SOLUTIONS TO URBAN
Case Studies of Urban Environmental Challenges or
Unsustainable Environmental Practices and Their Solutions
Produced by Professor Raquel Rivera Pinderhuges and students in the fall 2009
Sustainable Development in Cities course (DUSP 514)
Teacher Assistants: Andy Clark, Gabriella Condie, Cristina Isabel Perdomo
Graphic layout: Cristina Isabel Perdomo
Urban Studies Program San Francisco State University
Table of Contents
i. WATER 4. Coal Production
1. Urban Runoff Pollution 5. Fossil Fuels
2. Fresh Water Availability 6. Greenhouse Gases
3. Water Quality 7. Greenhouse Gas Emissions
4. California’s Water Problem
5. Residential Water Usage iv. TRANSPORTATION
6. Lack of Fresh Water 1. Low-Density Development
7. Water Shortage 2. Lack of Bicycle Infrastructure
3. Transportation Infrastructure in the United States
ii. WASTE 4. Overdependence on Automobiles
1. Food Waste
2. The Troubles with Tire Derived Fuel v. FOOD
3. Cotton vs. Hemp 1. Disproportionately High Rates of Disease
4. Hazardous Waste 2. Inadequate Green Space
5. Closed Landfills 3. Food Insecurity
6. Electronic Waste
7. Waste Disposal vi. BUILT ENVIRONMENT
8. Oil Tanker Spills 1. The Heat Island Effect
9. Urban Marine Debris 2. Roads in The United States
10. Waste Management 3. Poor Indoor Air Quality
4. Burial Sites
iii. ENERGY 5. Urban Sprawl
1. Dependence on Fossil Fuel Energy Sources 6. Toxic Building Materials
2. Energy Inefficiency in Today’s Built Environment 7. Sprawling Urban Areas
3. Dependency on Non-Renewable Electricity 8. Poor Indoor Environmental Quality
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 1
Urban Runoff Pollution
One of the major issues urban authorities are confronting is the problem of water
pollution and contamination. A key contributor to water contamination is urban
water runoff steming from many different aspects of urban life. Urban runoff is the
result of rainfall and snowmelt that becomes contaminated as it travels to other
bodies of water. Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution comes from many diffuse sources.
It is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As this
NOAA/NOS/Monterey Bay National Marine
Sanctuary. Online image. 5 December 2009. water moves it takes with it natural and human-made pollutants that eventually get
index.aspx?letter=r> discarded into bodies of water. Major factors that can lead to urban runoff pollution
are agriculture runoff, construction sites, landfills, septic systems, pesticide/
herbicide use, hazardous waste sites, erroneous dumping of wastes (i.e. paint, oil), industrial discharges, and use of automobiles. Some
major contributing pollutants include sediment, copper, mercury, pesticides, viruses, and E. coli. The effects could be habitat alteration,
ground water contamination, recreational and aesthetic loss, ear/intestinal infection, and fish kills. It may also lead to bioaccumulation
in the food chain which in turn can be potentially toxic to humans and other organisms. The overall effect of urban runoff contributes
largely to contamination of water supply, disruption of the food chain, and disruption of ecosystems due to toxic bodies of water.
Urban runoff is a major contributor to contamination of lakes, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, bays, estuaries, streams and wetlands. According
to the EPA, the major contributor to urban runoff pollution is agriculture due to the excess applications of herbicides, pesticides, and
fertilizers that wash away during irrigation and storms. Agriculture contributes to the pollution of 490,960 miles of impaired rivers,
streams, bays, estuaries, and wetlands. This is not including the 1,579,540 acres of impaired lakes, reservoirs, and ponds. Urban-related
runoff/storm-water and unspecified nonpoint sources together contribute 1,532,128 acres of impaired lakes, reservoirs, and
ponds. These national numbers only represent assessed waters of which no more than 46 percent have been assessed, and does
not include all unassessed bodies of water. Luckily there are steps that can be taken
to inhibit pollution due to urban runoff.
1. Bingham, David, William Boucher and
Boucher Peter. “Urban Runoff Pollution
Prevention and Control Planning.” September
1993. Environmental Protection Agency. 10
November 2009 <http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/
2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Watershed Assessment, Tracking and
Environmental Results. 14 November 2009.
14 November 2009 <http://iaspub.epa.gov/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 4
Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention
Because of the vast quantity of sources contributing to urban runoff
pollution, there are many prevention methods. At the federal level there are
regulations, statutes, and programs that provide a structure for urban runoff
pollution prevention. These rules help set precedence for local communities to “No Time for Poop Logo.” Online image. 5
December 2009. <http://www.notimeforpoop.
take action against urban runoff pollution, but there are solutions that can be com/>
implemented on a smaller scale.
Although there are many laws and regulations in place to aid in urban
runoff pollution prevention, there are many ways in which individuals can do
their part to thwart the growing concern of water pollution. Urban runoff can be
“Trash.” Online image. 5 December 2009. <http://
prevented by educating communities and individuals to change daily behaviors
and follow simple rules to dispose of toxic wastes properly. Throw away trash in
the garbage not the street, use a broom instead of a hose to clean pavement, pick up after pets to prevent fecal contamination in our
waterways, properly dispose of hazardous wastes, use proper methods for landscaping and reduce amount of fertilizers and pesticides,
and take care of your automobile by washing it in commercial car washes or on your yard. By implementing these small things into our
everyday lives, we as individuals can do our part to help in the prevention of urban runoff pollution.
Case Study: Santa Clara Valley Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program (SCVURPPP)
Santa Clara County is warm and dry during the summer, and in winters receives 15 to 20 inches of rainfall between October
and April each year. The water that runs through this area ultimately ends up in South San Francisco Bay. The SCVURPPP was one of the
first in California and at a national level to implement regulations for urban runoff pollution prevention. Along with federal and state
regulations, regional management plans, and regulatory staff guidance, the SCVURPPP uses a list of goals and objectives to assure their
preventative measures are met. Their first goal is to attain regulatory compliance by applying all permit requirements. This prevents
non-storm water discharges and prevents pollutants from entering urban runoff.
Their second goal is to measure their success. This may be done by measuring
3. Shaprio, Neal. “Urban Runoff : Watershed
pollutants in urban runoff, but can also be measured by community knowledge of Managment Plan.” 2009. Santa Monica Office of
Sustainability and the Environment. 1 November
the issue through surveys. The last three goals are aimed at agency compliance and
a constant reevaluation of the program to ensure maximum prevention. SCVURPPP 4. Chesterman, Dave; et al. “Urban Runoff
Management Plan.” 2004. Santa Clara Valley
also has education outreach and activities that target certain pollutants in urban Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program. 10
4 November 2009 <http://www.scvurppp-w2k.
runoff. These informative tools come in fact sheets and brochures. com/urmp_2004/2004_URMP_Final.pdf>.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 5
Limited Fresh Water Available For Use
Water is the single most important resource humans have on this planet. Water is used in
every aspect of daily life – to clean, cook, drink, grow, and plant crops. Unfortunately, there
is only a limited amount of fresh water available for use, while the human population and
the demand for fresh water continues to grow. While over 90% of the Earth is made up of
water, only 2.5% of all water on the planet is fresh. Two thirds of this fresh water is locked up
in aquifers, surface waters, and rainwater. Because there is only a tiny amount of fresh water
available for usage, humans must work at creating sustainable solutions for use of this finite resource.
Over 50 billion gallons of water are pumped each day out of underground aquifers in the U.S. – providing over half of all drinking water in
America. It takes a long time for the water levels in the aquifers to fill up again and many communities are forced to overdraw their local supplies of
water, and when that source runs dry, they must drill deeper and farther or, if it can be afforded, transport water from other regions. Transporting
water over great distances is extremely energy intensive and expensive. It can also displace existing communities.
California, currently in the midst of a three year drought, is facing booming population growth and this has led to a drastic declaration of
emergency by the state governor. State population is now 38 million and will possibly be up to 60 million by 2050, while the winter snow-pack in the
Sierras (where most of California’s water originates) is expected to decrease 25-40% by 2050.
By 2016, surplus water supplies currently available from the Colorado River will be eliminated. The California Department of Water Resources
predicts fresh water shortages by 2020 of two to six million acre-feet per year (one acre-foot is equivalent to 326,000 gallons – enough water to last
eight people for one year).
The Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, where most of the state’s fresh water is culled from, is near collapse from over-pumping – because of this,
and fish species endangerment issues, a federal order came down last year forcing limited use of large pumps in the Delta. The order required a
30% reduction in water delivery to consumers – both urban and rural.
Humans need to diversify their fresh water sources. California cannot simply rely on
importing water. There have been legislative efforts to create a more sustainable and
1. Pinderhughes, Raquel. “Alternative Urban Futures”.
Rowman and Littlefield: Maryland. 2004.
2. http://www.peaktoprairie.com/?D=192 effective water program – notable among them is the California State Legislature’s recent
Local_S_Water22.19771d4.html push to pour billions of dollars into new programs to improve the existing infrastructure and
5. http://www.gwrsystem.com/about/need.html 7
6. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/05/US/05water. build more high-end technology to help solve the growing fresh water crisis. Officials say
7. http://www.water.ca.gov/news/newsreleases/2009/ recycled water, desalinization, and conservation would make 60,000 acre-feet of fresh water
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 6
Groundwater Replenishment System
Orange County is an arid coastal area in Southern California, home to
over two million residents. Residents typically receive part of their water from a
local aquifer and the other half is transported from northern California and outside
of the state. Over the past decade, the water in the aquifer has constantly been
overdrawn by hundreds of billions of gallons. Orange County only receives a yearly
rainwater average of 14 inches – hardly enough to rely on to replenish the groundwater. Rather than brining in water from outside the
region and transporting it down to Southern California, the Orange County Water Management has come up with a new, and more
sustainable system of water reclamation.
In 1975, Orange County opened up Water Factory 21, purifying sewer water to drink and injecting it underground to strengthen
the aquifer barrier to protect from saltwater contamination. While this system was certainly revolutionary for its time, over the years
it has become outdated. Beginning in 2008, the water and sanitation commissions began working together to purify wastewater and
mix that into the aquifer. The groundwater replenishment system will purify highly-treated sewer water (diverting it from the ocean)
and will use micro-filtration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet light, and hydrogen peroxide treatment. After this process is completed, the
purified wastewater will be mixed into the aquifers for over six months, before being used by consumers. This water will provide 70
million gallons per day, and is also needed to stop the flow of saltwater that is entering the underground reservoirs.
The groundwater replenishment system is the least expensive source of new fresh water. It only costs $525 per acre-foot,
while desalinization programs can run anywhere between $800 and $2000 per acre-foot. This system will take 50% less energy
than importing water from outside the region. It also lowers the mineral content of the water, extending the life of related products
(fixtures, boilers, etc.) and decreasing maintenance costs9.
It will initially produce 72,000 acre-feet of drinkable water per year, but it will
eventually be able to produce twice that much. It will help stop seawater intrusion,
reduce mineral content, and diversify our supply, while maximizing the benefits of
groundwater basin and creating an added protection against drought.
10.http://w w w.gwrsystem.com/about/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 7
Poor Water Quality
Everyone lives in a watershed. Watersheds connect the rivers, streams, lakes,
wetlands and oceans. The health of US watersheds is connected directly with the
www.vbco.org/planningeduc0004.asp health of US cities because water is the basic necessity for life as well as being an
important requirement for industry and commerse. In fact, throughout history,
water has been a major factor in the failure and survival of cities. As the population of US cities increases it is more important than ever
to protect our nation’s watersheds and to be able to identify and clean the water that has been contaminated.
One of the basic qualities of water is that it has the ability to carry other substances easily. This ability is the reason why water is
so easily contaminated. The increased number of paved surfaces and impermeable surfaces in cities leads to storm water1runoff.
This is the biggest problem affecting water quality and can carry a wide array of pollutants into the water shed including household
wastes, bacteria, excess nuitrients, and sediment.2 Contamination of water by household waste can occur by the improper disposal of
household items that contain chemicals. Bacteria and other pathogens enter the watershed through human and animal waste. These
items poison aquatic life and can cause illness, such as neurological disorders, gastrointestinal illness and reproductive problems in the
animals and humans that eat the fish and shellfish or ingest the contaminated water.
Sediments are also harmful to aquatic life because they cloud the water preventing growth.
Decreases in vegetation can cause erosion which increases nitrogen and phosphorus. Eutrophication then occurs, which leads to
a decrease in dissolved oxygen levels in the waterways leaving aquatic life unable to survive. Decreases in vegetation also destroys
wildlife habitat and leaves the watersheds venerable during storms because of the increased erosion that exists when plant life is not
available to anchor the soil.
According to the EPA’s National Water Quality Index: 2005 Report to Congress, 44% of the nations watersheds are labeled as
“impaired”, but only 16% of all waterways in the US were even tested. This is why it is so important that water quality testing is taking
place and that we are
taking and active stance in the preservation and restoration of the Nations
1. Official City of Bremerton Site, (n.d.). In Stormwater
Runoff. Retrieved Oct. 11, 2009, from http://www.
2. EPA, (2008, Feb. 28). In Nonpoint Source Pollution:
The Nation’s Largest Water Quality Problem. Retrieved
Oct. 11, 2009, from http://www.epa.gov/OWOW/NPS/
3. United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Office of Water. (2009, Jan.). National Water Quality
Inventory: Report to Congress (2004 Reporting Cycle
ed.). Washington, DC:
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 8
Place- Based Education
Placed- Based Education is a grassroots movement that is currently taking
place in Elementary, Middle and High Schools around the United States. The goal
is to step away from the current education system of State mandated curriculums, http://www.bay.org/watershed-education/
generic textbooks, and standardized testing. Instead Place-based education is “the
process of using the local community, and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social
studies, science, and other subjects across the curriculum. Emphasizing hands-on, real-world learning experiences, this approach to
education increases academic achievement, helps students develop stronger ties to their community, enhances student’s appreciation
for the natural world and creates a heightened commitment to serving as active, contributing citizens. Community vitality and
environmental quality are improved through active engagement of local citizens, community organizations and environmental
resource in the life of the school.” 4
Through Place-based education children not only learn about the water cycle, they are out in their local watersheds doing water quality
testing, identifying causes of contamination, examining the effects on their communities, and being involved in the cleanup through
restoration projects, local politics and social action initiatives. In this way, the children are not only gaining firsthand knowledge about
the water which sustains their community, they are also making substantial contributions to water quality.
Case Study: Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed (STRAW)
The STRAW program is a project that provides the training and education for students and teachers at schools around the San
Francisco Bay area to prepare them for hands on, outdoor watershed activities, including ecological restoration of riparian corridors.
Teachers spend the year integrating the project into their classroom learning. One teacher, “studies the life cycle of the Coho salmon
in a creek near her school, conducts laboratory simulations of erosion, and combines the study of native plants with study of Native
American culture.” After all this the students finally begin the restoration work, done on private property, of which is mostly owned
by ranchers. Besides the students, teachers, and ranchers, the projects also involve
parents, private consultants, public agencies and NGOs, all of which work together
4. Sobel, David. Place Based Education: Connecting
Classrooms and Communities. Great Barrington, MA:
to lend their interdisciplinary advice and expertise. According to the Bay Institutes The Orion Society, 2005
Website, “since 1993, more than 14000 students have participated in over 240 5. Stone, Michael K. Solving For a Pattern: The Straw
Project. Summer 2001. The Whole Earth. 15 Oct. 2009 <
STRAW restorations on rural and urban creeks, planting over 25,000 native plants solving.for.pattern.the.straw.project
and restoring approximately 87,000 linear feet of creek banks or almost 85 acres.” 6. The Bay Institute, The Bay Institute, From the Sierra to
the Sea. Oct. 2009. JP Morgan Chase Foundation. 2 Oct.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 9
California’s Water Problem
Water is essential to California’s quality of life. Not only do Californians need water
“Minimal Host Plant Development.”Online image.
to survive, but California’s economy depends on it. California’s communities and
Kings County. 10/19/09. < http://www.cdfa.
jpg> families depend on their state’s water resources; “it is an integral part of California’s
physical beauty and diverse environment.”
California’s water system is in a crisis. For the first time in California’s history the water supply and delivery system may not be
able to meet growing needs due to population increase. The water supply system was built for a population of 18 million people, but
California’s population is now about 40 million. “From aging infrastructure to population growth to climate change, we face a complex
set of problems that threaten the future of California’s population, economy, and environment.”
California is losing its water resources at an extremely rapid rate due to population increase. 300,000 acres of land are lying
fallow with no water in Madera, Fresno, and Kings counties. The fallow land caused unemployment to jump to 40% because workers
on fallow land can no longer do their jobs. Thousands of people in San Joaquin Valley are waiting in food lines to feed themselves and
their families. The air quality is a threat to its land, people, and animals because dust from the dry dirt becomes particulate matter in
the air. California is suffering from lack of water to irrigate farms, which leads to a food supply problem. California is responsible for
producing over half the nation’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables and if we do not have enough water to irrigate those crops we will soon
face a national security disaster. We will become dependent on foreign imports for food, like we are on foreign oil.
Most California residents are unaware of the fact that they need to conserve water. Currently, California provides mass amounts
of water to its growing population for a little amount of money, so Californians tend to use as much water as they can.
Public education is key to helping California residents conserve water. Despite the media attention given from the Governor
of California and legislators, California’s public is unaware of the state’s water problems. The Association of California’s Water
Agencies (ACWA) is a coalition of 450 public water agencies. The ACWA is committed to educating Californians about their growing
water problem and crucial challenges for the state’s water supply and delivery
References system. The ACWA has launched a statewide effort entitled “California’s Water:
1. California Water Crisis. Web. 19 Oct. 2009. A Crisis We Cannot Ignore” as an education effort for all Californians to jumpstart
htm>.“Huell Howser Productions | California’s
conserving their water resources. This education program will reach Californians
2. Huell Howser Productions | Welcome to 3
California’s Gold! Web. 07 Dec. 2009. <http:// through television, radio, print advertising, the Internet, and community outreach.
3. California Water Crisis. Web. 19 Oct. 2009.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 10
If we combine education with water’s “true cost” we can save a lot of California’s water
resources by decreasing water use to only provide the amount of water needed everyday in
California. The price of water varies between counties, cities, and rural areas but the price being paid
for water is a small fraction of what it actually costs. The “true cost” of water should include the cost
Online image. 5 October 2009. <http://www.
of supplying, distributing, treating it, costs of sustaining healthy ecosystems and species, measures epa.gov/dced/images/awards2008/mission_
that reduce pollution and soil erosion in the watersheds that supply our water, conserving natural forest and wetland habitats, and the price of mitigating the
impacts of water infrastructure such as dams.
“Full cost” water pricing is essential to meet sustainability needs. However, Income inequality needs to be addressed when making a “true cost”
water pricing policy. Affordability for poor populations “can be addressed by implementing subsidies for the poor or a tiered rate structure based on ability
to pay that ensures that all have water for their basic needs.”
A successful example of implementing the “full cost” water strategy is Atlanta’s northern and western suburbs. These regions have significantly
cut down on their water usage in response to a record drought in the region that started in 2007. Atlanta communities were asked to reduce water use
well beyond water efficiency or conservation. According to Kathy Nguyen, the water-efficiency program manager for Cobb County Water System, Atlanta’s
residents were asked to recognize the difference between emergency response and efficiency. The Cobb County Water System mandated reductions by
implementing extreme water restrictions and emergency drought management tactics. Atlanta will now be paying about $3.25 more for water per month
for the average family. Nguyen mentions Atlanta is experiencing a “devastating financial ramification just like any natural disaster such as hurricanes or
tornados,” but this doesn’t destroy a water system’s fiscal plan.
Atlanta’s citizens were educated about water efficiency through a program called Clean Water Atlanta. The program helps the city conserve
water through education programs and enhancing the city’s drinking and wastewater systems while addressing income inequality. The program has a sub-
program, Care and Conserve, that helps assist ratepayers by giving a financial one-time assistance
to pay their water and sewer bills then by helping them prevent future high bills by educating, References
providing assistance with plumbing issues, and by installing water efficiency devices. 4. “Big Ideas in Conservation- Paying Water’s Real
Costs: Carmen Revenga.” The Nature
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources declared that the entire state is now under a “non- Conservancy- Protecting Nature, Preserving Life.
Web. 07 Oct. 2009. <http://www.nature.org/
drought schedule for water use” that implemented odd-numbered addresses can water outdoor
5. “The WaterSense Current - Issue VIII, Fall 2008
| WaterSense | US EPA.” U.S. Environmental
on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays and the even-numbered addresses can water outdoors on Protection Agency. Web. 16 Nov. 2009. <http://
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. There is no outdoor watering allowed in on Fridays. fall2008.htm#5>.
6. Clean Water Atlanta. Web. 07 Dec. 2009.
By educating residents of Atlanta through Clean Water Atlanta and implementing water restrictions <http://www.cleanwateratlanta.org/>.
7. The City of Atlanta | Department of Watershed
7 Management. Web. 07 Dec. 2009. <http://www.
the city cut its water by 10 percent this past year.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 11
Residential Water Usage
Residential water usage is a major cause of the current water crisis. There
are many ways in which we use water inefficiently. Some of the more common
22 Jul. 2009. Online Image. Greewala. 15 Oct. examples include: exorbitant amounts of water used to flush toilets, watering lawns,
Building-Design/blog/1446-LA-Residential- cleaning dishes and laundering clothes, and excessively using water for showers.
Although for many of the aforementioned examples, a shift in behavior might be
the simple answer, there are sustainable technological solutions to combat many
of the inefficient and wasteful ways we currently use water. Low flush toilets, front-loading washing machines, and gray water systems
are all indicative of the technological improvements we can implement to improve residential water usage. Replacing traditional
lawns with xeriscaping would be another simple solution to conserve water.
A report titled, The Effect of Efficiency Standards on Water Use and Water Heating Energy Use in the U.S. , shows that water used
for yards in residential areas resulted in the most usage, followed by water for baths, showers, and toilets. Using water for washing
machines and dish washers rounded out the list. These activities can be modified by conservation efforts alone, and in most cases, at
an individual level.
One of the major issues concerning the inefficient use of water seems obvious: it is a resource threatened by scarcity. “The problem is
that we are approaching the limits of our resources in some places. And to complicate matters, climate change, aging infrastructure,
watershed modification, chemical pollution, and population growth also threaten water supplies .” Therefore, it is crucial to maximize
efficiency and encourage conservation efforts for residential water use.
From the Pacific Institute: “The world’s water problems flow from our failure to meet basic human needs and our inability to balance
human needs with the needs of the natural world. Only by developing a new approach that makes sustainability and efficiency
paramount can effective and permanent solutions to these problems be found .” The misallocation, over consumption, and inefficiency
of residential water has proven to be highly wasteful and unsustainable. Although
behavioral shifts toward conservation may be a necessary component of a move
towards sustainable water use, improving existing technologies to encourage more
efficiency will also be critical in
1. Koomey, Jonathan G. The Effect of Efficiency
Standards on Water Use and Water
2. “Water Efficiency.” Pacific Institute. 2008. Web. 12
3. “Water and Sustainability.” Pacific Institute. 2009.
Web. 12 Nov. 2009.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 12
Modifying behavior is essential to curbing the problem of residential water
misuse. However, improving technological efficiency is paramount to the success
of conservation efforts. “These technologies, including low-flow toilets, faucets, and 10 Jun. 2009. Online Image. Savebuylive.com/
showerheads, efficient washing machines, drip and precision sprinkler irrigation,
reverse osmosis water purification systems, and others, are changing the face of California water .”
Another solution in using water more efficiently at a residential level is to have the price of water set at rate that more accurately reflect
its true cost. “Water providers should adopt prices that better reflect the costs of service, including, capital costs and environmental
costs .” Much of the technology is in place to conserve water and use it more efficiently; it’s more of an issue of making the necessary
policy changes to ensure proper implementation of such technology. Making these changes, along with a fundamental shift in
behavior, will be pivotal to the overall effectiveness of conserving water at a residential level.
Due to the contentious history of Los Angeles and water, it might seem ill conceived to use Los Angeles as an exemplary model of
sustainable water use. However, recent studies indicate a drastic shift in the city’s water conservation efforts. Peter Gleick, President
of the Pacific Institute, points out that “water demand in Los Angeles reached a 32-year low last month ,” despite an increasing
population. As the nation’s second largest city, Los Angeles consumes more water than any other urban area in the United States.
Given the population of Los Angeles, and the amount of water its residents consume, it’s crucial to make headway within the city to set
national examples of sustainable water use.
Adjusting the way in which water has traditionally been used, by taking shorter showers, installing low flush toilets, and implementing
gray water systems has been key to some of the success Los Angeles has seen. According to the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance,
“water consumption in Los Angeles has remained at 1990 levels, despite a 15% increase in population. This is mainly due to water
conservation measures .”7 In Los Angeles, calls for conservation have shown remarkable improvements in the city’s water usage.
According to an Associated Press article, citing the Los Angeles Department of References
Water and Power, “residents, businesses, and government agencies cut water use 4. “Sustainable Use of Water.” Pacific Institute. 1999.
Web. 10. Nov. 2009.
8 5. “Sustainable Use of Water.” Pacific Institute. 1999.
by 17%” in July 2009, in comparison to July 2008. Web. 12 Nov. 2009.
6. Gleick, Peter. “Why Do You Still Have a Top-Loading
Although it may seem daunting, there are plenty of reasons to remain optimistic. Washing Machine?” San Francisco Chronicle. 29 Jul.
2009. Hearst Communications. Web. 2 Oct. 2009.
7. Courtney, Shawn. “A Tale of Three Cities.” POLIS
According to a report from the Pacific Institute, “Waste Not, Want Not,” it’s estimated Water Project. Sep. 2009. Web.14 Oct. 2009.
8. “Dramatic Dtop in LA Water, Power, and
that “up to one third of California’s current urban water use – more than 2.3 million Consumption.” Associated Press. KPBS. 26 Aug. 2009.
Web. 16 Oct. 2009.
9 9. “Waste Not, Want Not: The Potential for Urban Water
acre feet – can be saved using existing technology .” Conservation in California.” Pacific Institute. 11 Nov.
2003. Web. 2 Oct. 2009.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 13
Lack of Fresh Water
Fresh water is a scarce resource. Only 2.5% of all the water on earth is fresh water,
and two thirds of that is locked in glaciers and ice caps. Cities in the developed
world consume much more than their fair share; large cities with hydrologic
infrastructure provide inhabitants the means for obtaining water to drink, for
USDA National Resources Conservation Service
personal hygiene and household matters, landscape and agricultural irrigation,
industrial activities, wastewater treatment, recreation, etc. While many Westerners
feel deprived if unable to shower daily, there are millions of people worrying if they
have enough drinking water to survive the day. Homes in the developed world are
generally equipped with taps that provide water instantly; in homes with multiple
taps, the average daily consumption of water is 100 to 200 liters (25 to 50 gallons) per person.
As cities around the world become more developed, they look further for sources of fresh water. Political battles are often
encountered, as many times water sources cross national boundaries. Despite this, two methods of accessing water are generally
employed: digging deeper for groundwater (thus depleting the limited supply) or diverting water from far-away rivers, lakes, or
streams. Both of these methods change the shape of the surrounding ecosystems and are unsustainable. Pumping groundwater to
cities results in widespread pollution and sedimentation buildup in the aquifers used. The buildup of sedimentation within aquifers
reduces overall storage capacity, in turn reducing water availability.
Diverting water from above-ground sources by building aqueducts and dams destroys the surrounding ecosystems. Humans that
have inhabited the surrounding areas are often displaced by dam construction (as their towns and villages become flooded), and
animals are forced to migrate or die, due to their consequential aquatic habitat. This constant quest for fresh water is unsustainable on
San Francisco is an example of traditional methods used for supplying developed cities with water. In order to provide San
References Francisco with potable water, water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, located 167
1. Pinderhughes, Raquel. “Alternative Urban Futures.” miles northeast, is diverted to the city. The connection from the Hetch Hetchy to San
Lanham, Maryland. 2004. Print.
2. Mayell, Hillary. “UN Highlights World Water
Crisis.” National Geographic 5 June 2003. National Francisco traverses mountains and fault lines, necessitating frequent maintenance.
Geographic News. National Geographic. Web. 16
Nov. 2009. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/ The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is replenished by snowmelt. San Francisco is hardly the
3. Pinderhughes, Raquel. “Alternative Urban
only city that acquires its water from far-off reservoirs dependent on snowmelt; with
Futures.” Lanham, Maryland. 2004. Print.
4. Pinderhughes, Raquel. “Alternative Urban
Futures.” Lanham, Maryland. 2004. Print. the evident climate change and the imminent possibility of reduced snowpack, it is
5. Kehoe, Paul. “San Francisco’s Water Supply.”
SFPUC. Web. 2 Oct. 2009. http://idrinfo.idrc.ca/ high time alternative means of attaining fresh water for cities are implemented.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 14
Fog Used as Fresh Water Source
In coastal or mountainous cities, other options are available. In San
Francisco, we have an abundance of fog that could be potentially used as a fresh
water source. This is a relatively new technique of catching water; fog harvesting, as
it is known has been investigated for approximately 30 years. It has been successfully National Geographic
employed in Mountainous coastal areas of Chile, Peru, Mexico, and Ecuador.
Prior to the installation of a fog collection system, residents of the village of Chungungo, Chile were only able to obtain an
average of fourteen liters of potable water per day. This minimal amount of water was trucked in from a nearby city. The system was
installed in 1987. Today, 88 fog collectors stretch along the ridge line above the fishing village of Chungungo. The collectors provide
more than 40 liters of potable water per person per day (this averages to be 10,000 liters or 2,600 gallons total per day). This is enough
to sustain Chungungo’s domestic consumption, four-hectare community garden, small-scale public landscaping, and a public park
in the center of town. This project is operated by local committee, which charges a small fee to each participating household. If a
household significantly exceeds the average monthly water consumption, they are charged a much higher fee. Although this case
study is in a village, it could be adapted for coastal cities with ample fog provided adequate funding and maintenance..
The setup is fairly simple. Rectangular nylon nets are stretched between two posts with the net perpendicular to the prevailing
wind. If this method were to be put into operation in San Francisco, the nets should be arranged facing east/west, with the posts on the
north/south sides, as the wind (and fog) generally blows from the ocean side to the bay. The water molecules from the fog will gather
on the nylon mesh and fall, by means of gravity, into a trough or gutter beneath the nylon panel. This gutter is connected to a PVC pipe
which conveys the water to an attached storage drum (traditionally made of concrete, but other types sufficient for water storage are
acceptable). Other items that filter the water are encouraged in construction, such as mesh for filtering leaves and insects, as well as
a minor addition of chemical treatment to ensure drinkability if water is to be used References
for cooking or drinking. The amount of water storage is recommended to be at least 6. Abdul-Wahab, Sabah A., Hilal Al-Hinai, Al-Najar A.
Kahled, and Mohammed S. Al-Kalbani. “Feasibility of
8 fog water collection: a case study from Oman.” Journal
50% of the maximum total daily value of water consumed. of Water Supply: Research and Technology-AQUA
56.4 (2007): 275-80. EBSCOhost. Web. 2 Oct. 2009.
Regular maintenance is required, as it is important to keep the nets taut http://0-web.ebscohost.com.opac.sfsu.edu/ehost/
in order to collect water most effectively. Pipes and additional screens should be XBlPWlwLGNvb2tpZSx1cmwsdWlkJnNpdGU9ZWhvc3
cleaned regularly to ensure water flow. Costs of materials are fairly cheap, as they 7. LaCroix, Pattie. “Clouds on Tap: Harvesting fog
around the world”. (1998). GoogleScholar. Web. 15
are readily available at many hardware or gardening stores. The most expensive 8. Unit of Sustainable Development and Environment,
comp. Source Book of Alternative Technologies for
8 Freshwater Augmentation in Latin America and the
component is likely to be the water storage unit.
Caribbean. Washington, D.C.: General Secretariat,
Organization of American States, 1997. Print.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 15
According to a 2003 report by the U.S Government Accountability Office at least 36
states will face water shortages over the next decade. This is despite the fact that the United
States is home to the Great Lakes, which hold 20% of the world’s fresh water. Population
growth coupled with predicted global warming will make current water shortage problems
worse in the future. “Many experts on climate change warn that global warming will have
“A young member of the Cocopah Indians of
northern Mexico plays in a dried-up arm of direct impacts on the nation’s water supplies as well as the ability of those water supplies to
the Colorado River near the town of El Mayor,
Mexico.” Online Image. Water Encyclopedia. 13 2
October 2009. http://www.waterencyclopedia. regenerate.”
All over the United States, rivers are running dry during summer months and people are experiencing water shortage
problems partly due to population growth and over consumption. It is not just a problem in arid parts of the country. “In northeastern Massachusetts,
parts of the Ipswich River dry up each summer when Boston suburbanites turn on their lawn sprinklers. In New Jersey, the Potomac-Raritan-Magothy
aquifer system, the state’s largest source of drinking water, has dipped more than 100 feet due to groundwater pumping, which also threatens
saltwater intrusion.”3 Forty percent of total public drinking water and 97 percent of rural drinking water in the U.S. is supplied by groundwater, which
is being depleted at alarming rates. For example, the Ogallala-High Plains aquifer, which provides 30 percent of the nation’s water for irrigation, has
been reduced to half its original volume in its central and southern reaches and is being consumed approximately 14 times faster than its refill rate.
“The Colorado River -- once a mighty force through the Southwest -- no longer reaches the ocean during the summer months.”
Over consumption and population growth are the main factors contributing to current water shortages. When it comes to over consumption
of water and wasteful use, the U.S. is ahead of the game. According to waterfootprint.org the U.S. average water footprint is 2483 m3/capita/yr while
the global average water footprint is 1243 m3/capita/yr.
According to the Council of States Government Issue Brief, the doubling of water
1. Swain, Gabe “Water Scarcity: Preventing Water
Shortages” Council of State Governments Issue Brief,
Trends in America. February 2008. consumption over the past 60 years is largely explained by population increases. The total
3. Barnett, Cythia. “Shortage in a Land of Plenty.” U.S. population in 1950 was slightly higher than 152 million; today it is around 304 million.
Planning 74.8 (): 30-31. Web. Academic Search
Premier. San Francisco state University. 14 Oct. 2009
<http://0 web.ebscohost.co m.opac.sfsu.edu/ehost/ The Brief also says, “as population increases further strain will be placed on the nation’s water
51fdb3fa69af%40sessionmgr11&bdata=JkF1dGhUeX supply. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the population in the U.S. will reach 395 million
4. Swain, Gabe “Water Scarcity: Preventing Water by 2050—an estimated increase of 30 percent.”
Shortages” Council of State Governments Issue Brief,
Trends in America. February 2008. State and federal officials are looking at more effective ways of managing their water
5. Lagod, Martin. “We’re running out of water.” San
Francisco Chronicle 8 July 2007. Web. 30 Sep. 2009
<http://www.sfgate.com/cgibin/article.cgi?file=/ supplies through conservation methods and technologies. Rainwater harvesting is one such
6. Swain, Gabe “Water Scarcity: Preventing Water method.
Shortages” Council of State Governments Issue Brief,
Trends in America. February 2008.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 16
Fresh water is essential to human existence and although it may appear abundant only
about 2.5 percent of the world’s water is fresh. This fresh water is not distributed equally throughout
the world. This is why it is very important to utilize fresh water resources carefully and conservatively.
“BACK TO THE FUTURE: Ancient Rainwater
Urban areas in the U.S. that receive seasonal rainwater can reduce their dependence on piped-in Harvesting and Rainwater Collection
Practices”. Online Image. Cape Fear Rainwater
Harvesting, Inc. Web. 13 Oct. 2009 <http://www.
fresh water sources by utilizing rainwater, by implementing rainwater harvesting systems.
Rainwater harvesting is defined by the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association as the practice of collecting rainwater from a
roof or other surface before it reaches the ground and storing it for future use. Rainwater harvesting involves gathering, or accumulating and storing
rainwater, in what is called a cistern. This method has been used for centuries, as a way for people to meet part of their water needs.
Rainwater harvesting can be done two ways: by catching and storing rainwater for use; or by using runoff to recharge groundwater. The
collection of rainwater from the roofs of houses and local institutions can make an important contribution to local fresh water resources. U.S. cities
in Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington are starting to implement rainwater-harvesting
Case Study: Santa Fe, New Mexico
As part of the water conservation plan, on October 14, 2003 the Santa Fe County Board of County Commissioners adopted Ordinance 2003-6
addressing water harvesting for all residential and commercial development within Santa Fe County. The Ordinance requires rainwater harvesting
systems on new residential or commercial structures of 2,500 square feet and larger.
“Homes consisting of 2,500 square feet or greater of heated area must install underground, partially buried, or insulated cisterns, while homes under
2,500 square feet of heated area must submit a rainwater catchment plan with their development permit application.” Santa Fe receives an average
annual rainfall of 16 inches and according to Sardy (2009), a 1,000-square-foot roof in Santa Fe harvesting rain water could collect as much as 9,000
gallons of water a year. “If every Santa Fe household collected 9,000 gallons of precipitation each year, it would cut average annual residential use of
city water by nearly 25 percent and save each household some $100 to $150 per year in water fees.” A 13,000-acre development in Santa Fe County
south of the city has so far built some 300 new homes that come preinstalled with cisterns, and plans to build at least another 700.
In addition to the ordinance on rainwater harvesting for new developments, the Land Use Department implemented a one-year pilot
project to permit Residential Rooftop Rainwater Harvesting on existing houses effective as of
7. American Rainwater Catchment systems Association.
ARCSA N.p., 2009. Web. 5 Nov. 2009 <http://www.arcsa.
October 1, 2009. The installation of these systems requires a permit, and a specific permit checklist org/>.
8.Sardy, Marin. “Right as Rain.” Santa Fean June 2009.
has been developed by the department. After the year is up and the department has gotten Web. 13 Oct. 2009 <http://santafean.com/Santa-Fean-
9. Sardy, Marin. “Right as Rain.” Santa Fean June 2009.
feedback and modifications they plan on implementing a permanent approach. The County of Web. 13 Oct. 2009 <http://santafean.com/Santa-Fean-
Santa Fe is a leader in implementing policy that encourages responsible water management.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 17
Food Waste in Landfills
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 25 percent
of food in the United States of America is thrown out, which equates to 96 billion
pounds of food waste annually. The EPA defines food waste as uneaten food and
“The Growing Problem of Food Waste”. Online food preparation scraps that are generated from residential, commercial and other
Image. Popular Science. 18 October 2009.
h t t p : / / w w w. p o p s c i . c o m / e n v i r o n m e n t / institutional sources. Food waste raises many problems that must be addressed:
including the problems associated with food waste in landfills, contributing to loss
of available land space and global warming. Food is not the only thing that is being
wasted—money is too. According to the EPA, the United States spends around 1 billion dollars to discard food waste each year and in
2007, 12.5% of residential food scraps accounted for municipal solid waste with less than 3% being recovered for alternative uses.
Depending on waste management services and local government plans, the majority of this non-recycled food waste is either
being trucked off to the nearest landfill or burned in incinerators. Sanitary landfills are constructed to be compact burial grounds for
unwanted goods, essentially creating massive tombs that are designed to not leak; unfortunately, the dilemma caused by this design
leads to food waste to decompose under anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions, allowing methane-producing bacteria to proliferate.
The current mummified conditions of sanitary landfills are the number one contributor of methane gases, 34% in the U.S. to be exact.
Methane, a greenhouse gas, is 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide in a hundred year period.
Not only are current waste management processes unsustainable, the overall business costs do not capture the externalized
costs of current business practices. Carbon & methane emissions, leachate leaking through the protective landfill liner polluting
ground water, loss of valuable land and reusable products are all problems which will require public funds to mitigate the issues
in the future, if even possible. Due to citing regulations for sanitary landfills, environmental impacts, and major public
resistance, governmental agencies and businesses are realizing the importance of landfill diversion in order to slow down the filling of
landfills to maximum capacity and creating a sustainable waste plan.
1. The Ecology of Place, Island Press, 1197:1
2. “Compact Urban Development Requirements
& Safe Harbors, Buildable Lands Reports, &
Reasonable Measures.” N. pag. Futurewise,
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 20
Sustainable Waste Plans and City Composting Programs
To reduce the stream of organic waste that ends up in landfills, city officials need to create and implement
sustainable waste plans, allocating money for better municipal waste sorting processes. Not only can city officials
do this, but they can also get the support of businesses to join in the push to zero waste because they can reduce Norcal Waste Systems Inc. The Garbage Pit
Media. Date of access 18 October 2009
their waste costs and create green jobs in the process.
Zero waste is grounded in the idea that resources that can be used again and should not go into a landfill; additionally, it emphasizes that we reuse and recycle
more of the goods that we create, allowing society to use energy and other resources more sustainably. Cities such as San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, and San
Diego have created zero waste plans in order to divert goods destined for the landfill. As noted by the City of Albuquerque in their Climate Action Plan, there are six
strategies to achieving zero waste; strategy three is the implementation of both a residential and commercial organic waste management system. By designating
resources to the collection of organic waste, compost “a fertilizing material consisting largely of decayed organic matter” can be produced, which has numerous
benefits associated with its use in addition to reducing organic waste in landfills. Fresh nutrient-rich soil is the end product of the composting process, allowing it to
be used for agriculture purposes and additionally, reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.
In order to reduce contamination, which is a crucial problem in the recycling of all goods, cities around the nation can adopt collection systems that make it easier for
both the disposer and the collector, while concurrently teaching individuals on which waste bin to utilize for their waste disposal. Although personal compost bins
are beneficial, in a city setting, a city wide composting program allows residents that lack outdoor space to participate; moreover, soiled paper products, meats, and
bones can be collected, which typically cannot be useful in a personal composting setting.
Case Study: San Francisco’s Urban Compost Program
In order to meet San Francisco’s goal of zero waste by 2020, Recology, the parent company of San Francisco’s Sunset Scavenger collection team, picks up every week
(sometimes everyday for high green waste businesses) 2100 tons of composting materials from 75,000 city homes and about 2,100 restaurants, delis and other
food related businesses using side-loading single chamber compactor trucks, allowing the collector a chance to monitor for contamination. This is also the moment
when a collector will leave a note for the resident regarding any unfit items for the green bin. The green waste is then hauled off to the Organics Annex, a transfer
station built in the city as part of the zero waste initiative, where it will soon be transferred into long-haul trucks bound for Jepson Prairie Organics facility located in
Vacaville 75.5 miles away. Once the truck has arrived at Jepson Prairie Organics (JPO), the largest food waste composting center in the U.S., where about 5,200 tons
of food scraps from San Francisco and Oakland are mixed with Dixon and Vacaville’s 2,000 tons of yard waste each month, the green waste is processed in a custom
designed industrial green waste grinder. After the completion of the 90-day compost process, the product is then References
put through a trommel screen to create a finished nutrient rich soil, which is sold to local farmers and vineyards. By 3. City of Albuquerque Climate Action Plan
partnering together, Recology and the City of San Francisco have erected a model for sustainable waste disposal, CAPREV08forWEBRZW.pdf
4.“Compost”. The Merriam Webster
which can be used to help other cities, counties and states nationwide in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, Dictionary.11th ed. 2004.
5. Norcal Waste Systems Inc . Jepson Prairie
Organics. Date of access 18 October 2009.
and increase richer topsoil across the nation. Embarking on the road to sustainability just got easier! http://www.jepsonprairieorganics.com/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 21
The Troubles with TDF
The estimated number of tires discarded in the United States every year is about
290 million, roughly one per person. Just shy of half of these tires are shredded
and used as Tire Derived Fuel (TDF). In 2003, 89 facilities in the U.S. burned TDF for
purposes ranging from cement kilns to paper mills to coal-fired power plants and
other waste incinerators. The state of California is challenged with the management
of 44.4 million reusable and waste tires. Tire manufactures, TDF producers and
users, and government agencies all promote the use of TDF as a solution to tire waste, despite the common knowledge that burning
tires is harmful both to human health and the natural environment because the fumes from tire burning are filled with lead, benzene,
synthetic rubber compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. While many of the facilities burning TDF have known emissions,
which contain dioxins and furans, there are also potential risks to the emissions of TDF that we do not yet know about. Some of these
risks come from the simple fact that not enough information is known about TDF emissions. However perceived potential risks include
life long damage in developing infants and the unknown effects of the combination of chemicals emitted from burning TDF.
One of the risks from burning TDF is mercury, a heavy metal that is known to accumulate in wildlife and can be detrimental
to an ecosystem if it finds its way into the water system. Data tracking the emissions of metals, such as mercury, vary, but most trends
show an increase when burned with TDF. Mercury effects not only the micro-biological world it infiltrates, but also has shown adverse
effects in humans, who are typically exposed through the consumption of aquatic life such as fish and shellfish. Mercury, through
bioaccumulation, builds up within the animals consumed, and then in humans as well, causing illness and often times birth defects in
fetuses. These risks of mercury contamination increase through the burning of TDF.
1. “Tire-Derived Fuel ::.” Energy Justice Network. Web. 18
Oct. 2009. <http://www.energyjustice.net/tires/#top>.
2. “Tire Management Home Page.” Home Page:
California Integrated Waste Management Board
(CIWMB). 30 Sept. 2009. Web. 19 Oct. 2009. <http://
4. Tire-Derived Fuel ::.” Energy Justice Network. Web. 18
Oct. 2009. <http://www.energyjustice.net/tires/#top>.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 82
Cement Kilns in Northern California and
Northern California is home to two major cement kilns in the U.S. that model.html
utilize TDF, in Davenport, located just north of Santa Cruz, the other in Cupertino,
in the south bay area near San Jose. The kilns in Davenport and Cupertino are two
of the worst in the nation in terms of mercury emissions, doubling the emissions
figures of the next highest polluting kilns located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Many groups are urging the EPA to require
more stringent monitoring of the stacks to quell mercury emissions from the Davenport and Cupertino kilns. While this is a step in the
right direction the fact remains that conventional tire disposal is a case of bury or burn, but a better solution exists to reuse the tire
waste in a different, more sustainable manner, that solution is Earthships.
Over 30 years ago, architect Michael Reynolds founded Earthship with 3 major goals in mind; 1) to make sustainable living units using
renewable, indigenous and recycled materials, 2) to build independent, “off-the-grid” housing, and 3) for it to be a realistic endeavor
for the average person with no construction experience to build and afford. Earthships are completely sustainable living units that
provide dwellers the opportunity to build and live in a structure that is a food system, water system, sewage, and electricity system.
The major structural component of Earthships is used tires. The steel belted tires are packed with earth and form bricks used to build
the walls of the structure, these walls are virtually indestructible. Using used automobile tires utilizes a by-product of the modern
world. This is preferable to using the tires in TDF as the dangers and by-products of the burning are eliminated. Advantages to living in
an Earthship are not limited to the decrease in TDF being burned. The structural design of an Earthship ensures that little to no fossil
fuels are burned in keeping the building at a comfortable, stable temperature. Earthships insure that utility bills become a thing of the
past, this is done through a series of principles that Earthship employs, including thermal/solar heating and cooling, use of solar and
win energy and water harvesting. An increase in the building of use of Earthships in the South Bay/Santa Cruz area would decrease
the amount of TDF burned in the Davenport and Cupertino Kilns and thus decrease the amount of mercury entering the ecosystem
and food chain.
5. “Materials.” Earthship Biotecture Sustainable Green
Buildings. Web. 18 Oct. 2009. <http://www.earthship.
6. “Comfort: Earthships maintain comfortable
temperatures in any climate.” Earthship Biotecture
Sustainable Green Buildings. Web. 18 Oct. 2009.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 83
Cotton The Fabric of Our Lives
Throughout the centuries, cotton as a crop and fabric has been a major part
of American life and culture. One of the nation’s first cash crops, starting off on
slave plantations and now in major growth operations, cotton plays a major part in
American everyday life, as the main fabric in almost every article or type of clothing,
pictures/cotton.jpg even cleaning supplies and other items. As the United States has grown as a country,
so has cotton production. The United States Department of Agriculture estimated
that the United States grew about 20% of the world=s cotton from 2004-2006, not
a majority percentage, but a meaningful chunk of the world’s production and import/export. The role of the United States in cotton
prodution has been persistent in the last century. The fiber remains one of our biggest crops, and also biggest exports, especially until
recently when other world countries have begun more intensive cotton production.
The cotton plant produces a fiber, or boll, on the plant that is picked and manipulated into various forms. Planting, growing,
and cultivating cotton is a very intensive process, on the soil and on farmers. We are far past the days of handpicked cotton, however
the processes are still harmful:
People/Animals: the use of pesticides against boll weavils,bollworms,moths and etc. has a direct effect on humans. Runoffs
into water supply, soil, and other agriculture affect the animals that live/graze, and therefore humans. Pesticides can get into the water
supply, food supply, and do not easily wash out of soil with a plant such as cotton. Remnants of pesticides, dyes, and bleaches in fabric
can cause outbreaks and general irritations. The machinery used for cotton increases injury risk. The cotton ginning process also
produces high amounts of “cotton dust” an irritant to humans in contact.
Plant life/soil: The heavy chemicals of pesticides, which are necessary to maintain a resistance against cotton-damaging pests,
are residually streamed into our water and soil. Because cotton is a soil-depleting crop, it requires constant rotation. Many other crops
or grazing animals are affected by this long lasting effect. The fact that cotton is so water, soil, and sun intensive, makes it hard for a
good crop rotation. Also, being a “taking” crop, it doesn’t replenish or filter the soil. Chemicals may stay in the soil for years.
Solution? Not Quite: Organic cotton, which is pesticide free and usually less water-intensive, still leaves depleted soil, and
requires massive crop rotation. The lack of pesticides also produces a smaller yield.
GM(genetically modified) cotton has began to be used as an alternative, but this
still produces similar results and a weaker quality.
United States Dept. of Agriculture, Economic Research.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 22
Hemp has been grown for as long as cotton, and used as a multi-
purpose plant, ranging from textiles, to oils, to building materials, to paper, even
biodegradable plastics and now fuels. The plant, a form of Canibus Sativa, is often
confused with marijuana, however it is the non-potent, low THC-yielding form. It courtesy of Byron Clark: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
grows in stalks like cotton, often higher and producing more yield. The crop has a high pest resistance, but is susceptible to common
natural pest attacks and molds, such as seed or soil-borner fungi, which can be controlled by seed treatment or crop rotation. However,
since it produces more yield per plant, the losses are often unnoticeable. The hemp-cultivating process is similar to growth of cotton,
however, uses less water and is less sun intensive or reliant. The grow season lasts almost half a year, with plants growing up to 3-15
feet, with fibers in the stalks of similar lengths. The fiber produced by each plant is averaged at about 250% more than cotton, and six
times more than flax. Since 1999, the United States has imported at least 1.5 million pounds of raw hemp fiber.
Because of the simple needs of the hemp plant, it is easily grown in the United States climate, and easy to grow in close
spaces. The use as a fiber is as strong as cotton. The hemp fabric is a little rougher than cotton, so a hemp/organic cotton blend would
probably be my best guess at a super and sustainable fabric and alternative to cotton. Hemp had been used in soldiers clothing, and
Levi Strauss used it in its original jeans. Since the hemp plant provides such a strong yield and very low pesticide use, the plant is an
optimal replacement to the cotton process. The two most important non-fiber facts are its use as a “mop-crop” and weed killer. Hemp
is a good plant for replenishing the soil it uses, and cleaning out toxins or other chemicals in the soil. It was used near Chernobyl after
the nuclear disaster, growing hemp as one of the plant experiments to purify the soil so that it may be safe and usable again. It is less
nutrient, sun, and water intensive, which means less wasted energy and supplies in production. The ability to plant closely provides
major potential for massive yields. This also helps it as a weedkiller, because of its density and soil use, it prevents more weed type
plants from being able to grow, produce, and spread; decreasing the need for herbicides.
Because of Federal laws, the D.E.A prevents hemp cultivation. Production from imported materials is accepted. However, nine
US states have laws legalizing hemp cultivation. In 1999, Hawaii and the DEA allowed Dr. David West to grow a quarter-acre plot in a
closed off area. The study lasted for four years, as Dr. West experimented with different types of the hemp plant. He concluded that
Hawaii was not the best climate for industrial growth, however, began producing
. United States Dept. of Agriculture, http://www.ers.
positive yields, approximately 8 tons of dry matter in 4 months growth. By the end
. Small, E. and Marcus, D. 2002. “Hemp:A new crop with
new uses for North America” p.284-326 in J.Janick and
of his study, Dr. West was able to grow 8-10 foot high stalks in a few months time. In A.Whipley(eds.), Trends in New Crops and New Uses,
ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA. Obtained from http://www.
such a small area, this shows good promise. The doctor concluded that with better hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ncnu02/v5-284.html
. West, David P., “Hawaii Industrial Hemp Research
Project Final Report”, http://www.hempreport.com/
space and climate, the potential for hemp growth could be very productive.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 23
Hazardous waste is harmful to the health of humans, other species and the
natural environment. There are many substances and materials that could be
described as being hazardous to the environment, such as: E-waste, fertilizers and
No artist. “Water Pollution in Peru.” January
2008. Online Image. Top 10 Most Polluted
Co u n t r i e s. < w w w. c r u n k i s h . c o m / t o p - 1 0 -
pollution-causes/>. An existing and growing hazardous waste is known as ‘sewage waste’ which
has not had much media coverage in today’s society. The term, ‘sewage waste’ or
‘wastewater’ is defined as, “liquid and water-carried industrial or domestic wastes from dwellings, commercial buildings, industrial
facilities, and institutions, with groundwater, surface water, and storm water, which is discharged into or permitted to enter the City’s
wastewater treatment system.1
This type of waste poses a significant threat to our health. It is seen to cause many diseases and has been known to destroy
our natural environment. Most common health risks (if ingested) and environmental risks (if not disposed properly) related to sewage
waste include; gastro-enteritis, hepatitis, infections to open cuts/rashes, and the decay of our natural ecosystems.2
The vast amount of incidents of sewage waste contamination has been leaky pipelines, meaning sizable cracks/gashes in a
sewage pipeline. These cracks empty about 300 gallons of feces into our rivers and lakes every minute.3This was recently seen in the San
Francisco Bay not more than nine months ago and has been a monthly occurrence throughout the country. To stress the importance
of this crisis one must know that in one gram of feces there are ten million viruses, one million bacteria, one thousand parasite
cysts and one hundred worm eggs’. Inadequate sanitation kills more people than
AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.4 The problem of ‘sewage waste’ around the world is
References something that, if not resolved, will harm present and future generations.
1. City of Mankato. “Definitions.” City Code. 2007. <www.
2. Effects of Sewage-Contaminated Water on Human
Health. “Ambient.” <www.rsmas.miami.edu/groups/
3. Heimbuch, Jaymi. “Sewage Waste Sends 500,000
Gallons of Grossness into San Francisco Bay.”
TreeHugger: A Discovery Company. February 20, 2009
4. Edwards, Bob. “The problem with sewage.” Public
Radio International March 15, 2009: <www.pri.org/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 24
Education and Legislation
Illegal sewage waste disposal may never come to an end, but there’s always
been a solution to problems such as this and for this it’s education and legislation.
WildCoast. “Come Break a Record and Have Fun.”
There has been many short term fixes to the problem of sewage waste in this
Jan. 24, 2008. Online Image. <www.wildcoast.
country. Individuals started taking responsibility for their own waste management Coastal/Clean Water Now/CC-1.jpg>.
and would dispose of it themselves or going to a national level where legislation is
Public awareness and legislation go hand-in-hand when talking about sewage waste management because when trying to
pass legislation, people need to be educated about the topic. One piece of legislation that was passed in early 2008 could put a sizable
dent in the improvement of sewage waste disposal; this is, the California Clean Water Act of 2008. It was put into place to “improve the
transparency and accountability of sewage operations across the state by failing sewer systems that pollute our neighborhoods and
waterways.” It was later vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger months after being passed by California Legislation.
The California Clean Water Act of 2008 decreased the amount of sewage spills in the San Francisco Bay Area through public
awareness, the grading system and the installation of flow meters. The State Water Resources Control Board electronically posted
copies of all documents generated from 2006 through 2009 regarding waste discharge requirements giving people the information
needed. They gave a letter grade to all treatment plants in the state to recognize failing systems and shutting them down. Flow meters
were installed in areas with high levels of wet weather that cause the release of untreated wastewater into the environment. Their
purpose is to identify the source of the leak in the system so maintenance crews can promptly put an end to sewage spills. Over the
last decade there has been a significant decrease in the amount of sewage waste discharges in the San Francisco Bay Area; not saying
there hasn’t been spills on a considerable level, but just fewer of them.
5. Keeping Sewage Out of the Bay. “Baykeeper.” <www.
6. Orange County CoastKeeper. California Clean Water
Act of 2008: Fact Sheet. <http://www.coastkeeper.org/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 25
According to Webster’s Dictionary, a landfill is “a system of trash and garbage
disposal in which the waste is buried between layers of earth.” Landfills that are
closed, due to having reached capacity or due to public pressure, present limited
“Diagram of a Properly Closed Landfill” US
EPA website http://www.epa.gov/superfund/ options for development of the space they occupy. Closed landfills present several
problems that must be addressed if the land is to be developed for public use. Two
primary concerns are methane gas and leachate.
Methane is produced in landfills from decomposing organic matter in the absence of oxygen. This is a common occurrence
in landfills where all types of waste is compacted to maximize limited space, and then covered intermittently with layers of soil.
Landfills that have been filled to capacity are “capped” with clay and other impermeable layers further ensuring the lack of oxygen and
anaerobic decomposition of the wastes entombed within. Methane gas is flammable and explosive when it accumulates in confined
spaces. Methane gas can also pose a threat when it seeps outward from the landfill into surrounding areas. Methane released to
the atmosphere is a potent greenhouse gas that is twenty times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the earth’s
Leachate is produced when water percolates down through the refuse in the landfill; refuse that may contain toxic chemicals,
such as those found in batteries, common household cleaners, nail polish, and discarded personal electronics. The leachate produced
will contain many of the toxic chemicals and other contaminants in the landfill. If not properly collected and managed, leachate seeps
into groundwater and can contaminate drinking wells and other water sources. Capping the landfill prevents additional water from
entering the landfill and percolating down through the refuse. However, the moisture already contained in the landfill prior to capping
will continue to be drawn down and require collection and processing.
1. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 10th
Edition. USA. 1993
2. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Dept. “Closed
Landfill Study.” 2006 http://www.tpchd.org/files/
3. Kaufman, Donald, Franz, Cecilia M., Biosphere 2000:
Protecting Our Global Environment. Harper Collins
Publishing. 2000. p.454
4. US Environmental Protection Agency website.
5. Christenson, Scott C., and Isabelle M. Cozzarelli The
Norman Landfill Environmental Research Site:
What Happens to the Waste in Landfills? US Geological
Survey website. 10/17/09. http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs-
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 26
Solutions Associated With Closed Landfills
Ever expanding urban areas present considerable pressure to develop “waste
lands.” Given that closed landfills must be continually monitored and maintained to mitigate
environmental hazards such as methane gas and leachate, the options for developing
Freshkills Park 2009 NYC Dept of Planning http://
these areas are limited. Developing housing or shopping malls upon closed landfills are www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/fkl/fkl1b.shtml
risky investments given the multiple stakeholders and potential liability costs if and when
problems, such as leaking methane, arise. Creating open public space and recreation areas is an efficacious choice for development of closed
landfills. This is especially true for densely populated urban areas that are deficient in natural areas and parks that residents require for mental health
and physical activity.
Landfill gas is approximately half methane and half carbon dioxide. Methane is commonly known as natural gas. This landfill gas can be
captured and utilized for energy. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, 480 landfill energy projects are operating in the U.S. These
energy projects provide the benefits of reduced greenhouse gas emissions, as well as diminished reliance on other, more polluting, energy sources.
The surrounding community benefits from cleaner air as well as revenue from the sale of electricity.
Landfill leachate must be collected and treated. Typically this involves a system of drainage pipes and pumps to collect the leachate, which
is then processed at a sewage treatment facility, or disposed of in another landfill. Phytoremediation, the use of plants to extract toxins, is being
studied as a promising alternative to conventional sewage treatment of landfill leachate. Phytoremediation appears to successfully reduce cyanide
and fluoride levels in leachate.
Located on Staten Island, NY, Freshkills Landfill was, until it closed in 2001, the
largest landfill in the world. At 2200 acres, Freshkills Park will, when completed, become
6. Bullard, Stan. “City View Center retail complex in
hands of a receiver.” Crain’s Cleveland Business. 3/10/09.
New York City’s largest park. Leachate is collected and treated; methane is captured and http://www.crainscleveland.com/article/20090310/
provides residents of Staten Island with electricity, as well as $11 million in revenue for the 7. Kaufman, Donald, Franz, Cecilia M., Biosphere 2000:
Protecting Our Global Environment. Harper Collins
Publishing. 2000. p.454
city. The 990 acres that were actually used for landfill has been capped with the requisite 8. “Landfill Methane Outreach Program.” EPA website.
layers of clay, impermeable plastic, gas vent layers, and precipitation drainage layers, as well 9. “Freshkills Park Project Overview.” NYC Dept. of
Parks and Recreation website. 10/17/09. http://www.
as two feet of planting topsoil. The transformation of Freshkills Landfill into Freshkills Park html/fresh_kills_park.html
10. Kang, Don-Hee, Tsao, D, Wang-Cahill, F, Rock, S,
is a thirty-year plan and process. It already features a variety of open space areas including Schwab, A.P., Banks, M.K., “Assessment of Landfill
Leachate Volume and Concentrations of Cyanide and
Fluoride during Phytoremediation.” Bioremediation
wetlands and a nature preserve. Recreation facilities, such as soccer fields, will be completed Journal. 12.1. January, 2008. 32-45. 10/17/09. http://
in 2010. Ample opportunity for observing wildlife, expansive views, and participating in a 11. “The City Concealed: The Freshkills Park Project.”
PBS Thirteen NYC. 6/01/09 http://www.thirteen.org/
variety of recreational activities will soon be afforded to residents and visitors. 11/15/09
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 27
At a time in which many Americans cannot live without their personal laptops and cell phones,
the planet is becoming an electronic wasteland for short-lived, toxin-filled electronic equipment.
h t t p : / / w w w. co. b e r k s. p a . u s / we s t re a d i n g /
Consumers Union states that the total number of obsolete computers now exceeds 300 million
in the United States alone . As many as 100,000 cell phones are being replaced annually, with
fewer than 1% recycled. Many consumers are now discarding their old equipment with regular
trash—lacking consistent, viable options to recycle—or storing it in their garage for fear that it
may be sent overseas.
Created in 1989, the Basel Convention mandates a complete ban on the export of all hazardous
http://www.thewip.net/contributors/2009/04/ wastes from rich to poor countries, even for recycling . It calls for countries to deal with their
waste problems within national borders . The United States refusal to ratify the Basel Convention
explains why making the decision to recycle in America can be impractical as it sometimes results in sending one’s toxic e-waste to landfills overseas or to
developing countries where labor laws are less stringent and electronics can be dismantled by workers for as little as $1.20 a day .
Electronics contain toxic lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, and fire retardant, thus when old TVs and PCs are improperly discarded
in such ways—shattered in landfills, burned and fragmented by low-wage workers—they release dangerous amounts of toxins that seep into the ground
and eventually the water table . In addition to lacking a policy that protects poor countries from our e-waste, the EPA does not even classify household
electronics as hazardous waste.
Though the EPA recognizes that these materials are harmful to humans as well as the environment, they are not subject to federal regulation.
This means that in most states the fate of discarded equipment is left for the individual to decide. Not only are people lacking awareness of their options
for recycling and reusing, but these processes are often inconsistent, inconvenient, and costly. The developing infrastructure for consumer reuse and
recycling of e-waste ranges from infrequent municipal or retailer collection events and manufacture mail-back services, to donation programs and “fees-
for-service” operations. However, many programs do not provide sufficient and transparent
References information to consumers about the fate of their equipment and its cost to the solid waste
1. B rown, Chelsea. “3 Solutions to E-Waste.” Natural
Home April 2005: Web. 18 Oct 2009. <http://www.
01/3-Solutions-to-E-Waste.aspx>. How can we reduce e-waste and make it easier for consumers to recycle their electronic
2. “ Cairns, Carolyn. “Electronic Waste: Finding
Sustainable Solutions that Work Better for Consumers.”
equipment? Consumers cannot do their part if the government does not intervene and create
Hear Us Now. 15 March 2005. Consumers Union of U.S.,
Inc., Web. 18 Oct 2009. <http://www.hearusnow.org/
fileadmin/sitecontent/HUN_WP_ewaste>. legislation that will construct stricter laws for recycling. As this issue is becoming more prevalent,
3. Wooddell, David. “E-Waste.” National Geographic
17 June 2008: Web. 18 Oct 2009. <http://ngm.
state governments are taking different approaches to solve the ripple effects of electronic waste.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 28
Reuse and Recycle
In order to improve unsustainable environmental practices related to e-waste the
US must increase options for consumers to reuse and recycle. There are over 30 different
national programs and hundreds of regional and local programs that provide services for http://www.advancedewastesolutions.com/
the reuse and recycling of discarded electronic equipment, but they do not often meet
consumer needs and expectations . Thus, it is necessary for states to implement mandatory
recycling legislation; this will be the catalyst that leads to further changes .
So far only two states in the United States have created recycling legislation, helping
consumers gain confidence in the fate of their equipment and participate in recycling.
California and Maine are shifting the burden away from taxpayers. California is increasing
costs for consumers, whereas Maine is increasing costs for manufactures—additional costs
include the price for collected materials to be recycled. These materials include electronic products that have been identified by the Department of
Toxic Substances Control as “covered electronic devices”—containing toxic elements such as cathode ray tubes and liquid crystal display screens .
Maine’s law, An Act to Protect the Public Health and the Environment by Providing for a System of Shared Responsibility for the Safe Collection and
Recycling of Electronic Waste, obliges manufacturers to submit plans to the Department of Environmental Protection explaining how they expect to
meet the costs of recycling their equipment. Many manufacturers pass the price of recycling products to the consumers through price premiums.
An increase in costs for manufacturers in Maine means that an incentive is provided to design products with longer life expectancies and facilitate
California’s new system differs in that the consumer will be required to pay an additional advanced recycling fee at the time of purchase.
Depending on the measurement of the product, the fee can range anywhere from $8 to $25. The revenue from this fee is deposited in an Electronic
Waste Recovery and Recycling Account. This fee is not enough to cover the cost of the necessary recycling equipment and taxpayers will end up
subsidizing the program . Also, since California’s legislation is not based on the principles of extended Producer Responsibility, and the fee increase is
the same for all manufacturers, there is less of an incentive for product redesign and recycling
4. “Cairns, Carolyn. “Electronic Waste: Finding
Sustainable Solutions that Work Better for Consumers.”
However, both options from Maine and California present infrastructures for Hear Us Now. 15 March 2005. Consumers Union of U.S.,
Inc., Web. 18 Oct 2009. <http://www.hearusnow.org/
recycling that consumers can trust. The fact that state governments are beginning to fileadmin/sitecontent/HUN_WP_ewaste>.
5. Pinderhughes, Raquel. Alternative Urban Futures.
Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2004.
recognize the toxicity of electronic waste and the price it costs our environment, is a step Print.
6. California. Electronic Waste Recycling (eWaste) Fee.
forward. , 2005. Print, <http://www.boe.ca.gov/-sptaxprog/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 29
Current forms of U.S. waste disposal, primarily landfill burial and incineration,
negatively impact public health and the environment. Landfill burial leaches
toxic materials from hazardous household waste into the ground contaminating
soil and groundwater resources. In addition to landfill leachate, off-gassing from
http://isforum.org/pubs/gtg/2005-04/images/ decomposing waste pollutes the air with vinyl chloride, hydrogen sulfide, and
greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. Incineration of household solid
waste pollutes the air with sulfur dioxide, dioxin, lead, mercury, vinyl chloride, benzene and methylene chloride. These contaminates
have been shown to cause human reproductive mutations, cancer, leukemia, anemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, neurotoxicity,
lung and liver damage.
Despite these dangerous methods of waste disposal, the U.S. does very little to cut down on its contributions to the municipal solid
waste stream. In 2007, the U.S. produced 254 million tons of municipal solid waste and 76% of discarded materials, by weight, were
manufactured goods. The health, environmental, and financial costs of waste disposal and storage of products and product packaging
are not reflected in the design, manufacturing and distribution sectors of the product’s life cycle.
As taxpayers and local governments are responsible for disposal and recycling costs, producers should be encouraged to design
disposable packaging and products. Toward the end of the lifecycle of a product, monetary costs are imposed on local economies yet
environmental costs are reflected at the extraction, processing, and consumption stage of the product as well. Manufacturers must be
held accountable for the entire lifecycle of a product and a product’s packaging that they produce.
At local levels, urban and peri-urban governments have successfully been enacting local policies for recycling programs but these
programs are vulnerable to decreased city budgets. Although many businesses in the private sector have set zero waste goals
and have worked to redesign their products with recycling in mind, without public
policy to enforce producer stewardship of their products, the environmental and
1. Pinderhughes, Raquel. Alternative Urban Futures.
Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. 61. Print.
2. “Pollutants From Incinerators.” Factsheets. financial costs to urban and peri-urban communities remain.
Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Web.
10 Nov 2009. <http://www.no-burn.org/article.
3. U.S Environmental Protection Agency. “Municipal
Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the
United States: Facts and Figures for 2006.” 09 Oct 2009.
4. “The Need for Extended Producer Responsiblitiy.”
Waste to Wealth. 2006. Institute for Local Self-Reliance,
Web. 15 Oct 2009. http://www.ilsr.org/recycling/epr/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 30
Sustainable Procurement and Extended
The solution to the environmental, public health and financial costs of waste from
disposable products and packaging is in the concept of extended producer responsibility
(EPR). Introduced by Thomas Lindhqvist in 1990 to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment,
the definition of EPR remains:
Extended Producer Responsibility is an environmental protection strategy to reach producer_responsibility-1.jpg
an environmental objective of a decreased total environmental impact from a product, by making the manufacturer of
the product responsible for the entire lifecycle of the product and especially for the take-back, recycling and final disposal
of the product.
The concept of sustainable procurement is aligned with EPR as a design protocol to look beyond price and quality and consider extrinsic
environmental, economic and social costs. EPR and sustainable procurement are concepts that industry can take initiative on or local governments
can enact policies requiring environmental and social responsibility for products and packaging. An urban or peri-urban community can significantly
reduce their contribution to the municipal solid waste stream by adopting policies based on extended producer responsibility and sustainable
In King County, Washington the Environmental Purchasing Policy was adopted in 1989 to support sustainable procurement and EPR. The policy
defines environmentally preferable products as those with a reduced negative impact on human health and the environment when compared with
competing products. According to King County the program “considers multiple product attributes, such as toxicity, durability, emissions, recycled
content and conservation of resources, in addition to price, performance and availability.” In addition to these criteria, environmentally preferable
products use recycled content, reduce waste and energy, are durable and less toxic. Government purchases have included remanufactured toner
cartridges, re-refined antifreeze and motor-oil, bio-based oils, compost, shredded wood-waste and tire-retreading services.
In 2009, King County purchased $54 million worth of environmentally preferable products, saving $837,000 compared to the cost of conventional
products. Currently the program enforces purchasing on contractors and within government, References
while working to provide critical decision-makers in the County with purchasing 5. “The Concepts of Extended Producer Responsibility
and Product Stewardship.” Waste to Wealth. 2006.
Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Web. 15 Oct 2009.
As seen in King County, the power of shifting purchasing within government and 6. Platt, B. (2000). Local Initiatives Leverage Extended
Producer Responsibility. Retrieved from http://www.
county contractors from unsustainable products to environmentally preferred products
7. “About Environmental Purchasing.” King County,
creates a model for other jurisdictions and agencies and has potential to significantly lessen Washington. 15 SEP 2008. King County, Web. 10
Nov 2009. http://www.kingcounty.gov/operations/
the environmental, social and economic costs of producer waste. About.aspx
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 31
Oil Tanker Spills
Many urban areas are located on the world’s coasts; it is estimated that over half of the
total human population lives on or near a coast, which makes up just 10% of the earth’s
surface. These urban areas were, in many cases, originally built up around ports. Ports act
as points of convergence of land and maritime transport systems and many cities owe their
“early pre-eminence” during the industrial revolution to their ports. It is to these that shipments of crude oil are brought in, and where most tanker oil
spills occur. As the graph shows, “most spills from tankers result from routine operations such as loading, discharging and bunkering which normally
occur in ports or at oil terminals. This section will examine the problem of hazardous waste as a result of oil spills from tankers; oil spills that occur
near land, rather than in the open ocean, have a severe impact on coastal ecology and pose a threat to human health.
Traditionally, oil spills are cleaned up by using containment and recovery methods and/or chemical dispersants. Containment and recovery consists
of using booms and skimmers; these are a mechanical means which allow containment of the oil on the water’s surface. The oil can then be recovered,
separated from the water and recycled. Chemical dispersants are another method used; they are sprayed on the oil in order to break it up into smaller
droplets. These droplets then become “diluted and subsequently biodegraded by microorganisms occurring naturally in the marine environment”.
Chemical dispersants can only be used on liquid oils, they are ineffective on very viscous oils. Depending on the marine conditions and response
time, there will inevitably be some oil that makes its way on shore; the oil debris that collects there is often cleaned up by manual labor, using
polypropelene mats (made from oil!) . Because much of what is collected in the water can be separated and recycled, this paper will concentrate on
how to manage what is collected from shore, and can be applied to other petrochemical contaminated soils as well.
Currently, oil contaminated soils are either taken to a hazardous waste landfill or to an incinerator. Both methods are not only expensive, but
they do not actually solve the problem, they merely relocate it. A modern landfill is basically
References a lined depression in the ground that various wastes are dumped into, some are meant
1. Hinrichsen, Don; 1998, Coastal Waters of the World; specifically for hazardous waste. Landfills contribute to both air and water pollution; the air
trends, Threats and Strategies. Washington D.C.,
Island Press http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/websites/
retiredsites/natdia_pdf/3hinrichsen.pdf is polluted by emissions generated by the waste, and water is contaminated by toxics which
2. Rodrigue, Dr. Jean-Paul, Dr. Brian Slack and Dr. Theo
Notteboom, 1998-2009; The Geography of transport will inevitably leach into the water table as the liners degrade over time. Incinerators do
Systems, Hofstra University. http://people.hofstra.edu/
3. International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation debulk the waste that is burned but leave highly toxic fly ash as a by-product of the process.
Limited, 2009, http://www.itopf.com/information-
services/data-and-statistics/gis-map/ This fly ash is taken to the aforementioned hazardous waste landfill. Incinerators contribute
4. International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation
Limited, 2009, http://www.itopf.com/information-
services/data-and-statistics/gis-map/ to air pollution which can be greatly minimized using modern emission control technologies
5. Bland, Alastair, 2008, Panic Shroom, metroactive.
com/Metro newspapers, http://www.metroactive. but still should not be considered the most viable option.
6. Tammemagi,Hans, 1999, The Waste Crisis; Landfills,
Incinerators and the Search for a Sustainable Future,
New York, Oxford University Press
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 32
Oil Tanker Spills (Solution)
There are alternatives being researched in the areas of containment and recovery
as well as bioremediation (using biological processes to break toxic materials down into less
harmful compounds) of collected oil. Hair is being touted as a sustainable way to collect oil
as it is very good at adsorbing it; in other words, the oil tends to cling to the hair fibers rather
than soaking into them. Because of its affinity for adsorbing oil almost exclusively, it appears
to be more efficient than materials currently used (polypropylene mats), which absorbs both
oil and water at the same time. Matter of Trust is an organization that collects hair donated from salons and recycles it by manufacturing hair mats for
just this purpose.
While the hair mats are a viable alternative for collecting spilled oil, it does not solve the problem of disposal; the oil covered mats will still be
sent to a toxic waste landfill or an incinerator unless another option is found. This is where bioremediation shows promising results; specifically
mycoremediation, where mushrooms are used to break down complex, toxic substances into more chemically simple, less toxic compounds. Paul
Stamets, a renowned mycologist and author, has tested his own strains of oyster mushrooms for their efficacy in breaking down oil. In laboratory
testing of soil contaminated with “bunker C” oil (the same kind spilled from the Exxon Valdez), the mushrooms were able to degrade 97 percent of
the oil in 8 weeks. There was similar success in field testing; an area where soil was contaminated with 20,000 parts per million (ppm) of petroleum
products was reduced to less than 200 ppm in 8 weeks. Surprisingly, the mushrooms do not become toxic themselves; after field testing, mushrooms
analyzed “showed no detectable petroleum residues”, thus solving the problem of hazardous waste resulting from oil spills.
These techniques came together in November, 2007 when the Cosco Busan container ship collided with the San Francisco Bay Bridge, tearing open
the hull of the ship and spilling approximately 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel oil into the bay. Community volunteers, concerned by the slow response
time of authorities, came together to clean their local beach. They used donated hair mats (from Matter of Trust) to collect the sludge (as seen
in the photo); these oil soaked mats were to undergo mycoremediation with oyster mushrooms donated by Stamets. Unfortunately, authorities
intervened and withheld the mats and oil as “potential evidence in legal proceedings”. In
order to continue with the field testing, oil donated from a local freighter company was
used instead. After several weeks, analyses showed “that the mixtures beneath the sprouted References
mushrooms were greatly thinned of hydrocarbons, and in the mushrooms themselves there 7. Matter of Trust, 2009, http://www.matteroftrust.org/
8. Stamets, Paul, 2005, Mycelium Running; How
Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, Berkeley, Ca. Ten
remained not a trace of petroleum”. The results have been so promising that other countries Speed Press
10 9. Nolte, Carl, Michael Taylor, 2007; Ship Crashes
are beginning to utilize these more sustainable options. into Bay Bridge Tower, Spills Fuel oil. SF Gate, Hearst
10. Bland, Alastair, 2008, Bad Hair Day, Orion Magazine,
The Orion Society, http://www.orionmagazine.org/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 33
Urban Marine Debris
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, marine
debris is defined as, “any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed
and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned
into the marine environment…” Marine debris is a global problem that is polluting
and littering our oceans and shores, killing our wildlife and affecting our health.
There are many types of marine debris, especially when it comes to urban marine
debris. A 2004 study by the International Coastal Cleanup found that cigarettes, food
wrappers/containers, caps/lids, cups/plates/forks/spoons, glass beverage bottles,
and bags were among the top 10 kinds of recurring coastal debris in California.
“Marine Debris Pileup” 10/16/09. Online Image.
However, in the oceans, 60-80 percent of the marine debris is plastic. Plastic is one
of the most persistent types of marine debris because it takes hundreds of years to break down and never fully biodegrades. Rather,
plastic turns into tiny little pieces called nurdles which “are the most prevalent plastic trash found in [California’s] coastal waters and
the state’s beaches.” Because the plastic never goes away, it continues to collect and build up in the oceans and beaches, which causes
great harm to the marine environment and wildlife, now and in the foreseeable future.
When it comes to marine debris from the marine environment, there are other non-residential sources of marine debris which
include, “commercial shipping vessels, cargo ships…” according to the California Coastal Commission.5 These sources are the
cause of large amounts of trash that end up out in the middle of the oceans and along our shores.
However, daily activities by people can cause significant harm when it comes
to marine debris. Save the Bay, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring
2 . h t t p : / / w w w. p l a s t i c d e b r i s . o r g / C A _ A c t i o n _ the San Francisco Bay, states that, “80 percent of marine debris is residential.”6 This
means that 80 percent of marine debris comes from inland water ways that can be
3.J.G.B. Derraik, “The Pollution of the Marine
Environment by Plastic Debris: A Review,” Marine
Pollution Bulletin 44 (2002): 843. far away from an ocean and not just from the coastal areas. Most of the land-based
4. Weiss, Kenneth R. LA Times, February 9th 2007. debris is conveyed to oceans via urban runoff through storm drains. For places like
h t t p : / / w w w. l a t i m e s . c o m / n e w s / l o c a l / l a - m e -
San Francisco, this is an especially important detail because the San Francisco Bay
5. Gordon, Miriam. Eliminating Land-based Discharges
of Marine Debris in California: A Plan of Action from The is an estuary, or a “place where freshwater rivers and streams flow into the ocean,
Plastic Debris Project, California Coastal Commission,
mixing with the seawater.”7 This makes the San Francisco Bay even more vulnerable
pp.asp?c=dgKLLSOwEnH&b=4452585 to potential marine debris pollution because it has the possibility of receiving litter
7. EPA, http://www.epa.gov/nep/kids/
from both its freshwater and marine sources.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 34
Reducing, Reusing, Recycling, and
Combating marine debris can be as simple as merely “reducing, reusing,
recycling, and participating in local beach or stream cleanups,” according to the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. The Ocean Protection Council
“Marine Debris Cleanup”10/16/09. Online Image. http://
has created an Implementation Strategy for its Resolution to Reduce and Prevent www.abc.net.au/reslib/200903/r349145_1598064.jpg
Ocean Litter. Some of their suggested measures include: 1. Implement a producer
take-back (EPR) program for convenience food packaging: to minimize packaging
waste shift responsibility for packaging materials to producers by placing physical
or financial responsibility for collection and disposal of packaging waste on
“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” 10/16/09. Online Image.
those throughout the distribution chain, including producers of packaging and jpg
manufacturers of products that use packaging. 2. Prohibit single-use products that pose significant ocean litter impacts where a
feasible less damaging alternative is available: this includes items like polystyrene take-out containers and single-use plastic bags. 3.
Assess fees on commonly littered items: these fees could be placed on items such as cigarettes so that consumers of cigarette bear
the cost of cleaning them up. 4. Increase enforcement of anti-litter laws. 5. Ensure municipalities prevent litter from entering the storm
drain system. 6. Educate the public on marine debris and solutions for stopping it.
“In addition, the Marine Debris Research, Prevention and Reduction Act was signed into law on December 22, 2006. The Act
formally establishes the Marine Debris Program within NOAA and directs NOAA to work in conjunction with federal agencies, such as
EPA and U.S. Coast Guard. NOAA and its partner agencies must work to identify the origin, location and projected movement of marine
debris within navigable waters of the U.S. and the U.S. exclusive economic zone. The Act specifically targets fishing gear as a threat to
the marine environment and navigation safety and authorizes the research and development of alternative types of fishing gear. It
also allows the use of voluntary incentives to promote recovery of lost or discarded gear. The Act also authorizes NOAA to offer grants
to academia, nonprofit organizations, commercial organizations, and state, local or tribal governments for identification, removal,
research and regulation of marine debris. NOAA’s Marine Debris Program will create a cleaner environment, ensure safer waters
for people, animals, and navigation, and increase the health of coastal and marine environments by: 1. Identifying and evaluating
the adverse impacts of marine debris upon the marine environment and living marine resources; 2. Creating better marine debris
education for the public; 3. Minimizing the amounts of marine debris entering the References
oceans; and 4. Designing and implementing materials and programs to inform 8. Ocean Protection Council. http://www.saveourshores.
industry and the public of the problem caused by persistent marine debris and of
9. NOAA Marine Debris Program. http://www.broward.
the range of available solutions.” org/reef_restoration/pdf/orandr.pdf
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 35
The issues surrounding waste management in the United States are varied and
complex, and the practices currently employed for waste management are falling
far short of society’s needs. With many landfills nation-wide nearing capacity and
Online image. 18 October 2009. <http://www.
kaylinart.com-a.googlepages.com/suburbia. a myriad of health issues caused by airborne particles resulting from incinerating
waste, it is clear that governments must seek other forms of waste management.
The commonly followed “bury and burn” processes of waste disposal consist of two methods: dumping garbage into specified
sites or burning garbage in hopes of sterilizing it and reducing its volume . Current bury and burn practices can be extremely hazardous
to human and ecosystem health. Landfills use valuable urban land, emit foul odors and greenhouse gases, and are increasingly filled
with synthetics and toxins that will persist for generations . The leaching of noxious compounds into the surrounding environment
and invaluable aquifers can lead to disastrous consequences for humans and other biota . The incineration of waste also has serious
implications. The burning of garbage can create ash composed of at least 210 dioxin compounds and a host of other compounds that
can directly lead to a variety of cancers and other illnesses .
Paper waste is a large proportion of waste currently in landfills. Although paper products are some of the most easily recyclable
products on the market, paper waste is sent to landfills and incinerators at an alarming rate. The magnitude of this wasteful practice
is captured in this analogy: “Enough office and writing paper is discarded annually to build a wall twelve feet high stretching from
Los Angeles to New York City” . It is estimated that by 2010 around half of the waste
References in American landfills will be paper waste .
1. Pinderhughes, Raquel. Alternative Urban “Junk mail,” or unsolicited mail that is sent to citizens’ homes without permission,
Futures. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield
Publishers, 2004: 57.
is a major contributor to paper waste in the United States. Annually, one third of
2. “What’s Wrong with Plastics?” Sustainable
Development in Cities Fall 2009. Ed. Raquel
Pinderhughes. San Francisco: Copy Edge, 2009. all mail delivered world-wide is American junk mail, as much as 44% of that mail is
3. Kallman, Matt. “Earth Trends: Talking Trash: disposed of unopened, and over one hundred million trees are required to produce
The World’s Waste Management Problem.”
Sustainable Development in Cities Fall 2009. Ed. junk mail. Most of the trees used for junk mail production are harvested from
Raquel Pinderhughes. San Francisco: Copy Edge,
2009. 201-202. Canada’s Boreal forest and Indonesia’s tropical rainforests, two old growth forests
4. Pinderhughes, Raquel. Alternative Urban
Futures. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield 6
that act as important natural carbon sinks.
Publishers, 2004. 64
5. Pinderhughes, Raquel. Alternative Urban
Futures. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield
Publishers, 2004. 56
6. “The Facts About Junk Mail” ForestEthics.
2 Oct 2009. http://donotmail.org/article.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 36
The “Do Not Mail” Campaign
One of the solutions to harmful waste management practices is limiting
the initial production of goods that are minimally used or valued by consumers. If
consumers could strive to only buy products that they need or intend to keep for an
extended period of time, the amount of material sent to incinerators and landfills
every year would drop dramatically. However, not all products that citizens receive
are paid for or desired goods. One of the most striking examples of such a product
is junk mail. Not only is junk mail unwanted by its recipients, but it also forces
consumers to pay the externalities for extremely wasteful business practices. United
States credit card companies, for example, only expect a 0.25% rate of response on
all the mail they send out6. Because junk mail is unwelcome and unsolicited, its
elimination has a large amount of public support.
Online image. ForestEthics. 18 October 2009.
Recently, the non-governmental organization ForestEthics began a final_low.jpg>.
campaign to start a national “Do Not Mail” registry, following the model of the
national “Do Not Call” list in hopes of curbing the destruction of old growth forests
worldwide. The organizations more overarching goals include preserving natural
habitats, holding polluters accountable, and supporting indigenous communities
that are affected by environmental degradation . After months of speaking to
citizens in the bay area and collecting signatures supporting the formation of a
Do Not Mail registry, the ForestEthics campaign began to gain momentum. On Online image. ForestEthics. 18 October 2009.
March 31st, 2009, the Do Not Mail Resolution for San Francisco went up for the vote, jpg>.
and against extensive pressure from the USPS and the junk mail industry, the San
Francisco Board of Supervisors passed the resolution with a 9-2 veto-proof majority.
7. “About ForestEthics.” 2009. ForestEthics. 5
After their victory in San Francisco, ForestEthics moved on to Seattle, where the December 2009. <http://forestethics.org/about-
8. “San Francisco Passes First ‘Do Not
organization collected its 100,000th signature in support of the campaign and will
Mail’ Resolution In Nation.” 2 April 2009.
SustainableBusiness.com. 2 October 2009.
attempt to appeal to policy makers until a resolution passes for all of Washington <http://www.sustainablebusiness.com /index.
state. They are striving to eventually establish a national “Do Not Mail” registry . 9. “Breaking: SF Passes Do Not Mail Resolution!”
31 March 2009. ForestEthics. 2 October 2009.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 37
Growing Dependence on Fossil Fuel Energy
Cities cover less than one-percent of the Earth’s surface, yet they consume seventy-
http://www.consumersunion.org/pub/0929%20 five percent of global energy and are responsible for eighty-percent of the world’s
GHG emissions. In addition, cities derive sixty-percent of their energy from fossil
fuels . One of the significant sources of this disparity stems from the fact that most
cities around the world rely on centralized energy conversion, where “fuels and
other resources are consumed and converted to other energy forms, usually electrical, for distribution and utilization.” This conversion
process leads to “the major fraction of emissions and wastes” related to fossil fuel combustion.
The U.S. “annually emits approximately 6,000 million metric tons of CO2, and these emissions are expected to increase to nearly 7,900
million metric tons by 2030.” Coal provides nearly 50% of our energy needs, and by 2025, “GHG emissions from coal-fired electricity,
now 27 percent of total U.S. emissions, are projected to grow by a third.” As U.S. dependence on fossil fuels intensifies, the impacts of
climate change and escalating energy prices will inevitably worsen.
“Fuel poverty”, which results from low-income households paying a large percentage of their monthly income to cover rising energy
costs , is a serious social and economic problem related to increasing fossil fuel consumption nationwide. The prices of coal and
natural gas have doubled since 2007, and “utilities across the U.S. are raising power
prices up to 29%, mostly to pay for soaring fuel costs, but also to build new plants
and refurbish an aging power grid.” As a result, energy bills are becoming more
1. Eilperin, Juliet. “US trying to weaken G-8 climate
change declaration: Draft seeks pledge to curb
emissions”. Washington Post, May 14 2007 expensive for consumers, and low-income households are being disproportionately
2. Clinton Climate Initiative/C40 Cities: http://www.
clintonfoundation.org burdened by the economic strain. The Consumer Federation of America explains
3. Pfafflin, James R. and Edward N. Ziegler. Fifth Edition:
Encyclopedia of Environment Science and Engineering.
CRC Press, 2006. Volume 1, pg. 295. that “even though wealthier households consume more [energy] than low-income
4. Report by the U.S. DoE: “20% Wind Energy by 2030:
Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electricity households, consumption does not increase as fast as income. Therefore, as income
Supply” July, 2008
5. Energy Information Administration: Official Energy
Statistics from the U.S. Government. Electricity in rises, energy expenditures take a much smaller part of the household income.”
the United States, 2009. http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/
6. Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Coal and
Climate Change Facts, 2009. http://www.pewclimate.
7. Cooper, Mark N. Rising energy prices strain household
budgets and the economy for most Americans.
Consumer Federation of America, September 2004.
8. Davidson, Paul. “Price jolt: Electricity bills going up,
up, up.” USA Today, Online Edition, June 18, 2008. http://
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 40
Rooftop Wind Turbines – A Small-Scale,
Urban Alternative Energy Source
Wind, a renewable energy resource that emits zero GHG, could shift our dependence
from centralized power generation to a more sustainable mixed-energy portfolio.
An exciting new technology being researched and developed to harness that
energy is the micro-generation rooftop wind turbine.
Wind turbines are engineered to “use blades to collect the wind’s kinetic energy.
The wind flows over the blades creating lift, like the effect on airplane wings,
which causes them to turn. The blades are connected to a drive shaft that turns an
electric generator to produce electricity.” Rooftop turbines work in the same way,
and the energy that they produce is immediately available for powering a home or
“In contrast to the traditional centralized energy supply, micro-generation technologies bring power generation close to the user
to sustain their homes or buildings. It is estimated that there is a huge potential to utilize this type of technology in the urban built
environment not only to satisfy demand and provide decentralized generation but also to help tackle fuel poverty and achieve
reductions in emissions.”
Rooftop wind turbines vary in size, shape, and output, but some overall benefits include “generation at the point of user, user education,
fuel diversity, and a reduction of the need for major investments in transmission and distribution system upgrades.
The Museum of Science in Boston, MA began construction of a Wind Turbine Lab on its roof in the summer of 2009, in order to
“generate valuable experience to help government officials and renewable energy
professionals make informed decisions about [small-wind] projects and policy.” References
The project will include nine wind turbines from five different manufacturers. 9. Energy Information Administration: Electricity
Generation from Wind. July 16, 2009. http://tonto.eia.
An example of one turbine selected for the Wind Turbine Lab is the 30-foot tall electricity_generation
10. A.S. Bahaj, L. Myers, P.A.B. James. Urban energy
Windspire, engineered by Mariah Power. It has a vertical axis design, and “will generation: Influence of micro-wind turbine output
on electricity consumption in buildings. Energy and
Buildings, Volume 39, Issue 2, February 2007, Pages
produce approximately 2000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year in 12 mph average 154-165
11. Mithraratne, Nalanie. Roof-top wind turbines for
winds.” According to Mariah Power, a complete Windspire will cost consumers microgeneration in urban houses in New Zealand.
Energy and Buildings, Volume 41, Issue 10, October
2009, Pages 1013-1018
around $4,000 after rebates, with an average payback of less than ten years. Mike 12. Renewable Energy World. New US Rooftop
Wind Turbine Lab. June 1, 2009. http://www.
Hess, CEO of Mariah Power, said, “If the small wind industry is going to evolve, we renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/
13. Mariah Power: Windspire Overview, 2009. http://
need to take risks and look for new ideas to lead us into the future.” www.mariahpower.com/windspire-overview.aspx
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 41
Energy Inefficiency in Today’s Built Environment
Energy-Intensive Buildings: a Drawback for Society
High levels of energy consumption in our built environment greatly contribute
to global environmental problems. Coupled with energy inefficiency, our efforts to
create change and solutions are significantly deterred. Buildings, which are part of
the built environment, are by far the most energy-intensive component of the whole
D&R International system. This includes residential to industrial buildings and everything in between.
Critical times call for critical measures, making energy-inefficient buildings less and
In the United States the majority of people’s lives are spent in buildings- living, working, learning, or for recreational purposes-
and large amounts of energy are allotted for building use. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, in 2006, 37% of all energy
produced was consumed by residential buildings and 36% was consumed by the commercial sector. Technology exists to design
energy efficient buildings, yet companies and developers are hesitant to incorporate renewable energy systems due to higher upfront
Total building-energy-consumption can be divided into two major categories: electricity and ambient regulation and
ventilation. Electricity refers to direct energy consumed through “outlets” and/or other electrical sources within a building, while
ambient energy can be easily described as temperature control and air-flow quality. The chart above provides statistical data compiled
during 2006, dividing building energy end-use split into four main categories. Three of these- space heating, space cooling, and
ventilation- comprise ambient regulation and ventilation. Ambient regulation and ventilation can be understood as the embodied
energy of the building, while electricity is energy used by items found within the building. The former, as shown by the data, consumes
roughly 60% of the total energy used. In the United States, where buildings are highly inefficient for the most part, this poses a grave
1. D&R International, Ldt. “Buildings Energy
Data Book.” A Report for the U.S. Department of
Energy: Buildings Technology Program.
Revised Nov, 2008. Accessed 14 October, 2009.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 42
A Better, More Energy Efficient Future A Case Study on
Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP)
Aiming efforts to make the built environment more energy efficient and
sustainable, Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP) offer an exceptional solution. Given
“Figure 13. Ground-source (geothermal) heat
the natural variability of weather and terrain across the globe, different systems of pump in heating mode.” Online image. Geo4VA:
Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and
energy provision are suitable for different geographic locations. Ground source Energy. Ass. Virginia Tech. Accessed 15 October,
2009 through http://www.geo4va.vt.edu/A3/
heat pumps are suitable for the widest range of terrain and weather, more so than A3.htm
solar, tidal, and wind. The only thing required is the ground below, which provides
much of the energy used by the building above it.
Ground source heat pumps have the ability to automatically reverse and provide heating or cooling. The chart to the left depicts
a GSHP system in heating mode providing heating for the building. These systems use the earth’s relatively constant temperature to
provide heating, cooling, and hot water for homes and commercial buildings. The ground below is tapped for its latent heat, which is
then transferred to a piping system and eventually released into the building through a condenser. The only electricity used is to run
the pumps which circulate the water and antifreeze through the piping system.
Case Study: Marriott Springhill Suites in Pensacola, Florida
In Florida where the climate is warm most of the year, the use of GSHP systems for cooling and ventilation are a great choice
for energy efficiency. This is exactly what the Marriott Springhill Suites in Pensacola Beach now uses to provide these services for their
guests. Given the location of the hotel, functional land was scarce so a hybrid GSHP system was a good choice to produce the desired
outcomes. This allows the system to use an “evaporative fluid cooler” during peak season in order to provide sufficient high-quality air
conditioning to the guests due to the scarcity of functional land for piping1. During “non-peak” season the system uses the ground’s
temperature (transferred through ground piping) and not the condenser to provide air conditioning for lower demand or intensity.
The hotel benefits from space conditioning, domestic water heating, and pool and
spa heating amongst others. In summary, the owners, operators, and guests of
this hotel benefit from tightly controlled temperatures, good indoor air quality, low
maintenance costs, high energy efficiency, and reduced water consumption.
1. Barfield, Albert R. “Hybrid Geothermal for
Hotel.” ASHARE, June (2008): 48-50. Accessed 15
October, 2009 through http://www.
2. IGSHPA, International Ground Source Heat
Pump Association. “What is a ground source heat
pump?” 2006. http://www.igshpa.okstate.edu/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 43
Dependency on Non-Renewable Electricity
Sources and Damaging Effects of Methane
Two major problems plague the state of California; its dependency on non-
IFiscalini Farms $4 million Digester, Modesto,
Ca. Source: http://www.agweb.com/dairytoday/ renewable electricity sources and the damaging effects of methane emissions.
Urban areas need to reduce their dependency on non-renewable forms of energy,
With methane emissions increasing while cattle farms (dairies for this case study) need to reduce the amount of methane
steadily since 1990, yet the percentage of waste contributing to the greenhouse gas effect.
electricity from biomass sources remaining
insignificant, the discrepancy becomes Based on statistical data released by the California Department of Finance in
very clear. With the demand for electricity January 2009, the amount of state generated electricity from biomass totals to a
only increasing in the state of California a
mutually agreeable solution is desirable. mere 57 million kilowatt hours; an amount that has decreased dramatically since
1997 totals .
According to information provided by the EPA, Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas that remains in the atmosphere for
approximately 9-15 years. Methane is very harmful because it is over 20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than
carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 100-year period. It is emitted through a wide variety of industrial processes, agricultural activities being
the most damaging in multiple ways.
Because humans in the United States depend very heavily on wide varieties of dairy and meat products, the presence of
large-scale cattle farms have become a staple on American soil with about 100 million cattle nationwide. EPA data show a steady
increase in the emission of methane since 1990 with “enteric fermentation” (flatulence) and “manure management” placing first and
fifth respectively as the biggest emitters of methane gas in the U.S . And when looking at a global scale, livestock emissions outweigh
emissions from the entire transport sector . The underlying point being, we have massive amounts of manure across all types of
livestock, which emit methane bubbles as it breaks down.
Among California’s 1,950 dairies, only 19 methane digesters have been built or
are under construction . This number is not likely to grow unless conflicting interests
1. n.a. n.d. California Electrical Energy Generation,
1997 to 2007 Total Production by Resource Type.
http://www.dof.ca.gov/HTML/FS_DATA/STAT-ABS/ of various governing agencies are resolved and the need for financial assistance for
Statistical_Abstract.php Accessed: 11-2-2009
2. n.a. n.d. Methane. http://www.epa.gov/methane/ installation of these costly methane digesters is met for farmers.
sources.html Accessed: 10-6-2009
3. Johnson, Keith. n.d. Mutton Methane: Reducing
Flatulence to Reduce Global Warming http://blogs.wsj.
com/environmentalcapital Accessed: 10-6-2009
4. Merlo, Catherine. 3-6-2009 The Dark Side of Digesters
Regulatory Obstacles Curb Digester’s future in
aspx?id=149577 Accessed: 11-2-2009
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 44
Killing two birds with one stone:
The Urban/Agrarian Solution
The previously mentioned problems can be improved upon if dairy
farmers were to contain their manure with a methane digester machine. A digester
is an airtight container that uses bacteria to break down manure, as part of that Anerobic digestion occurs under the cover in the
digester pond at the Strauss Family Farm. Source:
process methane gas is produced and used to power electrical generators. Any http://jcwinnie.biz/wordpress/?p=1071
power the farmer does not reuse for the operation of the farm, automatically feeds
Straus Family Farm, located in West
into the state’s electricity grid. According to recent data from the California Energy
Marin, California is the perfect case study
Commission, the amount of potential power generated if most dairy farms in the to highlight the potential of methane
diversion in California. A small farm of
state were hooked up to the grid nears around 200MW. There is no possibility of
about 270 cows, the manure produced at
connecting all dairies in the state to a methane generator because of practical Albert Straus’s organic dairy and creamery,
5 is contained and processed here, in this
constraints, but the generator technology is steadily improving . When enough
$280,000 covered-lagoon methane.
electricity is produced, it is very likely that electricity bills would no longer exist
for large-scale farms, while additional byproducts would also be produced. These
include: pellet bedding, nitrogen-rich fertilizer and clean, hot water . This solution aids the state’s demand for electricity, improves air
quality, and reduces some of the costs and environmental damages dairy farmers have to endure on a daily basis.
Since installation in early 2004, Straus has saved $3-6,000 monthly in energy costs, stripped organic pollutants in the farm’s
wastewater by 80-90% and reduced the amount of methane emissions. The farm runs on a net-metered system, where when there
is more power being produced, than being used, the meter runs backwards (feeding the public). Currently, Vermont is the only state
which allows their farmers to actually sell their power to consumers, providing much more of a financial incentive with digesters costing
anywhere between $250,000 and $1 million. “Progressive farmers,” such as Straus and the dozens of other farmers throughout the
United States who are utilizing methane digesters, are the “anomalies,”…However,
“we’re on the cutting edge here, and 20 to 30 years from now, I think this will be References
5. Dusault, Allen. Program Director, Sustainable
standard practice”. Agriculture. From telephone Interview. 11.03.2009
h t t p : / / w w w. z o o m i n fo. c o m / p e o p l e / D u s a u l t _
Currently California air management bureaus, utility providers and dairy Allen_27705397.aspx
6. Gaura, Maria. 5-14-2004 270 Cows generating
electricity for farm. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/
farmers are clashing on many levels; streamlining its goals and offering financial article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/05/14/BAGJG6LG3R15.DTL
8 Accessed 10-6-2009.
incentives like a sell back option or buydown grants would make the process of 7. Dusault, Allen. 2-2006 Poop Power.http://www.
methane converter installation and management more desirable for the average 8. n/a. California Dairy Production Program. http://
farmer who doesn’t manage a large-scale, commercial enterprise. view=article&id=47&Itemid=56 Accessed 11-30-2009
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 45
Coal is the dominant form of electricity production in America because it has an especially
low production cost. The Corporations of America select anything that has the lowest cost,
especially regarding energy creation.
Coal is abundant within the borders of the United States. A single ton of coal, depending
on location of the harvest and the type of coal itself, cost between forty and fifty-five dollars.
Energy production from a single ton of coal correlates to about fifteen hundred kilowatt-
hours of power. Affordability for energy is why coal remains the main source of American
Example of coal fire power plant http://www.
In reality the price of building new power plants may seem quite large but in the context of the amount of energy created it is quite
affordable. An eight hundred megawatt plant has a cost of “approximately $1 billion… [and may be]closer to $1.4 billion.” An example of coal’s
affordability is in western North Carolina, a company is building a pair of 800 megawatt power plants, which has the ability to service around 350
thousand homes and have a cost of “2 billion… but 18 months later, in November 2006, Duke said it would cost $3 billion” . Given that these two
plants can service such a large number of people the price seems less outrageous since the average price per household comes out to about eighty-
five hundred dollars. A figure that when put in context of price per home makes the price truly functional. However, given the low price the huge
problem with coal is the efficiency, which is rather moderate “currently stand[ing] at around 31%” and that it utilizes a finite energy source. A better
employment of that much capital is toward an infinite energy medium or one with greater efficiency.
With corporate control of the energy production there is not likely to be a switch from coal to a better means of energy production
due to the cheap cost. With the top ten coal companies producing around fifty percent or two hundred sixty one million tons of coal each year, the
References cheap cost will feed the need for these companies to keep receiving huge incomes.
1. Freme, Fred. “Coal News and Markets.” Energy Coal presents the problem of its bi product, emissions and pollution. Coal is the dirtiest
Information administration. 6 Nov. 2009. Web. 9 Nov.
coalnews/coalmar.html>. of all the fossil fuels and astonishingly “1 short ton (2,000 pounds) of this coal will generate
2.http://w w w.npr.org/templates/stor y/stor y. 6
php?storyId=6881347 about 5,720 pounds (2.86 short tons) of carbon dioxide.” Taking the number of tons that is
3. Wald, Mattew. “The New York Times Log In.” The New
York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia.
10 July 2007. Web. 10 Nov. 2009. <http://www.nytimes. produced by the top companies two hundred sixty one million multiplied by the previous
html>. statistic yields a total of 1,492,920,000,000 pounds of carbon dioxide released every year,
4. “EurActiv.com - Analysis: Efficiency of coal-fired
power stations.” EurActiv.com - European Union
Information Website (EU and Europe). 25 Apr. and the top ten companies only produce fifty percent of the coal so the number is double.
2006. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. <http://www.euractiv.com/
en/energy/analysis-efficiency-coal-fired- p o w e r - With this disgraceful number of just the yearly emissions of carbon dioxide change has to be
5. “Energy: The Big Ten Coal Companies.” Time. 28 Jan.
1974. Web. 3 Dec. 2009. <http://www.time.com/time/ made to a clean form of energy that can compete with the low prices of coal.
6. Hong, B. D., and E. R. Slatick. “Carbon Dioxide
Emission Factors for Coal.” Energy
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 46
Solar is the future of energy in America, the only problem is that is it is considered far to
expensive to utilize. The solution is development of cheaper photovoltaic cells allowing for solar
to slowly take over the use of coal as the primary energy source. Solar is a source of power that has ar ticle/2007-12/innovation-year-winner-
been utilized by life on Earth for millennia, making it clean and indefinably sustainable. Unlike coal solar has no byproduct released because there is no
combustion of materials occurring; which in turn will keep the world clean and unaltered for the future of society. Solar has been used by the natural
world for billions of years, and now humans have the technology to harness it. The hurdle is making it more affordable so that the frugality of America
can be appeased. Building a new solar installation with the ability to generate 250 megawatt of power, enough to power around 90,000 homes , is about
one billion dollars . Also solar has a current “world-record conversion efficiency of 40.7 percent” .Not until recently has a society had the ability to develop
the technology to make these prices reach a more reasonable level. The advancement of the nanosolar technology is this break through, “Nanosolar’s
technology consists of sandwiches of copper, indium, gallium and selenide (CIGS) that are 100 times thinner than the silicon solar cells that dominate the
solar photovoltaic market” . Nanosolar is a brand new cheap alternative because of a new type of printing process that is “100x faster than conventional
high-vacuum deposition” . This allows solar panels to be created at an unprecedented rate of “one solar panel every 10 seconds”. With this development the
prices can be significantly dropped forcing even the staunchest opposition of solar to believe it is a proper investment. Solar’s main option for the price is
the efficiency, at a higher cost it works more poorly than coal is the common argument; however, these nanosolar cells “produce 5 times as much electricity
as 1kg of enriched Uranium” proving that argument faulty. References
7. “Abengoa Solar signs contract with PG&E to
Case Study: Google supply 250 MW of solar power in California.”
Technology For Life. 31 Oct. 2009. Web.
10 Nov. 2009. <http://technology4life.wordpress.
One company that has invested in this breakthrough of nanosolar is Google. They have com/2009/10/31/abengoa-solar-signs-contract-
donated both time and assets by hiring “engineers and energy experts to lead its research and 8. Gupta, Poornima. “Google plans new mirror for
cheaper solar power.” Reuters. 9 Sept. 2009. Web.
13 29 Sept. 2009. <http://www.reuters.com/
development work, which will begin with a significant effort on solar thermal technology” to see the article/newsOne/idUSTRE58867I20090909?pageN
9. Kielich, Chris. “Department of Energy - New
development of such a beneficial commodity. The push is for research in the field of solar thermal. World Record Achieved in Solar Cell Technology.”
Department of Energy - Homepage. 5 Dec.
2006. Web. 10 Nov. 2009. <http://www.energy.gov/
The plan for this is to use mirrors that focus the sun’s rays. Bill Weihl, the company’s green energy czar, news/4503.htm>.
10. Madrigal, Alexis. “Thin-Film Solar Startup
Debuts With $4 Billion in Contracts | Wired Science
said: “We’ve been looking at very unusual materials for the mirrors both for the reflective surface as | Wired.com.” Wired News. 9 Sept. 2009.
Web. 29 Sept. 2009. <http://www.wired.com/
well as the substrate that the mirror is mounted on.” From the Google press center Google co-founder 11. “Technology.” Nanosolar. Web. 10 Nov. 2009.
12. Roscheisen, Martin. “1kg CIGS = 5kg Uranium.”
Larry Page released a statement saying “‘with talented technologists, great partners and significant Nanosolar. 16 Dec. 2008. Web. 12 Nov. 2009.
investments, we hope to rapidly push forward. Our goal is to produce one gigawatt of renewable 13. Fuller, Jacquelline. “Press Center: Press
Release.” Google. 27 Nov. 2007. Web. 10 Nov.
10 2009. <http://www.google.com/intl/en/
energy capacity that is cheaper than coal. We are optimistic this can be done in years, not decades.” By press/pressrel/20071127_green.html>.
14. Jamieson, Alastair. “Google plans cheap mirrors
to reduce cost of solar energy.” Telegraph.co.uk.
doing this there can be a successful push to create energy from solar and not coal at the world stage in Telegraph Media Group, 10 Sept. 2009. Web. 3 Dec.
order to help developing countries become industrialized without the use of coal. reduce-cost-of-solar-energy.html>.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 47
Fossil fuels are amazing substances: they store a tremendous amount of energy
per weight and volume, they are easy to transport, they store easily at regular air
temperature in unpressurized tanks, and they can sit there indefinitely without
degrading. The problem is as fossil fuel supplies decline and greenhouse gases
increase, the modern civilized world built around fossil fuels will be left without an
electricity supply as versatile and plentiful.
A city able to sustain itself beyond an age of low-cost fossil fuel must rely
Beacon Power Corporation<beaconpower.com/
products> heavily on renewable energy sources. It is a requirement for a sustainable city. The
problem is our cities operate within a fossil fuel economy and are not based around
the intermittent qualities renewable energy generation. For example, a city’s electricity load, which we will assume accommodates
an industrial, office and residential sector, typically peaks during the middle of the day, coinciding with the human work schedule.
However, renewable energy sources do not always abide by the same schedule as Americans: Minneapolis, Minnesota may not be
sunny enough during the winter day to power itself directly with solar. San Francisco, California may not be able to power itself
on daytime wind production alone, now that it is understood wind energy peaks during the night. Not to mention, electricity is
created at almost the same exact moment it is consumed. To provide uninterruptible power, the electricity grid is sewn together with
nonrenewable natural gas peaker plants able to turn on or shut down in a moments notice alongside customer demand. Consumers
take this flexibility of power generation for granted and do not realize the endeavor of spinning or stopping a turbine at a moments
notice. The difficulty in coordinating the precise amount of electricity to customers is a daunting task, especially if a grid operator has
nowhere to store excess power.
The solution is sustainable energy storage at utility scale electricity production. The nature of human activities as well as the
intermittency of renewable energy sources require a readily available, reliable, efficient, and environmentally friendly way to store
electricity. Interestingly enough, many solutions are available, some of which have been around longer that fossil fuels themselves.
For example, hydrologic energy storage is commonly used in the United States by storing potential energy in an elevated
reservoir and when needed, releasing that stored energy through turbines into a lower reservoir. When excess power surges into the
grid, pumps then recycle the water back to the heightened reservoir continuing
the process. However, regions of the world without access to water and elevated
1. Kunstler, James Howard. The Long Emergency. Grove
Press: New York, NY, 2005
terrain cannot utilize hydrologic energy storage.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 48
Sustainable Flywheel Energy Storage at
Utility-Scale Electricity Generation
The most sustainable method to store energy is called a flywheel. By
itself, a flywheel is simply a rotating mass, like a potter’s kick-wheel. If a flywheel is reports.asp
combined with a device that operates either as an electric motor that accelerates
the flywheel to store energy and as a generator that produces electricity from
the energy stored in the flywheel, it becomes a mechanical battery. Flywheel
energy storage harnesses that perpetual rotational energy with a motor/generator
connected to a cylindrical rotating shaft that is suspended in a vacuum (to minimize friction). Because of lightweight fiber composite
materials and a near-frictionless vacuum-sealed environment, an insignificant amount of energy is lost in the transfer between
mechanical and electrical energies. Additionally, because the concept is so simple, it requires little maintenance, it can be located
in all types of environments (even outer space) and it only requires the initial raw materials such as steel, copper and other alloys to
construct; arguably unsustainable but still a requirement for the creation of solar panels and windmills. It is these methods of utility
scale energy storage that will be examined as the concept of renewable energies must be developed alongside the energy storage
methods if we are to transition our fossil fuel economy into a renewable energy one.
The Beacon Power Corporation is one of many companies developing flywheel energy storage technology for the power
grid. Since 2008, Beacon power has worked closely with the California Independent Systems Operator (ISO) and the California
Energy Commission to develop a Wide-Area Energy Storage and Management System for California. The goals of the project include
developing principles, algorithms, market integration rules, and a functional design and specification for an energy storage and control
system. This system has the potential to help the California ISO better cope with wind generation intermittency and unexpected fast
ramps from the deployment of new wind resources. Flywheel energy storage solutions will soon be deployed across California to
recycle excess energy, control dispatchable load and distributed generation, and
manage inter-state exchanges of excess energy. Soon, California will be a leader
in renewable energy generation and flywheel energy storage solutions will have to
play a role in the market integration of sustainable energy
2. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Learning
About Renewable Energy. National Laboratory for the
US Department of Energy, September 2009. <http://
3. R&D Projects, Beacon Power Corporation. Tyngsboro,
MA: 2009. <http://www.beaconpower.com/products/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 49
Greenhouse gases are a significant component of global anthropogenic climate
change. UN Environment Programme says, “Natural sources of carbon dioxide are
more than 20 times greater than sources due to human activity, but…natural sources
are closely balanced by natural sinks.” Human activities that contribute the most
to increasing GHG emission rates are energy consumption (industrial, commercial,
“San Leandro Electric Power transmission.”
residential) and transportation. “Electric power generation and transportation are
html the biggest sources of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions in our nation,
with respective shares of 39.8% and 33.7% of our total energy-related emissions in
All US sectors combined emit mostly carbon dioxide (81.3%) and methane (10.5%). Methane makes up a smaller percentage of overall
GHG emissions, but it is an important GHG because its warming potential is 21 stronger than carbon dioxide. The major sources of
methane in the US are energy production, distribution and use; agriculture; and waste management. The US waste management
sector emits 280.6 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) of methane, nearly equal to the energy sector (299.5
Public utilities companies (PUCs), the traditional suppliers of electrical energy, use mostly nonrenewable energy sources. The way
that energy is generated (its sources being primarily oil, coal and natural gas) makes
energy production the sector with the most GHG emissions in the US. Not only is
energy consumption too high, energy use is often inefficient, which results in even
1. UNEP: “Vital Climate Graphics, The Present Carbon
page/3066.aspx (Nov. 13, 2009). greater emissions levels. Some energy-inefficient technologies use an average of
2. Energy Information Administration, “Energy in 8
Brief: What are greenhouse gases and how much are 50% more energy than their efficiently designed counterparts.
emitted by the United States?”, http://tonto.eia.doe.
gov/energy_in_brief/greenhouse_gas.cfm (Nov. 12,
2009). Despite the prevalence of fossil fuels in PUC’s energy mixes, renewable energy
3. EIA, “Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United
States 2008.” http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/ggrpt/ sources, like wind and solar, are available. However, the availability of energy
methane.html (Nov. 14, 2009).
4. American Water Works Association Journal, “Industry
News: California City Turns Waste Into Energy and generated by alternative sources is limited because the power distribution grid’s
Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions” (Dec. 2008).
5. EIA, “Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United infrastructure for alternative energies is not very developed. High consumption of
States 2008.” http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/ggrpt/
methane.html (Nov. 14, 2009).
6. ibid. fossil fuels is the result of normative cultural practices, low-efficiency designs and
7. www.envirolink.org/orgs/edf/sitemap.html qtd. in
“Greenhouse Gases and Society” (Nov. 13, 2009). technologies past and present, and troublesome transmission across distances of
8. East Bay Municipal Utility District, Special District 1,
Wastewater Treatment, “Success Story”, www.energy.
energy from alternative sources.
ca.gov/process/pubs/ebmud.pdf (Nov. 15, 2009).
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 50
Cogeneration technologies provide efficient alternative energy-efficient generation
and consumption. Cogeneration is on-site generation of power and heat from one system.
“Cogeneration power plants often operate at 50 to 70% higher efficiency rates than single-
“San Leandro Sewer.” 12/1/09. http://www.samchiu.
generation facilities… Increased efficiency of energy utilization reduces the amount of fossil com/index.cfm/page/44498/parent/44387/Utility_
fuels consumed per unit of energy used, cutting by 45 percent air emissions that would come
from conventional power plants” according to America.gov. Spared air emissions in combination with a 30%-35% increase of reusable energy makes
cogeneration technology significantly more efficient.
Cogeneration technology is most easily used by the waste management and agriculture sectors for which high methane emissions from waste are a
daily reality. Cogeneration technology is very appropriate for the waste management sector because it creates electricity and heat from methane gas
simultaneously. The onsite generation of electricity saves thousands of emissions and millions of dollars annually. Energy is generated using methane
emissions (of waste) and grease. Using these alternative fuel sources essentially eliminates some GHG emissions and pollutants by using them to
generate electricity instead of making the methane and grease waste.
The projected increase of urban population density will bring with it a larger volume of waste. Cogeneration is one way to make the waste stream
a resource. Onsite generation of energy from alternative sources alleviates the demand for the nonrenewable energy that PUCs (e.g. PG&E) supply
(lowering facilities’ energy costs), and eliminates the immediate need for a grid that can transmit power of alternative energies. For example, the
East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) and San Leandro’s Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP) use sustainable, energy-efficient cogeneration
technologies onsite. EBMUD is saving $2.796 million dollars in annual energy costs, and San Leandro’s WPCP is saving 96,000 cubic feet of methane
gas emissions per day.
San Leandro’s WPCP enlisted private contractor Siemens Building Technologies, Inc. to design, construct, and maintain a cogeneration system.
The system efficiently uses 96,000 ft of daily discarded methane to generate the plant’s electrical energy and heat, lowering energy consumption
and costs, and decreasing GHG emissions. Waste grease from commercial waste haulers enhances the digester process, increasing methane gas
production. Methane gas is used by the cogeneration facility to fuel reciprocating engines References
(large internal combustion motors), which spin three 110-kW generators that produce 285 9. America.gov, “Cogeneration: More Energy, Less
Pollution From Fossil Fuels,” http://www.america.gov/
kW of continuous electrical energy needed to power the plant. “The heat produced by the H0.6980249.html (Nov. 10, 2009).
engines will be recycled in effect and used to raise the temperature of the water needed in 10. East Bay Municipal Utility District, Special District
1, Wastewater Treatment, “Success Story”, www.energy.
11 ca.gov/process/pubs/ebmud.pdf (Nov. 15, 2009).
the treatment process.” By converting waste to energy, the plant expects to save 60% in
11. AWWA Journal, “Industry News: California City
energy use and 1,500 MMTCO2e of methane emissions annually. Turns Waste Into Energy and Reduces Greenhouse Gas
Emissions” (Dec. 2008).
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 51
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Over half of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, which “…
contribute more than two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions…”1, buildings
“Infinite Wilderness.” 12/04/08. Online image.
alone accounting for 30 percent . Global urban population is expected to rise
Chemically Green. 7 December 2009. http:// 3
chemicallygreen.com/california-air-quality/ to 70 percent of total world population by 2050 , therefore it is imperative that
municipalities and peri-urban areas take the necessary steps to reduce their carbon emissions among rising populations in a climate
As concerns over greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global climate change increase, greater and greater attention is
being paid to alternative technologies for providing our energy needs. One of the most appropriate technologies that can be utilized
to address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions is harnessing energy from the sun through solar photovoltaic cells that directly
convert solar radiation into energy. Providing incentives for solar system installation on homes and businesses is one strategy that
local urban governments can employ to decrease its overall dependence on fossil fuels for energy and lower its carbon footprint.
Solar energy “…reduces pollution and greenhouse gases, contributes to a sustainable state economy and literally brings power to the
people…” among energy uncertainty and rising energy prices to power your home or business.
One of the largest obstacles to installing solar panels on a house or office building is the associated upfront cost. The market
for solar panels is growing, however costs still remain high as a result of expensive raw materials, high installation and labor costs, and
a lack of sufficient government funding for research and development . A professional installation of solar panels on an average size
home costs roughly in the price range of $25,000 - $30,000, before any rebates are given . Even though the solar installation would pay
References for itself over time, the upfront costs deter many home and building owners from
1. “Combating Climate Change: Clinton Climate
Initiative.”William J. Clinton Foundation, Web. 11/13/09.
installing solar panels - especially if they are unsure about a long-term commitment
clinton-climate-initiative/ to that location. This cost makes it almost impossible for low-income individuals
2. Rivera Pinderhughes, Raquel. Alternative Urban
Futures. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers,
Inc., 2004. 103. Print.
and families, who mostly reside in urban areas, to make the switch to more efficient
3. “2050: A third more mouths to feed.” FAO Media
Centre. 9/23/09. Food and Agricultural Organization of and renewable sources of energy.
the United Nations, Web. 16 Nov 2009. <http://www.
4. Ibid 2, at p. 104 & 119.
With an overwhelming majority of the world’s people residing in municipal
5. Dicum, Gregory. “GREEN Solar Gets Practical.” SFGate.
1/25/06. San Francisco Chronicle, Web. 19 Oct 2009. areas in the future, urban and peri - urban governments must address the issue of
6. Weiss, Jennifer. “http://www.nj.com/homegarden/
greenhouse gas emissions and making sustainable choices more affordable for its
of_materials_hinders.html.” Home and Garden. citizens. U.S. cities have an opportunity to become models for the rest of the world,
2/13/2008. The Star-Ledger, Web. 7 Dec 2009. <http://
especially developing nations where most of the growth in human population will
7. Ibid 5.
occur over the next 50 years.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 52
Municipal Solar Financing Programs
Many urban areas have acknowledged the need for their governments
to address the problem of rising carbon emissions by making solar power more
desirable. By acknowledging these issues, cities have started to address them and “New-solar-roof-construction.” 4/29/08. Online
Image. Millennialliving. 7 December 2009. http://
create incentives for their citizens to use solar as their primary source of electricity.
Several municipalities around the United States have implemented, or are in the process of implementing, “Municipal Solar Financing
Programs”. These programs would make it easier, more cost effective, and beneficial to install solar panels on a home or business.
Individuals would pay for the solar panels, with practically no upfront costs, over a specific period of time through their property taxes.
Residents are given a loan by the city, which generally partners with a private company (but not always), with a fixed interest rate.
Since the individual pays this loan off through their property taxes, if he or she decides to move out of that location, the next owner
will take over the payments.
The first city to pioneer the municipal solar financing program was Berkeley, California with its groundbreaking “Berkeley First
Program”. Berkeley “…intended to solve many of the financial hurdles facing property owners who want to install solar systems…”
and, in November 2007, became the first city in the United States to give property owners the ability to pay for solar photovoltaic
electric system installation through their individual property tax bills . The upfront costs are deferred by a loan from the city paid for
with city grants and bonds to be paid off over a 20 year time period as part of the owners’ property taxes. The great advantages of the
“Berkeley First Program” are that it provides relatively little upfront costs to the individual and allows tax obligation to be transferred
as owners move out of their locations, creating the incentive for individuals to switch from fossil fuel to solar energy and to make that
transition as easy as possible. Motivated by the Berkeley First Program in demonstrating how “…cities are rethinking the economic
model to fund renewable energy” , California passed Assembly Bill 811 in September of 2008, making it possible for any city in the state
to implement such a program.
With the leadership of California, a number of cities across the country have either started their own municipal solar financing
programs or are working on legislation that would approve similar programs. With the leadership of California cities, those municipalities
that are struggling to address their role as contributors to climate change, striving
8. “Berkeley FIRST: Financing Initiative for Renewable
and Solar Technology .” Energy and Sustainable
to minimize their carbon footprints by switching to more efficient and renewable Development. City of Berkeley: Office of Energy
and Sustainable Development , Web. 19 Oct 2009.
sources of energy, and trying to make it cost effective for individuals and businesses <http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.
to do so now have concrete examples on which to model and design their own 10. Eaton, Sam. “Solar Incentive Opens Energy Window.”
Marketplace. 9/19/09. American Public Media, Web.
solar financing programs. 19 Oct 2009. <http://marketplace.publicradio.org/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 53
A major obstacle to sustainable development is the continuing popularity of low-
density development in the outskirts of cities. As the world faces ever-increasing
environmental degradation, this type of development, known as urban sprawl (or
http://agentsofurbanism.com/wp-content/ more commonly suburbanization) and the corresponding automobile-centrism it
espouses, will continue to have detrimental effects not only on the natural world, but on human health and well-being as well.
Suburbanization, a prevalent pattern throughout the western world since the early- to mid- 20th century, refers to any areas that
developed predominantly during the automobile era. After World War II, “suburbanization accelerated in the wake of rising affluence,
automobile ownership, and government mortgage subsidies”, and a new lifestyle, commonplace throughout the United States, was
created relying almost solely on the automobile. This required major restructuring and subsidization of roadways and engulfed large
swaths of previously untouched and agricultural lands.
The expansion of suburban populations has led to heavy increases in both road congestion and pollution levels, especially
in the U.S.. According to Southern California Edison, traffic congestion alone wastes 3 billion gallons of gas every year in the U.S, with
a large portion of the congestion occurring between suburbs and city centers. In California, 45% of all air pollution originates from
fossil fuel-powered cars and trucks, which emit large amounts of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, aldehydes, sulfur
compounds, organic acids, and carbon dioxide. Studies conducted by the American Lung Association have shown that those living
in close proximity to highways have an increased risk of heart attacks, asthma, allergies, premature birth, and infant death. A study
published in the Journal of Air and Waste Management Association found that children living within 250 yards of streets or highways
with 20,000 vehicles per day are six times more likely to develop all types of cancer and eight times more likely to get leukemia.
Another major impact of suburban development is its effects on accessibility and its propensity towards cultural
isolation. In many suburban developments, the lack of a downtown or town center
1. Hassenplug, Karen. “From Suburb to Sprawl”.
University of Illinois at Chicago. October 12, 2009
<http://www.uic.edu/portfolio/writing/subsprawl.pdf gives residents few communal gathering places, and further weakens their senses
2. Lewis, Paul G.. Shaping Suburbia: how political 7
institutions organize urban development. Pittsburg, of community. Unlike urban areas, where goods and services are often located
PA: University of Pittsburg Press, 1996
3. Lewis, Paul G.. Shaping Suburbia: how political
institutions organize urban development. Pittsburg, near residential communities and sidewalks and public transit lines are widespread,
PA: University of Pittsburg Press, 1996
4. Beard, Jim. “The Environmental Impact of the Car”. suburban residents who live miles from commercial centers are compelled to drive
Greenpeace International, 1992.
5. Klepal, Dan. “Auto Pollution Increases Health Risks”.
The Enquirer. October 12, 2009 <http://www.enquirer. long distances and to multiple locations just to run routine errands. This can be
6. Goodwill, Julie. “Building Transit Oriented expensive in terms of both time and money, and can add unnecessary stress to
Development in Established Cities”. October
literature/2.3Goodwill2002.pdf>. people’s lives. Without any options, residents are forced to use the only available
7. Dittmar, Hank, and Ohland Gloria. The new transit
town: best practices in transit-oriented development. means of transportation, their automobiles.
Washington, DC: Island Press, 2004.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 56
Transit-Oriented Development (TOD)
There are various ways to change this unsustainable mode of development, ways
that give people more choices and access to services and a healthier, cleaner environment.
One such option is the implementation of transit-oriented development (TOD), mixed-use http://www.compassblueprint.org/files/tod700px.jpg
(residential and commercial) medium- to high-density developments located around a central transit station.
Over the past three decades, cities all over the world have embraced transit-oriented development in order to mitigate the negative
environmental and social impacts of suburbanization, and reverse the common development trends of the 20th century. Proponents of TOD argue that
giving people greater access to public transportation and goods and services will decrease dependence on private automobiles, reducing congestion
and the related air pollution that follows. Also, by moving away from low-density suburban sprawl, residents of transit-oriented developments are
situated in close proximity to businesses such as grocery stores, restaurants, and other retail providers, enabling them to walk or bike to locations
within the community that they previously might have had to drive to.
Transit-oriented developments also have large social and economic benefits. TODs have been shown to A) increase residents’ senses of
community by providing more social cohesion within a neighborhood, B) reduce crime rates, C) decrease obesity rates by allowing people to walk
when they otherwise would have driven, and D) increasing property values due to greater accessibility.
One city that has led the way for transit-oriented development is Portland, Oregon. The Westside MAX light rail transit-oriented development
project began in Portland in the early 1990’s as a way to manage growth, reduce air pollution, and promote light rail. Several city and county
governments and transit authorities worked together in order to achieve these goals and to make way for a rapidly expanding population.
Since 1990, over 7,000 residential units and over one- half billion dollars in References
developments have been built within one-half mile of Westside light rail stations. One “Reconnecting America”. Center for Transit Oriented
Development. October 15, 2009 <http://www.
of the most noteworthy projects, Orenco Station in the city of Hillsboro, Oregon, a high- Niles, John. “Approaching the Millenium”. American
Planning Association. October 15, 2009 <http://www.
density housing development with retail, cultural and recreational activities in a walkable community-wealth.org/_pdfs/articles-publications/
12 Litman, Todd. “Evaluating Public Transit Benefits and
environment, has seen great success in improving the quality of life for its residents. Residents Costs”. Victoria Transport Policy Institute. October 15,
of Orenco have reported increases in the friendliness of neighbors, community participation, pdf>.
“TOD Advocate”. October 15, 2009 <http://www.
and overall sense of community. Orenco Station has also increased public transit ridership Podobnik, Bruce. “The Social and Environmental
Achievements of New Urbanism: Evidence from
greatly. In a 1999 survey, over one-fifth of households reported at least one member taking Orenco Station”. Lewis and Clark College. October 15,
public transit regularly, and over one-half reported taking it more than they previously had. Podobnik, Bruce. “The Social and Environmental
Achievements of New Urbanism: Evidence from
If developers and local governments continue to positively encourage populations Orenco Station”. Lewis and Clark College. October 15,
to accept transit-oriented development as the new norm in planning, we will continue to see Kaid, Benfielf. “Solving Sprawl”. Natural Resources
Defense Council. October 15, 2009 <http://www.nrdc.
greater improvements in both environmental quality and overall quality of life. org/cities/smartGrowth/solve/orenco.asp>.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 57
Lack of Bicycle Infrastructure
Every time I see a person on a bicycle I no longer despair the future of the Human Race
– HG Wells
Currently, various factors inhibit cities from developing a comprehensive bicycle
infrastructure, which may be one of the foremost deterrents in keeping the majority
http://allworldcars.com/wordpress/wp-content/ of citizens in urban centers from using bicycles as primary transportation. It is
img_6989.jpg problematic that only a few cities worldwide currently maintain a comprehensive
infrastructure that is able to facilitate safe, accessible, and efficient cycling.
Safety is one of the primary concerns that need to be foremost addressed in
promoting and attracting mass bicycle transit and is listed as the top concern for cyclists, as unsafe conditions are the main reason
people do not ride.1 Despite the fact US law states that drivers must “share the road,” heavy, congested vehicular traffic; reckless driving;
and unsafe speed all pose serious safety concerns and intimidate cyclists from getting on road. Motorists who intimidate bicyclists
through aggressive driving are almost never ticketed, and those who injure or kill cyclists are seldom prosecuted. Many urban centers
have inadequate (or lack altogether) bicycle lanes and paths demarcating and separating traffic from cyclists. Furthermore, hazardous
pavement conditions contribute to cycling accidents and discomfort in addition to a lack of roadway signs reminding drivers and
reinforcing cyclists’ rights to be on the road. Theft is also a major inhibitor of promoting cycling in urban centers; a lack of bicycle
racks makes opportunity for thieves to take advantage of inadequate bicycle locking to objects that are easily removed or forcibly
Another major component inhibiting the majority of urban populations from using bicycles as transportation is limited access.
The notion of access encompasses physical access to bicycles and education for the riding population. Not everyone can afford to own
a bicycle, perhaps due to financial constraints, or storage constraints. Lack of structured education is evidenced in the absence of
street signs notifying drivers and cyclists about their rights to the road, as well as informing drivers of cyclists’ presence. Most cities
have comprehensive transit maps, but do not have bicycle maps on the street that
inform cyclists on routes where roads are marked with bike lanes, one way streets,
References and steepness grade.
1. Hamilton, Paul A. “Impact Analysis of Bicycle Mode
shift Barriers.” Applied
Research Projects, Texas State University-San Marcos.
2. Pulcher, John, Charles Komanoff, and Paul Schimek.
“Bicycling renaissance in North America?
Recent trends and alternative policies to promote
bicycling.” Transportation Research Part A, Vol. 33, Nos.
7/8, (1999) 625-654
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 58
A Safe and Accessible Bicycle Infrastructure:
Imperative to Urban Sustainability
There are a number of ways to address the problem of safety by actively
reducing the amount of, and discouraging, transport by personal car, and providing
incentives for using alternative transit. It is important to look to urban centers with
well-established cycling populations and implemented bicycle infrastructure such
as Portland, Oregon. Portland is the best example of a U.S. city with over 500,000
residents; where in 2008, 16% of residents reported using bicycles as primary or secondary modes of transportation. Portland has
been successful in constructing ample bicycle infrastructure and increasing ridership; it should serve a model for other major U.S. cities
how to renovate existing infrastructure and to execute plans for urban areas lacking infrastructure altogether.
To specifically address safety concerns, Portland has a comprehensive and interconnected network of color-coded bicycle
lanes, boulevards, and off-road paths distinct from motorized traffic intended specifically for bicycle use. Street signs that reaffirm
cyclists’ rights and presence, and traffic lights with cyclist specific signals encourage cyclists to be comfortable on the street rather
than be intimidated in traffic. Furthermore, Portland’s mass transit facilitates and is compatible with storing bicycles, though the use
of front mounted bicycle racks on buses and allows riders to bring their bikes on board metro rail cars. Secure bicycle parking in the
form of a diverse range of racks and lockers as well as increased rack numbers for example are improvements to make urban streets
safer to deter theft. Lastly with respect to safety, infrastructure maintenance is assured through government funding: a minimum of
one percent of transportation revenues are allocated for bikeways and walkways, and that bikeways and walk- ways are included as
part of roadway construction and reconstruction.
Cyclist education via signage is key aspect that is addressed within access. Portland currently has a system of way finding
maps similar to transit maps installed at intervals along bike routes to inform cyclists of their location and to provide the most
convenient and direct routes, as well as connect with adjoining routes. Physical access to bicycles can be addressed by affordable bike
sharing programs, to which unfortunately Portland is behind European cities on References
implementing and US cities may want to look towards Europe as a model. The most 3. City of Portland, Oregon. (2009). We’ve Been
Successful at Increasing Bicycle Use. Retrieved 11/14/09
extensive of which is implemented in Paris, France. Known as Velib, the program index.cfm?c=44671>
4. City of Portland, Oregon. Bicycle Master Plan. Office
has 1,450 rental locations with 20,000 bicycles. Rates range from free 30 min trips of Transportation,1998. 15-77
5. City of Portland, Oregon. Bicycle Master Plan. Office
of Transportation,1998. 15-77
to 30 euro per year subscriptions, which is more financially reasonable compared to 6. Transit expertise Association. (2009) “In Brief: Facts
and Figures About Paris’ Velib Almost two years after
6 the beginning. Ret. 11/14/09 <http://en.transport-
automobile expenses and transit passes.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 59
Transportation Infrastructure in The U.S.
Transportation helps people get from point A to point B and everywhere
in between. However, there are several things wrong with the transportation
Picture 1. AC Transit buses at the bus depot in San infrastructure in the United States. The way the infrastructure is set up, ever
Leandro CA. 10/17/08. Online image. 17 October
2009.<http://w w w.sanfranciscosentinel.
expanding and widening roads all across the land can actually create disadvantages
for people in low income areas. These people sometimes don’t have access to public
transportation and have to pay more just to travel short distances.
The report “At the intersection of public health and transportation” states “Nearly one third of the US population is transportation
disadvantaged. Many of these individuals and families are vulnerable. They cannot easily access basic needs such as healthy food
choices, medical care, gainful employment, and educational opportunities. Many low-income families have been forced to live outside
city centers where housing is more affordable and access to public transportation is limited. These families often spend more on
driving than health care, education, or food.” 1The families are forced to make poor decisions based on the cost of traveling. These
decisions can affect the health of these families.
The report “At the intersection of public health and transportation” also states that “In neighborhoods without a grocery store nearby,
residents do not have access to nutritious foods, and people lacking access to preventive health services put themselves at risk by
missing critical screening exams because of poor access to medical care services. Living near a superhighway, port, or a bus or train
depot exposes people to increased levels of toxic air pollutants, and many of these same vehicle emissions contribute to global
warming.” Not only are these people not able to get the proper nutrition that they need, but they can’t even go to the medical clinics
to get basic and critical screenings and tests that they need to be healthy.
1. American Public Health Association. Rep. At the
intersection of public health and transportation:
Promoting healthy transportation policy. American
Public Health Association. Web. 17 Oct. 2009. <http://
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 60
Solutions to solve these problems would be equitable and sustainable
transportation, and programs to help provide affordable transportation for those who
cannot afford to get it. Equitable transportation is defined as a system that provides
a differentiated system (transit, bicycle, and walking) that does not privilege one
2009. Photograph. Oakland. Waiting at the Greyhound
Bus Depot. Oakland North, 27 July 2009. Web. 17 Oct.
mode of transportation over any others. The report Transportation Prescription: bold 2009.<http://oaklandnorth.net/2009/07/27/the-
New Ideas for Healthy, Equitable Transportation Reform in America, defines equitable
transportation as “the development of accessible, efficient, affordable, and safe alternatives to car travel, and especially to driving
These alternatives enable everyone to walk more, travel by bicycle, and use public transportation more—in other words, to get around
in ways that improve health, expand access to opportunity, and reduce toxic pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.” According to
Steve Saldivar, in his article “waiting at the greyhound bus depot”, “Of the nearly 25 million people carried by Greyhound last year, most
traveled less than 450 miles. Two-thirds make less than $35,000 annually.” This means most people have to spend more to travel less.
In the ETRA report, there is an outline to help get the governments (State and local) to work more effectively on the transportation
and health problems. A couple of the points outlined are “Encourage equitable transit oriented development by creating incentives
for integrated land use and transportation planning.” And “Give state, regional, and local government agencies and organizations more
flexibility to move dollars among funding categories and to target spending to meet local needs.”2These points would help to have
affordable and accessible transportation for everyone and that the governments would be able to move funds around to create the
programs needed to provide the transportation. With Better land use and planning, the governments would be able to provide the
infrastructure needed without impeding on the needs of the community. Measures like the measure VV in Alameda County would
help to keep affordable transportation for the community.
Measure VV, according to the measures website, is designed “To preserve affordable local public transportation that allows seniors
and people with disabilities to remain independent, takes students to and from school,
2. Bell, Judith, and Larry Cohen. Transportation
Prescription: bold New Ideas for Healthy, Equitable
provides transportation alternatives given skyrocketing gas prices, helps residents Transportation Reform in America. Rep. Ed. Shireen
Malekafzali. 24 Aug. 2009. Web. 3 Oct. 2009. <http://
commute to work and reduces traffic and greenhouse gas emissions by getting cars www.scribd.com/doc/19046928/Transportation-
off the road...” The proceeds from Measure VV will be used to fund operations and 3. Saldivar, Steven. “Waiting at the Greyhound Bus
Depot.” Oakland North. 27 July 2009. Web. 17 Oct.
maintenance. This money is needed to allow AC Transit to maintain the level of operation 2009. <http://oaklandnorth.net/2009/07/27/the-
4. “Measure VV Special Tax Measure Alameda-Contra
without having to hurt the transit-dependent customers by slashing service and hiking Costa Transit District.” League of Women Voters of
California Education Fund, 24 Jan. 2009. Web. 17 Oct.
fares. The people of the county ended up voting yes on the measure and it was passed. 2009.<http://www.smartvoter.org/2008/11/04/ca/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 61
Overdependence on Automobiles
The overdependence on automobiles has resulted in severe traffic congestion
and increased vehicle miles traveled (VMT). According to the Metropolitan
“Bay Bridge Traffic.” Aug 13, 2009. Streetsblog San Transportation Commission, the projected average weekday daily VMT in the Bay
Francisco, Oct 19, 2009: http://sf.streetsblog.org/
wp-content/uploads/2009/08_13/bay_bridge_ Area was 154.2 million miles traveled in 2007. This number is projected to increase
to 172.6 million in 2015, 192 million in 2025, and 202.8 million in 2030 . The increased
traffic congestion and VMT has resulted in severe air pollution. According to the
Bay Area Air Quality Management District, transportation accounts for 50.6% of greenhouse gas emissions in the Bay Area, or roughly
43.2 million tons of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) a year. The pollution from motor vehicles is 33,452,240 tons of CO2 a year. They also produce
5,307 tons of Methane (CH4) and 8,935 tons of Nitrous Oxide (N2O) a year . Greenhouse gas emissions from Bay Area automobiles
contribute to the greenhouse effect, which causes global warming and leads to climate change. Climate change has serious global
implications, because the Bay Area’s contribution of greenhouse gasses is leading to a rise in global average temperature by a few
degrees. This is causing the melting of the polar ice caps, which will eventually lead to a rise in worldwide sea level. Furthermore,
emissions from automobiles are also contributing to a variety of health problems, especially Asthma.
1. Metropolitan Transportation Commission: San
Francisco Bay Area Vehicle Miles of Travel (VMT)
Population and Employment, 1990-2030. May 24, 2005:
stats/vmt.htm, Oct 19, 2009
2. Bay Area Air Quality Management District: Source
Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, November
4DE5B9BC9C76525C484E.ashx, Oct 19, 2009
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 62
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
If Bay Area greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced, then VMT must be
reduced. People need to get out of their cars if VMT is to be reduced. Bus Rapid Transit
or BRT is a promising solution. According to the Federal Transit Administration, BRT “TRANO Line Bus.” LAist: Oct 19, 2009: http://
l a i s t . c o m / a t t a c h m e n t s / l i n d s ay re b e c c a /
is an “enhanced bus system” which utilizes several features common in most fixed TRANOLineBus.jpg,
rail transit systems. Some of these features include exclusive right of way, prepaid
fares, traffic signal prioritization, high-capacity vehicles, and rail-station like stops.
Also, unlike regular local bus lines, BRT lines typically have stops that are spaced greater than a half-mile apart. The best United States
example of BRT in its purest form is the Los Angeles Metro Orange Line. Like the very successful systems in Curitiba, Brazil and Bogota,
Columbia, it has several features that make it a true rapid transit line. For instance, almost the entire bus line has exclusive right of way
for transit and emergency vehicles only. Passengers buy their bus fare from ticket vending machines at bus stops. Transit vehicles have
priority at intersections. The orange line bus stops are visually appealing and function like rail stations, because they are well lit, have
a liberal amount of seating, and have very distinct and recognizable shelter. Furthermore, rail transit lines in Los Angeles are divided
by color, so the Orange Line is integrated into the Los Angeles Rail System.
3. Federal Transit Administration: Bus Rapid Transit:
Oct 19, 2009: http://www.fta.dot.gov/assistance/
4. Stanger, Richard. “An Evaluation of Los Angeles’s
Orange Line Busway”. Journal of Public Transportation:
National Center of Transit Research, University of South
Florida, pg 103-119, Vol 10, No. 1, 2007. Oct 19, 2009:
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 63
Disproportionately High Rates of Disease
and Lack of Wellbeing
Amanda Jamila Bannout
Amongst the urban poor there are disproportionately higher rates of disease and
lack of wellbeing. The problem originates from the deficient access and availability
of affordable nutritional foods. The urban poor could potentially lower their risk to
The Bureau of Labor Statistics.“The Cost of Healthy
Eating”. March 2009. <http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_
GMkD4mFrFxw/ShO1xz01koI/AAAAAAAABUY/ disease and increase their wellbeing by making healthier choices. According to the
Common Wealth Fund, racial and ethnic minorities have high rates of debilitating
disease such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, and AIDS…[It] is apparent in the African
American community, where 48% of adults suffer from a chronic disease compared to 39% of the general population. Obesity is [also]
debilitating and is often a catalyst to chronic disease. Seven out of 10 African Americans ages 18 to 64 are obese or overweight, and
African Americans are 15% more likely to suffer from obesity than Whites.
According to the National Vital Statistics, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US.2 A
report done by U.S. Medicine states that “of all U.S. citizens, low-income and minority individuals are at greatest risk of heart disease and
the onset of type 2 diabetes.” Most point their finger at the absence of healthcare, but in reality these health issues stem from a lifetime
of poor dietary choices. The media greatly influences people’s dietary decisions. People are subjected to fast food advertisements daily,
encouraging them to buy their affordable delicious products. Many variables explain the health problems in urban low-income regions:
(1) lack of access to fresh nutritious foods, (2) lack of affordability of fresh foods, (3) the placement of cheap fast food in urban poor
areas. Since the 1980’s the price of soda, butter and beer have decreased whereas the price of vegetables and fruits has significantly
increased in the US. Access to healthy foods have become limited to those who cannot afford it. Not only is buying healthy food pricey
but there’s a lack of information about affordable nutritional food. Even subsidy programs in the past neglected to encourage
healthy choices. It has become embedded in the minds of people that only the wealthy can afford to be healthy. However tables
are turning and the long-term effects of bad dietary choices can change through
a more efficient subsidy program. Improving the health of urban poor through
1. Mead, H., Cartwright-Smith, L., Jones, K., Ramos, C.,
Siegel, B., Woods, K. “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in
U.S. Healthcare: A Chartbook.” The Commonwealth dietary changes will decrease the disease/death rate and increase the wellbeing of
2. Kung HC, Hoyert DL, Xu J, Murphy SL. “Deaths: final the urban poor.
data for 2005”. National Vital Statistics Reports.
3. “US Medicine.” Low-income Americans and Racial
and Ethnic Minorities Experience Disproportionately
Higher Rates of Disease. July 2009. Medical Maratho
Communications Inc. , Web. 3 Oct 2009. <http://www.
and-racial-and- ethnic-minorities- experience -
4. Leonhardt, David. “The Cost of Fat.” New York Times
(2009): n. pag. Web. 2 Nov 2009.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 66
Farmers Markets Accepting EBT Improves
The Health of The Urban Poor
Amanda Jamila Bannout
In 1939 the Food Stamp Program (FSP) was started to help poor families in
the depression. By 1964 the program was authorized as a permanent program. The
purpose of the FSP is to allow low-income households to obtain a more nutritious
SFMike, Heart of the City Farmers Market, July
18, 2005, SF Civic Center Blog. San Francisco.
diet through normal channels of trade. FSP is now called the Supplement Nutrition
Assistance Program (SNAP) and food stamps are being replaced by Electronic
Benefit Transfer (EBT). EBT is an electronic system that allows a recipient to authorize
transfer of their government benefits from a Federal account to a retailer account to pay for products received. Previously, food
stamps could only be used to buy uncooked and cold food, but now EBT is accepted in some convenience stores, restaurants, grocery
stores and most importantly farmers markets. EBT has opened the doors for affordable healthy food in all 50 states, the District of
Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam. To keep things simple between farmer and EBT user, the Central Point of Sale
(POS) was created. POS is a station located at farmers markets that exchanges EBT credit for tokens that are accepted by farmers’
market vendors. The most successful example of low-income access to the farmers market is in the San Francisco. The Heart of the City
market is located adjacent to City Hall. For the past 27 years Christine Adams has been the Market Manager of Heart of the City market.
According to Adams, “Six years ago EBT became mandatory at all California farmers markets…since then more and more people have
been using EBT at Heart of the City market…We exchange about 4000 EBT dollars for tokens a week.” The USDA stated, “As of the end
of FY 2008, 753 Farmers’ Markets were authorize to accept SNAP benefit nation wide, a 34 percent increase from FY 2007...the amount
of funds going to small farmers has increased from $1 million in 2007 to $2.7 million in 2008.” The new subsidy program is increasing
the use of EBT at farmer’s markets, creating more access to fresh foods for the urban poor, which gradually improves health. Andy
Fisher, Executive Director of the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) declared, “As part of the 2008 Farm Bill, Congress allocated
$3million to improve EBT usage at farmers markets over the next five years”. The
money allocated for EBT at farmer’s markets also proves that low-income urban References
communities are responding well to farmers markets accepting EBT. 5. “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program .” USDA
Food and Nutrition Service. 2009. USDA.gov, Web. 2
Oct 2009. <http://www.fns.usda.
6. “EBT Farmers’ Market Nutrition Project.” Ecology
Center. Fall 2008. U.S. Department of Agriculture Food
Stamp Program, Web. 1 Oct 2009. <http://
7. Maiser, Jennifer . “Real Food For All.” Edible San
Francisco 13 March 2008: n. pag. Web. 16 Oct 2009.
8. “Farmers Market Coalition.” Goal to Increase Access
to Fresh Healthy Food for EBT/SNAP users. 19 July
2009. FMC, Web. 4 Oct 2009. <http://www.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 67
Inadequate Green Space
“In this sense,” he writes, “community gardens are less about gardening than they are about community.”
Dr. Troy D. Glover of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada
Post war development patterns in the United States have created landscape of freeways, strip malls and isolated housing
communities outside existing cities with little consideration for open space, and in the way fueled the rise of a personal car as the
dominant mode of transportation. This development has led to economic and racial segregation of the society, and reallocated funding
for city infrastructure and parks that had been in place since the second half of the 19th c.
The lack of investment in, and access to parks and other open spaces has negatively affected quality of natural resources and
neighborhoods within cities causing disappearance of spaces for recreation, neighborhood meetings and local food production.
Vacant lots in cities have become centers of crime, waste disposal and other social and health risk activities, blighting neighborhoods
and alienating people from the social responsibilities and connections and a direct relationship with nature necessary for building
healthy communities. It has also contributed to lack of the population’s engagement in physical activities. According to the Center
for Disease Control and Prevention, only 25% of adults in the U.S. engage in some physical activities and 29% do not engage at all
– increasing risks of obesity, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and early death and related diseases. Between 2003-4, 66.3%
of adults 20 years and older in the U.S. were obese or overweight, which - apart
from causing psychological disorders, female reproductive disorders, cancer , high
1. Gies, Erica. “The Health Benefits of Parks:
How Parks Help Keep Americans and Their blood cholesterol and pressure- is associated with increasing costs for treatment,
Communities Fit and Healthy.” The Trust for
Public Land. 2007. <http://www.tpl.org/
rehabilitation, pharmaceuticals and prevention programs, reaching upwards of $
2. Sherer, Paul M. “The Benefits of Parks: Why 117 billion in 2000.
America Needs More City Parks and Open Space.”
The Trust for Public Land. 2003. Nov 2009 <http:// In many poor inner-city neighborhoods, inadequate green space has possibly
people_Jul2005.pdf>. contributed to a decrease in effectiveness to manage major life issues. A study of
3. Emerson, Brian. “From Neglected Parcels
to Community Gardens: A Handbook.”
Chicago neighborhoods investigating the origins of violence, crime and other social
Wasatch Community Gardens. 1989. Oct.
CommunityGardenStart- upHandbook.PDF>. behavior disorders suggests that low levels of natural areas, lack of opportunities
4. Schukoske, Jane E. “Community Development
Through Gardening: State and Local Politics for exercise, and access to healthy and nutritious food in poor neighborhoods may
Transforming Urban Open Space. Oct. 2009 <htt
p://7d8ca58ce9d1641c9251f63b606b91782998f contribute to many physical, psychological and social diseases, including impacts
5. Kuo, Frances E. “Coping with poverty: on blood pressure, mood, cognitive functions, work performance and other social
Impacts of Environment and Attention in
the Inner City.” Environment and Behavior, 5
behavior disorders. Other studies suggest that crime and other disturbances in
Vol. 33 No. 1, January 2001 5-34. Nov 2009
CopingWithPoverty.pdf>. poor neighborhoods may be partially driven by a lack of social cohesion, “collective
6. Sherer, Paul M. “Park power!” Land & People.
2004.Nov.2009<http://www.tpl.org/tier3_ efficacy”, exemplified by a failure to build social ties through cooperation and
develop a sense of control and commitment to community.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 68
Urban Community Gardens
Urban community Urban community gardens have proved to be an effective tool for
demonstrating people’s ability to reconnect with their communities and nature in functional open
space, and better understand connections between their actions and their socio-environmental
“Volunteers from Key Bank help maintain the garden
in the Cleveland EcoVillage in the Detroit Shoreway
impacts, while providing a place for environmental education and encouraging sense of identity and
neighborhood”. Online image. Ecocity Cleveland. 6
4 December 2009. <http://www.ecocitycleveland.org/
stewardship, as demonstrated through many programs throughout the U.S. Based on the Chicago smartgrowth/openspace/gardens.html>.
study, community gardens can positively contribute to high collective efficacy and help to lower rates
of juvenile delinquency and crime in general. The inclusion of green spaces in cities, in the form of
community gardens, helps support natural ecological services, reduce urban pollution, beautify city
areas, and mainly improve quality of life, provide access to fresh and healthy produce, and address
questions of food security in lower income neighborhoods.
“Community Gardens and Urban Farms”. 07/22/09. Maps of
our City. Online Imgae. Cleveland Landlab. November 2009.<
In addition to these benefits, studies in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine
highlight the positive impact of plants on psychological and physical health. Gardening is increasingly being used as a therapy in many prisons and
community based, disability, and special education programs showing decreases in anger and increases in alertness, attention and cognitive performance.
Poor municipal policies, planning and zoning ordinances undermine a role of community gardens and their environmental, social, health and psychological
benefits, and fail to incorporate them as public open spaces and provide them adequate legal protection. The city of Cleveland, Ohio, however, can serve as a
model for protection of community gardens as public open space, creating an Urban Garden District References
zoning ordinance as a reaction to urban gardens being threatened by residential development, and 7. “Urban Gardens and Food.” Opportunity and Equity.
City Planning Commission. City of Cleveland. Oct.
as a way to allow for the gardens to become permanently part of Cleveland’s neighborhoods where oview.php>.
8. “Benefits of Community Gardening.” Gardening
some have existed for 60 years. Under this new policy framework, 200 gardens with approximately Matters. Oct. 2009 <http://www.gardeningmatters.
12 9. “Supporting Community Gardens.” Gardening
$100,000 in investment bring in upwards of $ 1million of annual revenue. Matters’ Recommendations for Cities and Counties.
Gardening Matters. Oct. 2009 <http://www.
This new section in the zoning code specifically protects urban garden areas in Cleveland, gardeningmatters.org/Resources/govt.pdf>.
10 “Community Gardens: The Benefits.” Gardening
Matters. Nova Scotia Environmental Network. Oct.
officially recognizing their contributions to communities’ health and enjoyment, environmental 2009 <http://www.gardeningmatters.org/Resources/
preservation and economic development. The Urban Garden District ordinance built upon a previous 11. Brady, Dustin. “Councilman introduces first
zoning designation for community gardens.”
11 Plain Press. Nov. 2007. Oct. 2009 <http://www.
zoning ordinance passed in 2006 that enabled the classification of city gardens as “open space” . The n h l i n k . n e t / p l a i n p re s s / h t m l / s to r i e s / 2 0 0 7 - 0 9 /
adoption of this code was based on the many benefits that community gardens offer, with respect to 12. “Protecting urban gardens.” Smart Growth.
Ecocity Cleveland. 2002-3. Nov 2009 http://www.
food production and food security, such as contribution to healthy communities and outdoor areas gardens.html
13. Part Three-Zoning Code. Title VII-Zoning Code.
for recreational enjoyment , envisioning gardens as “open space”. Chapter 336-Urban Garden District. Dec. 2007.
Oct. 2009 <http://www.mayorsinnovation.org/pdf/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 69
Food insecurity is a common problem challenging many urban centers
throughout the United States. Food insecurity refers to the inability of an individual
to access healthy nutritious food at all times. According to the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, 11.1 percent of U.S. households were food insecure during 2007. In the
United States low-income people tend to be less food secure and have little access
to grocery stores. In cities insurance redlining of predominantly low-income districts
deterred supermarkets and grocery stores from setting up shop and serving the
populations that live in these neighborhoods. The foods that are available in “red-
Food Insecurity linked to Childhood obesity “Food
Insecurity” 09/29/2009. Online Image. University of
Minnesota. http://www.minnesotaalumni.org/s/1118/ lined” districts are of poor quality, highly processed, and typically not organic. Many
low-income communities who cannot afford or have access to nutritious food have
higher rates of health problems, such as diabetes, cardiovascular failure, obesity, and malnutrition. There is also research linking the rise
of food insecurity with childhood diabetes. In the U.S. the issue of food insecurity encompasses access to unhealthy food as well as no
access to food generally. Those who venture out to distant districts and neighborhoods have often found that they can barely afford
to pay for nutritious food. In addition, there are a significant number of cases where individual consumers will not buy nutritionally
healthy food because they do not know how to cook it or they are not accustomed to eating particular food in their diets.
In the city of San Francisco, a 2007 study by the Food Bank found that at least 150,000 people in the city were food insecure.
Specifically, one in four children, one in five adults and one in three older adults in San Francisco live with the threat of hunger. Since the
2007 study, food insecurity has increased with a higher demand for the Food Bank’s services. The problem worsens when funding for
nutrition programs from federal, state and local governments are cut given the current economic crisis. According to the San Francisco
Food Security Task Force, “Together, federal nutrition programs have the potential to prevent hunger. Yet even with the presence of
these programs in our City, 150,000 residents still struggle to put food on the table. Poor nutrition almost always leads to poor health,
including the chronic health problems caused by obesity. It impairs a child’s ability to learn and grow. Among older adults, it speeds
the onset of degenerative diseases. In every age group, it impedes San Francisco’s
1. “Food Security Report.” The U.S. Department
most vulnerable residents from having healthy and productive lives.”5
2. Accessed October 3, 2009. http://www.epi.umn.edu/
research/eat/ nutrition programs focus on immediate emergency services given the elevated
3. Julie Guthman, “Bringing good food to Others:
investigating the subjects of alternative food practices”
Cultural Geographies 15 (2008): 431-447. needs and demands of food insecure residents. Emergency based services do not
4. San Francisco Food Bank “A Look at Hunger in San
Francisco: Neighborhood Profiles of Hunger and Food necessarily guarantee food security nor reduce the public cost of health care in the
5. SF Food Security task force (2007) “Food Security for
All: A Strategic Plan to End Hunger in Our city” long term.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 70
Urban Agriculture and CSAs
In San Francisco some contribute the solution to the problem of food insecurity to fixing the
local food system as a whole. To address the problem of food insecurity in the city of San Francisco,
many are looking at different approaches that make up the San Francisco food system. One of the
“Urban Agriculture” 09/29/09. Online Image.
unique approaches to achieve food security within the City is sustainable urban agricultural production. krw2c29bt31qzypppo1_500.jpg
Sustainable urban agriculture has been gaining much attention from the media, the government and
most importantly from the general public for addressing issues of urban food insecurity. Many see
consuming local or only organic as a solution to deteriorating health in the population. Specifically, in
the San Francisco Bay Area, the local sustainable agriculture movement has been critical in addressing
issues of food insecurity. Urban agriculture is seen as a way to have local control over food sources, food “The Alemany Farm.” 09/29/09. Online
security, decreasing the ‘food miles’ between producer and consumer, generates open green spaces in tncms/assets/editorial/f/9a/049/f9a04945-
urban centers, supports local biodiversity, and it broadens the variety of food people have access to.
Nestled in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of the City is a 4.5-acre farm, called the Alemany Farm. The Alemany Farm is a volunteer-run
organic farm sponsored by the City’s Parks Trust. The Alemany Farm, has a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. A CSA is a program that
allows producers to link directly to consumers by selling a share, which is a box of local seasonal produce that is delivered weekly or bi-weekly to the
consumer. The project has a free CSA box program that is delivered to low-income people living in the Alemany housing projects. Two days of the
week, volunteers go to the residents who signed up for the program, knock on the door and tell them what produce is available to harvest that week.
If the residents are interested in the produce, the volunteers will go back to the farm and harvest the produce. The food travels less than 100 yards.
Residents of the Alemany Housing Project are also welcomed to harvest food themselves since the farm is open to the public. The Alemany Farm is
dedicated to increasing people’s access to healthy nutritional food and providing people with tools so that they can be their own food producers.
Aside from providing access to healthy organic food, the project strives to promote urban sustainable agricultural education through free
programs for youth in the neighborhood and San Francisco residents, in such they are providing people the tools for them to be their own food
producers. The Alemany Farm holds volunteer workdays every weekend and Monday afternoons where volunteers help maintain the farm and get to
harvest food themselves to take home for free. Their Apprenticeship of Ecological Horticulture Education program is an educational project that runs
throughout a 12-month period that want to learn more in depth about urban ecological horticulture. The farm coordinators host on average about
three field trips per month; kindergarten to college level students go for a tour to learn about urban
food production. More critical in this process of providing food access to the Alemany housing
6. “Who We Are.” The Alemany Farm.
Accessed September 29, 2009. http://www.
project is the process of building local community relationships. Urban farming and local food alemanyfarm.org/who-we-are/
7. “Community Supported Agriculture.”
production has become a necessity for the health of the city and its inhabitants. Local Harvest. Accessed September 29,
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 71
The Heat Island Effect
The Heat Island Effect is a phenomenon that occurs in urban areas; due to the
elimination of open spaces, greenery and plant life, an urban area loses its natural
Sketch of an Urban Heat Island Profile. Digital cooling ability. This loss and the subsequent gain of impermeable surfaces, dense
image. CLEAR: Comfortable Low Energy
ac.uk/packages/clear/thermal/buildings/micro_ populations, high amounts of traffic, roofs, and pavement combine to produce
higher and drier temperatures . The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports
that, “these changes cause urban regions to become warmer than their rural surroundings, forming an ‘island’ of higher temperatures
in the landscape” . The Heat Island effect occurs proportionately to the amount of pavement, rooftop, and unreflective surfaces a city
contains, for “solar radiation on the urban surfaces is absorbed and then transformed to sensible heat,” raising temperatures accordingly
The atmospheric heat island can be as high as 30 degrees Fahrenheit above that of the rural surroundings, and the surface of roofs and
pavement can be as much as 90 degrees higher . Prolonged heat occurs into the night, even after “surrounding suburbs have lost the
day’s heat.” City materials, such as cement, brick, and asphalt, “absorb and store incoming solar radiation…more quickly and in greater
quantities than” plant material . Problems associated with the heat island include: the overuse of air conditioners by urban inhabitants
that increases the energy demand, elevated emissions of greenhouse gases due to increased energy demand, the loss of absorption
of rainwater due to impermeability of surfaces, higher evaporation and runoff rates, sustained artificially high urban temperatures
and continued heat emissions into the night (after sun set) due to hot, dry surfaces, and greater health risk . The heat island effect can
even raise the temperature of rainwater, causing a change in aquatic systems and runoff streams . Additionally, the possibility of
using natural ventilation in buildings is decreased incredibly due to “the increase of the [immediate external] air temperatures
and the low air velocity at street level” . Lastly, the anthropogenic (man-made)
contributions reach further than just increased energy use indoors: our combustion
1. Heat Island Effect. Environmental Protection Agency.
Web. 2 Oct. 2009. http://www.epa.gov/heatislands/
index.htm. engines release emissions and heat, our body heat release increases surrounding
2. EPA, 2 Oct. 2009.
3. “Heat Island Effect.” CLEAR: Comfortable Low Energy air temperatures, and our industries’ emissions are all more concentrated when in
Architecture.. Web. 12 Oct. 2009. http://www.learn.
micro_climate/heat_islands.html. condensed urban areas. Our urban parks and gardens also require more frequent
4. EPA, 2 Oct. 2009.
5. Spirn, Anne Whiston. The Granite Garden, Urban and deeper watering, for the evaporation rates raise in much higher temperatures,
Nature and Human Design. New York: Basic Books,
1985. Print. 52.
6. Spirn 52. causing our water use to increase greatly.
7. EPA, 2 Oct. 2009.
8. EPA, 2 Oct. 2009.
A R c h i t e c t u r e . 1 2 O c t . 2 0 0 9 .
10. Spirn 52.
11. CLEAR: Comfortable Low Energy ARchitecture. 12
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 74
In order to mitigate the urban heat island effect, cities are implementing plans to
reintroduce greenery and permeability. Green roofs are highly effective solutions for the heat
island problem for a number of reasons. A green roof, or rooftop garden, acts like a natural
space in the urban center. These gardens can insulate the building’s interior temperature
in both cold and warm seasons, lower the immediate temperature of air and roof surface, greenroofchicago.cfm
and absorb rainwater . Through evapotranspiration, the combined processes of transpiration and evaporation, the release of water vapor from
green areas into the air above them, green roofs can actually lower the air temperature above. If roofs in urban areas had greenery on top, the heat
island would disappear and could actually become a sink, a place where cool temperatures overcome the surrounding warm ones. The green roof
could also serve as water catchment (rainwater harvested and stored in barrels; used for irrigation), it could help eliminate emissions associated with
increased energy demand through use of air conditioning and heating systems, it could improve human comfort in times of heat waves and cold
temperatures, and the plants could serve as filtration systems for cleaning water and air surrounding them . Lastly, increasing green spaces improves
quality of life; should an urban environment void of parks and trees implement roof gardens, References
12. Heat Island Effect. Environmental Protection
the inhabitants of the area will benefit from access to shade, parks, flowers and fresher air. Agency. Web. 2 Oct. 2009. http://www.epa.gov/
13. EPA. 2 Oct. 2009.
14. “Chicago Green Roofs.” The Art Institute of Chicago.
Web. 12 Oct. 2009. http://www.artic.edu/webspaces/
Case Study: Chicago greeninitiatives/greenroofs/main_map.htm.
15. “About the Rooftop Garden.” City of Chicago:
Department of Environment. Web. 2 Oct. 2009.
The City of Chicago has long led the campaign for green roofs in the US. Their http://egov.cityofchicago.org/city/webpor tal/
City Hall has a 20,000ft2 garden, installed in 2000 . The garden “was conceived as a iimhkiejcefecelldffhdfhm.0&contentOID=536908578&
demonstration project - part of the City’s Urban Heat Island Initiative - to test the benefits ftop+Garden%2FI+Want+To&context=dept&channel
of green roofs and how they affect temperature and air quality” . In addition to cooling 16. “About the Rooftop Garden.” City of Chicago:
Department of Environment. Web. 2 Oct. 2009.
17. “Monitoring the Rooftop Garden’s Benefits.” City
benefits, City Hall claims that the garden can absorb up to 75% of a 1” rainfall before any spills of Chicago: Department of Environment. Web. 2 Oct.
16 2009. http://egov.cityofchicago.org/city/webportal/
over to sewers . In high summer heat, the roof is “at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit lower” than 59339096.1258316280@@@@&BV_EngineID=cccfadei
surrounding black tar roofs . The city estimates that “the total direct savings are estimated =Dept&blockName=Environment%2FCity+Hall+Rooft
to be 9,272 kWh per year ($77,699 at $8.38/kWh) and the corresponding savings in natural ainCategoryOID=-536887205.
18. Bluejay, Michael. “How much electricity costs, and
19,20 how they charge you.” Saving Electricity: How to save
gas for heating are 7,372 therms per year ($62,662 at $8.50/therm)” . Chicago’s 48th ward electricity. Web. 14 Nov. 2009. http://michaelbluejay.
19. Bluejay, Michael. “Natural Gas versus Electric
is attempting to reach 50,000 ft2 of green roofs in order to absorb more storm water and to Appliances.” Saving Electricity: How to save electricity.
21 Web. 14 Nov. 2009. http://michaelbluejay.com/
create more green space in the city center . The Red Line Initiative, as the project is called, 20. “Monitoring the Rooftop Garden’s Benefits.” City
of Chicago: Department of Environment. Web. 2 Oct.
would change a stretch of blighted rooftops through which the elevated train passes into a 21. Bellows, Layla. “Green Roofs on Chicago’s
22 Red Line.” AIArchitect. The News Of America’s
Community of Architects; Volume 16, 12 June 2009.
veritable gardenscape, all while improving air quality and catching runoff . Web. 13 Oct. 2009. http://info.aia.org/aiarchitect/
22. Bellows 12 June 2009.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 75
Roads in the U.S.
Over the past one hundred years American society has changed greatly due
to mass production and affordability of the automobile. This has lead to the
capability to travel further distances at a faster rate. The amount of land devoted to
transportation prior to 1940 was about 10% and was used primarily for foot traffic.
As the automobile became more popular so did the demand for an infrastructure
that catered to it. This popularity can be attributed in part to events such as what is
Rodrigue, “Transportation and the Urban Form”
now referred to as the Great American Streetcar Scandal, in which the automaker, General Motors, teamed up with auto-dependent
companies Firestone Rubber, Standard Oil of California, and Mack Truck and Phillips Petroleum. Together, these companies were able
to buy and dismantle streetcar lines across the country in order to enable and promote the creation of a federal highway system
requiring the private automobile .
Since 1940, the automobile industry has influenced our infrastructure by lobbying in favor of more and larger roads and
the United States government has promoted the automobile’s interest by subsidizing the building process . The amount of space
in a motorized city in the U.S. devoted to roads has now grown to 30% . This has created extremely unsustainable infrastructures
by devoting at least 30% of U.S. cities to the benefit of the private automaker and oil companies. Automobile drivers are emitting
greenhouse gases at an unprecedented rate. Besides harming the environment, nearly a million lives are lost each year to automobile-
related accidents. This is not only amongst those driving but pedestrians as well, who actually account for the majority of those losses .
People in the U.S. are part of a society that is becoming separated from one another
References as reliance on private transportation increases. In order to reverse this problem,
1. Rodrigue, Jean-Paul. “Transportation and the roads need to be redesigned to decrease dependence on private transportation
Urban Form.” Geography of Transport Systems
and create a greater sense of community within our cities.
2. Mankoff, Al. “The Great American Streetcar
Scandal.” Mountain Xpress. 22 Mar 2000. <http://
3. Pinderhughes, Raquel. Alternative Urban
Futures: Planning for Sustainable Development
in Cities throughout the World. Lanham, MD:
Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2004. Print.
4. Rodrigue, Jean-Paul. “Transportation and the
Urban Form.” Geography of Transport Systems
5. Pinderhughes, Raquel. Alternative Urban
Futures: Planning for Sustainable Development
in Cities throughout the World. Lanham, MD:
Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2004. Print.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 76
In order to create a more sustainable infrastructure and decrease
dependence on the automobile in the United States, a plan to redesign roads should
be adopted. In Alternative Urban Futures: Planning for Sustainable Development in
San Francisco Planning Dept.: Pavement to
Cities throughout the World author Raquel Pinderhughes highlights the importance Parks
of transportation planners in this transition toward sustainable development. Pinderhughes states, “transportation planners must shift
from being traffic engineers concerned only with vehicle flow to public space architects concerned with balancing diverse and often
conflicting uses of road environments.” She continues by pointing out that “streets are more than just conduits for vehicle traffic; they
are part of the public realm where people meet and interact .” By acknowledging these points and making efforts to bring them to life,
a decrease in the dependence of the automobile may be possible and a healthier and more social lifestyle may be available to those
living in the United States.
In San Francisco, the City’s planning department, City Design Group, works to improve San Francisco’s livability through
focusing on the physical aspects of the city and incorporating a positive relationship with the natural setting. One such example
relevant to the need to decrease dependence on the automobile is a project that began in 2009 in which the group works to reclaim
excess roadways and convert them into open space areas accessible for community members. As of 2009, in San Francisco, more
space is devoted to streets and public rights of way (25%) than that devoted to city parks (20%). These streets are often “excessively
wide and contain large zones of wasted space, especially at intersections” . With a new program called “Pavement to Parks” the City
is working to transform some of this area into new public plazas and parks through the use of simple and inexpensive designs. In
order to fund the project a number of architecture firms and nonprofit organizations such as, Public Architecture, worked through the
national 1% program in which architecture and design firms nationwide pledge a minimum of 1% of the their time to pro bono service.
Besides offering their time, they also obtained materials such as salvaged granite curbs to create seating and sanitized debris boxes
which were painted, lined and filled with a variety of plants . Their work, which used
recycled materials and innovative ideas, helped create a relaxing and aesthetically
6. Pinderhughes, Raquel. Alternative Urban
pleasing alternative to the once unused, unappealing swath of pavement. There Futures: Planning for Sustainable Development
in Cities throughout the World. Lanham, MD:
Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2004. Print.
are currently three new parks in place and the possibility for many more to come.
7. San Francisco Planning Department, (2009).
Pavement to Parks. http://sfpavementtoparks.
Hopefully, this work will lead to similar projects throughout the country and in sfplanning.org/
8. “The 1%.” Public Architecture. 2009. <http://
turn encourage people to evaluate the importance of moving away from a society www.publicarchitecture.org/The_1.htm>.
9. San Francisco Planning Department, (2009).
devoted to the automobile. Pavement to Parks. http://sfpavementtoparks.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 77
Poor Indoor Air Quality: Residential Buildings
Indoor air can be five times – and on occasion, even 100 times worse than
outdoor air. Americans spend on average 90% of their time indoors (65% of that at
home), according to the EPA. Air pollutants such as mold, dander and VOCs (volatile
organic compounds) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids such as:
particles.jpg dry cleaning, building materials and cleaning products. VOCs include a variety of
chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects.
Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors than outdoors. These
pollutants can cause health reactions in the estimated 17 million Americans who suffer from asthma and another 40 million who have
The EPA rates poor indoor air quality among the top five environmental risks to public health. Poor indoor air quality is a
result of inadequate ventilation in the home, which is exacerbated by chemicals that can find their way into spaces through difference
sources like paints and building materials. Another cause of poor indoor air quality is mold. If mold spores land on a wet or damp
spot and begin growing, they can cause health problems. Molds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic
substances. If mold is touched or inhaled by sensitive individuals, it may cause allergic reactions.
Indoor air quality is intensified by these harmful chemicals and can cause an adverse public health impact. The cumulative
effect of lifelong exposure to industrial chemicals that cause poor indoor air quality imposes a body burden as our bodies’ natural
filtration systems are stressed. This can lead to adverse health conditions in the future. Children are at the greatest at risk of being
affected by poor indoor air quality. Children breathe at a faster rate and spend more time close to the ground where many toxins
Two of the main problems with conventional residential buildings that promote
poor indoor environmental quality are building materials that emit VOCs and the
lack of efficient ventilation systems to reduce indoor pollutants.
1. USGBC et al., New Construction and Major Renovation
Version 2.2, 3rd ed. (2007)
2. The Inside Story: A Guide To Indoor Air Quality www.
3. Mold Basics www.epa.gov/mold/moldbasics.html
4. Our Children at Risk www.nrdc.org/health/kids/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 78
Reduce Toxins and Increase Ventilation in
Two important solutions to problems with residential buildings having
inadequate indoor air quality are the uses of healthy building materials, such as
paints that do not emit VOCs, and using efficient ventilation systems.
Using the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, galleryModelhome.html
residential buildings can achieve such solutions. The LEED system is a point (credit)
based system developed by the United States Green Building Council that allows
developers and builders to follow a strict system that can guarantee that a high level of sustainable building methods have been used
at every stage of the building process.
The Living Home, located in Santa Monica, California, is the first LEED Platinum residence in the United States. The Living Home
takes advantage of two particular credits under IEQ; IEQ credit 4.2, Low-Emitting Materials: Paints and Coatings and credit 5, Indoor
Chemical and Pollutant Source Control.
Under IEQ credit 4.2, Low-Emitting Materials: Paints and Coatings, according to the LEED New Construction and Major
Renovation Reference Guide Version 2.2, the intent is to, “Reduce the quantity of indoor air contaminants that are odorous, irritating
and/or harmful to the comfort and well-being of installers and occupants.” The Living Home uses low and no-VOC (volatile organic
compound) paints throughout the space. When low and no-VOC paints are used, it drastically reduces the amount of toxins inside
the building – especially with no-VOC paints because they are virtually emitting no toxic fumes into the air. They also do not contain
carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and no ozone depleting compounds.
The second credit is Credit 5, Indoor Chemical and Pollutant Source Control. The intent for this credit is to, “Minimize exposure
of building occupants to potentially hazardous particulate and chemical pollutants” (LEED Reference Version 2.2). This involves using
exhaust systems to clean specific areas and reduce airborne chemical pollutants. The Living Home uses two kinds of exhaust systems
to hazardous pollutants. One is a local exhaust with a timer. This is a fan vent References
5. Intro – What LEED is www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.
system used in the bathrooms to prevent mold, allergens and toxic gasses from aspx?CMSPageID=1988
becoming trapped in the bathroom. The second system used is an exhaust system 6. USGBC et al., New Construction and Major Renovation
Version 2.2, 3rd ed. (2007)
in the garage that runs a few minutes after the garage has been opened to remove 7. Living Home Features by LEED Category www.
carbon monoxide from the air before it has a change to go into the home.
8. Yolo Colorhouse FAQ www.yolocolorhouse.com/
These materials and systems minimize chemical exposure to all occupants allowing
9. Living Home Features by LEED Category www.
a safe living environment and improving indoor air quality. livinghomes.net/leedTable.html
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 79
Most cemeteries in the United States are singularly used as burial sites; many
prohibit exercise or sports activities, and are arranged in ways that people find cold
Arlingtong Cemetary. Digital image. Arlington and forbidding. Cemeteries require tremendous amounts of space and are not
Cemetery Investigation. The Sirens Chronicles,
16 July 2009. Web. 7 Dec. 2009. <http:// classified as urban open space with current stigmas in place. According to Cynthia
national-cemetery-investigation/>. Beal, a leader of the eco-friendly burial movement in the United States, these stigmas
stem from the inherently unnatural practice of preserving the deceased, which
accounts for both the fear typically connected with cemeteries, and the cold, aesthetically dissonant environment that cemeteries
currently “provide,” which often suppresses, rather than encourages, spiritual experiences—at “precisely the worst time.”
In addition, current burial practices pose a wide variety of environmental problems. In the United States, 30 million square feet
of chemical-treated hard wood are buried as caskets each year, along with 90,000 tons of steel and 2,700 tons of copper and bronze.
More than 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde is used each year as embalming fluid. These chemicals and materials, along with the
pesticides and constant human disturbance involved in the tedious maintenance of gravesites, ensure that cemeteries do not provide
a habitat for wildlife.
Cremation is not a solution because the practice is similarly problematic. The fossil fuel used to cremate a body, as well as the
emissions created as a byproduct of incineration (crematories in the United States are not subject to emissions controls by law) make
this option unsustainable as well.
Both cremation and cemetery burial in the United States are very expensive.
Cemeteries do not provide open space for humans or non-human animals, and yet
1. “Conservation Cemetery Basics.” Conservation
Cemetaries. Trust for Natural Legacies, Inc. Web. 18 Oct.
2009. <http://www.naturallegacies.org/whatwedo/ the average American burial costs between 6,000 to 10,000 dollars. Cremations,
2. “Beal, Cynthia. Sustainable Cemetery Management. cheaper, still amount to more than 2,000 dollars simply for the incineration—costs
Alternative Funeral Monitor, Mar. 2009. Web. 18
Oct. 2009. <http://www.alternativefuneralmonitor.
com/2009/03/sustainable-cemetery-management. of urns and memorial sites can be much more. This means that U.S. funeral homes
3. Ecologically Sound Burial Alternatives. Glendale generate an estimated $12 billion in revenue annually, and that funerals can be a
Memorial Nature Preserve, 30 Nov. 2008. Web. 18 Oct.
htm>. burden both environmentally and financially on the deceased’s loved ones.
4. “Conservation Cemetery Basics.” 2
5. Smith, Jennifer. “Green Burials Gaining More Ground: The unnatural practice of preserving the dead in an unnatural environment
More People Choosing Eco-Friendly Earthly Exits.” Lexis
Nexis. San Francisco State Library, 12 Oct. 2009. Web.
16 Nov. 2009. causes problems across the board—financially, spiritually, and environmentally. It
6. Ecologically Sound Burial Alternatives.
7. Smith, Jennifer. is time for a sustainable option.
8. Skidmore, Sarah. “New Coffins Green Trend to
“Natural” Burials.” Lexis Nexis. San Francisco State
Library, 9 Dec. 2007. Web. 16 Nov. 2009.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 80
Sustainable Burial Grounds
Sustainable burial grounds are an alternative to the problematic cemeteries in
use in America today. These systems typically resemble a nature preserve: multi-use open
spaces focused on the preservation of living plants and animals. Loved ones are buried in
biodegradable casings, such as a favorite blanket or an untreated wooden casket. Commonly
a tree is planted above the grave, to both mark the grave and give the decomposing bodies
the purpose of providing fertilizer—considered by many to be a spiritual experience. Bodies
are not embalmed, eliminating toxic chemical releases, and preserves are not maintained,
Living Churchyard Conservation Area. Digital
eliminating the geometric shapes (rows upon rows of headstones) that, according image. Sustainable Cemetery Management.
Alternative Funeral Monitor, Mar. 2009.Web. 7 Dec.
to supporters of nature-preserve style cemeteries, create such uneasiness in human 2009. <http://www.alternativefuneralmonitor.
consciousness. Overseas natural burial organizations currently in place aim to uphold three management.html>.
main values: environmental, spiritual, and economic. England has more than 250 natural burial grounds already, but unfortunately, sustainable
cemeteries are not widely utilized as a solution in American urban environments.
However, a resident of Eugene, Oregon named Cynthia Beal recently started a natural burial program in Portland. The company began
importing biodegradable caskets two summers ago. Options include: an “eco-pod” made of recycled paper, bamboo coffins, hand-woven seagrass
and willow caskets or the more traditional pine box. These options cost $75 to $2,700, compare to the conventional casket that starts at $3,100. This
program, called the Natural Burial Company, monitors all steps in the production of eco-pods to ensure full sustainability, from cradle to cradle. For
example, bamboo used to create alternative coffins is sustainably harvested under supervision of the Chinese government, is not the species that
pandas eat, and is certified Fairtrade. From there, a technique called “smartpacking” is used to transport the coffins—a route that requires the least
amount of carbon emissions is sought and utilized. The company claims that shipping one coffin from China emits the same carbon as driving a car
less than five miles. Taking Beal’s lead, the Green Burial Council is working on certification programs to verify the commitment and quality of other
providers who say they are going natural. Beal’s next venture is to set up a program that References
lets locals make their own eco-pods, adding local jobs to the long list of goods sustainable 9. Beal, Cynthia.
10. Beal, Cynthia.
16 11. Ecologically Sound Burial Alternatives
burials have to offer. 12. Beal, Cynthia.
13.Shinn, Laura. Sustainable Funeral. Willamette Week
The practice is affordable, inclusive, natural; sustainable. Sustainable burial nature Online, 18 Apr. 2007. Web. 18 Oct. 2009. <http://
14.Barkham, Patrick. “Shortcuts: The Greenest Way
preserves spare resources, eliminate waste of environmentally harmful chemicals, and save to Go to The Grave.” Lexis Nexis. San Francisco State
Library, 11 Mar. 2009. Web. 16 Nov. 2009.
money. Sustainable burials are the solution to the environmental, financial, and spiritual 15.Skidmore, Sarah.
16.Beal, Cynthia. Biodegradable Coffins and Ash Burial
Urns for North America. Natural Burial Company. Web.
problems associated with cemeteries and cremation in the United States. 18 Oct. 2009. <http://www.naturalburialcompany.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 81
What do traffic/congestion, noise pollution, over-population, loss
of bio-diversity all have in common? They are all byproducts of urban sprawl.
Suburban culture came after there was a backlash from families who were tired of
living in ultra dense cities with high crime rates. Instead developers constructed
large communities usually on the fringe of large cities with homes that were big
and usually included a lawn, garage, and a backyard. In America they were very
Urban sprawl, Las Vegas, Nevada” 10/17/09.
< http://www.flickr.com/photos/ 38037974@ popular when they were completed because they gave families more room to
grow, but also suburban homes were relatively affordable. The norm has been to
build bigger and bigger houses for relatively small families who have few children.
The externalities and side affects of sprawl according to Thomas Nechyba include: “the loss of open space, urban decay, unsightly
strip mall developments, urban air and water pollution, traffic congestion, low-density housing developments, the loss of a sense of
community, patchwork housing developments in the midst of agricultural land, increasing reliance on the auto- mobile, the separation
of residential and work locations and a general spreading of urbanized development across the landscape” . Urban sprawl is causing
some of the most egregious acts against the environment. Urban Sprawl takes many forms by negatively affecting its surrounding
areas by increasing traffic congestion and creating car dependent communities. Urban sprawl spreads the problems attributed to it
including social isolation and health problems like obesity. The lack of easy access to mass transportation in the vast spread of suburbia
creates a culture of cars where everyone drives to their destination. This all has a negative impact on the environment. Unnecessary
development leads to many environmental problems such as loss of habitat for local species and brings in harmful pollutants.
Overdevelopment comes in many forms, from plain old sprawl with restaurants and hotels to industrial development in the
form of quarries and mines or plants and factories. Urban sprawl hurts the local ecosystem, no matter how careful the planning is. Sprawl
creates a situation where once homes are built then come with them the malls, outlets, hospitals, freeways, etc. that even further
takes up more habitats. The mentality of always building outward and the idea that bigger is better is not sustainable. We have
only so much habitable land in the world. There are alternatives to the unnecessary
over-development of parking lots, strip malls, hubs, fast food restaurants, etc. We
must first realize the true affects of sprawl to the environment, as well as our health
and even the social consequences; then and only then will there be motivation for
1. Nechyba, Thomas, and Randall Walsh. “Urban
Sprawl.” Journal of Economic Perspectiv 18.4 change, smart change in how we develop our build environments.
(2004): 177-200. Web. 9 Nov 2009.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 84
Portland’s Smart Growth
To offset the problems of urban-sprawl or better yet to replace it entirely
would be to incorporate smart growth into already existing and expanding cities.
Smart growth can offset the suburban mentality of building bigger and larger is “Orenco Town Center”. Image. 10 October 2009.
better. Smart growth can be summarized by mix-used development that promotes N00/3506290228/>
walking, bicycling, and mass transportation, or design for people not cars, but in
reality it’s more complicated. “The smart growth movement are demographic shifts,
a strong environmental ethic, increased fiscal concerns, and more nuanced views of growth...smart growth invests time, attention,
and resources in restoring community and vitality to center cities and older suburbs. New smart growth is more town-centered, is
transit and pedestrian oriented, and has a greater mix of housing, commercial and retail uses” . With the use of new technologies and
green practices including green buildings, we have a substantial chance of offsetting the debilitating practices of our past in terms
of urban-sprawl. We have used inappropriate materials and designs, not taking into account local ecosystems and the surrounding
areas or even whether the design was climate appropriate. Smart growth takes the surrounding areas into account and minimizes the
impact of the structures on the environment. Also transportation as important as it is also incorporated differently into smart growth
designs. Transit-oriented development is a way that incorporates easy access to public transportation, and discourages transportation
by cars. The facilities that are built around our transportation sector are an important factor in establishing a sense of community.
“Increase or decrease peoples sense of community, and have the potential to improve the quality of living and efficiency in an urban
area” . Their have been some instances of cities and even states restricting over-development and promoting smart growth. The state
of Oregon in 1973 enacted an urban growth boundary law that limited development in urban areas, in an effort to limit the sprawl
observed in other cities. The law forced Portland to increase its population density and became one of the cities on the leading edge
of smart growth. As a result, “New population was added at the density of 2,448 per square mile. In the decade after the imposition
of the Boundary, it was added at the density of 3,744 per square mile. That was a
53% increase in density” . The boundary forced developers to build in a way that
included mixed-development in order to maximize the limited space. The housing
2. “About Smart Growth”. Smart Growth Online.
authority of Portland for its efforts in offsetting sprawl was awarded EPA’s 2007 10/16/09. < http://www.smartgrowth.org/
overall excellence in smart growth. Even thought these are considered small steps, 3. Pinderhughes, Raquel. Alternative Urban
Futures. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield,
in the end they will help to influence the public on the benefits of smart growth. 2004
4. “Outcome of ‘Portlands experiment’ still
uncertain”. Sprawl City. 9 Nov. 2009 <http://
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 85
Toxic Building Materials
Building practices in the United States that rely on toxic materials for construction
negatively impact both human and environmental health. Common toxic building practices
“PVC Waste Pile”. Google Images.17 October are characterized by the prevalence of materials such as PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic,
epoxy resins, pressure-treated wood, and composite wood products, such as particle board.
In general, toxins from such materials include endocrine disruptors and carcinogens such
as dioxin and bisphenol A, as well as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Amplifying their
environmental impact in the waste cycle, many of these toxins persist for long periods in the
environment, and also bio-accumulate; that is, their toxicity concentrates as they move up
Floor Coated with Epoxy Resin. 1
December 2009. http://www.liquidstone. 2
com/sites/business_liquidstone/files/ the food chain.
Used for an array of building purposes including flooring, pipes, and wall coverings, PVC
plastic is one of the most damaging materials to human and environmental health; posing “unique and major hazards in its manufacture, product
life, and disposal”. While PVC production releases carcinogens and heavy metals, PVC waste can be even more damaging. Toxins from PVC building
waste leach into ground water and soil, and are then absorbed by multiple organisms including animals and humans. Furthermore, the incineration
of PVC waste emits dioxins, the effects of which include cancer, as well as impacts on immune, endocrine, and reproductive systems. According to
the Center for Health and Environmental Justice, communities living near PVC plants are plagued by both air, and ground water pollution. Individuals
tested near a Louisiana PVC plant were found to have three times the concentration of dioxins compared to the average resident.
PVC is just one example of a building material that affects both human and environmental health. Epoxy resin, which contains bisphenol A, is another
material of concern due to its prevalent use in buildings. Its application includes high-performance coatings such as paints and floor sealers, as well
as adhesives, fillers (caulk, grout mortar and putty), fiberglass binders and cement additives”.
Linked to cancer, bisphenol A has also been found to interfere with hormones controlling
1. Healthy Building Network Website. 3 October 2009.
2. Janssen, Sarah. Health and Environmental Effects of metabolism, development, growth, reproduction, and behavior.
PVC, VOCs and HRFs. Science Fellow, Natural Resources
Defense Council. Retrieved 15 November 2009. Even though PVC and epoxy resins represent only a fraction of the toxic building materials
3. Healthy Building Network Website. 2009. with which humans and the environment currently contend, these materials demonstrate
4. Center for Health, Environment, and Justice. Bad
News Comes in Threes: The Poison Plastic Health the prevalence, and the multiplicity of effects of toxic building practices on human and
Hazards and the Looming Waste Crisis. December 2004.
Retrieved 17 October 2009. www.besafenet.com/pvc/
documents/bad_news_comes_in_threes.pdf environmental health.
5. Janssen, Sarah. 2009.
6.Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
7. Healthy Building Network Website. 2009.
8. Healthy Building Network Website. 2009.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 86
The solution to the problem of toxic building materials requires replacing harmful materials
with ones that are less harmful to human and environmental health. Included in this solution
is a need for assessment of current materials that is accessible and comprehensive, so that Waste Elimination: “Shaw Carpet Closed-Loop
Cycle”. 18 October 2009. Google Images/Shaw
building designers and the public have the information they need to make decisions about Website.
the materials with which they fabricate homes, schools, workplaces, and other parts the built
environment. With this information one can wisely begin replacing toxic building materials.
Applying the principles of Green Engineering is a tangible method for achieving this goal.
Green Engineering provides a “framework for scientists and engineers to engage in when
designing new materials, products, processes, and systems that are benign to human health
and the environment”. Two of Green Engineering’s main principles strive to ensure that
materials are not toxic and furthermore aim to eliminate and detoxify waste.
Shaw Zeftron Nylon 6 Carpet Facing. 18 October
The “Shaw Carpet” provides a case study of the application of Green Engineering to harmful 2009. MBDC Website. www.mbdc.com/c2c/
building materials. Carpet manufacture typically incorporates toxic dyes, face-fiber that
cannot be recycled, and uses PVC for backing material. As a solution to the negative impacts of such materials, Shaw, based in Dalton, Georgia,
designed a chemically benign, recyclable carpet. To achieve this, Shaw first scientifically evaluated every component of its carpet using the McDonough
Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) material assessment protocol, which includes metrics for “human health criteria” such as carcinogenicity and
endocrine disruption, as well as “ecological health criteria” such as bio-accumulation and climatic relevance. In addition to selecting ingredients for
dyes and other inputs that met the environmental health parameters specified by the MBDC assessment, Shaw redesigned the materials for the face
fiber and for the carpet backing. To do this, Shaw replaced the former face fiber (nylon 6-6), which could not be recycled, with a face fiber (Nylon 6),
which can be easily “de-polymerized” and “re-polymerized” into new fiber. In other words,
the carpet face-fiber could be recycled continuously; essentially eliminating what otherwise References
would be waste. To address the toxicity of PVC backing, Shaw designed a polyolefin-based 9. Anastas, Paul; Zimmerman, Julie. Design through
the 12 principles of Green Engineering. 1 March 2003.
Environmental Science and Technology. Retrieved
backing with “all the performance benefits of PVC”, yet proven to be safe throughout its 1 December 2009 from ftp://ftp.nist.gov/pub/mel/
lifecycle, and that furthermore could be recycled into new backing. Through this chemically 10. Anastas, Paul; Zimmerman, Julie. 2003
11.McDonough, W; Braungart, M; Anastas, P;
Zimmerman, Julie. Applying the Principles of
benign, recyclable carpet, Shaw demonstrated how Green Engineering can be applied to the GreenEngineering to Cradle-to-Cradle Design. 1
Environmental Science and Technology. 37(23), p
problem of toxic materials in the built environment. 434A-441A. 1 December 2003. Retrieved 3 October
2009 from ACS Publications. http://0-pubs.acs.org.
12. McDonough. 438. 1 December 2003.
13. McDonough. 438. 1 December 2003.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 87
Sprawling Urban Areas
Sprawl is exactly what it sounds like - the outward growth of a city and its suburbs
into surrounding, undeveloped land. Irresponsible urban sprawl, characterized
Online image. 18 October 2009. <http://www. by single-use zoning and dependence on automobiles, has specifically acted in
jpg/suburbia-full;init:.jpg “facilitating the loss of natural landscapes that sustain us and other life on the planet;
perpetuating our irresponsible patterns of waste and consumption; and witnessing
the continuing decline in the bonds of community and the quality of our living
conditions” . What this means is that the problem is actually two-fold. First, it impedes any form of “community” to manifest itself
since sprawl affords for larger, more private homes and more numerous, more segregated commercial areas that are only accessible
by car and where people are not forced to interact with each other. Second, it is environmentally degrading since sprawl consumes
rural lands. entails higher per-capita infrastructure costs and encourages automobile use which releases dangerous greenhouse gas
emissions into the atmosphere.
Sprawling urban areas not only perpetuate high housing costs and make it practically impossible to move around without
an automobile, but they destroy the notion of “community” wherein residents can make meaningful human relationships with their
neighbors and colleagues. This happens because urban areas are not only large, but are separated into multiple places where people
work, places where they shop or go for entertainment, and places where they live (which are usually low-density single-family homes);
sprawl eliminates a “common area” for people to meet and mingle. The commuting time to these different areas can be unreasonably
high, giving little time to the cultivation of one’s sense of belonging among a community of other diverse people.
Sprawling, low-density urban areas are also taxing on the natural resources of that region causing the extraction, production
and transportation of energy and water to be more troublesome and costly since it has to travel longer distances to serve
residents. According to Futurewise, a Washington based public interest group, sprawling development “destroys more critical
areas and other environmentally sensitive areas than compact development”
because its “dispersed development pattern leads to the degradation of water
quality by increasing runoff volume, altering regular stream flow and watershed
1. The Ecology of Place, Island Press, 1197:1
hydrology, reducing groundwater recharge, and increasing stream sedimentation”.
2. “Compact Urban Development Requirements
& Safe Harbors, Buildable Lands Reports, &
Irresponsible sprawl also necessitates the use of cars to get from one spread-out
Reasonable Measures.” N. pag. Futurewise,
20 July 2005. Web. 18 Oct. 2009. <http://
www.futurewise.org/resources/publications/ place to another, increasing both the consumption of fossil fuels and the emission
Safe%20Harbor.pdf>. of harmful gases.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 88
Smarter Community Design
The solution to irresponsible urban sprawl can be found in concentrating
on smarter community design that could make urban areas “compact and vibrant
and green”. Futurewise points out two important goals of Washington’s Growth Online image. 5 October 2009. <http://www.
Management Act that characterize smart community design; they are to “encourage creek2_small.jpg>
development in urban areas where adequate public facilities and services exist or
can be provided in an efficient manner” and to “reduce the inappropriate conversion
of undeveloped land into sprawling, low-density development”. These goals can be achieved by increasing the density of residential
areas and using mixed zoning to bring the areas where people work, live and play closer together into a cohesive, cooperative
community that avoids the use of automobiles.
One example of smart community design is located in San Francisco, the Mission Creek Senior Community (MCSC), winner
of the EPA’s 2008 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in Equitable Development. MCSC builds community and has less
of an impact on the environment through its repurposing of a former industrial site, incorporation of retail space with residential
spaces, it’s active aging programs, large community hall, affordable housing and its proximity to both public transportation (reducing
auto dependence) and the natural environment of the Mission Creek. The project has “focused on creating affordable housing for
the elderly while promoting sustainability” and was sponsored by Mercy Housing California . By using the types of solutions used by
Mission Creek, urban planners can create “places that have much to offer in the way of social, cultural, and recreational activity, where
the young and the old are not marginalized, and where there is a feeling of community, an active civic life, and a concern for social
3. “Compact Urban Development Requirements
& Safe Harbors, Buildable Lands Reports, &
4. “2008 National Award for Smart Growth
Achievement | Smart Growth | US EPA.” U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 05
Oct. 2009. <http://www.epa.gov/dced/awards/
5. The Ecology of Place.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 89
Poor Indoor Environmental Quality:
A conventional office building is typically organized with rows upon rows of
cubicles in the middle of a large room, lined by a periphery of single occupant
offices with solid doors. Conventional office buildings are usually equipped with a
Online image. 18 October 2009. <http://www. centralized air cooling and heating system, that is remotely controlled. Individuals
jpg/suburbia-full;init:.jpg rarely have the opportunity to control the temperature in their own vicinity. Finally,
such buildings seldom have operable windows or skylights.
In addition to the more obvious issues associated with excessive energy consumption, the above factors contribute to a building which
creates an unpleasant and unproductive work environment. The overhead fluorescent lighting in conventional offices combined with
the artificial light emitted by a computer screen can contribute to eye strain, headache, nausea and neck ache. Automated heating
and cooling systems, without personal ventilation systems can lead to discomfort among employees who each have a personal
temperature comfort level. Furthermore, decreased ventilation in a building encourages circulation of bacteria throughout the entire
building, which increases the chances that more employees will become ill. The terms Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and Building
Related Illness (BRI) are commonly used to describe heath issues “including eye, nose and skin irritation, headache, difficulty breathing,
cough, chest tightness, and aches” that are directly linked to the amount of time a person spends in a building. These symptoms can
be attributed to a variety of factors including poor humidity control which can lead to mold, or old air filters which contributes to an
increase in particulate matter in the air. As the availability of fresh air, and natural light decreases, the likelihood of illness increases.
Additionally, the severely close quarters typical of offices with many cubicles and employees, increases the likelihood of viruses
spreading quickly throughout the building
All of the above conditions, lead to decreased job efficiency, loss of productivity due to absence or illness and increased medical costs
for people who are severely affected by poor building quality.
1. Lighting in the Workplace. International Labor
Organization. November 2009. http://www.ilo.org/
2. U.S. Green Building Council. LEED-EB for existing
Buildings Reference Guide Version 2.0 First Edition.
Pages 325- 460. June 2005
Photo Soure: Cubicle Hell or Office Heaven. January
9th, 2008. October 2009. http://dayjobnuker.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 90
Increase Daylight, Ventilation, and Independently
Controlled Temperature Systems.
The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) advocates a reduction
of SBS and BRI in the Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) section of its LEED
Burtness, Scott. LEED Certification and LEED
certification process. The list of credits required for certification in the IEQ section
Certified Homes. February 20, 2009. October
includes, outside air delivery monitoring, (Credit 2) increased ventilation, (Credit 3) jpg
Tishman Construction Featured Projects: Natural
controllability of systems-lighting and temperature and ventilation, (Credit 6.1-6.2). Resource Defense Council Headquarters,
Santa Monica, CA. October 2009. http://
The IEQ section even has two credits devoted to documenting productivity impacts w w w. t i s h m a n c o n s t r u c t i o n . c o m / i n d e x .
related to absenteeism, healthcare costs, and other factors. The USGBC uses these
credits to encourage architects and building occupants to prevent the negative
effects of closed, poorly lit, poorly ventilated buildings.
The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Southern California regional office, named the Robert Redford Building (RRB),
implemented the three above credits exceptionally. The RRB, located in Santa Monica, was LEED Platinum certified in 2003 and was
one of the first buildings in the United States to do so. The building utilized a mixed mode strategy for increasing indoor air quality by
“incorporating operable windows, skylights, and clerestories to bring fresh air and natural light into the working space.
The RRB’s design ensures occupants will have access to natural ventilation as much as possible as well as eliminate excessive, unnecessary
energy use. “Every office has transoms and operable windows for natural ventilation… In the individual offices, the heating convector,
and air-conditioning, when available, is interlocked with the local window and turns off when the nearest window is opened.”
In addition to creating natural vents, windows increase natural light within the building and allow occupants to connect with the world
outside the building. According to the USGBC “building occupants with access to outside views have an increased sense of well-being,
leading to higher productivity, increased job satisfaction [and] a more appealing work environment” In order to increase daylight
in the center of the RRB the architects installed an atrium and circled most offices around it. Unlike a convention office building with
cubicles, surrounded by offices, “prime locations [in the RRB] are reserved not for
private corner offices, but for [joint spaces like the] library, a roof terrace, conference
rooms, and shared administrative spaces.”
These designs allow all occupants, equal access to the positive benefits associated
with a well ventilated and well lit workplace.
3. National Resouces Defense Council Robert
Redford Building, Case Study. 203. U.S. Green
Building Council, Certified Project List. October
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 91
List of Contributing Authors
Amanda Jamila Bannout Kori Dean James Murphy
Lauren Bell Tina DiSanto Monika Nakadate
Nicole Blais Caitlin Fountain Elisa Oceguera
Victor Bragais Oliver Franco Samuel Patterson
Jordan Brownwood Colin Freidenberger Nick Perry
Lauren Bruce Lauren Halstead Jacquelin Pitre
Lea Burkard Anton Horwath Jeanette Sasek
Nick Bustamante Alexa Hotz Allison Schentrup
Sara Camp Tracy Krause Lauren Scotten
Christopher Carey Melody Lasiter Rebecca Shelton
Jorge Casique Steven Leong Jewel Snavely
Katie Cooke Ashley Malyszka Tawny Snyder
Pat Dalo Heather Menzies Krystal Waite
Produced by Professor Raquel Rivera Pinderhuges and students in the fall 2009
Sustainable Development in Cities course (DUSP 514)
Teacher Assistants: Andy Clark, Gabriella Condie, Cristina Isabel Perdomo
Graphic layout: Cristina Isabel Perdomo