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Saturday, 27 September 2008

Go green-it can be done!

In today's edition:

  1. California Moves on Bill to Curb Sprawl and Emissions
  2. Green Roofs Offer More Than Color for the Skyline
Obviously, there is a way to go green without being an idiot. And big cities are starting to see the benefit of it. After Beijing-it's not a wonder. Who wants to live in a place without sky?

California Moves on Bill to Curb Sprawl and Emissions

Published: August 28, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — California, known for its far-ranging suburbs and jam-packed traffic, is close to adopting a law intended to slow the increase in emissions of heat-trapping gases by encouraging housing close to job sites, rail lines and bus stops to shorten the time people spend in their cars.

The measure, which the State Assembly passed on Monday and awaits final approval by the Senate, would be the nation’s most comprehensive effort to reduce sprawl. It would loosely tie tens of billions of dollars in state and federal transportation subsidies to cities’ and counties’ compliance with efforts to slow the inexorable increase in driving. The goal is to encourage housing near current development and to reduce commutes to work.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has not said whether he will sign the bill.

The number of miles driven in California has increased at a rate 50 percent faster than the rate of population growth for the past two decades. Passenger vehicles, which produce about 30 percent of the state’s heat-trapping gases, are the single greatest source of such emissions.

The fragile coalition behind the measure includes some longtime antagonists, in particular homebuilders and leading environmental groups in California. Both called the measure historic.

The bill yokes three regulatory and permit processes. One focuses on regional planning: how land use should be split among industry, agriculture, homes, open space and commercial centers. Another governs where roads and bridges are built. A third sets out housing needs and responsibilities — for instance, how much affordable housing a community must allow.

Under the pending measure, the three regulatory and permit processes must be synchronized to meet new goals, set by the state’s Air Resources Board, to reduce heat-trapping gases.

Seventeen regional planning groups from across the state will submit their land-use, transportation and housing plans to the board. If the board rules that a plan will fall short of its emissions targets, then an alternative blueprint for meeting the goals must be developed.

Once state approval is granted, or an alternative plan submitted, billions of dollars in state and federal transportation subsidies can be awarded. The law would allow the money to be distributed even if an alternative plan fails to pass muster.

State Senator Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, said in an interview that he expected the Senate to approve the bill soon.

Environmentalists have long blamed profit-driven land-use planning around the country for creating the expansive, sometimes redundant network of roads that have carved up farmland near urban areas.

They have also praised regional planners in Portland, Ore., for that city’s clustered growth and pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly communities.

The tools Portland planners have used are called urban growth boundaries, efforts to control sprawl by encouraging higher density development within an area and largely prohibiting it outside.

These boundaries have gained little traction in California, where developers have seen them as too restrictive and local governments have been jealous of their own planning powers.

Most environmental groups strongly support the pending bill. Among them is the Natural Resources Defense Council, a major force in the development two years ago of the landmark state law to limit heat-trapping emissions from all sectors of the economy.

But some groups have expressed reservations, objecting to the relaxation of some existing environmental constraints on developers like some requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act and to making it harder for citizen groups to sue developers.

Communities that take part in the process will be able to revise their housing plans every eight years instead of five; developers working with a state-approved plan will have to do less extensive environmental reviews of their projects. source

My comment: I'm generally suspicious over plans that include community cooperation, having to attend a community meeting from time to time and they are from only 10 families. Imagine what it is to reach an agreement on larger scale. In any case, the goal is noble and useful-if we do plan our cities in a better way, that will lead to a lot less troubles-like traffic jams and noise. That's a good reason to give up some rights. But I don't like it how the environment inspections will be less often. There's no reason for that!

Green Roofs Offer More Than Color for the Skyline

Published: August 27, 2008

The thousands of recently planted green and purple shrublike sedum lining the roof of Con Edison’s training center in Long Island City look a bit out of place in the shadow of Manhattan’s skyline.

But the tiny absorbent leaves and modest but hardy roots of the sedum — typically found in desert climates — are at the center of a growing effort to reduce greenhouse gases, rainwater runoff and electricity demand in New York.

This month, Gov. David A. Paterson approved tax abatements to developers and building owners who install green roofs, or a layer of vegetation and rock that absorbs rainwater, insulates buildings and extends the lives of roofs. Sedum, which soaks up water quickly and releases it slowly, is an ideal plant for the job.

Europe has had green roofs for decades, and cities like Chicago and Seattle have added many of them in recent years. But there are fewer in New York because of the cost of installing them compared with the benefits, which can be hard to quantify. The new one-year abatements, though, can cut as much as $100,000 a year from a building’s taxes, and are expected to turn what has largely been a hidden luxury into a standard feature of a little-seen part of the city’s landscape.

There are few accurate reckonings of how much of the 944 million square feet of rooftops across New York City — 11.5 percent of the total building area — has gone green, or how much more could be cultivated. But clearly there is plenty of space available. Just in Long Island City, there are 667 acres of empty, flat roofs suitable for vegetation, according to Balmori Associates, an urban design company. That is the equivalent of 80 percent of Central Park.

The best locations for green roofs are buildings with large, flat tops well exposed to the sun. That is why many of the city’s green roofs are in industrial neighborhoods in the Bronx and Queens.

Because of high labor and transportation prices in New York, green roofs can cost as much as $30 a square foot to install in the city, up to three times more than in other places. While the environmental benefits of green roofs are real, builders have had a hard time justifying the extra cost when it is unclear how it will affect their bottom line.

Green roofs, for instance, absorb as much as 70 percent of the rain that might otherwise overwhelm the city’s sewage system during heavy downfalls and run directly in the East River, the Hudson River and New York Harbor. By diverting the runoff, the city could prevent millions of gallons of polluted water from reaching waterways.

“Essentially, cities are going to benefit more than any individuals will benefit because it will save with infrastructure costs,” said Diana Balmori of Balmori Associates.

When sunshine hits a blacktop roof, it heats the building beneath it as well as the area nearby. When it hits plants on a roof, in contrast, the plants not only absorb the sunshine, but cool the air when the water in their leaves evaporates.

Temperatures on buildings with green roofs are up to 30 percent lower during the daytime in the summer than they are on those with conventional roofs, which means that tenants on the floors below do not have to run their air-conditioning as much.

And the average life of a typical roof can be doubled when a layer of plants rests on top.

The bottoms of the trays look like egg cartons; they allow a small amount of water to pool beneath the plants. The trays can easily be moved to provide access to the roof if there are leaks that have to be plugged. Con Ed chose sedum not only because it can absorb rainwater quickly, but also because it is not indigenous to New York, making it unlikely to attract potential pests. The plants also require very little maintenance. source

My comment:Ain't that COOL? Literally :) I like the idea, no, I love it! It's ecological, it's economical, it's convenient-what more can you want from an innovation! It will help the city, it will help its citizens, I just wonder how the little guys will survive the winters, if they are a desert species. Maybe they'll have to be put somewhere warm?

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