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The Obamas' White House Decorating Plans

Every new president is allotted $100,000 plus an allowance from the White House Historical Association to revamp the estate. According to New York magazine, Laura Bush spent $74,000 from the White House Historical Association funds on a set of china during her residency in the presidential abode. The Obamas recently announced that all their renovation plans will be paid for not from taxpayers' money or from private funds but from their own wallets.

Camille Johnston, director of communications for the First Lady, said that the Obamas “are not using public funds or accepting donations of goods for redecorating their private quarters.” Instead, they've hired Hollywood decorator Michael S. Smith whose clientele includes media mogul Rupert Murdoch and star director Steven Spielberg to do the job.

The White House has declined to comment about the expenses out of courtesy of preserving the privacy of the Obamas' budget, but it's transparent that the first family is taking fiscal responsibility during a tough time in the economy.

The EPA reports a shift from suburban to urban building.

"From Drivable Suburbanism to Walkable Urbanism"

That quote is from Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow on sustainable development at the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit land use and real estate development research organization, who was talking about the recent geographic shift in home building from suburban to more urban areas.

In a recent report that looked at residential building permits in the nation's 50 most populous metro regions from 1990 to 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that around 15 surveyed regions saw the number of urban housing permits double with significant jumps in the last five years. New York, whose inner-city development accounted for around 15 percent in the early 1990s, now boasts about half of developmental construction. Urban core development now accounts for around 40 percent in residential building permits in the area, up from a mere seven percent in the early 1990s.

The EPA projects that demographic, environmental and economic factors have pushed this suburban to urban building trend. The EPA says that Baby Boomers and the post-Baby Boomer generation, the largest demographic groups with smaller families, are driving housing preferences like smaller homes and living spaces closer to workplaces. Concerns about commuting energy consumption is another reason EPA attributes to the increase in urban building permits. Finally, downsized consumer expectations in the wake of the current recession is another driver that EPA highlights.

“As home values have dropped in most markets, buyers are considering which options will have the most resale value,” said American Institute of Architects chief economist Kermit Baker. “Infill locations, with their convenient access to employers, retail, entertainment and public transit options, are proving to be appealing from both a livability and an investment perspective.”

Go from analog to digital by claiming your coupons.

Get Your Digital TV Coupons

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration recently announced that the government now has sufficient funding to redistribute two rebate coupons for converter boxes per household, which will help analog TV watchers make the switch to digital in time for the extended June 12 deadline.

"With the backlog of applications now eliminated, consumers can apply for coupons and get assistance right away, allowing them to continue to receive important local television news and emergency information by purchasing a converter box at a reduced cost," says Anna Gomez, an NTIA administrator.

Consumers will get a $40 rebate on the digital converter boxes, which means that they'll be able to buy a converter for just a few dollars.

About one-third of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49 now live with parents, in-laws or friends due to reasons related to the recession.

Moving Back Home

Builder Online recently reported that roughly one-third of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49 are moving back in with their parents or their in-laws or are reverting back to a lifestyle with roommates due to ripple effects from the recession.

Based on a recent AARP report that Builder Online cited, 15 percent of people surveyed expressed a degree of likelihood that they'd move in with, or accommodate another, family member or friend. Out of those surveyed, the largest percent (about one-third) said that it would be due to a loss of income. About one-fifth said it was due to a change in job status, and most notably, about 8 percent of those surveyed said it was due to home foreclosure.

While these statistics underscore the recession's direct impact of people's home accommodation decisions, one-third said that they felt "somewhat comfortable" with that kind of a living arrangement while another third expressed that they would "not be comfortable at all" living with additional family members or friends.

Builder says that AARP expects the demand for universal design features like ground floor bedrooms and walk-in showers to increase in order to accommodate multi-generational, flexible living arrangements.

Read "Adding an In-Law Suite" to find out more about combining intergenerational households. Watch this video to see the addition of an in-law suite.

Michelle Obama advocates eating healthy and fresh foods with her White House garden project.

First Lady's White House Garden

In the latest issue of O magazine, First Lady Michelle Obama told Oprah that she will embark on a garden-planting project that she hopes will educate the American people about healthy eating and the gratification of being able to eat your own fresh foods. (The partial interview can be found here).

"You know, the tomato that's from your garden tastes very different from one that isn't," said the First Lady. "We want to use it as a point of education, to talk about...how you can take that food and make it part of a healthy diet," Obama said. She also expressed her desire that younger citizens will show interest in the garden, alluding to her daughters Malia and Sasha who live in the White House, which she embraces as "the people's home."

But you don't need White House-sized yard space to plant a great sustainable garden. Read our tips about designing your own garden and how to save water in your garden.

Lawyers, builders and industry experts will join forces at the American Bar Association's “Talking Green Blues: Energy, Sustainability, and Green Building Challenges Affecting the Construction Industry" forum in April.

Attention, Lawyers

In response to the increasing emphasis on understanding the fragility of our environment, The American Bar Association will host a three-day Forum on the Construction Industry in New Orleans (the land of blues and a fragile ecosystem) on construction industry challenges affecting energy, sustainability and green building. From April 16 to 18, 400 attendees including lawyers, builders and other legal and industry experts will learn about green building fundamentals from green standards to the effects of climate change on the industry and nuclear energy projects.

The best part about the forum is that attendees will join forces on the final day of the forum to help build a greener New Orleans City Park, which sustained more than $43 million in damage in Hurricane Katrina.

Photo courtesty of Wikimedia Commons. Detroit: America's Most Miserable City.

America's Most Miserable Cities

Forbes recently created their own version of a misery scale, based on economist Arthur Okun's Misery Index and the Misery Score. The new measurement, called the Forbes Misery Measure, calibrates unemployment, personal tax rates, commute times, weather, crime and if toxic waste is dumped in your backyard. They looked at only the 150 largest metropolitan areas, all of which meant a minimum population of 371,000, to determine which American city is the most miserable. The results?

The fourth place winner (or loser, in this case) was New York. Its longest average commute time (an average of 36.2 minutes) is just one factor that made it the fourth most miserable city of America.

In third place was Flint, Mich. Plagued by a legacy of dependence on the automobile industry, the hometown of General Motors has suffered bad times and a worsening economy.

Stockton came in second. High unemployment and crime rates coupled with an ever-increasing population put this California city on the list.

And the biggest loser was Detroit. With similar misery characteristics as Flint, Detroit has suffered from high unemployment from the auto bust and increased violence and crime as a result.

But there is good news: Several of these cities have taken initiatives to increase employment, which will hopefully alleviate problems with overpopulation and crime.

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