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Archive for March, 2010


The Eisenhower Memorial Commission has released the designs for a new monument to President Dwight Eisenhower that will sit near the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.. Frank Gehry won the design competition organized by the GSA’s design excellence program. The Eisenhower Memorial is just the seventh one constructed for a U.S. president. 

The Washington Post says the design, which received “totally unanimous” support from the commission, is a departure for Gehry. “The memorial, which will be built on a four-acre parcel just south of the Mall [...], will be a mix of traditional and contemporary elements, but none of them scream Frank Gehry.” Frank Gehry commented on the site’s comtemplative mood: “The approach to the design was to create a cohesive and important civic space and urban monument in the heart of the capital region that provides a quiet and contemplative space for learning about the vast accomplishments of President Eisenhower. He was a masterful but modest leader. My aim was to capture that spirit with the design.”

The design chosen by the commission was the most “elaborate” of three ideas submitted by Gehry. “Gehry has proposed closing off a newly defined square defined by the intersection of Independence and Maryland avenues and Fourth and Sixth streets SW. The north and south sides of ‘Eisenhower Square’ will be limned by huge limestone columns, the interior filled with a grove of large oaks and a semicircular space made of a rough assemblage of monolithic stone blocks. There will also be carvings and inscriptions and a service building.”

According to The Architect’s Newspaper, the thirteen limestone columns that surround the site are a “homage to the neoclassical Jefferson and Lincoln memorials.”

In addition, the memorial will include educational components. “At the center of these stands a grove of oak trees through which visitors will walk to view presentations on Eisenhower’s many accomplishments. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the design is a series of massive woven stainless-steel tapestries that hang from the colonnade. The tapestries will depict scenes from Ike’s life on a grand scale.” 

In fact, there’s some controversy about those stainless steel tapestries. The Washington Post writes that the new metal tapestries could impact views out of the Department of Education, and “limit light and affect sightlines for workers who once had views to the Mall.” Gehry tried to adress these concerns at the hearing, saying that the metal tapestry would be translucent and stand some 90 to 100 feet away from the Education Department building. “Having said that, we’re very concerned about that issue.”

Preserving key views is big in on the Mall. Overall, Gehry Partners tried to arrange the memorial’s elements so they preserve the direct corridor down Maryland Avenue to the Capitol building. Gehry broke apart the series of columns so they don’t block views.

The site’s location also presented a challenge for Gehry. Surrounded by monolithic government office buildings, the site itself is awkward. Gehry said: “I saw the site, and I freaked out. Oh my God, how are we going to deal with this kind of site?’

The success of Gehry’s designs will be decided, in large part, by the levels of pedestrian traffic. If the columns create a “Soviet”-style authoritarian public space that’s “dehumanizing,” people may avoid it instead of going in to learn about Eisenhower’s work. Additionally, the site needs to be compelling enough to pull tourists off the central Mall area.

The Washington Post is dubious the site can be sucessfully integrated into the rest of the Mall: “It may make the city’s most desirable, tourist-trafficked spine feel a bit wider — and perhaps attract History Channel types, veterans and war pilgrims who can now visit the World War II memorial, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Eisenhower Memorial in one long stroll. But it doesn’t open the Mall up to the larger city. It moves the boundaries, but with a giant metal scrim attached to stone tent poles, it doesn’t dissolve them.”

The project is expected to cost somewhere in the range of $90 and $120 million, and will be completed by 2015. Congress has appropriated $19 million for the project to date.

Learn more at the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

Image credit: Gehry Partners / The Architect’s Newspaper

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Pier One, Brooklyn Bridge Park’s new 9.5-acre pier park, the largest of a set of six planned for the Brooklyn waterfront, has just opened. Designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the new park is built on the original landfill-based pier infrastructure, and features sustainable design elements that enable the site to take care of 70 percent of its own water needs. Instead of requiring significant amounts of external water to be pumped in for lawn irrigation, it’s almost self-sufficient. 

While the other five pier parks in development will rely on pile-supported pier infrastructure, Pier One is set on a mass of landfill that was trucked in and added to the river. This solid base make the new large landforms possible. A representative from Michael Van Valkenburg Associates explains: “For the original construction of Pier One, soil was dumped into the East River in order to create the pier itself – you can almost think of it as a little peninsula. For the other piers at Brooklyn Bridge Park, the ground plane is a concrete slab supported by wooden piles. Because Pier One was on ‘land,’ so-to-speak, it could support the weight of the new large landforms.”

Throughout the new pier park, there is a focus on efficiently managing water on site. Excess water is collected from building roofs, paved areas, and lawns, and then reused. The system is described in some detail on the park Web site: “As the water passes through each segment of the water garden, pollutants and sediment are removed. When the water reaches the lowest section at the southern end of Pier one, it is drained back into the underground tank and ultimately used as irrigation for the entire Pier one landscape.  This runoff collection system in conjunction with a decrease of impervious surfaces on the site, will represent an improvement over the previous site system which, in large storm events, diverted untreated surface runoff directly into the East River.”

Pier One features two large lawns, a waterfront promenade, and playground. Over 500 mature trees were also planted. Later in summer 2010, a new salt marsh at the southern edge of the pier will open. The salt marsh will be planted with native plants set within a salvaged granite seating area. The marsh is designed to enable people to experience the tidal river close-up and provide access for non-motorized watercraft.

When completed, the entire pier park system will integrate salvaged materials, new wildlife habitat, green roofs, and energy conservation technologies. However, perhaps the most sustainable component is the preserved pier infrastructure, which has been reused by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. Brooklyn Bridge Park writes: “A major sustainability objective of Brooklyn Bridge Park is to re-use as much of the site structures as possible, to preserve the cultural legacy of the site and reduce the resources expended in its transformation. The programming layout for the park is based on the structural capacity of marine infrastructure, dictating that heavier, infrastructure-dependent program elements be located on land, while programming for the pile-supported piers is guided by what the existing structures were capable of supporting.” 

The New York Times’ architectural critic, Nicholai Ouroussoff, gave the park system a rave review, arguing that the park successfully meets environmental and social needs, and offers a unique mix of open spaces and recreational facilities. “Mr. Van Valkenburgh’s design engages all those aspects of contemporary life with a care and balance that make the park one of the most positive statements about our culture we’ve seen in years. It is a key and very promising early step in a larger project that includes the greening of the East River waterfront in Manhattan and a park for Governors Island, and which may well turn out to be Michael R. Bloomberg’s most important legacy as mayor of New York.”

Read more, see an interactive map laying out features and future phases, watch a video tour of the new Pier One park by Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, or skim through a slideshow from The New York Times.

Also, learn about the overall park system concepts that won a 2009 ASLA Honor Award for Analysis & Planning.

Image credit: Brooklyn Bridge Park / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

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The Earth Awards invites invites design submissions from around the world in six categories: Built Environment, Fashion, Products, Systems, Future and Social Justice. The Earth Awards Web site adds: “Ideas, great or small, realized or prototypes, will be considered but must distinguish themselves in six criteria: Achievable, Scalable, Measurable, Useful, Original and Ecological.” In contrast with other ideas competitions, there is actually quite a bit of money available for prizes. The grand prizewinner will receive $50,000, while category winners will each receive $10,000.  

Once submissions are received, the high-profile selection committee, comprised of leading designers such as Yves Behar and Diane Von Furstenburg as well sustainability thought-leaders, including Rick Fedrizzi, CEO of USGBC, and Majora Carter, will judge a shortlist of six finalists. The six finalists will be presented in an exhibition focused on sustainable design.

Along with the exhibition, The Financial Times will hold a “Sustainable Business Conference” and gala dinner, and invite CEOs, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists to match innovation with investment, “fulfilling The Earth Awards’ commitment to shepherd winning innovations closer to market.” The Earth Awards competition says that “all finalists will have the unique opportunity to pitch their project to world business leaders, who will help them to transform their designs into market-ready solutions.”

Submissions are due May 10th, 2010. The selection committee will review submissions from May 17th – July 23rd, 2010. The awards gala in London will be held September 16th, 2010

Learn more about submitting ideas and the 2009 grand prizewinner, Neri Oxman.

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Andrea Cochran, FASLA, is principal of Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture.

In a recent book on your work from Princeton Architectural Press, Mary Myers writes, “Like Luis Barragán, Andrea Cochran is able to convey a forceful sense of volumetric space.” Please describe your unique approach to space in your landscapes. What are your main influences? 

I have two main areas of influence. One source of inspiration is the work of early modernist landscape architects: Dan Kiley, Garrett Eckbo, and James Rose. The gardens they designed in the 1930′s were really a reinvention of space. They redefined the spatial constructs of modern architecture during a time that considered space over mass a defining quality.

Another big influence on my work would be Minimalist artists such as Robert Irwin, who reinterpret our perception of space. The edges become diaphanous, the spaces ephemeral.  Spaces such as these and the work of another Minimalist artist Fred Sandback are defined by suggestions of structure. Sandback used colored string to compose space in a gallery. That’s very much they way I see my work as a landscape architect – a more diaphanous or permeable quality. Edges are done with plantings and spaces are defined by a minimum of structure.

Much of your work is in San Francisco Bay area. What are the challenges involved in working with the microclimates in the region? Do you consider yourself a regional landscape architect foremost?

I moved to the Bay Area in 1981. I grew up on the East Coast, and so it took me a number of years to really understand the climate here, which is very complex. A reference book for landscape architects in the west is the Sunset Western Garden Book. The climate zones in this book are more specific than the USDA zones. In the Sunset zones, there are probably five planting zones within the region near the Bay Area.

If you are in San Francisco, you have a climate that is very marine influenced, and very cool in the summer and never really warm in the winter, so you have some opportunities/challenges in terms of plant material. In an hour’s drive from San Francisco, the temperature can vary by 30 degrees on a given day.

The regions here are very small and specific and it takes a long time working in this area to understand these microclimates. I think I do my best work in the Bay Area, because I think we all do the work in the region that we’re the most comfortable with, where we understand the nuances.

Your work for the Portland Art Museum features moveable plinths and vertical steel panels, enabling a multitude of internal configurations. Do you think urban design needs to be modular, adaptive and changeable to cater to different users? 

I absolutely believe that. Urban planning needs to be more adaptable and less prescriptive physically, encouraging adaptation over time. That’s a much more innovative approach when you’re working on a planning level.

At a design level, it’s kind of hard to allow things to move and change, especially in a landscape. So, I think you’re a little more restricted. For the Portland Art Museum, we had a client that needed to be able to move things, and they have curators, and they have different exhibits, so things needed to move and change, and adapt to a changing collection. For that particular use, it worked, but I think adaptability works best at a planning level and applies to urban design.

One of your ASLA award-winning projects, the Curran House, an affordable housing community in San Francisco, presents “the landscape as sanctuary in a threatening world.” You purposefully designed a quiet oasis on the roof, that intensifies the sense of being in nature, while also enabling social interaction through gardening plots. Researchers are increasingly pointing to the value of gardening in reducing trauma. What do you see as the primary health and social values of these environments? How do they need to be designed to work best?

One day, when we up to the roof garden at the Curran House, I met a resident who was gardening while doing the family laundry. The laundry room is located right off the roof garden. This helps create great social connections with the architecture and landscape. The roof becomes an extension of people’s daily lives. On one social level, the roof has inter-connectedness. The garden becomes a social place where people can hang out. They actually might be working next to their neighbor as they’re working on their garden plot. It’s a community building kind of activity. It’s become so popular that they have to do a lottery because more people want to use the little garden plots than are available. 

The point I started with was that I saw this man up there, he had the most beautiful broccoli growing in his two by three foot bed, and I don’t know what else was in there, but this broccoli was unbelievably beautiful. He said I come up here and this is my therapy. I can get my hands in the dirt. I was almost in tears. I thought it was the most meaningful thing I’d ever done to just give this guy a chance to just be outside, be in the sun and work with his hands in the dirt and grow something in the five foot square plot. I think it’s really worked well. When he’s up there working, teenagers come up and hang out. Adults are up there working on their gardens so the teenagers are being monitored. It’s not a leftover space, isolated, where things can happen. It becomes this environment that’s more of a community, and people kind of watch out for one another.

Recently you’ve done a lot of work for the scientific communities with the UCSF Cardiovascular Research Institute, and Lawrence Berkeley Labs Helios Energy Research Facility. How do your site designs facilitate the interdisciplinary interaction critical to science? 

For the Cardiovascular Research Institute, they wanted the landscape of this courtyard to be different from other places on campus. They wanted it to have a different character and quality than the rest of the landscape, which was more minimal. They wanted something very interactive that encouraged people to come and meet.

Research work can be isolating so the idea was to create spaces that encourage people to get together in small groups or larger groups and create opportunities for them to run across one another walking from place to place — either coming to work, or going from building to building. Encouraging community and encouraging interaction was an important part of the design. This applies to a lot of different kinds of work. However, for research, in particular, it’s really important.

Usually, I don’t work with metaphor, but we wanted to do something that was meaningful for the institute and so the actual design was inspired by an electrocardiogram. The spikes of an electrocardiogram were interpreted onto the ground plane to create a landscape that ebbs and flows. Also the scientists were interested in creating a landscape that harkened back to what the site had been before it was filled in. The site was formerly part of the bay, so the plantings we proposed are grasses and plant material reminiscent of a salt marsh. There’s a movement to the grasses in the wind, which might be called romantic, but it’s also a reference to the past.

For the Lawrence Berkeley Helios Energy Research Facility, we are using patterns on scrim walls that illustrate the molecules, the bio-fuels, the lab is developing through its research. They also wanted some of the plant materials that they’re using in their research to be part of the garden, so that’s part of the design as well.

A few years ago you gave a speech at AIA on “Fostering Design Innovation Through Diversity.” What were your main arguments?

My main point was that we try and keep a diverse set of projects in our office. About half our work is high-end residential work, and the other half is institutional and commercial and affordable housing projects. What we learn on the residential side allows us to develop our craft of building things, because all our projects are built. We’re working with clients that are willing to take risks. We’re able to try things out in an area that’s safer and the risks are understood by everyone. We’re then able to apply what we’ve learned to public projects that can’t afford to take risks. The scale is different. If a plant were to fail as a mass planting, say, a plant you hadn’t tried before, that would be a big problem.

For the Portland Art Museum, those ten-foot sand-blasted glass walls were only approved because we had done eight-foot sand-blasted glass walls for a private residence. Understanding materials and learning how to build with them on a smaller scale, where there’s less liability, allows you to take those principles and apply them to more public landscapes and be more innovative.

Lastly, another ASLA award winning project, the Stone Edge Farm, features a serene uncluttered landscape and salvaged rocks. Many of your projects include salvaged materials. Do you view these as central to sustainability? How can landscape architects best use design to express values related to sustainability?

For the Stone Edge Farm project, we reused the rocks on the site to construct a stone pyramid. The stones leftover from the excavation would have had to have been hauled away.  On other projects we’ve salvaged locally harvested trees that have either blown down or had to be removed. In the Nueva School Project we reused some diseased Monterey Cypress trees that were in a parking lot of the proposed building site. We milled the wood to make sun screens to shade the windows and for decking. Those are important things to do, but not always possible. To the extent possible, we use more local materials. The environmental cost of transport is huge on projects.


How we deal with the whole rainwater cycle and drainage is probably the most important thing we can develop in terms of sustainability. For instance, on our project for the Cardiovascular Research Institute in San Francisco, the storm water and the sewage systems are one system. If we get an intense rainstorm, there is sewage overflow into the bay. Delaying the water from the peak storm event by several hours or a day can actually make a huge difference in the amount of pollution in terms of sewage overflow. We have created a large gravel reservoir under the plaza to hold the rain water and defer its outfall. It’s a LEED Gold project, and it also has a green roof, which will also help delay the storm water. Water is probably the most important thing we need to be thinking about –it’s where we can make the greatest long-term impact.

Interview conducted by Jared Green.

Image credit: (1) Christopher Irion, (2) Yalcin Erhan, (3) Marion Brenner, (4) Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture , (5) Emily Rylander

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The Emerging New York Architects Committee (ENYA) of the American Institute of Architects announced the winners of its HB:BX ideas competition, which generated concepts for an arts center that “culturally reinforces the physical connection between the Manhattan and Bronx Highbridge communities of New York City.” According to the ENYA, the competition was developed in cooperation with Artists Unite and the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and it is meant to draw attention to efforts to restore and reopen the bridge. Some $9,000 in prize money was given to the top three place winners, including $1,000 to the winning student submission. There were more than 170 submissions from 43 countries.

Winners include: 

First place: Keith VanDerSys, Marguerite Graham, Marisa Bernstein & Young-Joon Choi of Philadelphia, PA, USA. Principal, PEG office of landscape + architecture

PEG describes their winning entry: “Ripple Effect is a network of social spaces organized to entwine the cultural, environmental, and historical contexts that make Highbridge unique. Our proposal is a circuit of displays, interlacing the programs of art, recreation and landscape in order to create unique or unexpected adjacencies among them.”

Bustler offers a detailed look at PEG’s Ripple Effect idea.

2nd place: Tetsuya Kawano, Julien Boulley & Chol Pak of Paris, France.

Third place: Yekaterina Yushmanova of Albuquerque, NM, USA.  Student of Landscape Architecture, University of New Mexico

Student prize: Kristina Guist of Albuquerque, NM, USA. Student of Landscape Architecture, University of New Mexico 

ENYA said the competition would encourage emerging architects to look into how to reuse existing infrastructure. The competition asks how can “disused historic structures” be “reprogrammed into vibrant urban centers.” Competition entrants are also asked to examine the relationship between “infrastructure (aqueduct, railway, highway) and it’s urban context.”

Learn more about the winning projects.

Also, the Topos 2010 Landscape Architecture Award went to stossLU, a landscape design and planning firm led by Harvard Professor Chris Reed. Learn more about Chris Reed and his firm’s work.

Image credit: ENYA / HB:BX Competition

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What are you doing this summer? How about greening the grounds of the U.S. Mission in Geneva, Switzerland…at their expense?

Apply now to be considered for two expense-paid weeks redesigning this symbolic landscape.

ASLA has partnered with the U.S. Mission in Geneva, Switzerland, on a very special internship opportunity. The Mission is looking to “green” its grounds to demonstrate its commitment to sustainable design and showcase American design expertise. To that end, the Mission has asked ASLA to help bring a group of U.S. landscape architecture students to Geneva for two weeks to research the site; conduct a design charrette; create a five-phase, iterative implementation plan; and oversee and participate, if possible, in first steps of design implementation.

All submissions must include:

  • A resume
  • A 400-word-maximum statement of interest explaining what you hope to get out of the internship and what you feel you can contribute, including computer and language skills as well as coursework and experience
  • Three 11 X 17 samples of your design work in any style you choose.

These should be aggregated into a single PDF file labeled with “YOURNAME.Geneva” and sent to ASLA Director of Public Relations and Communications Terry Poltrack  at tpoltrack@asla.org. In addition, each applicant must have a professor submit a letter of recommendation directly to tpoltrack@asla.org with the subject line “Recommendation.YOUR NAME.”

All applications must be made digitally by COB April 30.  Only U.S. citizens can apply. ASLA organizers will then review and select up to eight students, plus four alternates.

Working internship days are August 2 through August 15, 2010. Interns selected must bring their own laptops. Students will be lodged in local homes, and a modest per diem will be paid. They will also have the opportunity to explore the city to help define context for their work.

Download Application

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Tools are needed to put sustainable design theory into practice. To complement an earlier series of thematic resource guides organized around climate change, sustainable urban development, transportation, livable communities, and green infrastructure, a new three-part “Sustainability Toolkit” series from ASLA will provide online toolkits, assessment tools, checklists, modeling software, and case studies designed to aid policymakers and design professionals roll out sustainable projects at the regional, urban, and local levels.

Part one, “Sustainability Toolkit: Environmental Models“, focuses on the environmental side of sustainability, perhaps the crucial component in sustainable projects for the built environment. The toolkit is arranged from macro- to micro-scales, beginning with sustainable regional planning, and moving to sustainable cities & communities planning, sustainable neighborhood planning, and, then finally, site-specific tools related to sustainable landscapes and green buildings.

Future parts of this series will explore the economic and social components of sustainability. Part two will further explore the economic models and part three will examine social (including community and public health) models. These will be coming over the next few months.

Go to Sustainability Toolkit: Environmental Models

The toolkit is meant to be a living guide and will only improve with your assistance. Please also send any recommendations to: info@asla.org

Image credit: Geos Net Zero Energy Neighborhood, Arvada, Colorado. David Kahn Studio, Eldorado Springs, and Michael Tavel Architects, Denver, Colorado

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The World Urban Forum, a global event organized by UN-Habitat, began this week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. More than 21,000 delegates from around the world are meeting to discuss the role cities can play in sustainable development.

For the first time, more than half of the world lives in cities. This number will only grow, argues Anna Tibaijuka, Director of UN-Habitat: “Just over half the world now lives in cities but by 2050, over 70 percent of the world will be urban dwellers. By then, only 14 percent of people in rich countries will live outside cities, and 33 percent in poor countries.” In addition,  these new urban dwellers are increasingly moving into slums. The worldwide slum population is expected to grow from one to two billion by 2030.

UN-Habitat argues that cities have the potential to be models of sustainable development.  However, if cities do not scale up and provide a range of services to new urban populations, they may fail to play a positive role in future human development.

UN-Habitat’s “State of the Cities” Report

In UN-Habitat’s new “State of the World Cities” report, a biannual review of world cities launched at the Forum, the organization says the world is moving into vast mega-city regions of more than 100 million people. The Guardian (UK) says these “‘endless cities’ could be one of the most significant developments – and problems – in the way people live and economies grow in the next 50 years.”

The report says these mega-regions do offer some benefits. Report co-author Eduardo Lopez Moreno told The Guardian: “Research shows that the world’s largest 40 mega-regions cover only a tiny fraction of the habitable surface of our planet and are home to fewer than 18 percent of the world’s population [but] account for 66 percent of all economic activity and about 85 percent of technological and scientific innovation.” Cities drive wealth creation. 

However, some cities are also contributing to the dramatic growth of sprawl, slums, and expanding income inequalities. The report authors contend:  “Cities like Los Angeles grew 45% in numbers between 1975-1990, but tripled their surface area in the same time. This sprawl is now increasingly happening in developing countries as real estate developers promote the image of a ‘world-class lifestyle’ outside the traditional city.”

Sprawl is symptomatic of a “dysfunctional city.” “It is not only wasteful, it adds to transport costs, increases energy consumption, requires more resources, and causes the loss of prime farmland.”

High levels of urban inequality also run counter to sustainability. “The more unequal that cities become, the higher the risk that economic disparities will result in social and political tension. The likelihood of urban unrest in unequal cities is high. The cities that are prospering the most are generally those that are reducing inequalities.” 

According to the report, cities with high levels of inequality include  New York, Chicago, and Washington, which were rated as less equal than “Brazzaville in Congo-Brazzaville, Managua in Nicaragua and Davao City in the Phillippines.”  In the United States, “the marginalisation and segregation of specific groups creates a city within a city. The richest 1 percent of households now earns more than 72 times the average income of the poorest 20 percent of the population. In the ‘other America’, poor black families are clustered in ghettoes lacking access to quality education, secure tenure, lucrative work and political power.”

New Sustainable Cities Initiatives

To lay out a path for sustainable urban development, UN-Habitat has also launched the World Urban Campaign. “The World Urban Campaign is a platform for public, private and civil society actors to elevate policies and share practical tools for sustainable urbanization. The success of the Campaign will be measured by more sustainable urban policies at the national level and increased investment and capital flows in support of those policies.” 

The campaign will include the “100 cities” initiative, a potentially innovative bottom-up tool for identifying urban best practices. Citiwire writes: “100 Cities will employ user-friendly web 2.0 tools to invite nominations. Anyone in a city — a mayor or corporation, a public transit official, a neighborhood activist — will be able to nominate a promising new initiative or practice. A community-based bank, for example, could apply by showing ways it’s helping the poor defend their homes against flooding.” 

Other organizations have also announced the launch of major initiatives at the Forum. The American Planning Association (APA) announced its new “Sustaining Places Initiative,” a multi-year, multi-faceted program to “define the role of planning in addressing all human settlement issues relating to sustainability.”  The APA says: “Sustaining Places will examine both how places can be sustained and how places themselves sustain life and civilizations. Planning’s comprehensive focus is not limited to a building or a site but encompasses all scales and all forms of organization of human settlements, from rural areas and small town to cities and metropolitan regions.”

UNICEF highlighted its Child-friendly Cities program, a new initiative outlining local systems of governance that are committed to fullfilling children’s rights.

A High-Level Delegation from the U.S.

To demonstrate its new focus on cities, the Obama administration has sent a 50-member high-level delegation to the Forum, including Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan and Deputy Secretary Ron Sims. The White House is represented by Adolfo Carrion, Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs. U.S. AID, State and Agriculture are also sending high-level representatives.

HUD Secretary Donovan said the Obama Administration understands that the U.S. has an “enormous stake in ensuring that countries across the globe usher in a new era of sustainable economic growth and development as well – opening new markets for green technology in American products; reversing the effects of global warming; and perhaps most importantly, ensuring that billions of families live not in despair, but in communities of choice, opportunity and hope.”

Learn more about the World Urban Forum’s agenda over the next week (large PDF).

Also, check out Next American City’s Buzz blog, which has been covering the World Urban Forum live from Rio, and earlier coverage of World Habitat Day.

Image credit: NASA

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During a panel organized by U.S. News & World Report entitled “Going Green: America’s Cities and the Role of Government,” Carol Browner, Director, Office of Energy and Climate Policy, The White House, said now that healthcare has been tackled, President Obama will focus on a comprehensive climate change and energy program. A new climate and energy plan is critical if the U.S. is to remain competitive in renewable energy. Browner said, “There has been a global clean energy revolution. How are we going to participate?”

While Waxman-Markey will not pass in the Senate, new legislative proposals are being developed by Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham that will involve direct fees or taxes on carbon instead of an economy-wide cap and trade system. The White House has been providing “technical assistance,” and the President has also visited a number of members on this issue. The Obama administration has yet to see the details of the new Kerry / Lieberman / Graham proposal, but Browner thinks we will have the “right debate on the right bill” soon.

Even if you don’t believe climate change is happening, Browner said, there are still reasons to support comprehensive climate and energy legislation. The most important reason: companies need clear market signals before they will invest further in green technologies. “The U.S. hasn’t put the right policies into place so green companies don’t know if there is a market for their products.” Browner said clear directions on renewable energy are desperately needed if the U.S. is to maintain parity with China and India. “The U.S. figured out how to create solar panels. We should be at the forefront of this global market.” 

There is enormous domestic demand for clearer regulatory standards on renewable energy. To prove her point, Browner said there were some $2.3 billion in renewable energy recovery grants available, but the administration received more than $5 billion in requests, demonstrating “pent-up demand.” Browner also said clear regulations are needed to move markets in greener directions. The EPA has done this before sucessfully. “The EPA set the standards for catalytic converters. Once we did this, there was a race to meet the requirements. One firm that took advantage and won that race is now a global leader for that technology.” In the same way, if rules are set on carbon, firms will find opportunities to innovate and make money. 

An agreement on car efficiency standards will be finalized this week, meaning that cars will need to hit 35 mpg by 2020. The new rules are expected to help reduce GHGs released from cars. Browner cited the key role of the EPA’s endangerment finding. “We needed the endangerment finding to get an agreement. This was a scientific finding, not a regulatory or political decision.” The recent Supreme Court decision allowing the EPA to regulate CO2 emissions from cars if they found they endanger public health laid the foundation for these new car rules.

The decision, Browner said, also enables the EPA to “move into other areas” of CO2 emissions. Through the EPA, “we can take on other emitters beyond cars.” However, Browner argues that comprehensive legislation on Capitol Hill was favorable to EPA movement on regulating all sources of CO2 emissions.

While others have been critical of expensive carbon capture and sequestration schemes, Browner said this was a possible solution for mitigating the adverse environmental effects of coal-generated power. “Coal is going to be part of our energy mix for a long time. We need to invest in technologies to make coal production cleaner.” 

On water, Browner concurred with an audience member who said “energy consumes water and water consumes energy.” She said there are more efficient ways to treat water, namely preventing pollution from going in in the first place. “We spend lots of money polluting water, and then lots more to take out the pollution.”

In contrast to the critics of the UNFCCC Copenhagen meeting, she thought it was a success because it was the first time India and China have released detailed GHG emission reduction plans. To participate in the next stages of the process, the U.S. “must get its own house in order.” This is not only needed to reach a global agreement, but also to create more domestic jobs. “We need a whole new generation of jobs.”

Watch a video of Browner’s remarks.

Image credit: Inhabitat

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The New York Times
highlights a new technology that turns carbon dioxide emissions from coal and gas power plants into the basic inputs for cement. Calera, the Silicon Valley start-up creating the approach, has received some $50 million in financial support from venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. Peabody Energy, one of the world’s largest coal company, has put $15 million into the idea. While still relatively small numbers compared to overall investments in fossil fuel-related technologies, these first funds signify growing investment in turning CO2 into a reusable, non-polluting resource.

Calera will combine CO2 with “seawater or groundwater brine, which contain calcium, magnesium and oxygen. It is left with calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate, which are used in making cement and aggregate. It plans to sell it to concrete companies for use in pavement.” To convince building manufacturers that their material is safe, Calera’s CO2-embedded cement is being mixed with Portland cement, the “calcium silicate” binder used in concrete for buildings and transportation infrastructure.  Turning CO2 into building materials will make “carbon reduction attractive,” argues Brent Constantz, Calera’s founder and chief executive.

Coal power plants are major emitters of CO2 emissions. Cement production also contributes large amounts. Creating a cycle wherein the coal plants’ waste becomes feedstock for cement will help kill two birds with one stone. Vinod Khosla said: “With this technology, coal can be cleaner than solar and wind, because they can only be carbon-neutral.”

R.W. Beck examined Calera’s process and determined that its cement process captured 86 percent of CO2 from a flue gas in one power plant. Seawater and flue gas CO2 are the two key inputs into the process; cement, waste seawater, and a harmful acid are the putputs. The waste sea water that comes out of the tail end of the process can be de-salinated, but the acid, if produced in bulk, could create environmental problems, writes The New York Times. “Much of the skepticism about the project stems from the acid created in Calera’s chemical process. It has to find a way to dispose of it or neutralize it by adding alkaline materials, without creating more environmental problems or raising costs.”

Some scientists raise doubts the firm can pull it off, arguing that the idea has been explored for more than 15 years. There have been earlier failures, largely due to the costs involved. Beyond the costs of the actual process, infrastructure costs associated with scaling this up (and dealing with potentially massive amounts of that toxic acid) also need to be addressed. Ken Caldeira, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford, says: “The idea that they’re going to come up with something that’s both economic and scalable? I’m highly skeptical.”

But other options are also very expensive. Carbon capture and sequestration demonstration projects all show that these projects are multi-billion dollar undertakings. Injecting CO2 into the ground may not be stable in many parts of the world. (see earlier post)

On Calera’s web site, the firm outlines their initial target markets, which mostly involve infrastructure: “We will first introduce our [...] materials into applications such as pavements and road base course. We will be introducing SCM into applications such as pavers, non-structural block, other miscellaneous precast products, sidewalks, and other similar applications.”

Read the article

Also, check out another technology that would reuse waste products while reducing CO2 emissions.  MIT Technology Review discusses a new process that would turn cellulose from agricultural waste into gasoline and jet fuel. “The process is one of a number of new technologies that make conventional fuels such as gasoline and diesel from biomass rather than petroleum.”

Image credit: Calera

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