Driving a Smart Car is as Cool as James Harrison

This is just one small car that could change the basics of planning http://gotmpg.com

This is just one small car that could change the basics of planning http://gotmpg.com

Apparently driving a smart car is becoming a cool thing to do. NFL Defensive Player of the year James Harrison yesterday pulled up to the first day of Steelers training camp driving the go kart look-alike, according timesonline.com. The article can be accessed by clicking here.

“His Smart car caused such a stir that coach Mike Tomlin actually took a turn driving the car.”

“Now that’s an interesting vehicle,” Tomlin said. “It doesn’t feel small, as you sit in the cabin, which was interesting. I expected it to feel maybe like a go-kart or something. But it’s not, it’s a nice little ride, and I imagine that he’s only going to gas that thing up about once every six weeks.”

To put this in a planning perspective, there are about 20,000 parking spaces surrounding Heinz Field, the Steelers stadium, according to steelers.com. The space required for 20k spaces is somewhere in the region of 7m square feet for 18’x 8′ (144′ sq.) spaces (one has to include backing out space and ways out). A typical car is about 15’x6′ (90′ sq.), allowing a foot either side of the car for entry and exit and 3′ to compensate for the variety in car lengths and poor parking jobs. This means for the 9’x5′ (45′ sq.) smart car, a parking space would require about 12’x7′ (84′ sq.) and backing out space would be about 14′, making a whole block of parking (middle pull out area and parking either side) 38′, nearly half of the 60′ currently required. That means for any given area, you can fit 36% more smart car parking spaces than conventional spaces. However, in terms of traveling to football games, this would not make sense, as normally more than 2 people travel to the game per car, plus the tailgating grill and food. For planning purposes it is relative because of the enormous space devoted to parking- space that could be used for housing, private businesses (yes bars), parks, or reserves, all within walking distance on game day. However, it may be in the interests of parking to provide separate parking for smart cars in a high priority area. This would encourage people to drive smart cars if they can and it would allow the parking lot to hold more cars, creating more revenue, decreasing the amount of fuel used and emissions given off to get to the stadium. Planning for smaller cars encourages people to buy small, just as planning for large cars encouraged people to buy the large gas guzzlers. The smaller the cars are, the more pedestrian, economic, and housing areas can be intertwined, and be more sustainable.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, VERTICES LLC

Recycling Water, Wind, and Air

The CH2 Building with its shutters open for ventilation www.melbourne.vic.gov.au

The CH2 Building with its shutters open for ventilation http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au

Some buildings have taken the initiative to make themselves much cleaner. A new and rarely discussed method of placing sustainability in buildings is drainage sewer water recycling. The Council House 2 (CH2) in Melbourne, Australia provides a solid case study for drainage water recycling. The building actually extracts street water falling into the sewers and recycles it into a usable water source. The building has its own water filtration located in the basement. Instead of using the city’s water main, the CH2 will use the recycled water for the toilets. Officials said although the water could be clean enough for hand washing, Australians would still find it controversial. “There is still a stigma around that, I don’t think Australians have got over it yet, even though many other countries do it,” said Rob Adams, the council design and culture director.

The building also has unique features to help with the earth’s natural lighting and heating. The windows are set to open at different times during the night to allow cooler air in, and the shades are set to allow a certain brightness of light in all day. The system is responsive and intelligent in its own right. “Each staff member will control their own desk lighting and air flow,” according to TheAge.com.au.

In addition, “On the roof, six canary-yellow wind turbines have sparked curiosity among Melburnians and visitors to the city. The turbines are powered by motors from commercial washing machines.”

The building is the first to receive a 6 star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia. These features are a good model for sustainability, but does it come at an added cost? The project allocated AU$11 billion or 21% of the AU$51b price tag. It may seem like a steep price to pay, but the expectations may prove otherwise. The council believes it can make up the AU$11b in as little as 10 years through savings on energy and water, as well as an increase in staff production. “[…] a healthier environment, including fresh air and non-toxic furnishings and paint, would cut sick leave,” and increase staff morale.

Most interestingly, the amount of parking was quite controversial for the building’s 500+ employees.

The building also includes, controversially, 20 car parking spaces on the mezzanine level. “There was lots of discussion about that,” Mr Adams said. “But it has been built so that, in a few years, if we decide we don’t want it any more we can convert that space into something else.”

That’s building for future flexibility. For further information on this building, please take a look at the article from TheAge.com.au- http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/from-top-to-bottoms-the-city-goes-green/2006/05/05/1146335926942.html?page=2

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, VERTICES LLC

Planning for Future Energy

A light reflecting solar power plant http://theenergycollective.com/TheEnergyCollective/43447

A typical light reflecting solar power plant http://theenergycollective.com/TheEnergyCollective/43447

The solar industry is no doubt a rising force in the energy market. With no emissions, solar is attractive because of its clean producing ways. Recently, solar advocates and lobbyists headed down to Washington to rally for a “permanent manufacturing tax credit” on solar panels. But while  solar energy is clean, I believe it is still likely that only energy companies will be using solar panels due to the hassle of having to install all the infrastructure on private housing for solar energy. But as I have consistently said before, I believe it is best to plan for flexibility because no one knows exactly what the future holds. If subsidies are given to solar, then they should also be equally allocated to similar clean energy sources such as wind and tidal (the debate is still on for nuclear), while also taken away from dirty energy sources like coal, natural gas, and oil.

One of the misconceptions people say is switching from coal and oil is impossible because too many people will lose jobs. According to The Energy Collective however, “Dow Corning [a solar panel manufacturer] deserves enormous credit for investing about $5 billion in manufacturing plants in Michigan—which sorely needs new jobs.” I consider it a testament to people’s ability to adapt to unique situations that would allow a state like Michigan- known for its (now declining) car manufacturing- would turn to solar manufacturing. It reminds me about how many different manufacturing factories in the 1940’s adapted to make war materials as a collective machine against a common enemy. Although the public attentiveness is not as acute compared to the time during the war, it still holds unquestionable parallels and these two situations show a lot about the human personality in times of serious needs and change.

On the other side of the coin, it should be the goal of policy makers to make clean energy available not to energy companies, but people; allowing people a reasonable cost to install solar panels, wind turbines, and any other clean energy method on their property is a first step because companies don’t change and live in the world, people do. At the same time, energy demanding buildings should also be plugged into the grid in the event they need more electricity, but I think more people and their businesses would appreciate energy more if they were producing it on their own. Now of course this is all completely unrealistic to have every single energy demanding building producing their own share of clean energy, but the idea may not be far from the future as solar panel companies are starting to find ways to make their product more durable and affordable. New development should try to embrace this change to make the individual buildings and communities more sustainable, flexible, and energy efficient.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, VERTICES LLC

All material including quotes and pictures from http://theenergycollective.com/TheEnergyCollective/43447

Using Community Mapping as a Tool

Community mapping is a great way to recognize assets in any community. www.rudi.net

Community mapping is a great way to recognize assets in any community. http://www.rudi.net

Community mapping is a growing field in which community members mark out different assets their community has. There is an endless list of mappable assets- parks, restaurants, parking lots, bus stops, supermarkets, bars, etc. In addition, community mappers are using information from government surveys such as the census to garner more information on different neighborhood locations. The census data can provide anything from median household income to race populations. The University of Chicago has set out to use community mapping to mark the differences between neighborhoods around the city. The project is funded by the university medical center’s Urban Health Initiative. The students involved are currently conducting surveys that mark vacant storefronts, fast food restaurants, and markets with fresh fruits and vegetables. The data is brought back to a database and will be presented to show the discrepancies between Chicago’s “celebrated Hyde Park” and Woodlawn neighborhoods.

Some in Woodlawn hope the collaboration with the university is a first step toward bringing new prosperity to the neighborhood.

“You have to have that type of mapping in order to make intelligent decisions on what the community needs,” said Rev. Byron Brazier, pastor of Woodlawn’s Apostolic Church of God.

Brazier, whose church has thousands of members and has called Woodlawn home since 1952, supports the mapping project because its findings will be shared with community members who, he said, are deeply interested in the future.

“There’s a lot of activity going on and [the university] and the community are together in its planning,” said Brazier, whose father, Arthur, Apostolic’s retired longtime leader, is working with the U. of C. to improve education in the neighborhood’s nine elementary schools.

For more information regarding this project, see the article drawn from the Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-resource_mapping-city-zone-2jul22,0,556875.story. All material was drawn from the Tribune article.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, VERTICES LLC

American Cities Gaining International Influences

Suburbs such as Arlington, Va., bustle with high-rises and townhouses built alongside single-family homes. http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-07-15-urbanburbs_N.htm

"Suburbs such as Arlington, Va., bustle with high-rises and townhouses built alongside single-family homes." http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-07-15-urbanburbs_N.htm

According to USA Today, “Suburbs that had not allowed development to rise too high above the single-family homes that have shaped suburbia for decades are beginning to embrace the ‘urban’ in ‘suburban.'”

“The trend reflects the priorities of the times: saving energy, reducing traffic congestion, saving land, and promoting walking and mass transit.”

These priorities are becoming essential in current American culture, as its people realize it needs change. Interestingly enough, USA Today suggests that change has been influenced by not just Americans, but foreigners too. In fact, foreigners from developing nations may be the actual driving force behind suburbs embracing urbanizing town centers, as different cultures have grown amongst the urban culture where the moderately wealthy live in the cities, and poor either live as farmers or on the far outskirts of the city, with little access to city services. Living close to stores and having access to public transit were services that were extremely desirable in their homeland, as cities received continuous investment and upgrades.

“The shift from traditional suburbs to more citified places is fueled by the push for land and energy conservation. In Irving, Texas, the prospect of a light-rail line connecting Dallas, Irving and the airport is encouraging urbanized development,” according to Gary Miller. If Texas, known for its rebellious cowboy attitudes, gas guzzling pick ups and of course, George Bush, can install medium density transit oriented development around light rail stations, so can any other area of the country. Although you may believe you are “sacrificing freedom” by giving up your car, I believe you are giving yourself more freedom by living in areas that give you a choice between walking, cycling, or public transit. Limiting the use of car will also free you from the traffic, noise, air, and oil pollution produced by a complete reliance on cars. Besides, what’s more free than being able to reasonably walk places?

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, VERTICES LLC

Material drawn from: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-07-15-urbanburbs_N.htm

Small Town Seeks Character

"The old Shurfine Market building will be demolished as the first step in Tyngsborough’s plans to redevelop its town center. (Photos By Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)" www.boston.com

"The old Shurfine Market building will be demolished as the first step in Tyngsborough’s plans to redevelop its town center. (Photos By Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)" http://www.boston.com

Towns all across America have started to realize they have very little character or sense of place. Suburbanization has left many different areas different feeling places- most notably, a few acre sized lots of suburban sprawling homes may collectively have enough land to create a neighborhood or cultural center, but instead take up lots of relatively unused land. Although towns and houses with a great expanse of land may adequately allow for some people to efficiently live on their property (i.e. farmers), it may ultimately hurt them in the long run by not having a nearby main street. Tourism does not exist to places that do not have cultural hubs, so any town without a main stopping point or center is missing out on tourism opportunities. Going for milk becomes a 20 minute drive instead of a 5 minute walk. Without a main street or economic area, many people will also be forced to drive between their several destinations of needs, and instead of having an option of several reasonable methods of transport (most importantly equitable and ecologically responsible methods like walking, cycling, and public transit).

Thankfully, towns like Tyngsborough, Massachusetts are realizing the disadvantages of having little of a town center.

Right now, points of interest in the center of town include the Littlefield Library, Winslow School, and Old Town Hall – all of which are vacant. Municipal business is conducted at the new town hall/library, located in a remote wooded area away from the center. In Tyngsborough, as some observers put it, there’s simply no “there’’ there.

“There is no ‘there’ ” is a great way to describe the decentralization of cities, boroughs, and small towns. In all likeliness, small towns like Tyngsborough were settled because of a specific reason, such as a stopping point for travelers in the days before cars, or because a train station was a drop point for supplies. Places like these have fallen into near ghost towns and have no cultural center as a result of the continuous disinvestment from the train infrastructure and the advancement of technology- namely cars, which virtually destroyed many of these stop over towns overnight.

The obstacle for urban planners is to retain the old historical features and characters of these towns while injecting new locally accepted life in and around. “‘We want to make sure we develop a town center that recognizes the history of the town, along with grasping the culture and the wants of the residents,’ Lemoine said[…] ‘We’ve never had a town center, an identity for a town.'” Community visioning is a tool that could be used to help translate the physical descriptions from the general public and place all those ideas into a master plan.

“It would be nice to have a place of social gathering, a coffee shop, a breakfast place, an eatery where people can congregate and support their local businesses,’’ said selectman Richard Lemoine. “A center of town, whether it’s just a few shops, a green space, a bandstand, something that recognizes the significance of a community, every community strives for one. That’s what we’re striving for.’’

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, VERTICES LLC

Material drawn from Boston.com: http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2009/07/16/municipalities_seek_identity_in_town_centers/?page=1

Video on New Urbanism Neighborhoods

Take a bit of time to watch this video made by the Congress for New Urbanism. It explains why America has become so suburbanized and car obsessed. Building codes generally forbid building mixed used development as a way to avoid “the hassles of city life.” Having building codes where only one type of zone (such as commercial or residential) separates these different types of areas from being integrated together. In my mind the stratification caused by consistent one-type zoning is similar to the Jim Crow laws- a regression and obstacle for integration and social equity.

This video puts a lot of emphasis on low carbon emission neighborhoods, and I believe they are targeting the wrong characteristics and benefits of New Urbanism. Yes, low carbon is good but it likely isn’t a primary deciding factor of most Americans. Americans would rather live in somewhere exciting- a place that is unique in its own right. Some people might like where they live because it’s a small town. Others might like where they live because they have little space to maintain, or a lot of space for a large house with a large backyard and pool. Economists have always said you cannot explain preferences of people, so urban planners need to account for the different living styles some prefer. This is the greatest challenge for planners. At the same time very few Americans have lived in a planned New Urbanist/ Old Urbanist/ Traditional Neighborhood style environment, and have yet to decide if it is good or not, only the connotation formed by their previous experiences. Hopefully some of these videos will change some minds.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, VERTICES LLC

For additional information on New Urbanism, check out www.newurbanism.org

The Neighborhood Concept

A picture of residential buildings around Lower Manhatten http://wirednewyork.com/battery_park.htm

Residential buildings near Lower Manhattan http://wirednewyork.com/battery_park.htm

The Financial District in Downtown Manhattan is well known for various reasons- Battery Park, the World Trade Center, and of course Ground Zero from the September 11th attacks. The thousands of suit clad businessmen (and business women too), the large skyscrapers, and other amenities are a symbol of America’s people. The Financial District, however, was never a neighborhood; it is more a place designed for strictly business and tourism, but very little residential areas of note. A neighborhood should be defined as an area that is easy to walk from one end to the other, where people can live, work, shop, and play within. In other words, everyone has access to everything within a short distance.

Since the Financial District does not have very many residential units compared to the amount of jobs it contains, it is hard to classify it as an all inclusive neighborhood. A ratio of 1 job to 1 dwelling unit is ideal in any situation because then people are living close to where they work and work close to where they live. If people also like to live close to where they work, then, all other factors equal, they should want to live close to the downtown or main street area. Achieving a town or city where everyone has this right requires dense development, which is not only is good for transportation, but also economic, environmental, and social factors.

The term “dense development” is a term that is quick to be criticized. Dense development does not necessarily mean tall skyscrapers or turning a small town into a medium sized town. Rather, dense development means almost exactly what a neighborhood is- small enough to walk across within 5 minutes where everyone has nearly everything they would need. Think of the old western towns from the movies where there’s a main street with a horse stable, a saloon and a general store. That is the center of a town with one neighborhood, and may only be inhabited by 20 people at most. Allowing for urban planning does not mean giving up on the small towns in America, but rather protecting them when done right.

Reverting back to the Financial District in Manhattan, a neighborhood regardless of size ,10 or 1 million, should be people, pedestrian, and transit oriented, as well as economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. It will be interesting to see how this neighborhood adapts in to the future growth. “‘Lower Manhattan is the fastest-growing residential area in the city right now,’ says outgoing Economic Development Corporation president Andrew Alper.” With emphasis primarily on people, the Financial District does have hope of becoming a model neighborhood for the rest of America.

A network of different sized neighborhoods is a good way to plan for the future problems we will face because of our dependence on nonrenewables. The different sized neighborhoods are also a way of catering to what type of area people prefer to live in. Not everyone wants to live in a downtown area, and not everyone wants to live in a small town on the fringes of civilization. Washington DC is a good example of neighborhood development because of the mix of different neighborhoods. As a result, Washington DC is one of the only places that has seen an increase in real estate property since the current recession. Investors or house buyers may consider DC an investment because of the infrastructure it already has. However, contrary to Washington DC, the whole megalopolis, from Boston through to DC, is a poor example of planning, where sprawling “neighborhoods” or “developments” (housing with no economic centers or other necessities to qualify an area as a neighborhood) have sprung up. The whole idea of the neighborhood is traditional planning, and should be resorted back to after the past 50 years of neglect.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, VERTICES LLC

Material drawn from: http://nymag.com/realestate/features/2016/17144/

Developing for Post Oil America

Locally grown food is a good way to promote community sustainability and cut back on energy use. www.postoilsolutions.org

Locally grown food is a good way to promote community sustainability and cut back on energy use. http://www.postoilsolutions.org

It is inevitable. If we keep consuming oil, we will eventually run out. Although estimates vary as to how much oil we have left in our reserves, it nevertheless is a good idea to start planning for the post oil period. Some communities have started to piece together parts of the puzzle. Brattleboro, Vermont, typically known for its alternative lifestyle has started a grassroots organization to deal with what might happen after the life of oil. The group is called Post Oil Solutions, or POS for short, and its aims goals at five different factors: community gardens, local food, energy, transportation, and education.

What I found most interesting of these was the local food. POS says the following:

Did you know that most of the food on local store shelves has traveled an average of 1400 miles? Between transportation, and conventional agricultural practices, there are 10 to 15 calories of fossil fuels in every calorie of food you eat.

That means if you eat a 500 calorie meal (a calorie is measure of energy), at least 5000 calories went into the making, maintaining, and transportation of that meal. If the ratio of energy consumed versus needed is indeed that high, it means that there are huge amounts of energy wasted. It is clearly not possible for everyone to eat only local foods; the cost of growing food around New York City will cost much more than food being grown in developing countries, but I think most Americans believe there should at least be more local food available, especially if it carries a reasonable price tag.

In a link from POS site, there is an article from localbanquet.com. One passage I thought really related to our situation today: “[With 15 minutes a day and a piece of] lawn roughly the size of the parking space for your car, you can grow a significant amount of good food—food that is organic, food that is tasty, food that is healthy[...] During World War II, Americans started “victory gardens,” growing up to 40 percent of their fresh produce. In these tough economic times, it again makes sense for us to grow some of our own food.”

Any community visioning or master plan should incorporate making enough areas suitable for both individual and commercial farming, as it is an important part of sustainability. Doing so will cut down (however slightly or large it may be) our oil dependence and consumption.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, Vertices LLC

Colorado Rockies Green Initiatives

The initiative put forth by the Colorado Rockies

The initiative put forth by the Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies are making head ways in becoming a more community oriented asset. The team has plans this summer for certain “green weeks”, where the team will pay to plant a tree around Denver for every home run hit during that week. In addition, The Denver Post included posters showing the team’s schedule for fans. On each day on the poster’s calender there is a tip for being more energy efficient and sustainable. Today’s tip was turn your thermostat 2 degrees higher in summer. Just 2 degrees saves a lot of energy due to the exponential increase in the amount of energy needed to maintain cooler houses.

The Rockies also offer many other “going green incentives” such as riding your bike to the game. This Sunday for instance, the Rockies will be offering 2 box seats normally at a set price of around $75 for only $20, 5 dollars of which will be donated to a tree planting fund. Although a far stretch, I think it would be a better move to plant new trees over parking spaces around the stadium, further discouraging driving to the game. It could also be a competition enjoyed by fans and players to try to fill up an entire section of a parking lot then dedicate it to a game day street fair.

Not only is there a significant incentive to ride your bike for Sunday’s game, but it can also encourage you to ride your bike to other games too. Maybe some fans will realize that navigating through congested traffic after the game is much easier when you have a bicycle that can squeeze through or around jammed cars.

Large incentives like these show to me a strong willingness for the ball club to connect with the community and its people, and should be emulated or adapted in other businesses. Connecting local people with local business is part of a sustainable and desirable community.  Hats off to you Colorado Rockies and any other teams doing similar programs.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, Vertices LLC