Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Is the EPA talking the talk, but not walking the walk?  In what may be viewed as an ironic twist, the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to move its Region 7 headquarters from its current location in downtown Kansas City, Kansas  to the suburbs, may in fact do more harm to the environment than if they had stayed put.
The NRDC’s Kaid Benfield tackles this move in an exposé calling the decision downright “horrible.”  By comparing satellite imagery, Benfield argues that moving the facility will not only take away 600 jobs key to Kansas City’s revitalization and stabilization, but it will lead to three times as many pollutants emitted as a result of changes in employee transportation habits.
Data in the comparison was obtained through publicly accessible sites, walk score, (a service allowing people to identify walkable neighborhoods and their benefits) and Abogo (a tool evaluating how transportation impacts an area).  The findings are below.
Current Location (downtown Kansas City, Kansas)
Photo: Kaid Benfield via Google Maps
Walkscore = 62 out of 100, “somewhat walkable” > 81% of Kansas City
Abogo = Average household cost – $674/mo < regional average – $874/mo; Transportation CO2 impact – 0.39 metric tons/month < regional average – 0.74 metric tons/month.
New location (suburbs of Lenexa, Kansas)
Photo: Kaid Benfield via Google Maps
Walkscore = 28 out of 100, “car dependent” < 86% of Lenexa residents
Abogo = Average household cost – $958/mo > regional average – $874/mo; Transportation CO2 impact – 1.08 metric tons/mo > regional average – 0.74 metric tons/mo.
Benfield also took a look at the core livability principles that arose from the partnership for sustainable communities between the EPA, Department of Transportation, and Department of Housing and Urban Development.  In short, he wonders how this decision to move  supports the community.  He does however look at the other side, elaborating on the new loaction’s LEED certification and related cost savings advantages in connection with the move.
Regardless, Benfield is adamant in his views:
In today’s rancorous political climate, conservatives charge that the federal government’s interest in sustainability is basically a statist plot to force Americans into a lifestyle that they don’t want. Amazingly, in this case it is by ignoring sustainability that the government may be forcing its employees into a lifestyle and increased costs that they likely do not want. The much-heralded government interest in sustainability not only is not forcing ordinary Americans to do anything: it isn’t even having an effect on the government’s own practices.
Where do you stand in regards to the government’s interest in sustainability? Is it born out of a desire to force people into a lifestyle they don’t want?  Or does it work the other way, by ignoring sustainability, people are then forced into other lifestyles they don’t want?  Do we have a choice?  
Read On:
EPA Region 7: “We were just kidding about that sustainability stuff”
Loss of EPA headquarters will affect community
EPA moving regional HQ, but staying in Kansas
HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities
Is Sustainability a Scam
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Is Sustainability a Scam?

“Sustainability” isn’t sustainable, so says William Anderson, Associate Professor of Economics.  Anderson, who teaches at Frostburg State University in Western Maryland says sustainability is just another term for environmentalism.  He argues that our lives have been inundated with rhetoric that preaches living green, using less energy, and resources, while pushing for the use and consumption of renewable alternatives.  His underlying point, it’s all a fraud, and it isn’t making life any easier:
What sounds good, however, often is not, and “sustainability” has become yet another scam – yes, scam – the statists have foisted on people in the name of saving humanity and planet earth. I will go even further: What is called “sustainability” is not even sustainable, not by a long shot. The irony is that the very implementation of “sustainable” policies will needlessly make life more difficult for everyone.
He goes on to reference a 2008 New York Times Article which details the emphasis government has placed on food-based fuels.  The use of bio-fuels (ethanol) is a highly subsidized practice that forces individuals to do what they otherwise would never do, according to Anderson.  He further contends that the government is fleecing healthy industries in an attempt to lift up politically favored industries like clean energy.  He cites the production of electric generating windmills as a project that is contributing to an unsustainable road to recovery.   From readings, Anderson clearly decries  government subsidization in these areas.
Economically speaking, sustainability cannot sustain itself. Instead, it promotes a parasitic state that drains an economy – and its people – of energy and vitality.
Does he have a point? Has the push for sustainable practices, all things being sustainable affected other industries, the larger economy as a whole? Or is he ludicrous in his views?  Weigh in.
Read On:
“Sustainability” Isn’t Sustainable
Obama To Congress: Economic Recovery ‘Begins’ With Clean Energy
Fuel Choices, Food Crises and Finger-Pointing
Too much Food Used for Biofuels and the consequences of not enough food

Posted in Sustainability | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Bon Voyage!

Photo: U.S. Department of Transportation – Maritime Administration
Goods movement is about the transportation of cargo via air, sea, rail, and road.  Yet, it’s easy to forget how essential the maritime industry piece is to the overall economy and flow of commerce.  Unless you work or reside near a port, it’s unlikely that you’d see that point of transaction.  After all, we frequently see containers on trucks, trains, and no doubt have sent or received packages by air mail.
Fortunately, the Department of Transportation (DOT) recognizes the crucial role that coastal and river transportation play.  Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood spoke last week at the North American Marine Highways and Logistics Conference.  He spoke on the state of America’s Marine Highway System and future investment in multi-modal forms of transit.  More specifically, he provided a roadmap and report highlighting DOT accomplishments and developments since the inception of the Marine Highway System program in fall 2010.  At the outset, the program received $215 million in grants, establishing 18 new waterway corridors (pictured).
These corridors identify routes where water transportation presents an opportunity to offer relief to landside corridors that suffer from traffic congestion, excessive air emissions or other environmental concerns and other challenges. (Maritime Administration)
LaHood further added that such corridors and water routes are essential to the prosperity of the United States.
When we finish America’s fully-integrated, national marine highway system, our legacy will be more than routes on water.  It will be a country less dependent on foreign oil.  It will be a 21st century way to move people and goods.  And it will be a future that America is prepared to win. (DOT Blog)
The report submitted to Congress, outlines four intended outcomes:
– Improve our nation’s economic competitiveness while creating and sustaining jobs.
– Provide a more environmentally sustainable transportation system that reduces reliance on imported oil while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
– Benefit global national security while sustaining military operations abroad, and support domestic shipbuilding industry.
– Ensure public safety and security through the safe movement of passengers, freight, and hazardous materials.
The report further identifies 25,000 miles of inland waterways (bays, rivers, channels) that could be used to transport freight.  It’s expected that by 2035 freight tonnage moved will increase by 73% from 2008 levels.  This huge jump will place a strain on our current road and rail reliance, resulting in the need for alternative forms of goods movement.
Comment below.
Read On:
America’s marine highway system: delivering goods more efficiently, reducing dependence on foreign oil
America’s Marine Highway Program
Logistics News: Can Inland Waterways Really be Key Source for Container Freight Moves?
Secretary LaHood Argues Case of Better Transportation Use of America’s Coasts, Waterways
U.S. to promote marine transportation
America is More Secure because of its Strong Domestic Maritime Industry (Jones Act)
Posted in Roads/Highways, Sustainability, Transportation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tower Made of Timber

At first glance, it might appear to be an unsustainable practice, but the proposition of building an entirely wooden skyscraper may be an opportunity for innovation, according to architect and University of Toronto Professor Larry Richards.  The idea that wooden structures could reach twenty-to-forty floors high makes all the more sense when considering that such buildings have shown to be resistant to natural disasters and fires, while utilizing a renewable resource as the main ingredient.  In theory, an all-wood structure is more susceptible to fire as opposed to steel.  However, structurally, a wooden skyscraper would burn slower reducing the chance of failure, whereas steel could bend and collapse at a faster rate.  Architect and Director and Professor of the McGill School of Architecture, Avi Friedman cites risk aversion as a primary hurdle standing in the way.  He questions whether any city would approve the construction of a structure that really doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. He further adds,
“Homebuyers are also not risk takers. When people buy homes, it’s usually the biggest investment they will make in their life. So they are, of course, reluctant to gamble. Thus, it might be a bigger problem to build a wooden condominium building than it would be to build a wooden office tower.”
Friedman doesn’t disagree with the potential, he just wants to see who is going to take that first step.  What do you think? Is he being too conservative? Are people informed about the debate between steel and wood?  Do you know what your building is made of?
The video below shows the construction of the Waugh Thistleton’s Timber Tower in London, UK, one of the tallest wooden residential buildings in the world.  Full article here.
Read On:
B.C. architect touts plans for first timber skyscraper
Nine Storey Apartment Built Of Wood in Nine Weeks By Four Workers
Towers made of timber could herald a new environmentally friendly era of construction
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A Matter of Housing

Photo: Mike Kepka / The Chronicle
Homelessness is a significant public policy issue with no definitive solution. Many communities are tasked with a problem that will not go away.  San Francisco is notoriously known for its high population of transients. The city has taken a tougher stance of late, by strictly enforcing a law that bans sitting and lying on sidewalks from 7 am to 11 pm. This comes in the wake of the city’s annual Project Homeless Connect. The 38th go-round of this project provided general medical services and shelter, among other needs for the homeless.
Yet, the real problem for San Francisco, and no doubt for many other large cities, is the flow of homeless coming and going. As soon as some are taken off the streets, others file in, seemingly taking their place. Shortly before leaving office, Mayor Gavin Newsom addressed the issue with the San Francisco Chronicle, citing permanent housing as the real solution, while more costly on the front end – will ultimately reduce the overall outlay. Furthermore, Homeless Policy Director, Dariush Kayhan, told the Chronicle that the bottom line is it’s cheaper to house homeless folks in permanent supportive housing than to leave them homeless on the streets. While this might be that definitive solution some are looking for, San Francisco has already spent $1 Billion on the homeless since Newsom originally took office in 2004.
With costs for just about everything continually rising, Vancouver, British Columbia is contemplating the use of container-based housing. The proposal cites huge advantages in efficiency and cost, while providing more stable living for those at risk of becoming or are already homeless. According to project builder, JWT Consulting,
You could, in theory, drop this on the site and be drywalling two days later. That would never happen on a traditional building. One of the major efficiencies is just the schedule – the longer the schedule, the more expensive stuff is. (The Globe and Mail)
Photo: The Globe and Mail
Containers could be donated, or cost as little as $6,000.  Similar types of housing units have been implemented before internationally.  Such an option may not be feasible for a less-than-spacious San Francisco, but it could be the answer many communities are looking for.
Read On:
San Francisco tries get tough approach with homeless
Vancouver mulls container-based housing
Another Project Homeless Connect, but Problem Persists
Homeless problem lingers as S.F. spends millions
Posted in Housing, Public Policy | Leave a comment

An Urban Planning Tug-of-War

For the past 30 years a movement called New Urbanism has dominated the urban planning and development world.  Yet, this darling of many planning aficionados has been challenged in the past few years by the up-and-coming (relatively speaking, it’s been around for about a decade), but very fervent, Landscape Urbanism movement.
Considering that cities continue to grow, and change is ever-present, there is much at stake.  The student planners of today will make the decisions of tomorrow and will have great influence on the look and feel of our future cities.  The outcome may ascribe to one of these movements.
Staff writer, Leon Neyfakh of the Boston Globe recently wrote an article detailing this tug-of-war.  In it, he details the rapid rise of Landscape Urbanism,
Its proponents are ascending to prominent positions at architecture schools, its practitioners have won significant commissions around the world, and respected publications like ArchitectureBoston and the European journal Topos have recently devoted nearly entire issues to their ideas. MIT has launched a program called Landscape+Urbanism; Northeastern University will soon offer an undergraduate degree in urban landscape. “This whole thing is hot stuff at the moment,” said Phyllis Andersen, a landscape historian at the Landscape Institute of the Boston Architectural College.
Landscape Urbanism is a planning-centric idea that values the natural environment.  Design and functionality of new cities and communities take into consideration what came before, often focusing on resource protection.  This viewpoint accepts spacious suburbs and does not necessarily demand density and the elimination of one’s automobile.  It takes a world view that sees the built environment coexisting with the natural world, a hybrid if you will.  Conversely, New Urbanism proponents have fired back, suggesting Landscape Urbanism is a misguided proponent of sprawl.  New Urbanism is more of a traditionalist point of view that envisions denser, diverse communities, that are walkable.  While these movements are far more detailed than what has been outlined, a dramatic shift is underway in philosophy.  The new kids on the block, Landscape Urbanists, are threatening New Urbanism’s long standing thunder.  Well known leader of the New Urbanism movement, Andreas Duany is aware, but confident,
What you’re seeing is the New Urbanism about to swallow the landscape urbanists, [the plan] is to systematically “assimilate” the language and strategies that have made [my] opponents such a white-hot brand. We’re trying to upgrade ourselves.
What side are you on?
Read On:
Boston’s long history with landscape urbanism
Critiquing The Landscape Urbanism
An Ecological Urbanism or a New Urbanism?
Do urbanists hate the automobile? Not this one
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And the Winner Is…

Photo: MVVA/HNTB Team
Who knew roadkill in America is an $8 billion dollar problem?!  Thus, born out of necessity (aptly referred to as an emerging critical priority) according to organizers, comes the ARC: International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition.  The international competition awarded $40,000 to a team made up of landscape architects, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) and construction firm, HNTB, for their design pictured above.  The design, specifically intended to allow wildlife to cross safely over an interstate highway in Vail, Colorado, is much different than a traditional bridge project for vehicles.  Unlike the latter, usually narrow and meant to hold enormous amounts of weight, the winning bridge design will be far wider and made of precast concrete that can adhere to different dimensions.
Photo: MVVA/HNTB Team
The jury determined that MVVA/HNTB was not only practical, but utilized current technology and established techniques,
The scheme marries well a simple elegance with a brute force. It effectively recasts ordinary materials and methods of construction into a potentially transcendent work of design. In this regard it gives us confidence that it could be credibly imagined as a regional infrastructure across the inter‐mountain west.
Read the full announcement here
Robert Rock, a Senior Associate at MVVA says the real advantage of the structure is the availability of raw materials.  Precast concrete is readily available with many suppliers throughout the nation meaning this type of infrastructure could be built in many other places.
Read On:
Winning Submission
List: wildlife crossing structures and road ecology links
A Simple Concrete Bridge That Could Save America’s Wildlife
Design Picked for Wildlife Crossing
Posted in Built Environment, Environmental, Infrastructure, Land Use, Roads/Highways, Urban Design | Tagged , , | Leave a comment