Posts Tagged ‘carbon footprint’

Suburban Sprawl’s Impact on the Carbon Footprint

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Sustainable building movement should focus on suburban sprawl rather than green gizmos.  The way America has been built in the last half century has assured that a majority of the population is dependent on the car to get to work, to school, to shop or virtually any place.  This is the opinion of Andres Duany and Jeff Speck, who are city planners and co-authors of “The Smart Growth Manual” as well as “Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream”, writing in a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post.  “This is sprawl, the dominant American pattern of settlement, and sprawl, more than anything else, has cemented our relationship with oil,” according to the authors.

Urban planners have been working for more than 30 years to find a solution to get people out of their cars and create environments that are walkable.  Suburban sprawl has been identified as contributing to some of the major challenges Americans face – oil dependency, climate change and soaring healthcare costs.  According to the authors, discussions of climate change and our carbon footprint are not often mentioned in terms of city planning.  “The sustainable-building movement is fixated on gizmos – ‘what can I buy for my house to make it greener?’ – but the thing that really matters is location,” the authors say.  A study has found that households in downtown Chicago produce just 25 percent of the greenhouse gases as households in suburban Kane County.  That has less to do with energy-efficient appliances, but the need of suburbanites to spend so much time in their cars.

“Ending our love affair with the automobile, no matter how unhealthy it has become, seems overwhelmingly disruptive.  Although more and wider roads lead only to more congestion, states are loath to reject federal highway dollars such as those offered in economic stimulus packages.  Highways are easy things to spend money on, so who cares if what they stimulate is sprawl?” Duany and Speck note.

Green Metropolis Takes Aim at Environmentalists’ Conventional Wisdom

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Author David Owen thinks that New York is the nation’s greenest city.  David Owen, a staff writer with The New Yorker, has expanded on his 2004 article entitled “Green Manhattan” that roughs up some of the environmental movement’s most closely held beliefs in a new book entitled Green MetropolisA review by Catherine Tumber, originally published in The Wilson Quarterly, notes that “Eco-friendly suburbanites and small-town residents are only kidding themselves as long as they live in sparsely settled, spaciously appointed, auto-dependent communities.  If they really want to reduce their carbon footprint in any significant way, they should live in densely settled, pedestrian-friendly, public-transit-oriented cities like New York.”

Owen suggests that cities like New York build on their biggest low-carbon asset – their large population densities – and place less emphasis on green buildings, urban agriculture and increasing the size of the city’s parks.  He even believes that Central Park is too big and wasted space that could be used to support even more housing.  Additionally, Owen takes aim at “the spectrum of green-tech fixes under development, from residential solar panels and LEED-certified buildings to ‘net-metering,’ de-concentrated ‘distributed’ electricity generation, ethanol production and electric cars.  ‘Nature-conservancy brain’ and ‘LEED brain,’ as he calls these environmentalist fixations, are too often driven by PR and do little more than distract from the more difficult task at hand:  how to get Americans to kick the car habit and live together more closely, in smaller spaces,” Tumber writes.

According to Owen, New Yorkers are environmentalists because they live in a city where a car is a luxury and residents tend to walk, take the bus or the subway.  “In urban planning in particular,” he said, “the best, most enduringly fruitful concepts have usually arisen accidentally, and have endured not because anyone was wise enough to identify and preserve them but because they serendipitously developed what was, in effect, a life of their own.  Owen argues that New York should be viewed as a model for other cities that want to reduce their carbon footprint.

Tumber notes that “Owen makes a point, almost in passing, that also deserves further conversation:  rather than reducing the carbon footprints of apartment buildings or growing food on precious urban real estate, cities should be focusing on ‘old-fashioned quality-of-life-concerns’ such as education, crime, noise and recreational amenities – the very troubles that drove people into suburbia in the first place.”

Green Buildings Impacted by the Credit Crunch, Recession

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

The credit crunch and sluggish return-on-investment environment are impacting green commercial real estate development – and not in a good way.  Even on projects where dirt actually gets moved, it will be more difficult to incorporate sustainable design principles as companies become more cost conscious.  The greening of the workplace should pick up once again if the high cost and availability of capital eases during 2009.  Already, the Federal Reserve Board’s two half-point interest-rate cuts, which slashed the overnight Fed funds rate to one percent, are having a measured but positive influence. According to National Real Estate Investor magazine, the credit freeze is not the only stumbling block to green projects right now.  Moderating fuel prices, currently at their lowest level in four years, are making renewable power sources – such as solar and wind – seem expensive at a time when people want to save money.  Still, companies with a serious commitment to green principles are motivated by a willingness to minimize their carbon footprint and conserve resources, rather than to just save a few dollars on utilities.

The bad news for sustainable-design proponents is that the recession may frustrate the federal government’s plan to offer tax credits to promote green design.  The reason is that tax credits cut a company’s tax bill; they offer little motivation to firms whose earnings are likely to be flat or suffer net losses during 2009.  Looking on the bright side, the credit crunch may stimulate awareness of sustainability by businesses looking for ways to control expenses over the long term.

The economy shouldn’t put green in the tank, and people should recognize that deflation is always temporary.  The options and futures market will bring energy costs up again.