TagSustainable Development Techniques

New blogs I like

Now that I’m without a job, I’ll have more time for reading, commenting, and writing. And job finding. I just started reading these two blogs today and they’re quite exciting. Both blogs started this year.

  • MAX FAQS – MAX means Metropolitan Area Express, the name for Portland, Oregon’s regional light rail system. I’m not sure who writes it (that’s left out on the introduction post), but they’ve very knowledgeable about the operations of TriMet and light rail in general.

Two trains at the Rose Quarter Transit Center, northwest of the busy and multi-modal Steel Bridge in Portland, Oregon.

Sustainability is more than individuals installing rain barrels to water their lawn (for free). But we all should so less water goes down the drain and into costly water treatment plants.

Tribune points out why we need something better than Deep Tunnel

60 billion gallons of rain fell on Cook County on Friday night, according to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s (MWRD) president Terrence O’Brien.

The world’s largest wastewater treatment plant just north of Navy Pier in downtown Chicago. One of two plants in the city limits. Photo by kendoman26.

That’s enough to fill 1.2 billion of these Suncast rain barrels*. The rain was too much for the Deep Tunnel – the underground network of  water reservoirs. They hold water runoff during storms before it goes to the water treatment plant for cleaning, after which it will flow into one of the water channels in and around Chicago. But the storms on Friday were too much – the MWRD had to release sewage into Lake Michigan because the reservoirs were full.

This in turn forced the Chicago Park District to close the beaches.

“All 109 miles of the Deep Tunnel system were filled during the storm, O’Brien said.”

We find ourselves in a situation similar to that of traffic congestion. Building new and wider roads doesn’t relieve traffic congestion. The same might be true for Deep Tunnel construction. Longer and wider tubes won’t reduce our water usage or how much stormwater is directed to the sewers (Chicago has a combined sewer, draining sewage from buildings and stormwater from the street). The Chicago Tribune article doesn’t exactly point out the solution, and it only hints at the problem: We get more water in our tunnel than we can handle.

The Chicago Harbor Lock separates the Chicago River from Lake Michigan was opened to allow the river to discharge its overflow into the lake. The water at Chicago’s magnificent beaches could have been contaminated so the Park District closed swimming at ALL beaches until at least Monday morning. Photo by Norma Fernandez.

Chicagoland needs a better stormwater management plan that incorporates sustainable best practices. We can start by encouraging landscaping that absorbs stormwater instead of acting like a slope towards the nearest drain. New streetscape projects can have bioswale planters. What other ideas are there to reduce the amount of runoff that has to be stored in hundreds of underground tunnels?

*The MWRD sells rain barrels to the public online for pickup. Rain barrels are just one part of a multi-pronged solution to stormwater management.

Norma Fernandez

Increasing the City of Chicago’s tree canopy

The assignment: You are on a team working with the City of Chicago on increasing the City’s tree canopy from just under 15% to 25%. What would you recommend? Please bear in mind that most city staff feel that they have covered most city owned land and that to reach the goal they will have to get private landowners to plant the trees. How can we get them to do this? What types of parcels present opportunities?

The class: Sustainable Development Techniques

How the class works: The professors invite working professionals to speak to the class each week. After the lecture from these guests, a short discussion ensues. The guests design the homework questions. The following week, the class discusses their responses with each other and the professors.

I’ve identified four parcel types that present opportunities to increase the City of Chicago’s tree canopy from 15% to 25%.

1. Existing surface parking lots, both private and public
2. New surface and multi-level parking lots, both private and public
3. Schools, both public and private
4. Condemn private lots

1. The team will inventory private and public surface parking lots. Using demand survey data, the team will identify specific lots and direct them to reduce the number of spaces by half the difference between demand and availability. The team will select the spaces where trees will be planted at no cost to the parking lot owner. Alternatively, the parking lot owners can choose to purchase and install secure, sheltered bicycle parking on the spaces where trees would have been planted. Owners must install this facility at their own expense but may charge for its use.

The owners choose between a no cost option that potentially reduces their income, or a cost option that potentially reduces their income. Both options would potentially reduce carbon or carbon emissions associated with the parking lot.
2. The team will recommend zoning code changes that reduce the number of required auto parking spaces for new parking lots, increase the number of bicycle parking spaces, and improve the zoning code’s accommodations to alternative fuel, hybrid and shared car spaces. The code will require that builders plant trees in the space that would have been built as auto parking. The code will specify best tree planting practices so the builders plant trees in places on the parcel where it will live.

Parking lots will become useful to a larger number of users, and reduce carbon in the atmosphere.

3. Many schools have land paved with asphalt, acting either as a playground or parking lot for staff. Under a district (or diocese) and City-wide plan to reduce carbon emissions and improve the health of staff, schools will install sheltered bicycle parking on a small portion of the asphalt, and then remove a large area of asphalt. They’ll replace the removed asphalt with grass and trees. Principals will make up the first group of staff to adopt alternative commute methods (which can include carpool, vanpool, transit, walking or bicycling), starting with at least two days per week.

Students will receive a kid-friendlier playground. School staff will reduce their carbon emissions. Schools will help reduce their contribution to the urban heat island effect. New trees will reduce carbon in the atmosphere.

4. Lastly, the City will condemn private lots and convert these to urban forests. The team will first identify residential areas, and then commercial areas. Communities identified by the team to receive urban forests can choose to have and operate a farm or garden instead. The City will provide relocation assistance to all residents of a blighted or energy inefficient building who decide to move to a denser part of the city. The City would then condemn the lot and building, aggregating it into the forest. A variation of this plan includes strategic placement of the trees: The trees can be planted in such a way on the parcel’s perimeter that would permit a new parcel owner to build a new, energy efficient home on the lot.

I feel unclear about the consequences of this strategy. Will the new urban forests raise, lower, or leave alone property values? Will property owners appreciate a rise in property values? Will they feel their neighborhood has improved? How will the forests affect crime and other neighborhood activities?

A LEED-related homework assignment and my response

The assignment: Write a mock letter to the editor responding to this New York Times article: Some Buildings Not Living Up to Green Label (published August 31, 2009).

The class: Sustainable Development Techniques

How the class works: The professors invite working professionals to speak to the class each week. After the lecture from these guests, a short discussion ensues. The guests design the homework questions. The following week, the class discusses their responses with each other and the professors.

Dear Editor,

Buildings, as a category, consume more energy than any other category in the United States. The USGBC: U.S. Green Building Council (GBC) took the right steps by mandating an energy efficiency minimum to receive LEED certification. As it increases the standard building designers and owners need to reach to achieve the image of “green” or environmental responsibility, we should look for ways to make green building design cheaper and easier.

I have a few suggestions for how we can make that happen, but first I want to encourage your newspaper and its readers to send a message to their Congresspersons: They should pay attention to the fact that buildings consume the most energy of any category of energy use and include a section in climate change legislation that reduces buildings’ impact on the environment and their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change legislation will not be effective unless it mandates and encourages changes in buildings and how they use energy.

So how can we make LEED certification (or other similar certification programs) easier to achieve? First of all, do not reduce the ease of certification. This will have an ill effect on climate change and reverse the positive advances LEED and its certified buildings make.

  1. Certify buildings who meet the minimum energy efficiency requirements with a new label. Some building owners or developers may not care to receive full certification or medal, or create green roofs or offer alternative transportation to building workers, but would rather be recognized for making bona fide improvements to their energy systems and use. Hold the buildings to the same reporting standards as all other certification levels.
  2. Support and fund research that will be used to continually refine the certification process and identify the best and worst energy system changes and upgrades. The Center for Neighborhood Technology and the New Buildings Institute have researched LEED-certified buildings to gauge their energy use and determine how effective the buildings are in reducing energy use (not all buildings were able to reduce energy use).
  3. Offer short-term rewards when people make long-term changes that provide long-term benefits. Provide instant or near-instant tax rebates when residents who live in or own “energy poor” buildings and make upgrades that are proven to increase the building’s energy efficiency by a minimum amount. When people can see immediate benefits, they may be more likely to make the changes. Make the rebate requirements easy to understand – consult with retailers like CVS and Walgreens who provide some rebates immediately to their customers after a purchase is made. However, consult the best universities and researchers to ensure the program managing this system will not allow rebates for window installation when home insulation negates any positive effect the new windows would provide.
  4. Continue to provide support and funding for “green jobs” that will further these legislated programs. Jobs like researchers, product development, engineering; also, new jobs like “energy efficiency inspector” and consultant.
  5. Mandate programs that reduce the Top 10 energy wasters in offices so that individual workers must play a part in their building’s energy reduction. This might mean automatic computer suspension overnight and on the weekends, or eliminating paper intensive processes, or installing automatic hand dryers and lights. These programs should apply to every building with at least 10 workers. Be imaginative, though, to work around corporate resistance; perhaps a cap & trade element would satisfy some building lessees.

Please continue writing about this issue. I want all workers to be aware of how they use energy and contribute to their building’s energy use and how it relates to carbon emissions.

-Steven Vance

I believe that most letters to the editor are written in mind for the newspaper’s other readers. Many letters to the editor are indeed directed at the editor, the article author, or the newspaper as a company. I chose to write my letter in the former style because if I was going to be published where 800,000 people might read what I wrote, I want it to be something they will find interesting and can have a personal response.

Why did I write what I did? Two LEED experts at Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago, Illinois, came to speak to my class about their research project that analyzes energy and water usage for 27 LEED-certified buildings in Illinois (find buildings on the USGBC’s website). The twofold purpose is to provide a report back to the study participants about their consumption, but also point out exactly what the NYT article mentioned: there’s a disparity between LEED certification and energy efficiency. Should LEED standards be more stringent about energy reduction (for existing buildings) or efficiency (for new buildings compared to other buildings in its class)?

It turns out that U.S. Green Buildings Council will soon require that new buildings must meet a certain minimum number of points in the Energy Efficiency category. I agree with this change, and my suggestions in my letter to the editor complement that change and encourage making energy efficiency easier and something that individual homeowners and workers will take part in.

© 2017 Steven Can Plan

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