Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Tag

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

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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

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

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

http://mlb.mlb.com/col/fan_forum/greenweek_calendar.jsp

Video on Sprawl

Take two minutes to enjoy this movie made by the Congress for New Urbanism. It explains a lot of the problems we all see today and should get you thinking about other ways we can help to change the earth.

New Urbanism will be a huge step forward in reducing the demand and dependence on oil, space, cars, etc. It focuses on improving the areas we already have to make them better/ safer/ more sustainable living environments.

For more information, I recommend checking out www.newurbanism.org. There is a wealth of logical information and solutions. To give you a taste, newurbanism.org recommends funding for building a more sustainable America can come from several of the following sources:

  1. The $620B and counting already spent on the Iraq war
  2. A portion of the $480B/year Defense budget
  3. Hundreds of billions spent on road construction
  4. Hundreds of billions spent on airport expansions
  5. Hundreds of billions spent on new coal, oil, and nuclear power plants
  6. $300B/ year spent subsidizing oil
  7. A new ‘waste’ tax
  8. A new carbon tax

That’s a lot of money.

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

From the Office to the Built Environment

Today is going to be slightly different than past posts as I will talk about the transition from the office to the outside built environment. I was glancing about Yahoo! when I first came into work and one article I read got me thinking. It talked about several ways you can make your office space more pleasant, and I found that many of the tips they had given can be transformed to work as tips for making the built environment more pleasant.

The first tip mentioned is to reuse drinking cups because some materials take a long time to break down in landfills. Lots of materials buildings are made out of can be reworked to be recycled. One example comes from one of my earlier post about Cleveland where locals took bricks from a school that was to be demolished and placed the bricks as walkway inside a community garden near the heart of the city. Not only can bricks be reused, but many of the metallic materials can be smoldered down into new products as well.

The second tip they gave was to make your lunch and bring it to work. It is a simple way to save money, but if you were to make your own food in your backyard or community garden, think of the money you can save while at the same time avoiding chemically altered fruits and vegetables. It may be a hassle to do this for many people so this idea may be out of the question for many people, but at the same time imagine if it became the trendy thing to do.

Tip number three is to breathe fresh by livening your desk with a plant or two. Countless studies show that greenery increases happiness and that as humans, we love being around nature. When we step out to our streets, it should not be a jungle of cars and the infrastructure to support them, but rather a pleasant built landscape that is comfortable and exciting to walk through.

The final tip is to dress the part- come into work with clothes you bought second hand and advertise your ways. The advertising of this part is crucial, because too many people do not feel this part is feasible/ socially acceptable/ economically beneficial, etc. By being obvious about your ways shows your confidence in your beliefs, and may persuade others to jump on board with you, even if it is slightly.

There of course are implications with these tips, mainly the economic impact it would have if a large portion of people started to employ these ways. At the same time, we should not underestimate the ability of human personality to adapt to the conditions.

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

The Yahoo! article can be found here: http://green.yahoo.com/blog/greenpicks/245/green-your-desk.html

Vision for Visioning

Nice 4 story houses overlooking a square near centre city London

Nice 4 story houses overlooking a square near centre city London

It’s hard to have to pull together a consensus on a whole community of people, if not impossible. Determining which public inputs and ideas are better may lead to compromising some other goals determined by the community. A community likely cannot be walkable and transit oriented if the goal of the community is for everyone to own a car. The trade offs between values like these are ones where community visioners must extract the most important details from.

Talking amongst the community members may eventually take shape into an idea of what the community wants to look like, but there are other tools that are much more effective and time efficient. In today’s world of globalization, there are many communities that feature more than one primary language. Talking might not just be an option to gather a fair public input. This brings me to the most important tool in visioning: visual representation. Visual representation can be anything from charts to blue prints to computer designed buildings and areas. Upon seeing these representations, people can choose whether or not they agree the mechanisms brought forth by the visioner has a place in their community. Visual representation of ideas is the best way to communicate because there is a clearer understanding of what is being presented with little room for self interpretation and there is no foreign language that needs interpreting.  There are many more case-specific reasons visual representations are great tools for community visioning, but this should tickle the mind of anyone seeking a community visioning process.

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

Building Design and Visioning

Sjöstad, Sweden

Sjöstad, Sweden

Building design is becoming more integrated into modern visioning. Preferences and styles of everyone cannot be fully explained as economists say, but there are some aspects of building design that are in high demand. For instance, in urban culture it is now in style to design buildings that encourage human interaction. This may seem tough to translate building styles into human interaction, but let me explain.

As a case study, I present to you Sjöstad, a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden. Sjöstad was built in a previously brownfield area around Stockholm, but since 1996 it has experienced planning and growth as residents have started to move in town. There is already shops, parks, and transit available for all the newcomers. But Sjöstad is interesting because due to the planning specifications and outlines, Sjöstad was thought to attract more older couples with its medium sized balconies and 5 to 6 story buildings, but instead “young couples 25 to 35 predominate.” Maybe it is the nearby skiing.

But in all seriousness, according to irishtimes.com there are a few aspects that make Sjöstad more desirable and hip. One of those was mentioned before- the balconies. Balconies encourage people to be outside while still at home. They also encourage people to be involved in street life activity. For example, if someone happened to be out on their porch and saw a friend walk by on the way to the shops, they would be able to see each other, talk about the kids, or make plans for the night. People would also inevitably talk to their neighbors if they were out having morning coffee on their balcony as well.

In addition to balconies, planners and architects used some other basic building design principals that I will quote straight from the Irish Times:

“Architecturally, a five-point programme was laid down. New buildings had to follow “traditional Stockholm inner-city character” but with larger apartments, greater variation between buildings in terms of emphasis on outdoor spaces, balconies and terraces, flat roofs and greater variation of materials.”

I wish to point out the variation between buildings. Here in New Jersey, not too far from Rutgers University, there are many communities where you cannot tell one neighborhood, let alone a block from another. There are entire communities made up of the exact same 3 or 4 “cookie cutter” houses. Every place ends up looking the same and as a result, places lose their individuality. The details of building design described above help create a special place- and Sjöstad has noted people enjoy it by entertaining 12,000 tourists a year (according to Irish Times), and its not even completed yet!

The last point I want to hit on is the newer planners and architects that went into executing the Sjöstad plan. Instead of highly experienced architects and planners, younger, fresh minds and ideas were employed that focused on these new concepts that buildings encourage interaction. There was also a good deal of focus on sustainability. I would argue that a large proportion of experienced architects and planners do not focus enough on the sustainability aspect. I will be sure to talk about more sustainable design in the future.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Intern, Vertices LLC

The article from the Irish Times can be found here