Archive for the ‘urban planning’ 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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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

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

History of Suburbanization

Ever since the 1950’s, America has been suburbanizing. As GI’s returned from service after WWII, they were given subsidized loans to buy new houses. Developers took advantage and bought cheap land outside main living areas and developed them into single family homes. It was “The American Dream” to have your family own a single family house with a front and back yard with a driveway and garage for your family car. Take a look at any advertisement for a car from those times and you will see they were sold as family items. It was all about family- moving to the suburbs kept your kids safe from all the crime, pollution, traffic, etc that American cities had been known for. Afterall, cities were the first places immigrants would come to (New York because of Ellis Island for example). Immigrants most often would have very little of anything if not nothing at all, fueling the benefits of theft and reputation. Cities grew to be known as unsafe because of the rampant crime and violence associated with it.

1948- A typical photo promoting the suburbs as family places. Derived from: www.urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com

1948- A typical photo promoting the suburbs as family places. Derived from: http://www.urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com

The saving grace from this was the car, which allowed for suburbanization. You could now live outside the city where it was safer, and commute to your work place in your car. Llewellyn Park, NJ, what many scholars call the first suburb, was designed by “a New York business man who practiced the religious doctrine of the Perfectionists, who believed that spiritual or moral perfection could be attained, and planned the development for fellow believers.”  Naturally, more developments sprung up along roads and highways (as well as train and trolley lines) into the city, as people needed to commute to their place of work. The suburbs were desirable, expensive, and dominantly white middle to upper class families. The problem now was that the stay at home parent (in the 50’s, the American Dream said the mother was to do this) needed to still run errands, so a second car was needed so the mother didn’t have to carry the groceries over a long distance over busy roadways; more space was needed to house the car at home, more space was needed to park it at the shops, and more roads were needed to deal with the capacity of all the cars driving different places. It was great for the economy- Americans needed more and it put millions if not billions to work on roads, new houses, real estate agents, bankers, insurance agents, car manufacturers, engineers, etc., etc.

Only now are more people starting to realize this is not a sustainable economy.

As a result of suburbia, architecture and social life as suffered. Many places are biased in terms of age. Children cannot go to downtown areas, visit their friends, or even play at the park without a parent driving them as it is unsafe to walk on the roads, or too far in distance, and there is no public transport because it is not economically sensible or sustainable. Architecture suffered because businesses that survived during that era moved their buildings back to allow for excessive parking in front. Architecture didn’t matter from the street if the building is separated by 100’s of feet of (often empty) parking pavement. Think Big Box Retail.

Severely underutilized space, a product of the 1950's culture of suburbanization

Severely underutilized space, a product of the 1950's culture of suburbanization

As new generations have replaced the old, the 1950’s dream has started to fade. It was successfully passed down to at least one generation (children of the 50’s and 60’s), but as the newest generation of young adults arises, hopefully the collective image of American cities can change.

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

Quoted material drawn from: http://www.sha.state.md.us/keepingcurrent/maintainRoadsBridges/bridges/oppe/suburbs/B-1.pdf

Picture from: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/43/108082998_12da719cd5_o.jpg

Economics of Bad Planning

A automobile oriented park, Bell Tower Park, Riverdale (Bronx), NY

A automobile oriented park, Bell Tower Park, Riverdale (Bronx), NY http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riverdale_NY

When planning efforts go wrong or are restricted in a maze of poor building codes, residents of the area usually pay the price. Riverdale, NY is good example of what can happen when poor planning and codes go wrong. In response to parking problems, Tom Brown, a senior planner noted that the parking problems have been created by destroying pedestrian culture- a lot of the commercial space that has been developed has been one story strip malls or the ground floor of residential apartments that has been limited to a select type of business.

The strip malls require people have a car to visit- they are completely car oriented normally along a busy street with a parking lot larger than the actual retail space (the parking is likely all subsidized). When the parking lot area is dedicated to more space than the actual retail space, it is obviously car oriented. In addition, it does not make sense for businesses to be on the second floor of a strip mall because they would not get as much business if they were located on a ground floor somewhere else.”Conversely, it makes commercial space astronomically expensive, as it has to make up for all the lost 2nd-7th floor development area opportunity,” according to Brown. Now there’s a parking problem at the strip mall for both employees, and customers, plus nearby residents are upset because they are at competition with their neighbors for parking spaces that they are using to go to the strip mall with.

I think Brown sums up the problem extremely well when he says:

This antiquated strategy has long been discredited as economically counter-productive, environmentally unsustainable, and corrosive to good, pedestrian- friendly urban design.

Worse, it has created in Riverdale a city neighborhood in which dozens of high-density apartment buildings lie beyond reasonable walking distance from basic daily goods and services. Tenants, understandably, have become overly dependent upon their cars and obsessed with parking.

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

Material drawn from a letter to the Riverdale Press editor at: http://riverdalepress.com/full.php?sid=9164&current_edition=2009-07-02

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