Over the past two years, we have had the unique opportunity to bring Northwest developers, design professionals, and public officials to Europe, where we have experienced first-hand innovative examples of urban sustainability. One of the first places we bring people to is the Västra Hamnen (Western Harbor) development in Malmö, Sweden. Western Harbor is a Disneyland of urban sustainability.
Okay. Even I think the Danes may have gone too far. On May 14, when the Hollywood royalty, Brad Pitt, Nichole Kidman and Johnny Depp were pulling up to the Cannes Film Festival in their Rolls Royce’s, the European royalty, princes, and princesses from Norway, Spain, and Monaco, were being chauffeured to the wedding of Frederick, Crown Prince of Denmark…in busses. They were no doubt luxurious, but still, they were busses. I’ve often asked myself, but especially after seeing this, why are the Danes so obsessed with buses, trains and all forms of public transportation?
In 2002 only 31% of the primary energy consumed for electricity production in the United States was ultimately delivered to end users (Energy Information Administration, Annual Review 2002). The remaining 69% was lost during the conversion process or transmission/distribution, equivalent to the energy of 4,700 million barrels of crude oil. This waste dwarfs the 9 to 16 million barrels of oil estimated to be recoverable from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, often described as America’s best opportunity for new energy reserves.
In the United States, particularly in the West, cities have grown up around the automobile. Metropolitan areas that had room to spread were a welcome change for those who grew up in older cities that had become dirty and congested. A car meant freedom. The location of the workplace was no longer tied to the location of the home, and with lots of roads and little traffic, great distances could be traveled quickly.
A typical home or office relies on several forms of energy to fulfill different needs: high-quality electricity for lighting and appliances, medium temperature heat for hot water, and low-temperature heat for space heating. Electricity is the most versatile of these, and also the most expensive on a per unit basis. This is largely due to the fact that up to 60% of the energy content of fuels used for producing electricity is lost the moment the electricity is generated, expelled through cooling towers as waste heat.
In cities throughout the world, the extensive use of non-permeable surfaces for buildings and infrastructure has created stormwater management problems. In metropolitan areas with buildings and streets comprising close to 100% impervious surface cover, the majority of the rainwater can become surface runoff creating flooding problems, overtaxing municipal storm water collection systems and degrading stream habitat. In many cities, including much of Seattle, storm drainage and sewage are collected in the same “combined sewer” conveying urban runoff to municipal wastewater treatment plants, which are similarly being overtaxed.
Simply put, we generate a lot of garbage. In 2001, 20 municipal solid waste landfills accepted 9,050,038,000 pounds of waste generated by Washington State. Of this amount, 2,351,906,000 pounds were exported, making it a bigger out of state export than apples. Waste generation is already growing at a faster rate than population growth, and the Washington State Department of Ecology predicts that both population and waste generation in Washington State will continue to increase substantially.
Cities are made of hard surfaces, which prevent nature from doing its job of refreshing and renewing the environment.
A high degree of soil sealing causes rapid runoff of rainfall into the sewage system, which prevents replenishment of groundwater, and destroys plant and animal habitat. It also causes excessive warming. Ever get blisters by running barefoot across a parking lot on a hot summer day?
To appreciate the importance of light, particularly in an outdoor space, it’s important to understand why people use the space. Jan Gehl, Professor of Urban Design at the School of Architecture in Copenhagen and Chairman of the Urban Design Center, spent time with our sustainable tour group this past October discussing research on what makes urban centers vibrant places.According to Professor Gehl, there are three historical uses for cities. Cities are places for people to meet, they provide access to the market to sell goods and services, and are places to make connections or gain access.
By Denise Fong, Canela Architectural Lighting Consultants for I-SUSTAIN
Copenhagen is a city built for humans and is not just one of the world’s great design capitals but one of Europe’s most forward-thinking cities. It’s a city that boasts cobbled squares, canals, a rich portfolio of world-class museums, many open-air cafes, and a pace of life that is dictated more by pedestrians than cars. Looking across the city between an impressive collection of architecture, with exquisite 16th, 17th and 18th-century copper spired buildings there is a sweeping arc of 20 windmills in the harbor.
By now, you have likely read several articles on the enlightening trips to Scandinavia led by International Sustainable Solutions. You may have marveled at what has been accomplished there, but you may have also wondered what it means for you here in the United States. After all, sustainable design is driven by local context. Does any of that cool stuff really apply here in the Puget Sound area?
Remember when you were eight years old or so, building your boat of leaves and twigs and watching it run down the stream between the rocks, perhaps down the gutter along the curb or maybe it was a grass-lined ditch? Whether you thought about it or not, you were watching part of the path a raindrop takes when going from sky to sea. The average person doesn’t think much about storm water because our cities, as they are designed now, don’t give us much chance to notice.