May 2010 Archives

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Danish Pavilion, Shanghai Expo

Sure, the Shanghai World Expo might be the largest World Fair in history, with more than 70 million expected, the majority of visitors coming from China. With the theme of "Better City, Better Life," the Expo will also be thick with urban sustainability related proceedings and exhibits during its May to October gestation.

Shanghai is officially China's largest city, a metro area of more than 18 million that competes with the capital for national prominence (Beijing has an official metro population of 13 million). From Opium Wars and cunning "Green Gangs" (not those Greens!), Shanghai's economy has emerged as the international polestar for service and information industries

Like other cities approaching 20 million, planning for global climate change and adaptation is of concern. Shanghai is examining how information and communications technologies (ICT) enable low-carbon management; Seoul, Amsterdam and San Francisco similarly have piloted "Connected Urban Development" projects designed by Cisco and MIT over the past few years, mostly in transportation demand management (broadband enabled work centers, handheld transit alerts).  

The Expo marks the first time that buzzing Shanghai, and thus China, has publicly focused so much attention on the issue of urban sustainability, in one venue. China's urban population is expected to go from more than 600 million in 2009 to more than 1 billion by 2030.

Shanghai Expo Bureau events are orchestrated by China's national leaders. The Bureau addresses climate change and low-carbon development through the exploration of applied information and communication technologies in the service of sustainability management. The event, referred to as the "Economic Olympics," is a happening staged with great investment: $55 billion

During a soft launch period in April, officials examined how to make nearby Chongming Island into a low-carbon development. An Expo "ICT and Urban Development" forum earlier in May covered "social responsibilities" as they apply to smart + digital (IT-driven) urban areas.

IBM and Metropolis will be exploring ICT enabled urban management solutions as part of a "Smarter Cities" forum in Shanghai (loosely affiliated with the Expo) on June 2-3. Topics of consideration will include: energy and utilities, water, transportation, healthcare and public safety.  

The Climate Group, Metropolis and Cisco--in conjunction with the Shanghai Expo Bureau-- jointly host Partnership for Urban Innovation (PDF) on June 17-18. The two day invite-only confab will cover "Urban Design and Networked Development," "Sustainable Cities: Challenges and Solutions," and "Smart and Connected Urban Mobility."

San Francisco will highlight its urban best practices in sustainability on June 17-25 at the Expo. As a sister city of Shanghai, it is the only US city that Shanghai provided a week for a dedicated display (though Vancouver also boasts an Expo pavilion, also green themed). A delegation from the Bay Area including US Senator Dianne Feinstein and Fog City Mayor Gavin Newsom will be part of a Green Energy Seminar in June that will be broadcast throughout China on China Business Network TV. 

Forums on transportation, energy, waste management, water, health services and housing will occur throughout the Expo, leading to a green exit. A thematic week ending October 31, 2010, is devoted to sustainability management in megacities. The Expo finale will also consider the role of an ICT-enabled green economy as it simultaneously emerges in global markets, developing nation cities, and of course, Shanghai.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. 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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Yesterday, Sir Francis Drake High School, from suburban San Francisco, took the California State Mountain Biking Championship. The teenage girls and boys (my son is one of them) beat dozens of competing schools from around the state in a series of four dirt races.

What do suburban teen mountain bikers have to do with urban sustainability? If we are to successfully transform our metro areas into being more sustainable and healthier, it will require sweeping cultural changes in suburbia as well as in central city neighborhoods. 

The majority of North Americans live in the suburban belts surrounding big cities. Altering the design, mindset and practices of suburbia--where people need to drive or be driven to get places--means that the focus on "green cities" needs to be expanded to "sustainable urbanism."

Think of all that oil that has gushed into the Gulf. It's primarily used to power the cars and trucks serving suburbia, not inner cities. Youth--particularly teenagers--should be at the center of planning for an alternative future that provides a way to burn calories, not carbon.

Drake High School is set in Marin County, which is across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Thanks to the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, Marin County is one of the foremost North American suburban locations promoting cycling as an alternative to automobile use for commuters, students and citizens. The county bicycle coalition helped Marin get selected as one of four communities nationwide as part of a federal Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program.

The Marin Bicycle Coalition implements a successful Safe Routes to School Program, with more than 50 schools and preschools participating countywide. After being started in 2000, the Marin program became the model for a national program that has spread from the West Coast to the East Coast. 

Central Marin County was the birthplace of mountain bike racing and, arguably, of the modern mountain bike itself. One of the originators of the mountain bike and a participant in the world's first organized mountain bike races in the 1970s was Joe Breeze, whose son Tommy is a sophomore on the Drake team. Back in the Day, Joe battled it out with Gary Fisher on the trails of Marin County. Now Joe helps keep the Drake Team bicycles in racing shape, after successfully launching and selling a Marin-based mountain bike and commuter cycling company, Breezer Bicycles.

The mountain bike has become an important feature of not just recreational biking, but also  cycling for transportation. This type of bicycle, which has a heavier frame and thicker tires, is used for urban transportation worldwide, particularly where roads are rough. In San Francisco, mountain bikes provide upright bike riders greater visibility and afford more traction in crossing slippery cable car tracks and potholes. In Hanoi, people use them to haul construction material or carry goods to and from the city markets.

Kids and teenagers like riding mountain bikes and can tolerate being seen riding them, so they can still be thought of as being "cool," at least until teenagers start driving. Now, however, the popularity of mountain biking at Drake has reached the point where cycling may even have more cachet.  

Drake High School is located centrally in San Anselmo, and many of its students walk or ride bikes--invariably mountain bikes or cruisers--from around town or from neighboring Fairfax to get to campus. There are numerous bike-pedestrian lanes and bike-safe routes that have been implemented in the area. Perhaps that's why I see far more students commuting by bike or walking to Drake than I see doing the same to other Marin high schools.

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Drake students even go on field trips to neighboring towns by bicycle. Such activities reinforce the bicycle as a bonafide means of transportation for students, their parents, and for every driver that sees dozens of students riding together.

This past school year, mountain biking became Drake's most successful sport in terms of enrollment, with 49 students in the program during the 2009-2010 season. Winning another state championship won't hurt the club sport's future popularity: the names of all team members will be displayed in the school's gymnasium alongside its state championship rosters in basketball, baseball and other more traditional high school sports.

The mountain bike team's coaches demonstrate for student riders trail and road safety, as well as etiquette, in addition to supervising a regimen of brutal conditioning. According to assistant coach Neil Doucet, riders climbed 130,000 total feet during the twice-a-week November to May team rides this year--more than four Mt. Everests in verticality. Still, no matter how exhausted, every rider provides right of way to other trial users, enthusiastically greeting them with a cheerful "Howdy."

Bicycles of all types are becoming a major cultural force in the cities and suburbs of the United States. Economists are even tallying the resulting economic impact in communities where cycling is becoming a significant form of transportation. In Portland, Oregon, the leading US city for cycling, for instance, almost $90 million in cycling-related sales and services were generated in 2008, according to an Alta Planning study cited in Joan Fitzgerald's Emerald Cities.

In places such as San Anselmo and Fairfax, where Drake students live, the popularity of bicycles also translates to jobs. With a combined population of about 20,000 the two towns have a bicycle co-op and five full-service bicycle shops, including Sunshine Bicycle Center, the official sponsor of the Drake Mountain Bike Team. 

Because Central Marin is such a strong magnet for mountain biking and road cycling, there is also a significant impact from "bicycle tourism" in local restaurants and cafes. The Gestalthaus, for instance, is a Fairfax cafe that features sausages, suds and indoor bike racks (see photo below) for its visiting riders.
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In terms of its greenhouse gas emissions, Marin County's largest contributor by far is personal transportation. The adoption of cycling culture and the growth of cycling advocacy is a leading wave that could help other car-dependent suburbs significantly reduce their contribution to global climate change, and reduce their addiction to oil.

My wife and I moved to the suburbs from the city just over ten years ago, with the proviso that we would be able to cycle to work and other destinations most of the time. We have been able to fulfill that wish. With the success of the Drake Pirates cycling club, meanwhile, our goal of seeing bicycles gain even more prominence in the lives of our children (who have been biking or walking to school since Kindergarten) has also come true.

With time I hope to see a nation transformed so that all that want to ride for fun, sport (Go Pirates!) or mobility, are able to do so without fear, limitation or social stigma, wherever they live.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. 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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Stranger than fiction: methane hydrate, a potential source of energy that may dwarf the supply of earth's existing fossil fuels likely caused the April 20 Deepwater Horizon-BP explosion and then prevented the containment of the resulting spill this weekend.

Reports that methane hydrate gases shot up the well before the Deepwater Horizon explosion appeared on Friday, while the attempt Saturday by BP to put a containment dome over the leaking oil well was foiled by "slushy methane hydrates" that built up in the structure.

Unknown risks associated with our society's fossil fuel reliance are suddenly coming into sharper focus, and it's beginning to look like a well-conceived science fiction movie. Only this is real, it's happening now, and a happy ending appears out of the question.

We can't turn it off.  

An out-of-control oil spill is coming directly out of the earth, with seemingly unlimited quantities of crude fouling the nation's most productive fishery, where 80% of the country's domestically produced wild seafood supply is harvested. The oil spill is accompanied by one of the most potent known greenhouse gases, which stymies rescue efforts with acute volatility, threatening far more global climate damage than existing fossil fuels.    

Also known as "ice energy," methane hydrate is layered below the global ocean floors around the world in a frozen, yet highly flammable state. Occurring in permafrost as well, this enigmatic substance has more than three times the carbon than natural gas, coal and oil combined, so it presents incalcuable risks to the global climate if it is released into the atmosphere without sequestration.

What makes methane hydrate and recent Gulf events so remarkable is that this substance, formed by high pressure and cold temperatures and discovered only in the 1960s, has more potential energy than all the world's coal, natural gas and oil combined.
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The US Department of Energy (DOE), China and India have all been pursuing methane hydrate deposits and research because of its potential as the ultra high-powered energy source. Russia (in conjunction with Japan) has been the first country to successfully harvest this game-changing energy source.

Oil companies and drilling operations, however, had been wary of its dangers before the Deepwater Horizon event, according to the DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory: "(The oil and gas) Industry has concerns about drilling through hydrate zones, which can destabilize supporting foundations for platforms and production wells. The disruption to the ocean floor also could result in surface slumping or faulting, which could endanger work crews and the environment."

The happy ending of our Sci-fi flick: The Gulf oil spill is stopped by drilling a relief well; the millions of gallons that did "spill" are not as damaging as thought; and methane hydrate is safely harnessed and sequestered of carbon worldwide, which phases out oil and natural gas as energy sources. Oil wars largely cease as a result, as methane hydrates are bountiful enough for most coastal nations to secure their own 100+ year energy supply.

Let's see what the focus groups think.

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

 

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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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

April 2010 is the previous archive.

June 2010 is the next archive.

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