November 2009 Archives

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Mumbai flooding after 2006 deluge

Leading up to President Obama welcoming India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the first official State Dinner of his presidency at the White House, The Bay Area Council Economic Institute yesterday released its new report, "Global Reach: Emerging Ties Between the San Francisco Bay Area and India."

At a release event in downtown San Francisco's Commonwealth Club, a panel addressed why, according to the Institute's president R. Sean Randolph, "No place else in the nation comes close to the economic connections that the Bay Area has in India."

The sheer numbers of Indians employed by Bay Area firms in such as Cisco, Visa and Semantec are a testament of India moving from a contractual model (think of the call centers in Slumdog Millionaire) to being a true strategic partner, because of its rich base of domestic and ex-pat engineering, management and venture capital talent.

With a fast-growing population of 200 to 300 million earning "disposable income," Hewlett-Packard and other Silicon Valley product manufacturers have been fighting for market share throughout the South Asian nation. Economic growth may lift some from the slums, but experts worry about the capacity of India to grow so quickly without detrimental climate and other sustainability impacts.

Like China, it now looks like the cities of India--both existing and new--are on the verge of an unparalleled urban population boom.

Michel St. Pierre, Director of Planning and Urban Design from San Francisco-based architectural firm Gensler, was the sole panelist addressing the topic of
Indian urban sustainability of the five other software, biotech and venture capital firms represented at the event.

"By 2022, there will be a need for up to 500 new cities in India to accommodate the urban growth in the country," St. Pierre said. "Reduced quality of life could greatly affect the success of the nation's economy if growth is not planned and executed properly."

St. Pierre said the biggest challenge is to address sustainability in all aspects, with cities such as Mumbai operating its current systems--including transportation, water, energy and environmental analysis--at full capacity and beyond. Then there is the emerging threat of global climate change, particularly flooding.

"The livibility and sustainability of cities like Mumbai and Delhi are critical to the success of the country," he opined about the city of 14 million, the largest city proper in the world. St. Pierre quoted Prime Minister Singh: "If Mumbai fails, then India fails."

St. Pierre compared India's urban growth to that of China in its scale, yet contrasted it with its neighbor to the north in terms of governance. Because India is a democracy, versus China, which has a planned, centrally controlled economy, India cannot so easily create whole-scale national programs around Eco-Cities, which China is in the beginning stages of trying to roll out.

India's advantage as a democracy is that it more likely to successfully enact public-private partnerships in such complex endeavors as the densification of its cities and in providing more mixed-use real estate with access to public transportation.

Most of India's so-called Eco-cities projects have attempted to create more healthy and sanitary conditions in such areas as those in the Kerala state by reducing pollution in rivers and drinking water supplies.

Indian cities have also been global leaders in converting their dirty diesel bus fleets to compressed natural gas (CNG), which emits far less particulates and other deadly air pollutants than diesel or gasoline-powered vehicles. Some fleets are even being switched to dual-fuel supplies of CNG and hydrogen.

But so far, there has been less success in redesigning slum areas or other development to take advantage of new innovations in renewable energy, green building and advanced water-conserving technologies, let alone district flood-resistant planning.

And then there are the masses of people, buildings and infrastructure. Mumbai has only .03 percent open space, one of the lowest rates in the world, according to St. Pierre--compared to an average of 5-7 percent open space in US cities. The country also suffers from constant power outages, chronic water shortages, and systemically contaminated water.

With the advent of corporate-backed city-wide sustainability initiatives, including the "Connected Urban Development" program from Cisco (with its global headquarters for development now in Bangalore) and IBM's Smarter Cities initiatives, India stands to become a fertile land for bringing software innovations into 21st century applications in planning and management of energy, water and transportation.

HP even has its own nascent "Sustainable Cities/ City 2.0" initiative, which is less defined at this point, but hinges upon the mother of all data centers as a massive brain behind Smart Grid, telepresence, intelligent buildings and metro transportation systems.

There is so much more to be launched that can harness the deeply educated pool of talent in India and California's Silicon Valley, particularly in light of climate change.

All of this brings us back to Obama's meeting with Prime Minister Singh, and the coming of the Copenhagen climate summit, for which one major point of negotiations is the amount of funding available from developed nations for financing greenhouse gas reductions and climate adaptation in developing nations such as India.

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President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Singh at the G-20 summit.


Concluded Genler's Michel St. Pierre, "India can lead the way worldwide for sustainability by addressing innovation just as it has done in software and all these other industries."

Let's hope that the buzz tonight at the State Dinner over the fresh veggies and herbs from Michelle Obama's White House garden goes beyond the gossip of celebrities and at least touches on issues so critical to the future of India, the United States and the world at large. 

Warren Karlenzig is President of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability consultancy in San Anselmo, CA. He is author of How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute

 

   

 





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A presentation last night in the Silicon Valley, by Mark Hartney, program director at ARPA-E, the Stimulus-funded offshoot of the Department of Energy, explained how the new agency is  trying to leapfrog existing energy technologies with wild ideas hatched in the nation's public and private labs, maybe even a garage or two.

Creating fuel to run cars by combining CO2, water and sunlight with bacteria? ARPA-E just funded it for $2.2 million. Such "out there" innovation might be the secret recipe needed to get the nation back into the game of energy-related economic innovation that is now being played largely outside US borders. 

"We are not really keeping up with the world," said Hartney, who pointed out that the US share of the global PV solar market alone went from 30 to 50 percent in the 1990s down to 7 percent this year. "It's similar in fuel efficiencies and the situation in batteries is much the same."

ARPA-E's mandate is to reduce greenhouse gases, reduce dependance on foreign oil and increase economic and energy security. It is based on the Department of Defense's DARPA program, started in 1958 in response to the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite. DARPA funding resulted in the Stealth fighter, the M16 assuault rifle and the backbone of the Internet (or ARPANET, as it was known in the day), among other innovations.

ARPA-E was first authorized in 2007-2008 and was sprung from theory earlier this year with funding from the The American Resource and Recovery Act of 2009. ARPA-E has $400 million to distribute for "breaking the barrier--supporting high risk, high-pontential programs," Hartney said. 

So far, as of October, a total of 37 projects were funded for a total of $151 million. ARPA characterizes the main areas funded as:

  • petroleum-free vehicles
  • low-carbon transport fuels
  • industrial energy efficiency
  • building energy efficiency
  • low-carbon power (which includes carbon capture)


ARPA-E-grants-chart.pngThe breakdown of who got funded so far: 45% for small businesses, 35% universities and 20% large companies, Hartney told the audience, which was invited by CALCEF, a clean-tech fund initiated through a legal settlement with a California public utility.

ARPA-E is putting out additional requests later this year and early next year for the remaining $249 million. The money has to be out the door by September 2010. In this year's earlier funding round, the agency received 6,000 proposals that it whittled down to the 37 awards.

"We have strong support from the Secretary (of Energy), The President and Congress," Hartney said. "Even so, we couldn't handle any more funding than we have." 

The CALCEF presentation also featured an update on California's new 33% renewable energy portfolio standard, which Governor Schwarzenegger signed as an executive order in September. The 33% renewable rate for the state's power supply needs to be hit by 2020. The previous renewable portfolio standard, explained the California Public Utility Commission's Jaclyn Marks, was 20% by 2010, a level that the state is significantly short of at this point.

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(photo copyright Los Angeles Times)

Evidence that speculative auto-dependant sprawl was one of the major factors behind the Great Recession is emerging through real estate market studies of major US metro areas, from Washington DC to Southern California.

Note the New York Times on November 6 (p.A13):

New research about the recession has also bolstered one of transit's central premises -- that highway-driven sprawl is bad for a city's economic health. Recent studies at the University of Utah, for example, concluded that foreclosure rates in the Washington area were much lower in counties served by the Metro rail system, compared with the next ring of counties farther out, and that home prices in Phoenix had also fallen in direct proportion to the distance from downtown. 

A new report I wrote for the Post Carbon Institute (link to pdf) includes the case of Victorville, California, a virtually 100 percent auto-dependent city of 107,000 that grew from 64,000 in 2000. Real estate prices started to crash in this Mojave desert community in 2006 when gas hit $2 a gallon. Victorville is now one of the foreclosure capitals of the nation, as home prices fell from an average of well over $325,000 in 2007 to under $125,000 in 2009.

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Source: City-data.com (11/09)

The market was so decimated that large new homes, some might call them McMansions, were demolished in Victorville (see photo at beginning of post) earlier this year to free the city from liability resulting from possible vandalism, crime and fire danger.

As gas prices hit $3 and $4 a gallon, people couldn't afford the thousands of dollars of extra gas expenses that were required to commute to the Los Angeles area, which is almost 100 miles away. As a result, home prices crashed, foreclosures proliferated, developers went bankrupt, and the city and the region are now suffering. At the same time, San Bernardino County was successfully sued by the California Attorney General's office for allowing development in its communities, such as Victorville, with disregard for global climate change and regional air pollution.

Similar imploding exurban real estate prices started the 2007-2009 national foreclosure crisis, with these toxic assets setting off the derivatives financial meltdown and, you know the rest...

Victorville is by no means an isolated example. The amount of suburban and exurban development that occurred in the 1990s and early 2000s when fuel prices hit their historic low prices (see graph below) has created a massive expanse of excess houses and infrastructure requiring untold resources to build and maintain.

historicgasdoe.jpg 

Largely because of such sprawl, stimulated by inexpensive gas prices and a lack of local government controls, California's main source of greenhouse gases come from the transportation sector.

Clearly it's time for the focus on "green cities" to expand outward to greening the suburbs and the exurbs, because that's where the majority of our nation's population resides. Though 80 percent of the nation lives in urban (developed) areas, only 20 percent of those "urbanites" live in big cities. About 60 percent of US population lives in metro area 'burbs of under 100,000. 
 
During the last three years, outer-suburban or exurban areas lost far more value than real estate in urban or suburban areas served by public transit with walkable, bikeable and mixed-use zoning options as my report and others, such as Prof. Arthur C. Nelson's at the University of Utah, are demonstrating.

This is the first time in US history that sprawled low-density suburbs or exurbs have fallen faster in average value than city or inner-suburban areas; suddenly "Smart Growth" is more than a niche market or trend--it will be at the core of financially successful planning and development.

Greater density with non-auto mobility options is going to dominate development as long as we have climate change, volatile resource availability (particularly water) and high gas prices. In addition to economics, there are demographics. The nation's dramatically aging population consists of more single people, retired couples and empty-nesters who want apartments or condos from which they can walk, bike and ride buses or use subways and light rail. 

The redesign of suburbs and exurbs will require some painful Victorville-type actions that may waste resources, such as tearing down certain neighborhoods or homes. There are other options, however. Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson demonstrate design examples in their excellent 2009 book, Retrofitting Suburbia.

Not all future metro areas need to follow the hub-and-spoke format with central cities and their suburbs. Metro areas might consider, for instance, designing growth and transit corridors around multiple regional centers of economic activity, which was the aim of the Los Angeles area's Compass Blueprint.

California's anti-sprawl Senate Bill 375 is the nation's first such statewide measure. It now is being guided by an official strategic growth process, which is being led by a council with modeling tools for preferred scenarios developed by Calthorpe Associates, transit-oriented development champion Peter Calthorpe's Berkeley, CA firm.   

On a more granular level, cul-de-sacs, which are impediments to non-automotive mobility, can be re-engineered to accommodate more direct walking and biking access.

Some innovative buyers are devising ways to use the glut of unoccupied or unsold large homes for business or residential purposes other than single-family living. Based on major shifts in market demand, home builders are downsizing and are constructing more energy-efficiently.

The days of plowing productive agricultural areas under for suburban home tracts and strip malls may be coming to an end. A Denver suburban home developer is incorporating working agricultural land into unsold tract home land plots in numerous communities, in what is being billed as "Agriburbia."

Clearly, energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emission reduction and resource conservation are becoming guiding factors for much more than regulatory and environmental compliance, they are beginning to dictate the very economies upon which our metro regions operate.

We must now rethink how to develop our communities so that sprawl does not re-emerge, and relegate it to history, as an oddity from the era when gas was cheap, the climate was forgiving and resources were seemingly endless. 

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, a consultancy based in San Anselmo, California with international projects on urban sustainability strategy and metrics. He is a Fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute and author of How Green is Your City?: The SustainLane US City Rankings. 

 

 



 

About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren
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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This page is an archive of entries from November 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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