Field Operations Proposes Downtown Cleveland Revamp

Fast Company writes about a recent proposal to revitalize downtown Cleveland through a new park. Two Cleveland non-profits, Parkworks and the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, commissioned James Corner Field Operations to create a set of downtown revitalization proposals. Both organization hope to use the proposals to build overwhelming public support for downtown revitalization and, hopefully, gain financial commitments from the city.  Fast Company writes: “If you’ve ever been to Cleveland, you know the downtown area is a forbidding, pedestrian desert. The main public space, Public Square, is no better–it’s a wind-scarred, 10-acre expanse flanked by skyscrapers.”

To create a new public square park, Field Operations proposes to join together a “patchwork of paved islands” into an unified park. To unify the space, Field Operations offered a few ideas: a frame, a forest, or a “thread.” The thread won the most support from the sponsors — it will include a “biomorphic ramp that would rise 20 feet above the roadway below,” creating unique perspectives of the city, much like Field Operations’ High Line Park in New York City (see earlier post).

Parkworks and the Downtown Cleveland Alliance think a new Field Operations-designed park can bring in people, shops, and also increase real estate values. A new park could lead to more valuable downtown real estate, and, therefore, higher property taxes. Increased property tax revenue could then be used to finance the park.  

In January, the design proposals will be on view for the public.

Read the article and see more images. Check out James Corner Field Operation’s design proposals (big file – 7.5MB)

Also, check out ArchNewsNow‘s report on the last twenty years of downtown Pittsburgh’s revitalization efforts, which focus on the river. Michael A. Stern, ASLA, LEED AP, writes: “The population of the City of Pittsburgh peaked at more than 700,000 inhabitants right after World War II, but now hovers at around 320,000, and continues a slow decline. Moreover, the whole Pittsburgh metropolitan area has seen a significant population decline as well, as the earthquake effect of the disappearance of the steel industry continues to send aftershocks through the region some 25 years later. But Pittsburgh – and Downtown in particular – has unique assets and history that continue to maintain a healthy urban core.”

Image credit: Field Operations / Fast Company

ICLEI USA Launches Sustainability Planning Toolkit

ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability USA recently launched a comprehensive step-by-step toolkit to guide cities and localities through the process of greening their communities. Taking inspiration from New York City’s highly-regarded PlaNYC 2030, the guide was created with the New York Mayor’s Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability. The toolkit is includes checklists, best practices, templates, and guidelines — detailed how-to’s for local officials. ICLEI USA includes 600 city, county and town members; their international group has 1,107 member towns, cities and counties in 67 countries.

Don Knapp, ICLEI USA’s communications officer, told “Our toolkit is a roadmap to guide any local government, big or small, through the process of creating a sustainability plan.  Staff from ICLEI’s local government members have been telling us how eager they are for a resource like this toolkit, because creating a sustainability plan can be a complex and lengthy endeavor.”

Knapp added: “There are so many steps to go through, so many individual initiatives to consider, so many stakeholders to involve, and it’s hard to know where to begin. Municipal staff didn’t want to have to reinvent the wheel and create their own process from scratch, especially when their resources and manpower are often so limited. Fortunately, big cities like New York have acted as the trailblazer.”

Worldchanging offered positive reviews: “Anyone already familiar with the Cities for Climate Protection program will recognize the hallmark ICLEI approach of dividing up complex problems into a series of manageable milestones. While Climate change is still a key focus, the toolkit shows how to couple emissions reductions with wins in other areas like reducing poverty, preventing sprawl, or diversifying the local economy. The core of the kit is a step-by-step planning guide that takes you from how to hire a sustainability coordinator to how to design, implement and monitor a local sustainability plan. Accompanying the guide, the toolkit includes a collection of model documents, inventorying software, and even sample job descriptions for municipalities just beginning their push toward sustainability.” 

The guide may also help break down the inter-governmental silos that prevent effective collaboration and help spur the development of comprehensive local sustainability plans: “the trouble with sustainability, or climate change more specifically, is that they are everybody’s problem, but nobody’s responsibility. They don’t fit nicely into the division of labor that has kept our cities running in the past. They also ask departments that don’t talk much (and may not get along all that well) to work together to get things done. It may seem unlikely, but often those dynamics (more than a lack of political will, or money, or knowledge) are why cities don’t green-up more quickly. Given that, it’s great to see at the core of ICLEI’s new toolkit, a detailed section on team-building, overcoming divisions between departments, and engaging the public.”

Strong leadership from the Mayor’s office is key, but the whole community must be involved: “Their key points are strong: manage sustainability centrally (preferably from the mayor’s office), bring representatives from all departments on-board, and open up the process to the community. No city has the resources to address sustainability and climate change on their own. If it is going to happen it has to be a shared project that makes the most of the expertise and skills of the local community.”

The guide includes a set of milestones local governments must progress through:

Milestone 1: Conduct a sustainability assessment
Milestone 2: Establish sustainability goals
Milestone 3: Develop a local sustainability plan
Milestone 4: Implement policies and measures
Milestone 5: Evaluate progress and report results

ICLEI USA also offers the STAR Community Index, which will formally launch in 2011. The STAR Community Index is a tool that helps communities gauge their sustainability and livability.

Read the article and download the toolkit.

Federal Stimulus Will Fund Portland’s 250-foot-tall Green Wall

The west side of the 18-story Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building is getting a 250-foot-tall green wall, writes The Washington Post. The western wall is also 150 feet long, making the expanse about “three-quarters the size of an NFL playing field, minus the end zones.” The federal building’s new wall is part of a $135 million remodeling mostly funded by federal stimulus funds. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) (see earlier post on GSA’s Design Awards) seeks to create a “landmark high-performance building.” According to The Washington Post, it’s the largest stimulus project in Oregon.

SERA Architects, the design firm for the building, will create seven vertical “vegetated fins” that will “jut at acute angles.” The fins act as a trellis and provide the foundation for the plantings.  The architects are still working out which plants will grow well 250-feet in the air, and how to fertilize, water, and prune at those heights. High-rise pruners may be deployed in the same way skyscrapers get window washers. Additionally, rainwater will be collected on the roof and an elaborate irrigation system will water the wall.

The wall helps create a new look for an unloved “modernist, International style” federal building created in the 1970’s. In addition to removing and replacing the facade, the GSA will add new energy-efficiency features: “Elevators that generate electricity on the way down, solar arrays on the roof, smart lighting systems that adjust to the daylight available, using some of the collected rainwater to flush toilets.” Construction is expected to take 30-40 months.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities told The Washington Post: “The GSA has been a real leader in the use of green roofs and walls. It’s nice to see the government leading by example.”

Read the article and see the FedBizOpportunities details about the project.

Also, check out a book by Patrick LeBlanc, a green wall artist, who’s Athenaeum Hotel in London features a rich 8-story tall green wall (see earlier post).

Image credit: Baumberger Studio / SERA Architects / GSA

How to Expand Urban Agriculture

The National Building Museum’s well-known “For the Greener Good” series featured a panel on urban agriculture, including Josh Viertel, President, Slow Food USA, Liz Falk, Director and co-Founder, Washington D.C.-based Common Good City Farm, and Steve Cohen, food policy and programs, City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. The panel was moderated by Allison Arieff, Food and Shelter Ambassador, GOOD and “By Design” columnist, The New York Times.  

Chase Rynd, Executive Director, National Building Museum, framed the discussion by saying how and where we produce food has an enormous ecological impact. “How we produce, transport, and store food has a huge impact. Food is directly related to the built environment.” Because of industrial food systems, people are losing their connection with nature. Bringing vegetable gardens back to communities, shortening food transportation times (and lowering the environmental costs of food transportation), can help improve the urban environment and make communities more engaging and “aesthetically pleasing.”

Allison Arieff, the moderator, asked a set of questions:

Do we need farms in urban areas?

Josh Viertel, President, Slow Food U.S.A.: Yes, local urban food is more sustainable. It also helps create new connections to the land in cities — “learning connections” that create better environmentalists who are stewards of the land.

Liz Falk, Director and co-Founder, Common Good City Farm: There are no downsides, except, possibly, rats. But if you plan well and compost, you won’t get rodents.

Steve Cohen, food policy and programs, Portland Oregon’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability: There is now a disconnect with food in urban areas. In many cities, you can’t grow food outside your door. Eating food you’ve grown yourself is a visceral experience. We need to look at government land for urban food production as well.

Is there a viable business model for urban agriculture?

Arieff noted that there are more than 100 urban farms throughout San Francisco, which have formed into neighborhood farm collectives. However, the business model failed. People have gotten invested, but there isn’t enough money in this. Does urban agriculture need to move towards a non-profit model?

Liz Falk: We need to connect the dots between schools, chefs, farmers, and local residents. We need to work collaboratively. There are lots of job opportunities. Non-profits can turn into businesses. Urban farmers can also produce higher value jams, tea, etc.

Steve Cohen: There are lots of models out there. Philadelphia’s SPIN farming is a great model that allows for 3-4 planting seasons. You can plant over and over again. In other cities, small backyard farmers are delivering produce by bicycle. Some organizations come into your garden and provide advice on what to plant (for a fee) or even farm your yard for you. For one organization, they add one employee for every 75 urban farms they work on.

Josh Viertel: Van Jones recently said urban farm jobs stink, so he was not going to promote a push for urban farming jobs on Capitol Hill. In Viertel’s own experience with an urban farm, he made some $11,000 per year working 90 hour weeks. The business model didn’t work for him.

How do we create more viable partnerships with businesses, government?

Liz Falk: Our food programs for low-income residents in Washington, D.C. require partnering with the communities. We get feedback from the community and see what works. Micro-credit to expand micro-enterprises, a model created by Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen Bank, can work for moving low-income urban residents into farming.

Josh Viertel: Does urban farming have to create a profit? Parks don’t turn a profit but they provide valuable environmental services. Urban agriculture has a public health value, can provide a carbon sink, store waste water. These farming spaces can provide a range of hard-to-quantify services.

Q & A: What about green roofs and urban agriculture?

Liz Falk: Washington D.C. has an innovative green roof incentive program — turning existing roofs into green roofs will get you a $5-per square foot rebate. You can add vegetable gardens on these green roofs. There are lots of opportunities to put farming on roofs.

Steve Cohen: There are lots of successful examples. Green roofs have usually been used to capture stormwater runoff. They can be used for food production — these goals are complimentary.

Josh Viertel: Moving from impermeable to permeable and dark to green roofs is a good thing.

What about residual soil toxicity?

Josh Viertel: You need to test your site before you plant. If the soil is toxic, you can plant above the soil or truck in new soil. If the soil is really toxic, you can remove the soil and replace, which is expensive.

Liz Falk: Mushrooms are great at removing pollutants. There are other plants that can also decrease soil toxicity.

In many cities, urban agriculture breaks local zoning codes. What is the best way to reform zoning codes?

Liz Falk: In Montgomery country, Maryland, the council is currently reviewing zoning changes that will enable the use of yards for urban farming. However, there has been pushback — it’s a wealthy county. It’s important to find allies in government councils.

Allison Arieff: Home resale value is hugely important, and lawns are important for this. Many people don’t care about their lawns but think it’s important for increasing the resale value. Perhaps resale value has become less of an issue with housing prices falling? This may create new opportunities for urban farming.

Josh Viertel: There are now millions of people planting urban farms in the U.S.. The trend is up 35 percent over the past year. 15 percent of the U.S. now has a backyard garden. Out of a country of more than 300 million people, this is a huge trend.

The panelists made a range of other points:

More than 50 percent of food is now wasted. Composting needs to be increased. The overall food system needs to incorporate and reuse food waste. “We are throwing away a huge resource.” In San Francisco, more than 70 percent of food waste is now composted. The local government has realized there is money in this. Additionally, yard waste — leaves, which are just raked into the street and end up clogging gutters, are a huge resource. Wood chips from felled trees can also be used for urban gardens.

To move from unsustainable lawn practices, which require toxic fertilizers and other products, to productive urban farming landscapes, localities can inhibit the purchase of lawn products that have negative environmental effects. “We can also vote with our dollars.”

The food system currently hurts the poor and people of color the most, but these people aren’t going to farmers’ markets and buying locally-produced food. The Slow Food movement needs to broaden its appeal. The selling points need to be: this food is good for your kids and doesn’t hurt the environment. We need to address food and security. Local solutions need to be bottom-up, not top-down, and not funded by some outside foundation.

Food is the “gateway drug” to sustainability. We can access these markets through kids in schools first, then parents. Local, healthy food creates positive externalities.

Detroit has so much open space and they’ve created networks of local community gardens.  There are two models at work in Detroit: huge farmers across many small plots and small independent farmers. Some smaller farmers resent the growth of large-scale farming in Detroit.

Urban agriculture may place pressure on urban water systems. Water is becoming the “next oil,” a resource hard to come by and expensive. We can collect rainwater through cisterns. Drip irrigation systems also improve water efficiency.

“Big dig”-type stormwater management infrastructure projects are expensive. Localized, decentralized stormwater approaches, including more green roofs and urban gardens, are a less expensive way to alleviate pressure on overstressed urban stormwater management systems. “Stormwater management is the new sexy area in sustainability.”

Through local organization and advocacy, communities can change zoning rules and create a national movement that makes urban farming acceptable. It needs to be bottom-up.

Image credit: Edible Estates / Lenape Edible Estate, Hudson Guild at Elliott-Chelsea Houses, NY, NY

California Adopts Mandatory Green Building Codes

Last week, California adopted the U.S.’s first mandatory green building codes called Calgreen, which are expected to help the state reach its goal of cutting CO2 emissions by a third by 2020. According to The New York Times’ Green Inc. blog, every new building will have to “reduce water usage by 20 percent and recycle 50 percent of its construction waste instead of sending it to landfills. Commercial buildings will be required to have separate water meters for indoor and outdoor water use. Mandatory inspections of air conditioner, heat and mechanical equipment will be also be instituted for all commercial buildings over 10,000 square feet.”

Tom Sheehy, acting secretary of the state Consumer Services Agency and chair of the California Building Standards Commission, the group that passed the rules, told The San Francisco Chronicle: “This is (something) no other state in the country has done – integrating green construction practices into the very fabric of the construction code. These are simple, cost-effective green practices. California should be proud.”

The California Building Standards Commission unanimously approved the new rules, which also allow cities with stricter codes to keep their independent standards.

Importantly, to offset the cost of meeting the new code, developers will not be required to get green building certification from the U.S. Green Building Council or other organizations. Still, the new codes are expected to increase the cost of building homes. As a result, new home prices are expected to rise by $1,500. 

The U.S. Green Building Council’s Northern California chapter told The San Francisco Chronicle its group was “concerned that parts of the new code lack the rigor of existing local regulations, possibly making it difficult for cities and counties to adopt more stringent standards.” However, state officials said it was necessary to create a “single comprehensive code, clearing up confusion over varying regulations, and it allows builders to receive green certification without paying a third party.”

California’s Building Standards commission passsed similar rules in 2008, but now that they are mandatory, it’s expected they will remove three million metric tons of emissions from the air by 2020.

Read the article

Image credit: California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA. SWA Group, Sausalito, CA

The New Green Economy (Part 3): What Is the Role of Education and R&D?

This is part three in a three part series on the “New Green Economy” conference held by the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.. Part one covers a speech by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, and part two outlines conversation around the topic of “What does a sustainable economy look like?”

In a session at NCSE, “What is the Role of Science, Technology, and Education in Greening the New Economy?” David Gergen, Director, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard University, moderated a panel including Michael Crow, President, Arizona State University, Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics, Harvard University, Martha Kanter, Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, Kyung-Ah Park, Vice President, Environmental Markets, Goldman Sachs, and Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ).

David Gergen, Director, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard University, asked panelists to describe the relationship between green jobs, education, and R&D investment:

Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics, Harvard University: “10 percent unemployment will continue for some time; 4-5 percent unemployment won’t return until 2016. Where are we going to get these jobs? These will be green economy jobs — they have to come from the greener sectors of the economy.

The $150 billion spent on retrofits and energy efficiency yielded some two million new jobs. That’s about a rate of $75,000 per job.”

Martha Kanter, Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education: “We have to systematically reinvent education. We need to invest in environmental sustainability education. There are now programs to help move students into retrofitting jobs. We have to marry work and education.

We also need climate scientists in large numbers. We have an underprepared society.”

Kyung-Ah Park, Vice President, Environmental Markets, Goldman Sachs: “The green economy will mean a holistic transformation, which include a transformation in many sectors, including energy, automobiles, etc. This will have a profound impact on business.

The financial industry needs policy, market price signals to deploy capital to green economic sectors. Deploying capital is needed to move to a more energy efficient economy.

If cap and trade doesn’t pass the U.S. Congress, we will need standards more than taxes. Green building standards, like those in California, help move the market. Renewable portfolio standards covering energy, fuels will also help generate demand. If cap and trade doesn’t pass, we need a suite of policies to spur increased investment.”

Michael Crow, President, Arizona State University: “We need to define long-term objectives and avoid the partisan vortex on Capitol Hill. What is our goal — carbon neutrality?

We also need to stimulate education reform (we are in the middle of a train wreck), and are currently producing neolithic thinkers focused on how to tap fossil fuels. We are producing people that waste and consume. We are producing the ‘wrong kind of people’ for the future direction we need to go in. We need to stimulate innovation, create human capital.

State and local governments and inventors can lead this process of innovation. We may not see this at the federal level.”

Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ): “We don’t have a workforce, a citzenry, that can deal with complex scientific, technical issues. This is the result of Sputnik. Through the space race, we created an elite subset of highly trained scientists, but there was no widespread diffusion of scientific knowledge.

Substituting foreign oil for domestic renewal energy will create more domestic jobs. We need to move away from a petroleum-based economy to create domestic jobs that can’t be outsourced.

We used to spend 10 percent of GDP on R&D, now it’s around 2 percent. Private sector investment largely follows public investment. The government needs to invest more in clean energy technologies.”

Freeman: “A Manhattan Project is needed for renewable energy technology. No U.S. or global agreement on climate change is achievable. Things can happen at the state, local levels.”

: “How much can be done at the federal level with the small amount of incentives available? We can set preconditions like we did with Race to the Top. We’ve had 40 states competing for $4 billion in funding. The education department has been wisely leveraging relatively small amounts of funds.

California also has innovative sustainability policies. Ten percent of U.S. schools have signed up for the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. This is about incentivizing behavior.”

Californian Urban Parks Are Net Emitters of GHGs

The New York Times’ Dot Earth blog reports on a new study on urban green space from Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union, which contends many urban green spaces emit more greenhouse gases (GHGs) than they absorb. This is due to the high amounts of emissions from lawn irrigation, fertilizer, mowing, and leaf blowing. The study argues: “Turfgrass lawns remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and store it as organic carbon in soil, making them important ‘carbon sinks.’ However, greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer production, mowing, leaf blowing and other lawn management practices are four times greater than the amount of carbon stored by ornamental grass in parks.”

Claudia Czimczik, a researcher at University of California, Irvine, and a co-author of the study, told Dot Earth: “Lawns weren’t initially invented to store greenhouse gases — they have a lot of other purposes such as recreation. But there is a lot of recent political discussions about lawns as carbon sinks, and if that is the case we need to consider the whole package.”

According to Dot Earth, the researchers looked at four parks in Irvine, including open lawns and athletic fields. Open lawns which use fertilizers emit “heat-trapping nitrous oxide,” which “offsets 10 to 30 percent of the carbon dioxide captured and stored.” Additionally, the fuel used in mowing and leaf-blowing “releases four times more carbon dioxide than the lawns soak up. Athletic fields fare even worse because they require more maintenance.”

Czimczik said Californian parks may be a special case because park officials maintain their parks year round. More research needs to be conducted on the emissions of green spaces in other regions. She added that push mowers should also be considered.

Dot Earth points to the EPA’s GreenScapes program, which can encourages homeowners to think about land, water, air, and energy use in their lawn maintenance. Unfortunately, the article leaves out the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), a comprehensive new rating system, which addresses all of these issues (see earlier post).

Read the article and check out the study.

Also, read another recent article in The New York Times on the 2,200-acre FreshKills Park, which will feature native grasses, man-made meadows and wetlands, and, hopefully, will prove to be a carbon sink.  In restoring the local ecosystem, FreshKills Park is successfully bringing back birds.

The New Green Economy (Part 2): What Does a Sustainable Economy Look Like?

This is part two in a three part series on the “New Green Economy” conference held by the
National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.. Part one covers a speech by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

In a session today, “Growing the Green Economy or Greening the Grown Economy?,” Robert Costanza, Director, Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, University of Vermont, moderated a panel including Mindy Lubber, President, CERES, Van Jones, author of “The Green Collar Economy,” Tim Jackson, Economics Commissioner, UK Sustainable Development Commission, and David Orr, Professor of Environmental Studies, Oberlin College.

Robert Costanza, Director, Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, framed the session by asking: “Do we nudge or even shove the existing economy in a new green direction, or do we need to completely redesign it from the bottom-up?” To organize the discussion, Costanza asked four questions of the panelists: “Are current forms of economic growth sustainable? Is economic growth desirable? What does a sustainable economy look like? How can we make the transition to a sustainable economy?”

Are current forms of economic growth sustainable?

Tim Jackson, Economics Commissioner, UK Sustainable Development Commission: “No, we’ve already passed the threshhold.”

Mindy Lubber, President, CERES: “Worldwide population growth is expected to rise from 6.23 billion to 9 billion by 2050. We are running out of water. California industries lost $3 billion last year because of water shortages (in part, resulting from climate change). We are producing more and more, but can’t keep this up.”

David Orr, Professor of Environmental Science, Oberlin College: Orr pointed to Alan Greenspan’s recent comments that “there were flaws in his economic model,” and added: “Current growth has really just pushed the bill onto future generations and other people around the world. We have not been growing honestly. However, even this flawed, dishonest growth wasn’t doing what it should have been doing.”

Van Jones, author of “The Green Collar Economy”: “We are running up against ecological limits. However, for billions around the world, we need to pull their consumption levels up to decent levels. This is the challenge.”

Is growth desirable?

Jackson: “Income growth in the poorest countries is desirable. Economic growth also contributes to economic stability, which is needed for social stability. So in some cases, economic growth is desirable and needed. What we really need, though, is an economy not reliant on growth for stability.”

Orr: “The primary areas of growth in the U.S. economy have been related to the military. We’ve grown more militaristic as a result. Also, growth has taken the form of sprawl — Detroit is the poster child for what happens after sprawl.”

Lubber: “For countries with power, a new economic system would be threatening. We are already in a deficit in terms of natural resources. We must therefore put prices on the true cost of using natural resources — we need a price on carbon.”

Jones: “Economic systems work if they solve people’s problems. Right now, we have a financial crisis, structural crisis (jobs are moving to Asia), and an environmental crisis all at once. Americans are still dissatisfied (and voted in a new Republican Senator in Massachusetts) because we can’t solve even one of these problems.

What does a sustainable economy look like?

Orr: “It won’t look like what we’ve done in the past. Bill McKibben is coming out with a new book in April called “Eaarth” because he says humans have actually changed the climate to  such an extent that it’s literally a different planet. The U.S. is now a debtor nation $10 trillion in debt. We are in a radically changed world. On the positive side, we now have green buildings; solar-powered buildings are proven to be doable. There’s biomimicry, which can lead to innovations in products. We have theoretical basis for a green economy. We’ve had a revolution in design capabilities. There can be growth in more honest ways now.

Jackson: “We have to make ecological investments (low-carbon technologies, ecological assets) and support ecological enterprises instead of profit-making firms. Returns on investment need to be calculated in terms of social and ecological returns as well. Current social community organizations are really the blueprint for future market-oriented organizations.”

Lubber: “We need honest accounting. In the short-term, we need prices on natural resources. Capital markets are logical and have been responding to the fact that CO2 is free. Putting a price on carbon will help us build low-carbon innovations into products.”

How can we make the transition to a sustainable economy?

Orr: “We are in a new age of Enlightenment, but may not realize it. We recognize and are discussing on a global level the deep philosophical, political, ecological and economic problems facing humanity. That’s pretty exciting. However, sustainability also needs to work in the worst areas — in mountain top strip mines in the Appalachia region — for it really to work. Until then, sustainability will just remain an abstraction.”

Jackson: “We do need to get prices right — the accounting, and build social capital. Government can facilitate and lead the way.”

Lubber: “There was more than $140 billion spent last year on clean energy in the U.S.. This year, that number should go up to $190 billion, and needs to continue to increase.”

Jones: “Change is not a good thing to everyone. We also need to think about continuity. Some things in the new green economy are actually quite old — valuing skilled labor and enterprise (instead of welfare). The green economy should reinvent old, static sectors. The green economy needs to present a hopeful vision. The environmental movement needs to present a positive picture.”

Read part three: What is the role of education and R&D?, which outlines a discussion among David Gergen, Director, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard University, Michael Crow, President, Arizona State University, Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics, Harvard University, Martha Kanter, Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, Kyung-Ah Park, Vice President, Environmental Markets, Goldman Sachs, and Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ).

Image credit: Solar farm, TreeHugger.

ASLA Launches New Sustainable Landscapes Online Showcase

ASLA has unveiled the first iteration of “Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes,” which highlights real-life examples of sustainable landscape design and its positive effects on the environment and quality of life. These spaces use natural systems to clean the air and water, restore habitats, create healthy communities, and ultimately provide significant economic, social, and environmental value.

Beginning with 10 case studies that range from multi-acre master plans and housing communities to streetscapes and backyards, the Web site illustrates just what sustainable landscapes are and how they provide important benefits on a variety of scales. In the process, the case studies, written in clear, understandable language, also introduce users to what exactly landscape architects do. Some examples include the High Line Park in New York City; the Sustainable Comprehensive Plan to rebuild Greensburg, Kansas, following a devastating tornado; and the “Crack Garden,” which shows how a little inspiration and a jackhammer can transform a residential courtyard.

With the support of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, new case studies and educational features will be added to the site throughout the year. The site will also serve as a teaching tool during National Landscape Architecture Month this April. 

Take a look at and use the “comments” section to share your thoughts.

The New Green Economy (Part 1)

The National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) held its 10th national conference on science, policy, and the environment at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.. NCSE offered a stellar set of speakers, including EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, as well as a range of symposia, breakout sessions, workshops for the more than 1,000 environmental policymakers who attended. Bill Spriggs, Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson kicked off today’s discussions with an outline of the Obama administration’s green economy policies.

Bill Spriggs, Assistant Secretary, U.S. Labor Department: The U.S. lost 3 million jobs in 2008 at a rate of more than 700 thousand per month. Now, economic output is rising, but unemployment remains stalled. Furthermore, Spriggs said some jobs are “disappearing,” and permanently moving overseas. While these jobs “aren’t coming back,” they can be replaced through new investments in green technologies. “Low-hanging fruit” includes housing weatherization, which will create jobs that “can’t be exported,” argues Spriggs. “Creating new batteries for electric vehicles will lead to jobs. Also, auto part workers can turn into wind turbine workers.”

The U.S. Labor Department has recently finished doling out $700 million in stimulus funds aimed at spurring green job creation. “We are the only department to have finished giving out funds.” Labor has given grants to unions, community groups, and business leaders. “Our goal is to build capacity within local communities so they can retrain workers for green jobs.” More than 190 million has been spent on building state-level energy partnerships focused on forging deeper linkages between state programs, educational systems, and industry.

Spriggs added that the Labor department was fearful of “creating structural unemployment” by retraining workers for green jobs, and then leaving them without job opportunities. “We don’t want to exacerbate the problem.” However, he said the lack of skilled labor can’t be the bottleneck in the transition to a green economy.

Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator: Jackson said her goal was to rebuild the integrity of the Environmental Protection Agency and increase public faith in the agency. She plans to do this through focusing on “science, transparency, and following the law.” “We need to shift the dialogue away from politics and towards science. The EPA must  be seen as an independent agency and arbiter.” In terms of recent successes, the EPA administrator pointed to new standards on ground-level ozone, which will significantly reduce health problems for a range of vulnerable populations.

Jackson outlined four arguments for investing in a new green economy:

  1. A green economy is a strong economy: “President Obama has said the choice between good jobs and a clean economy is a false choice. We can have both.” To illustrate her argument that “smart environmental decisions can be smart economic decisions,” Jackson pointed to the environmental degradation that has stunted economic development on the New Jersey waterfront. Once New Jersey dealt with the environmental problems in some areas economic development returned. Jackson pointed to the Gold Coast, where rehabilitated brownfields contributed to positive economic growth and increased real estate values.  
  2. The moment compels us: The U.S. is facing both an economic and environmental crisis. Any recovery needs to be a green recovery. “We’ve invested billions in water infrastructure, and this has been a wise investment both environmentally and economically.”
  3. Clean energy is a global growth industry in the 21st century: The U.S. needs to take leadership or it will fall behind. China is “investing like crazy” in clean energy, and is the first to come out of recession. “This is no accident.” President Obama has pledged to double clean energy in three years. Clean energy needs to be the “center of a green economy” — America’s economic engine needs to be wrapped around this sector.
  4. We can move from negative to positive externalities: Negative externalities related to economic growth include pollution, river and lake destruction, and adverse health effects. However, all green economy paths create positive externalities — higher energy efficiency savings, lower energy costs, reduced healthcare costs, and strengthened national security. A McKinsey report cited by Jackons argues that a $25 billion investment in clean energy R&D can lead to $1.5 trillion in future energy savings. “We need to increase our efforts on wind, solar, and smart grid development, but we’ve laid the foundation.”

Finally, Jackson argued we need “simultaneous, game-changing solutions” to move the U.S. towards a green economy.

Read part two: What does a sustainable economy look like?, which outlines a discussion among Robert Costanza, Director, Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, University of Vermont, Mindy Lubber, President, CERES, Van Jones, author of “The Green Collar Economy,” Tim Jackson, Economics Commissioner, UK Sustainable Development Commission, and David Orr, Professor of Environmental Studies, Oberlin College.