Global Green Cities Preview


From Singapore’s high tech congestion management system to New York’s
PlaNYC 2030 to Yokohama’s zero-carbon emissions goal, the future greening of
cities is becoming our global “Plan A” for survival–economic and
species–and will be the topic of the “Global Green Cities” conference in San
Francisco, Feb. 23-25. The invitation-only event will mash up top planners,
designers, strategists, technologists, mayors and financiers on how design,
technology and behavior can facilitate the cross-fertilization of critical
ideas and perspectives.

By now most have heard that cities will be the century’s
Rosetta Stone to mitigating the resource depletion and carbon emissions of
humanity. China alone will add 400-700 million people to its cities by 2050.
Developing nation urban growth is set to double by 2030 the urban footprint
that existed way back in 2000.

If you are old enough to read these words, you will be living in a whole new world than
the one in which you grew up.

The global cities of 2030 will be created with ten
times the speed it took to cobble together the global cities of 2000, which has
acute sustainability implications. That’s why international organizations
ranging from the United Nations to Natural Resources Defense Council are
feverishly creating strategic plans and training for green city innovation
including energy supply and energy efficiency, land use and planning, green
building, water supply and use, food supply and production, green
infrastructure, and enabling information and communications technologies.

The financial sector is well aware that 90 percent of
urban economic growth will come in developing nations, so the leaders of The
World Bank
, the IMF and private banks and investment firms are scrambling to
integrate financing in a dizzying array of new life-cycle costing instruments,
revenue sharing agreements and public-private partnerships.

Consider Guangzhou’s new bus rapid transit system (photo above, Karl Fjelstrom), now the
largest in Asia, or Mexico City’s Metrobus system. Both were supported by
private foundations, while Mexico City’s Metrobus also garnered support from an
international and Mexican non-governmental organization. Green economic innovation
is not just occurring in developing nation cities. San Francisco was able to
achieve a leadership role in solar energy projects through a voter-supported
bond measure, while Berkeley created its groundbreaking residential PV solar
financing program through a mortgage-like approach that cuts costs
and financial risks for homeowners.

Global Green Cities will host breakout sessions on the:

  • design of livable, compact, transit oriented
  • technologies of digital, efficient and
    low-carbon urban systems;
  • behaviors and lifestyles of the urbanite

A “Breakout Synthesis” will focus on how planning,
technology and behavior can provide a specific vision for the future.

In a wrap-up discussion of the Global Green Cities plenary
session, I will address the issue “Enabling the Green City of the Future,”
which will look at best practices and driving change in finance, policy and
business. On Friday Feb. 25, the conference goes off-site to study planning for
sea level rises caused by climate change. It will also analyze California’s
planning for its landmark state climate change bill of 2006, AB 32, and its
companion, SB 375, a historic land use planning law trying to prevent further
exurban sprawl while enabling denser, transit-oriented development in existing

Here’s a preview of who will address the invitation-only
gathering of “Global Green Cities,” which is sponsored by Deutsche Bank, Cisco,
AT&T and the Bay Area Economic Institute and is advised by the London
School of Economics:

Top confirmed speakers include Bruce Katz, of the Brookings
Institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program
(recent Time magazine essay and video); Peter Calthorpe–he created the
term “transit-oriented development”–of Calthorpe Associates; Khoo Teng Chye of
the Singapore Public Utilities Board; Kent Larsen, of MIT’s Smart Cities
Changing Places Research Group; Siegfried Zhiqiang Wu, of Shanghai’sTongji University
College of Architect and Planning; James Sweeney, Director of Stanford
University’s Precourt Energy Efficiency Center; Jeffrey Heller of Heller-Manus
; John Kriken of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Incheon, South Korea
Mayor Young-gil Song; San Jose, USA Mayor Check Reed and Dmitri Zenghelis, of
the London School of Economics.

Many others are invited, and I will provide another post reviewing this seminal symposium.

One last sober observation. By all appearances, there
appears to be no “Plan B.”

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. 


Skidmore, Owings & Merrill: Green Building Design Grows Up

After wondering for so many years why architects ignored local climate and energy efficiency in service of trendy design, I was schooled last night in how at least one global design firm is making green super sexy.

I gave a talk on green city trends at the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the commercial design, urban planning and building engineering firm, and was given a tour by Design Director Michael Duncan.

SOM-designed Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China. When complete later this year it is intended to be China’s first zero-net energy skyscraper in terms of operating energy. (Left shows air baffle detail, where wind turbines are located.)

Duncan took me around to look at the models and schematics of dozens of projects, many of them in China. The exquisite craftsmanship of some of the miniature-scale building and neighborhood models was mesmerizing enough (a future version of the Chicago Art Institute’s Thorne Miniature Rooms), but most impressive was that in terms of energy efficiency, building design science is now also a high art.

We looked at computer-generated 3-D plastic San Francisco models (proprietary to SOM), showing every single bulding orientation, down to Tenderloin District message parlors (no, you can’t peer into windows), so designers can understand planned new building solar and wind impacts.

Individual buildings were modeled with solar orientation on their exteriors, so that windows can be designed to block hot sun in summer and to allow warming light in winter. Interiors used parametric modeling to heighten passive solar access for maximum office productivity. Thermal imaging software is used on every project to create energy efficient performance.

parametric modeling.jpg

Parametric modeling of window glazing, (courtesy SOM)

Green building science now tracks the sun’s movement across and interaction with a building at all times of day. Just think if this kind of technology could be integrated into the residential market. We would each save hundreds or thousands of dollars on heating and cooling energy, and would have more comfortable lives overall, while hacking away at global-warming-causing greenhouse gases.

Green materials were less evident in the models and schematics I saw, so in terms of true sustainability, the life cycle impacts of materials and other areas (particularly water supply and use) need to be better understood. Then there is the issue of how people get to these office buildings. Is there transit nearby? How easy is it for them to walk or bike to stores, entertainment and errands?

SOM is also developing geothermal heating and cooling designs along with integrating active PV solar skins into its buildings. Such advances are critically needed, considering that China is firing up one or two new coal-burning power plants each week to meet its growing electricity demand.

But in terms of one key element of green building, passive energy design, I’ve seen the future and hopefully it’s coming to your neighborhood soon.