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Sustainable Urbanism

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A Tour Through Benny Farm

Benny Farm was first developed in the years immediately following the Second World War. Returning veterans needed homes for their families and the country needed housing to deal with the impending baby boom. In the Late 1940s the Canadian government built a number of apartment buildings on the site of what was then a former farm on the western edge of Montreal. The project was, and remains one of the largest government housing projects ever undertaken in the country. The property and the apartments were maintained for a number of years under the auspices of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and then by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, (CMHC).

In the 1950s and 1960s thanks to most residents being of the same age, community life at Benny Farm thrived due the prevalence of many young families (hello baby boom!) Historical accounts suggest that during the 1950s there were over a thousand children on the property. However in the 1980s the age homogenization began to work against Benny Farm as the mean age of residents rose to 70 years. Most of the buildings had not been well maintained, and the post-war three story walk ups with no elevators or air-conditioning were increasingly difficult for elderly residents.

In the early 1990s the the CMHC announced plans to redevelop the property with more accessible units for the aging population and reopen the door to new tenants in more modern units. In order to finance the redevelopment the agency planned to have the private sector develop the rest of the property. The scale of the private development; 1200 units in a number of 6 story buildings, the destruction of the existing post war buildings, and a fundamental change to the social role of the site caused an outcry from members of the community. What ensued next was a 20 year battle over the future of the Benny Farm site.

Arnold Bennett, and Jason Hughes helped spearhead the battle to keep Benny Farm affordable, arguing for public and affordable housing rather then private development.  For a long time it seemed that the site would end up going to private developers who would build standard condo style units that would price many area residents out of the market. While there are many people and events that were responsible for making Benny Farm what it is today, the eureka moment came when the team realized that nothing was stopping the the Habitations communautaires NDG, (HCNDG) a community-run non-profit corporation, from bidding on the parts of the site that were open to the private sector. The idea was to create a non-profit, community-run organization that would offer and manage the units at a below market rate. The proposal went over very well with the community and over 80 people had signed statements of interest by the time the HCNDG submitted a bid to the Canada Lands Corporation for three sites, with a total of 74 units. The ‘Affordable Home Ownership Initiative’ was awarded the sites after beating a number of private developers who submitted more traditional site concepts.

Claude Cormier Landscape Architects was selected to develop the master plan for the Benny Farm Housing project and created a network of promenades that ties the paths, and semi private courtyards of the project into the surrounding neighbourhood streets. An orchard of 170 ornamental crab apple trees is also distributed throughout as a nod to the sites agricultural past.

The new Benny Farm site includes a diverse mix of housing types, over 200 rental properties, a public health clinic, recreation centre, community garden, daycare, and other neighbourhood services. The property was also developed with sustainability in mind and features; Geothermal heat exchange, hybrid glycol/electric solar power, air- and water-based heat recovery. There were plans for grey-water and storm-water reuse, wetland treatment and sub-grade water-table recharge, but news reports indicate that the water reuse was never installed and I was unable to spot evidence of a  wetland on my site visit.  A non-profit, community-run utility owns and manages the energy infrastructure as well as continued  re-investment in sustainable construction for this infrastructure. The utility was set up with a legal structure similar to that of a cooperative housing development. Green Energy Benny Farm (GEBF) is owned and controlled by a voluntary, user-driven board, and the project has won at least one award; The Bronze Prize at Global Holcim Awards.

Of course most of this was laid out in the planning stage so what about now? As the pictures show, Benny Farm isn’t just a concept anymore, it is once again a living and working community. It appears that being at the cutting edge of sustainability in a non-profit housing complex has its risks. Hour.ca published an article in 2007 that reported problems with leaking geothermal pipes, that combined with other leaks have lead to a serious mould problem in one of the Co-ops, and some solar panels have leaked glycol, while some of the radiant floor heating systems didn’t balance, resulting in some residents freezing while others boiled. Some blamed a low-bid contract process while others suggested that there was not enough co-ordination between the parties involved in merging the green technologies. Most news reports on the project and issues stop after 2007 so presumably the kinks have been worked out.

While the process was long and contentious Benny Farm is considered a success for sustainable, affordable housing, and community renewal. I took a walk through Benny Farm in the fall and was very impressed with the site design and landscaping in particular, while a lot of modern buildings can look very similar and repetitive each area felt different enough from the others to make each seem distinctive while still maintaining a connection with the project as a while. There is also clear evidence that the kids are back with all the toys that were scattered about. So was Benny Farm a success? I’ll let the photo’s speak for themselves and you can make up your own mind.

For a great photo-spread of the property before its renovation, take a look at The Benny Farm Condemned Housing Projects @ Citynoise. Also check out our related gallery, Cave Art (ok not really) of  Benny Farm. Reference links and other great places to visit for information about Benny Farm. Story Telling At Concordia Benny Farm Calgary Housing Action Initiative, Alternative Housing Models: Benny Farm. Canada Lands Company: Community Success Stories: Benny Farm

The New New York City Taxi

In 2007 the Taxi and Limousine Commission of New York City brought together a group of stakeholders involved in the taxi industry in New York City. Including; taxi drivers, owner and passengers and the goal was simple, create a set of goals for the future of the taxi in New York City. A project that was aptly named “The Taxi of Tomorrow.” In 2009 the Taxi and Limousine commission issued a request for proposals to the automobile industry to design the next official taxi for the city. At present the primary vehicle in the city’s fleet is the Ford Crown Victoria. The Crown Victoria was officially discontinued by the Ford Motor Company this past spring (S) and this presents an opportunity for the city to change to a vehicle designed specifically for use as a Taxi, and through this change come up with a Taxi that is both iconic and more environmentally friendly.

The City of New York has already attempted to legislate that the city’s taxi fleet must be entirely electric or hybrid by 2012, but an federal judge overturned the legislation attempt after a suit by the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, which represented the owners of 29 fleets that control 3,500 yellow cabs, about a quarter of the fleet — said that the hybrid vehicles, which are more fuel-efficient, were not designed to withstand the heavy wear and tear that cabs must endure. S An interesting factoid about Taxis in New York City and in fact most of the rest of the world is that none of the 16 different vehicle models in the city’s 13,200 strong fleet were originally designed to be used as a taxi. All of the vehicles have been specially outfitted to be used as a taxi which will usually drive about 70,000 miles per year and see its back doors slammed around 21,000 times in the course of a year. S

“Although the city has long set standards for our taxis, we have never before worked with the auto industry to design a taxicab especially for  New York City — that is, until now,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission has culled three semi finalists from the competition; Karsan, Nissan, and Ford. Its a lucrative contract for whoever wins since “the TLC intends to select the best proposal and award an exclusive contract to sell and service taxicabs in New York for the next decade.” Take a look at the concept images and tell both us and the Taxi and Limousine Commission which one you prefer! What is in it for you? Well the prize is worth free cab rides for a year so you could be a winner!

Neighbourhood News Roundup

Editors Note:

Recently we made an executive decision here at Urban Neighborhood to revamp the way that we deliver news about what is going on in cities around the world, as you can see from previous Neighborhood News installments we used to provide  the first couple paragraphs of the article in full with a picture and then hyperlink you over to the actual article at its source.  This was all well and good but ultimately a rather labor intensive process for content that was essentially a redirect to other news sites that were not providing any incentive. In order to make it easier to do the round up and therefore be more consistent with our installments we are switching over to a method more commonly found on entertainment websites and some of our favorite architecture blogs. So without further adieu here is your news round up for the week.

Hong Kong has decided to shell out some major bucks in order to build the worlds largest cultural district, the West Kowloon Cultural District is a publicly funded project with a price tag of 2.8 billion to be… well approximate… the intention is pretty simple, its plans on using the development to become Asia’s World City.

Since Dubai isn’t paying the the architectural big bucks any more architects like Rem Koolhaas are looking East and Rem has decided to jump on the aforementioned West Kowloon Cultural District gravy train to pay the bills. Rem has a proposal that is ether cultural appropriation or paying tribute to China’s Village history, depending on how you look at it.

The city of Chicago is about to loose out to New York once more, until now it might not have been the biggest city in America but it has had the country’s biggest building for decades, in a couple years One World Trade center is going to take that title away. There was hope that the title transfer would be short lived with the plans for The Spire, then the firm behind it filed for bankruptcy. At least they still have Oprah.

In Green News India has come up with a novel idea to use children to power its parks and playgrounds, now that we have your attention its isn’t as nefarious as you think, the city of Chandigarh wants to use kinetic energy from playground equiptment and solar power to light up its green spaces.

Skyrise Greenery, a website dedicated to green roofs and green spaces integrated into the built form presents its winners for the Skyrise Greenery Awards 2010.

Most tourist bureau’s concentrated on happy and fun but the Cambodian government has decided to take another route and concentrate on its dark history to pull the tourists in. The Atlantic writes about how the Cambodian government plans to develop Anlong Veng a sun-baked, mine-riddled frontier town into a theme park devoted to the Khmer Rouge. A regime that was responsible for murdering almost every in Cambodia who would be between the ages of 25 to 50 if they were still alive today, just in case yo have no knowledge of world history.

Over in Russia Ivan Marchenko discusses the poor state of architecture and the multitudes of unforgettable places that make up the capital and wonders if the sketches presented by designers for the central city are just tomorrows slums being proposed today.

Mason White presents an essay on ‘The Productive Surface’ for all you academics that discusses the shape of our environment and asks questions like “What does architecture and landscape already produce — intentionally or otherwise? And how is that component managed by design?”

For the cartographers and map lovers among us Think Big has a collection of strange maps that range from proposals  fill in the east river to create a Greater New York, to a composite map of European stereotypes.

Where Construction Stalls The Iceberg Rises.

Woods Bagot architects have come up with an innovative and better yet, inexpensive way to a number of the approximately 100 stalled construction sites scattered around Manhattan.  As the recent economic downturn demonstrated when times get tough,  cranes and construction tend to slow down, or stop entirely. When this happens the construction sight turns into a boarded up hole in the neighbourhood. Architect Jeffery Holmes calls them “Urban-life killers,” but what is a city to do with these sites? Enter Icebergs by Woods Bagot.

In Woods Bagot’s own words:

Across New York City, the dilapidated blue boards covering stalled construction sites are a constant reminder of troubled times and a blight on the urban landscape. Enter Icebergs NYC.

With this innovative concept, Woods Bagot has stepped up to address a community issue – simultaneously solving a problem and creating an opportunity. Representing fresh thinking about the intersection of use, function and design, Icebergs NYC embraces the financial and temporal realities of our current times. Big in volume and light on resources, like their namesakes, these 100% recyclable structures have been designed to turn stalled construction sites into  unique, multi-purpose spaces.

Icebergs NYC provides an iconic venue for a variety of functions, while creating a revenue stream on an otherwise dormant site. Designed for quick assembly and disassembly, the modular structures are constructed of a steel frame topped by inflated pillows of ETFE to create a dynamic, memorable form. Transportable in a single shipping container, Icebergs can quickly be set adrift to sites in cities around the world.

In collaboration with Arup, Design on Earth, Pentagram, and AECOM Economics.

The structure is a modular  steel frame wrapped with a polycarbonate base and architects favourite new material ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene, or ETFE.

Neighbourhood News April 20th – Rethinking Cities

A look at ways that people are suggesting that we make our cities better.


April 14, 2010 —

In the latest installment of The Economist’s video series “Tea with The Economist,” Bruce Katz discusses the primary ways that metropolitan areas in the United States can collectively propel the country back toward prosperity. Katz emphasizes the need for smarter investments from the public and private sectors and how a shift to a low-carbon economy is vital for maintaining the country’s competitiveness.

Host: Why the focus on metros?

Bruce Katz: Metropolitan areas in the United States and here in Europe really concentrate all the assets that drive prosperity and will drive economic recovery. So the top 100 metropolitan areas in the United States — these are the big cities and the suburbs that surround them — sit on only 12 percent of the land mass, they house two-thirds of the population, they generate about three-quarters of the gross domestic product.

But when it comes to the assets that drive prosperity, they’re about 94 percent of venture capital in the United States, they’ve got all the talented workers, those with graduate degrees, the engineers, the scientists. They’re our freight hubs, rail and air, and they have that quality of place that really attracts, particularly, the younger generation. So they pack a really powerful punch. But the United States tends to think of itself as a network of small towns. It really doesn’t think of itself as a powerful metro nation. So to a large extent the country nor the states, because we are a union of states still in many respects, don’t really leverage the assets in these places. Take me to the article

Project for Public Spaces

Transformative Times: Earth Day 1970, Placemaking, and Sustainability Today

40 years ago this week, I coordinated the first Earth Day celebration in New York City. The city had never seen anything like it.

We were laying the groundwork for a new way of looking at the world—expanding the public’s thinking beyond the limited vision that characterized fields like industry, economics, science and politics to embrace a much larger view of the whole planet.

Earth Day transformed New York—literally. To draw attention to protecting the environment in cities, we turned Fifth Avenue into a “place” by eliminating traffic from 59th Street to Union Square.  People poured out of offices and apartments to walk down the middle of the most important street in New York on a beautiful spring day. (This was five years before I founded Project for Public Spaces, but you can see the idea was already germinating.)

It was a lot of fun for everyone, but also a potent symbol that this new movement could bring great, positive changes to our lives.  And ideas born on the first Earth Day are beginning to come to fruition today, with the closing of portions of Broadway and the New York City Summer Streets Program which PPS helped bring about.

Union Square Park was the site of the main Earth Day celebration with an enormous stage set up for speakers, prayers and music. Booths promoting ecological awareness spread throughout the park. Bliss and the promise of a better world were in the air, along with whiffs of pot in a few isolated corners.

The Homerizon

Looking like something out of Star Trek or some other futuristic vision the Homerizon stands 80 feet high, is off the grid and has solar panals, windmills, radiant floors, wind turbines and a cool aerodynamic shape that helps it to capture the breeze. The Homerizon is the brainchild of inventor Jean-Pierre Désmarais who sees it as a way that is easier then you think to get off the grid.  Of course at the moment that ease comes with a price tag of $3.5 to $5 million but lets not worry about that. The Homerzion.

Do you have a Fun Theory?

The thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.

The Fun Theory is an initiative of Volkswagen, it is a competition to find examples that prove the fun theory, if you come up with a good one than you could win €2500. The competition is open to anyone!

The Rules are simple, find your own evidence for the theory that fun is best way to change behaviour for the better. For yourself, for the environment or something entirely different. Your entries should be presented with a written explanation plus a visualisation of the idea itself. It could be a simple sketch, photos or a film of a prototype. You decide what will do your entry justice. Then go too; http://www.thefuntheory.com

Piano Staircase

Take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator and feel better” is something we often hear or read in the Sunday papers. Few people actually follow that advice. Can we get more people to take the stairs over the escalator by making it fun to do? See the results here

The World’s Deepest Bin

To throw rubbish in the bin instead of onto the floor shouldn’t really be so hard. Many people still fail to do so. Can we get more people to throw rubbish into the bin, rather than onto the ground, by making it fun to do? See the results here.

Bottle Bank Arcade Machine

Many of us return our plastic bottles and cans. Noticeably fewer recycle their glass. Maybe that’s because we don’t get any money in return, as we do for cans and plastic. Can we change this attitude by making recycling glass fun to do? So you are not just rewarded with a good conscience, you also get a smile. See the results here.

'Learning From Nature' a pavilion by 3XN


The Danish architectural firm 3XN is designing a pavillion for the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art with the intent to show cutting edge possibilities at the meeting point between sustainable and intelligent materials. The resulting pavilion is built of bio composites and has integrated intelligence that interacts with its users and surroundings.

Sustainability does not equal architectural compromise

The pavilion is called ‘Learning from Nature’ and everything about the pavilion is literally inspired by nature itself: The biological cycle of nature is the fundamental basis for the shape, the materials and the dynamic energy generation. The pavilion is shaped as a Moebius band to symbolize the biological cycle; and the properties of the construction are very like those of nature – for example, the pavilion has a coating of nanoparticles that helps clean the surfaces and clean the air. Additionally, the pavilion is built of biodegradable materials; and as for energy, the pavilion is 100 percent self-sufficient.


Kim Herforth Nielsen, Principal of 3XN, comments on the project:

– The Pavilion has given us the opportunity to showcase the possibilities which exist in building with sustainable and intelligent materials. Our objective has been to show that Green Architecture can be dynamic and active.  We often think that we need to minimize use of resources at all costs. Instead of focusing on consuming the least amount of energy, we need to focus on producing and using energy and materials in a more intelligent way than is the case today.

The development of the pavilion is a natural continuation of 3XNs extensive focus on new technologies and materials; a focus that led to the establishment of a unique in-house Research & Development unit in 2007. Since then, 3XN has built an international reputation as one of the most visionary and ambitious architecture firms in the field.

’Learning from Nature’ can be seen at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, until October.

Becoming a Communauto ist

This past November faced with escalating repair, insurance and gas costs along with the frustration of having to dig a car that I only used once or twice a week out of the snow bank I decided to retire my old Honda Accord and go car free. My experience being car less was overall a great one. I saved a bunch of money from the running costs and didn’t have to dig anything out of a snow bank, however there were a number of occasions where I found myself wishing that I still had access to four wheels and a trunk. Trips to the grocery store being a perfect example. Sure as a student delivery is only five bucks from my local IGA but what if I wanted to go someplace else, take for example the local food wholesaler:  Aubut, sure it isn’t far from my house but carting home a ten pound bag of rice on my head wasn’t exactly good for my back.

So this year armed with my tax return I decided to take the plunge and join the local car sharing service Communauto. This made in Quebec care sharing company has been around since its creation in 1994 in Quebec City by Benoît Robert and it is the oldest car sharing service in North America. In 1995 it established itself in Montreal as a private business.

The Communauto website lists itself as ‘A different kind of car use’

Communauto provides its members with exclusive access to its vehicles. By becoming a Communauto subscriber, you gain access to a fleet of cars that you can reserve at low cost for a half-hour, an hour, a day or longer, according to your needs. Located in the heart of your neighbourhood, the cars are available without delay, 24/7.

Communauto pays all the costs related to the normal operation of the service: vehicle purchasing, financing, registration, insurance, repairs and maintenance, as well as all administrative costs… and even gas! No more surprise repair bills! Communauto takes care of everything!

I signed up for Package C as I have only ever been an occasional car user and went to the orientation. I found the process all very convenient though as an anglophone I had to wait an extra couple of weeks to get an appointment with a English speaking orienter. My favourite moment of the whole process was when I we were discussing the rates, $35 annual membership fees which included insurance with a 500$ deductible. The orienter then mentioned that I could get a zero deductible for 40$ more.  Being used to regular insurance rates I asked if that was a per month fee to which he replied, nope thats annual. $70 for a year member ship with no deductible insurance? Having paid $50/m for occasional driver insurance with a $500 deductible I was impressed.  Joining Communauto was going to save me $530 per year on insurance alone!

Now a couple weeks into my membership I am impressed and happy, the per mile rates are low and I expect to see my monthly bill around 25$ per month with gas included. The only down sides I have seen so far are that the website is terrible is you are trying to book a car using a black berry. The java keeps getting in the way and I often have  to give up and either find a computer to do it or cave and call in to do my booking.  The only other thing that I find frustrating is some of my fellow users. Most of the cars still have that new car smell, but you can tell when you have gotten into one after someone with a dog, more on that in future posts!

I have to say though, a couple weeks in and I am a convert. Car sharing is the way to go!

Neighbourhood News March 30th 2009

Critical looks at the future of city building.

The Washington Post

In Va., Vision of Suburbia at a Crossroads

Targeting Cul-de-Sacs, Rules Now Require Through Streets in New Subdivisions

cul-de-sac-2Virginia is taking aim at one of the most enduring symbols of suburbia: the cul-de-sac.

The state has decided that all new subdivisions must have through streets linking them with neighboring subdivisions, schools and shopping areas. State officials say the new regulations will improve safety and accessibility and save money: No more single entrances and exits onto clogged secondary roads. Quicker responses by emergency vehicles. Lower road maintenance costs for governments.

Although cul-de-sacs will remain part of the suburban landscape for years to come, the Virginia regulations attack what the cul-de-sac has come to represent: quasi-private standalone developments around the country that are missing only a fence and a sign that says “Keep Out.”

Homeowners choose cul-de-sacs because, they say, they offer safety, security and a sense of community.

“Cul-de-sacs are the safest places in America to live,” said Mike Toalson, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Virginia, which opposes the new rules. “The first lots sold are often on the cul-de-sacs because they are safe.” As for developments with single entrances and exits, Toalson said, such configurations ensure that all traffic is local, neighbors watch out for each other and speeds are kept down. “Crooks look for multiple exits.”

Prince William County residents Brian and Donna Goff chose to raise their children in a cul-de-sac life. They live on Vixen Court, one of seven cul-de-sacs in Bridlewood Manor, a subdivision in Bristow. “You’ve got a family atmosphere. It stays quiet here,” said Brian Goff, 42. The couple, who have two young children, have lived in the cul-de-sac for nine years.

The changes come as cash-strapped states and localities can no longer afford the inexorable widening of secondary roads that are overburdened with traffic from the subdivisions, strip malls, schools and office buildings that feed into them. The system forces drivers to enter these traffic-choked roads to go even 50 yards or so to the neighborhood coffeehouse or elementary school. North Carolina and Portland, Ore., are moving on similar fronts.  Read More.


Reinventing America’s Cities: The Time Is Now

future-of-citiesTHE country has fallen on hard times, but those of us who love cities know we have been living in the dark ages for a while now. We know that turning things around will take more than just pouring money into shovel-ready projects, regardless of how they might boost the economy. Windmills won’t do it either. We long for a bold urban vision.

With their crowded neighborhoods and web of public services, cities are not only invaluable cultural incubators; they are also vastly more efficient than suburbs. But for years they have been neglected, and in many cases forcibly harmed, by policies that favored sprawl over density and conformity over difference.

Such policies have caused many of our urban centers to devolve into generic theme parks and others, like Detroit, to decay into ghost towns. They have also sparked the rise of ecologically unsustainable gated communities and reinforced economic disparities by building walls between racial, ethnic and class groups.

Correcting this imbalance will require a radical adjustment in how we think of cities and government’s role in them. At times it will mean destruction rather than repair. And it demands listening to people who have spent the last decade imagining and in many cases planning for more sustainable, livable and socially just cities. Read More

The East Japan Railway and the Piezoelectric Effect


The Eastern Japan Railway company is taking something extra from its passengers. However this time its not a fare hike, the company is harnessing some of their Piezoelectric  energy. The Railway will be installing piezoelectric elements in the floors at its ticket gates and other high traffic areas of Tokyo Station.

This isnt’ the only place a piezoelectric floor has been used. Previously on Urban Neighbourhood we highlighted Club WATT, a nightclub in Rotterdam that uses  piezoelectric elements in its dance floor to power the light show in the club.

The panels in the floor use the piezoelectric effect; there are certain materials that when squeezed become charged and produce energy. The up and down action created by thousands of people stepping through the gate (from the floors point of view anyway) compresses cells containing piezoelectric material.  The downward pressure powers tiny generators beneath the floor which then send the electricity to batteries or back into the grid.

The Railway Company has been carrying out experiments with power generating floors since 2006. It aims to try to achieve a stable generating capacity. The total power generating area will cover about 25m2 in total, and will be installed at seven ticket gates in the Yaesu Kita exit and seven steps of a staircase inside the gate. In past experiments the panels were covered with a rubber surface but the company hopes to improve power generation by converting over to stone tiles similar to what is used on the other station surfaces. Currently the power is just being used to display the systems generating capacity, but the railway hopes to powers its ticketing systems and automatic gates in the future. S


Press Release from East Japan Railway company.

Demonstration Experiment Paper of the “Power-Generating Floor” at Tokyo Station(PDF).

BuildingGreen.com – EBN: 17:10 – Free Energy Modeling in Google SketchUp


As part of my ongoing studies in planning we have been talking a lot about sustainability, environmental impacts and the like. This plug in was sent to my by way of a couple friends of mine months ago but I haven’t posted it yet as I have been trying to try it out first. However I still have not actually been able to find the plug in itself, let alone install it. So I am going to go ahead and post it anyway and hope that one of our intrepid readers will be able to figure it out and give us an update on how to use and install this plug in.

“Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES) has launched a plug-in for Google SketchUp that delivers energy and carbon footprint simulations to inform early-stage design decisions. The free plug-in provides results without any additional software, although owners of IES’s Virtual Environment package or its VE-Toolkits can perform additional analyses, such as daylight or airflow modeling. The plug-in provides functionality from SketchUp that IES previously offered only from Autodesk’s Revit Architecture and Revit MEP, including documentation for the LEED daylighting credit.”

via BuildingGreen.com – EBN: 17:10 – Free Energy Modeling in Google SketchUp

Neighbourhood News Jan 7th


How Green Is The White House?

The election of Barack Obama promises a new era of eco-awareness in the US, says Sarah Wachter

These are heady times for environmentalists in America. The initial euphoria of Barack Obama’s White House win hasn’t worn off yet. They say he is the American president with the most clearly-enunciated environmental platform of any in recent memory. Even though the financial crisis has taken centre stage, environmentalists think that’s good news, too, since Obama is talking about creating millions of green jobs to kickstart the spluttering US economy.

“Right now it looks like environment policy is a high priority,” says Bob Bendick, director of government affairs for the Nature Conservancy. “Climate change, the environment, and the health of the planet are interrelated with human welfare and the economy.”
 Read More


The Christian Science Monitor

Cities may sprout vertical farms

This article touches on Dr Despommier’s concept we’ve previously mentioned.

Farming would seem to be a horizontal occupation. Iowa corn or Kansas wheat pokes up from flat fields that stretch to the horizon.

That’s why the idea of “vertical farms” seems ripe for humor. When its biggest advocate appeared on the faux news show “The Colbert Report” earlier this year, comedian Stephen Colbert prefaced the interview by guessing it would have something to do with corn that grows sideways or perhaps “Chia blimps” that float overhead.

Such teasing hasn’t deterred Dickson Despommier, the Col­umbia University professor of public health. He sees putting crops into skyscrapers as a better way to feed a hungry world. Professor Despommier’s website, verticalfarm.com, features architectural concepts of high-rise buildings that could grow fresh produce in urban areas while at the same time being much more environmentally sustainable than conventional agriculture. Read More

Neighbourhood News Jan 5th

dongtanThe Christian Science Montior
In China, overambition reins in eco-city plans

If all had gone to plan, by now the first residents of China’s newest city would be unpacking boxes. An experiment in sustainable living, Dongtan was billed as a urban center where green technologies and smart design could slash the carbon footprint of up to a half-million people.

On recent rainy afternoon, the onsite view was less electrifying: miles of sodden farms and wetlands, and not an ecobuilding to be seen. It’s unclear if any will be built. The state-owned developer has torn up a timetable to accommodate 50,000 residents by 2010. Some permits for the project have already lapsed.  In a country overloaded with environmental challenges, Dongtan is a symbol of political overreach that straddles nearby Shanghai and Britain, the home base of Arup, the firm that dreamed up Dongtan. Its failings show the limits to getting bold ideas off the drawing board, even in China’s top-down political culture, where outsized schemes get traction. Read more

wind-turbThe New York Times
A Cleaner Way to Keep the City Running

FOR centuries, grist-grinders and sailors have exploited the wind. Now, New York developers, homeowners and city leaders might be coming around. A handful of buildings are already drawing electricity from wind turbines, which typically resemble table fans, or mounted airplane propellers.

Unlike some of the skyscraping versions that dot rural hillsides, small turbines supply power directly to homes without first sending it through a utility company’s lines.

One major sticking point in the city is that densely packed buildings tend to scatter breezes, making it tough to capture steady gusts. Although this and other kinks need to be addressed before the widespread rollout of small turbines is possible, there are signs of gains. Read More

Car sharing just got a whole lot bigger


Car sharing is becoming a much more popular way of having a car in the city. People are trading in the maintenance and costs of being an occasional driver for the convenience of having access to a car when they need it and letting someone else or some other company worry about it when they don’t.

“Carsharing is a model of car rental where people rent cars for short periods of time, often by the hour. They are attractive to customers who make only occasional use of a vehicle, as well as others who would like occasional access to a vehicle of a different type than they use day-to-day.” From Wiki

There have been a couple companies that have offered this service till now; Zipcar, Autoshare, CommunAuto, StattAuto, and others. Up until this point Car sharing has been considered a bit of a fringe industry with most people turning up their noses at the idea of ‘sharing a car.’ That is likely to change as a number of major car companies have started eyeing car sharing as a way to find profit in times that have been less then kind to the Car companies.

The Hertz Corporation which is considered to be the worlds largest general use rental company recently announced that it has decided to get into the car sharing business as a method of increasing revenue and activity at its non airport locations in particular.  The company has termed the new division ‘Connect by Hertz ‘ and will be the first global car sharing organisation. You could join in Toronto but still have access to a car share in Atlanta.

“Hertz’s vision is to offer total mobility solutions and car sharing is a logical step for the Company. In line with Hertz’s long term growth plans, Connect by Hertz supports Hertz’s diversified business model by providing best-in-class transportation solutions across the spectrum of customer needs,” commented Mark P. Frissora, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Hertz Corporation. “In addition to being environmentally friendly, Connect by Hertz cars can save members thousands of dollars a year in vehicle ownership costs and, by leveraging Hertz’s established infrastructure, we’re the first major car rental company to be able to offer members the first global car sharing program. With aggressive plans for expansion, Connect by Hertz has all the elements to become a successful and profitable part of Hertz.” S

No matter what your opinion on Hertz,  the company’s entry into an industry that has up till now  been dominated by small environmentally conscious co-ops and independent operators signals that the car sharing business is moving from a fringe service to the mainstream.