Death of Sprawl: Past and Future

foreclosesign.jpg

Seems like my chapter “The Death of Sprawl” from The Post Carbon Reader is taking on a life of its own. Friday, Christopher Leinberger had an Op-ed in the New York Times, titled “Death of the Fringe Suburb,” which built upon concepts I had published (and sent Leinberger last year) namely, that the US mortgage crisis and Recession were set off by upsidedown economics of sprawl speculation in US exurbs or “Boomburbs” and we can’t ever do that again.

The site Adapturbia also recently put together a nifty visual presentation of “The Death of Sprawl” that localized my content to provide context for sprawl issues confronting Sydney, Australia.

What’s important here is that the research and the real estate sales figures are becoming ever clearer: people increasingly prefer to live in mixed-use, transit-oriented walkable and bikeable neighborhoods over drive-everywhere bedroom communities. Those preferences will not change and we will not go back, which is affirmed by the abandoned exurban housing and development that are fast becoming the nation’s newest slums: for the first time in the nation’s history, suburban poverty now outweighs urban poverty.

One need only take a look at the foreclosure heavy areas such as California’s Inland Empire: my chapter provided a case study of Victorville, CA, one of the last gasps of the residential car-centered Boomburb economy of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Leinberger’s piece hit on the changing real estate taste in demographics (retired Boomers and upcoming Millennials) while my thesis examined how cheap energy fueled nearly 100% car-dependent exurban growth. We both concluded that denser, mixed-use metro areas are the wise investments of the future because: more people want to live that way so that is where investment will occur. Developers know that strip malls, sidewalk-less mini-mansions and business parks that cater to cars only are poison in this economy. Continue reading

Share

UN’s Shanghai Manual Launches to Guide Urban Futures


expo carbon.JPG

A powerful triumvirate,
the United Nations, Bureau International Des
Expositions
and the mayor of Shanghai, released this week the Shanghai Manual:A Guide for Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century.This timely (and free!) manual is
aimed at helping leaders of the world’s cities use integrated urban
planning, management, financing and technology to green their
economies and build climate and economic resilience.

“The Shanghai Manual details
the experience and practices of cities across the world in addressing common
challenges and achieving harmonious development…and is therefore of great
theoretical and practical value,” Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng said at
Monday’s launch, according to the Shanghai Daily.

Aimed at a
target readership of mayors and executive leaders of developing nation cities,
the bilingual (English and Chinese) Shanghai
Manual
is the basis for capacity building and training being rolled out in Asia next week by the United Nations. City leaders representing 12 Asian nations will attend the United Nations Center for Regional Development in
Nagoya, Japan, where UN officials and I will lead urban sustainability training
for leaders ranging from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Karachi, Pakistan,
to Makati (Manila), Philippines. In addition smaller cities including Chiang Mai, Thailand are participating.

Continue reading

Share

UN Rio+20 Agenda Galvanizes to Sustainable Cities


logoBig_rio+20.jpg

As Rio+20 takes shape (officially, the United Nations
Conference on Sustainable Development,follow-up to the historic UN 1992 “Earth Summit,”held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil),the issue of sustainable cities appears to be
taking center stage in planning for the June 2012 event dedicated to marshalling the global Green Economy.

“Cities provide a great framework to galvanize public
opinion and citizen participation,” said Jared Blumenfeld, Administrator of
Region 9 of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Cities also have a
lot in common: New York and Beijing have more in common in terms of challenges
they face than do the US and China.”

On the road to Rio, the UN’s “Shanghai Manual for Sustainable Cities”will be released by the UN Department of
Economic and Social Affairs on Nov. 7 as a playbook for mayors of global cities
so they can deploy triple bottom line strategies (I co-authored the manual with
the UN). Blumenfeld, who spoke last week at the Commonwealth Club in San
Francisco, said that the US Department of State and EPA are preparing by next week a Rio+20 submittal that is “cities focused.” (Previously, the United States and Brazil
recently announced the US-Brazil Joint Venture on Urban Sustainability.) Meanwhile, non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders has begun high-level discussions with the UN
and NGOs ICLEI and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group,
on potential Rio+20 standards for ecocities including the International Ecocity
Framework and Standards
(IEFS).

Out of the 1992 Earth Summit,with 110 heads of state and thousands of
non-governmental leaders, emerged pivotal treaties and frameworks for decades to
come, including the Kyoto Protocol
and Agenda 21.
Other products of the first Earth Summit include the Global Environmental
Facility
at the World Bank,
and national sustainability agendas in 86 countries based off Agenda 21,
according to Jacob Scherr, director of global strategy and advocacy for the
Natural Resources Defense Council. Continue reading

Share

UN’s New Sustainable City Effort Starts With Asia


IMG_4972.JPG

2010 Shanghai Expo Closing Summit

We all need to reinvent urban planning for the 21st
century.

Never has the need been greater for integration across urban management,
systems, experts, policies and technologies.The world is rapidly becoming more urban,
especially in Asia, where hundreds of millions have begun moving to cities.This massive migration, largest
in human history, will produce colossal impacts–including innovation–in energy use, transportation,
housing, water and resource use. Economies will be impacted at every scale, especially beyond burgeoning metro areas in national and global markets.

Add climate change and adaptation issues to the development
of Asian cities, where more than 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emission
increases are expected to occur over the next 15 years,
and we are faced with the urgency–and opportunity–to reinvent urban planning. Planning for the
future of cities needs to now embody a process combining sustainability
strategies with information and communications technologies (ICT), supported by the
sciences (natural + social) in concert with engaged participation: from the
slum to the boardroom to the ivory tower.

Continue reading

Share

Cities and Smart Grids: latest from US and China


smart grid3.jpg

The internet, distributed renewable energy, electric
vehicles and energy management are ready to coalesce: the impact on cities and
our lives will be profound. The US-China
Green Energy Conference (sponsored by the US-China Green Energy Council) held Friday in the Silicon Valley took a deep bi-national dive
into what smart grids are and what they will mean for so-called smart cities,
their wired citizenry and the future of global carbon emissions.

Smart grid specifics are finally starting to emerge from
the marketing haze. They will rely heavily on smart buildings, and are a
critical solution in making renewable energy more scalable through more
efficient energy transmission systems. Cities
like Dubuque, Iowa are working with 1,000 residents to test smart grid
applications and have reportedly lowered their water use by 6% in early trials
with IBM
.

Elsewhere, China is testing a four-square kilometer smart
grid pilot area in its national urban eco showcase, Tianjin Eco-City. The smart
grid includes a 30kw PV solar microgrid on the roof of the Tianjin “Eco-City Business Hall,”
where residents will be able to charge their electric vehicles while they view
virtual reality demonstrations of how the smart grid works, including its
“self-healing” capabilities within the Eco-City’s network.

In terms of renewable energy, smart grids will be a killer
app. Right now, when the wind completely dies in larger areas of wind power
generation, such as the West Texas plains, the transmission system supplying
electricity to cities, including Austin and Dallas, suffers a “mad scramble,”
according to Liang Min, of the US Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). In fact, according
to Chuck Wells from OSISoft, such power hiccups are currently so disruptive, that 45% more fossil fuel is
needed to back up regional energy grids having large-scale wind and solar
generation versus regional grids that rely only on fossil fuels.

On the home or business side, people are responsible for
about 30% of a typical building’s energy system performance, said John Skinner,
Managing Director of Intel’s Open Energy initiative. The more reliable information people have,
the more likely they can make smart decisions about energy use, and the more
likely they can pay less for energy than they do with analog meters (the ones
with the wheels turning inside them).

Energy transactions will become more transparent through
next-generation smart grid transaction languages, such as TeMIX which was
presented to the US-China energy conference by Edward Cazalet, CEO of TeMIX. Cazalet’s presentation reminded me of how the internet
was optimized when TCP/ IP, the unifying data transfer protocols behind the web,
were created. The capability for energy systems to use a unified language
around energy use and transactions will be critical. This language will allow governments,
businesses and residents to better manage their energy consumption. Currently,
energy costs can  vary tremendously based
on factors including climate, usage and equipment, costing as much as five times or more during
peak hours. Few people outside of large businesses realize they can
cut energy costs dramatically by changing their behavior, which can be as
straightforward as running energy
guzzling appliances during off-peak hours.

None of this means that smart meters are a panacea. In
cities throughout California, smart meters have been rolled out clumsily by the
utility Pacific Gas and Electric
.
After four years of replacing residential and business analog meters with wireless smart
meters, a vocal and well-organized group
of citizens are objecting to the continuous signals they transmit. Others
object based on invasion of privacy or fear the new meters would overcharge
them. PG&E has finally gotten around to a public education program extolling
the benefits of smart meters, which they say are mandatory for their
customers. Besides the heavy handedness,
even with the new PR campaign, PG&E has not made the case for compelling
consumer benefits.

Consolidated Edison of New York City, on the other hand has managed their
smart meter pilot program more effectively. Con Ed ran an extensive public
education program and transparent opt-out option for those that did not want
smart meters (2% did not want them) on their home or business for their New
York City pilot program
. The
utility offered participants in its pilot program rebates of $25-50. Six rate
structures with hourly rate changes and a web-based consumer dashboard
explained and demonstrated different rates, according to EPRI’s Liang Min.

Many companies including Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, General
Electric and Google are eyeing the nascent smart grid for its potential not
just to make cities more eco-efficient, but for also for lucrative smart-grid
revenue streams as they penetrate the last major untapped digital pathway into our lives.

“We are cooperating with many high tech companies,” Kai Xie,
General Manager of the US Office of the China State Grid told the US-China Energy
Conference. “We have also developed some in-house products for our customers,
including a dashboard (with Intel) as part of a two-way communication combined
smart meter and consumer portal. “

Our information, communications, photographs, entertainment
and medical industries are all now increasingly digital, and soon our energy
will be digitized, too. Let’s hope the planet and our cities will benefit from a smooth and well thought out transformation.

Warren
Karlenzig is president of Common
Current
. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute,  and co-author of
a
forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and
management. 
 

Share

Green:Net Event on ICT and Climate Change

gn_feature.jpg
With Japan’s Fukushima, there is an urgent need to re-examine how technology will help address climate change. What societal, economic and other costs will we pay for our technological fixes? In the case of low-carbon energy technologies, Fukushima has radically rearranged the cost-benefit balance sheet.

Next Thursday April 21, research group GigaOm sponsors the Green:Net 2011 event in San Francisco, which will examine how information and communication technology (ICT) can better manage the causes and impacts of climate change.

Despite the environmental costs of ICT, which includes growing energy consumption and mining of dwindling precious metals, ICT is an overall net positive in the battle to mitigate carbon emissions and resource inefficiency. In other words, ICT sustainability gains outweigh ICT life-cycle production, use and disposal (eventually reuse?) costs.

Areas that will likely produce the greatest ICT sustainability improvements include topics that will be covered in depth by Green:Net presentations, panels and sessions, including:

  • Smart Grids: In a new report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that smart grids will be key to rise of clean energy, including renewables, electric vehicles and energy efficiency.
  • Transportation infrastructure and logistics: This can mean getting the latest train, bus or carshare availability information on your handheld, as well as congestion and parking pricing for industries, businesses and residents.
  • Crowdsourcing: I love the story of how Delhi, India is using Facebook to have people
    report
    traffic jams, blockages and illegal parking or traffic situations.
  • Smart buildings: Distributed energy control, analytics and energy efficiency systems for offices, commercial buildings, homes and appliances will reduce energy use in the world’s largest greenhouse-gas emitting segment–buildings.
  • Smart cities: As urban populations and cities expand worldwide, there are growing needs to use ICT for planning, management, analytics and citizen participation. In New Songdo City, South Korea, which I visited in 2009, ICT is being designed to provide this new city with a unified management system allowing more efficient energy use, lower carbon transportation, and more efficient businesses and residential services.

Companies, VCs and experts appearing at Green:Net include Google, Tesla Motors, Claremont Creek Ventures, Pike Research, Spring Ventures, GE Energy, Silver Spring Networks, RelayRides, ABB Technology Ventures, Otherlab.com, Yahoo, Smart Grid Strategy, Global Green USA, Austin Energy, A123 Systems, Cisco, AES Energy Storage, Autodesk, Microsoft, CC Labs, Control4, CODA Automotive, Joel Makower from GreenBiz Group, Stanford’s Annika Todd and Jonathan Silver from the US Department of Energy.

Warren
Karlenzig is president of Common
Current
. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, strategic adviser to
the Institute for Strategic Resilience and co-author of
a
forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and
management. 
  

Share

Learning from Japan about Resilience


bike_earthquake_japan2.jpg

Hourly Japan ‘s tragedy grows almost beyond comprehension (3/16 Update: The head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission said this afternoon that releases of radiation at Fukushima have been “extremely high” and that “could impact the ability to take corrective measures.”). There is universal empathy over the pain and
suffering being experienced, fear about impacts on Japan’s and the world’s
economy, and anxiety about releases of radiation. For those of us living in seismically
active coastal earthquake zones (me), or anyone living in the airshed of an
active nuclear facility (most of us), or
living downwind (the West Coast of the US and Canada), concerns are multiplied.  

We must use this teachable moment to comprehensively
plan for climate change, energy availability and transformational natural
disasters. These multi-dimensional factors present non-linear problems bound up
together, a “wicked problem.”

The urban need for effective resilience planning has never
been more urgent or daunting. The Sendai Earthquake shattered existing risk models
with a 9.0 initial offshore earthquake, spawning a colossal tsunami from the
epicenter toward shore, resulting in a humanitarian crisis underpinned by now-uncontrolled
nuclear radiation releases.

Loss of life is rampant, and amongst survivors physical and
psychological suffering is acute. 

All grids are down, no transportation, communications or
energy are available in impact zones. Yet, the modest bicycle has emerged triumphant from the
chaos in Tokyo
and beyond

Infrastructure, communications, trains, subways, roads,
energy, soil, air, water, and food are all impacted in terms of delivery, quality
and supply. People are wisely cloistered indoors, but getting basic supplies
will become the next concern for survival even before the radiation leaks subside.

In terms of global economic fallout, supply chains are getting hit, (microcontrollers,
airplanes, and the automotive and electronics sectors,
impacting global trade at least for the year.

Trend: World supply of renewables are being recalculated and
redefined

Nuclear has lost its dubious “renewable” status
permanently. Anything that makes land and resources unusable and dangerous for
years should not qualify as a first solution. But with coal use likely peaking
as an energy source and because its threat to climate, we are forced to consider nuclear
as an energy option.

Trend: Need for New Nuclear Power Plant Criteria

Earthquake, and Cat 3 to 5 hurricane and typhoon zones
should be taken off the global list of available nuclear energy generation sites. Nuclear needs a complete re-examination in
terms of lifecycle energy costs (how much energy is used in mining uranium and
other material) as well as lifecycle radiation risks.

Trend: Nuclear won’t be Dismissed Outright

Considering the increase in the cities of the developing world
(China, India) and their need for energy–it will be almost impossible to
dismiss nuclear as an energy source, unless some very massive leapfrog
technology comes along. We’re stuck with most of the nuclear plants we have,
at least for now. Plants should be
scrutinized, even temporarily or permanently closed if they can’t be run with “Post-Fukushima” confidence. Germany is doing just
that
to its older nuclear plants. The EU is stress testing more than 100 of its nuclear plants, according to the American Public Media show Marketplace.

France, the world’s leading nuclear economy, doesn’t get major
temblors or tropical storms.  China, on the
other hand, has massive fault zones. Southeast China, like the southeast US,
also hosts its version of Hurricane Alley in its Pearl River Delta region.
China has 13 plants up and running with 20 in planning stages, many in severe
typhoon and earthquake risk areas (3/16 Update: China announced it was at least for now suspending the 37 nuclear plants it had in construction or planning stages.)

The challenge for urban planning agencies in the
Pacific Rim: cities are more likely to be coastal, putting them at heightened
risks for Pacific earthquake zones as well as climate change risks. The rising average
ocean levels resulting from melting polar ice caps will only make tsunamis
and flood events worse. The West Coast of the US dodged a bullet when the tsunami from Japan hit at
low tide: still, California alone had more than $30 million in tsunami damage
last week.

Sea level rises will exacerbate the damage caused by tsunamis, and will also increase
sea water intrusion into drinking water supplies and fresh water ecosystems. About 1.6 million households in Japan were without water as of 3/18.

Distributed Energy, Communications, Transportation and Radiation

Energy: Solar, biogas and fuel cell technologies will gain as
they can be used on or near where they generate energy, providing energy
supplies even after disasters take down the power grid. Distributed forms of
energy require only local transmission lines, which can be repaired quickly.
Wind energy relies more on national grid energy transmission networks (though as
the most affordable major renewable energy supply, wind demands a share of the energy pie). Because
of transmission risks, coal plants will decline, even if “clean coal” is
perfected, let alone invented. Electricity supply is spotty from Tokyo north. Tokyo faces six months of brownouts, or reduced power because of the nuclear crisis (nuclear provides the nation with 30% of its total electric power).

Communications: Cellular telephone service in Japan was severely disrupted,
not so for land lines and internet communications. The recommendation according
to the US Department of State:  “Where
possible, you may be able to contact family members using text messages or
social media such as Facebook or Twitter.” Of course that means email, chat,
Skype, Vonage, etc. work in Japan, too.

Mobility: Trains and subways are back up in the Tokyo Metro, after being mostly down for a few
days, as they are the lifeblood of urban Japanese life. The northeast region,
however, is physically cut off from the urban spine of Tokyo. My Japan
sources, Eric and Ken, tell me the regions should be able to be linked with
cycling, if the right bikes are used (mountain or cruiser tires). I got around
after the San Francisco earthquake of 1989
with an old Fisher (pre “Gary”), and was even regularly able to clamber with
that bike down a post-earthquake four-foot San Andreas Fault road drop on State
Highway One, on cliffs above the Pacific. Though Highway One north was not reopened to
cars for over a year, it still provided cyclists safe passage between West
Marin-San Francisco.

Radiation: When the French, the planet’s reigning nuclear
experts, tell their people to flee Tokyo and then the US warships evacuate,
you know things are critical. Tuesday nuclear plant overflights for aircraft were
banned and, more disturbingly, operators may have been forced by events to abandon nuclear plant control rooms

Besides the immediate risks to health, the big unknown risks
jeopardize land, infrastructure and food. How will Japan safely assess radiation
levels and then make a go/ no go decision for what’s inhabitable or edible? How
will that information be conveyed to the international community? Already the
US has made multiple requests that Japan release more data on its basic air radiation levels
(Update: in the first break of policy with Japan, the US today, 3/16, has set an evacuation zone of 50 miles for US citizens versus a Japanese zone of 12 miles.)

Imagine the complexity of trying to obtain,
analyze and effectively communicate radiation levels in soil, water, food and
products.

Overall, Japan has remained stoic, calm, and orderly for which its
leaders and people should be greatly commended. There have been no reports of looting or price gouging. Now may we all breathe carefully, take
stock of the lessons that emerge, and plan for a world of new forces and
constraints.

We should take heed from Japan. Its situation at present may
seem unbelievably hellish, but it could demonstrate for the world how to face
not only natural disasters that rightfully grab headlines, but also how to deal
with the forces that will always lurk in the background: climate change and
energy supply volatility.

Image: Associated Press via The CityFix

Warren
Karlenzig is president of Common
Current
. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, strategic adviser to
the Institute for Strategic Resilience and co-author of
a
forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and
management. 
    

Share