Cities Move from Sustainable to ‘Climate Positive’ Development

During a National Building Museum symposium on the state of planning in the U.S., Professor David Godschalk, Professor, City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, discussed the need to initiate “positive development” strategies in cities in the near future. Godschalk argued that the U.S. must initiate a “visionary positive development strategy” through which cities contribute energy back to the grid. Instead of sustainably consuming energy, cities must become net producers of energy.

Godschalk said in order to move “from mitigation to production” new concepts will be needed. “We need new ++ development standards,” to quantify how much new clean air, energy, and biodiversity is generated by productive green buildings, and urban farms. Cities would need to provide 125 percent of its citizens’ energy needs and capture 125 percent of CO2 emissions. Mandatory water recycling, designated growth plans, the re-integration of planning, social and environmental sciences, and city “greenprints” will help ensure positive development.

In the same vein, the Climate Climate Initiative along with USGBC announced the launch of the “Climate Positive Development Program.” According to CCI, “the program will support the development of large-scale urban projects that demonstrate cities can grow in ways that are ‘climate positive.’ Climate positive real estate developments will strive to reduce the amount of on-site CO2 emissions to below zero. Sixteen founding projects on six continents, supported by local governments and property developers, will demonstrate Climate Positive strategies, setting a compelling environmental and economic example for cities to follow.” The City of Toronto’s Lower Dons Waterfront project was selected as one of the founding projects.

Read more about the first set of 16 projects

Image credit: Waterfront Toronto

8 thoughts on “Cities Move from Sustainable to ‘Climate Positive’ Development

  1. Lex 06/03/2009 / 11:12 am

    “Climate positive real estate developments will strive to reduce the amount of on-site CO2 emissions to below zero.”

    There is no number below zero. Once you hit zero you can’t go any lower.

    BTW, how are cities going to generate all their own power? I assume fossil fuel generators and nukes are out. That leaves wind, solar, and hydroelectric.

    Wind and solar need lots of land which cities don’t have. Hydro would require massive dams which have their own negative consequences and which in any case are usually unsuitable for geographic reasons.

  2. coop 06/03/2009 / 8:37 pm

    Hi Lex,

    There are numbers below zero. But I suppose what they mean is that the city will somehow absorb more C02 than it generates – however unlikely that is…

    Wind is not a good idea for most places, but there is a lot of unused real estate for solar, both PV and HW. Large buildings can be re-skinned, not just for insulation improvements, but to add active surfaces, such as PV arrays.

    See the linked document (Retrofitting the Built Space)

    There are thousands or roofs that could also be used to support solar arrays to generate electricity. All is needed is a SmartGrid to properly manage and transport the generated electricity. Sounds like a good way to spend government (our) money – that is the economic stimulation package.

  3. Lex 06/04/2009 / 1:09 pm

    I agree that there are extensive opportunities for solar power in cities but I think it’s completely unrealistic to think that they would result in a city becoming energy self sufficient, let alone a power exporter. Solar panels produce a relatively low yield of electricity in relation to their size.

    That said, I’d like to see the building and tax codes revised to make solar panels more attractive. Just because they aren’t a complete solution doesn’t mean they aren’t worthwhile. As I recall Germany has a program like this in place now.

  4. Mollie 06/04/2009 / 4:31 pm

    Other ways to get closer to negative CO2 are: use less energy (drive less, use more efficient appliances, grow a garden so that less food is shipped to you, buy food that comes from nearby–and is in season) and cultivate more vegetation to absorb the CO2.

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