Bethesda Green sponsored a TEDx meet up this past Saturday on “Changing the Way We Eat,” and although the speakers were based in New York, the local viewers took time to introduce themselves and their efforts in local food and to discuss the potential for local food in Montgomery County.
So after Laurie David talked about the importance of family dinner and Carolyn Steele’s TED talk about How Food Shapes our Cities
we heard from Mike Kennedy, a board member of the innovative model Fox Haven Farm, from Kristina Bostick who works with Montgomery Countryside Alliance to make the County’s Agricultural Reserve into a food porducing resource, and Greg Glenn of Rocklands Farm, which is starting out with eggs, beef, and produce.
One of the most interesting speakers was Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group who showed some telling slides of who receives farm subsidies. You’d be amazed at how many of them are in Washington, D.C. and midtown Manhattan.
I wonder what farm subsidies support in Montgomery County and if I can eat it for dinner?
As we start writing the code for the new zoning ordinance, a â€śbig pictureâ€ť view seems in order. The biggest-picture formula in climate change, called the Kaya identity, is:
- F = Global CO2 emissions (combustion, flaring of natural gas, cement production, oxidation of nonfuel hydrocarbons, and transport)
- P = Global population (total number of human beings)
- g = Consumption per person (gross world product divided by population)
- e = Energy intensity of gross world product (global energy consumption divided by gross world product)
- f = Carbon used to make energy (global carbon dioxide emissions divided by global energy consumption)
The most obvious thing about this equation â€“ if you remember even grade-school math â€“ is that to reduce F to zero, any of the four factors on the right must go to zero. Since even the most misanthropic earth-firster has not suggested that global population should be reduced to zero (or if they have and taken their own advice, they arenâ€™t here to argue against me), efforts at reducing F should concentrate on the areas where we can have the most impact.
Here are a few basic suggestions on the issues over which we (planners and designers) have influence.
We can minimize g & e (consumption-related factors) by:
- Decreasing the need for energy for transport by co-locating as many jobs, houses, services, and amenities as is practical;
- Providing resource-sharing opportunities (like mass-transit and libraries);
- Allowing for development with minimal resources (one wall between two residences requires less resources than two walls and a strip of grass);
- Allowing for optimally efficient building siting (donâ€™t penalize development with setbacks or height restrictions when those features are used to optimize passive energy use);
- Encouraging recycling, reuse, and retrofits of existing infrastructure;
- Providing flexibility for more locally-sustaining economic development (farms, markets, co-ops, craftspeople and artisans, localism generally);
We will have to wait for the scientists to provide an f that equals zero, but we can help minimize f (carbon use for energy) by:
- Ensuring that rules donâ€™t get in the way of technology that uses renewable energy sources (geothermal, wind, solar); and
- Providing incentives to encourage use of the available renewable energy sources.
Thanks to Wired for reminding me of the useful perspective provided by this formula as we look to finalize some thoughts on sustainability and our zoning code rewrite efforts. Further suggestions to add to the list above are, of course, welcome.
I think there is a particular kind of aesthetic beauty in the simple repetition of forms over large expanses of contrasting landscape. Even more so when those repeated forms provide sustainable energy.Â The just-approved off-shore wind farm is one such example, solar “farms” are another.
The well-heeled opposition to the mentioned wind farm has only posed the aesthetic argument that this visual intrusion into the seascape must by definition be negative.Â I disagree.Â I think it’s quite attractive, calming, and interesting.Â I think the connotations only increase our appreciation of the natural environment that serves as the backdrop (or, more appropriately, the visual context/physical participant).Â My interpretation is built on the “purely artistic” cues from the vocabulary of the landscape artworks of Smithson, Goldsworthy,Â or – the best exemplar to illustrate my perspective – Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field.Â Too bad we have more hot air than wind around here….
Ever feel like you’re being watched by the Green Police? Have a loved-one who thinks that tossing a newspaper in the trash is the equivalent of clubbing a baby seal? Tired of transparent marketing campaigns for products with dubious environmental benefits? You’re certainly not alone.
In this video from TED Talks, Catherine Mohr rightly calls out the insanity of nitpicking over every paper towel or coat of paint, and identifies the real elephant in the room: embodied energy. Embodied energy is the total amount of energy necessary for an entire product lifecycle, including everything from transportation to installation to decomposition. When used as a metric to evaluate sustainable construction construction practices, it can reveal the real opportunities for substantial savings over conventional methods. Not surprisingly, off-the-shelf and post-construction products yield little savings. Instead, the real meat and potatoes savings come from floors, doors, windows and insulation.
On her personal house, Ms. Mohr uses some interesting techniques, including straw bale walls which she claims have zero embodied energy. She also resorts to FSC-certified wood not only for the framing of the house, but also for the windows. This represents a significant savings over aluminum framed windows.
In principle, I’m a fan of what Ms. Mohr has done with her house. That she opted to use straw bale techniques endears her to my heart. However, I find the demolition of the existing house a little unsettling.Â The tear-down was likely required to pour the concrete slab flooring for passive solar heating, however one wonders the original building could have been retained. Most of us are not self-proclaimed “organic food eating, carbon footprint minimizing, robotic surgery geek[s]” and will not spend an exorbitant amount of time, effort, and money calculating the embodied energy trade-offs associated with the construction of our dream home. If it comes time to rip down the old house, I’m going in with a sledgehammer and a crowbar (read: boys with toys), not a material salvage company. You can kiss that embodied energy savings goodbye.
With a break-even point after initial upgrades nearly 20 years out, and additional improvements a near certainty along the way, is new construction necessarily the most efficient way for the average homeowner to go green? Also, wouldn’t Ms. Mohr be better off ditching the house altogether for a downtown condo where she could cut her annual embodied in half by living car-free (ignoring for a second that she seems to fly for a living)?
Perhaps I’m being too critical. It’s easy to deride those that go out on a limb for a cause. What do you think? Is greening a single-family house a futile venture or a way for every household to make a difference? Should they build off of what’s there, or start anew?
See progress on her house at: 301 Monroe
In honor of the upcoming Earth Hour on March 27, we offer a random assortment of efforts to reduce light pollution, conserve energy, and protect migratory birds by minimizing wasted photons. Learn more at the International Dark-Sky Association.
Earth Hour’s website, sponsored by WWF, has a clock counting down the seconds until March 27 at 8:30pm when everyone partaking will shut off their lights, especially exterior lights. Check out these awesome examples from last year.
A good summary of recent (and not so recent) legislative efforts in Maryland has been provided by Dr. Harold Arlen Williams, director of the Montgomery College Planetarium. In DC, City Wildlife has spearheaded a campaign to help migratory birds.
Our own county has provided information and education to tackle light pollution, but we canâ€™t seem to get traction to encourage new development to minimize their wasteful practices. Maybe this is as it should be and the bully pulpit is the only tool necessary, but I doubt it.
Via Fast Company
Portland has long been one of the most celebrated cities in terms of planning and sustainability. Peter Calthorpe is one of the original pioneers of transit-oriented development. In this video, Calthorpe does a nice job of succinctly laying out the principles of transit-oriented development, namely walkability and diversity of population and land use.
After months of study and deliberation, New York City has decided to make itsÂ pedestrian-priority spaces a permanent fixture on sections of Broadway around Times and Herald Squares.Â The decision to keep the revised street plan, which had been operating under trial review since last summer, came despite vehicle travel timesÂ falling short of projected improvements. The plan was originally sold on the basis that it would improve vehicle flow by 17%. It improved 7%.
More importantly, the roadway enhancements vastly improved pedestrian and motoristÂ safety. According the Cityâ€™sÂ Department of Transportation, pedestrian injuries are down 35% while motorist and passenger injuries decreased 63%. And 80% fewer pedestrians are walking in the streets despite increased usage of Times and Herald Squares, ostensibly due to less crowded sidewalks.
Sometimes seen as a glorified tourist trap, the experiment was also a hit with locals and business owners. A survey conducted by theÂ Times Square Alliance noted that 74% of residents and office workers were â€śsatisfied with their experience.â€ť They did, however, want to see improvements to the design of the pedestrian areas, which the City has vowed to implement now that the trial phase is over.
While this is good news for New Yorkers, what can Montgomery County take from this policy? For one, projects such as this reiterate the importance of discussing pedestrian and cyclist safety in the same breath as automobile mobility. Had this simply been an exercise in traffic management, the results would be underwhelming. However, factoring in pedestrian safety and quality-of-place considerations, the decision represents a well-reasoned response that successfully enhances the urbanÂ environment.
Itâ€™s also a lesson in the simplicity of open space.Â What I found striking about Times Square when I visited recently (albeit in warmer weather) is how automobiles, bikes, pedestrians and the inert all come together in close proximity with remarkable harmony. Lawn chairs and traffic lanes separated by mere feet! What brought all this together? A few buckets of paints, a few signs, and some planters. Not exactly high-tech, but effective.
Tacking onto Elzaâ€™s post on Silver Springâ€™s future form, I came across this building a few weeks ago and couldnâ€™t help but think of Fenton Village. Itâ€™s cheerful, gritty, and almost certainly would feel at home in a neighborhood that already boasts an array of colors, from the similarly red Pyramid Atlantic to the tastefully pink Jackieâ€™s Restaurant.
And while the Burnside Rocket may seem to offer little in the way of architectural distinction other than a few eccentric shutters painted by local artists (which I think are quite neat), between its crimson painted walls is a powerhouse at work. The LEED-Platinum certified structure is built both to last, approximately 300 years according to the projectâ€™s website, and operate efficiently. Hollow-core concrete slabs distribute conditioned air in lieu of metal ductwork. The raw, industrial aesthetic reduces the need for finishing materials and interior partitions. And a ground source heat pump provides efficient indoor air conditioning while desuperheaters recover “waste heat” forÂ domestic water heating. It is also the first building outside Portland’s downtown to not provide parking.
Even more interesting, the roof features an edible garden that is harvested by the restaurant tenant on the top floor. No, the garden is not as photogenic as say, Chicagoâ€™s City Hall. In fact it only about half of the green roof is built into the building. But the Burnisde Rocket maximizes its roof space by providing harvestable roof space in the form of â€śkiddieâ€ť pools planted with vegetables, and a planter-lined parapets.
The Burnside Rocket is also an excellent case study on the economic benefits of “going green.” Because of the massive energy savings, estimated at about a 50% reduction from traditional construction, the property owner can offer tenants a full-service lease. Unlike conventional triple-net leases (NNN) where lesseeâ€™s pay for all taxes, maintenance, and insurance associated with their tenancy, the property manager assumes these costs and leaves tenants only to account for rent. The result? Property owners can charge more for rent while offering savings when compared with a triple-net lease, and achieveÂ higher profit margins from the reduced operating costs.