Category Archives: sustainability

Lighting: A Balance Between Safety and Human-Centric Design

Street lights are changing the cities we live in. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Smart cities are implementing more minimalist LED street lamps, meaning greater cost-efficiency and brighter lights. However, some planners question what a brighter city will mean for humans and the ecosystem. While the Smart City movement is arriving with an arsenal of LED lamps, Florida’s Sanibel Island shuts off lights to protect the environment.

The Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge—located in the city of Sanibel—has been praised for its eco-friendly planning. Because nearly all of the island’s artificial light shuts off at sundown, the wildlife refuge fades into the darkness of the Gulf Coast each night, accentuating the starry skies, protecting turtles from bioluminescent sand, and making it easy for residents to hit their REM-cycle stride. Now, some planners are asking: instead of adding lights, should other cities be following Sanibel’s example?

Smart city technology is drastically changing the way cities are illuminated. LED street lamps are beacons of blue light, the same kind of light that comes from our computer screens and can affect the quality of our sleep. Light pollution can also cause harm to several species of birds, turtles, and insects, and researchers are pointing out the additional qualitative loss that comes with the loss of true darkness—an inability to experience the night sky. The Guardian reported that in 1994, an earthquake in Los Angeles led to a power outage and, subsequently, numerous phone calls to the Griffith Observatory regarding the “strange sky.” The callers were viewing the stars.

While some are pointing to the negative ecological effects of light pollution and calling for a more “natural” way of lighting streets, not everyone is on board with creating cityscapes that coordinate with our circadian rhythms. One study of residents in Spain found that white LED lights make residents feel safer at night, meaning removing the feeling of safety—whether connected to actual safety or not—could be politically contentious. Additionally, studies conducted on the correlation between safety and lighting have resulted in different conclusions in different cities. Removal of night-time lighting in cities such as Atlanta, Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Fort Worth could be detrimental to the safety of residents, according to the study.

Planners could debate for years on how to best implement street lighting, but the technological curve is moving faster than they are. Before we know it, LED lights will be covering our streets in the name of “Smart Cities”; places like Los Angeles, New York, and Houston have already implemented blue-light LEDs. Planners and residents must deal with the consequences, and perhaps consider adding melatonin supplements to their grocery list.

Sources: The Washington PostCityLabThe GuardianPlanetizenInstitute for Local Self-RelianceSleep ResolutionsMetropolis Magazine


The Olympic Challenge

Image credit: Pawel Kopczynski

Countries worldwide vie for the honor of hosting the Olympic games, seeking the international spectacle and the economic incentives. This year’s host, South Korea, has invested heavily in upgrading their transportation network and resort architecture in Pyeongchang. With the opening ceremony taking place on February 9, 2018, the conversation now turns to how the province will utilize the new infrastructure moving forward.

Even in densely populated former Olympic cities like Atlanta and London, deciding how to deal with multiple large venues following the close of the games is a challenge. These structures require constant maintenance, and if left unused are quick to deteriorate. The Olympic Complex in Athens—constructed for the 2004 Summer Olympics—is now best known for being essentially a ghost town. Pyeongchang province has a population of only about 45,000 people and bases its economy heavily on tourism. As of now, the arenas for speed skating, hockey and curling lack a specific use after the Olympics and Paralympics conclude. As for the 35,000 seat pentagonal arena that houses the Olympic torch, the plan is to demolish it after the closing ceremony after having been used a total of four times.

Source: Quartz and Reuters.

Japan’s Reusable Housing Revolution


Photo Credit: Nate Berg

Japan’s population is aging, and is expected to reduce dramatically in the next 50 years as younger generations have fewer children. The population is also concentrating itself more than ever in urban areas, leaving many smaller communities with a growing vacancy problem. The tradition of replacing homes with new construction every thirty to forty years is only amplifying the growing problem.

Companies like Sekisui House and Daiwa House have succeeded in a market that demanded prefabricated housing on a near constant basis. Now, they must learn to adapt and are for the first time beginning to offer renovated or “refurbished” homes. New companies are also entering the market, specializing in the modernization of existing structures. Younger people are looking for simple, affordable homes close to work and family.

Younger families, who may not have the money to purchase a new prefabricated house, are becoming more and more likely to select a refurbished home instead. A 39 year old father of two noted that “the renovated home located close to my parents’ home has much higher value than a newly built home that is far away.” This is a clear reversal from the Japanese attitude towards housing that saw homes completely losing their value within thirty years.

As the population of Japan continues to decline and shift to urban centers, communities are going to have to get creative about reusing structures. One looming challenge will be in addressing failing structures, considering how many prefabricated buildings were never intended to live longer than 40 years.

Source: The Guardian

Bicycle Super Highways

Image credit: BMW Group

As Austin cyclists know, bike commuting has its hazards, and the Texas heat is only one of them. Cycling is also an inexpensive and green way to get around a city that is struggling with traffic congestion—as is the case with Austin.

In China, BMW and Tongji University have unveiled a plan to construct a bicycle superhighway that addresses exactly that problem. In order to address a rapidly growing urban population and a need to reduce emissions, the team proposes to construct a massive system of climate controlled roadways specifically for two-wheeled transportation.

The Vision E3 Way—the three Es standing for elevated, electric and efficient—would connect commuters to transit centers, shopping hubs, and underground stations. Solar panels and water collection systems would help keep the highways cool and clean. If the climate control, ease, and convenience aren’t incentive enough, BMW also proposed a number of bike-share stations throughout the loop.

BMW has invested heavily in e-bike and electric scooters, and they clearly see smaller, emissions-free vehicles as providing the path forward in modern urban transportation. Berlin, BMW’s home country, approved a system of 13 bike “highways” in February of 2017.

Source: BMW Group

Muvuca: Restoring the Rain Forest One Tree at a Time

Photo Credit: Depositphotos

One of the largest undertakings of its kind, Conservation International plans to plant 73 million trees in the Amazon. This short-term project—called Muvuca, a Portuguese word describing many people in a small place—will restore 70,000 acres of tropical rain forest. A large quantity of seeds of various species are being planted allowing natural selection to demonstrate which species are most suited to survive. Ending deforestation could allow for the absorption of 37 percent of carbon emissions.

Source: inhabitat

What to do with Parking Garages in the 2030 City

Image Credit: LMN Architects

Designers and planners now stand on a perplexing edge. While the modern understanding of transportation is changing, and more and more people move towards ride-sharing and public transportation, most city planning codes still call for new construction to include a certain amount of parking. Competitive car manufacturers intend to have autonomous vehicles on the road by 2025. By 2030, parking needs will be vastly different.

Cities like Seattle are already planning for this future. Seattle has begun to waive some parking requirements, allowing developers to build with no allotted parking spots in neighborhoods convenient to public transit. Other projects, like the 4/C by LMN architects, are being designed specifically to allow parking to be retrofitted for new uses.

By building parking with level floor plates, higher ceilings and space for utilities, LMN architects hopes to create an adaptable building that will continue to function into the next century. It may also be the tallest building on the American West Coast.

Source: Wired 

Tesla Installs Solar Panels near a Children’s Hospital in Puerto Rico

Photo Credit: Tesla

Puerto Rico’s power grid was devastated by Hurricane Maria. Tesla has begun rebuilding the power infrastructure with more resilient and sustainable technology. Construction has begun on a solar field near the Children’s Hospital in San Juan. It will take six months before power is restored on the Island. The new, alternative power generation and energy storage facilitates will help keep buildings running even if the grid fails.

Source: Inhabitat

Germany, Denmark, and Belgium Boost Offshore Wind Power Production

Photo Credit: Pixabay

In the next decade Germany, Denmark, and Belgium will increase their offshore wind power from 13.8 gigawatts to more than 60 gigawatts. Critics believe this will be a positive economic and environmental move. The three countries will pledge to work with over 25 private companies to accomplish the task. An agreement between 10 northern European countries was recently signed in London to cut the cost of installing the offshore wind turbines. With these recent changes, wind energy is more cost effective.

Source: inhabitat

Growing Zero-waste Structures

Photo Credit: dezeen

Aleksi Vesaluoma, a student from Brunel University, has discovered a way to grow a living structure out of a mushroom called mycelium. The mycelium grows on an organic material and binds the material together like glue. Velsulumoa mixed mycelium and cardboard to create a tubular form that could grow and strengthen over time. The structure is biodegradable and the fungus that grows on the structure is edible.

Source: dezeen

Germany Reuses Coal Mine as Giant Battery for Renewable Energy

The Prosper-Haniel coal mine will soon stop production for the first time since it opened in 1974—but that doesn’t mean miners will lose their jobs. Instead, many of the workers at the mine will be employed at the same site, which will become a massive storage facility for renewable energy. The mine will be transformed into a giant battery that stores energy by pumping water between two chambers connected via pipes with turbines. The storage facility will hold enough energy to power 400,000 houses, allowing Germany to further rely on renewable energy rather than carbon-producing fossil fuels. The mine is set to close in 2018.

Source: Inhabitat

Food Waste Fuels British Supermarket Chain’s Newest Trucks

Image credit: Inhabitat

Image credit: Inhabitat

Upscale British supermarket chain Waitrose is taking sustainability one step further by powering the newest trucks in its fleet with food waste. Ten of the chain’s trucks will be fueled by biomethane, a fuel produced by harvesting the gas generated by rotting food. Biomethane emits 70 percent less carbon dioxide than diesel and costs 40 percent less to produce. CNG Fuels claims that the upgrades will pay for themselves in two to three years.

Source: Inhabitat

Lancaster, California Could Be First Zero Net Energy City in the U.S.

Image Credit: Inhabitat

Image Credit: Inhabitat

The city of Lancaster, California has proposed an ordinance that will require all new homes to be fitted with solar panels or employ other forms of environmental mitigation. The ordinance would put the city closer to becoming a Zero Net Energy city, meaning that the city’s energy consumption would roughly equal the city’s renewable energy production. Currently, the city is conducting a feasibility study to determine whether or not the program should be implemented.

Source: Inhabitat