The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) is a joint project of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden to generate and test a set of guidelines and benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance, much as LEED ratings are given to buildings. Accreditation would be voluntary but would incentivize sustainable development practice for sites both with and without buildings.
After assembling a rating system through the partnership of dozens of sustainability experts and hundreds of organizations, the program selected 175 sites compiled through a call for submissions to serve as pilot projects to test the system. Cultural institutions, educational facilities, transportation corridors, industrial complexes and private residences are all among the list. The Dirt reviews how the ratings will operate:
The SITES rating system includes 15 prerequisites and 51 different credits covering areas such as the initial site selection, water, soil, vegetation, materials, human health and well-being, construction and maintenance – adding up to a 250 point scale. The rating system recognizes levels of achievement by obtaining 40, 50, 60 or 80 percent of available points with one through four stars, respectively.
The program will be vetting and receiving feedback from pilot projects until June 2012 and expects to release the final rating system in 2013.
An illustrative lecture by William Reed AIA, an architect at the Integrative Design Collaborative as well as Regenesis, Inc. and Delving Deeper who is a nati0nally recognized expert on the practice of sustainable design, delivered in March as part of the Boston Society of Architects lecture series. Reed speaks about the need for “whole-systems design,” the design of built projects that aims for both integration and co-evolution of built structures and natural systems in given development site, community or region.
The second annual New York City Wildflower Week actually runs for nine days, starting tomorrow, May 1st and running through the end of next weekend. The various cultural partners involved in organizing Wildflower Week are offering a host of (mostly) free programs all over the City to encourage New Yorkers to learn about, experience and reflect on the sustainability of native plants, particularly. Offerings include lectures, workshops, tours of gardens and green roofs, cooking classes and children’s events.
Piggybacking on last week’s front-page story on comparative waste management strategies in Denmark and the US, the New York Times runs an op-ed by former Department of Sanitation (DSNY) Commissioner Norman Steisel and former DSNY director of policy planning Benjamin Miller on the need for a new set of policy actions and built facilities to manage New York City’s waste more sustainably, locally and cheaply.
As New York City’s garbage decomposes, it releases some 1.2 million metric tons a year of carbon dioxide and its equivalents — primarily methane — into the atmosphere. On top of that, the fuel it takes to haul 11,000 tons of waste hundreds of miles six days a week releases an additional 55,000 tons of greenhouse gas per year…. Since New York began exporting its garbage, the Sanitation Department’s budget has more than doubled, to $1.3 billion in the current fiscal year from less than $600 million in 1997. And in the past seven years, the costs of the city’s landfill contracts have gone up more than $90 million, enough to pay 1,000 full-time firefighters, nurses or teachers.
The writers make a series of broad proposals, primary among which is the establishment of New York City-based waste-to-energy plants. The European examples are certainly impressive. Regardless of the City’s ultimate direction/redirection on waste management, we’re glad to see discussion on the real costs and benefits of different strategies entering public debate more these days.
The New York Times runs a very informative piece on the success and prevalence of waste-to-energy plants in Denmark, where they constitute the mainstream of garbage disposal and produce a substantial amount of the energy supply. Denmark hosts 29 of these facilities, which burn non-recyclable garbage to produce heat and electricity while filtering and capturing pollutants like dioxin and mercury rather than emitting them. Denmark has ten more plants on the way. There are about 400 across Europe.
The Times goes to some lengths—and produces a valuable information graphic—drawing comparisons between Denmark and the US, where there are 87 garbage-burning power plants, almost all of which were built at least 15 years ago. (There are none currently in construction, though there might be some on the horizon.) Reticence to invest in or build waste-to-energy plants in the US, according to an EPA official, is attributed to a host of factors: the relative abundance of exploitable property for landfills (the European Union restricts the creation of new landfill sites), fear of undercutting recycling and waste reduction programs and negative public perception. This despite federal research advocating for waste-to-energy as the most environmentally friendly waste management solution for non-recyclables.
NIMBYism is, of course, always a factor; many people do not want a garbage-burning plant in their backyard. The story notes that Danes have generally embraced the facilities, which are sited in neighborhoods of a range of income brackets and provide lower-cost energy to those neighborhoods. The Danish facilities mostly look like power plants, but given the baseline rigor of Scandinavian design, that’s still quite handsome (see image above). The Times also posts a sidebar on some European waste-to-energy plants that have grander architectural ambitions, presumably to appease lingering aesthetic concerns of local residents.
Engineers at Solar Roadways, a renewable energy start-up based in Idaho, have completed a prototype for a multi-layered, energy-generating road surface. The company says that when installed, Solar Roadway would generate and store energy through photovoltaic (PV) cells, each cell capable of managing it’s own electricity generation, storage and distribution. The energy could be used to heat the road during a snowstorm, control lighting and displays via LED lighting, or help distribute additional signals such as phone and internet through a base plate layer featuring microprocessors. A translucent, high-strength surface layer would protect the electronics from the traffic and weather above.
There are lots of inevitable questions to follow up on the concept: sustainability aside, how cheap would PV panels and LED lights have to be to make this a cost-effective replacement for petroleum-based asphalt? With each cell being an individual unit, how would maintenance and replacement work? The ambition and optimism of Solar Roadways is impressive (see their list of benefits, proposals for use in military applications and global communications), though implementation seems a little hazy at this stage. Still, it’s great that people are reflecting creatively on the sustainability of roads.
Urban Biofilter, a project of environmental advocacy non-profit Earth Island Institute, aims to plant bamboo forests on brownfield sites along industrial and transportation routes. The planted zones are intended to remediate the wastewater they are fed, reduce stormwater runoff and filter gases, contaminants and metal pollutants out of the local airshed. The project also aims to create local jobs and industry through the sustainable harvest of bamboo, which is a quickly regenerating species, for timber production.
The group has implemented two pilot projects so far. Last summer, it held a workshop in Tijuana in which participants lined a wastewater channel with gravel to reduce human exposure to the water and planted willow and bamboo buffer around the channel to filter contaminants from the air and water. The group also organized the volunteer planting of a preliminary patch of bamboo in the Port of Oakland, where residents are five times more susceptible to cancer from diesel particulate matter. Urban Biofilter has plans for a larger scale intervention in the port extending from this first plot.
The National Park Service has launched the Designing the Parks Annual Awards Program, aimed at honoring “the role and significance of public parks in community life and the importance of innovative, responsive, high quality planning and design.” Awards appear to be purely honorary but intended to boost awareness of and support for the NPS’s key principles of park design:
- Reverence for place
- Engagement of all people
- Expansion beyond traditional boundaries
- Advancement of sustainability
- Informed decision making
- An integrated research, planning, design, and review process
The call for submissions is open to built and publicly open parks throughout the world, administered by all levels of government. The guidelines also note that entries “must illustrate innovative and sensitive strategies applied toward resource preservation, energy conservation, sustainability, contextual design and mitigation of climate change.” The deadline for submissions is April 30th.
(via The Dirt)
The University of British Columbia is currently in construction of what it claims will be the “greenest building in North America”: its new $37 million Center for Interactive Research on Sustainability. Making use of fuel cells, solar panels, solar hot water heaters, ground source heat pumps and biomass co-generation, the building will be a net energy producer and serve as a living laboratory for all of these technologies. Its water system will operate without municipal plumbing or sewage connections, collecting and using only rainwater and stormwater for its water supply. The research facility has been designed by Busby Perkins + Will. Construction is expected to be complete in 2011.
Quinnipiac University in Connecticut is completing installation of a 32,000 kWh wind farm on their York Hill campus. The project is considered to be a first on an American college campus, and the energy generated by these 25 vertical-axis micro-turbines, which vary in height from 35 to 45 feet, will power half of the external lights on the 250-acre campus. This is a relatively small-scale project, but it seems like a harbinger for future renewable energy projects in campus and large-parcel planning and design.
The wind farm is the centerpiece of a larger sustainable design strategy prepared by Centerbrook Architects and Planners and works toward the larger goal of generating 20% of the campus’ total power through renewable resources. Other components of the strategy include solar photovoltaic panel installation on a residence hall, cogeneration micro-turbines, buildings constructed with recycled and renewable materials and a sustainable stormwater management plan.
(via Jetson Green)