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Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Rise of Carbon Neutral Cities

Today I'm linking to a column Seth Itzkan and I wrote for The Valley Patriot. It's about the exciting trends in sustainable building practices that will bring us into a cleaner tomorrow.

As always, comments are welcome.

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A sustainable future is not something that can only be enjoyed by certain segments of society or by certain parts of the planet. Many "green" innovations have been displayed in beautifully crafted, yet very expensive homes and buildings. The real, holistic purpose of living sustainably is so that everyone can live cleaner, healthier lives and leave the Earth less of a mess for future generations to clean up.

How does a world like this come to fruition? It certainly doesn't happen over night. Most of the world's big cities were developed large in scale and breadth as we know them after the industrial revolution. Over the course of time, cities and towns have grown in order to accommodate huge populations and the demands that come with them. Urban sprawl and suburbia seems to be a poor idea in hind-sight, but certain socioeconomic forces have shaped the urban, suburban and rural landscapes we live in today. Facing those forces with a new, sustainable mentality is what will help us to build greener, healthier living spaces.

What makes a sustainable region? Reducing the collective carbon footprint of a city or town is done in multiple ways. Changing the way a city is laid out or planned can dramatically alter the dynamic of foot traffic as well as the number of internal combustion vehicles used throughout. Changing standards and regulations towards requiring a high level of energy efficiency in all new construction projects is also a way to greatly reduce an areas carbon footprint.

With so many buildings, homes and structures already existing which were built long before efficiency standards were considered, there is the question of whether it is better to retro-fit or to build anew. While both ideas have their benefits, some governments are looking to model future cities after state of the art eco-colonies.

Masdar City, in Abu Dhabi is slated to be the world's first zero-carbon, zero-waste city. Within this walled city, no cars will be allowed and all of the energy used will be in the form of electricity generated by renewable resources such as photovoltaic panels and wind turbines. The goal for Masdar City is to create as much energy as it uses. Current goal is to produce a 130 megawatts through a photovoltaic network and 20 megawatts with wind farms. In all, Masdar City will be host to about 45,000 residents with 60,500 people commuting there daily.

There are also examples of existing cities and towns that are called "transition towns." The use of the word "transition" signifies a conscious, active and collective move towards building a more sustainable community.

This approach has varying aspects to it, including raising awareness of carbon and environmental issues, connecting with local governments and having community defined goals, projects and timelines which would ultimately seek to achieve a carbon neutral city, town or region.

Transition towns are varied in size and culture, with some examples in the United States being Montpelier, Vermont, Boulder, Colorado and Portland, Maine. The Obama-Biden platform was notably pro- environment and many Americans are looking forward to an Obama Administration push towards sustainable economic development. A large part of the platform is a commitment to highly efficient Federal buildings and more stringent standards for all new construction projects. New building efficiency will be 50% more efficient and retro-fitted existing structures will aim to be 25% more efficient. These ambitious, large scale projects are going to require a well trained and motivated workforce, which will hopefully signal a new reassurance of new, green-collar jobs in the near future.

Speaking of his proposed Environmental Agenda, President Obama said, "We cannot afford more of the same timid politics when the future of our planet is at stake. Global warming is not a someday problem, it is now."

Speaking to policy specifics, he said, "It will lay down three thousand miles of transmission lines to every corner of our country. It will save taxpayers $2 billion dollars a year by making 75% of Federal buildings more efficient and it will save American families hundred of dollars by weatherizing 2 million homes."

A city of any size uses massive amounts of power; that this may someday soon be achieved without any carbon output is remarkable.
Policies put fourth by the Obama administration promoting the greening of the built environment are a step in that direction and may provide useful incentives for The Merrimack Valley.

Czech out the actual Column at The Valley Patriot Online.

2 comments:

Crowscious said...

Yeah Abu Dhabi is supposed to be real clean but it's horribly expensive. I'm not as "green" as i'd like to be :)

JR Moreau said...

A co-worker just got back from the U.A.E. and said it was quite amazing there. I've heard a native English speaker can make nice bank over there teaching English. A few friends are considering doing so in the coming years.

As for being "green" I think everyone could do better. Including myself!