A good hour-long podcast discussion between Alex Steffen and Angie Coiro about the future of cities. Skip the first 8 minutes or so to get to the meat of it.
Adam Greenfield has 100 short thoughts from his upcoming book, The City Is Here For You To Use. He’s somewhere between an urbanist and a science fiction writer… exploring the near future, or unseen present, of cities. How do networks change cities? Their structure, purpose. Is that good, bad, unavoidable?
An informal study looking at the urban farming yields, by Mara Gittleman. 67 gardens, with a total area of 1.7 acres in NYC generated 87,000 lbs of food, with a market value of roughly $200k in 2010. This is equivalent to about $3/square foot. Just looking at the financial aspect, if we’re talking about land which could be developed, the net present value, discounting at 5%, of $3/sq ft, is (even if we go out 100 years) only about $60/sq ft. If you build a 5 story building, then property values need only be greater than $12/sq ft for the urban farming not to make (economic) sense, and I’m going to go out on a limb, and guess that property values in most of NYC are, um, substantially higher than $12/sq ft.
With this year’s expiration of the Kyoto Protocol and our Climate Action Plan (CAP) tax, the city of Boulder is looking to the future, trying to come up with an appropriate longer term climate action framework, and the necessary funding to support it. To this end there’s going to be a measure on the ballot this fall to extend the CAP tax. I’m glad that we’re talking about this within the city (and county), because at the state and national level, the issue seems to have faded into the background. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. This year’s wildfires, the continuing drought that’s decimating the corn and soybean harvests, and the phenomenal 2012 arctic melt season are just appetizers. If the last decade’s trend holds true, we’ll have an ice-free arctic ocean some September between 2015 and 2020.
The major sources of emissions, broadly, are electricity generation, transportation, the built environment (space heating, cooling, hot water, lighting), agriculture, and industry (the embodied energy of all the stuff we buy, use, and then frequently discard). The extent to which local government can impact these areas varies. We interface with embodied energy most directly when it comes to disposal and at that point, the materials have already been made. Similarly, most of our food comes from outside the region. Our most ambitious project so far has been the exploration of creating a low-carbon municipal utility. We’ve also potentially got significant leverage when it comes to transportation, land use, and the built environment, since cities and counties are largely responsible for regulating those domains in the US.
Where the Next Wave of Urban Growth Will Come From, the Harvard Business Review looks at a study from McKinsey, detailing the economic centrality of cities, vs. national economies. Large cities and modest countries are now of the same scale, and cities are growing much much faster, economically. If you’re going where the market is, most likely, it’s in a bunch of towns you’ve never heard of, each with a population of several million. Mad change.
Essess is doing drive-by thermal imaging in high density urban areas across the US, hoping to target possible building energy efficiency opportunities. Another company is using urban satellite imagery to choose the best rooftops for solar energy siting. Big Brother may be watching you… but at least occasionally he’s got the right idea.
Alex Steffen gave one of the keynotes, at the first SXSW Eco Conference this fall, talking about good cities as the single best leverage point we have in reducing GHG emissions. It’s broadly the same collection of ideas as his forthcoming crowdfunded book Carbon Zero: A Short Tour of Your City’s Future. Looking forward to its eventual release.