U.S. Representative Blumenauer’s Call to Action: 1,000 Local Public Forums on Livable Communities

U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (Democrat-Oregon) sponsored legislation to improve mobility, reduce miles traveled in cars, and cut down C02 emissions. The Clean, Low-Emission, Affordable New Transportation Efficiency Act (CLEAN TEA) would require communities with more than 200,000 inhabitants to revise transporation plans with efficiency and climate change mitigation goals in mind. Under the draft legislation, new plans would need to include clear strategies for reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and, once approved by the U.S. Department of Treasury and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), be integrated into existing regional and local transportation plans. The goal is to create alternatives to using a car to travel short distances, such as walking, riding a bike or using a street car, thereby reducing C02 emissions from the transportation sector.  (Transportation accounts for approximately 30 percent of C02 emissions). 

Projects could include: sidewalks, pedestrian crosswalks, bike lanes, greenways, ‘intelligent transportation systems,’ and highways (if re-designed to cut down the number of miles traveled). In comments to ASLA representatives, Congressman Blumenauer also highlighted the need for new street cars and light rail, and brought up the Tempe Arizona light rail system as a success story. The Tempe light rail has led to 6.5 billion in real estate development along the rail line, says Blumenauer.

Under the proposed legislation, 15 percent of funds would go the development of plans; 80 percent to the implementation of projects; and 5 percent to administration. Some design advocacy organizations think the fact that the legislation explicitly includes planning funds is a major plus. In addition, public forums and planning sessions would be required before changes are made in local communities to avoid “decisions by bureaucrats.” As part of his plan, Blumenauer called for “1,000 local community forums across the U.S. to discuss how to make communities more livable.”  He also said all designers (architects, landscape architects, engineers, urban planners) need to be involved in these forums, and dedicated to “reducing emissions through the built environment.”

Funds for CLEAN TEA would come out of proceeds from the allowance auction established through a national cap and trade system, which was recently proposed in the Waxman-Markey climate change legislation.

Learn more at Transportation for America and also check out the Complete Streets Coalition, which is also focused on creating “safe access” for all transportation users and “walkable, smart growth communities,” while cutting down C02 emissions.  The Complete Streets Coalition noted that California recently passed a ‘Complete Streets Act,’ which now applies to all new transportation work.

Image credit: San Francisco Foundation

Plans for China’s Eco-Cities Scaled Back

A number of planned ‘eco-cities’ in China have been scrapped or scaled back due to concerns about their design or implementation. According to Environment 360, from Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, one major project — Dongtan Eco-City on Chongming Island, off Shanghai, was highlighted as a sort of utopian green city, but a new mayor in Shanghai may mean the project is on hold indefinitely. In another project cited by Environment 360, the Huangbaiyu project in northeast China’s Liaoning province, a small village was to be transformed into a more energy-efficient community. Instead, much of the original plan was abandoned because of a mismatch between the original plans and actual materials on the ground. Additionally, many residents either couldn’t afford the new residencies, or believe they didn’t fit their lifestyle.

Environment 360 said: “Dongtan and other highly touted eco-cities across China were meant to be models of sustainable design for the future. Instead they’ve become models of bold visions that mostly stayed on the drawing boards — or collapsed from shoddy implementation. More often than not, these vaunted eco-cities have been designed by big-name foreign architectural and engineering firms who plunged into the projects with little understanding of Chinese politics, culture, and economics — and with little feel for the needs of local residents whom the utopian communities were designed to serve.”

Environment 360 argues that the lack of local participation in design created problems for the Huangbaiyu project. “Part of the vision was to use special hay and pressed-earth bricks for construction. Unfortunately, of the first 42 homes completed in 2006, only a handful were built with the custom bricks. As the magazine Ethical Corporation has reported, cost overruns made the homes unaffordable to many villagers. In other instances, although homes were available, the farmers refused to live in them, complaining that the new yards weren’t large enough to raise animals and sustain a livelihood. Some of the homes in Huangbaiyu were built with garages, although villagers don’t have cars. Among the problems besetting the project were “technical inexperience, faulty materials, lack of oversight, and poor communication.”

While corruption in the Shanghai government is seen as playing a role in ending the Dongtan project, some Chinese environmentalists place part of the blame on the shoulders of international consulting, planning, and architectural firms, which have all been involved in conceiving or planning eco-cities in China. In the article, Wen Bo, a Beijing-based environmentalist and co-director of Pacific Environment’s China programs, said less ambitious plans may have a more positive impact: “Enforceable green building codes, with the designers’ and planners’ willingness to follow them, is very important. Such grand eco-city plans themselves are not eco-friendly.”

Read the article

Also, check out an ASLA analysis and planning honor award project by SWA group on Chongming Island, the greater island where the planned Dongtan eco-city would have been located. The SWA project focused on restoring the critical wetlands and ecology of the North Lake region of the island, and is separate from the Dongtan eco-city project. In reference to the relationship between the eco-city and the island’s ecology, The Economist, in a recent article on Dongtan, wrote: “critics point out that building an eco-city on farms near hugely important wetlands, which attract rare migrating birds (and birdwatchers), was always dubious.”

Image credit: SWA Group

Two New Pavilions in Chicago’s Millennium Park

Two new pavilions to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Burnham’s plan for Chicago will open in mid-June in Millennium Park. Designed by Zaha Hadid, the internationally-renowned architect, and Ben Van Berkel of Amsterdam’s UN Studio, the pavilions will be the focal points of the 1909 plan celebrations. According to the Chicago Tribune, each will cost about USD 500,000, and will include donated materials–“spare change compared to The Bean’s $23 million tab.”

Zaha Hadid, the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, designed a pavilion that displays educational videos on Chicago’s urban development. The pavilion calls for a “tapering, aluminum-framed pavilion clad in an elastic, silvery-gray tent fabric with oblong slits for skylights. Visitors will be able to walk through ground-level openings in the structure and watch video art about the Chicago area’s past and future projected on fabric walls.”
Van Berkel’s pavilion has created an “open form in which a flat canopy will soar outward from three scoop-like supports that rise from a broad platform. Plywood with a high-gloss white paint will wrap the pavilion’s steel frame and will be splashed with colorful nighttime lighting. Openings in the scoops will offer peek-a-boo views of nearby skyscrapers.”  Van Berkel’s pavilion will be demolished and recycled after the centennial celebration, while Hadid’s will be auctioned-off.

Read the article
Learn more about the Burnham plan for Chicago at the Centennial Committee web site

Image credit: Chicago Tribune

C02 Emission Reductions Under Waxman-Markey

The World Resources Institute (WRI) analyzed the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that would be reduced through the recently introduced Waxman-Markey Climate Change legislation, “The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.” According to WRI, the 640-plus page legislative proposal could yield a range of CO2 reductions, depending on which scenario is enacted. WRI separated the elements of the proposal into three main scenarios:  

  • First scenario: Total emission reductions under just the two proposed emissions caps (the cap on hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) consumption and the economy-wide cap).
  • Second scenario: Total emission reductions under the caps and all other complementary requirements, including emission performance standards for uncapped sources and required components of the supplemental reduction program through 2025.
  • Third scenario: A range of potential additional reductions that could be achieved through the 1.25 offset requirement and supplemental reductions beyond 2025.

WRI found the effects of the scenarios to be the following:

  • The pollution caps proposed in the Waxman-Markey Discussion Draft (WM-DD) would reduce total GHG emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 73 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.
  • When all complementary requirements of the WM-DD are considered in addition to the caps, GHG emissions would be reduced 31 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 76 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.
  • When additional potential emission reductions are considered, the WM-DD could achieve maximum reductions of up to 38 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and up to 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. The actual amount of reductions will depend on the quantity of offsets used for compliance.

The massive legislation proposes new standards and funds for clean energy, including a renewable energy standard, a low carbon fuel standard for clean transportation, funds for a smart grid, and transmission lines; new energy efficiency rules for buildings, cars, lighting and appliances; global warming reduction targets and timetables, including a CO2 cap; mandatory reporting on carbon emissions, with the goal of getting data on more than 84 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S.; carbon market oversight (to avoid unregulated carbon market derivative trading); C02 emission allowance trading, and a plan for determining how the estimated USD 600 plus billion earned from allowances could be allocated; and off-sets (both domestic and international).

The proposed legislation also focuses on carbon sequestration and capture, new relationships between Federal and state regulators (including harmonization between California’s more stringent motor vehicle emission standards and those of the U.S. as a whole) and new government architecture (a National Climate Change Adaptation Council and other bodies) to manage climate change mitigation. WRI also offers a detailed (8 page) summary on the legislation.

This past week, the Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment heard from 60 plus experts on elements in the draft climate change bill. Steven Chu, U.S. Energy Secretary, Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the E.P.A, who spoke in front of the committee yesterday, said the ambitious energy and climate-change proposal could help create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the New York Times said they stopped short of endorsing it, and continue to review the details. The New York Times sees Democrat- Republican agreement on the distribution of funds from allowances (estimated at USD 600 plus billion) as central to passing the legislation.

Today, Former Vice President Al Gore, Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and representatives from major firms, business associations and environmental organizations offer their testimony. 

Image credit: WRI

GSA Design Awards for Landscape Architecture

The U.S. Government General Services Administration gives design awards for government architecture every two years, focusing on “work that reflected not simply exceptional architecture or sustainability or construction but married design, art, and construction.” The 2008 GSA Design Award winners were recently announced. The landscape architecture firm, OLIN, received a citation for its work on the Celebrezze Federal Building Plaza in Cleveland, Ohio.

GSA said of the project: “Social interaction and urban connectivity have been relatively non-existent over the past four decades at the Celebrezze Federal Building plaza. Now, after its transformation into an urban forest in a city of open lawn, the plaza is both a connection and destination that will evolve and grow with the city around it. Designed to complement Daniel Burnham’s downtown plan for stately civic buildings flanking a great lawn, the new plaza provides a variety of spaces for citizens to occupy while creating pathways that link city destinations.”

Other award winners include Morphosis for its Federal Government building in San Francisco, and Moshe Sadie and Associates for its U.S. Courthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts. 

Read more about the OLIN project and see the full list (pdf)
Photo credit: GSA

Brazilian Building as ‘Living, Breathing Organism’

Triptyque, an architecture firm with offices in France and Brazil, designed Harmonia 57, a low-rise building in Sao Paulo, which “sprouts a carefully edited mosaic of flowers, ferns, vines and grasses, inserted into earth-filled holes.” According to Azure magazine, the architects behind the project see it as “brutish, with a primitive inelegance.”

Despite its brutishness, the building uses a well-thought-out water management system. “The rainwater that’s not absorbed by the green roofs (about 50 per cent) flows down into three cylindrical tanks in the garden, which act as cisterns and filters. From there it flows into a larger reservoir where it is periodically ozonated, and ultimately it is pumped up to a rooftop tank to supply the building’s non-potable requirements and irrigation system. For irrigation, the water travels through lime-green pipes running along the building’s external walls; the pipes are punctuated by sprinkler heads that emit a mist of water vapour at even intervals. It’s as if the guts of the building have been turned inside out, creating a living, breathing organism with pulsating tubular arteries and an ever-changing green skin.”

The architects argue the building is not a ‘green building.’ According to Azure, water is driven through the exterior tubes by electric pumps because solar panels or other green solutions were viewed as too costly. The architects said: “Rather than being seen as eco-friendly, we are more interested in exploring the freedom that comes with building in São Paulo, a city that is still growing.”

Read the article and see more photos

Image credit: Azure Magazine

Serpentine Pavilion’s Sheet of Floating Aluminium

The Serpentine Gallery in London has announced the design of this year’s ‘summer folly,’ its pavilion in Hyde Park. The pavilion was designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA; previous years’ designs were done by Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry.

Sejima and Nishizawa describe the pavilion as a sheet of “floating aluminium, drifting freely between the trees like smoke.” SANAA worked with structural design and engineering firms to implement the design. “It works as a field of activity with no walls, allowing views to extend uninterrupted across the park and encouraging access from all sides. It is a sheltered extension of the park where people can read, relax and enjoy lovely summer days.”

Read the article

Also, check out Chicago’s Millennium Park pavilions, commissioned for the centennial celebration of Burnham’s 1909 plan. Designed by Zaha Hadid and UN Studio, the new pavilions are already earning a variety of nicknames.

Image credit: Icon Magazine

Vatican To Become First Solar-Powered State

wrote about the Holy See’s new solar power plant, which will cost some EUR 500 million, and be Europe’s largest. The 100 megawatt photovoltaic installation will put the Vatican, the world’s smallest state, in the lead among countries deriving power from solar energy. According to Inhabitat, the installation will provide enough power for all of its 40,000 households, radio station, which is heard worldwide, and exports to Italy. The Vatican is being advised by German solar-panel maker Solarworld AG, which earlier donated $1.5 million for solar panels that cover the 6,300-seat dome used for the pope’s weekly audiences.

The installation will be located on a 740 acre site near Santa Maria di Galeria, where the Vatican Radio’s transmission tower is located. Santa Maria di Galeria was donated to the Vatican by the Italian government. According to Bloomberg News, Solarworld said: “The Vatican hasn’t decided how much to rely on photovoltaic panels, which turn sunlight directly into electricity, and on thermal devices that heat water for generators.” In 2014, the massive solar / thermal power plant is expected to start exporting power to Italy, which will create revenue for the Vatican and clean solar power for Italian energy users. The solar station will also help cut down the Vatican’s current CO2 footprint. “The solar station planned there should reduce about 91,000 tons of carbon-dioxide emissions a year that otherwise would have been produced by fossil-fuel generators.”

The Vatican sees the economic downturn as an opportunity. According to Bloomberg News,“Now is the time to strike,” Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican City’s governor, said in an interview from his study overlooking the Michelangelo-designed Basilica of St. Peter’s. “One should take advantage of the crisis to try and develop these renewable-energy sources to the maximum, which in the long run will reap incomparable rewards.” This is also a part of the pope’s on-going effort on environmental issues.  “The Germany-born Benedict has been outspoken on environmental issues since becoming pope in 2005.” Many major religious leaders have initiated campaigns in the past few years to spur action on climate change.

Read the Inhabitat and Bloomberg News articles

Image credit: Inhabitat

Toronto Considers Mandatory Green Roofs for Some Building Types

The City of Toronto is considering a new green roof by-law that would make green roof installations mandatory on certain kinds of new developments with floor space more than 54,000 square feet. The proposal requires the greening of 30 to 60 percent of roofs, depending on building size. If passed, this would be the first green roof law in North America. According to the New York Times Green Inc blog, “similar requirements exist in Japan, Switzerland, Germany and France.” Steven Peck, President and founder of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, an industry association based in Toronto, thinks the measure will pass. “We have a very broad base of support for this,” he said to Green Inc.

However, developers have opposed the measure, causing delays in voting on the by-law. Developers say green roof construction could add USD 18 – 28 per square foot to building costs. Green Inc says subsidies and by-laws aren’t the only mechanisms for spurring the development of green roofs: German municipalities now use new storm water taxes, which are levied separately from sewer taxes. “This distinction provides owners with an incentive to take steps to contain storm water on site, including installing green roofs. [The International Green Roof Association] I.G.R.A. says homeowners with such improvements can recoup 50 to 100 percent of the levy.”

Often, local or state governments provide grants or tax abatements to developers or building owners that install green roofs. Green roof supporters say they “improve insulation and roof life, absorb greenhouse gases and mitigate the urban heat island effect.”

Read the article
Read the City of Toronto Final Report on the By-law

Black Carbon, or Soot, a Source of Global Warming

Black Carbon, or soot, has been indentified as the number two source of global warming, after carbon dioxide (CO2). According to The New York Times, soot accounts for up to 18 percent of the planet’s warming, in comparison with CO2, which is seen causing 40 percent. Decreasing soot emissions by replacing wood-burning cooking stoves with more efficient models in developing countries may be a quick-win in bringing down global temperatures. “Decreasing black carbon emissions would be a relatively cheap way to significantly rein in global warming — especially in the short term, climate experts say. Replacing primitive cooking stoves with modern versions that emit far less soot could provide a much-needed stopgap, while nations struggle with the more difficult task of enacting programs and developing technologies to curb carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.”

Soot particles have a powerful impact because, being dark in color, they absorb heat. As they move from developing countries and settle in cold polar regions, they land on ice and speed melting. The New York Times writes: “One recent study estimated that black carbon might account for as much as half of Arctic warming. While the particles tend to settle over time and do not have the global reach of greenhouse gases, they do travel, scientists now realize. Soot from India has been found in the Maldive Islands and on the Tibetan Plateau; from the United States, it travels to the Arctic. The environmental and geopolitical implications of soot emissions are enormous.”

Limiting the amount of soot in the atmosphere could also have rapid, positive effects. “Unlike carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for years, soot stays there for a few weeks. Converting to low-soot cookstoves would remove the warming effects of black carbon quickly, while shutting a coal plant takes years to substantially reduce global CO2 concentrations.” However, getting rid of the small, inefficient wood-burning stoves in countries like India is a challenge. There are millions spread throughout villages, replacements cost money, and food cooked on high-tech solar stoves doesn’t taste the same.

Read the article
Watch a photo slideshow

Photo credit: Adam Ferguson for The New York Times