What the urban exodus in San Francisco bodes for car dependency and public transit

August 19, 2020 by  
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What the urban exodus in San Francisco bodes for car dependency and public transit Katie Fehrenbacher Wed, 08/19/2020 – 01:45 For someone living in San Francisco for over a decade, the latest numbers showing an exodus from the notoriously hard-to-live-in city are jaw-dropping. Housing vacancies are skyrocketing. Rent prices are dropping. Parking spots in my neighborhood are suddenly empty. The numbers are complicated but also worrisome when it comes to encouraging car-dominant housing in a state that has seen the relentless rise (until very recently) of transportation-related carbon emissions.  San Francisco is unique in that the city had some of the highest housing prices in the nation, combined with serious urban issues such as an entrenched homeless crisis and a difficult school system. Many residents were already on the edge of ditching the city before the pandemic, and the squeeze of the public health crisis — and its negative affect on transit, nightlife and density worries — have become too much for many. Other high-priced cities, such as New York, are facing similar trends. I get it. I, too, have longed for greener pastures. And who knows, maybe I’ll join in the farewell.  But anecdotal evidence suggests that former San Francisco residents are fleeing for the suburbs and even more rural areas in the state. Tens of thousands of tech workers employed by Google, Apple, Twitter and more are planning to work from home until at least summer 2021 and maybe permanently.   A rise in the traditional suburbs built around car ownership is not the answer to any state’s ingrained housing and transportation problems. They can theoretically live wherever they want while working online. Homes in Tahoe — San Francisco’s northern mountain paradise — are flying off the shelves .  A strong demographic trend of families moving from regions where they don’t need to rely on car ownership to regions where they do could exacerbate California’s transportation emissions issues. Car sales in the Bay Area already have been on the rise in recent months as families buy “COVID cars” and avoid transit, ride-hailing and carpooling.  But the shifting demographic numbers are also complicated. If many workers are no longer commuting at all, will that result in a sustained, long-term dampening of California’s transportation emissions? It sure did during the shelter-in-place period this spring.  We just don’t know yet what the bigger picture looks like, how city services such as transit will adapt to our new world and just how long this whole thing will last. In addition, some smaller cities, not nearly as expensive as San Francisco and New York, have not seen the same type of exodus. Seattle, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Miami haven’t yet seen a sizable shift from urban to nearby suburban housing. I’m also hoping tech and innovation could provide new tools that could help. Fast broadband connections and services such as Zoom, of course, are enabling telework. But a substantial rise in electric vehicles also could help combat the emissions associated with a growth in car ownership. Perhaps we might see more new car-free communities , such as Culdesac Tempe in Arizona, prove popular for residents and lucrative for developers. What we do know is that a rise in the traditional suburbs built around car ownership is not the answer to California’s or other states’ ingrained housing and transportation problems. We need to think of new solutions that prioritize residents’ needs but also don’t embrace a car-dominant future. This article is adapted from GreenBiz’s weekly newsletter, Transport Weekly, running Tuesdays. Subscribe here . Pull Quote A rise in the traditional suburbs built around car ownership is not the answer to any state’s ingrained housing and transportation problems. Topics Transportation & Mobility Public Transit Featured Column Driving Change Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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What the urban exodus in San Francisco bodes for car dependency and public transit

How 5 communities across the US are seeking environmental justice

July 6, 2020 by  
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How 5 communities across the US are seeking environmental justice Kristoffer Tigue Mon, 07/06/2020 – 01:00 This story originally appeared in InsideClimate News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story. In many ways, Maleta Kimmons defines her neighborhood by what it lacks. Several houses near her home remain vacant. Last week, she had to drive seven miles just to buy groceries. And two weeks ago, at the height of the Minneapolis protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a police officer May 25, looters broke into the only pharmacy in the area, forcing the store to close and leaving many in the neighborhood without easy access to life-saving medication such as insulin or inhalers for asthma. Kimmons, who prefers to go by the name Queen, said what her neighborhood doesn’t lack is pollution. Near North, where Queen lives, is one of several neighborhoods that make up north Minneapolis, a  predominately Black area surrounded by a large number of polluting facilities and infrastructure, including roofing manufacturers, a trash incinerator, a metal recycling plant and several major interstate highways. The ZIP code that covers much of north Minneapolis has the highest hospitalization rates for asthma in Minnesota, according to Minnesota Public Radio . It’s also home to the highest rates of lead poisoning among children in the city. Add the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on top of these factors, and her neighborhood is in a “horrific” situation, said Queen, who is Black. “Where are you going to get an asthma pump when Walgreens is closed?” she said. “I know a lot of people that have asthma, particularly in North.” Queen moved to Minnesota from Chicago in 1974 at the age of 10, first living in what used to be St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood —  a once-thriving African American hub before it was cut in half by the construction of Interstate 94 in the late ’50s. Her family, she said, was “looking for a better life, where there would be more resources, education, housing.” You’ve got to have ownership. … It’s race, class, money and politics. That is the narrative. That is the story. Eventually, Queen’s family moved to south Minneapolis. But in the 1990s, she said, the area became gentrified and too expensive, so she left for the city’s cheaper north side. Queen attributes the issues that north Minneapolis faces today — the vacant homes, the poor access to medicine and food, the proximity to industrial pollution — to a lack of Black ownership and the political power that accompanies wealth. “Right now, over in North, you can’t name 10 Black businesses — they ain’t there,” she said. “If you don’t own anything, you’re not changing nothing.” In 2018, the median household income in Queen’s neighborhood was about $39,000 , compared to the state average of more than $70,300 . As protests raged across much of south Minneapolis, destroying several blocks of Lake Street — another historic city business corridor —  Queen helped rally residents on the north side to protect the few Black-owned stores that do exist along Broadway Avenue from more looting. (Much of the looting came from out-of-towners, Queen said.) The destruction she witnessed reminded her of the stories she had heard of the 1967 riots, which also destroyed parts of north Minneapolis . And it reminded her of seeing her first limousine in 1974 outside of a black-owned pool hall in St. Paul. She remembers her Black neighbors inside the stretched-out sedan, a symbol of wealth, celebrating in their “loud colors,” their button-up shirts and their hard shoes. She remembers just years later, many of the Black-owned businesses shuttering their doors along Rondo’s Selby Avenue — today, an upscale food co-op stands where the pool hall used to be. “You’ve got to have ownership,” Queen said. “It’s race, class, money and politics. That is the narrative. That is the story.” St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana: ‘We’ve already been written off’ Reserve, Louisiana, had an agrarian economy when Robert Taylor was born. His parents worked at a local sugar refinery. “I’m a lifelong resident,” he said. “I was born here in 1940, so I’ve seen some changes.” When he was a boy, he said, “I could just walk out my house and go out my backyard and I was in a sugar cane field.” By the time he was a young man, the petrochemical industry was moving in. He bought a plot of land on the edge of town and built a home, finished by the time his fourth child was born, he said. “I went and got my wife from the hospital and brought her with our child to our new home.” Around the same time, he said, DuPont began operating a new chemical plant less than a thousand yards from the home. St. John the Baptist Parish, which includes Reserve, lies within Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” a stretch along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is cluttered with petrochemical development and the pollution it brings. The Environmental Protection Agency’s National Air Toxics Assessment, which uses emissions estimates to model health risks, estimates that the risk of developing cancer in Reserve is 50 times the national average, and that the five census tracts with the highest risk are all in the area. But as Taylor watched the development spring up around him, he didn’t know any of that. All he knew was that a lot of people seemed to be getting sick. Several family members have died of cancer, he said, while his wife is a cancer survivor. It wasn’t until four years ago that Taylor began to connect what he saw with the industry that had developed around him. The risk of developing cancer in Reserve is 50 times the national average, and the five census tracts with the highest risk are all in the area. “I came home one night and my wife was so sick, and the odor was so horrible coming from the plant, that I called 911,” he said. “And the emergency personnel, they were taken aback by the odor. Of course, all of them was white, none of them lived in the community I lived in,” he said. Almost two-thirds of Reserve’s residents are Black. It never occurred to him that other parts of the parish didn’t have it as bad. And soon after that incident, the EPA arrived and began monitoring for a chemical, chloroprene, that is used in the nearby plant and is considered by the agency to be a “likely carcinogen.” “I got the first results of the monitoring; it scared the heck out of me,” he said. When the EPA found high levels of the chemical in the air near a school, “that’s really what sparked the people to join me and we formed this Concerned Citizens of St. John.” His group has been trying ever since to get Denka Corporation, which bought the plant from DuPont in 2015, to limit emissions. Denka did not reply to requests for comment from InsideClimate News, but a company website says it has voluntarily reduced emissions and that “there is no evidence to suggest Denka’s operations are harmful to local residents.” Taylor’s wife now lives in California, to be away from the pollution. Some of his children have moved out of the parish, too. His great-granddaughter was born recently nearby, “and she has no future here,” he said.  But he feels trapped with his home. Beyond the low value of the property, Taylor said, he wouldn’t feel right selling to another family, only to have them live with the same burden. “We’ve already been written off. We’re walking dead people,” he said. “We’ve been sacrificed.” Bears Ears National Monument, Utah: Trump ended tribal governance Alfred Lomahquahu helped build the five-tribe coalition that proposed the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. The land might seem remote, but the struggle against racial and environmental injustice has been no different for the indigenous people of the Southwest than for those protesting on the streets of the world’s cities. “People are actually getting united,” said Lomahquahu, a Hopi. “That’s the main thing that the government is afraid of, that’s why they don’t want these protests going on.” The coalition’s work focused on protecting red rock canyons and pinion-dotted desert containing hundreds of thousands of archaeological sites and areas of deep cultural significance to the Hopi Nation, Zuni Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Utes. “We started speaking with [President Barack] Obama on a one-to-one, government-to-government basis,” said Lomahquahu, now community administrator in the Hopi village of Baqavi in northern Arizona. “Part of our strategy was that we were going to work side by side with [the U.S. Bureau of Land Management] and all these other government entities as part of the planning for the whole monument.” The Obama administration embraced the idea, establishing and empowering a Bears Ears Commission when it created the monument. Lomahquahu was the commission’s co-chair until it was abolished when the Trump administration downsized the monument by 85 percent not quite a year later. Some people are privileged more than others and willing to use that privilege to help everyone get back on their feet. Trump administration officials rebuffed commissioners and other monument supporters, he said. “But we already knew at that point that everything that we achieved was going to go down the drain — and for every other minority, too.” Yet, the experience also showed the tribes, historically at odds with one another, the power of working together, he added. Later, conservation groups, professional societies, recreation groups and even large companies such as Patagonia joined the tribes’ campaign to protect the land from mining and pollution. “Some people are going to use their privilege in order to help others that aren’t privileged,” Lomahquhu said. “I think that’s something that you really need to look at now. … Some people are privileged more than others and willing to use that privilege to help everyone get back on their feet.” New uranium mining, coal-fired power and oil and gas development in the region are other threats that the Four Corners region has faced. More recently, Indian Country communities have united against COVID-19. “We’re just waiting for Trump to leave office,” Lomahquhu said, “so we can get back in there and regroup again and bring all entities back together.” The Rockaways, Queens, N.Y.: Young leaders of color building resilient communities Milan Taylor was 21 when he founded the Rockaway Youth Task Force in 2011, to sponsor community clean-ups and encourage voter registration in this outlying neighborhood on a barrier island in Queens. A year later, after Hurricane Sandy left homes four to 10 feet underwater and knocked out power for days, Taylor found himself helping to lead rescue and relief efforts in a neighborhood that was 60 percent African American and Hispanic and the poverty line was 20 percent higher than the state average. He mobilized hundreds of volunteers in a widespread effort to assess the needs and deliver food and medications to hundreds of home-bound community members, including elderly and disabled residents. As they meticulously canvassed high-rise apartment buildings, the major relief organizations and the NYPD seemed strangely missing in action. “Sandy gave us the exposure that [the Rockaway Youth Task Force] needed to grow,” said Taylor, now 31 and the group’s executive director.  And a good thing that is, with climate scientists predicting sea level rise of at least a foot by 2050, which will make the Rockaways more prone to climate change-fueled flooding and storm surges than they already are.   “What we’re trying to accomplish as an organization is to build more resilient communities,” Taylor said, “We want to be there, whether it’s a disaster brought about by climate change or even human disasters” — a reference to the ongoing protests for racial justice and an end to police violence.  The conversation of Black lives mattering isn’t just limited to police violence … It also extends to climate justice. Taylor said that it is important for the task force, made up largely of young people of color, to be “led by our own constituency, meaning that those who are directly impacted decide which direction and which campaigns we take on as an organization.”  Despite being told after Sandy that his organization couldn’t grow, he said, “We’re still here … still doing work, still helping our communities and still training the next generation of leaders.” He noted that one former RYTF organizer, Khaleel Anderson, is running for the New York State Assembly.  In the future, Taylor said, he hopes the broader climate movement embraces his work with the task force, which recognizes how race, gender and socioeconomic factors contribute to environmental injustice. “The conversation of Black lives mattering isn’t just limited to police violence,” Taylor said. “It also extends to climate justice.” Los Angeles: Latino children in Boyle Heights play in lead-contaminated soil Idalmis Vaquero sees such joy in the exuberance of a neighborhood boy named R.J. The 6-year-old runs to her to show off his newest feat — a backflip — on the dusty patch of grass outside of their aging apartment complex owned by the Los Angeles Housing Authority. Yet there is a dark contradiction between the glee of this boy and the reality of life in the shadow of a lead recycling plant that has poisoned the ground that dirties R.J.’s bare feet. The boy, like so many other children and families living in this neighborhood, is exposed every day to the high concentrations of lead that have contaminated this mostly Latino community just southeast of downtown Los Angeles. The Exide Technologies recycling plant and its predecessors emitted lead, arsenic and other dangerous pollutants, leaving homes, apartments, schools, parks and day care centers with dangerously high levels of lead-contaminated soil. Vaquero, 26, a third-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, grew up in public housing in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, where she still lives and where her parents settled after emigrating from Mexico nearly 30 years ago. There has been little change in her neighborhood since she was a child. Factories, smoke stacks and exhaust-belching diesel trucks define the community more than grassy parks and welcoming recreation centers. So she worries about the future of R.J. and other children. “Living here will have an impact on the quality of life for the rest of their lives,” she said. “It makes me mad that our lives are not considered equal when it comes to addressing environmental hardships.” As many as 250,000 residents, mostly working-class Latinos, face a chronic health hazard from exposure to airborne lead and arsenic that subsequently settled into the soil from the recycling plant, according to a 2013 health risk assessment by the South Coast Air Quality Management District . The health of these communities need to be prioritized and protected from any more pollution from Exide and other environmental injustices. Lead contamination has been found in children growing up in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered Exide battery plant, a University of Southern California study found . Lead is a neurotoxin, and there is no level that is considered safe in humans. The 15-acre recycling facility operated in the industrial city of Vernon for decades with minimal regulatory oversight. It churned out poisonous pollution around the clock seven days a week as the lead from 25,000 old car batteries was melted down every day for use in producing new batteries. The facility received more than 100 environmental violations for such things as lead and acid leaks and maintaining an overflowing pond of toxic sludge. The Exide plant was shut down in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Justice, which also ordered the company to pay $50 million to clean up the site and nearby neighborhoods. The state later pledged $75 million for the ongoing cleanup, overseen by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control . The cleanup has been painfully slow, which Vaquero takes as yet another signal that her neighborhood and neighbors are just a forgotten footnote in a city defined by the glitz of Hollywood and Beverly Hills.  Vaquero majored in environmental studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she made the decision to stand up for her community and others like hers. She described the environmental injustices in her community in a 2016 thesis : “The health of these communities need to be prioritized and protected from any more pollution from Exide and other environmental injustices,” she wrote. “The community’s power and resilience will prevail and environmental justice will be served to Southeast Los Angeles.” Pull Quote You’ve got to have ownership. … It’s race, class, money and politics. That is the narrative. That is the story. The risk of developing cancer in Reserve is 50 times the national average, and the five census tracts with the highest risk are all in the area. Some people are privileged more than others and willing to use that privilege to help everyone get back on their feet. The conversation of Black lives mattering isn’t just limited to police violence … It also extends to climate justice. The health of these communities need to be prioritized and protected from any more pollution from Exide and other environmental injustices. Contributors Nicholas Kusnetz Judy Fahys Ilana Cohen David Hasemyer Topics Climate Change Environmental Justice California Policy & Politics Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off People march in St. James, Louisiana, a small Black community at the end of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, to demand a safe and open evacuation route. Given the level of toxicity in this parish, it has earn the name of Cancer Alley. Credit:  Fernando Lopez for Survival Media Agency

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How 5 communities across the US are seeking environmental justice

A truly clean energy system runs on a clean conscience

July 2, 2020 by  
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A truly clean energy system runs on a clean conscience Alec Appelbaum Thu, 07/02/2020 – 01:15 What would you do if the cause that lights your day turned out to be trapping fellow citizens in the dark?  For Shalanda Baker, a professor of law and public policy at Northeastern University, thinking about a clean energy future means thinking about the daily, weekly and sometimes invisible ways that people in deprived communities can control their power supply. Her work — in blogs, scholarship, professional services and a forthcoming book — reminds professionals that deals made on the backs of oppressed people are no deals at all.  Baker recently spoke with the Clean Energy Finance Forum about how her scholarship and an institute she co-runs aim to forge connections from investment committee members to utility executives to neighborhood volunteers. Read on to reckon with how a truly clean energy system runs on a clean conscience.  Alec Appelbaum: How did you start working on empowerment in an energy context? Shalanda Baker:  About a decade ago, I started writing about the structure of large clean energy projects and how they can lead to undesirable societal outcomes. I was looking at mega, mega, mega-scale wind developments. There is a lot of wind supply in very rich and diverse indigenous communities. The structure [of financing and ownership] creates undesirable outcomes. I’ve gone in different directions. Right now I have two strands of research. One is looking at Mexico, and the tension between climate change mitigation and justice for communities. The other big strand of my research is clean energy in states. Appelbaum: When you’re looking at clean energy and social justice, what drives what?  Baker: In the international context, private multinational actors can operate in a vacuum, [incognito] with respect to human rights violations. It would be more helpful to have oversight. In the domestic context, the problem is more about access to finance. There should be a more level playing field with all sophisticated actors. I see this energy transition as an opportunity to get more community representation out there, more grassroots vision.  Appelbaum: What are the kinds of areas best suited for grassroots empowerment?  Baker: I see lots of opportunities for intervention. One is net energy metering, trying to use that policy mechanism to focus on low- and moderate-income communities. I see it as having a lot of potential in getting folks engaged. Community-owned energy is another pathway — obviously, there are private developers that are also targeting low-to-moderate-income communities. Figuring out mechanisms through policy to incentivize that targeting would be great. We need a little more data to know where the needle is moving.  Utility reform is interesting — there’s a big question as to what type of institutions are best suited to transition us away from fossil. The utility evolved with a motivation to maximize shareholder return. Now we have a good opportunity to question whether that’s an optimal corporate structure. Green banks are interesting. It’s still early to see how that’s moving the needle. Of course, states are taking it on themselves to get clean energy. Making sure policies are embedded in them is really important. The utility evolved with a motivation to maximize shareholder return. Now we have a good opportunity to question whether that’s an optimal corporate structure. We have to do more than lip service to procedural justice. The literature on energy just has a few components; the others are more substantive and distributive. I am excited about an initiative I’ve just launched, focused on making sure stakeholders have a role in the transition. The jury is still out on that — air quality is one way to measure impacts. Other aspects include recognizing that policy has operated to structurally harm communities, and another is restorative justice. I have also talked about ways to include centering low-income communities in policy.  Appelbaum: Does that call for a set of skills that public officials don’t necessarily have? Is it an education challenge to develop those skills?  Baker: I love it. The Institute for Energy Justice is designed to fill that gap. I see two gaps. For well-intentioned people in utilities and statehouses who want to know-how, we want to support them with technical assistance and frameworks. On the other side, community folks don’t always have technical chops — it’s linguistic, translating a technical domain into social, understanding about these technical decisions. For more of Baker’s views on energy justice, watch this 2017 GreenBiz interview, recorded in Hawaii.  Appelbaum: What about the current COVID-19 crisis worries you most, and where do you see opportunities?  Baker: I see a great opportunity to advance clean energy. I was walking around today with my mask and lamenting the loss of the old world but at the same time not wanting to go back to that. That world was inherently unequal. We have a chance to infuse states with capital — if the federal government decides that that’s worth it — and invest in green infrastructure, invest in communities that are most impacted by COVID which also happen to be most impacted by the fossil fuel system. I’m working on a paper with my team, doing legwork to examine environmental justice communities and look at how much access to clean energy they have — and make the case that our first policy move should be that our communities have access to clean energy. These are communities that tend to pay 20-30-40 percent onwards for electricity. Even in the social impact space, investors need income within the double or triple bottom line. I’m also really concerned about what might happen post-COVID in terms of utilities and how they might do a power grab. The crisis can be used to increase rates on folks, to justify retrograde investments, any number of things. We don’t have an analog to this scale of economic distress, so I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I can almost guarantee that it’s not going to help the poorest people. Mostly, I would like to invert that and see this as a public power grab — I’m working on a project on the landscape of utilities and seeing what their moves are right now. We need utilities, but not in the form they’re in right now — public power is promising.  Appelbaum: Are there particular kinds of investors or vehicles that seem promising for empowerment?  Baker: I see state-funded green banks creating an opportunity to do wealth redistribution. Even in the social impact space, investors need income within the double or triple bottom line, and with the state you can advance more socially desirable goals without having to maximize returns. In order to create the world that we want, we may have to lean more into public funds.  Pull Quote The utility evolved with a motivation to maximize shareholder return. Now we have a good opportunity to question whether that’s an optimal corporate structure. Even in the social impact space, investors need income within the double or triple bottom line. Topics Energy & Climate Renewable Energy Environmental Justice Biodiversity Clean Energy Finance Forum Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Courtesy of Northeastern University Close Authorship

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A truly clean energy system runs on a clean conscience

Red brick firehouse in Belgium runs on solar power

May 4, 2020 by  
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Rotterdam-based studio Happel Cornelisse Verhoeven has built a charming new firehouse for Wilrijk, Belgium. The firehouse is clad in bright red bricks that stand out thanks to white grout and vertical columns made of larger bricks. The building is also incredibly sustainable, generating its own clean energy through a massive rooftop solar array . Located on the city’s main road, the three-story Fire Station Wilrijk doubles as a local landmark. According to Happel Cornelisse Verhoeven, “The monochrome character provides a recognizable identity in the neighborhood, an architecture parlante in which form and appearance irrevocably remind us of the function of the building and the urgency of its users.” Related: LEED Platinum fire station is powered with solar energy in Seattle The building is clad in a robust red brick to help it stand out. In contrast, the interiors feature gray concrete walls framed in CLT panels for a minimalist feel that emphasizes comfort and ease of movement. Spacious rooms and hallways are connected by wide doorways to allow firefighters to respond quickly during emergency calls. The building is divided into two spaces: a double-height garage toward the front that accommodates three firetrucks and firehouse support areas toward the back. The back of the firehouse includes operation rooms, dressing areas, a lounge, sleeping quarters, a kitchen and dining space. The work-focused rooms are on the lower two levels, while beds, the lounge and dressing rooms are on the top floor to make it feel more like home. To power all of these spaces, the firehouse generates its own solar energy via photovoltaic panels on the roof. The project also includes a solar water heater and heat pump to further boost its sustainability. + Happel Cornelisse Verhoeven Via Dezeen Images via Happel Cornelisse Verhoeven

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Whimsical guesthouse uses prefab timber and corten steel

May 4, 2020 by  
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Belgian firm  Atelier Vens Vanbelle  has created a stunning guest home for a client who works in the film industry. Located in the Uitbergen region of East Flanders, the Alex Guesthouse boasts an eye-catching design comprised of a unique curved volume made out of prefabricated timber  and clad in corten steel. Tucked into a wooded area of a private yard, the guesthouse sits on a slightly-raised hill, overlooking the main home on one side and a dense forest on the other. The property belongs to an executive in the film industry who tasked the Belgian architects to create a unique space to accommodate international guests. Comprised of a main cabin-like area with living space and one bedroom, the  compact structure  also houses a bar and cinema for entertaining. R elated: Old ruins are transformed into a cozy, off-grid guesthouse in France Prefabricating the materials off-site  enabled the architects to reduce the project’s construction time and costs, as well as reduce the home’s impact. Additionally, the natural materials used in its construction not only allow the structure to blend perfectly into its peaceful natural surroundings, but also reduced the project’s overall environmental footprint. Inside the whimsical guest home, visitors will find a bright and airy space, with minimal furnishings. With walls lined in varying exposed layers of LVL wood, the interior has a modern cabin-like aesthetic. The fun space is flooded with  natural light  thanks to a massive circular window. On the ground floor, the main living area, along with a combo kitchen and dining room make up the central living space, with the large bedroom off to the side. The guest home also has a basement space below and a watchtower above. The basement is set up with a quaint entertainment space, complete with a bar and film-viewing room with ample seating. Working upwards through the home, a  spiral staircase  wraps upwards to the watchtower that leads out to an open-air outdoor space to take in the views. + Atelier Vens Vanbelle Via Design Boom Photography by Tim Van de Velde

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Whimsical guesthouse uses prefab timber and corten steel

A clean-energy school in southern France draws power from the sun

March 10, 2020 by  
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The French city of Nîmes recently welcomed the Ada Lovelace Secondary School, Occitania’s first-ever clean-energy school that’s earned both BEPOS energy level certification and a sustainability rating of Silver-level BDM (Bâtiments Durables Méditerranéens). Opened in the fall of last year, the eco-friendly school is the work of French design firm A+ Architecture . In addition to its energy-saving and -producing features, the Ada Lovelace Secondary School features a bold and contemporary design to help boost the neighborhood’s ongoing urban revitalization efforts. Crowned winners of a 2015 design competition for the project, A+ Architecture was tasked to reconstruct the 400-student secondary school to a new site that would also include space for housing for half of the student population, sports facilities, a race track and three staff houses. The 5,898-square-meter school also needed to be held up as a positive sign of urban renewal in the Mas de Mingue district. Related: New BU academic tower will be 100% free from fossil fuels “Beyond the environmental basics, we have produced a contemporary, bold, powerful and dynamic architectural structure,” the architects explained. “We wanted people to be drawn to this place of education in this difficult neighborhood. Shapes collide, as stainless-steel panels make it seem as though the facades are empty, which are broken up by rows of windows.” Topped with 800 square meters of solar panels, the Ada Lovelace Secondary School is clad in locally sourced stones that vary in size for visual interest and to help give the volume a more human scale. For stable indoor temperatures, the architects insulated the walls with wood and hemp and installed wood boilers for supplemental heating. Students have also been invited to learn about the school’s energy-saving systems through a digital building model accessible through a game and website managed by Citae. + A+ Architecture Photography by Benoit Wehrle via A+ Architecture

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A clean-energy school in southern France draws power from the sun

Researchers convert durian and jackfruit biowaste into ultracapacitors

March 10, 2020 by  
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Durian fruit is notable for its funky stench, making it a rather malodorous waste when it is discarded. But a new study from Australia’s University of Sydney, published in the Journal of Energy Storage , focused on recycling durian waste into an affordable, sustainable source of energy storage to counteract global warming. How? The researchers have discovered a way to create ultracapacitors from durian and its related jackfruit cousin. Who knew that putrid-smelling biowaste could pack an electrical punch? “Super-capacitors are like energy reservoirs that dole out energy smoothly. They can quickly store large amounts of energy within a small battery-sized device and then supply energy to charge electronic devices, such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops, within a few seconds,” explained associate professor Vincent Gomes. “Using durian and jackfruit purchased from a market, we converted the fruits’ waste portions (biomass) into super-capacitors that can be used to store electricity efficiently.” Related: New technological process transforms everyday trash into graphene As TreeHugger reported, the waste biomass of durian and jackfruit are “converted into a carbon aerogel using non-toxic methods.” These aerogels are then leveraged and converted into electrodes, “which are tested for their energy storage properties.” Interestingly, these durian- and jackfruit-derived electrodes “demonstrate outstanding performance, making them a green, low-cost energy solution for charging phones, laptops and tablets.” When compared to what’s currently on the market, the electrodes developed from durian and jackfruit have proven to be a more energy-efficient alternative to traditional ultracapacitors derived from activated carbon. “The durian and jackfruit super-capacitors perform much better than the materials currently in use and are comparable, if not better, than the expensive and exotic graphene -based materials,” Gomes said. “We have reached a point where we must urgently discover and produce ways to create and store energy using sustainably sourced materials that do not contribute to global warming.” + Journal of Energy Storage Via TreeHugger Image via Jonny Clow

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Researchers convert durian and jackfruit biowaste into ultracapacitors

Have an eco-friendly Halloween and aim for zero-waste this October

October 28, 2019 by  
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Holidays and celebrations can take a toll on the environment. Between waste and consumption, Halloween festivities leave behind a giant carbon footprint. But with a little purposeful planning, your holiday can be fun and eco-friendly at the same time.  Go plastic free Obviously plastic is problematic for the planet from the petroleum used in production to the lack of sustainable disposal options. With some foresight you can mostly avoid plastic in favor of alternatives. For costumes, shop local or make your own so you can see plastic parts and avoid shipping packaging. Make costumes from natural fibers such as organic cotton or hemp. Use accessories of metal or wood. Swap out plastic trick-or-treat buckets with pillow cases or reusable shopping bags. Related: Light your pumpkins the EEK-o-friendly way this Halloween Multi-purpose decor One way to cut back on the “stuff” you accumulate for the holiday is to think seasonally. Focus on decor that can serve throughout the fall season rather than just until Halloween. Hay bales, corn stocks, pumpkins, gourds and potted plants create a welcoming display at the front door that is both sustainable and inviting well past Thanksgiving. Inside the home, target the classic sights, sounds and smells of fall with pumpkin spice candles, reflective glass displays and wreaths from burlap, straw or herbs. Organic plant-based food Holidays are for celebrating with friends and Halloween is the perfect time to invite your favorite witches and demons over for a party. Since it’s always in season to be nice to the planet, plan your party around organic (no pesticides and other toxins in the water and soil), plant-based (sans the carbon footprint of meat production) food . Make taco dip with tortilla headstones, adorable pumpkin cookies, a veggie platter in the shape of a skeleton or individual spider pizzas. Save gas Reducing gas consumption avoids the need for more oil drilling and limits your contribution to air pollution. Pick up your party supplies in advance when you are already running other errands to avoid extra trips to the store. Also, stay in your neighborhood for trick or treating if possible. Zero waste Aim for zero waste during Halloween as a challenge to yourself and your family. Work together to brainstorm ways to keep trash from taking over the holiday. Using the real plates and utensils is a great start, but you can avoid the need for dinnerware altogether by creating a menu consisting only of finger foods. Drag out the cloth napkins, too. Avoid throwing out your costume at the end of the holiday by using recyclable materials such as cardboard or save the outfit for another occasion. Be sure to donate or resell when it’s time for the final goodbye. Go second hand If Halloween is really your season to shine and you enjoy widespread decorating, spend some time at the local thrift shop where holiday decor comes in year-round. While you might still end up with non eco-friendly materials like plastic , giving those items a second life keeps them out of landfills. This is also true for costumes, lawn decorations and clothing. Tricks and treats Candy has become an integral part of the holiday and you can enjoy a treat without contributing to wasteful consumption. Start by setting a reasonable limit. While it’s fun to be out with the kids on Halloween, the treats they gather shouldn’t last until Valentine’s Day. There’s not much you can do about the plastic you’ll acquire during your trip around the neighborhood, but you can do your part when it comes to making a conscience choice about what you hand out at your door. Shop from fair trade companies and look for sustainable packaging. Also consider non-candy items or offer up a trick instead. Cut the electric bill You can enjoy your party without a spike in electrical use by making a few simple changes. Skip the TV shows and music and consider cutting the electricity all together. Halloween is the perfect occasion to take the party outside to celebrate around a wood fire under the stars and the harvest moon. Drop some submersible LED lights in the bottom of the apple dunk barrel and use solar lights to create paths or designate gathering areas. If the weather in your area isn’t cooperating with a nature party, bring it inside for a blackout party instead. Grab the solar lights from the yard and further illuminate the space with beeswax candles displayed on reflective metal or glass plates. For entertainment, share spooky stories and explain the history of the holiday to the younger generations.  Halloween is a ghoulishly fun holiday, but it doesn’t have to have a gastly impact on the planet. Set an example for your kids, guests and neighbors with thoughtful decor, costumes and party ideas that just may inspire them to make Halloween a real treat for the planet, too. Images via Shutterstock

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Have an eco-friendly Halloween and aim for zero-waste this October

MVRDV breaks ground on Pixel, a mixed-use development that embraces indoor-outdoor living

August 23, 2019 by  
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MVRDV has started construction on Pixel, a mixed-use development in Abu Dhabi that promotes an innovative building typology very different from the prevalent style of disconnected towers in the United Arab Emirates. Designed to encourage community building and enjoyment of the outdoors, Pixel will comprise seven mid-rise towers of varying heights grouped around a central plaza. The 85,000-square-meter development will be located in Abu Dhabi’s new Makers District and will emphasize the neighborhood’s values of creativity, learning and sharing. Named after the pixelated appearance of the building facades, Pixel will include 525 apartments of varying sizes — ranging from studios to spacious three-bedroom homes — shops, flexible office space suitable for startups and established companies, restaurants and a range of amenities such as a pool, gym, community spaces and a children’s playroom. Related: MVRDV designs a Dutch office building covered in potted plants Staggered building heights have been informed for optimal shade conditions and views. The public plaza at the heart of the development will form part of “The Artery,” a continuous pedestrian public space that cuts through the Maker’s District and connects Pixel to the nearby beach. “The weather in Abu Dhabi is very pleasant for about eight months of the year, yet most housing there doesn’t really encourage people to spend time outside,” said Jacob van Rijs, a founding partner of MVRDV. “With Pixel, we wanted to show that a connection with the outdoors is not only possible in this city, but beneficial.” In addition to the creation of outdoor spaces and connection with neighboring Makers District spaces, the design of the towers encourages social engagement as well. The facades “break down” into balconies and bay windows that face the lively plaza below. Ceramic screens with a shimmering pearlescent finish — a nod to Abu Dhabi’s pearl diving heritage — help create a comfortable outdoor environment. + MVRDV Images via MVRDV

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MVRDV breaks ground on Pixel, a mixed-use development that embraces indoor-outdoor living

Adaptable home brings together multiple generations under a solar roof

January 16, 2019 by  
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When local design studio Jost Architects was approached to design a home in Kew East, Melbourne , the firm not only navigated a challenging, complex site, but it also designed for multigenerational living that wouldn’t feel claustrophobic. The result is an adaptable 358-square-meter home spread out across three floors and designed to harmonize with its surroundings. Moreover, the Kew East House was also crafted with a reduced energy footprint thanks to the use of passive solar principles and solar photovoltaic panels. The clients, a couple with teenage children and a dog, Timba, asked Jost Architects to create a multigenerational home in anticipation of when the grandparents, who currently live overseas, move in in the future. To accommodate the clients’ elderly parents, the architects designed an internal granny flat on the ground floor next to the garage. Above, the first floor houses the master bedroom and main living areas. The two children’s bedrooms and a rooftop balcony with sweeping views of the park to the city are located on the top level. Strict council setbacks and a steep terrain informed the design of the house, which is recessed into the slope. The architects also took cues from the neighborhood and landscape to knit the Kew East House into its surroundings. “The banded fascias fold and rake, vertically and horizontally, braiding the building into the streetscape. The functional spaces are layered within this fabric,” the architects said. “Externally, the materials are selected for their robust and tonal hue responding to the huge eucalyptus enveloping the site and the other beautiful native flora around the Kew Billabong and Yarra River beyond.” Related: Fabulous multigenerational home allows owners to comfortably age in place Natural light floods the interior through thermally broken windows and multiple skylights, while Melbourne’s intense heat is kept at bay with deep eave overhangs, external sliding and fixed timber batten screens as well as operable glazing that allows for cross ventilation. The Kew East House is powered with a 4.95 kW photovoltaic system . + Jost Architects Photography by Shani Hodson – Zoso via Jost Architects

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Adaptable home brings together multiple generations under a solar roof

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