One of the ironies of the green versus grey infrastructure battle is that they are not mutually exclusive approaches; many times the best design solution is a combination of grey and green infrastructure working together. Grey and green infrastructure are on the same team, and that team’s goal is to take action on any number of difficult problems coastal cities are grappling with: hurricane risk, saltwater intrusion, coastal erosion, tidal flooding, sea level rise. Arguing about green versus grey infrastructure makes taking action on these problems harder than it already is.
Mark Twain once advised, “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.” In many low-income city neighborhoods, that may seem impossible. The land’s been consumed; built on, paved over, or contaminated, and none is left at any price for parks or other greenspace. But many communities are proving Twain wrong by reclaiming their landscapes and, in effect, making new land.
Take Yonkers, New York, for example. Or Lawrence, Massachusetts, or Richmond, California. All are mid-sized cities where, after industry and jobs departed, black and brown people ended up being concentrated in park-poor – sometimes park-free – environments. Now these are all places where, through community-driven efforts, abandoned rail rights of way are being transformed into green community corridors.
We are only starting to understand the power of networked technologies. And our learning comes at a cost: we are increasingly divided in our increasingly interconnected world.
We’re trying something new in New York: making communities more resilient by building healthy place-based digital ecosystems. Resilient Networks NYC is a multi-stakeholder partnership building local wireless networks in six Superstorm Sandy-impacted neighborhoods. In each neighborhood, New America’s Resilient Communities Program is partnering with a local community organization on the front lines of climate adaptation and economic resilience. With our support, our partners are training local residents as “Digital Stewards” to conduct outreach, collaborate with local businesses and leaders, and design, install, and maintain resilient public WiFi systems.
Seattle is consistently near the top of any list of US cities for sustainability and for growth. Almost all electricity is from hydropower. Energy-efficient buildings anchor walkable mixed-use neighborhoods. As Seattle has become increasingly sustainable, it is doubling its economy while cutting carbon emissions in half.
Seattle is one of our nation’s most walkable cities with a walkscore of 73. During a recent visit, my wife and I walked 9 miles through the city, rewarded with views of ocean inlets, mountains, and thriving neighborhoods. We arrived and departed Seattle on Amtrak and got everywhere on foot and transit, except our Uber rides to and from the train station. Yet, with growth, reducing gridlocked commuting is a challenge.
Brownfields are sites that are vacant or underutilized due to environmental contamination, real or imagined. There are brownfields of some kind in virtually every city and town in the U.S., usually related to a gas station, dry cleaner, auto repair shop, car dealership or some other ubiquitous local business that once benefited the community it now burdens with environmental hazards or old buildings.
In addressing this issue, technology has not been effectively deployed to promote redevelopment of these sites and catalyze community revitalization. We find that the question around the use of technology and data in advancing the redevelopment of brownfields is twofold:
How can current and future technology advancements be applied to upgrade existing brownfield modeling tools? And then, how can those modeling tools be used to accelerate transformative, sustainable, and smart redevelopment and community revitalization?
Across the country, urban parks are enjoying a renaissance. Dozens of new parks are being built or restored and cities are being creative about how and where they are located. Space under highways, on old rail infrastructure, reclaimed industrial waterfronts or even landfills are all in play as development pressure on urban land grows along with outdoor recreation needs.
These innovative parks are helping cities face common challenges, from demographic shifts, to global competitiveness to changing climate conditions. Mayors and other city officials are taking a fresh look at parks to improve overall community health and sense of place, strengthen local economies by attracting new investments and creating jobs, help manage storm water run-off, improve air quality, and much more. When we think of city parks holistically, accounting for their full role in communities, they become some of the smartest investments we can make.
In addition to meeting traditional electricity needs for homes and buildings, demand for electricity is growing with increased population, economic growth, water pumping, recycling and desalination, and millions traveling in electric cars, buses and rail. Although California has only 13 percent of the nation’s population, it has half the nation’s solar power, half the grid storage, and half the electric vehicles.
California is on track to use 50 percent renewables in 12 years. Today, California is coal free and nuke free, generating 40 percent of electricity from solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower. Wind and solar power are being added, often for less than four cents per kilowatt-hour. Renewables, energy efficiency, energy storage, microgrids, and software are enablers of the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.
In the United States, buildings themselves, plus the plug loads of their tenants, use 70 percent of all electricity and account for 40 percent of all carbon emissions. At least half that power is wasted, due to inefficiencies in the ways those buildings are designed, built and operated.
Just over two years ago, the City of Seattle pioneered a new approach to incentivize energy efficiency in new and existing buildings. Known as the Metered Energy Efficiency Transaction Structure – or MEETS – the program turns a building into a revenue-generating “energy efficiency power plant” by measuring the energy it does not use, and paying an investor for the value of that energy.
The Central Park Conservancy was instrumental in saving Central Park. In fact, our P4 model has been emulated in hundreds of other parks ― showing that our restoration and management successes are replicable and scalable by other urban park professionals caring for green spaces around the country and beyond.
So when asked, “How do you do it? How do you keep Central Park so beautiful and inviting?” the scalable and replicable answer that we give to everybody is a 3-step framework: Restore, manage, and engage. From day one of the Central Park Conservancy, our logic model has been built on the belief and experience that if we restored Central Park, managed it, and engaged the public in its use and care, it would become (and remain) a vital part of New York City life. It worked here, and we’re confident it can help parks everywhere.