Tag Archives: climate change

Resiliency: It’s who ya know.

If there’s one thing the 20th century gave us, it’s the luxury of not needing each other. It so defines our culture that it’s physically embodied in our sprawling, disconnected landscapes.

That alone begs a classic, chicken-n-egg question: Did the leisurely lure of the suburbs kill our sense of community? Were our social ties unwittingly severed by the meandering disconnection of subdivisions and strip malls or was sprawl just a symptom of something larger? After all, for all their rewards, meaningful relationships take a lot of work. Perhaps, once the modern world elevated our prospects for personal independence, we cut those ties ourselves, willingly, lest our happy motoring be weighted down with excess baggage.

Sprawl: form following function.

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Filed under Public Policy, Resilience

Fat-tastic! Can Small Thinking Solve Our Super-Sized Problems?

According to a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — more commonly known for crunching global budget and employment numbers  — the United States is on track to be 75% obese by 2020.

3 out of every 4. And if you check with researchers at Johns Hopkins University, they’ll tell you to expect 86% by 2030. Continue reading

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Filed under Development, Planning and Design, Public Policy

Sustainability’s Triple Bottom Line: Tool for Commit-a-Phobes?

As a recovering journalist, I’m working hard to suppress old impulses. But habits of a couple decades are hard to shake. Which is why I’m struggling with familiar twitches of cynicism when it comes to “sustainability.”

We’ve reached a point where just about everybody is laying claim to a sustainability strategy, whether we’re talking mining companies blowing up mountaintops or guys selling eight-mile-per-gallon SUVs. Let’s give them this: They have a point, provided sustainability goals are tied to the desire to keep on doing whatever you’re doing in perpetuity. Continue reading

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Confessions of a Former Sprawl Addict

Hi, my name is Hazel, and I’m an addict.

For the last 25 years, I’ve been addicted to a string of takers. Time-draining, money-grubbing, fat-building, resource-depleting, toxic machines. For the last 18 months, I’ve been clean. Ever since our move to Canada. And this last weekend, I realized I may be cured.

That’s right, when we moved here 18 months ago, I decided to get rid of my car. This past weekend, my in-laws offered me their sweet little Audi on loan as they fled the cold for the winter. But living without a car for the first time since I was 16, I realize it’s a much better way. I just said, “No.”

Living in the heart of Winnipeg, I’m surrounded by walkable neighbourhoods on every side. Going from a golf course community in Florida — let’s call it an experiment, shall we? — with a Walk Score of 9 to Winnipeg’s Exchange District with a Walk Score of 88 quickly ended my auto addiction. And the score should actually be more like 98, but Canadian transit is not yet reflected, nor are the new Exchange retail establishments that have been opening one per month ever since I’ve lived here. It’s rich.

So I’d call this a lifestyle within sustainable urbanism — walkable, transit-served urbanism integrated with high-performance buildings and infrastructure, that balances environmental, social, and economic requirements — and it also makes extreme climates livable.

The principal barrier to greening where we live is how we live. Misguided transportation planning, home and infrastructure financing systems, and zoning practices incentivize sprawling, disconnected lifestyles, and are increasingly unaffordable, unfulfilling, and unhealthy. To reverse sprawl’s unintended consequences we should incentivize compact, diverse, transit-oriented development. The foundation of Real Green is neighborhood, district, corridor, and regional design, with high-performance infrastructure and green architecture layered upon that base. It’s cost-effective, since even $1 million invested in planning a city is less than gadget-greening a handful of buildings to which everyone drives.

So what does this mean to me personally to have kicked the habit?

My family’s average car miles per month decreased by 90%, going from a 3 car family driving 530 miles per week, to a 1 car family driving 55 miles per week. The AAA Your Driving Costs 2009 lists our combination of three cars costing $0.702/mile. Walkable, transit rich urbanism got us a 90% emissions reduction and saved us $17,206 per year. It also freed up 700 hours per year, which are entirely more fulfilling to spend in other ways than on my addiction. Oh, and all that walking has started dispensing with the weight gain that averages 10 pounds per person living in sprawl. Last Saturday’s New York Times article and CEOs for Cities study intone that my new house, with it’s above-average Walk Score will likely commanded a premium, as much as $30,000. Judging by local real estate prices, they’ve more or less pegged it.

Yearly savings tally:
– 90% less carbon emissions
– $17,206 car savings
– $30,000 house savings
– 700 hours
– 10 pounds
– Real community — priceless

Walkability isn’t about doing your duty for others. It’s about a better life for you. Or as Ken Groves put it last week, “I dwell small and live large.”

It feels great to come clean.

–Hazel Borys

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Filed under Planning and Design, Public Policy

Will Economic Woes Stall the Green Movement?

When we got a note from colleagues in Chattanooga, Tennessee, letting us know that that their city had not only crafted a Climate Action Plan but was also set to create a new office of sustainability, it got us to thinking: Is the competition for funding in the deepening recession going to kill momentum for this sort of focused effort for green planning and building?

Not in Chattanooga, obviously. City forester Gene Hyde, who chaired the 14-person committee that crafted the Climate Action Plan, says momentum was easy to sustain, thanks to the participation of folks “representing a cross-section of viewpoints from the business, industrial, environmental, and academic communities. In addition, the opinions of more than 500 citizens and 100 subject-matter experts were factored into the final plan.”

When the Chattanooga mayor signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in 2006, committing to planning for lower carbon emissions, there were 235 signatories to the Agreement. Now there are more than 800. That’s good news for keeping the green going, right?

So this would be a good place for a “Not so fast” interjection and a bulleted list of all the reasons we’re doomed anyway. And there will be room for a little of that in future posts. The sustainability of sustainability is going to be a recurring theme for us all. In the meantime, let’s give Chattanooga and other cities moving forward on green initiatives the bows they deserve. And let’s indulge ourselves with news with a positive green spin. To wit:

  • Designer/Planner Doug Farr’s Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature has gone into multiple printings and is already used as a guiding text for design seminars. Doug has also developed a sustainability module for the form-based SmartCode.
  • Global Green Building Trends: Market Growth and Perspectives from Around the World,” a 2008 survey by McGraw-Hill Construction Analytics, reported high expectations for green from worldwide construction pros. A majority predicted that at least 60 percent of their projects over the next five years would focus on green building. Eighty-five percent of the firms said they expected rapid or steady growth in sales and profit levels associated with green building. Solar power, already in use by 52 percent of the firms, is expected to be used by more than 75 percent in five years, Wind power is expected to be in use by 57 percent of the firms by 2013, compared to 20 percent in 2008. And geothermal power is expected to double in use from 2008 levels to 45 percent in 2013.
  • Across the Atlantic, the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment hosted a November, 2008, summit that “brought together a cross section of industries that see ‘smart growth’ as the way to a sustainable future. A line up of leading figures from property investment, insurance and sustainable development industries guided the debate.” Their presentations have just been posted here.

– Ben Brown 

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