June 2008 Archives

With some rivers in the Midwest rising 11 feet higher than their all-time historic highs and 20 feet above flood stage, the deluge that is making some locals nostalgic for 1993 is being attributed by a series of White House science agency reports as the result of global climate change.

The US Climate Change Science Program, coordinated by President George Bush, said yesterday that "droughts, heavy downpours, excessive heat, and intense hurricanes are likely to become more commonplace as humans continue to increase the atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases."

This is the first time the program has released results of what climate change will look like in this continent.

Consisting of 13 federal agencies and supervised by green visors including the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Economic Council, this is a sobering look at what the US, Canada and Mexico must do to adapt their economies, the natural environment, food production and communities in the face of such devastation.

The scientists called for improved ability to model extreme weather impacts relationship to global climate change, including severe heat waves, such as the 2003 European heat wave that killed upwards of 35,000, and megadroughts. That way they can better forecast severe weather and its impacts, so people, like those whose communities are underwater in the Midwest, can have an idea of what to expect and can get ready.

The forecast is not pretty.

"In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are likely to further to increase in frequency and intensity...more frequent droughts of greater severity.... Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity and storm surge levels are likely to increase."
San Francsico passed last week (thanks to upcoming green design site Inhabit.com) the nation's largest solar incentive program for a US city. SF budgeted $3 million for individual homes, multi-family homes, non-profits, low-income homes and business subsidies. The city will even help figure out solar suitability of properties and buildings for free.

Combined with the nation's largest combined municipal solar installations at over 1.5 MW, San Francisco now has a terrific twosome of city solar projects and citizen incentives. The new $3 million fund is expected to develop 1.5 MW of power--this in a city known for its fog-shrouded weather.

Next, maybe the US can look to Germany's feed-in tariff regulations, where any homeowner or business generating electricity from wind, PV solar, hydroelectric gets a guaranteeed payment four times the market rate.

Because of these regulations, Freiburg, Germany, a city only one-quarter the size of San Francisco located in the equally non-tropical Black Forest, had a solar generating capacity of more than 8.6 MW at the end of 2006.  

Almost two weeks ago I presented to the European Union's Committee of the Regions special meeting on "Green and Connected Cities" which was held in Brussels. I also presented on the same theme at an event in Paris the same week.

(Please excuse the late post).

I was struck by how much more advanced Europe is in policy as it relates to the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to acheive sustainability, and that naturally includes economic dvelopment. The EU has an official mandate to use ITC to help not only reduce climate change through greater energy efficiency, but to:

"stimulate the development of a large leading-edge market for ICT-enabeled energy efficiency that will foster the competiveness of European Industry and create new business opportunities."

The event was oragnized by ACIDD, the European association for communication and information for sustainable development, and it featured 31 other presenters from Europe and Africa.

Two of my fellow presenters on my panel were notable. One was Charles Secrett, of the London Development Agency, who guided sustainability policy including but by no means limited to the congestion pricing scheme implemented by outgoing London Mayor Ken Livingston.

Though Livingston lost in a recent election, congestion pricing has been a great success reducing traffic congestion and air pollution in the range of 20-40 percent. Secrett told me it's anyone's guess whether incoming mayor elect Boris Johnson will maintain congestion pricing or Livingston's other well-laid plans for carbon reduction.

Also on my panel was Leda Guidi, head of Iperbola. She described in detail the electronic participatory democracy of Bologna, Italy, which has been garnering citizens votes and feedback on sustainability planning since 1995, with impressive participation rates (30k visits per day).

Cisco presented on its Connected Urban Development initiative which is working with cities such as San Francisco, Amsterdam and Seoul on everything from wireless building networks and transportation systems, to teleworking centers for commuters to use in lieu of driving. Madrid, Lisbon, Hamburg, and Birmingham, England are the next locations for pilot projects. 

A dose of realism was brought to the proceedings by Ronan Uhel from the EU's Environment Agency, as he said the EU's 27 countries and countless regions and cities will need to develop common data methodologies and processes to make these scale up across the EU.

"Stop exchanging data," Uhel told the Brussels audience. "And start sharing data, ontologies, multi-lingual websites, metadata and formats. Success will be predicated on the work that goes on backstage." 

EU Commissioner Nicholas Hanley gave paticipants the big picture of why cities should be the focus of sustainability and climate change policy engineering: "Cities concentrate the problems related to sustainability, but they also concentrate the capacity for response." 




Now that I've been initiated into the bicycle velolution through the Velib' bike sharing program in Paris, I can confidently predict further such successes in the United States.

With $5-a-gallon gas and global climate change mandates on the visible horizon, these programs come not a moment too soon.

Washington DC signed on this spring as the first US city to start such a program, where sturdy "comfort" (upright with plush seats) bikes are made available at automated racks. Swipe a credit card and get the bike at low costs for anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours.  In Paris its like one Euro, or a $1.60, though I have yet to get my credit card bill. After that initial period costs go up more.

In Paris last week I tried to navigate the push buttons on the Velib'  payment machine unsuccessfully at first, until an enlightened ex-pat told me you need to have a credit card with a chip inside of it like French cards have.


My American Express card had a chip, so with her help we made it work.

And so my wife and I both got our bikes. The 10,000 Velib' bikes at 750 stations in Paris are provided by the French advertising firm JCDecaux. They are distinctive upright handle-bar style beasts that have thick bodies, baskets, locks, and easily visible headlights and tail-lights that operate through pedal power.


We both found the bikes to be easy to operate, with three gears and hand brakes. Diana liked the way the bikes were stable on bumps (this was the first time she has been able to ride a bike since breaking a vertebrae in January, so this was a huge factor for her, a casual bike user). And I was just happy to join the thousands of people we saw riding them throughout the City of Light.

And ride we did. From our Left-Bank hotel, we rode past the Louvre and toured the sculptures of the Jardin de Tulieries, until the guards suggested that we walk our steeds. Before doing so, we even rode through a 1983 Richard Serra sculpture.

Other sights we accessed by bike included the Garden of Luxembourg, and the Catacombs,  as well as countless cafes, restaurants and friends' apartments. Night riding was especially cool because of the wild Parisian street sites, reduced traffic and our nice running lights.

The great things about the Velib' bikes is that when you reach your destination, you just deposit the bike in an open rental slot, stopping the rental clock and making it available for others to ride. You then have the option of jumping on the ubiquitous Metro if you wish.

One complaint--the bike rental racks get full at night and you sometimes need to hunt for others so you get off the clock. There's a way to tell the machine you couldn't find an empty slot, but I couldn't figure out how to do it. Also we had no helmets, and couldn't get any. Though we saw no one wearing helmets anywhere we rode in Europe, a testament to either good city planning, dangerous living, or both.

Many other cities have similar programs in Europe such as Brussels, Seville, Oslo and Vienna, and ridership is varied in terms of age ( we saw riders or passengers 2 to 90 years old), ability, race and social-economic background.

There are 100,000 people a day safely using Velib' in the massive urban center that is Paris, with no road rage, accidents or even near-accidents that we witnessed. I think it's time we either dispel the notion that bikes are unsafe in US traffic or change traffic so that bikes can be a significant part of the mobility mix.
Paris also had great walking directional signs for pedestrians, something I've only seen in Philadelphia. That's something else we should consider on this side of the pond, as many times I've noticed street signs are made for cars only to see--even in such eco-groovy places as San Francisco near its City Hall (at Franklin and Hayes, for instance)


Amsterdam, city of bikes. The streets are full of them, Dutch "Granny bikes" with upright handlebars piloted by stylish hipsters and real grannies.


Fifty percent of people in Amsterdam ride a bike at least once a day. On Sunday we saw one car driving for every fifty bikes riding around historic district beyond Dam square. Bikes with trailers, bike wagons pedaled by thirty people, with beer keg on board [Ed: see orange contraption in middle of above photo]. Today, a Monday, it's about one to one car to bike, and we're on the latter. Bike lanes ring every canal, and through the use of islands and curb cuts, (Bicycle planner is noteworthy profession in Holland's cities), intersections are designed for complete bike and pedestrain access.

And now Amsterdam is making sustainable mobility the showcase of its transportation plan with ambitious goals set for 2010. The city motto is now, "Cycling to Sustainability." More on that later.

After addressing the EU last week in both Brussels and Paris, I will return to the States with heady optimism for what can be achieved in the world's cities and beyond. Europe is even hosting a "Green Capital Europe" program for 2010 and 2011 with different cities now applying for the honor.

I nominate Amsterdam from what I've seen. Paris and its Velib bike rental program is an amazing success, but in Amsterdam, I've witnessed the promise of a new future that is emerging now. Giant wind power turbines outside the city, trains, trams, bikes and people walking everywhere.

Off we go!

Photos: Flicker user redjar, Warren


About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); United Nations Center for Regional Development (training of mayors from 13 Asian nations on city sustainable economic development and technology); provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Present and recent clients include the Guangzhou Planning Agency; the Global Forum on Human Settlements; the Shanghai 2010 World Expo Bureau; the US Department of State; the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders; a major mixed-use real estate development corporation; an educational sustainability non-profit; and global corporations. Read more here.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from June 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

May 2008 is the previous archive.

July 2008 is the next archive.

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