Powell also spoke at Greenbuild of the large portion of the world's population that is in India, China, and Latin America "working on creating wealth" — and consuming increasing amounts of energy.
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"Environmental leadership is still needed, and this is where USGBC comes in. Don't see yourself narrowly," Powell urged the audience. "See yourself more broadly helping the world to use less energy and fewer resources, helping the world out of poverty and helping the world to save the environment."
Similarly, at Greenbuild's Residential Summit, former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros urged the audience to look beyond residential projects and study "the connection between cities, sustainability, residential development and social equity." He also made the case for discussing these issues in terms that are both readily understandable and persuasive to the average person.
General Colin Powell Apartments
The Bronx, New York
Floor Area: 60,165 square feet (5,590 square meters)
Number of Stories: 7
Number of Units: 50
Architect: ABS Architects
Energy Consultant and LEED for Homes Provider: Steven Winter Associates
Developer: Blue Sea Development Company
Builder: Blue Sea Construction Company
The General Colin L. Powell Apartments building has a precast concrete and masonry structure. It contains a mix of studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom co-ops, along with eight units for Habitat for Humanity-New York City homeowners — first-time homeowners who earn between 50% and 80% of the city's area median income, and who helped build their homes.
Sustainable design features:
- LEED Platinum-certified under LEED for Homes Multifamily Midrise (score: 90 points)
- Energy efficiency 43% above ASHRAE 90.1-2004 (projected)
- Cool roof: vegetated, light pavers, white-coated
- Water-conserving plumbing fixtures
- Condensing boilers with 90-98% annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE)
- 10-kilowatt combined heat and power cogeneration (micro-CHP)
- Energy Star-rated appliances, windows, and lighting fixtures
Cisneros pointed out that for the first time in world history, more people live in urban areas than in rural ones and, collectively, urban dwellers are producing about 80 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions responsible for global warming. As the world's population increases by approximately one-third by 2050 (according to UN and U.S. Census predictions), experts from the Brookings Institution estimate that we will be building approximately 171 billion square feet (15.9 billion square meters) of new buildings and renovating about 213 billion of the 255 billion square feet (19.8 billion of 23.7 billion) that currently exists.
Cisneros asked the audience: will this new construction be more of the same — "business as usual and environmental destruction" — or "will we seize the opportunity to reduce global warming through ecological rejuvenation and reinventing the city?"
The latter course, he went onto say, would require a combination of new technologies, innovative financing strategies, and concerted and enforceable governmental energy-use reduction plans; it cannot happen though simple market forces.
Cisneros argued that an essential step in achieving these goals is to persuade the American populace of the importance of the issues. Because of the trumped-up controversy of climate change, and the overuse of the term "sustainability," which might also suggest a circumscribed lifestyle, Cisneros encouraged use of the concept of "livability."
"If we pursue sustainability and livability for our cities, we can change the course of world history and stop global warming," he argued. "It is a cause that will last beyond our time."
Greening Food Deserts
Although it may not often be considered in discussions of "livability," urban agriculture has many potential benefits for cities in the United States, according to speakers in a panel discussion at Greenbuild.
Although cities are generally characterized by high density and limited open space, many have a significant amount of space that could be used for agriculture. This land is either existing open space or "potential" open space that would require the razing of abandoned factories or other buildings. One of the urban-agriculture panelists, environmental planner Michael Taylor of Vita Nuova in Newtown, Connecticut, described the conversion such areas into productive land as a "complicated but not impossible" process.
Taylor has personally led pilot projects in Toledo, Ohio; others are leading them in Indianapolis, Detroit, and New York City. Based on his experience, he described the projected benefits of urban agriculture as largely economic and social in nature. First, he noted, small-scale food production in inner cities — which he characterized as "food deserts" because the residents often have to travel many miles to reach a grocery store — is a way to increase residents' self-sufficiency and improve their nutrition. Second, urban agriculture can generate income for local residents. Third, it can strengthen a community as residents work together to succeed, and blocks of carefully tended fields, garden beds, and greenhouses can contribute to feelings of safety and hope.
But, Taylor cautioned, financial and pedagogical assistance over a sustained period is critical to the success of such projects, as novice farmers and gardeners learn the basics of running a business and operating a farm. Soil contamination from the operations of long-abandoned factories also presents a technical problem, and in some places, the food may have to be grown on raised beds, which would limit what could be grown, Taylor added.
A fellow panelist, urban planner Tom Just of Parsons Brinckerhoff, cited another challenge for urban agriculturists: U.S. government food policy, which favors large, industrial farms over small farms. To address this, the Greening Food Deserts Act, H.R. 4971 was sponsored during the last session of the U.S. Congress, but never reached the floor for a vote. The bill's passage would establish an Office of Urban Agriculture, eligible for federal support, within the USDA. Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio was the chief sponsor of the bill, which had 68 cosponsors. And Kaptur plans to propose it again, according to Steve Fought, a staffer in her Toledo office.
Another obstacle to many would-be urban farmers is land value. It's much easier to implement programs in the Midwest rustbelt cities where land values are low, said Tom Just, than in cities on both coasts where land values have remained high.
On the upside, he concluded, the interest in locally produced food already exists, as evidenced by the huge increase in local farmers' markets in the United States over the last 40 years — from fewer than 200 in 1972 to more than 3,000 today.
Food Waste into Fuel
Although it may be years before urban agriculture really takes off, cash-strapped municipal governments can start saving millions of dollars in landfill tipping fees right now if they compost their solid food waste and turn it into fertilizer, according to New York City landscape architect and urban agriculture panelist Kate Bakewell of the Brook Farm Group. If all New York City's food waste — which accounts for about a third of the municipal solid waste collected there each week — were composted, it would save the City about $120 million a year in landfill tipping fees, she said.
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