Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday Morning and Weekend Links

Green-ness of Skyscrapers? including the prescient Dr.Seuss tale:
Over the protests of the environmentally sensitive Lorax, the Once-ler builds a great industrial town that despoils the environment, because he “had to grow bigger.” Eventually, the Once-ler overdoes it, and he chops down the last Truffula tree, destroying the source of his income. Chastened, Dr. Seuss’s industrialist turns green, urging a young listener to take the last Truffula seed and plant a new forest.
This tells me more about the cancer stage of capitalism than it does environmentalism: forever growth!...Now for the important calculations:
Matthew Kahn, a U.C.L.A. environmental economist, and I looked across America’s metropolitan areas and calculated the carbon emissions associated with a new home in different parts of the country. We estimated expected energy use from driving and public transportation, for a family of fixed size and income. We added in carbon emissions from home electricity and home heating. We didn’t try to take on the far thornier issues related to commercial or industrial energy use...

In almost every metropolitan area, we found the central city residents emitted less carbon than the suburban counterparts. In New York and San Francisco, the average urban family emits more than two tons less carbon annually because it drives less. In Nashville, the city-suburb carbon gap due to driving is more than three tons. After all, density is the defining characteristic of cities. All that closeness means that people need to travel shorter distances, and that shows up clearly in the data.
Here is the problem. This study takes the Amero-centric view that only through tall buildings can one achieve density. Skyscrapers are not a necessity for density. Paris, Florence, Madrid, Rome, Copenhagen, are wonderfully dense. Now, here are the potential CONS of skyscrapers:

1. Even if a platinum-certified tower is constructed, the building is still immensely energy intense in its construction phase.
2. They are materially intense, with materials typically travelling much farther than with low- and mid-rise buildings.
3. Skyscrapers privatize sunlight and views. Then, amazingly when another tower is built next door, the tenants of building 1 flip out that they lost their view...despite doing the exact same thing.
4. Tight-knit, often medieval form urban fabric generates protective microclimate from weather extremes. Skyscrapers often exacerbate the problem with the intensity of the wind shear and down draft created by the building.
5. Skyscrapers adversely affect the street aka the public realm by 1) removing people from the street and putting them in elevators and 2) overpowering the scale of the space created by the buildings.
6. These buildings tend to be glass and steel. Two energy intensive materials, often not created locally. I like the elegance of glass buildings, but then the issue becomes one of active vs. passive heating and cooling. AND, reflective glass is often pretty ugly.
7. COST. They are expensive to build.

In summary, I'm not saying that I'm against skyscrapers. I like the pyramidal form of skylines of cities, emblematic of the greater synergies driving up values in the center-city, and thus manifested by taller buildings, aka greater real estate and F.A.R. in those places as a natural result. But, simply calculating that more dense places are greener doesn't say a damn thing and it certainly doesn't necessitate skyscrapers.

Brookings on the economic engine and (should-be) haven for investment of cities:
Yet here is the problem: While America is more metropolitan than ever, the nation’s policies and structures rarely match economic reality. As a nation, we remain fixed in old arrangements, established decades ago and kept in place by bureaucratic inertia and entrenched political interests. Such a misunderstanding of contemporary urban structures inevitably leads to bad public policy decisions. Take as an example the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, now finally in the public eye. We should be spending money on metropolitan infrastructure, such as new transit lines or the maintenance and upgrade of existing roads and bridges, because it gives the best return on investment, the most bang for the buck. And yet the federal government sends the overwhelming bulk of national infrastructure funds to states, not metros. Given the vagaries of state politics, state departments of transportation in turn tend to scant metro investments in favor of building brand-new roads in far-flung places. Money that could be fueling the metro economic engine ends up widening a rural highway.
And lastly, a fascinating take on the death of newspapers as compared to the revolution that was the printing press:

Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.