewater is in danger of backflowing into the river, the lake, and even into people’s basements.

Chicago already has 359 green roofs covering almost 5.5 million square feet — that’s more than any other city in North America. But city planners are pushing for even more.

Chicago has mandated that all new buildings that require any public funds must be “LEED” Certified — designed with energy efficiency in mind — and that usually includes a green roof. Any project with a green roof in its plan gets a faster permitting process. That combined with energy savings is the kind of green that incentivizes developers.

“We’re looking at placing landscape wherever we can, and it’s so much more difficult when you have a densely developed city.” Berkshire said. “Rooftops are one of the last frontiers.”

But the city is looking beyond buildings — they’re hitting the streets too.

“Our streets represent 23 percent of the land area here in Chicago.” said Janet Attarian, project director for the city’s transportation department, “And it needs to be more than just a place where we move vehicles and goods. It needs to be our front doors.”

That’s why they’re designing new streetscapes that integrate technology and design elements from widened sidewalks for increased pedestrian traffic to tree and plant landscaping that provide shade. The pavements are made of a light reflecting material mix that includes recycled tire pieces and lanes coated with a microthin concrete layer that keep the street from absorbing so much heat.

Chicago’s 1,900 miles of alleyways traditionally absorb heat and cast away potentially cooling rainwater. But new ‘green alleys’ use permeable pavement that absorb rainwater. As that underground water evaporates that also keeps the alley and air around it cool.

“We need to make sure that people can get from A to B safely, that the streets aren’t flooding, and that they’re not buckling because of the heat,” Attarian said.