Overhauling Existing Infrastructure

In its latest issue, Popular Science presents a set of ideas for renovating America’s out-dated infrastructural systems. In many cases, the ideas presented leapfrog existing infrastructural solutions and offer dramatic innovations. Popular Science argues that “the solution isn’t patches, it’s an overhaul.” A range of ideas are outlined for transportation, water, sewage, telecommunications, and other areas.


Popular Science argues: “Chicago road crews are scrambling to fill 67,000 potholes a month. Communities in Pennsylvania rely on 100-year-old water pipes made of wood. Squirrels still cause widespread blackouts. The country’s 600,000 bridges, four million miles of roads, and 30,000 wastewater plants desperately need attention.”

Use Elevated Trackless Train Systems: “To save the multibillion-dollar cost of clearing 24-foot-wide swaths for new track, trainmaker Tubular Rail wants to shoot trains up to 150 mph over existing infrastructure through a series of elevated rings 100 feet apart. As it passes through each ring, the 400-foot-long carbon-fiber car is pushed along by electrically powered steel rollers. To save juice, the motors gear up only as a train approaches; up to 90 percent of the kinetic energy of the train can be recaptured as the rollers wind down.”

Integrate Concrete That Heals Its Own Cracks: To prevent additional bridge failures, concrete could heal itself when cracks form. “A new concrete mix developed by Victor Li, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Michigan, contains unhydrated cement grains that are activated when exposed to carbon dioxide in air and water from rain—exactly what you’d find in a small crack in the road. The reaction produces a calcium carbonate seal, restoring the slab to its normal load-bearing capacity.” Read more transportation ideas


“Our water infrastructure is older than our roads and power grid, with many pipes sitting in trenches dug by hand in the 1800s. In parts of the Northeast, up to 50 percent of our clean water leaks into the ground between the treatment center and the tap. Across the country, we lose an average of seven billion gallons of drinking water a day to leaks—and we have an 800,000-mile network of pipes that needs constant monitoring and repair. We also use far too much energy treating all our water, regardless of its end use, and piping it long distances.”

Mimic the Water Purifying System of Plants: “Plants pull water into their roots by osmosis, using tiny channels called aquaporins, a method that doesn’t require any energy. Now a Danish company called Aquaporin is developing a membrane based on that same principle to extract pure H20 from saltwater at about a third of the cost and a tenth the energy of conventional reverse-osmosis systems. The membrane’s protein channels, each just a few nanometers across, allow a stream of water molecules—and only water molecules—to pass single file at a rate of one billion per second. No pumps are needed to force the water across the channels.”

Clot Leaking Water Pipes: “Scottish oil-and-gas company Brinker Technology has a no-dig system of pipe repair that mimics the way clots form at a cut. When a leak is detected, a service truck could drive to a nearby fire hydrant and pump in Platelets—squishy, rubberlike cubes and balls ranging in size from less than a millimeter to nearly two inches across, depending on the size of the leak. The Platelets travel in the pipe until the outflowing pressure pulls them toward to the crack. There, they bunch together to form a long-lasting clot. Utilities don’t even need to know exactly where the leak is located.”

Reline Old Pipes Instead of Laying New Ones: “Another way of fixing broken pipe without summoning the backhoes is to coat it with a new inner lining—already common today in sewage pipes, which are under less pressure because they rely on gravity to move their contents along. But Missouri-based Insituform Technologies’s new InsituMain liner can withstand the internal forces of pressurized pipe, allowing in-place repair of drinking-water mains. Instead of a full-length trench, two access points (up to 700 feet apart) are cut on either side of the broken pipe. Then workers insert at one end a flexible liner made from a felt-and-glass-fiber composite and soaked in thermosetting epoxy resin and pull it through the inner walls of the crumbling pipe. Exposing the liner to steam or hot water stiffens and seals it, leaving it flush with the inside of the pipe.”  Read more water ideas


“Every year, Americans produce 12 trillion gallons of wet sewage and burn 21 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity to clean it to drinking-water standards. Why not put the smelly stuff to good use? Thanks to clever new technology, sewage will be reclaimed to provide power, produce fertilizer and, eventually, yield clean water.”

Turn Wastewater into Fertilizer: “Believe it or not, the wastewater of 100,000 people could yield an annual crop of about 200 tons of high-grade fertilizer. The Vancouver company Ostara hopes to use this fact to overcome our shrinking supply of recoverable phosphorus rock, one of three essential components of modern fertilizer. Ostara’s PEARL Nutrient Recycling system extracts phosphates and other minerals like ammonia from municipal wastewater and then churns the nutrients into safe, slow-release fertilizer pellets sold under the name Crystal Green. The challenge is sequestering the urine, which accounts for just 1 percent of sewage by volume. One solution: source-separated toilets (think: a little bowl within a big bowl), already being tried in Sweden and Denmark.” 

Tap Sewage for Energy: “Bruce Logan, a professor of environmental engineering at Penn State University, has designed a microbial fuel cell to turn the chemical energy in sewage directly into electricity—and clean the sewage in the process. Bacteria housed on a graphite fiber anode break down the fats, proteins and sugars in sewage, freeing up a steady stream of electrons, which the bacteria transfer directly into the electrode. Those electrons move to the cathode, providing electrical power and, at the cathode, producing hydrogen gas.” Read more sewage ideas

Image credit: Popular Science

St. Louis Gateway Arch Design Competition Down to Nine Teams

The St. Louis Gateway Arch Design competition organizers announced that nine teams will participate in the second stage of the competition. Some 49 teams initially submitted proposals. The goal of the competition is to create a park at the base of the Gateway Arch that will be viewed as iconic as the Arch itself. The winning site design must “honor its immediate surroundings and weaving connections and transitions from the city and the Arch grounds to the Mississippi River, including the east bank in Illinois” (see earlier post).

The nine teams moving to the “semi-finals” include: 

  • Behnisch Architekten, Gehl Architects, Stephen Stimson Associates, Buro Happold, Transsolar, Applied Ecological Services, Limno Tech, Herbert Dreiseitl, Arne Quinze, Peter MacKeith, Eric Mumford
  • FIT (Fully Integrated Thinking) Team – Cecil Balmond-ArupAGU, Doug Aitken Studio, HOK Planning Group, HOK
  • Michael Maltzan Architecture, Stoss Landscape Urbanism, Rafael Lozano Hemmer, Richard Sommer, Buro Happold
  • Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Steven Holl Architects, Greenberg Consultants, Uhlir Consulting, HR&A Advisors, Guy Nordenson and Associates, Arup, LimnoTech, Ann Hamilton Studio, James Carpenter Design Associates, Elizabeth K. Meyer, Project Projects
  • PWP Landscape Architecture, Foster + Partners, Civitas, Ned Kahn, Buro Happold
  • Quennell Rothschild and Partners and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Vishkan Chakrabarti, Buro Happold, Atelier Ten, and Nicholas Baume
  • Rogers Marvel Architects and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, Urban Strategies, Local Projects, Arup
  • SOM, BIG, Hargreaves Associates, Jaume Plensa, URS
  • Weiss/Manfredi, Magnusson Klemencic Associates, Mark Dion

According to the competition organizers, stage two involves the development of complete teams capable of executing the project, submission of paperwork, and a jury interview. This stage will narrow the field to four or five finalists.

Stage three, conducted over the summer, will include a 90-day design concept competition “to explore the finalists’ design approach and test their working methodology.” 

The new design is a requirement of the National Park Service’s General Management Plan, which was developed with extensive public input over an 18‐month period and approved in November of last year. The competition is sponsored by the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation, which includes National Park Superintendent Tom Bradley, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, community leaders from Missouri and Illinois, academics, architects and national park advocates. Financial contributions to the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation are being coordinated by the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation, a public charity with more than $140 million in charitable assets.

Learn more at the competition Web site.

Image credit: Bustler

New 12-acre Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Campus by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, a premier landscape architecture firm, is working on the new 12-acre headquarters campus of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private foundation. According to the firm, the foundation’s value of “local roots, global misson” has been incorporated into the site design. “The overall campus design concept features upper office buildings with outward ‘world reaching’ arms resting on podium buildings and landscape features that restore a native Seattle character and align with the neighborhood’s street grid.” 

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol will provide campus master planning, as well as the design and development of streetscapes, green roofs, and extensive plantings featuring native and non-invasive, drought-tolerant plants. The site design will also incorporate outdoor work spaces that “direct rainwater from paved surfaces into a million-gallon rainwater cistern.”

According to the Gates Foundation, the site was designed with nine principles in mind:

For Our Neighbors:

  • The development will fit with the size and scale of the surrounding environment.
  • The design will be inspiring and creative and fit within the neighborhood.
  • The campus will be secure in a low-profile way.
  • The edges of the campus must be well-defined and landscaped.
  • The design will integrate sustainable materials and methods.

For Our Employees:

  • The design must create a sense of place that reflects the foundation’s work in health and learning.
  • The buildings will be connected in a campus-like setting designed to facilitate interaction, collaboration, and learning.
  • The campus design will include open green spaces.
  • The design will provide access to natural light for all.

Most recently, the landscape architecture firm organized the planting of a massive Big Leaf Maple in a key spot on the campus. “This specimen has a trunk diameter of almost 8 inches and weighs approximately 10,000 pounds, so a large crane will be used to move the tree into place.” Indeed, the campus is filled with trees: “Of the 135 trees planned for the campus, 63 additional Big Leaf Maples and 43 other Vine Maples will be planted on seven acres during Phase I of what will eventually be a 12-acre campus. Raywood Ashes make up the remainder of the total.”

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol is collaborating with architect NBBJ. Teufel is the landscape contractor, and Sellen is the general contractor. Construction will be completed in spring of 2011.

Learn more about the Gates Foundation campus design and overall sustainability plans.

Image credit: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

Urban Design: A Frame of Mind?

Alex Krieger and William S. Saunders recently published “Urban Design,” a 368-page collection of essays and discussions featuring prominent figures in city planning, architecture, and landscape architecture.  Together, they trace the field as it “evolved less as a technical discipline than as a frame of mind shared by those of several disciplinary foundations.” The volumes take the reader through the history of urban design by offering a critical analysis of competing theories and predicts future challenges posed by growing urban populations. Because the book features writings from multiple viewpoints, readers gain a well-rounded assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the differing schools of urban design theory.

The book begins with excerpts from transcripts of the first Urban Design Conference held at Harvard University in 1956.  This landmark conference, hosted by José Luis Sert, marked the establishment of urban design as a distinct planning discipline, as it was here that the field’s assumptions and ambitions were first discussed.  The essays that follow help to contextualize and critique the emerging urban design theories and illustrate the stark differences in opinions among those attending the conference.

Subsequent essays discuss urban design as it has evolved from the 1956 conference to its present state.  Because this field represents an overlap of so many disciplines – including city planning, architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, sociology, and politics – it has struggled to find its true identity as its focus has been pushed and pulled in many directions.  Urban designers are faced with the task of creating a cohesive plan that balances a macro-focus of developing a cohesive, functional, navigable and economically healthy city while still maintaining a micro-focus on the beauty, livability, sustainability, and ecology of individual neighborhoods. 

Now, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in an urban environment. “We are becoming an urban species to a degree unimaginable,” and as a result urban designers will be confronted with more complex problems in the near future.  The final collection of essays attempts to predict some of the daunting problems that are looming on the horizon, and challenges designers to “inventively confront the morphological, functional, and human needs of cities and their citizens.” 

Urban Design” is a great starting point for readers looking to become familiar with urban design history and the development of design theory.  For practitioners looking for a blueprint for designing an urban space, however, you probably want to look for another source, as this book does not focus on case studies or the practical steps that go into the process of designing and building a city.

Contributors: Jonathan Barnett, Denise Scott Brown, Joan Busquets, Kenneth Greenberg, John Kaliski, Timothy Love, Fumihiko Maki, Richard Marshall, Eric Mumford, Michelle Provoost, Peter G. Rowe, Edward W. Soja, Richard M. Sommer, Michael Sorkin, Emily Talen, Marilyn Jordan Taylor, Wouter Vanstiphout, Charles Waldheim.

This post is by Matt Busa, ASLA 2010 advocacy and communications intern.

Image credit: ASLA 2009 Professional Honor Award. Teardrop Park, New York, NY. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., New York, NY

Sustainable Sites Initiative Pilot Project Submissions Due February 18

The deadline to submit a pilot project for the Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) is Thursday, February 18, 2010, midnight PST. The deadline has been extended due to the recent, heavy snow storms along the East Coast. The pilot projects will test the SITES rating system and serve as the first certified sustainable landscapes in the country.

The initiative invites any type of project to participate in the pilot program. Projects in all phases will be considered, as long as the project size is at least 2,000 square feet. If a project is accepted into the pilot program, fees for participating will vary between $500 and $5,000 depending on project size, which cover technical assistance from SITES staff over a two-year period.

For more information on the pilot projects, including how to apply online, please visit www.sustainablesites.org/pilot or e-mail pilot@sustainablesites.org.

The Significance of the Copenhagen Climate Change Accord

This week, the Center for American Progress hosted Todd Stern, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, in a session on the lessons of the Copenhagen UNFCCC Council of Parties (COP-15) held last December, the significance of the climate change accord that was negotiated, and the future of global climate change negotiations over the year.

Center for American Progress President John Podesta, former White House Chief of Staff under President Clinton, opened the discussions by saying there were two narratives:  Copenhagen was a failure or Copenhagen was a last minute success. Those who believe the climate change negotiations in December were a failure point to a lack of a real deadlines or binding GHG emission reduction targets. National and international obstacles stymied an agreement. For those who argue that the meeting was a last minute success, there was little likelihood of any progress, and China and India “were never going to want this.” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s intervention saved the day. The foundation has been layed for a political agreement. As a result, the accord represents a “credible international agreement.”

Podesta argued it was too soon to tell how this agreement will stack up in the history of climate change negotiations. Podesta added that we need to take a “cold, hard look at what occured,” and look at the commitments by nations so far. There are now commitments from countries that contribute more than 80 percent of global GHG emissions, and the commitments have been higher than the ones initially issued in Copenhagen. “We are only five gigatons shy of 2020 targets.” Podesta thinks that if we stop additional international deforestation and preserve additional sectoral reductions, the world can close the emissions gap by 2020.

Todd Stern, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change

“2009 was supposed to be a momentous year, but things didn’t turn out as planned. The positions of key parties were very far apart by the time we reached December. As a result, the negotiating text grew to more than 200 pages and included overlapping and contradictory ideas. The main ideas never joined up. It seemed like the UN process was on the rocks, and a full blown treaty would be out of reach. The actual meeting was a chaotic, aggravating, snarling event.”

Getting to an Accord: “In the beginning, someone threw a monkey wrench in the negotiations by leaking a Danish draft document, which effectively destroyed Denmark’s reputation as a fair, unbiased arbiter among the developing countries. By Wednesday, December 16, the conference appeared to be doomed.”

“With Secretary of State Clinton’s arrival on Thursday, December 17, there was hope again. Clinton offered $100 billion in financing a year by 2020 to developing countries to support climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. These funds would be available in the context of a global agreement, and only be available if developing countries agreed to external verifications of their emissions. With this, developing countries’ stakes in the agreement rose sharply.”

“A dinner hosted by the Danish Queen helped turn around the mood. It was a remarkable session with free form dialogue between heads of state. The chance of a successful outcome advanced because many leaders couldn’t deal with failure. Andrea Merkel of Germany and Nicholas Sarkozy of France showed real leadership. President Obama was effective in creating the argument for the need for transparency and accountability in international verification schemes.

“In a meeting with China, India, and South Africa, Obama said all countries must list their mitigation commitments, and these would have to be submitted to some sort of external review.”

The negotiated accord: “The negotiated accord was broadly supported by the 190 countries, with the exception of a few like Iran, Cuba,  and Venezuela. Because the UN process calls for total agreement among countries, the accord was ‘taken note of,” and not a politically-binding signed agreement. The accord is still a ‘sketch, not a painting.’ It quantifies overall objectives — keeping climate temperature rise below 2 degrees celsius, lists actions, sets targets, provides for transparency in international verification, and outlines financing proposals by 2020. A new global fund will be examined by a new global panel, which will look into potential sources of revenue, including international fund transfers and avoided deforestation credits. There is now a foundation for a new regime in international climate diplomacy.”

“Countries needed to submit their commitments by January 31 of this year. Many have ‘signed-on’ or associated themselves with the accord (in UN-speak). Some 90 countries will now ‘associate with the accord.'”

The legitimacy of the accord: “China and other countries initially wanted to limit the scope of the accord to negotiated texts (i.e. the Kyoto Protocol). Instead, the U.S. believes the accord should the operational document. It’s a negotiated document that elected heads of state have contributed to. It represents a fair balance and can’t be cherry-picked. The accord should influence future negotiations.”

The way to move forward: “Some countries want to keep the Kyoto paradigm, which keeps developing and developed countries in two separate categories. The U.S. believes all countries should effectively be in the same category and be held accountable for their emissions. Developed countries shouldn’t be the only ones held accountable (as they are now). This represents a breach in the firewall between developing and developed countries that upsets some. Kyoto represented a ‘common but differentiated approach to responsibilities.’ However, this phrase has been over-used for years and has been used to keep developing countries unaccountable. China shouldn’t be treated like Chad when it comes to capabilities — in many ways, China has the capabilities of any developed country.”

“It’s imperative to bring all major emitters (not countries) into an international regime. 52 percent of emissions now come from developing countries; 97 percent of the expected growth in GHG emissions by 2050 will come from these countries. They have to be included in an agreement.”

“The U.S. can continue to work with its partners to create a legally-binding agreement that is symetrical (that treats developed and developing countries the same). It can’t be tied up in ideological knots, but be a solution.”

Stern added that this year major discussions will take place during the Major Economies Forum, an initiative set up by President Bush, COP-16 in Mexico City in December, 2010, and additional UNFCCC meetings. He said President Bush had argued correctly that countries can’t rely on formal negotiating process alone, but must meet many places.

What needs to happen domestically: The lack of a domestic agreement didn’t hurt the U.S. in global negotiations. However, we “need leverage, and you can’t underestimate the value of the legitimacy a U.S. domestic climate change agreement will give us. The U.S. has historically been the largest emitter and is now the second largest emitter.”

“The U.S. Congress needs to pass climate change legislation soon so there’s no delay in finding a price for carbon. Otherwise, China will lead on the new green economy. We have to legislate to become competitive in this area.”

The climate change envoy added that recent news on mistakes in UNFCCC reports and the controversy surrounding American and UK scientists’ e-mails can’t disprove the “overwhelming body of evidence on climate change. They aren’t disturbed by these events. When dealing with the high levels of risk associated with climate change, anyone would get insurance.”

During discussions, Jennifer Haverkemp, Managing Director for International Policy and Negotiations, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), added that developing countries’ commitments were all contingent on receiving financing. “There’s a long way to get there.”

Haverkemp added that it’s important the U.S. Congress acts soon. “Congress can help write the rules and impact the global rules throughout this process. A carbon market needs to be in U.S. legislation, including definitions of what kinds of international credits are acceptable for off-sets. A global carbon market will be a significant source of financing for these projects.”

Haverkemp also said the world shouldn’t put its eggs in “even two baskets.” In the works is a reforestation credit agreement between Amazonian countries and U.S. states — state-level agreements and cooperative projects are important for reducing emissions. “There has also been discussion at the G8 on ending fossil fuel subsidies by 2050 and common renewable electricity standards worldwide.”

Watch a video of the event.

What’s Next for Landscape Architecture

Magazine’s latest issue offers a set of “What’s next?” articles outlining possible future directions for a range of design disciplines, including landscape architecture, urban planning, green building, and other areas. Each section includes ideas of what’s coming next in one, five, and then ten years.

Metropolis asked Wendi Goldsmith, President of the Bioengineering Group, Denise Hoffman Brandt, Professor of landscape architecture at the City College of New York, and Jan H. DeJager, founder of Nautilus Eco-Civiel for their insights on the future of landscape architecture, which they see as intimately tied to climate change. “As climate change threatens to reshape our world, landscape architecture seems poised to play a leading role in creating an environmentally sound and effective response.”

One year in the future: New Levees. Wendi Goldsmith writes: “In New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is redesigning its approach to hard infrastructure, because we have treated that entire Mississippi River system and its delta wetland complex very poorly. It’s falling apart and not doing all of the work it did in centuries past to buffer wave impact, store sediment, and serve as a natural line of defense. I predict New Orleans will be the classic canary in the coal mine. The lessons learned (or not learned) there as we rebuild the storm surge barrier can and should be translated elsewhere.”

Five years in the future: City Sink. Denise Hoffman Brandt argues: “What I see happening in landscape architecture is a growing understanding of how projects for specific sites work at a macro scale as part of larger environmental systems. I’m working on a project called City Sink that tries to create a new embedded infrastructure for carbon storage within the existing physical and social land uses of the city. It uses fourteen different approaches. One, highway biosound barriers, would retrofit existing concrete barrier walls with a planted ‘drape’ that’s irrigated with highway runoff using solar power.”

Ten years in the future: Soft Coastal Engineering. Jan H. DeJager contends: “We’ll need to develop a range of approaches to combat rising sea levels, including something we call ‘soft coastal engineering.’ In Holland, we take sand from the deepest parts of the North Sea and put it in front of our coastline. So when you lower the water depths in front of the coast, even if the sea level rises and waves come in, the sandbar breaks the large waves into smaller ones. We also make cuts in the dunes to let seawater enter in safe ways. And perhaps most important, we’ve been giving back certain low-lying areas to the Rhine River, which means the river gets more room to store its overflow during high-water periods. I was in New Orleans in January 2006 and saw some of the devastation. I think certain areas there you should give back to the sea, and other areas, if you want them to stay there, you must protect.”

Read the article and see design concepts

Metropolis also sees a revolution in urban planning over the next ten years, which will include retrofitting surburbia so communities are less car-dependent, new (massive) investments in public transportation, as well as the rise of traffic congestion pricing across major cities. Ken Greenberg, an urban planner writes: “We’ve reached the end of the lifespan of much of the highway infrastructure that was built after World War Two. We’ll see a major retooling of the infrastructure of the city. We are going to see an incredible investment in public transit. We’ll see congestion pricing—which is now in a handful of cities—applied pretty much across the board. This will enable, both from a capital and an operating standpoint, a huge rein-vestment in public transit.”

Additionally, cities may need to dramatically rethink waste infrastructure to take advantage of waste resources. In a possible model for “five years in the future,” Greenberg adds: “In Scandinavia, there is an Envac system for waste management, where instead of having garbage trucks and people using bins and garbage rooms in buildings, and all that paraphernalia that we have, they have tubes under the streets that collect as many different streams of garbage as the city wants. In Stockholm, it’s four different streams. They pop garbage in little shoots—sometimes they’re in parks or in buildings or on streets or in courtyards—and it travels under the streets at forty-five miles per hour, with no noise, no odor. They have these depots where it’s collected, picked up, and then used for cogeneration of energy.” Read more

In terms of the future of green building, Metropolis argues that more energy-efficient buildings can only go mainstream through public policy: government incentives, zoning changes, and stricter building codes. “Despite all the talk about net-zero and net-positive architecture, green buildings remain elusive for the mainstream. There are, however, some promising developments: state and municipal tax incentives, stricter building codes, and commercial real estate honchos who have finally figured out that sustainable design stuffs cash into their pockets. Progress hangs on the tricky interplay of public policy and technology.” Read more
Image credit: Metropolis magazine / Bioengineering Group

World Changing: Top Sustainability Trends of the Next Decade

World Changing created a list of the top sustainability trends they see occuring over the next decade:

Bike usage will continue to rise across cities worldwide: “Copenhagen residents use bikes for 37 percent of all their transit. But bikes in Europe represent more than utility; riding a bicycle with the Velib’s bikeshare program in Paris now easily competes (42 million registered users) with taking a spring walk along the Seine. Bike-sharing abounds in dozens of European cities as well as in Rio de Janeiro and Santiago, Chile. Look for North American burgs to continue their proliferation of bicycles-as-transit use and bike lane expansion (NYC bicycle use is up 61% in two years).” (see “Cities for Cycling,” a discussion among David Byrne, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, and Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC’s Transportation Commissioner)

Copenhagen UNFCCC meeting will eventually result in a set of targets for cutting GHG emissions: “The UN COP15 Copenhagen conference resulted in no binding treaty status among any of the attending 128 nations that attended for them to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. This year’s late fall gathering in Mexico City is likely to set national binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions. If enacted, these targets will set the stage the coming entire decade’s greenhouse gas reduction strategies, including sub-national efforts at the regional and city level.” (see earlier posts on the UNFCCC negotiations)

Cellulosic fuels will no longer cause higher food prices, and will instead become a key part of the energy mix: “Cellulosic biofuels, in contrast, offer the promise by the middle of the decade of creating a viable energy source (one of many that will be needed) from waste products, such as wood waste, grasses, corn stalks, and other non-food products. The trick will be to balance land use with energy production so that unintended consequences, particularly burning rainforests and urban food price riots will be a thing of the past.”

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) will drive advances in sustainable urban development: “Called “the great digital underbelly” of new and retrofitted sustainable cities by Gordon Feller of Urban Age, green ICT (information and communications technologies) holds promise for increasing the energy and resource efficiency of most aspects of urban development.”

Opportunity areas include: energy smart grids, urban “traffic congestion monitoring and pricing systems,” e-water management applications (including infrastructural leakage detection and water purity monitoring systems), e-green building applications (sensors that can monitor temperature, light, humidity and occupancy), and “intelligent public transportation” managment systems.

Carbon taxes will help integrate the real environmental costs of using fossil fuels into the actual price: “A handful of nations have some form of carbon tax, mostly in Scandinavia. On the sub-national level, British Columbia and the San Francisco Bay Area recently proposed some form of the tax tax. Costs for carbon taxes can be passed on to consumers directly, or they could be levied on industry, which would likely cause manufacturing and operating costs to be wholly or partially passed onto consumers.”

Drought will be the first major effect of climate change to cause significant investments in climate change adaptation measures: “A major effort at climate change adaptation is underway in California as well as other urban areas that are experiencing or are likely to feel the early effects from climate change. Prolonged droughts consistent with the impacts of climate change are being seen in Beijing, Southwestern North America (Mexico City/ LA, etc.) and urban areas in Southeast Australia.”

The end of “cheap oil” will make sprawl more expensive: “With market uncertainty for oil prices and oil supplies, this new decade will witness the sunset of exurban-style automotive dependant sprawl in the United States and in many overseas copycat developments, particularly Asia. The overbuilt market for large, totally car-dependent single family homes in outer suburbia is expected by even some developers to not be viable for almost a decade, even if oil prices and supply stay relatively stable.”

Rising fuel costs will make urban agriculture increasingly viable: “Existing cities in Latin America (Havana, Cuba–pictured above–and Quito, Ecuador), Africa (Dar Es Salam, Tanzania; Kampala, Uganda) and Asia (Seoul, South Korea), have produced significant quantities of produce or aquaculture within their city limits. Cities in North America that have maintained or are building or rebuilding strong regional food networks include Seattle, Honolulu, Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco.” (see a review of discussions at a recent National Building Museum forum and an interview with a leading vertical farming advocate, Dickson Despommier).

Localities will undertake resiliency planning: “Resiliency is about making a system or one’s self stronger and more able to survive adversity. As the previous items portend, there will no shortage of adversity during the coming decade from climate change and energy supply instability. One of the major social phenomena related to resiliency has been the emergence of the Transition Town movement.” (see an interview with Peter Newman on his book “Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change”)

A new sustainability cultural event will help make the issues more prominent: “There has yet to be a significant work of popular art that I am aware of that captures the modern systemic aspirations of sustainability.”

Read the article

To also understand how countries will need to make major investments in mitigating CO2 emissions and adapting to climate change, see the World Bank’s comprehensive World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change

Image credit: Xcel Energy

Vancouver Olympic Village Features 3.5-acres of Green Roof

This month, 2,800 athletes will move into Vancouver’s Olympic Village, a $1 billion LEED Gold facility which also features more than 3.5-acres of green roofs, writes The Vancouver Sun. The roofs of more than half of the village’s 22 buildings are covered in sedum, a plant species commonly used on green roofs because of their ability to absorb heat and CO2 

Peter Kreuk, International ASLA, principal at Durante-Kruek and lead landscape architect on the project, told The Vancouver Sun the sedums used for the green roofs were grown in long mats and then rolled-out like turf over 7.5 cm (3 inches) of roof soil. Kreuk said: “Sedums are super drought tolerant plants. You could grow them on a rock, they are that tough. They should do very well in this location.” The roofs will also features designs: “In the middle of the roofs, the outline of Olympic athletes in motion doing their sport (skiing, curling, hockey, luge and skating) have been etched out of contrasting red sedums.”

The village’s designers made the roofs activity areas and integral to the overal design. Other roofs will contain garden spaces with “raised concrete beds” that will be used for growing herbs and vegetables. “Some of these areas also have tool sheds, potting tables, cold frames and stylish metal bins for composting.” Additionally, there are numerous green social spaces including patios, decks, and courtyard gardens.

Kreuk described the outdoor spaces: “We tried to design these areas as if they were someone’s private backyard. And what do you do in your backyard? Well, you have a place to sit and have dinner. You have a space growing things. And you need a place for children to play. We tried to make sure all the garden areas could be used in this way. We didn’t want them to have just one single function. I think they are all nicely scaled spaces.”

There was a focus on using water-efficient systems in an integrated site design. Rainwater will be captured and stored in underground cisterns. The rainwater will then be used to flush toilets, and, in summer, will be pumped up to irrigate the green roofs, “not that they will need much irrigating since all the plant material was specifically chosen to be drought tolerant and require minimal maintenance.” Other rainfall will be channeled through storm drains out to a meandering stream and will be “emptied after being filtered through detoxifying aquatic plants into False Creek.”

Read the article

Image credit: The Vancouver Sun

Luke Jerram’s Massive Aeolian Harp

Green Diary
highlights artist Luke Jerram’s new project “Aeolus,” which seeks to capture the sound of wind passing through a landscape. According to Green Diary, Jerram received an £225K grant from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPRSC) to create and tour Aeolus, an exploration of acoustics, wind, and architecture, which was inspired by a tour of desert wells in Iran that one local well-digger said sung in the wind. The artist has created a range of sculptures, installations, and live art projects, including the Plant Orchestra.

Aeolian wind harps were seen by Jerram as the best tools for capturing the sound of wind. “Long tensioned strings will resonate with the wind and will be heard by visitors inside the space. The ambition is to sonify the three dimensional landscape of wind. The public will be able to visualise this shifting wind map from within the space by interpreting the sound around them.”

The piece will consist of components that explore light, including “hundreds of light pipes which both draw the landscape of light into the building and hum at a series of low frequencies. The tubes act to frame and magnify the landscape so that from inside the structure, at its centre, visitors can see through one hundred of these pipes simultaneously, contemplating an ever changing landscape of light.”

The installation features a specially designed architectural space that will resonate and sing with the wind. EPRSC and the engineering groups of University of Southampton (ISVR) and University of Salford are involved and funding the project because they hope to learn more about how to make audible wind noises without electrical power or amplification.

The temporary installation will tour sites in the UK and elsewhere, and each location’s unique wind and landscape sound will be recorded.

Read more and watch videos.

Image credit: Luke Jerram