Meeting of the Minds took a few moments to talk with Herrie Schalekamp about new working relationships between researchers and paratransit operators in South Africa and beyond. Herrie is the ACET Research Officer at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Transport Studies. In addition to his research, teaching and consulting in the fields of paratransit and public transport reform he is involved in specialised educational programmes for paratransit operators and government officials. Herrie’s activities form part of a broader endeavour to investigate and contribute to improved public transport operations and regulation in Sub-Saharan African cities under ACET – the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport.
During Drought, California Asks Cities to Conserve
If you live in California, or follow national news, you are well informed of the fact that California is in a severe drought; a situation that our Governor has declared to be a state of emergency. In January, Governor Jerry Brown officially asked Californians for a 20% voluntary cutback in water use. At the end of May, our Senators backed and passed The Emergency Drought Act of 2014, which allows water districts and the State Water Board to divert for consumption as much water as possible from our state water sources without impacting wildlife patterns or water quality standards. And on July 15th, state water regulators approved fines of up to $500 per day on Californians who are watering their outdoor landscaping and washing their cars in a wasteful manner.
In the midst of the statewide and nation-wide conversation around California’s dwindling water resources, the state saw a 1% increase in urban water use for the month of May, compared with the previous 3-years’ average use for May. In light of this increase despite dwindling water reserves and the gubernatorial request for a 20% cutback, the question becomes: which measures are effective when addressing urban water use, and why are Californians not well-equipped to deal with a situation that has been going on for three years now?
Cities have a unique leverage point in the case of water and conservation incentives. Water, being a public good, is owned by the state, and delivered by public utility districts. Most public utility districts serve a handful of cities, and some, like the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, serve only one city. The districts set delivered water prices according to price tariffs which are set by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). These rates are generally set according to a structure that allows the PUC’s to recover their capital costs, and sometimes, to receive a set rate of return on their investments.
Ultimately, it’s municipalities which implement the publicity campaigns to raise awareness around an issue, and implement the policies to incentivize its citizens to deal with a problem effectively. Cities across California are taking various approaches to the problem of urban water use, and are experiencing varying degrees of success.
Some cities, like St. Helena, along with many other northern Californian cities, are ahead of the curve; setting policies like tiered volumetric pricing structures which send a direct market signal to water users. These price structures incentivize water savings by charging customers per unit of water consumed. The same idea is being employed to implement drought pricing on water delivery, a pricing structure which increases the price of delivered water to customers, and attempts to more accurately reflect the value of water as a scarce resource in a time of severe drought and low reservoir levels. Comprehensive pricing structures like these have been shown to decrease per capita and household water use by significant levels.
Although pricing seems to be a simple and effective strategy to incentivize water savings, there are roadblocks to implement even this basic solution. Surprisingly, there are many California cities that have not installed water meters; the state capitol, Sacramento, is actually the city with the most un-metered connections to the water system. If users are not metered in their water use, they pay a flat rate for water, no matter how much they use, and thus have very little incentive to save water. Previous Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed a law that will require all Californians to have water meters on their homes by 2025, but ten years seems a far cry in drought conditions like California is experiencing now.
Water meters are also a proven effective strategy for reducing water use. The city of Fresno, California installed water meters and saw per capita water use drop from 313 gallons per day to 245 gallons. Some cities are waiting for funding, so that they’re able to afford the installation of water meters, and some cities are avoiding metering, for fear that if they are metered and show a reduction in water use, their water allocations will be decreased and sent elsewhere; shedding some light on the layers of politics, worries, and need for coordination within the state water system.
The current drought in California is bringing to light the issues around how the states’ water resources are managed. If the drought continues, the fact that some cities will no longer have access to their historical water sources, will mean that it is no longer an option to maintain the current water management system. Water resources will need to be more easily shared, transferred, and moved.
This need for an integrated water strategy will likely take the form of top-down legislation in the state, but for now, urban users are being asked to bear the brunt of water conservation efforts. Using their unique leverage point to directly communicate with water users through price structures and public education campaigns, California cities are emerging as leaders in best practices in the face of our current drought.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
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.