Posts Tagged ‘urban sustainability’

Never pay an Electricity Bill again? Sounds pretty good to me.

Posted in Models, Movements, Sustainable Cities, Visions by emma.gerard on August 21st, 2013

Source: Climate progress


photo from: Habitat for Humanity of washington DC

From the article Why Habitat For Humanity’s Newest Homeowner Might Never Pay An Electricity Bill by JOANNA M. FOSTER

Lakiya’s new home is the first super energy-efficient passive house in D.C. It also just happens to be a Habitat for Humanity home.

The house doesn’t look like a futuristic spaceship, but it is different from the other small pre-fab houses along the street. It is a two home duplex with a big wooden porch in front and, of course, solar panels on the roof.

Lakiya’s house started out two years ago as an entry in the Department of Energy’s biannual Solar Decathlon. Dubbed “Empowerhouse” for the competition, it was an ambitious concept brought to life by engineering and architecture students from Stevens Institute of TechnologyParsons The New School for Design and Milano School for International Affairs, management and Urban Policy, many of whom had never even wielded a hammer before attempting this elaborate construction project. The team’s dream was to build a solar-powered house that could not only compete with the most cutting-edge technologies out there, but was actually affordable and something ordinary people would want to live in.

According to Josh Layrea, one of the Stevens engineers, the winning entry from a German team two years before cost over two million dollars. “It was an impressive piece of engineering,” Laryea concedes. “But made for exhibit, not habitation. The entire outside of the house was covered in solar panels.” Laryea and his teammates had a different goal. In a way, they were in a competition of their own, in which they were competing against themselves to see if they could create something that Habitat for Humanity could use not only as a home for a low-income family in the Deanwood area of D.C. but also as an affordable housing prototype for Habitat going forward. The Stevens-Parson-Milano house won the top prize for cost-effectiveness at the Solar Decathlon.

Lakiya’s house was built based on passive house design principles. The basic concept of passive house is to lower energy consumption by being super-insulated and practically airtight. Empowerhouse has 12-inch thick walls and triple-glazed windows and, as a result, uses up to 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than an ordinary house. Such low energy consumption enabled Empowerhouse to have one of the smallest solar panel arrays in the competition, which helps keep construction and maintenance costs down.

As anyone who worked on Empowerhouse hoped, Lakiya’s home is not the end of the dream. Habitat is gearing up to build six more passive houses in Ivy City, a short drive from Deanwood. They’ll look a bit different from Empowerhouse, more townhouses than duplex, but they’ll cost about the same and hopefully pass on the same savings.

“As much as we can afford, we would like to have the highest standard of energy efficiency available for our homeowners,” said Susanne Slater, President and CEO of D.C. Habitat for Humanity. “Our whole mission is to provide affordable housing to low income families, and if homeowners pay less in energy costs, that helps us reach that goal.”

“I really believe that with the mounting cost of electricity, passive houses with solar panels are going to take off,” said Slater. “And our homeowners are going to be out in front of the movement.”

>>> You can read the original article on Climate Progress

Nature and neighbourhoods: Milwaukees’s Urban Ecology Centres

Posted in Models by Jessica Bird on January 14th, 2013

Source: Urban Milwaukee, via Tim Beatley

Photo by Alec Brooks from Urban Milwaukee website.

From ‘Rise of the Urban Ecology Center‘ by Peggy Shulz

How a small non-profit in a trailer in Riverside Park rose to become a major player with centers erected in three county parks. “Save the park.” That was the single, not-so-simple goal of a very loosely organized group of concerned residents of Riverside Park in the early 1990s. Little did they know that two decades later, a trio of nationally recognized ecology education centers would grow out of their efforts. Today, school children in three distinct neighborhoods — Riverside Park, Washington Park and Menomonee Valley — boast an Urban Ecology Center where children learn about ecology and their environment through a wide range of programs and activities, including “outdoor laboratories,” a full year of trips for students at nearby schools, after-school programs and preschool programs. […]

The site of the original UEC, Riverside Park, was designed in 1865 by Frederick Law Olmsted as the western anchor of Newberry Boulevard, with Lake Park serving as the eastern anchor. In the years since the park was created, it had fallen into disrepair. With the intent of building an MPS middle school, a square block and a half of homes to the south of the original Riverside Park were torn down, beginning in the late 1960s. That land then stood mostly vacant for decades, with the exception of occasional garden plots. Even before all the homes were demolished, though, MPS changed its plans. By 1991, the entire expanse had become crime-ridden, including the area between what was by then a bike trail (but had earlier been railroad tracks) and the Milwaukee River. It was filled with trash and invasive plant species.

It was time to reclaim the park, but the concerned neighbors weren’t at all sure how they were going to do it. After a lot of thought, they decided to begin by cleaning it up, with the ultimate goal of using the park to teach neighborhood children about ecology and being friends of the earth. Litter and crime would be replaced with learning. A doublewide trailer was placed just north of Park Place and east of the bike trail. […] It wasn’t until 2004 that the award-winning Riverside Park location of the Urban Ecology center opened. […] The center now manages the county-owned portion of the parkland with volunteers. A capital campaign followed shortly thereafter, based on the long list of schools that already had asked to have their students participate in UEC activities. The early goal of saving Riverside Park was realized. “We essentially turned a problem into an asset,” [executive director Ken] Leinbach said. “The land was healed with volunteers, and kids were learning about their environment.”

Just as the Riverside Park location grew out of a desire to save the park, the Washington Park and Menomonee Valley sites were “natural” areas in the city that needed restoration. According to Leinbach, in planning all three locations UEC took certain factors into account: a nearby body of water, woods and fields; proximity to schools; and some measure of wealth in the surrounding neighborhood. “We knew we needed the neighbors’ help to sustain our program economically,” Leinbach explained. The mission of all three UEC sites can be boiled down to “intentionally/institutionally getting kids connected to nature with adult mentors,” Leinbach said. The founders never intended the center to be a model for anyone else. “I think you do something and it can become a model, if it works,” Leinbach said. “You don’t set out to create a model.” But it has turned into one, even internationally. […]

Dennis Grzezinski, a UEC board member, describes three aspects of the center that have contributed to its success: environmental education, a community center and a nature center. The variety of programming is based on just a few primary concepts, Grzezinski said. “Proximity of the students to the center promotes deeper relationships between the students and the educators as mentors or models,” he said. Schools that participate must be within a 2-1/2 mile radius. That makes it easier for the students to return to the center over and over and establish a connection to a natural place that has different seasons, where they can plant bushes and trees and watch them grow over time. […] “This organization … comes from humble, common-sense, low-budget origins,” Grzezinski said. “We do things on a shoestring budget. Environmentalism is about using resources carefully and not wasting them.”

When Leinbach was studying environmental education in graduate school, he recalls thinking that the world is a fragile place and we humans weren’t helping. Through the Urban Ecology center’s three locations, many humans are helping —reclaiming, rebuilding and maintaining fragile, natural places for the long term, and creating a stronger sense of community in the process.

>>> You can read the full article on Urban Milwaukee.
>>> You can learn more about the Urban Ecology Centers on their website.

City of Sydney blazing the way with LED lighting.

Posted in Models, Movements by Jessica Bird on April 4th, 2012

Photo from City of Sydney

From an article on Greenpages by The Climate Group

Sydney has become the first major city in Australia – and one of the first in the world – to embrace LED lighting, following council approval for General Electric (GE) and UGL Limited to fit LEDs to the majority of the City’s outdoor lights as part of an AUS $7 million three-year project.

The new lights promise to cut the City’s lighting-related electricity bills and carbon emissions by more than 50%, while bathing city streets in a whiter, brighter light. The first lights were installed last weekend on George Street in front of Sydney Town Hall, a central location which was initiated by The Climate Group’s LightSavers program. In total, 6,500 lights will be fitted with LED technology. A rollout of this size is unprecedented in Australia and will be closely watched by other councils. If successful, it may start a domino effect and see LEDs spread to city streets across Australia.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore supports the City’s pioneering rollout of the LED lights. She said: “Replacing 6,450 conventional lights will save nearly $800,000 a year in electricity bills and maintenance costs. Sydney will be the first city in Australia to install the new LED street and park lights across its entire city centre, and joins other major cities such as Berlin, Barcelona, Los Angeles and San Francisco.”

Independent polls conducted in the trial areas show that Sydney residents agree with the City Council’s move: 90% supported the rollout of the lights on Sydney’s streets.


Sydney’s LED transformation follows a rigorous testing phase conducted as a contributor to The Climate Group’s Global LED Trial. The Global Trial, undertaken in more than 10 major world cities, including Hong Kong, London, New York and Toronto, has put almost 30 different outdoor LED lighting products to the test. The City’s successful trial results also reflect those of the wider Global Trial: LED products are reliable, use 50-70% less energy and produce fewer carbon emissions – and have outshone traditional street lighting with more attractive light.


Read the full article here

A sign of the cities to come – 2 reports into Australian cities

Posted in Research, Sustainable Cities by Rob Eales on January 12th, 2011

Article by Sara Phillips via ABC Environment blog

Image by buiversonian via flickr under this Creative Commons license (the description of this image on flickr is great)

Two reports about Sustainable Cities in Australia (not so recent but still interesting). The interesting thing about these reports is the context in which they were researched and the organisations that commissioned them. One is through the Australian Conservation Foundation and the other was undertaken by KPMG on behalf of Built Environment Meets Parliament, the lobbying arm of a collection of planners and developers. The context of the reports was “…that if we want an understanding of how sustainable we are as a nation, we need to look to our cities.”

The article includes,

The ACF report measured publicly available information across 15 separate parameters. Predictably, for an organisation originally established to protect Australian flora and fauna, the ACF examined such measures as amount of land given over to parks, and ecological footprint – the theoretical amount of land required to create the goods and services used each day by a city’s citizens.

What is most interesting, however, is that the ACF also included measures of economic prosperity. They looked at debt levels for households and employment data. The inclusion of these measures, according to Matthew Trigg, report co-ordinator from the ACF, was because even the greenest city is not sustainable if its economy is not.

“Sustainability is not just about the environment. Economic issues become environmental issues and environmental issues are wrapped up in economic issues. The two are intertwined.”


Meanwhile, KMPG, which does not have a reputation for being a firm overrun with dreadlocked hippies, included many measures of environmental sustainability in its report. Taking its cues from COAG, KPMG reviewed cities’ plans for “social inclusion, productivity and global competitiveness, climate change mitigation and adaptation, health, liveability, community wellbeing, housing affordability and matters of national environmental significance.”

Read the rest

Sustainable Cities: Challenges for the Asia Pacific – Series podcast from

Posted in Opinion, Research, Sustainable Cities by Rob Eales on November 16th, 2010

This series of podcasts from 2008 from ABC Radio, Radio Australia.  It discusses the challenges of cities in the Asia Pacific region with a broad range of local and regional participants.  It discusses transport, infrastructure and livability along with community and identity, how they are defined, exist, can be planned for as well as how they affect the fabric of cities.

It is still current and thought provoking, with the local participants providing a broad range of technical, historical and cultural viewpoints from across the region.

Living Concrete/Carrot City – The possibilities of Urban Agriculture

Posted in Events, Models, Research by Kate Archdeacon on November 8th, 2010

Source:’s City Harvest Newsletter

Parsons Living Concrete/Carrot Exhibition image by Martin Seck

Image via Parsons by Martin Seck

Living Concrete/Carrot City is an exhibition of creative and research projects that demonstrate the possibilities of urban agriculture. The exhibition links sociologist Thomas Lyson’s coinage “civic agriculture” to Joseph Beuys’s influential formulation of social transformation and individual creativity, “social sculpture.” It argues that everyday practices of food production and distribution in cities, the actions of ordinary people in local neighborhoods, register as quiet but persistent challenges to the agro-industrial complex.

Living Concrete is a cross-institutional dialogue with Carrot City: Designing for Urban Agriculture, an initiative of the Department of Architectural Sciences at Ryerson University in Toronto curated by Mark Gorgolewski, June Komisar and Joe Nasr. Carrot City demonstrates how increasing public interest in agriculture, food supply, and food security is influencing urban design and how design can facilitate a more robust urban food system. This wide-ranging survey of Canadian and American cases examines projects at multiple scales – the city, community and knowledge-building, home and rooftop projects, and a range of products.

Read the full release from Parsons

October 1–December 15, 2010
Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery
Sheila C. Johnson Design Center
2 West 13th Street, New York

Bike-Based Compost Collection Trials

Posted in Models, Research by Kate Archdeacon on September 15th, 2010

From Treehugger

Compost Bikes, St Paul, Minn by Brendan Sullivan, Star Tribune

Image by Brendan Sullivan for Star Tribune

Composting and bikes combine in new business model being trialled in the US.  A composting service for people who want to reduce waste but don’t use compost or don’t have worm farms has started hoping to provide low carbon and sensible service to deal with and reuse useful waste.

Composting is catching on nationwide as more cities provide services to residents for collecting food, landscape clippings and other compostable separate from recylables and landfill waste. But to test out if the St. Paul, Minn.’s Macalester-Groveland neighborhood is ready for such a program, Sonya Ewert is hopping on a 27-gear bike with a custom-made trailer and going door to door to collect compostables from residents. The bike-powered composting service is part of an experiment — if enough residents like having their food waste collected, the city may move forward in providing the service on a large scale through their waste and recycling collection services. For Ewert, helping to get the new component added to the sanitation service is truly a (smelly) labor of love.

The Star Tribune writes that the project is a three-month long experiment to see if the residents are keen to compost, and if so, Eureka Recycling may take on collecting food waste separately as part of their service. For the area, food waste represents about 12% of the waste stream, and food-contaminated paper another 10%, so the potential for waste diversion from landfills is huge.

Read the full story by Jaymi Heimbuch on Treehugger

Regenerating Existing Development: Living City Block

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on May 18th, 2010

© Living City Block

“By the summer of 2012, Living City Block Lo Do Denver will have reduced its aggregate energy use by 50%. By the summer of 2014, LCB will become a Net Zero energy bloc, and by 2016 it will be creating more resources than it consumes. But concurrently, LCB will be working to develop a thriving urban community, one in which people of all ages and types choose to live, work and play.”

By the year 2050, eighty percent of the world’s population will live in cities. In addition, the Urban Land Institute predicts that eighty percent of current building stock will still be in use in the year 2050. As America and the world work to build a new, sustainable foundation for the 21st century, we need new models of what our urban spaces and places can become. Living City Block will be just such a model.

Starting with a block and a half of Denver’s historic Lower Downtown (LoDo) district, Living City Block will create a demonstration of a regenerative urban center. LCB will draw on selected partners from around Denver, the U.S. and the world to develop and implement a working model of how one block within an existing city can be transformed into a paradigm for the new urban landscape.

This pilot project is taking the area of 15th to 16th, Wynkoop to Wazee and east across Wazee and transforming it into a sustainable community. First, Living City Block will work to significantly reduce the energy consumption and environmental impact on these blocks. By the summer of 2012, Living City Block Lo Do Denver will have reduced its aggregate energy use by 50%. By the summer of 2014, LCB will become a Net Zero energy bloc, and by 2016 it will be creating more resources than it consumes. But concurrently, LCB will be working to develop a thriving urban community, one in which people of all ages and types choose to live, work and play. Right retail will evolve, better and more sustainable jobs will be created and kept, and the block will take its place as a part of the economic engine that drives the city and the region.

The LoDo project is a model that will be replicated across the Western Hemisphere though our Sister Cites and Sister Neighborhood programs. The LCB Team is pursuing relationships with other neighborhoods within Denver, other cities within the US and the Western Hemisphere to establish their own Living City Blocks. The LCB Team will begin by creating “virtual” city blocks with these partners that will over time become their own actual Living City Blocks. The lessons learned and the methodologies created through our initial LoDo Denver LCB will become the model for developing many other LCB’s, and for doing so at scale and in the near future.

Read more on Living City Block.


‘Rental Goat’ Weeding Service: low-carbon solutions

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on January 22nd, 2010

Source: Japan for Sustainability via Food Climate Research Network

From “Company to Begin ‘Rental Goat’ Weeding Service

Mikuni Construction Co. in Kitakyusyu City, southern Japan, announced in August 2009, that it would be launching a new service to rent goats for weeding grass starting in April 2010. This unique weeding method does not require any machinery, and is drawing attention as an environmentally friendly technique.

Having first heard about weeding with goats from his business associate, Katsuhiko Sera, the president of the company, has been investigating the approach for three years in an effort to devise a viable business model. He bought five goats in May 2009, and by tethering the goats with a cable, about 500 square meters of grass can be grazed over the course of a week. A trial “rent-a-goat” began in August 2009, but will be fully launched in March 2010.

Goats eat various types of weed. They eat all aboveground stems and leaves, and prefer to graze on slops, which people often find it difficult to weed. Furthermore, weeded material does not require disposal when using this method and the goat dung produced simply decomposes and is returned to the soil.

In addition to renting goats, the company plans to provide its own weeding service by increasing the number of goats, and to manufacture cheese and other products from goat milk. Mr. Sera hopes that his rental goat service will serve not only as a new tool to maintain urban green spaces, but will also assist the comfort of local residents.

From “Company to Begin ‘Rental Goat’ Weeding Service

From Industrial Hub To Sustainable Neighbourhood

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on December 18th, 2009

Source: Daily Commercial News


From “Vancouver industrial hub transformed into sustainable neighbourhood” by  Jean Sorensen

Southeast False Creek (SEFC), a City of Vancouver reclamation project, is being designed to set a new urban sustainability standard in community development. The 80-acre site housing 16,000 people will become a neighbourhood of parks, market and subsidised housing, marine areas, community garden, shops, schools, and a community centre, growing out of what was once the industrial hub of the city. Sawmills, manufacturers, metal shops and marine-related shops once rimmed False Creek.  Subsurface investigation was made into soil and groundwater quality at SEFC to complete human health and risk assessment as part of a remedial action plan. In areas where contamination was severe, soils were removed and in areas of lesser contamination, the material was covered over and the land designated recreational use.

“I am told that this is the largest residential development in North America,” said Robin Petri, Vancouver’s Manager of Engineering for the SEFC & Olympic Village.  One of the unique features of the development, Petri points out, is that the roads are sloped so that rainwater drains into natural bioswales on each side of the village, negating the need to treat runoff water, while providing habitat for birds, animals, and marine life.  Buildings also capture and use water, with approximately 50 per cent having green roofs and 50 per cent directing the water into irrigation and functions such as toilet flushing. A neighborhood energy utility is the first in North America to gather heat directly from a raw sewage line, consolidate the heat and use it in a thermal system that loops pipe to various buildings and back to the utility building.

One of the challenges of the cleanup was that False Creek had been filled in along the shoreline over the years.   Much of the earlier materials used for fill were poor quality and these had to be removed and replaced.  To compensate for shoreline that was removed, an island was created in an inter-tidal zone allowing children to wade to it at low tide to examine marine life that has been returning to a once-derelict area. In February a project manager noticed white frothy bubbles around the island. It turned out to be herring roe – the first time it has been seen there in 50 years.

Read the full article by Jean Sorensen.