Twin Cities Urban Sustainability Forum – Nov 2 & 3

I have a family obligation to promote the Twin Cities Urban Sustainability Forum on November 2nd and 3rd.  The forum is bringing together academics and practitioners to explore the connection between urban sustainability, what planners and practitioners often work on, and urban ecosystems, which I think is a way for the St. Paul campus folks to get involved in cities.

Twin Cities Urban Sustainability Forum, Nov. 2-3, 2011

REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN!

Registration website

Updated (10-12) agenda, including speakers and panels

Cost: $25  general $10 students

Continuing education: AICP and PDH credits available
Location:  U of M Continuing Education Center, St. Paul campus.

ABOUT THE FORUM The Forum will highlight emerging outcomes of sustainability research and cutting edge trends in sustainability practice and policy. Presentations by leading national and international speakers will address:

· Connecting urban ecosystem science with social and economic sustainability

· Federal and state-level sustainability policy

· Overcoming disconnects between sustainability research and practice

Insightful panels and networking opportunities will inform a translational research agenda – to ensure a closer connection between re-search priorities and urban sustainability practice.

HIGHLIGHTS
Speakers from the federal Sustainable Communities Partnership and state agencies will highlight emerging policy directions in sustainability. Researchers from the University of Oregon, University of Colorado, Virginia Tech, and the University of Minnesota will highlight cutting edge research addressing urban infrastructure, energy, air quality, health, and natural resource issues. U of MN research center directors, including CURA and CTS, will explore new approaches to connecting research and practice around sustainability.

WHO SHOULD ATTEND?  Planners, water and natural resource managers, engineers, urban ecologists, and others interested in urban sustainability practice or research.

For more information: Contact co-organizers Lawrence A. Baker, Dept. of Bioproducts & Biosystems Engineering (baker127@umn.edu) and Carissa Schively Slotterback, Urban & Regional Planning Program, Humphrey School of Public Affairs (cschively@umn.edu).

The event is funded by the McKnight Foundation, National Science Foundation, U of M Center for Transportation Studies, and U of M Center for Urban and Regional Affairs.

The cost of suburban development in Edmonton

The City of Edmonton has completed a study of the long-term fiscal impact of new suburban development.  The results are not good.

Suburban sprawl will cost the City of Edmonton and its taxpayers much more than it provides in revenues.

New neighbourhoods do not pay for themselves, and the financial gap is staggering. Over the next 30 years, just 17 of more than 40 developing and future neighbourhoods will cost the city more than $500 million more than they provide in taxes, user fees and other revenues.

This includes one neighbourhood with a relatively high concentration of commercialindustrial lands, which will provide net revenues over $400 million. If we ignore this one and only look at the planned residential neighbourhoods, the red ink is close to $1 billion.

It gets worse. After the first 30 years, the annual net cost goes up as aging infrastructure needs to be replaced. The net cost rises to over $100 million per year, every year. So the following 30 years will cost us over $3 billion. If you ignored the commercial neighbourhood, over those 30 years the bill would hit almost $4 billion.

I’ve looked, but I can’t seem to find the actually report.  The closest I can come up with is this presentation about the report.  I also can’t seem to view the city’s zoning map because they require some weird SVG viewer.  If anyone else has better luck, let me know.

Linklist – backlog edition

I don’t frequently do the “link list” post, but blogging has not been at the top of the priority list lately and I didn’t want to deprive all the dear readers of the good stuff I’ve been seeing.   Each deserves longer comment then I’m giving here.

On the proposed Stillwater bridge (part 6)

The New York Times is highlighting the proposed freeway-style Stillwater bridge in their Room for Debate series.  They are calling it “Bachmann’s Bridge”, even though Senator Al Franken and Governor Dayton both support it.  I suppose since she is now a Republican front-runner she gets the cheers/jeers.

Former Senator Mondale sums things up:

At $700 million, this bridge, the largest and most expensive in Minnesota history, would carry about 18,000 vehicles a day. By comparison, the Interstate-35 bridge in Minneapolis carries more than 10 times the number of vehicles and was a fraction of the cost to build. This bridge would consume nearly all of the available financing in Minnesota to build or repair bridges, leaving almost 1,200 structurally deficient bridges wanting for funds. Both states have endorsed this bridge during Minnesota’s well-publicized state budget shutdown, and without investigating less harmful, less expensive and more sensible alternatives that respect the river, address commuters’ needs, and cost hundreds of millions less to the taxpayer.

Congress should employ its common sense.

I realize my Stillwater bridge series is missing a post on the “Sensible Stillwater Bridge” organization that has started up.  Basically, they are advocating for a lower, slower bridge with three lanes instead of four.  It would supposedly save 60% of the cost of the “boondoggle” bridge.  They don’t have a proper website, but you can see renderings of their proposal on their facebook page.  They also have a twitter account.

I asked the Sensible Bridge Partnership about tolling, and for now, they don’t seem to have an opinion.  I think tolling should be part of any “sensible” plan for a new bridge, and could even be a selling point to skeptical Minnesotans.

Cities as the environmental solution, not the problem

Kaid Benfield, writing I assume for “environmentalists”, has a nice reflection on the environmental consequences of city-building.

For a long time, America’s environmental community celebrated wilderness and the rural landscape while disdaining cities and towns. Thoreau’s Walden Pond and John Muir’s Yosemite Valley were seen as the ideal, while cities were seen as sources of dirt and pollution, something to get away from. If environmentalists were involved with cities at all, it was likely to be in efforts to oppose development, with the effect of making our built environment more spread out, and less urban.

We’ve come a long way since then, if still not far enough. We were and remain right to uphold nature, wildlife, and the rural landscape as places critical to celebrate and preserve. But what we realize now, many of us anyway, is that cities and towns — the communities where for millennia people have aggregated in search of more efficient commerce and sharing of resources and social networks — are really the environmental solution, not the problem: The best way to save wilderness is through strong, compact, beautiful communities that are more, not less, urban and do not encroach on places of significant natural value. As my friend who works long and hard for a wildlife advocacy organization puts it, to save wildlife habitat we need people to stay in “people habitat.”

Study: city dwellers produce as much CO2 as countryside people do (but urban form still matters)

A new study of two metro areas in Finland proclaims to “illustrate that the influence of urban density on carbon emissions is insignificant”.  This study was published in Environmental Research Letters.  You might remember other studies that seem to indicate the opposite.

The idea that urban form has a significant impact on emissions and therefore should be considered during planning and land use decisions is embraced by many urbanists, environmentalists and scholars.  Others disagree with this position, saying us “sanctimonious urbanites” may be overplaying our hand.  I don’t think this latest report really does anything to resolve the “GHG blame game” (or, as I prefer to call it, an accurate accounting of externalities).  In fact, if you look at the data, it supports the notion that land use and transportation decisions and patterns have a significant impact on emissions.  While trying to avoid sanctimony, let’s look at the details.

Continue reading

Using LEED ND to strengthen existing neighborhoods

pride at loring park

I’ve written a lot about LEED ND, the rating system built to define sustainable neighborhoods, including how to use it as a framework for sustainable regional planning.  Typically, the rating system is applied to new development or redevelopment: when new streets, buildings and infrastructure systems are being built.  Rarely has it been applied to an existing neighborhood, where development or redevelopment is occurring at a slow pace and changes to major infrastructure systems are unlikely or occurring incrementally.  That application was simply not the original purpose of LEED ND.  I’ve always viewed LEED ND as providing an alternative to a model of traditional suburban development that has low connectivity, low density and poor location efficiency.  In its current form, it is best suited as a guide to help us plan and build new development more sustainably.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t many valuable lessons for existing neighborhoods within the LEED ND system.  While we know that the greenest development is almost always the one that is already built, existing neighborhoods can often lack connectivity, walkability, density or other design features, which if retrofitted over time, could make them more livable and sustainable.

Neighborhoods and cities concerned about maintaining and improving livability, sustainability and financial viability are using LEED ND in just this way.  The Loring Park neighborhood in Minneapolis is in the process of creating a neighborhood master plan to shape their community for the next twenty years.  The neighborhood partnered with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs to assess the neighborhood’s sustainability using the LEED ND system.  Loring Park would also like to become officially certified as a LEED ND “project”, either under the current system or under a pilot existing neighborhoods program an alternative path for neighborhood and small areas plans that USGBC is developing.  A volunteer group, including yours truly, is working to help the neighborhood meet this goal.

The purpose of pursuing certification is to make this already green neighborhood even greener.  If Loring Park falls short in certain parts of the rating system, these shortcomings can be turned directly into goals for the master plan.  The Loring Park Draft Concept Plan includes a goal related to sustainable buildings and infrastructure and includes these goals for the use of LEED ND:

Further utilize the LEED-ND rating framework to:

  • periodically gauge neighborhood wide performance and progress toward sustainability goals
  • set in place (or augment) design guidelines or to set parameters for private project review and approval, or to gauge the merits of specific capital improvement projects
  • structure performance criteria for various incentives
  • preparation for government grants or other support from agencies that are familiar with LEED-ND rating system or that directly utilize LEED- ND standards as performance criteria

Our volunteer group, organized by the USGBC Minnesota Chapter and Loring Park residents, has just begun the certification process for the neighborhood.  This process will be a great opportunity to document the challenges of applying LEED ND to an existing neighborhood and review the rating system’s usefulness for a community planning process.  Stay tuned.

 

LEED ND for regional planning at Twin Cities Research Group

Net Density has been on a little bit of a hiatus lately, mostly because of the deluge of summer-time activities.  In Minnesota, we have to take advantage of the weather while we can.  No one is indoors reading planning blogs, right?

Well, if you aren’t out riding your bike or drinking beer on a dock somewhere and you need some planning wonk, you can see me presenting on LEED ND for Regional Planning at the Twin Cities Research Group next Wednesday, June 8th.

TCRG Brown Bag Speaker Series:

Wednesday, June 8, Noon to 1:00 p.m.

Topic: Location Efficiency in the Twin Cities: Using LEED-ND for Regional Planning

How can our region accommodate the expected addition of a million people between now and 2030 while protecting critical natural systems, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions, using infrastructure efficiently and building vibrant and economically competitive communities? This presentation demonstrates that the principles of LEED-ND (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development rating system) can be applied to develop more effective regional planning and growth management policies. GIS analysis was used to show what areas of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region are eligible for LEED-ND based on location requirements and existing built form.

Featured Speaker: Brendon Slotterback, AICP, LEED AP, is a Sustainability Program Coordinator at City of Minneapolis

Where: Wilder Foundation, Room 2610, 451 Lexington Parkway (at University Ave), Saint Paul, MN 55114

Map with the meeting’s location is at www.TwinCitiesResearch.org

Event is FREE.  Wilder’s parking ramp is FREE.  Bring your own brown-bag lunch.

As always, we will have an open discussion with the presenter at the end of the hour. Join us to participate with your ideas, questions, and suggestions.

How the bicycle economy can help us beat the energy crisis

Elly Blue at Grist has a very interesting series on “bikenomics”, exploring the impact of bicycling on economics, both micro and macro.  Her post on the economic case for on-street bike parking is great, and should be made into a flyer and sent to all small businesses in Minneapolis.  Her latest post deals with “the energy crisis”, meaning generally addiction to oil, high gas prices, and environmental externalities of fossil fuel use.

There’s no easy way out at this point. But if we approach energy as a transportation issue rather than a geopolitical one, we can at least start to see a way through it.

Instead of pushing gas prices back to even more artificial lows, we need to invest that money that is normally all tied up in oil into bikes … and places to ride them.

Bicycling makes a lot of sense in a landscape built for cars. Bikes are fast and flexible enough to fill the gap between transforming spread-out driving destinations to walkable, accessible communities. With 40 percent of our driving trips spanning less than two miles, the distances are feasible — so long as the roads aren’t designed to be terrifying.

It takes minimal investments, mostly in mitigating the effects of sharing space with motor vehicles, for bicycling to almost overnight become a convenient and attractive choice for many, many people.

She does conclude by saying that nothing can save us from our energy crisis (although the bike will help us get through it with “grace”).  But how much impact could it really have?  The statistic she cites – 40 percent of our driving trips span less than two miles – seems amazing.  What if we could convert some of those trips of that to a bike or walking?

According to the Metropolitan Council’s latest Transportation Behavior Inventory survey, the average household makes 10.3 motorized trips per day. Perhaps 9 of these trips include an automobile.  3.6 trips per day (40 percent of 9) at 2 miles is 7.2 miles per day.  Using average mileage, that is 116 gallons or $465 per year per household (at today’s gas prices).  Not a huge amount, but enough for perhaps a nice weekend vacation with the family.  As a region though, that’s about $500 million per year.  Not too shabby.  Plus, that $500 million isn’t going to countries we don’t like, much of it will likely circulate in the local economy.  That’s also 130 million fewer gallons of gasoline burned and 1 million fewer metric tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere, which is about 5 percent of the emissions from gasoline in Minnesota every year.

So if we can take the shortest of our short trips by bike instead of car, will we have an impact?  Not huge, but definitely measurable.  Of course, the above are numbers for just a few of the benefits, Blue offers many more.  I feel out of my depth trying to answer questions about if and how we could do it, but the most recent numbers for the Twin Cities show only cycling and telecommuting growing in mode share, so I’d venture an “it’s possible”.

On the proposed Stillwater bridge (part 4)

Yet another view on the proposed Stillwater bridge to Wisconsin.  This time from Micky Cook, a Stillwater city council member in the Pioneer Press.

There are roughly 18,000 commuters who use the Stillwater lift bridge during rush hours on weekdays. The cost of the new bridge is $668 million. Rebuilding the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis cost less than half that amount, $261 million. How can we justify such an outrageous expense in this economy to accommodate a Wisconsin commuter corridor? According to MnDOT, 75 percent of weekday trips are commuters coming from Wisconsin. There already is a major freeway bridge roughly five miles south of the proposed site on Interstate 94 that connects to a network of highways in Wisconsin.

We all know the litany of economic ills we face. Gas prices are approaching an all-time high, a record number of homes are in foreclosure, people have lost their jobs and there is no more local government aid to help municipalities maintain services. The price tag on this project warrants serious discussion. If we do have that kind of money, shouldn’t we use it to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure of existing bridges and roads?

Isn’t this really just another development story? The current contingent pushing hard for a new bridge argues it is for the greatest possible good. We need to ask for whom and at what cost?

Ms. Cook also proposes some alternative solutions to deal with traffic in the area caused by commuters.

What about metering traffic lights or negotiating with the Coast Guard for a change in the lift bridge schedule to reduce the number of times the bridge is lifted during peak times? We could post the lift schedule and ask MnDOT to set up a traffic notice at the I-694 and I-494 interchange off of Highway 36, alerting drivers of bridge delays and redirecting them to alternate routes. We could lobby to make the lift bridge one-way heading west in the morning and eastbound for the afternoon commute. Big employers in the area could provide shuttle services and offer incentives for Wisconsin employees to use it from a Park & Ride on the other side of the river. Stillwater could use reserve officers to direct traffic during critical commute times and on busy summer weekends.

I’m sure there are other traffic control measures that could be implemented. Not all solutions have to cost outrageous sums of money. But it’s not as exciting as building a big new shiny bridge. And it goes without saying, if the lift bridge poses a real safety risk, it should be shut down immediately.

A very cheap traffic control measure not mentioned would be closing the lift bridge to car traffic.  I don’t believe this would have much ill effect on Stillwater, and would quickly solve traffic problems caused by commuters (I think they’d still have a lot of traffic, which is a good thing for downtown).

P.S. I really don’t intend for this blog to be all Stillwater bridge, all the time, I promise.  Things have just been a little busy lately.