NEW eReport #94: Fighting Climate Change through Sustainable Urban Design

Presenting the latest achievements and research from Europe, North America, and around the world, this eReport contains 10 presentations (papers and slide sets), on city strategies, and tools for sustainable infrastructure, innovative research and state of the art solutions.

Currently, the EU aims to reduce domestic greenhouse gas by 40% by 2030 and to increase renewable energy and energy savings by 27%. Dr. Ivo Wenzler, Senior Principal with Accenture at Delft University, describes how Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Genoa, Hamburg, Vienna and Lyon are working together to achieve longer-reaching energy strategies to achieve low-carbon cities. Thirteen energy and grid companies, commercial partners and knowledge institutions support these cities with quantitative and qualitative insights, methodologies, and tools to improve and integrate their current energy strategies and help with implementation. The program developed a web-based TRANSFORM tool that enables city stakeholders and decision makers to visualize and analyze energy data, create different transformation plans, and evaluate their impact on key performance indicators (e.g. CO2 emissions, renewables, or energy costs) under a variety of future scenarios.

Dr Hugh Atkinson, senior lecturer in politics at London South Bank University and a research fellow at the Schumacher Institute, Bristol, argues that the lack of action at the US federal level to tackle the global threat presented by climate change has opened up a policy space, which some American cities have sought to fill. There has been a specific focus on policy initiatives in 2 cities, New York and Chicago. New York City has set a target of a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The Chicago climate action plan (CAP), to reduce emissions to 50% by 2050 is based around 5 key strategies: increasing energy efficiency in buildings, increasing the production and use of renewable energy, improving transportation, reducing waste and industrial pollution, and preparing for climate adaption.

In his presentation on Cities and Systems Rick Phillips, HNTB Director of Urban Design, discusses the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure by Harvard University and the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI). Like LEED for buildings, Zofnass is a comprehensive strategic planning manual covering seven interrelated infrastructure categories: Energy, Water, Food, Waste, Transportation, Landscape, and Information. The paper looks most closely at Transportation. Each objective at the intersection of Transportation and Quality of Life is described in terms of how the Zofnass Guidelines contribute to urban livability.

The newest green infrastructure systems are the focus of the presentation by Rafael Pizarro, Associate Professor of Urban Planning at the American University of Sharjah (UAE). In addition to new non-fossil fuel base energy systems connected in a “smart Grid”, and innovative organic and solid waste recycling and reuse systems, Pizarro examines how sustainable cites treat their “waste waters” with botanical/biologic water treatment systems  (with examples in Kolding, Denmark, Furman University, USA, El Monte Sagrado Hotel, Taos, NM, and Berlin); and new sustainable intensive high-yield organic and non-fossil fuel vertical gardening and urban agriculture. He investigates how these new green infrastructure facilities are integrated into cities.

Since 2008, Health Canada has been working with communities to help identify the causes of Urban Heat Islands (UHIs) and support approaches to reduce heat-related illnesses and deaths through interventions in the built environment. Jay Storfer provides an overview of pilot projects, decision-support tools, and research initiatives supported by Health Canada to help communities reduce UHIs.

The American Society of Civil Engineer’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gives a grade of “D” for much of America’s drinking water infrastructure. Rather than simply plugging in to existing water infrastructure, Lee Fithian asserts, buildings are capable of becoming water resource generators through rainwater harvesting, reuse and treatment systems.

Having grown up in the suburbs, most American urban design students must learn to shift from a suburban mindset to an urban design attitude, and appreciate the values and possibilities embedded in good urban design. Magdalena Garmaz, Auburn University, discusses two methods for teaching sustainable urban strategies: systems thinking and design thinking. Her design studio projects emphasize designing with, rather than for the people.

Poor urban air quality is second only to active smoking in the number of premature deaths caused. In October 2014, European Green Capitals Bristol (2015) and Copenhagen (2014) coordinated an air quality masterclass workshop on European good practices to inspire and inform local air quality action plans. Ben Williams of the Air Quality Management Resource Centre, University of the West of England presents the workshop’s process and outcomes.

Angela Ruiz del Portal of Cardiff University discusses how The European Green Capital Award (EGCA) interprets the indicator ‘Green urban areas incorporating sustainable land use’. She points out that cities with the highest scores in the early rounds of the award (i.e. Stockholm and Barcelona) did not show significant changes in recent development, but continued to maintain an already privileged urban environment. She concludes that Bristol, which won the Award in 2015, may serve as a better best practice model for less sustainable cities, because Bristol has undertaken and still is undertaking transition, with positive results and achievements.

The green building movement is not only about energy reduction and utilization, emphasized Stephanie Chan and Stephen Lau, but also about adaptability. Their exploratory research shows the importance of a view of urban greenery for people living in high-rise apartments, as well as the importance of being able to regulate indoor comfort by opening windows.

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