Urban Ecology

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Urban Ecology

48 713 Urban Ecology Course (2015-2016) School of Architecture, Carnegie Mellon University




The Urban Ecology publication is an outcome of the students’ work and research that was realized as part of the Urban Ecology course (48 713) during Fall 2015 and Fall 2016. For more information, please visit the online database here.

The course, along with this publication and course’s online database (link) was funded by a ProSEED / Crosswalk fund by Carnegie Mellon University and the School of Architecture. We would also like to thank the following people for their immaterial support for this course and research work:


Stephen R. Lee, Head of CMU School of Architecture Don Carter, Director Remaking Cities Institute Stefani Danes, Adjunct Faculty, SoA CMU

Eleni Katrini, Adjunct Faculty & course coordinator Raksha Srinivasan, Research Assistant (2016) Lu Zhu, Research Assistant (2017) Chun Zheng, Research Assistant (2017)

Course Guest Lecturers: John E. Fernandez, MIT BT Program Phebe Dudek, MIT Marisa Manheim, Grow Pittsburgh Nizar El Daher, CMU School of Architecture Dana Cupkova, CMU School of Architecture Dr. Nina Baird, CMU School of Architecture Christine Mondor, CMU School of Architecture / EvolveEA Kobi Ruthenberg, MIT Center for Advance Urbanism Brian Wolowich, Millvale Borough Council Dr. Cameron Tonkinwise, CMU School of Design Theodora Anthopoulou, Panteion University Maria Partalidou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Braddock Farms & Grow Pittsburgh Celina Balderas-Guzmán, MIT Center for Advance Urbanism Nikos Hatziargyriou, National Technical University of Athens Center for Sustainable Landscapes, Phipps Conservatory Anthony Fettes, Sasaki Associates / Boston Architectural College

Urban Ecology Students (Fall 2015) Abhishek Bodkay Smriti Chauhan Ashley Cox Marantha (Putu) Dawkins Nicholas Fazio Keertana Lingamaneni Anushree Nallapaneni Abhishikta Pal Andrea Salomon Raksha Srinivasan Yuxuan Chen

(Fall 2016) Ernest Bellamy Tamara Cartwright Yidan Gong Paul Moscoso Riofrio Ankita Patel Chun Zheng Lu Zhu




02 FOOD SYSTEMS 08 Framework 08 Case Studies 12

03 WATER SYSTEMS 20 Framework 20 Case Studies 24

04 WASTE SYSTEMS 32 Framework 32 Case Studies 36

05 ENERGY SYSTEMS 44 Framework 44 Case Studies 48



Urban Ecology Discourse History discourse of urban ecology issues of social nature rather just biological ones.

Urban ecology is the study of the processes, systems and relations between living organisms that take place within an urban environment. As a recent field of study, urban ecology explores cities and studies them as ecosystems at the era of anthropocene. In a time where 54% of the global population lives in urban settlements, it is important to understand how large urban areas work, how humans and societies interact with natural systems and among themselves.

In the 1970’s the perception of finite nature and instability of the supply of fossil resources increased after the economic boom that took place in the US and Europe after World war II. As a result, the field of Urban Ecology received much more attention than before. At that time, the Berlin school of Urban Ecology played a significant role in the advancement of the field, by carrying out mainly ecological site analysis of wasteland that existed in the city after the war. Their focus was again on fauna and flora as in the “line of tradition in natural history” of the 16th century, but now through a lens of human activity and how that superimposes on nature. The main research approach was centered in living organisms and their relation to their habitats, with the humans posing as an external disturbance to those habitats and consumers of natural resources for recreational purposes.

In the 16th century, we can find the first traces of urban ecological research which was mainly based on the observation of nature within then densely growing cities. At that time, the terminology of urban ecology did not exist yet, but the discourse was described as a “line of tradition rooted in natural history”. The focus of the discourse included biological observations of plant species growing spontaneously within the cities, and the main body of specialists working on it consisted by botanists. During the industrial revolution, the sociology branch of the Chicago School had a great influence on the development of the urban ecology field. In the ‘20s Chicago was the perfect example of the many industrialized booming cities that existed both in Europe and the US. Industrial cities were extremely dense, with great issues of water supply deficits and sewage disposal, as well as poor air quality and lighting conditions. Within those dire urban conditions, the school of Chicago investigated the interrelations between the city and society by using a human-ecological and quasi-biological research approach, while incorporating theoretical concepts of animal and plant ecology. For example, they paralleled phenomena of segregation and migration of human populations of different classes within the city with the help of “invasion – succession cycles” theory from natural species science. This approach has been in general criticized completely, but still it infused in the

Along the same period with the Berlin School of Urban Ecology, another approach started and keeps evolving until today, which is called the ecosystem related approach of urban ecology. Even though it has now an international standing, it was mainly influenced by American and German landscape ecology as well as systems theory. Within the ecosystem-related tradition there are two main directions. The first direction is the landscape ecological analysis of urban sectors with the aim of identifying the patterns and processes that underlie the cities. A lot of research has been realized here on the interrelations between urban structures and the urban natural environment. In this direction, also the rural – urban gradient was defined as a tool to study and define different natural patterns of air, water, nutrients, species etc and how they changed going from a natural landscape to a manmade one. The second direction was impacted significantly by three main lines of work: thee work of Eugene and Howard Odum, the work of Lewis Mumford, and finally by the Club of Rome’s publication called ‘Limits to Growth’. ‘Limits to Growth’ included speculative projections and simulations of the

A celestial map from the 17th century, by the Dutch cartographer Frederik de Wit


The pieces of work that influenced the Ecosystem approach of Urban Ecology. From Left to right: Odum, Eugene P. 1971. Fundamentals of ecology. Philadelphia: Saunders. Mumford, Lewis. 1989. The city in history: its origins, its transformations, and its prospects. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace & Co. Meadows, Donella H. 1972. The Limits to growth; a report for the Club of Rome’s project on the predicament of mankind. New York: Universe Books.

impact of exponential economic and population growth within the limitation of finite resources. The publication highlighted emergent environmental issues that we are facing today. Architects and planners were influenced significantly by these pieces of work and started developing the subsequent ecological movements in the design practice. The most important outcome within this strand of Urban Ecology was that the discourse was not anymore only about the bio-ecological processes and organisms as before, but it also took into consideration a cultural – historical approach.

tems demanding adaptability and resilience. Urban ecosystems do not only consist of a set of natural processes and systems necessary for humans and other living organisms to coexist, but they are deeply influenced by a set of non-physical parameters related to cultural, political and economic trends.

Moreover, research in this direction does not focus on studying just organisms within the city, but rather understanding the city in itself as an organism with its own processes and functions as well as with the necessary flows of resources in order to be a sustainable and resilient system. Through this system’s approach the material and energy flows of the city are studied, and cities are characterized as “importers”. Quantitatively the most important fluxes are those of energy, water, food and building materials. Since recycling processes barely exist, warmth, waste water, garbage and waste air are deposited, pass through the urban environmental systems and cause local, regional and environmental problems. The identification and quantification of regional to global material and energy fluxes is of high importance as it has increased the understanding of global interconnectedness of the single city, not only in economic aspects, but also with respect to resource flows and environmental pollution.

Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. 1 edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.


References Alberti, Marina. Advances in Urban Ecology: Integrating Humans and Ecological Processes in Urban Ecosystems. 2008 edition. NY: Springer, 2008.

Calthorpe, Peter. Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change. Washington DC: Island Press, 2011. Farr, Douglas. Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design With Nature. 1 edition. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley, 2007. Hough, Michael. Cities and Natural Process: A Basis for Sustainability. Psychology Press, 2004. Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Penguin, 2015. Meadows, Donella H., Jorgen Randers, and Dennis L. Meadows. Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update. 3 edition. White River Junction, Vt: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004. Mitrasinovic, Miodrag, ed. Concurrent Urbanities. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis Group, 2015. Mostafavi, Mohsen, and Gareth Doherty, eds. Ecological Urbanism. 4th Revised edition edition. Zürich: Lars Muller Publishers, 2015. Mumford, Lewis. The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects by Mumford, Lewis (October 23, 1968) Paperback. Harcourt Brace International, 1703.

Hence, there is a need to shift from the traditional practice of ecology as a study of stability and certainty in natural ecosystems to exploring dynamic, complex urban ecosys-

Weiland, Ulrike, and Matthias Richter. “Urban Ecology–Brief History and Present Challenges.” In Applied Urban Ecology: A Global Framework, 3–9. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 5

Urban Ecology Course Framework Within the framework of this course then, we defined Urban Ecology as the study of urban ecosystems. ‘Urban ecosystems are dynamic ecosystems that have a hybrid of natural and man-made elements whose interactions are affected not only by the natural environment, but also culture, personal behavior, politics, economics and social organization.’ There are three main things around urban ecosystems that urban ecology studies: living organisms, physical environment, and non-physical factors and processes.

gy, the physical environment is perceived as a continuum with different types of environment defining a gradient: from the pristine natural untouched environments to the rural, suburban and urban areas. Lastly, when talking about urban ecosystems there are several non-physical factors that we need to take into consideration. There are processes, systems, and values that affect how an environment develops and how living organisms act within it. Systems of food production, processing, and distribution, water management and treatment, energy production, and waste treatment become an important part of urban ecosystems. Economy and politics also play a critical part on how our cities are created and developed over time, as they constitute part of the institutions on which we are basing our societies. Finally, as humans are a significant part of urban ecosystems, their culture and societal values also influence how they live and interact between them.


The course of Urban Ecology at the School of Architecture, Carnegie Mellon University, supported students in studying the city of Pittsburgh as an interconnected ecosystem. Students investigated potential ways of supporting urban resilience by studying and decentralized systems of food, water, waste and energy, not only from a singular application point of view, but also through understanding their social, cultural, economic and environmental interconnections. More specifically, the course was structured in five main areas:

A representation of an urban ecosystem with each main elements: A. living organisms, B. physical environment, C. non-physical factors and processes

01 | Emerging Framework of Urban Ecology: In the beginning of the course students explored the general context of Urban Ecology and how it has evolved over time. They developed a general understanding of the urban ecosystems’ components and explore emergent ecological symptoms of urbanization. They realized discussions and wrote about material and energy flows in the city in order to uncover how urban systems work and what urban metabolism is.

The first element of urban ecosystem, the living organisms, include humans and human activity as well as animals and vegetation. In the past ecologists did not really consider humans as part of ecosystems, but rather as a disturbance to pristine nature. That division between humans and the rest of the environment created inherent problems in being able to understand the ecosystems in their totality and skewed our perspective towards our encapsulating environment.

02 | Exploration of Systems + Infrastructure: From the general context of urban ecosystems the course moved down to the specific parts and explored the essential systems of large urban areas that support human activity. The students focused on four main areas: a. Food,

The second main part of urban ecosystems is the physical environment. Referring to the physical environment, does not of course mean only the natural elements, but the manmade ones as well. Within the field of Urban Ecolo6

b. Water, c. Waste, d. Energy. The four areas were investigated through a series of readings on global issues and study of localized solutions through specific examples and case studies.

Collins, James, Ann Kinzig, Nancy Grimm, W. F. Fagan, D. Hope, Jianguo Wu, and E. T. Borer. 2000. “A New Urban Ecology.” American Scientist 88 (5): 416–25. Conference, Architectural Research Centers Consortium Spring. 2008. 2007 ARCC Spring Research Conference: Green Challenges in Research, Practice, and Design Education, 16-18 April, 2007, Eugene, Oregon, USA, University of Oregon. Lulu.com.

03 | Systems Integration + Resilience of Urban Ecosystems: After building an understanding of the urban components, students weaved them back together to form and comprehend the greater urban context. Through diverse exercises, they investigated how the different sustainable urban systems studied can be synthesized in a different context. Issues of complexity of urban ecosystems were explored and human and natural systems integration and resilience within the urban context were investigated.

Downton, Paul F. 2009. Ecopolis: Architecture and Cities for a Changing Climate. Future City. Springer Netherlands. https://www.springer.com/ gb/book/9781402084959. Ericksen, Polly J. 2008. “What Is the Vulnerability of a Food System to Global Environmental Change?” Ecology and Society. https://cgspace. cgiar.org/handle/10568/35042. Farr, Douglas. 2007. Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design With Nature. 1 edition. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley. Ferguson, Francesca. 2009. “Renegotiating the Urban Commons.” Uncube Magazine, 2009. http://www.uncubemagazine.com/magazine-20-12467995.html.

04 | Human, Cultural, Political + Economic Factors: Urban ecosystems do not only consist of their physical components, but they are immensely affected and transformed by human, cultural, climate, political and economic processes. Students studied, wrote, and discussed about the correlation between the urban ecosystems and such greater and global trends through different guest lectures and readings.

Gunderson, Lance H. 2001. Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Island Press. Hesterman, Oran B. 2012. Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All. Reprint edition. New York: PublicAffairs. Hough, Michael. 2004. Cities and Natural Process: A Basis for Sustainability. Psychology Press. Klein, Naomi. 2015. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Penguin. Kwinter, Sanford. 2010. “Notes on the Third Ecology.” In Ecological Urbanism, 94 – 109. Boston, US: Harvard University Press.

05 | Practice + The role of Designers: Towards the end of the course, the role of urban designers, planners and architects within such complex urban ecosystems was brought to focus. How has the practice of designers changed to address those emerging trends? How should it change projecting towards the future of our cities? How can practices of sustainability like the ones studied in the first part of the semester be used not as prescriptive methods but as transformative design tools?

Lister, Nina-Marie. 2007. “Placing Food: Toronto’s Edible Landscape.” Food 47 (3): 150. McHarg, Ian L. 1995. Design with Nature. 25th Anniversary edition. New York Chichester Brisbane Toronto Singapore: John Wiley & Sons. Schor, Juliet. 2010. Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth. New York, N.Y: Penguin Press. Todd, Nancy Jack, and John Todd. 1994. From Eco-Cities to Living Machines: Principles of Ecological Design. North Atlantic Books. Tonkinwise, Cameron. 2007. Practicing Sustainability by design: global warming politics in a post-awareness world


Tonkinwise, Cameron. 2010. “Politics Please, We’re Social Designers.” Core77 - Industrial Design Supersite. September 2010. http://www. core77.com/blog/featured_items/politics_please_were_social_designers_by_cameron_tonkinwise__17284.asp.

Bibliography Bateson, Gregory. 2000. Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. 1 edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Waltner-Toews, David, James J. Kay, and Nina-Marie E. Lister. 2008. The Ecosystem Approach: Complexity, Uncertainty, and Managing for Sustainability. Columbia University Press.

Belanger, Pierre. 2016. Landscape as Infrastructure: A Base Primer. Routledge.

Weiland, Ulrike, and Matthias Richter. 2011. “Urban Ecology–Brief History and Present Challenges.” In Applied Urban Ecology: A Global Framework, 3–9. Wiley-Blackwell. https://www.wiley.com/en-gb/Applied+Urban+Ecology:+A+Global+Framework-p-9781444345001.

Braungart, Michael, and William McDonough. 2009. Cradle to Cradle. Remaking the Way We Make Things. First Edition Fifth Printing edition. London: Vintage.

Wilk, Elvia. 2012. “R-Urban; Prototypes for an Urban Ecology.” Uncube Magazine, 2012. http://www.uncubemagazine.com/magazine-20-12467995.html.

Calthorpe, Peter. 2011. Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change. Washington DC: Island Press. 7

Agricultural Practices & the Industrial Revolution only on increased yields, is to push for year-round production of certain crops even when that is not possible. An example of that is the case of tomatoes in the US. Tomatoes in general need hot and dry climates, however most of the tomato production takes place in Florida, which is humid. The reason for that is sales and marketing, rather than appropriate climatic conditions for the plants. Florida stays warm when the rest of the East and Midwest is cold, and it is in close distance to provide them with its produce year-round. However, as Florida is very humid, the soil in the area is devoid of plant nutrients, and tomatoes are also quite vulnerable to fungal growth. Hence, for the tomato production to be successful in Florida year-round, chemical fertilizers as well as pesticides and herbicides are increasingly used. Beyond the environmental impact of producing of fruits and vegetables year-round and not seasonally, there is also a significant social and cultural impact as people are more and more getting disconnected with the food they’re eating and how it is being produced.

In the past, our food system used to be quite simple; we would mostly produce food and distribute it locally for consumption. However, today things have become a lot more complicated, mostly because of population growth, industrialization of agriculture and urbanization. Today our food process is following approximately the following route: from production to processing, distribution, sale, and then consumption. Because of the complexity of this process and its expansion on a global scale, the inherent problems and externalities of the system have increased. But what does it mean to turn our food production system into an industrial one? Industrialization is based on the concept of economies of scale; for any industrial process, the costs of production per unit needs become lower as the number of units produced increases. And as in any other industrial domain so in industrial agriculture, specialization and centralization become an intrinsic part of the process and a natural outcome of economies of scale. Economies of scale and targeting higher yields have led to certain practices in agriculture that are similar more to controlled manufacturing plants rather than living biological organisms. One of the main practices today in agriculture is monoculture; growing the same crop on great areas of land over and over again. As farming machinery have become very specialized based on the crops you are producing, it has become very costly for farmers to expand beyond a single crop, pushing them to monoculture for higher yields.

Finally, one of the latest practices that came out in the market in US back in 1994 in order to produce higher yields are GMOs, or else genetically modified organisms / seeds. GMOs were provided as a technical solution to increasing problems caused by the two aforementioned practices of industrial agriculture; monoculture and disassociation from local climates. In order to make seeds more resistant to hardships, certain seeds are produced with specific changes introduced into their DNA using methods of genetic engineering. GMOs have been highly controversial, because of potential effects on human health, the environment, pesticide resistance, contamination of the conventional food supply and control of food supply from GM companies.

Moreover, continuous monoculture can lead to quicker buildup of pests and diseases, and then rapid spread of a pathogen through fields with uniform crops. That eventually leads to increased use of pesticides, and eventually soil erosion, nutrients loss, and overall soil degradation. Monoculture practices also naturally lead to a separation of the crops and livestock, which creates a break in the natural cycles. When crops and livestock are raised on the same farm, the waste from one part of the system (animals), becomes a valuable resource for the other (fertilizer for plants). By disconnecting the two components of the food system, animal manure becomes a serious source of pollution due to its high concentration in a small area and moreover synthetic fertilizers are used in the food production part instead of nutrients that could be provided by the animal manure. Another negative outcome of focusing 8

The Perils of Industrial Agriculture towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. In urban areas that means that those neighborhoods have no access to a grocery store or healthy food in general within a distance of one mile. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Treating our food production system as an industrial system, making it a centralized and specialized system that is entirely separated from where it is being consumed, meaning our cities, it has led to certain impacts and externalities both on an environmental, but on a social level as well. Firstly, just in the US in 2010 we spent 10.25 quadrilllion Btus of energy just for the production and distribution of our food. This energy is consumed across the whole spectrum of our food system, from production, to processing, distribution, sales and consumption. One third of the energy consumed, is used just in the consumption phase for refrigeration and preparation at home; while another 14% is used in transportation. The energy used in the distribution and consumption part of the food system is way greater than that used for the agricultural production itself.

Learning about food deserts, one can potentially question if the food our industrial centralized system provides is enough to feed everyone. Well, while so many people have low or no access to healthy food, we end up throwing away tons of food every day. In 2010, more than one third of the overall food supply at the retail and consumer level went to the garbage in 2010. Today that number has increased to 40%. And if we consider the energy used to produce this amount of food, one can realize the amount of resources our industrialized food system is actually wasting. Food is mainly wasted across all three sectors of distribution, sales and consumption. And apart from the actual food wasted there are also other types of waste produced within the food production industry, such as packaging, wastewater, and chemicals.

So why do we spend so much in distribution? In the United States, the average distance that a food product travels from its point of production to a dinner plate is 1500 miles; that is equal to the distance between Denver and Philly. We produce food far away from the cities, disconnecting the actual demand from the supply. This disconnection leads to declining food quality, as fruits and vegetables are losing significantly their nutritious value after some days from harvest. Moreover, as the food industry has started paying more attention to the ability of the food to maintain its shape, integrity and appearance throughout the long travels, it has started paying less and less attention to its nutritious value. And it is not only energy we consume during food production, but we use significant amounts of water. About 40-50% of or freshwater use in the US is used for agriculture, irrigation and livestock combined. In states like California that are based on the agriculture industry, that percentage can increase up to 77% of their total fresh water use.

Finally, our food systems have become disproportional; only 2% of the population in the US is in the food production stage of the agricultural industry. That means that 2% of the population is feeding the rest 98%, which means that the pressure for productivity, high yields and a profitable business is even more. Demand for enormous labor forces in large farms along with need to cut down on costs, often enough leads to exploitation of immigrant workers or undocumented residents. Farm workers are some of the poorest paid and most exploited workers within the US economy. They earn on average US$10,000 a year and are excluded from many of the fundamental labor rights guaranteed to most other US workers, including the right to organize and the right to overtime pay. They often work without medical benefits or disability insurance and they are offered housing which is marginal at best. The majority of people affected are migrant workers from Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti, with increasing rural poverty and political unrest driving their migration.

Despite its environmental externalities, one could argue that industrial agriculture is a necessary system to deal with or population growth and a global market. Mass food production could be a way to make ensure that everyone has access to food. Of course, we know that’s not true. Even if we avoid looking at food accessibility on a global scale to limit complexity, just in the US, 23 million people live in food deserts, more than half of which are low-icncome. Food deserts are urban neighborhoods and rural 9

Thoughts on Global Food System -- by Abishek Bodkay

Global Food Parity and the Death of the SUPERmarket -- by Ernest Bellamy

The problems in our global food system have their origin in the expansion of corporate capitalism as it is designed to sustain corporate profits more than meeting people’s needs. Food is considered food a commodity and not as a resource for everyday human life. Progress and success are determined by sales targets rather than quality and people’s well-being. It is a business model stuck that supports larger corporations, which seek to expand, withhold products, manipulate exchanges, and dominate over local businesses wishing to supply healthy quality products. This model has led in certain cases to food quality degradation and questionable processing methods. We need to realize that something’s wrong in our food systems, when a bottle of soda is cheaper to purchase than a bottle of water.

Backyard, Local, Regional, National, International. These five distinct differentiations in the ways we receive food heavily favor commercialization and acertain myth that keeps reoccurring within our readings of Urban Ecology. That myth is regarding the mindset of an endless supply of resources as well as the thought that problematic trends aren’t something that should be dealt with expediency. Through a rising global population and industry’s focus on meeting this rising demand by maximizing the opportunity for future profits (via Free-trade agreements, low wage labors, etc.), we are tittering dangerously on the premise of having a vicious cycle of higher and higher mechanization of agriculture. This agriculture mechanization is realizws in the pursuit of profits, blindly forgetting about the fringe costs of building such a powerhouse of agro-industry.

Our lifestyle has changed drastically, especially in cities. We hardly think about what we consume daily, and rarely do we consider the origins and the process of our food system. There is complete disconnection between people and these production and processing methods, which we don’t bother to look into. Nowadays, we pick up food from the super market, not for taste or nutrition value, but for how convenient and less time consuming it is to prepare.

Have you ever noticed that in the American Supermarket seasonal fruits and vegetable items are now available year round and for a price point that only fluctuates in the range of $2? These items come from as close as a local and regional farms during the late summer/early fall, National Argo Powerhouse National producers (Florida, California) during the spring, and other global locales during winter. All this takes place to sustain the image of the full stock house of goods that we have become accustomed to seeing whenever we visit our local Supermarket. Similar traits are arising in Seafood and Meat Sectors. A hard focus towards regionalizing our production methods and diversifying the number of producers could help curb this trend. In the same way that the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has Antitrust Rules in place to safeguard against monopoly from occurring in our banking and commerce sector, agencies like the FDA should enact similar rules for Agriculture producers. Regional Argo systems should be in place to deliver regionally sourced foods to consumers and a re-education of the population on growing their own local sources of food could all help alleviate the stresses population growth is having on the sustainability of farming methods.

And of course, there is the global issue regarding supply meeting global demand. There is no way that the agriculture sector can meet our global demand in a centralized manner without using artificial means, fertilizers and chemicals to enhance faster growth of crops and extract every bit of productive potential out of the land. This leads to a chain of problems including soil erosion, chemically enhanced products, poor waste management, and health issues for consumers. Meeting demands of this ever-increasing population growth seems to be getting tougher by the day. The quality of vast scale processing of food products will only get worse with the rise of population. Not to mention this entire model works on high transportation costs, which leads to increasing carbon emissions and global warming. The solution seems to have less to do with methods and process, but mentality itself. Applying concepts based on a resource-based economy to our global food system is the only way. Just growing your own tomatoes on your terrace garden or buying milk from local produces will not help. These are just inclusionary ad hoc measures we might practice from time to time, giving us a sense of contribution; but it will not help in the long run. Like for every global interconnected ecological issue, solutions can only come from transforming the world’s economic model.

Lastly, a return to patience would do us all well, having items not be available due to the fact they aren’t in season, or that they aren’t being harvested. This already happens for a few specialty foods, or items of limited quantity. In limiting the months and/or seasons items are available, we’d be helping in aiding in the replenishment of over sourced items, giving the necessary time to natural processes, thus lessening the need for hormone and antibiotic injections which are becoming the norm for these industries to survive our increased demands for them. 10

is decentralized food production an option? Agriculture in an urban environment is not cutting down economic development. On the contrary it provides new and different sources of development. It could take place in abandoned and undeveloped plots in the city, or even in land that is unsuited for building construction. The possibilities are endless; industrial and commercial rooftops, residential and commercial facades and so on. It creates job opportunities, for several people with different backgrounds. In many cases, urban farmers are not immigrants from rural areas that come to the city, but also city residents, who have been living in an urban context for more than 10 years(FAO, 2007). Most of them also have other part time or full time jobs. Urban agriculture sometimes needs high technology and precision compared to the rural one, just because it is done under more difficult conditions, has to be more tolerant to environmental stress, has to be directly connected to market demand and behavior and also monitored for pollutants in order to protect public health. In the following section, examples of urban agriculture, as manifestations of decentralized food systems are being presented.

food production system

whole-building system

city scale 11

roof system

SKYGREENS Vertical Hydroponic System


Singapore, Asia



Type of System

Vertical Geoponic


182.5 tons/year


Tropical Humid


7.96 acres


60 sq. ft per unit [ 5’ x 12’] 3/6/9 m frame height

Growing Season

Year round


Xiao Bai Cai,Naibai, Cai Xin,Chinese Cabbage, Mao Bai,Lettuce,Bayam, Kang Kong, Spinach


+ Large greens production + Minimum use of water + Minimum use of land / space + Close-loop system + Increased access to fresh food + Job creation + Educational programs


Public private partership that aims to minimise food import



Image Sources: https://zainalandzainal.com/skygreens-pictet https://nigeldickinson.photoshelter.com/image/I0000DW9AjTYMjmg https://i.pinimg.com/originals/6a/b6/ae/6ab6aec69b5ff6aea3f59cf47bcf0d92.jpg http://www.permaculturenews.org/images/Vertical_Farming_2_ skygreens_vertical_farm.jpg 12

Axonometric Plan

0 13



The Story


National Trade Union Congress


Sky Greens is world’s first low carbon, hydraulic driven vertical farm- using green urban solutions to achieve production of safe, fresh and delicious vegetables, using minimal land, water, chemical and energy resources. It was a response to the glaring land scarcity for farming in Singapore in order to make the country more food independant through innovative solutions like this- ‘A-go-gro’. The vegetables are harvested every day and delivered almost immediately to retail outlets and consumers. This initiative is a public- private partnership between the developer of this system and the Government of Singapore.

Stakeholders Map funding

Agri food & Veterinary Authority

SKYGREENS Temasek polytechnic Ministry of National Development, Singapore


System Description

The system consists of 120 towers located in Kranji, an agro-park, 14 miles from Singapore’s central business district spread over 350,000 sq. ft. The frames are housed in protected outdoor greenhouses (PVC and net walls), which allow for ‘weather proof ’ production all year round. The modular A-frames, made of Aluminum, are quick to install and easy to maintain. The troughs that run the length of the frames are designed accommodate a growing variety of soils. Rotation technique ensures uniform distribution of sunlight, good air flow and irrigation for all the plants. The series of vertical A-frames stand 3, 6 and 9 meters high, about which 22-26 tiers of growing troughs rotate at 1mm/second. Water from an overhead reservoir is used both for watering the plants as well as rotating the pulley. The rotating pulley allows all the plants to get an even distribution of sunlight and water. The water is then pumped back into the reservoir where is can be recycled into the system. In total, the 120 towers yield approximately 0.5 tons of fresh vegetables everyday.



The system is quite water-efficient; it uses only one liter of water per cycle (16 hours/cycle). Apart from water the only other requirement for the system is electricity. The system only needs the equivalent one 60-Watt light bulb ($3 a month/unit) though, as the pulley system also uses the force of gravity of the rainwater for the rotation. 2 14




Chicago, USA



Type of System

Roof Top Geoponic System and Micro Green House


1,000 lbs/year


Humid Continental Climate


8,160 sq.ft. roof area/5,800 sq.ft. cultivated area

Single Unit (Area) 50’x5’ (18”-24” in depth) Growing Season

Year round


Fall mesclun mix, green mix, herbs


+ Diversifies the offer of local food products + Increases access to fresh food + Community engagement + Education programs


+ Supportive city zoning for community garden + Public and private partnership



Image Sources: http://www.healinglandscapes.org/blog/2011/08/this-year-atgreenbuild-the-human-connection-landscapes-that-promote-healthand-well-being/hoerrschaudt/ https://www.stridesforpeace.org/community-partners/gary-comer-youth-center/ https://www.hoerrschaudt.com/project/gary-comer-youth-center/ http://www.rudybruneraward.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/ DOWN 16

micro greenhouse

Axonometric Plan growing medium filter fabric drainage storage layer insulation waterproof membrane protection board roof deck

0 17




The Story

Stakeholders Map

The Gary Comer Youth Center Roof Garden is an after-school learning space for youth and seniors in a neighborhood with little access to safe outdoor environments. Sleek and graphic, it turns the typical working vegetable garden into a place of beauty and respite. According to Frazer’s “Paving Paradise”, roofs cover up to more than 30% of cities and built-up areas. Gary Comer Youth Center farm as a rooftop farm, which is a good example on reinventing the underutilized urban areas. Besides the food production and environmental benefits it provides, the farm is really outstanding for the educational function of urban agriculture/outdoor farming for the community.

System Description

Gary Comer rooftop garden is a geoponic urban agriculture system, the garden includes seasonal planting to provide quality food for building consumers and also micro green house system to provide year round food production. The rooftop garden integrates irrigation water circulation system in the garden, the system includes planting bed surface irrigation pipes and underneath water draining system, which collects extra water from the planter bed and prevent rooftop water overflow during rain events. Besides production function, the garden roof also help lower energy consumption of the building. One of the best part of the rooftop garden is the giant skylight wells that allow natural light shone down into the building, helping to establish a physical and mental connection down below at the cafeteria to the outside world. The whole rooftop garden system requires many components, inlcuding an integrated irrigation system, positive drainage, a long-term, lightweight planting medium. As garden will be installed on roofs of the structures, the garden should protect the integrity of the roof and structural components under the garden, and a waterproofing system should be installed to protect the roof structure. Besides protecting its supporting structure, rooftop garden system should also contain planting media with sufficient mineral content to stabilize the plantings and maintain soil mass. 18


Hydrological Cycle & Urbanization The natural water cycle consists of six main parts: groundwater baseflow, evaporation, transpiration, precipitation, infiltration and runoff. The groundwater baseflow is the flow of water that is in the ground soil. When water turns from liquid form in the surface of the ground to vapor in the air, this happens either through the evaporation from main water bodies or through transpiration processes of the plants. Precipitation is any product of condensation of atmospheric water that returns back to the surface of the earth under gravity; that can be rain, hail, snow etc. When the water moves from the ground surface in the soil, we have infiltration, and when it moves deeper in the aquifer, we have percolation. Finally, any water that is not infiltrated, it becomes runoff on the ground surface, and returns to main water bodies.

the wastewater volume in a combined sewer system can exceed the capacity of the sewer system or treatment plant. For this reason, combined sewer systems are designed to overflow occasionally and discharge excess wastewater directly to nearby streams, rivers, or other water bodies. These overflows, called combined sewer overflows (CSOs), contain not only stormwater but also untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials, and debris. They are one of the major water pollution concerns for the approximately 772 cities in the U.S. that have combined sewer systems. Combined Sewage overflows or other kinds of pollutants discharge from plants and industrial facilities are what we call Point sources of water pollution. However, there are also other sources of water pollution, which are called nonpoint sources. Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution, unlike pollution from industrial and sewage treatment plants, comes from many diffuse sources. NPS pollution is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground; as the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters. These natural and man-made pollutants can vary from sediments, to auto emissions, oils, as well as pesticides, pharmaceuticals, toxics etc. Hence, it is not only the hydrological cycle that is interrupted and altered in our urban environments, but also through that cycle, water quality is deteriorating across all our water bodies.

In natural environments, usually about 40% of the precipitation is evaporated back to the atmosphere, 25% is infiltrated, and 25% is percolated deeper in the aquifer, leaving only 10% of the water to become runoff. However, in our cities the increase of impermeable surfaces and lack of porosity, combined with the lack of vegetation completely change the trajectory of the water. In cities only 30% of the precipitation is evaporated, 10% infiltrated, and 5% percolates, leaving more than have of the precipitation (55%) to become runoff. Stormwater runoff is not absorbed into the ground and can rapidly accumulate leading to flooding events. Catastrophic flooding events globally increased to 400 in 2010 compared to almost 100 in 1980s. In the US, flood fatalities reached 113 in 2011, with a cost of more than 9 billion dollars to the country.

The reason why the quality of our water sources is of high importance, is because fresh potable water resources are very limited. From the world’s total water supply of about 333 million cubic miles, over 96% is saline. And, of the total freshwater, over 68% is locked up in ice and glaciers and another 30% is in the ground. Thus, rivers and lakes that supply surface water for human uses only constitute only about 0.007% of our total water body, yet rivers are the source of most of the water people use. But how much water do we actually use and how?

Beyond the mere increase in runoff water, the way we build our cities also has other significant impacts to the hydrological cycle. Firstly, the increase in impervious areas leads to the increase of runoff speed; that means that runoff water reaches our water-treatment facilities faster than they are able to treat the water. In cities where there is a combined sewer system, the problems then extend to the quality of the water as well. Combined sewer systems are sewers that are designed to collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater in the same pipe. Most of the time, combined sewer systems transport all their wastewater to a sewage treatment plant, where it is treated and then discharged to a water body. However, during periods of heavy rainfall or snowmelt,

The average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day at home. Roughly 70% of this use occurs indoors, and a third of that amount is used for toilet flushing; a use that does not need potable water in the first place. Another 22% is used generally for wash20

ing clothes. Apart from the residential sector there are other sectors with immense water use, such as hospitals, schools, office buildings, and hospitality. In most of these sectors, the main water use is again in restrooms and irrigation, as well as heating and cooling of buildings. So, what can we do to preserve our water resources? Based on the stage of the urban water cycle, there are different types of water and hence different types of water management and treatment.

duce, reuse, recycle� is highly applicable here, as not only we manage to reduce the water we use, but also minimize the amount of energy we are using to do treat it. It takes a considerable amount of energy to treat and deliver water throughout our cities. For example, letting a faucet run for five minutes uses about as much energy as letting a 60-watt light bulb run for 14 hours. Moreover, the idea of reusing and recycling water (i.e. treating it) can differ significantly depending on the type of water. Blackwater necessitates a full industrial treatment process, but grey and stormwater can be treated in more natural and less industrial manners.

Depending on their level of pollution, there are three main types of water that demand different levels of water management and treatment; stormwater, greywater, and blackwater. Stormwater runoff is generated when precipitation from rain and snowmelt events flows over land or impervious surfaces and does not percolate into the ground. As the runoff flows over the land or impervious surfaces (paved streets, parking lots, and building rooftops), it accumulates debris, chemicals, sediment or other pollutants that could adversely affect water quality if the runoff is discharged untreated. Greywater is all wastewater generated in households or office buildings from all apart from the wastewater from toilets. Sources of greywater include, e.g. sinks, showers, baths, clothes washing machines or dish washers. As greywater contains fewer pathogens than domestic wastewater, it is generally safer to handle and easier to treat and reuse onsite for toilet flushing, landscape or crop irrigation, and other non-potable uses. However, the use of non-toxic and low-sodium soap and personal care products is recommended to protect vegetation when reusing greywater for irrigation purposes. Finally, blackwater is considered the wastewater from urinals and toilets. Blackwater needs more treatment than stormwater and greywater in order to be reused. The typical blackwater treatment has four phases of contaminants removal; preliminary, secondary (that might be broken to aeration, biological treatment and filtration) and tertiary. Based on the level of treatment, blackwater can have different reuses.

Stormwater management includes everything from flood control, which means minimizing the amount of rainwater that turns into runoff, to reducing erosion and improving the water quality before it is discharged to the watersheds. There are a lot of terms used in the industry for the different kinds of stormwater management, like BMPs, Green Infrastructure and LID (Low Impact Development). There is certain overlapping between all these terms, but here we will use the term BMP that includes green infrastructure in it as a subcategory. Within BMPs there are larger structural systems, and non-structural systems. Structural are larger systems that usually cover larger areas and can be used higher upstream given there is space availability in order to manage / hold some of the water. Non-Structural BMP deployment is not a singular, prescriptive design standard but a combination of practices that encourages treatment, harvesting, infiltration, evaporation, and transpiration of precipitation close to where it falls while helping to maintain a more natural and functional landscape. For stormwater, when kept separate from grey and blackwater cycle, there are numerous ways of treating, harvesting, and infiltrating it that compliment the natural hydrological cycle. With wastewater (i.e. grey and black), of course the options are more limited. There are two successful decentralized systems used to treat wastewater locally; the membrane bio-reactor and the Living Machine. Even though the former is more compact and scalable to future capacity, the latter is more cost-effective and a beautiful visual amenity as it treats water mainly through natural processes and with the use of plants.

Water Management Best Practices Understanding how the hydrological cycle works, and how it is modified through population growth and urbanization helps frame how we can intervene to manage water better than we are currently. The typical idea of “re21

Water Management

feed in our designs. While information does not give singular solutions, it helps us formulate a design framework and raises awareness. Given the advancement of technology today, and the deterioration of ecological systems, it would be wise to realize that the two are not isolated, and information from technology is essential for driving changes in the environment that is critical in shaping a better future for cities across the world.

-- by Ashley Cox

Water is integral to our life, and it is quotidian knowledge that most civilizations, and cities that followed them, developed on the edges of water bodies. As the cities continue to grow with the jungle of concrete created and assessing the flow of water through them, it is observed that urbanization tends to increase the velocity of the run-off water. This in turn affects river edges and depletes the riparian ecosystems, whose contiguity is key to creating sustainable closed loop biodiversity. Understanding the value of water and looking at solutions to better control it in cities on a daily basis, there are several solutions on various scales that could be incorporated into our streetscape. These solutions should be made a fundamental philosophy of urban design. Beginning with materials, the ‘green infrastructure’ systems that can be employed are porous ones, such as asphalt and concrete, which allow for water to infiltrate. Slightly larger systems such as bioswales, rain gardens and vegetated filter strips, not only control the flow of water but also add ecological and aesthetic value, through their vegetation. Instead of creating simple streets and alleys, fountains and other artificial water features, urban design should ideally look at creating green channels and focus on reconstructing the fragile riparian buffer, increasing the ecological value and thereby creating continuous sustainable landscapes. Managing stormwater in a conscious manner has other benefits apart from just environmental ones. It engages the public through visual integration and recreational interaction, and also generates awareness about such an intrinsic system. Small changes initiated can create a larger impact across watersheds and flood plains, remediating sites and even potentially mitigating natural disasters. Adding water as a distinct element in our daily life affords a better ambiance of living while simultaneously helping increase market value and investment. It is apparent that water does have a multitude of benefits, and if we channel it through our human landscapes in the right way, it can benefit our cities across various domains.

Pittsburgh’s Green First -- by Tamara Ariel

Pittsburgh, always with a timely manner, has been preparing their ‘Green First’ Stormwater Management Plan. Originally, Pittsburgh had a ‘Grey first’ plan, which focused more on implementing stormwater pipes throughout the city. The ‘Green First’ approach will focus on planting more trees and restoring the natural water cycle. Overall it will work to make Pittsburgh a greener city, not only helping manage stormwater, but also beautifying the city, and purifying the air.

“(A green first approach) allows us to leverage development in neighborhoods that have been disinvested to seed further investments,” he said. “It improves air quality and heat indexes in the city when you have more green infrastructure, and just enhances the overall quality of life in the city while solving a major stormwater problem.”[1]

Finally, we need to focus on integrating design and technology. It is important to understand that nature is a great inspiration for design, and the ongoing dichotomy between nature as pure versus manmade systems as dirty ceases to be valid. Defining technology is critical, as it is inherently human and natural and is currently disconnected to other natural processes. The stormwater infrastructure discussed above, for example, is a beautiful integration of technology with natural systems. In this case, information is key in shaping data analyses that will

This shift is just what Pittsburgh needs following one of the worst floods the city has ever experienced. In fact, Pittsburgh can become a precedent for many cities. A Green First approach combats some of our global concerns head on and provides a new way of thinking of development. Maybe now we can start to shift the headlines not only in Pittsburgh’s newspaper but globally as many cities seem to be facing similar issues. 22

can green infrastructure help distribute the load on centralized water treatment? Introducing points of infiltration within the urban context, such as bioswales in parking lots, stormwater planters, or other green infrastructures can reduce the amount of runoff water ending up at the central sewer system. Treating wastewater locally can also help minimize the water ending up in central treatment plants. Hence, those practices minimize the frequency of the overflowing events and the eventual contamination of the watersheds leading to cleaner water. Moreover, as the water gets infiltrated; it recharges the aquifers enhancing the water supplies. Green infrastructure and water infiltration practices provide pollutant removal leading to higher levels of water quality. It is really common for stormwater management and treatment systems to include trees and vegetation that treat the water and release it back to the atmosphere. Hence, the implementation of vegetation can lead to cleaner air, reduced air temperatures and mitigations of the urban heat island. In the following section, green infrastructure and decentralized wastewater treatment is discussed as manifestations of decentralized water systems. stormwater management system

neighborhood scale 23

whole-building system

ground system


Neighborhood Retrofit Demonstration Project of infiltration trenches


Sun Valley, Los Angeles, USA



Type of System

Bioswale, Infiltration Trench

Annual Rainfall

14.93 inches


Tropical Humid


4 acres to capture runoff across 40 acres


+ Bioswale + Raingarden


$1,000,000- $5,000,000


Captures 2-year storm run-off, 865,000 gallons


+ Stormwater filtration that prevents flooding + Native planting adds to the microclimate and require less management + Visual demonstration of the importance of stormwater management.



Image Sources: http://landscapeperformance.org/case-study-briefs/elmer-avenue-neighborhood-retrofit http://www.capradio.org/articles/2015/06/23/stormwater-capture-californias-untapped-supply/ https://ahbelab.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/elmerave.jpg?w=922&h=612


Axonometric Plan

0 25



The Story

The Elmer Avenue Neighborhood Retrofit Demonstration Project is a part of the Los Angeles Basin Water Augmentation Study and supported by multiple partners and is intended to improve local water supply and water quality. The project is unique in the region because it addresses storm water runoff at its source with seamless integration of private property and public right-of-way improvements. This integration was also the result of engaging the homeowners as critical partners throughout the project.

Stakeholders Map City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services



Landscape Designers

System Description

Infiltration trenches There are 2 infiltration trenches installed on Elmer Avenue; the north gallery is 250 ft long and south gallery is 100 ft long. The storm water flowing to Elmer Avenue (run-on) from the 40- acre neighborhood to the north now enters catch basins that convey water into two infiltration galleries underneath the street. The bottomless catch basins allow particulates to settle out of the water before it enters the infiltration galleries. The two basins work in series, with water filling one before entering the next, which must also then fill before flow is conveyed to the gallery. The catch basins have no concrete bottoms, so some infiltration occurs there as well. The infiltration galleries below the street each consist of two 18-inch-diameter perforated pipes in a gravel bed five feet deep. The infiltration trenches manage 87% of the storm water which is about 750,000 gallons. Bioswales The bioswales guide the side walk and help infiltrate the water running down from the houses through driveways and overflow from rain gardens. Modified curbs and gutters direct runoff to 24 bioswales that collectively are capable of capturing and treating 115,000 gallons of runoff and add 1,728 sf of planted areas to the neighborhood. The bioswales provide an important visual demonstration of stormwater capture in an arid environment.


Los Angeles & San Gabriel Watershed Control


PORT OF PORTLAND Living Machine; natural wastewater treatment


Portland, Oregon, USA



Type of System

Living machine

Annual Rainfall

42.4 inches




200,000 sf/ 4.59 acres


+ Waste Water + Purification Plants


5,000 Gallons/Day


+ Minimization of wastewater ending to the central wastewater treatment plant + Site beautification + Employees education + Microclimate adjustment



Image Sources: https://www.puttman.com/portfolio/port-of-portland-living-machine/ https://www.buildinggreen.com/blog/5-reasons-consider-onsite-wastewater-treatment-your-next-project http://www.livingmachines.com/Portfolio/Municipal-Government/Port-of-Portland-Headquarters,-Portland,-OR.aspx


Toilet Flushing

Purified Water Grey Water

Reuse Tank

Control Panel Settling Tank

Exterior Tidal Flow Cells

Cartridge Filter UV Disinfection Chlorine Tablet Feeder

Indoor Tidal Flow Cells Vertical Flow Cells

Purified Water Reuse Tank Polishing+Disnfection Equipment


Axonometric Control Panel





Apron TFW

Port of Portland Headquarters Lobby


lls W


Portland Airport

Port of Portland Headquarters Living Machine








The Story

The Headquarter Building of Port of Portland is united by two main offices (one previously located in downtown Portland and the other near the airport) at the site of the airport. Since the company was seeking for a more sustainable system, the Architectural firm ZGF did a lot of interviews to help design and meet the green standard. Portland puts a high priority on sustainability. Large institutions have to address issues of global warming in their designs. As a result, the Port of Portland Headquarter has set its standards to “Gold or Better�.

Stakeholders Map Reed/Mayer Landscape Architect

Hoffman Construction Company

Blackwater and greywater is recycled in three steps. First, wastewater goes through primary settling tank to get large solids out; second, semi-purified flows through the Living machine which are composed of six tidal flow wetlands and four vertical flow wetlands that purify water and get rid of organic pollutants; finally, polished water is disinfected by UV light and chlorine tablet feeder. After the three recycling procedures, wastewater can be reused for toilet flushing. The processing installation utilizes space inside and outside the building efficiently, four tidal flow wetlands at the corner of the lobby of the Headquarter and six wetlands outside the building. Living Machine is the key part of the whole system. Wastewater is processed in two procedure during the Living Machine. First, six tidal flow cells(wetlands) serve as biofilms to remove of pollutants by oxidization of organic material and butrogenous compounds. Then the four vertical flow cells outside polish cells to remove the remaining organic material. Living Machine treats wastewater ready for disinfection and reuse.


The living machine system needs a series of specific plants in order to operate. In the exterior, no flowering plants should be used, so that no birds are attracted. The plants used are: Juncus effusus, Soft Rush Acorus gramineus, Japanese Sweet Flag. In the interior, plants should have little demand for sunlight to fit with the low light conditions in the office. Specifc plants used are: spathiphyllum cochlearispathum, Peace lily Colocasia esculenta, Taro Strelitzia reginae, Bird of Paradise Aspidistra elatior, Cast Iron Plant 30

Port of Portland Staff


ZGF Architects

System Description

Port of Portland

iWater Services

Aqua Nova Engineering


Economies of Waste As the world hurtles toward its urban future, the amount of municipal solid waste (MSW), one of the most important by-products of an urban lifestyle, is growing even faster than the rate of urbanization. Ten years ago, there were 2.9 billion urban residents who generated about 1.5 pounds of MSW per person per day (0.68 billion tonnes per year). In 2016, it is estimated that these amounts have increased to about 3 billion residents generating 2.6 pounds per person per day (1.3 billion tonnes per year). By 2025 this will likely increase to 4.3 billion urban residents generating about 3.1 pounds/capita/day of municipal solid waste (2.2 billion tonnes per year). Municipal solid waste (MSW), commonly known as trash or garbage is a waste type consisting of everyday items that are discarded by the public, from organic waste to tech.

of its waste stream typically becomes more varied and complex. Middle- and lower-income countries with a with a gross national income per capita of less than US$12,196, have an overall high proportion of organic-rich MSW (almost half or more). In the high-income countries on the other hand, their MSW streams contain large proportions of plastics and paper, while only one third is organic waste. That is in part related to the consumer-based economic lifestyle as mentioned above, but also our economies are built in ways to support that consumer-based lifestyle; aiming for continuous economic growth, avoiding repair and care of products, as well as built-in environmental externalities are all contributing to waste overaccumulation. For example, “built-in obsolescence” is a consumer marketing strategy, particularly with technology companies; the shorter the lifespan of a product, the quicker consumers will replenish. Consumers theoretically forgive or forget obsolescence because of the wonder of the newest thing. But apart from that, our products are also naturally becoming obsolete as technology advances. And the main problem is that our manufacturing processes at large are not taking into consideration the lifecycle of the materials and their potential to be reused or recycled. As soon as primary material resources are used, they’re thrown away. And we do it not just with technology, but with pretty much everything.

The largest amount of global garbage is produced mostly in the western world; OECD countries make almost half the world’s trash. East Asia and the Pacific region (EAP) contribute another fifth. Africa and South Asia produce the least waste. The exploitation of the earth’s resources continues apace; material use increased eight-fold in the last century. According to the Wuppertal Institute, an average European consumes about 50 tonnes of resources a year, around three times the amount consumed per capita by emerging economies. Furthermore, on average, Europeans dispose twice as much as citizens from emerging economies. Per-capita resource use in emerging economies is also increasing considerably while the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDC) are now beginning the transition towards an industrial type of societal metabolism, as incomes rise and purchasing power is deployed in consumer spending.

One of the reasons why, in Western higher-income, consumer-based lifestyles, more waste is produced, is because people are quite distant from the reality of what happens when waste leaves their house. There is little interaction with or knowledge of how much waste we are producing, how it is managed, and where it travels to. A quite revealing project towards that end, by Gregg Segal, an American photographer, documented people and families with their immense amount of a week’s trash. Specifically, in the US, since the mid-1950s – the whole economy was built on the premise of a disposable lifestyle, as convenience was sold to prosperous post-world-war II consumers. Moreover, the convenience and efficiency with which we are producing stuff leads us to waste it more, based on Jevons’ paradox. Hence since the 1960’s, the volume of garbage produced in the US, has increased more than 50% leading to a production of 254 million tons of garbage each year. So what do we do with all that waste?

As countries develop and become wealthier, they start producing more and more waste. There is a positive correlation between a country’s Gross Domestic Product per capita and its per capita Municipal Solid Waste. Even though this graph is a little bit old, and it is not representative of the rankings of GDP and waste today, the correlation is the same. The World Bank report doesn’t mince words fingering the problem: “Solid waste is the most visible and pernicious by-product of a resource-intensive, consumer-based economic lifestyle.” And not only as a country develops and becomes wealthier, the amount of waste increases, but also the composition 32

Waste Management Absurdities There are four main routes for global waste after it leaves our households; recycling, composting, combustion, with most of the garbage ending up in landfills. In the US, 54% of the garbage ends up in landfills and 12% is incinerated. The key environmental problem of landfills is groundwater pollution from leachates, the liquid that drains or ‘leaches’ from a landfill. Protective barriers although placed to protect human beings from toxins, due to natural deterioration they only delay the inevitable. When a new municipal landfill is proposed, advocates of the project always emphasize that “no hazardous wastes will enter the landfill”. However, several studies have shown that even though municipal landfills may not legally receive “hazardous” wastes, the leachate they produce is as dangerous as leachate from hazardous waste landfills. Landfills create a clear and obvious threat to human health as well as a threat to our environment from the hazardous contaminated emissions in the atmosphere from the landfill biodegradation. There are over ten toxic gases released from landfills, of the most serious of which is methane. Methane gas is naturally produced during the process of decay of organic matter. As methane gas is formed, it builds up pressure and then begins to move through the soil. In a recent study of 288 landfills, off-site migration of gases, including methane, has been detected at 83% of these landfill sites. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Moreover, landfill gases combined with the large amount of landfill waste can easily ignite a fire, with methane being the most combustible one. Fires can be difficult to put out and contribute to the pollution of both air and water, while they can potentially destroy nearby habitats. Research has demonstrated that burning of waste at landfills produces air toxins harmful to the environment and public health. The effects of air pollution from landfills on human health have been documented through lung and heart diseases, as well as poor development in children. However, air pollution is not the only problem caused by landfills; a more significant one is the leakage of a large number of toxins into fresh water waterways. Since landfills are most often located in and around large bodies of fresh water or in swamps, the pollution often goes undetected. The compounds submerge to the ground, to the ground water, and ultimately end up in households through water for drinking and everyday use. Groundwater contamination may result from leakage of very small

amounts of leachate. TCE is a carcinogen typically found in landfill leachate. It would take less than 4 drops of TCE mixed with the water in an average swimming pool (20,000 gallons) to render the water undrinkable. Some surveys conducted have shown that 82% of the landfills have leaks and up to 41% of the landfills had a leak area of more than one square foot. Because of the intense impact of landfills to their nearby communities, protests over waste facilities in developed countries are now more than a simple Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) reaction. Residents often reject landfills and incinerators because of fears over health and safety and mistrust of the authorities to ensure that minimum safety or environmental protection standards are enforced. Of course, landfills also have financial repercussions as well to the areas around them, such as falling property values or the loss of livelihoods (e.g. related to agriculture, tourism). These socioeconomic factors have led to a declining number of landfills in the United States. A lot of them are been redeveloped as brownfields, like in the case of Freshkills in New York, which has now turned into a park. The continuous closing of landfills leads to more centralized management of waste and dislocation of the problem. For example, Freshkills was the last landfill operating in NYC. Since its closure, the 14 million tonnes of solid waste produced in NYC, are separately collected and transported outside of the city to be treated. Part of the mixed waste is shipped to different locations in the states of New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia, while recyclables are sold to domestic and international handlers, often in China and India. Supporting an ever-expanding consumer-based lifestyle in the West, while sending our ever-increasing waste to lower-income countries in the East to be treated is exploitation on a global scale and it also doesn’t provide a long-term sustainable solution. A recent interesting approach for supporting local waste management has been circular economy. Circular economy is an alternative to the more linear process described above of manufacture-use-dispose. In this process recourses are kept in use as much and as possible through products and are recovered at the end of the products’ life to create new materials. In order for circular economy though to take place, the two cycles of biological and technical waste need to be kept separate, while different sectors and global corporations need to buy in the premise. 33

The culture of Replacing

Ever thought about why waste accumulates?

-- by Paul Morosco Riofrio

-- by Raksha Srinivasan

Our current way of life has given many of us comfort and pleasure. Nevertheless, the industry of creating products that can be easily disposed has had significant effects on the environment. In the book Cradle-to-Cradle, the authors highlight the statement that humans are taking natural resources from nature, but rarely putting them back to continue the natural cycles[1]. This way of manufacturing comes with the notion that consumerism is intrinsically linked to our economic, cultural, and social systems today. I agree with this, and I will expand this idea including some examples of my own habits to prove it. Since the Industrial Revolution significant changes have happened in our societies; the mode of consumption, mass production, and commercial practices have increased. And these models which initially started in the Western World, now expand globally. In the mid-twentieth century, the culture of replacing products all together instead of repairing or reusing them has been established [1]. Nowadays, we believe that every new device is created to be disposed. Additionally, food and energy look like have no limits, and therefore I think I can use as much as I want. My current lifestyle demonstrates how easy and without remorse it is to get rid of something. This culture is exacerbated, in terms of waste, by the extreme consumption of packing products and the assumption that after a good gets broken or is no longer the latest version, is easier and better to throw it away than repairing or give it back to the manufacturer [1]. In my appartment, I am surprised by the level of garbage that my roommate and I produce, even if we just spend a few hours per day there. For example, preparing food for dinner for one person can lead to filling a garbage bag full of envelopes, packages, cartons, and organic waste. On the other hand, my desire to have the latest technology model, because I assume it will give me more advanced features than the previous one, leads me to change phones every couple of years, and other devices like a computer every three or four years. Finally, one last review of the topic from the third reading, “Airspace: The Economies & Ecologies of Landfilling in Michigan”. The idea that our waste is always someone else’s problem, leads to the Cradle-toGrave model being perpetuated [2]. It appears to us as if our waste could be always treated. It doesn’t matter if it is some other State or Country’s problem, the average citizen is freed from all responsibility once the waste ends up in an external container, which leads to the wrong idea that these landfills, like any other raw material, are unlimited.

Every product we use has an expiry date. If we think about it a little more, we realize that most products are designed to expire and not be utilized after its’ lifetime period, and not designed to be recycled in whole or in parts. Most of the products we consume today are mass produced and of low quality, made from cheap raw materials and processed with low cost techniques. Design today tries to create a universal or “one-size-fits-all” solution, when there is a clear contextual difference in use from region to region as well. If the conception of the product itself begins with a non-sustainable ending (and a lifetime), it automatically indicates that these products have nowhere to go and are going to result in non-biodegradable piles of waste. Going further into the materiality of the products, we can see that each of them have a biological component and a technological component, part of their own cycles. Ideally, the biological component of the product after use should enter back into the cycle, (as a raw material, for example) or back into the earth to create a sustainable loop, and the same goes for the technological cycle as well. Most products however are designed in such a way that these two components overlap, and cannot be segregated into their basic components, there by cutting off the feedback mechanism. This is what we get as “waste”. Waste accumulation is not just the physical accumulation of products, but also the accumulation of toxins. If in the food cycle, the toxins begin to enter in the bottom strata, then they continue to accumulate as we climb higher in the food cycle, and also increase in quantity through the process of biomagnification. The products we use as well, due to their inferior quality, release toxins into the atmosphere, polluting the air as well. Finally, a significant contribution to waste accumulation is consumer attitudes and values. Given the “convenient” and easy lifestyle most people seek today, we would rather just buy a new product rather than fix and reuse the old one and even more surprising is the fact that it is often more economical to do that. The concept of the three R’s- reuse, reduce and recycle is not common, and the products often have a cradle-to-grave life, with companies even giving a “warranty” for most of the technological ones. What happens to the damaged product? Shipping the waste from one country to another or burying them in landfills is only a temporary solution, and not ecologically sensitive at all. Unless the consumerist attitudes and design values change from this point forward, we are only going to generate bigger piles of waste that cause further degradation to all facets of our environment.

(1) McDonough, William, and Michael Braungart. 2009. Cradle to cradle: remaking the way we make things. London: Vintage. – Chapters: 01. A question of Design (pg. 17 – 44) and 04. Waste equals Food (pg. 92 – 117) (2) Pierre Bélanger. “Airspace: The Economies & Ecologies of Landfilling in Michigan.” Trash. Ed. John Knechtel. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006. 132-155. 34

what decentralized waste management systems can minimize waste and reuse it locally? Every year, the planet loses nearly a third of its food—a staggering 1.4 billion tons, according to a 2011 United Nations study that assessed food networks in 152 countries. The Average American, in 2013 was wasting about 4.4 pounds of mixed solid waste daily, out of which if 28.1% is organic waste, then that means he is wasting about 1.23 pounds of organic waste daily. Waste volumes are not necessarily the most important challenge ahead. Mixing different streams of waste such as MSW, hazardous health-care waste, and industrial waste in our landfills can impose serious health and ecological risks. The concern is that by combining organic, biological waste with technical waste, it is impossible to reuse of recycle these resources anew in any way. After dry, wet, and sanitary waste is mixed together, then none can continue to be part of its own cycle. Is there a way to keep those waste streams sepearate and tret portions of them locally? In the following section, examples of local waste solutions, as manifestations of decentralized waste systems are being presented. waste management system

energy production system

urban scale 35

building scale

whole building system

ground system



Austin, Texas, USA



Type of System

Composting Decentralised network

Type of Waste



Humid Subcontinental




+ 5 Gallon bins for organic waste + Bicycles

Waste Diverted

125 tons since 2012


+ Waste diverted locally + Compost & natural fertilizers + People’s Physical Exercise + Job creation + Sustainable businesses + Making the city bike-friendly


difficult to realize in places with hilly topography



Image Sources: https://compostpedallers.com/compost/compost-pedallers-kickoff-competition https://www.growingagreenerworld.com/episode-811-compost-pedallers/ https://www.mnn.com/green-tech/transportation/blogs/notjust-bike-messengers-compost-pedallers http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/transportation/blogs/not-justbike-messengers-compost-pedallers 36

Axonometric Plan


The Story

Compost Pedallers is a decentralised system where their goals are to compost almost everything in the region closest to where it is produced, this collected from homes and businesses. The waste is then transported via bike to nearby farms + community gardens to grow local food. These hosts are called CompHosts. The initially amount of people participating in the program in 2012 was 30 residences and now the program has over 500 residences. Typical membership costs about $16/month with pedallers making $10/hr with incentives at local stores.

Stakeholders Map Businesses, Restaurants, Farmers markets




Waste DonorsResidents & Businesses

System Description

Compost Pedallers breaks down their process into 4 different stages: Creating Districts: Process organics as locally as possible. Each district is a self sustaining organism. Establishing Hubs: The hub is a node to manage the flow of organic resources in the surrounding district. Partnering with Comphosts: The hosts accept organic matter, turn it into comphosts. The compost is used in the production of local food. Designing Biking Routes: Instead of burning fossil fuels ton transport the waste via diesel trucks, cargo bikes are used to shuttle the organics to the nearby composting sites. Green bins are provided to each member, and the waste from them are collected every week by a Pedaller, who bikes them over to a CompHost.


The Tricycles are used as the shuttles from homes and businesses to nearby gardens and are known as Trikes. They can hold upto 800 pounds of organics. Biking keeps the resources local, creates local jobs, eliminates fossil fuels and maximizes efficiency.


CompHosts [ community gardens, urban farms ]


HOTCHKISS SCHOOL Biomass Heating; waste to energy system


Salisbury, Connecticut, US



Type of System

Biomass heating

Energy Production 9.9 million kWh/yr Type of Waste

Waste wood chips


US Climate Zone 2


0.38 acres


+ certified woodchips + safety design for combustion + ongoing funding


$14 million


+ energy production + living classroom + eco-technologies and sustainable construction materials + waste ash serves as fertilizer for the school garden


https://centerbrook.com/project/hotchkiss_school_biomass_ heating_facility

Image Sources: http://www.greenroofs.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/ hotchkiss_school_biomass7.jpg https://www.archdaily.com/340641/hotchkiss-biomass-power-plant-centerbrook-architects-and-planners?ad_medium=gallery http://www.archdaily.com/340641/hotchkiss-biomass-power-plant-centerbrook-architects-and-planners/571d502fe58ece4ef3000088-hotchkiss-biomass-power-plant-centerbrook-architects-and-planners-photo 40

School Rain Garden


From Nearby Forests (Wood Chips)

To Campus (Energy Output)

Maintenance Workshop Flues

To Rain Garden (Ash Waste) C Wo o d

hip Bu



Ash Waste




ation M



Boiler Backup Boiler Elec Room

Axonometric Plan Nearby Forests

Wood Chips




Rain Garden






The Story

The Hotchkiss School Central Heating Facility was designed by Centerbrook Architects and Planners to heat all 1.2 million square feet of the 85 buildings that comprise the campus of the Hotchkiss School. The facility is part of a commitment to becoming a carbon-neutral campus by 2020. This facility is also one of only three LEED certified power plants in the country. The boiler adapts thermal biomass method and burns woodchips instead of traditional oil-fired boiler. This facility not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions by a third to nearly a half, but also considers to ecologically merge with the landscape.

Stakeholders Map School Rain Garden


Centerbrook Architects


Electricity Consumers

Forest Stewardship Council School Students & Faculties

System Description

The scale of this case is both within the building and the regional. The energy produced by the plant is used mainly for the school building and also the regional area. The provision of wood chips is from the regional area. Located at the bottom of a sloping landscape, the building on the Hotchkiss school site sits in between a golf course and marshes. The total area of the site is about 16500 square feet, with 190 feet length and 80 feet width. Two boilers operate at 80 percent efficiency and generate 20 million BTUs per hour burning waste wood acquired from sustainably harvested local forests. After preparation and processing procedures, the biomass enters 2 boilers. Then After the fire boiling, some parts are exhausted, some turn to the ash. The waste ash from the burning is used as vegetable fertilizer around the school. Most energy is converted to the electricity and used by the buildings. Waste ash from combustion is collected for use as fertilizer for the school’s gardens, and an electrostatic precipitator removes 95 percent of particulate matter from emissions. In addtion, the facility itself has the vegetated roof and combines with a bioswale/rain garden system to absorb rainwater and filter runoff before returning it to the ground.



For the system to be successful, certified woodchips by the Forest Stewardship Council are provided and a 17,500-cubic-foot woodchip storage bin. Safety design is also important for the space to serve as the classroom for the advancement of ecological awareness.

2 42


Global Energy Inequalities of Nigeria. However, it is cheaper for the corporations to burn that gas instead of putting it to use, leading to serious carbon emissions that constitute the 40% of the CO2 emissions of Nigeria. Meanwhile ironically the whole country is plagued with fuel shortages.

As seen in the previous sections, all systems of food, water, and waste are interconnected and with significant overlaps in they way they are designed. Within that framework, we can think of energy flows as an overarching system including all systems previously presented in this publication. Energy is necessary to produce, process, and transport our food, to treat and transport our waste, and to clean and restore water. We use energy from the time we wake up and especially to the time we go back to bed. Our cities are points of immense energy consumption. So, where does all this energy come from?

The example of Nigeria is striking and highlights the need to move away from completely centralized system that are currently imposed by the global market. The need to bring resource supply and provision, closer to demand and consumption, will be necessary, if we’d like to move towards more sustainable futures; and that is necessary not only for energy but for our food, waste and water systems too.

Globally, the main sources of energy are oil, coal, and gas, with oil constituting one third of the global energy sources. As might be expected, energy and thus oil consumption patterns are not distributed equally across the globe, just like resource, food consumption and waste production are not. Oil consumption is highly correlated to each country’s economy, lifestyle, and growth patterns. The total oil consumption of the US is double that of China’s, while it is quadruple to that of the whole of the continent of Africa. The irony is that, naturally, the main oil reserves are found in Middle East and Africa. In a way, there is a different type of colonization happening today in the industry of energy. But what does it mean in ecological and social terms to use the energy reserves of a few countries to fuel one third of the global energy consumption? Especially when this process is managed by a few global corporations, mostly seeking for economic profit?

US Energy Consumption and Local Solutions In the US, the main sources of energy are petroleum (37%), natural gas (25%) and coal (21%). Because the limited oil reserves are running out, and due to the global challenges, the US is turning gradually more towards natural gas. Since the 1970s, there has been rise in one of the very controversial practices of energy production hydraulic fracturing or else known as fracking. Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth, before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at rocks to release the gas inside. Water, sand, and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well. The reason why fracking is controversial is because the process uses immense amounts of water mixed with chemicals in order to get the natural gas out. Moreover, during the process, methane gas and toxic chemicals leach out from the system and contaminate nearby groundwater. Methane concentrations have been documented to be 17 times higher in drinking water wells near fracturing sites than in normal wells.

Unfortunately, the situation in Nigeria is quite representative of the impact of the global energy market. The Niger Delta is the most oil-ravaged place on the planet. By the end of British colonial in the 60’s, the country opened its doors to foreign investors, letting oil companies to pump billions of dollars out of the country. Wastewater was dumped directly into rivers streams and the sea for years. Freshwater resources have now turned salty and the bad maintenance of exposed pipelines has led to thousands of spills every year for about 50 years poisoning fish, animals, and humans. On top of that, oil companies follow destructive practices like gas flaring. During the process of oil extraction, a large amount of natural gas is also produced. If that amount was captured and used, it would meet the electricity needs of the whole country

Moving from energy source to consumption, 2/3 of the annual energy consumed in the US was spent in our built environments, from transportation, the residential and commercial sector (2015), with only 1/3 consumed for industrial purposes. However, from the 94.6 Quadrillion Btus consumed approximately in the US annually, we actually use only 42% of it. Almost two thirds of the energy consumed is lost in energy conversion and heat 44

losses of our insufficient systems. Thus, before reaching out to different energy sources, we need to work towards energy conservation and energy efficient urban environments. As transportation is one of the more energy-demanding sectors, creating more efficient mass transit will help reduce the number of private vehicles within cities and the Vehicle Miles Travelled. Beyond big new transit infrastructure, smaller initiatives can conserve energy as well. Providing alternative means of transport such as bike sharing, making the process of using public transport easier through bus-tracking apps or creating more dense and walkable environments.

geothermal, and hydroelectric energy. The use of solar energy in urban environments is considered as the most common renewable energy source. We could identify two different strategies around solar energy; the first one being passive strategies for heating buildings and the second one being photovoltaics. Solar systems can be both grid-tied or work off-grid. Grid-tied systems are the most common type, are connected to the electrical grid, and allow residents and buildings to use solar energy as well as electricity from the grid. Grid-tied systems do not need to produce 100% of the electricity demand for a building, but they have the potential to create connected system that slowly is fed incrementally by renewable sources.

In the US, 41% of energy is consumed in the building stock. Hence, it is essential to keep improving existing buildings through retrofits, while setting high targets and standards for new construction. Based on this assumption, several initiatives have started in the US, that have as a goal to create districts of buildings that share common environmental goals. An example of that is Architecture 2030, a non-profit organization established in response to the climate change crisis by architect Edward Mazria in 2002. Architecture 2030’s mission is to rapidly transform the built environment from the major contributor of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to a central part of the solution to the climate crisis. The initiative has two main goals: the dramatic reduction in global fossil fuel consumption and GHG emissions of the built environment by changing the way cities, communities, infrastructure, and buildings, are planned, designed, and constructed and; the regional development of an adaptive, resilient built environment that can manage the impacts of climate change, preserve natural resources, and access low-cost, renewable energy resources.

Another decentralized energy production system that has been successful mostly in the rural areas and has now started to be tested within urban landscapes, is the anaerobic digestion. The anaerobic digester is used to capture the methane produced by organic waste and turn into a renewable form of natural gas for cooking and heating. As mentioned earlier in the food section, 27% of the food we produce ends up in landfills. During the natural decomposition of food scrap as well as other organic waste like yard trimming and manure, anaerobic bacteria break down the organic material in the absence of oxygen and produce methane as a byproduct. Methane gas is one of the most significant greenhouse gases, but it has a calorific energy of about 1,000 Btu of per cubic foot, and it can be capture and burnt to produce electricity and heat. Moreover, through the anaerobic digestion, sludge is also produced which is rich in nutrients and can be used as a soil fertilizer. Producing biogas is nothing more than capturing the gas produced during the decomposition of the organic matter. Anaerobic digestion has been very successful in rural environments as a solution to treating waste from livestock. However, it is still tested in very few cases in urban environments, due to potential safety concerns.

Another step towards energy conservation, beyond transportation and the built environment is of course upgrading power infrastructure, in order to minimize the energy lost due to energy conversions and heat losses, which is double than what we are using as end-consumers. These steps towards energy conservation deal with larger structural actions to be taken in our urban environments rather than tactical, individual ones. After energy conservation on an urban scale, there is a diversity of options for decentralized energy production in our urban and peri-urban areas. From solar and wind energy, to biomass,

Concluding, solutions regarding energy conservation and production, especially in urban environments, need a multilevel approach of policy, design, and community. There needs to be a synergistic approach of certain governmental provision, cooperation between businesses, organizations and districts, as well as empowerment of people and communities moving forward. 45

A Misalignment?

On cities and sustainable development

-- by Andrea Salomon

-- by Marantha Putu Dawkins

Is there a misalignment between what we want from cities and what we get? In order to answer this question, we’d have to first presume that everyone wants the same thing from cities. If we generalize, perhaps “we” want more livable, efficient, green, and sustainable cities. What Gregory Bateson argues in Steps to an Ecology of Mind is that the way in which we’ve traditionally developed cities, has not been holistic enough to address the complex systems and interrelationships that happen within an urban setting [1]. He argues that our solutions have been ones that address symptoms, or perhaps tackle one problem at a time instead of thinking about the effects of change on more than one variable. In this sense, what we have gotten out of cities is, yes, what we wanted, but also many and often negative unintended consequences. As Bateson and Klein argue, the heart of the conflict and misalignment between what we put into and get out of cities in relation to sustainability lies in the occidental capitalist approach to urbanism that fails to progress with an understanding of interconnectivity between ecosystems [2]. In 2013, Vishaan Chakrabarti opened his lecture at Carnegie Mellon University by showing a clip from the children’s TV show Bob the Builder. In the show, an industrial and urban environment was portrayed as the polluting evil setting while a green suburbia portrayed as the healthy and thriving community. He argued that if we truly cared for the well-being of our natural surroundings we would live in more dense urban settings because if you look at a regional ecology, living more compactly is more economical in terms of resources and therefore has a smaller footprint of negative impact.

There is certainly a misalignment with what we want from cities and what we get (especially depending on what it is one wants), but it seems as though the primary tension of our relationships to cities is not a misalignment between wanting and getting. It is rather that for the most part, we do get what we want, but with dire consequences due to shortsightedness. The terminology I am using is vague, and to carry on without defining the terms I am using would be rather useless. But instead of prescriptively defining what we want from cities, what we get from cities, and why cities are the appropriate unit to begin looking at environmental crisis, I will instead shift to a discussion of crisis and inactivity due to mismatched systems. Naomi Klein gets at the heart of the dissonance of the relationship we have with cities (and the rest of the world) when she says that “we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism” [1]. The necessary changes that need to happen on a large scale are in conflict with our economic model, and life as it is presently. The paradoxes created when largescale, primarily extractive processes are hindered by the problems they themselves had a huge hand in are not confronted with an environmentally-oriented realism but rather with the bullheaded stubbornness of a logic that will not accept anything but its own solutions. That being said, I do not believe that a potential solution lies in rethinking urbanity the way that Peter Calthorpe does in the first chapter of Urbanism and Climate Change [2]. The model of urbanism he is talking about does not place itself at odds with the current extractive nature of the economy today but is rather passively shaped as a commodification of the environment that is probably better than what it could be in its worst case scenario. Calthorpe seems to be approaching climate change vis a vis a defense of suburban lifestyle, which he discusses in a celebratory and sort of apologist way. It seems though he is veiling his idea of what a city should be (e.g. instead of large single-family lots, some more bungalows and townhomes) inside a chapter that is supposed to be about climate change and how urbanism can play a substantial role in affecting the processes which contribute to it.

Peter Calthorpe’s “passive urbanism” approach is similar to Chakrabarti’s in the sense that it concentrates on a reduction in consumption [3]. While I disagree with Calthorpe’s solution to redefine urbanity to include more suburban qualities, I do agree with him when he says in the first chapter of Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change that we need to look at the bigger regional picture and reevaluate our approach to problem-solving. He puts it in terms of means and ends. If cities redefine the way in which solutions are sought to think more inclusively at the complex systems in cities and regions, cities could be on track to being more sustainable. (1) Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology, 1 edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

(1) Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (Penguin, 2015)

(2) Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (Penguin, 2015)

and Press, 2011).

(2) Peter Calthorpe, Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change (Washington: Island Press, 2011)

(3) Peter Calthorpe, Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change (Washington: Island Press, 2011) 46

can we produce renewable energy closer to consumption? Our global energy systems are based on huge inequalities; they support practices of extraction from countries with weaker economies and patterns of excess consumption and waste in countries with stronger economies. Moreover, our whole economy and built environments are based on energy consumption from non-renewable sources, which are now close to depletion. Oil, gas, and coal have been the three main energy sources globally. So, now that are close to depletion, we need not only to be resourceful and innovative, but also to bring energy production closer to where it is consumed. In that way, we will be minimizing as well the immense amount of energy that is being lost in the process of energy production and delivery to the points of consumption.

In the following section, examples of urban energy production, as manifestations of decentralized energy systems are being presented.

energy production system

solar energy system

hydroelectric energy system 47

neighborhood scale

roof system

ground system

RIVER GARDEN Neighborhood Solar Energy Project


New Orleans, Louisiana, US



Type of System


Energy Production 569,088 KWh/ yr Climate


Area Served

800,000 sq.ft

Area Covered by PV 36,000 sq.ft Cost

$4 million (energy systems)


+ energy production + energy affordability + local economic stimulation + pollution reduction + job creation


+ tax incentives to make it affordable for people with diverse income



Image Sources: https://www.energysage.com/project/6540/pv-420-kw-river-gardens-solar-neighborhood/


Inverter AC Isolation Switch External AC Supply

Main Fusebox

To AC Supply




Panel Array

Devices Solar Panel Garage Inverter Box

To Devices





Axonometric Plan

Solar Panel






The Story

Stakeholders Map

The site was originally the St.Thomas public housing project, which slowly deteriorated and became a dangerous neighborhood to live in. Redeveloped after hurricane Katrina, as a part of the HUD HOPE VI program of the Federal Government of the United States, the neighborhood is a mixed use sustainable development. With one- third of the houses subsidized for low-income residents, River gardens Solar neighborhood is currently the largest solar neighborhood located in the south-eastern US, and the largest solar project in Louisiana.

System Description

The project consists of 4kW & 6kW grid tie, roof-mounted PV systems along with two solar carport systems for a total of 60kW capacity installed. 420 KW of photovoltaic systems (SolarEdge/ MAGE) are installed on the development’s roofs consisting of 89 residential units. SolarEdge’s power optimization system allowed using maximum roof space for optimum power harvesting, even in areas with partial shading or obstructions. Solar Edge Power optimization system is a DC/DC converter which is connected by installers to each PV module or embedded by module manufacturers, replacing the traditional solar junction box. The aim was to increase energy output from PV systems by constantly tracking the maximum power point (MPPT) of each module individually. It Monitors the performance of each module and communicate performance data to the monitoring portal for enhanced, cost-effective module-level maintenance. The MPPT per module allows for flexible installation design with multiple orientations, tilts and module types. The real time monitoring is advantageous as it sends web-based alerts on faults and under performance. The system uses a SafeDC mechanism to increase its safety- automatically shuts down modules’ DC voltage whenever the inverter or grid power is shut down.


The solar panels have 72 cell polycrystalline with the cell size of 6” x 6”. The panels can be installed on ground or the roof and the modulars can be connected in series to reduce cost. The average energy efficiency is 15% and the expected output is 80% with a 10 years warranty.

2 50



Hydroelectric energy from urban water pipes


Portland, Oregon, USA



Type of System


Energy Production 275 mwH per year Area

700 ft (for 4 lucid pipes)


Each LucidPipe turbine has a 2-8 ft diameter and is about 50 ft long


+ distributed energy production + water pipes maintenance



Image Sources: https://www.opb.org/news/article/portlands-hydropower-in-a-pipe-attracts-global-interest/ http://www.cleantechconcepts.com/2017/02/lucid-energy-has-acreative-use-for-water-pipes/ http://lucidenergy.com/how-it-works/


Axonometric Plan


The Story

The LucidPipe Power System is a “water-to-wire” energy system that enables users to produce electricity from water pipelines and effluent streams. Each LucidPipe turbine produces up to 100 kilowatts of electricity by extracting head pressure from inside of pipelines and does not interrupt flow.

Stakeholders Map Portland Water BureauCity of Portland


20 year Power Purchase Agreement

Four-200Kw Lucid Pipes were installed in a Portland Water Bureau Pipe beneath a residential street: SE 147th Avenue and Powell Boulevard. The system began generating electricity during system testing in late December 2014 and was expected to begin full capacity power generation by March 2015

Harbourton Alternative Energy

System Description

The LucidPipe Power System harnesses the kinetic energy of water using a turbine system. A turbine is a type of electromagnetic power generator that creates energy by seamlessly integrating mechanical and electrical principles with one another for external use. The difference between a traditional turbine and this system is its placement within stormwater pipes. This is a modular pipe component that is fixed with the turbine that can be attached to existing standard pipe valves. By hooking into the water utility system the product adds the advantage of a constant controllable input with none of the negative environmental impacts.The system’s modular design creates flexibility, so the system can theoretically work across a large variety of scales. More generally, however, the LucidPipe Power System is designed for use in large-diameter (24”-96”) water pipes for maximum efficiency and energy output. The renewable energy produced can be used off grid, fed back into the grid or used to directly power devices and equipment. Water velocity is central to determining the energy generating capacity of a pipeline. The system works best with velocities greater than 4 feet per second (typical water velocities in pipelines are 4-7 feet per second (1.7-2.1 m/s)). Often the diameter of the pipeline where a LucidPipe system is installed will be reduced, increasing water velocity through the turbine for increased energy output. 54


Other investors


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AFP. “Shell Agrees to Start Clean up of Two Devastating Oil Spills – 7 Years Later.” Business Insider, May 2015. https://www.businessinsider.com/afp-shell-agrees-tostart-clean-up-of-2008-niger-delta-oil-spill-2015-5. Alberti, marina. Advances in Urban Ecology: Integrating Humans and Ecological Processes in Urban Ecosystems. 2008 edition. New York: Springer, 2008.

Heller, Martin C., and Gregory A. Keoleian. “Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System.” Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan, Center for Sustainable Systems, December 2000. http://css.umich.edu/publication/ life-cycle-based-sustainability-indicators-assessment-us-food-system.

Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. 1 edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Braungart, Michael, and William McDonough. Cradle to Cradle. Remaking the Way We Make Things. First Edition Fifth Printing edition. London: Vintage, 2009.

Hesterman, Oran B. Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All. Reprint edition. New York: PublicAffairs, 2012.

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Holodny, Elena. “A New Militant Group Is Shutting down Nigeria’s Oil.” Business Insider, May 2016. https://www. businessinsider.com/nigeria-militants-shut-down-oil-production-2016-5.

Carlisle, Nancy, Otto Van Geet, and Shanti Pless. “Definition of a ‘Zero Net Energy’ Community.” Technical. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, November 2009. http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy10osti/46065.pdf.

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Dettmer, Philipp. “Fracking Explained: Pros vs Cons,” September 2013. http://philippdettmer.com/en/projekte/ fracking-erklaert-pro-und-kontra.

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Cover Page Graphic

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Mix of the following images: Rob Kesseler (https://tricycle.org/wp-content/ uploads/2013/09/Consider-the-Seed_HeroLayout_ Fall2013-1292x1125.jpg) Pittsburgh Map (https://c8.alamy.com/compes/r0jb29/ mapa-satelital-de-pittsburgh-pennsylvania-las-callesde-la-ciudad-mapa-de-calles-centro-de-la-ciudad-eeuur0jb29.jpg)

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