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Sustainable Urbanism

This tag is associated with 31 posts

From sub-urban to urban, Tysons Corner's 30 year plan

The problem of what to do with suburban edge cities with their mega malls, inhospitable pedestrian environments, and thousands of parking spaces will be one of the biggest challenges facing urban environments in the coming decades. Tysons Corner in Northern Virginia has been used as the perfect example of an edge city, springing from its status as a census designated place, with no discernible center other then its collection of malls and office parks. What makes it different though, is that it is an edge city with a plan, when the Washington, DC metro rail system arrives in the next couple of years the city has laid out a vision for the future that is very different from its present.


“This is your classic drivable suburban place that is anchored by a regional mall, just like Perimeter Center in Atlanta; King of Prussia, outside Philadelphia; Schaumberg, west of Chicago; Newport Beach; and Costa Mesa south of Los Angeles,” says Chris Leinberger, a developer turned academic and urbanist who is now at the Brookings Institution. “This is, however, one of the biggest, if not the biggest concentration of retail, office and hotels in the suburbs, in the country.”
“This is something that we the people wanted very badly,” he says. “What we didn’t know is as you build more of it, you decrease the quality of life.”

The city has woken up to the fact that in today’s world, and more importantly marketplace, people want walkable, livable, urban environments. The city plans to capitalize on its connection to the Washington metro by turning itself into one of these environments, a city in its own right. Building off the success of previous developments like the Bethesda metro center, the city is planning a drastic a redesign of the urban environment.


Bill Lecos, who runs the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, admits that Tysons was designed for cars, not people.  “About 17,000 live here and about 117,000 — give or take — come to work here every day,” Lecos says. “So that incredible imbalance is why you have the absolute commuter nightmare of trying to get 117,000 people in, in one period of time in the morning, and out again at 5 o’clock.” S

Tysons Corner Today


In order to fix this imbalance the major goal of the plan is to increase residential housing stock in a big way. Plans call for the construction of enough housing units for 100,000 people, but in order to create the livable environment the city will need more than just new housing stock it means a complete redesign of the city with no love for pedestrians. Things like pedestrian lights that are too short, sidewalks to nowhere, and acres and acres of parking will need to be changed.

Tysons Corner's Potential Future

Tysons Corner's Potential Future

The plan calls for a grid of streets, shorter blocks, and better public transportation linkages. What’s different about this urban plan is that there are no plans to restore the former vibrancy, because in this case it didn’t exist. By the looks of things that entire area will be rebuilt, it doesn’t appear that many structures have made it from the before to the after pictures. However, the city hopes to be a model for how to transform these former edges cities into livable urban environments. Time will tell, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Murah Khane rises from its own Ashes


Most of the news these days from Afghanistan isn’t all that positive. Standard fare is about war, terrorism, and security issues. However, there are some promising signs in the building sector that helped to restore a little bit of my faith in the future.

In the old city of Murad Khane there are over 200 workers digging the city out from under 2 m of accumulated dust, garbage, neglect, and the rubble of war. In some places the accumulated layers are almost 2 m deep.

Using techniques from traditional building the workers are rebuilding the city with its own ashes. When of the most interesting aspects of this project is that in a city of security in checkpoints, this project has none. The organizers state that the security of the project is based in the fact that it doesn’t look remotely foreign. The funds behind it may be from outside the country but the program itself is distinctly local. As a means of gathering support from the local community the project is not only teaching building techniques, but also the art of Afghan woodworking, ceramics, calligraphy and jewl making. In addition to this the program operates an emergency repair program to out locals fix their own homes that have been damaged by the fighting.

afghan_detailofpillarThe program has a budget of just 4 million dollars but much like micro lending firms, the project is achieving a lot with a small amount of funds. “The mission is to regenerate Afghanistan’s historic areas and revive the traditional economy,” said John Elliott, a spokesman for the Turquoise Mountain Foundation which runs the project. “We’re working in the middle of Kabul, the very centre of the centre and there’s just a chance that if you can give some kind of economic underpinning to Murad Khane — an economic purpose, an educational purpose — it might act as a catalyst for the rest of the city and the rest of Afghanistan.”

“What we need is a patient approach to development here,” said Elliott. “I think it has to do with having smaller, more discreet projects. And if you could replicate that across the board, rather than having huge programs which cost hundreds of millions of dollars, having smaller, lower risk projects, then you might achieve something.” S

NVS: Ensuring the Future of Food

A Japanese video that takes on the issue of the global food supply and a vision of what Japan needs to do to insure the safety of its own food supply.

Bats Dying in the Wind (Turbines)

It happens time and time again, we come up with a fantastic new technology that will be the solution to many if not all of our problems only to find out that it brings a problem that we were not aware of before. Such is the case with wind turbines. Turns out they are only environmentally awesome and good for the planet if you hate Bats.

Scientists have discovered that wind farms and wind power generating wind turbines are killing bats. It isn’t the obvious thought of, bats being too stupid and flying into spinning blades… see bats detect the propellers just like they detect anything else using ‘echolocation,’ the bats are not actually flying into the propellers, simply flying too close to them. It turns out that wind-turbine blades create an atmospheric-pressure drop around themselves. This pressure drop is causing the bats to die of internal hemorrhaging due to barotrauma when they  fly into the low pressure zones around the turbines. The bats are unable to see these low pressure pockets, much like we are unable to see a temperature change in the water at the lake.

Image from Gizmodo.com

Image from Gizmodo.com

Turns out that the respiratory systems of bats are more like other mammals, being balloon like with two directional airflow and a pair of thing flexible sacs surrounded by capillaries. When the pressure drops suddenly the sacs (lungs) over expand and often times burst. Bird lungs are much more rigid and therefore able to handle pressure changes much more easily.

The implications are a little frightening when you think about it… as wind power expands in popularity so too could the miquito population, more and more of them don’t get eaten by bats. There are a whole bunch of reasons we don’t want that not least of all the irritation factor and the spread of blood borne pathogens.

Scientists say that there is no obvious way to reduce the pressure drop at wind turbines without reducing their use and effectiveness.

Sustainability -1, Bats -1.

via Why Wind Turbines Can Mean Death For Bats

Also Why Are Wind Turbines Killing Alberta’s Bats

Put the WeedWhacker and Herbicides Away, Get a Goat

Eco Freindly Lawn Mower

Eco Freindly Lawn Mower

A Study by University of Northern British Columbia professor Annie Booth, tracked the effectiveness and eating habits of a herd of goats over the span of two years in Prince George British Columbia.

Turns out that goats are incredibly effective in clearing weeds;

“As soon as we unloaded them, they turned around and started eating dandelions,” Booth said. “They do their job — which is clear up and clean out the weeds here.”

“We were very pleased to discover that goats do provide a very effective form of weed control, particularly for some tricky weeds that are difficult to eradicate even with the use of herbicides.”

While any farmer could have told you that this was the case, Booth’s study is the first that actually quantifies the lawn management skills of a heard of goats. Another important effect is the lessened environmental impact of the goats on the (munched) environment, unlike weed whackers and herbicides the surrounding area had very little in the way environmental impact. The only detrimental effect would be the fertiliser deposits that goats leave behind.  More a danger to shoes though, then the actual environment.

Booth suggests that municipalities could save themselves some money, and manage their green spaces by leasing herds of goats during the summer months.

Of course Booth isn’t the only one to have this idea, the University of Washington State has also had a heard of Goats running around its campus, In August of 2007 the University’s Integrated Pest Management program hired a herd of goats as an alternative to chemical processes. s

The University of Washington’s Bothell campus hired a number of goats a few weeks earlier, and is considering acquiring a permanent herd. The University has discovered that, not only are goats cheaper than human labor, but they also provide free fertilizer. The university says that  the goats are a way to cut their carbon emissions. s

Yet another reason why European socialism is Evil; bicycle-sharing

First, they invented public health-care, then the notorious welfare state. The latest evil to spread across Europe is Bicycle sharing. The tall athletic socialists who always win sporting events are now trying to surpass even America’s own superman with this endemic.

A red bicycle, a sure sign of commies

A red bicycle, a sure sign of commies

The idea is simple, borrow a bike from a central hub, ride it to work. Leave it at a hub, ride it home. Nobody’s going to steal it, because they can just spend 30 euros and buy a card. Read more here

NVS: Cameron Sinclair Votes For Building a Better World

Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stor are the folks behind Architecture for Humanity, a charitable organisation which seeks architecture and design solutions to humanitarian crises and provides design services to communities in need.  They used the 2006 TED Prize to start “Open Architecture Network” the worlds’ first open source community dedicated to improving living conditions through innovative and sustainable design.

Club WATT: Power from the Party.

Club WATT has got to be one of the coolest sustainable initiatives out there. The Nightclub is partially powered by its patrons. The Club is home to a dance floor that turns the energy output of dancing clubbers into electricity for its own use. The dance floor uses the piezoelectric effect; there are certain materials that when squeezed become charged and produce energy. When a club patron decides to get out on the floor and bust a move, the up and down action that most dancing produces (from the floors point of view anyway) compresses cells containing piezoelectric material. The individual panels measure 65 X 65cm. The downward pressure powers tiny generators beneath the floor which then sent the electricity to a microchip that controls the LED lights on the surface of the panel. The floor has about one centimeter of give to it, when the cells are compressed, the panels create electricity. The floor measures about 30 square meters.


Club WATT is the product of an environmental research group made up of a group of local architects, academics and engineers convened by Döll Architects and Enviu. Eventually they created the  Sustainable Dance Club company.

Currently the dance floor at WATT is configured to power the light show in and around the dance floor. The floor could be used to power anything, but the owners of Club WATT wanted the patrons to be able to see the results of the energy that they create.

Club WATT also has a number of other sustainable features, such as waterless urinals, and a rainwater collection system which collects water to be used in the toilets. This is also illustrated as the water pipes are clear throughout the club so clubbers can see the rain water being pulled up from the tanks and to the toilets every time one gets flushed. There are also your standard innovations like solar panels and low-waste bars.


The club spent about $257,000 on the dance floor, an investment that the club’s owner is aware he will not recoup out of energy savings alone, it is afterall a first generation model and not all that efficient. However the floor also attracts attention and thats golden in the world of clubbing.

Club WATT has a number of different services(from the club website):

Stage: The stage will be trendsetting in Rotterdam and the Netherlands. With a healthy ambition to put Rotterdam back on the international scene. A fertile ground for new pop bands as well as established names. A wide range of music styles. It will be a low-threshold and top-class ‘platform’ for anything and everything qualifying as cultural/social, such as film, fashion, literature, art (exhibitions) and music. No obscure joint staging a small band and no inaccessible gallery showing priceless art. The ‘right’ blend of commerce and pure culture. Think of exhibitions, radio and television broadcasts, fashion shows and young persons’ debates.

Modern club: Staging of various club nights from Thurdays to Sundays inclusive. Mainly dance music, wide range.

Café: A bustling and accessible meeting place. Business appointments, a drink with some friends before the start of a concert, coffee with coconut pie with grandma. The menu offers authentic dishes for a get-together or a modest dinner. In the summer of 2009 WATT will have extended the café well outdoors, towards the park. Check here for the menu.

Theater: The name represents the atmosphere of the room. Theater stands for entertainment, culture and artistic productions. It is the perfect space for spontaneous, smaller performances or relaxed get-togethers. It can also be opened up towards the café, which makes having a cup of coffee a unique experience in itself.

Business to Business: WATT’s function rooms are especially suitable for facilitating your business meetings, product presentations as well as staff parties of 20 to 2000 people. Needless to say, WATT’s function rooms are a great profiling opportunity for companies aiming to contribute to a sustainable society.


WATT Rotterdam

Sustainable Danceclub company

An Outsiders View Of South Africa

By Cherry Marquez

30 Sept 2008

When I found out very early this year that I would be accompanying my husband to the IFORS 2008 Conference in Johannesburg, I was thrilled. It was going to be our first time in the country and in fact, the first time in the region. Being an architect, I knew that I had to make the most of this trip. Here was an opportunity to explore a territory very much unknown to me. So I straight away decided to do some research on South Africa – I read up on its history and culture, but most of all, its architecture and the building industry in general.

It was to my delight when I came across an interesting article on the website of the Green Building Council of Australia informing that South Africa had recently established its own Green Building Council – the GBCSA. Through the assistance and guidance of our own GBCA, they were in the process of customizing the Green Star Office Design rating tool for use in the property and building industry of South Africa.

Because of this somewhat indirect association with South Africa, I felt an instant connection with this unknown territory. I found myself wanting to find out more about the country. So I set about organizing a meeting with the GBCSA through our own council; arranging meetings and site visits with Arup Offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town (Arup, an engineering firm has several offices and projects throughout Africa); as well as meetings with some local architects (MDS Architecture, Bentel Architects and Osmond Lange Architects) by contacting the South Africa Institute of Architects.

The prospect of meeting new colleagues to share experiences, to exchange ideas and to discuss environmental issues and challenges was a great opportunity. The trip was going to broaden my perspective on how a developing country such as South Africa is addressing the issues of climate change on top of its socio-economic and political issues.

The political events and news of riots and crime against foreigners and immigrants from neighbouring African countries like Zimbabwe in late June 2008 gave me feelings of apprehension and trepidation. Fortunately, my early research on South Africa has given me confidence to know that my visit will certainly provide me a more optimistic view of this unique country.

The following are some of my impressions and observations of South Africa while I was there for three weeks in July 2008. It also includes some information that I have gathered during the trip and since coming back, and my reflections on some of the many challenges and issues that the country is currently dealing with.


Big Brother Environmentalism


Are you living up to your environmental potential? Residents in a number of British eco towns could see government monitoring to make sure that they are keeping their carbon footprint to the right size. One of the most interesting things about this push is that it isn’t coming from the British Government directly, I suppose it would be a bit of a political hot potato. The  Bioregional firm, which initiated the low energy BedZed housing estate in south London is asking the government to ensure that the carbon footprint of residents in the proposed  eco towns (ten of which are in the works) are no larger then allowed under the principals of “one planet” living.

Some of the ways that it wants residents monitored are tracking of the number of trips residents take by car, Thermographic cameras to check which homes are losing too much heat, and measurement of the types of waste produced, and how much they produce by both residences and businesses.

“If eco towns are to have a fundamental purpose, it must be to show us how we can all achieve one-planet living,” said Richard Simmons, chief executive of Cabe. “Eco towns should show us, in a real and measured way, what our sustainable future will look like.”

Some critics of the towns themselves are against the regulations saying that the government has no business taking this sort of a heavy handed oversight on residents. Suggesting that the eco towns will be giant ‘gulags.’

Of course a simple way to avoid the monitoring would be to not buy a home in an eco town, but it does beg the question of just how much of an active role should the government take in enforcing the low carbon footprint ideal behind these plans?

What do you think?

via Eco town dwellers may be monitored for green habits | Environment | The Guardian

Video Tour of the BedZed Development


We received a comment from Tom Chance of Bioregional who had some great things to say about the monitoring. Since he is speaking directly from the company we are going to include them up here with the post.

“It’s worth noting that the reporting in The Guardian was a bit mischeivous. We haven’t been calling for monitoring of individuals as a means of enforcing particular lifestyles. Rather, our report (if you read it) lays out a number of ways in which eco-towns developers should monitor the success of their plans so that we can better learn from then. Any monitoring would have to be completely voluntary.

We have taken this approach at BedZED, where 75% of residents voluntarily had their meter readings recorded, waste weighed and answered questionnaires. All the results are anonymised, and used to help us learn how to better design sustainable communities.

The alternative – not monitoring at all – would be a complete nonsense, it would mean we’d have no evidence to improve the way we design communities!”

Beyond R-2000

Photo via globeandmail.com

Photo via globeandmail.com

There is a great article in the Globe and Mail today about a guy who built what has got to be a first for Canada, a house without a furnace. Though I think this may be slightly misleading since

“Electricity generated by a wind turbine and solar panels feeds a bank of batteries in the basement. When the batteries are fully charged, excess energy is diverted to a ceramic pad that heats the basement floor”

Either way the house is an example of the slow movement towards super efficient homes that are part of the Canadian Federal Government’s goal of having 40,000 zero-energy homes built between now and 2018.

via globeandmail.com: Just don’t call him an envirofreak

Mayne warns Dubai set for ‘ecological disaster’ – Building Design

Oh my it looks like I am breaking my Dubai rule yet again, of course once again I am doing it to be a negative Nancy. Maybe we should just call this the Dubai Reality Check week! Over at Building Design there is an article on Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne, who announced in his address to the World Architecture Congress’s Cityscape Dubai conference that Dubai is building itself up for an ‘ecological disaster’ if it continues on the path it is currently taking.

The architect stated that the dominance of the private sector in the gulf state has led to a serious lack of overall planning and that this combined with the sheer speed of development will lead to a major crisis in the future.

Its true really, do we have any idea what kind of traffic patterns we are going to see from the residents of a building like the Burg Dubai? While the building has a number of built in amenities it isn’t likely that they are all going to just stay inside. Since most of the city is being built all at once, just what is it going to look like at the ground and on the human level once its done.

Mayne goes on to say;

“There is no connected tissue,” he said. “It might work today, but the prognosis is not good for the future.

“It’s not going to work on many levels, from social to infrastructure and ecological. It’s going to be a disaster in ecological terms.

“The political class is no longer in charge of cities… which means there is no planning. Los Angeles is a prototype for that. The private sector rules. It takes hours to get downtown in LA as there is no public transport.”s

Of course this is true and not true. The political class owns the private sector here. Nakheel properties, is owned by the Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem. So one could argue that the political class still exerts a pretty hefty hand in affairs. The article is worth checking out.


Mayne warns Dubai set for ‘ecological disaster’ – Building Design

Free yourself from the supermarket! Urban Farming is for Everyone

window-farmIf there is one thing that I can take from the incoming stats on Urban Neighbourhood is that a lot of people are interested in Urban Farming right now. For the past couple weeks the most heavily trafficked post on the site has been the Super Green Buildings post, about proposals for high tech vertical farms. Of course these particular structures are mostly theoretical as none of them have been built yet, but Urban farming is an active pass time that is growing more and more popular.

Urban farming can be anything from people who fill their tiny urban yards and apartments with pots and boxes, to the suburban home owner who decides that its time to get rid of that useless chunk of side lawn and turn it into something that atually gives back. Over at Wired there is an excerpt from Carol Nissen in Jersey City, New Jersey, “I’m a micro-gardener,” she says. “It’s a pretty small townhouse. But it’s amazing what you can do without much space.” s

Other people who have a yard but no time can even hire a company that will come and do the work for you, just check out the Seattle Urban Farm Co;

Are you interested in eating more fresh, organically grown vegetables? Would you like to have a secure, sustainable food source in your backyard?  Have you always wanted to have a garden, but don’t feel you have the time or know-how to get started?   If so, you might be interested in the services that the Seattle Urban Farm Company provide.   We use our collective farming and gardening experience to establish a productive organic vegetable plot in your yard.

We offer a range of services to suit your individual needs.  We can:

  1. Give a thorough garden consultation, answering your questions and giving you new ideas and advice.
  2. Help revitalize an ignored or overgrown garden space.
  3. Help you design a new garden and plan out a multi-year garden strategy.
  4. Install a ready-to-go vegetable garden complete with clean, healthy, soil, drip irrigation, raised beds, and more.
  5. After an initial garden installation, provide weekly maintenance for your vegetable garden to keep your plants vigorous and productive, organically manage pests and diseases, and by using succession and relay planting techniques, harvest a weekly supply of fresh produce for you and your family.
  6. If you’re interested in learning about organic growing, we’re happy to work together with you and share our knowledge as we seed, care for, and harvest vegetables and flowers from your garden.

We use only organic methods to manage your garden, so you’ll know your soil will be healthy and productive for years to come, and your vegetables will be free of herbicides, synthetic pesticides, and genetically modified organisms.   By bringing the farmers to your yard, you help us share the risks of growing food.  If the weather is poor, you’ll notice your garden is not as productive as it might otherwise be.  If the weather is good, you’ll be savoring a bumper crop of delectable vegetables!

One of the better things about companies like these is that they are sprouting up all over the place.  a Google of Urban Farming Companies gives over 321,000 hits.

431px-victory-gardenUrban farming is actually an old idea, if you have ever seen old war propaganda videos you may have heard about the `Victory Garden` During the World Wars governments challenged urbanites to convert their lawns and ornamental gardens into food producing plots. Slogans like `Sow the seeds of Victory`and `Your Victory garden counts more then ever!` Were published on posters and in the media. It is estimated that nearly 20 million Americans planted Victory gardens and that 40% of all vegetables consumed nationally came from these gardens.

The potential for our cities and urban environments by bringing back greenery and gardening is immense, the more food grown locally the less that needs to be trucked in, tomatoes from down the street have much lower shipping costs then tomatoes from 3000 miles away. More greenery on our roofs also helps cool the buildings and street scape below, reducing the Urban Heat Island effect and reducing Air conditioning costs. Ultimately speaking there next to no arguments against gardening in our cities that make any sense, so before you decide to plant another back yard full of ornamental plants mix in a couple rows of colourful veggies, they are still pleasing to the eye, but have the added advantage of being pleasing to the belly too!

The neighbours have come to roost

henopauseLocal and backyard farming is making a come back in a big way, most of the media on it so far has been of the fruit and vegetable variety but it appears that there is also a growing movement for small animals and poultry. TheStar.com had an article back in May about a set of chickens that have made their home in a North Toronto Neighbourhood. The only problem is that their residency is not exactly legal. While raising chickens in your back yard is legal in cities like New York, Portland, Chicago and Seattle, in Toronto it has been illegal since 1983 when the city outlawed the keeping of chickens due to concerns about public health and the possibility of disease. However a growing number of locavores; people who believe in eating locally for matters of food safety, environmental responsibility, and in some respects convenience.

A pair of websites are leading the charge; backyardchickens.com and TheCityChicken.com both of these sites offer practical tips and advice on how to raise poultry in your back yard. There is a learning center article on “Raising Chickens 101” in the back yard chickens site. Plus a number of pretty fancy chicken coops for you to house your little egg laying beauties in. Its actually making me think that if I had a yard of my own it might not be a bad idea. Of course I don’t have a dog because I don’t really want to be responsible for walking it all the time so having to feed and pull the eggs out from under a set of chickens every day might not be my bag either, but that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t have farm fresh eggs every morning!

Halifax Seaport Farmers Market

While I was living in Nova Scotia I always enjoyed visiting the weekend farmers market that took place in and around the Alexander Keith’s Brewery in downtown Halifax, it has a diverse array of vendors and some of the best samosas I’ve ever eaten. Public markets are an enjoyable place to buy food and offer their vendors a way to offer their foods at competitive prices, I have loved making use of the local street market and larger public markets both here at home and while living overseas.

The Halifax Farmers Market is out growing its current space and is looking to move a little further down the bay to the warehouse adjoining the historic and recently reopened Pier 21. The Halifax Seaport Farmers Market will be housed in a state of the art facility and be built to high performance sustainable design principles to minimize energy use to 80% of a conventional market, combining day lighting strategies, hyper-efficient envelopes, passive/active ventilation and efficient thermal systems. The market will be built to achieve LEED Gold Certification. The Halifax Seaport Farmers Market will be designed to bring together the land and sea and the rural/urban divide. Reconnecting the city with its waterfront and creating spaces for rural artisans and farmers. Shed 20 will be renovated and serve as the seawall entrance to the Halifax Port Authority’s entire seaport development program. The Market will be a cornerstone for the redevelopment of the Seaport area and the adjoining Cruise Ship Terminal will showcase Halifax’s goal of being a smart, healthy city with a vibrant economy and culture.

The Market will have a number of high efficiency features

Hyper-efficient envelope and glazing
Green Roof – Coastal Habitat
Daylight Harvesting and control systems
Occupancy Sensors
Passive Ventilation
Displacement delivery
Heat Recovery
Radiant hydronics
Low VOC materials
Rooftop Farming

LEED Certification: LEED Gold
Sustainable strategies:
Recycling current envelope
Reusing existing frame and roof
Storm Water Conservation/rainwater harvesting
Low flow toilets, waterless urinals
FSC certified wood products

On site Renewables:
Built in Photovotaics BIPV
Evacuated tube solar collectors
Harbour Cooling
solar gain, thermal mass

Photos on flickr

Digital Rights Management

Please note that many of the images and some of the content used on urban neighbourhood has (in the tradition of blogging) been excerpted from the Internet, if you are the rights holder to any of the images or content we have used and you would prefer that we not use them or that the credit for said content be corrected, please let us know at urbanneighbourhood@yahoo.ca and we would be happy to oblige.