Published Jul 21 2009 by Energy Bulletin
Archived Jul 21 2009

Housing & urban design - July 21

by Staff

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Montgomery Panel Passes Redevelopment Plan

Miranda S. Spivack, Washington Post

A densely packed "science city" near Gaithersburg, clusters of 25-story high-rises in White Flint along Rockville Pike and new developments with minimal parking are among the sweeping changes approved today by the Montgomery County Planning Board.

The marathon session is aimed at sparking redevelopment of the largely suburban county and transforming it into a network of urban villages that discourage dependence on the automobile and put jobs, housing and retail close to one another.

Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson has predicted that the next wave of newcomers in Montgomery will be urbanists ready to give up the detached house, two cars and a gleaming front lawn, and instead embrace city living in the suburbs. The plans approved today, he said, are a major step toward creating a new type of suburb where it is easy for residents and workers to walk, bike or rely on public transportation. His hope, he said, is to produce "great urban centers."

Montgomery is expected to grow to more than 1 million residents in the next 20 years, but is almost out of buildable space, so reinventing itself is its best option for absorbing newcomers, planners say. But many residents, accustomed to a suburban lifestyle built around the automobile in a county with limited public transportation, are fearful their needs might be at risk, and there won't be enough transit, classrooms and roads to meet the demand. Next up is review by the County Council, expected this fall.

...The decisions address an array of issues. They lay the groundwork for Johns Hopkins University to build its proposed high-density scientific community west of Interstate 270 near Gaithersburg, meshing research centers with urban lifestyles; allow developers to transform the aging and car-centric White Flint area into a high-rise mini-city that could be larger than Tysons Corner with street life to rival the District and Bethesda; and enable developers to build housing and offices with little parking, provided they are close to Metro stations and other public transit.

...Several residents' groups said the proposals are risky and could add to road congestion and school crowding, while ignoring the needs of current residents. Members of the White Flint Coalition, made up of neighborhood organizations near White Flint mall in North Bethesda, said many elements of the plans are "unconscionable."

Pam Lindstrom, a Gaithersburg resident who tracks land-use issues for the Sierra Club, said she was particularly worried about the density of the proposed "science city," saying that the area could not absorb it and that planners were relying on "ephemeral, weak, somewhat theoretical regulatory schemes to make it work."
(17 July 2009)

A New Enforcer in Buildings, the Energy Inspector

Clifford Krauss, New York Times

Peering behind a bathtub in a newly built house, an inspector, John Umphress, spotted a big gap in the wall insulation. “Somebody took a lunch break!” he complained to the builder, who sheepishly agreed to patch the hole.

With the fix, the house, already a model of energy efficiency, will use even less energy and save its residents money — for decades.

But that small catch would not have been made in many American towns. Mr. Umphress is a particular kind of inspector, an energy auditor, and Austin, with one of the toughest building codes in the country, requires an energy inspection before a building can be occupied.

Climate scientists and architects say that no single policy change could do more to save energy over the long run — and reduce the nation’s contribution to global warming — than building codes that make saving energy the law.

...The Energy Department reports that buildings and the appliances inside them account for almost 40 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted in the country.

Stricter codes have been fought bitterly by politically powerful builders’ lobbies, which contend that they can add $2,000 or more to the cost of a house. But in a few places, including cities like Austin and entire states like California, tough new rules have been adopted.

The efforts of these localities show that no new technology needs to be invented to make major gains in saving energy. Products already available permit the construction of homes at least 30 percent more efficient than the national average. With enough political will, a new law can be put in place anywhere with the stroke of a pen, and made even more potent if it is coupled with tough oversight, as in Austin.
(17 July 2009)

Urban planning in China's mega-cities

Tom Miller, The Financial Times
Beijing and Shanghai are the only Chinese cities that have unquestionable "megacity" status, with populations well in excess of 10m.

But over the next 15 years, 60 new cities with populations of 1.5m-5m are likely to sprout in China, including six - Tianjin, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Chengdu and Wuhan - with real urban populations exceeding 10m.

Managing this vast migration in a sustainable manner will require more than steel and cement: creating patterns of urban growth that use resources efficiently and avoid irreversible urban sprawl will determine whether the country's cities become livable economic centres or urban dystopias fugged up with exhaust fumes. Most important, creating a viable social welfare system may determine whether these mega-cities are paved with gold or strewn with beggars.

One city attempting to face up to this challenge is Wuhan, the largest in central China, which already has a population close to 10m if you include its floating population of migrant workers...

...For Chinese technocrats, channelling funds into steel and cement is considerably less daunting than addressing the much thornier issue of social security. Building new schools and hospitals is one thing; paying for teachers and doctors is another...
(7 July 2009)