Sixty miles east of San Francisco, Locke, Calif., is the country's last free-standing rural Chinatown community. The 10-acre town was founded in 1915 by Chinese merchants and farmers who bought their homes and businesses - but not the land they sat on - from a local rancher. (California's Alien Land Law of 1913 prevented anyone "ineligible for citizenship" from owning land.) Consequently, when underground wastewater infrastructure began to fail, there was little local residents could do.

Realizing that an important part of regional history was jeopardized, the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency came to the rescue. The agency, a joint powers authority created in 1973 by the city and county of Sacramento to represent both jurisdictions in community development and housing matters, administers federal, state and local funds for those purposes.

SHRA was willing to step in to preserve not just Locke's historic value, but its present-day viability. "We need to make critical improvements to Locke's infrastructure before this wonderful community is lost," notes SHRA Executive Director Anne Moore. "There are strong historic reasons for preserving the town, but it is a unique, living, rural community, and it is important to maintain that, too."

Improvements to the wastewater system are expected to cost about $1 million, according to Stephen Young, SHRA's director of community redevelopment activities. The agency will replace the sewer system's crumbling network of old iron and clay pipes. It hopes to obtain a federal grant to finance the project. The problem, Young says, is critical. "Without a working sewer system, Locke may have to be abandoned," he says.

Making the improvements, however, meant getting title to the land, which is owned by Locke Property Development. Ultimately, SHRA signed an agreement that would accord it temporary custody of the land underneath the 51 buildings that make up the central town area. The agency paid $250,000, plus $50,000 in fees, for the land, which it will re-sell after the improvements are made. (The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development recently appropriated $430,000 in economic development initiative funds intended to assist in the preservation of original structures and maintain the pool of housing stock.)

According to Young, there are several possibilities of new ownership. In an article in the Sacramento Bee, Young pointed out that local homeowners could form an association; a nonprofit agency could purchase the town; or a partnership between several government agencies could administer the town. Currently, meetings between SHRA, interested parties and Locke residents are being conducted to determine the best options for ownership of the town.

In September, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley planted the first of 20,000 plants in a rooftop garden at City Hall. The city is building the garden to test the effectiveness of the foliage in heat island and air pollution reduction.

"This garden will be both beautiful and functional," Daley said at the time of the planting. "More than that, it will help cool the building in the summer because we'll no longer have a dark roof absorbing the sun's rays and raising the building temperature. That means the city will use less energy for air conditioning, saving the taxpayers some money and cutting down on the pollution."

The garden will contain more than 150 varieties of plants and will cover half of the roof. With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, the city will measure the project's effect on energy use within City Hall and on surrounding air temperatures.

Two more rooftop gardens are in the works in Chicago. The city will be planting atop the Midwest Center for Green Technology and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. In addition to having the gardens, those sites will include solar panels, which the city will test for effects on energy use and heat island mitigation.

Data will be gathered from the sites continually, and Chicago expects to finalize results of its heat island initiatives in several years. For more information on the projects, contact the city's Department of Environment at (312) 744-5716.