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Roundup: New Biosphere Reserves, Energy Barn Raisings and Cloud Control


UN Names New Biosphere Reserves
UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves grew by 22 this week. The recipients, from 17 countries, include straightforward conservation areas in India’s biological hotspots to a reserve in the Chiapas region of Mexico with an integrated environmental stewardship and sustainable agriculture program. But one in particular really interests us. The Biosphäre Bliesgau in Germany spans untouched natural areas, rural areas and two densely populated cities and their surrounding ‘burbs. In fact, the population density of the biosphere (310 residents per square meter) is higher than the Federal German average. From UNESCO:

© Detlef Reinhard
A number of the species recorded at Bliesgau actually live in the towns, such as the crested lark, wall lizard, greater mouse-eared bat, barn owl and common swift. These animals are part of the reserve. “We want to systematically assess how nature is developing in urban centres”, say Detlev Reinhard and Holger Zeck, employees at the Ministry of the Environment…."The situation here can’t be compared with other biosphere reserves", explains Pia Schramm of the Biosphere Association in Blieskastel. "Many biosphere reserves are very much geared to classical nature conservation and regional development; and rely strongly, for example, on the marketing of regional products,” Schramm says. ”We wanted, in addition, to show what it means to attain sustainability in urban systems, too”.

As we’ve said before, we live on an increasingly urban planet, so it’s exciting to see urban ecology play a central role in conservation.(CB)

Pictured above: Great Sandy, Australia. Photo © Fraser Coast South Burnett Tourism

Photo source: HEET
Barn Raising, Redux Tired of waiting for a federal emissions reduction scheme, denizens in the People’s Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts, have taken matters into their own hands. They’ve created the Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET), a citizen-led weatherization cooperative that sends groups of volunteers, led by experienced team leaders, into Cambridge buildings to complete day-long retrofit projects. The effort is as much about building community as it is about improving energy efficiency: homeowner hosts provide their volunteers with a meal and even musical entertainment at an end-of-the-day celebration. In its 10-month existence, the group has organized 17 projects — everything from a private residence to a homeless shelter to a church — and HEET-like teams have sprung up in five other Boston-area towns. Yankee roots or no, this is one version of a barn raising that has great possibility for parts of the world beyond New England. (SG)

Will This Be North America's First Living Building?
This afternoon, Washington University in St. Louis will celebrate the opening of its Living Learning Center. The building has been designed to meet the most stringent green building standards available, as defined by Cascadia Region Green Buiding Council's Living Building Challenge. By this time next year, the Living Learning Center could be the first structure in North America to achieve Living Building certification.

According to the University, the Center (designed by Hellmuth & Bicknese Architects) will achieve net-zero water and energy use. Among the building's green credentials are a 17-kilowatt photovoltaic system, an underground cistern for collecting and storing rainwater, porous pavement to absorb stormwater for natural filtration, and waterless composting toilets that provide fertilizer for the surrounding grass. Located on the 2,000-acre Tyson Research Center, the building will house seminars and classes for undergraduate and graduate students, space for local environmental researchers, and a summer outreach program for high school students.

With all these cutting-edge systems, why the wait for official recognition? The Living Building Challenge certification can't be bestowed on a building until 12 months after the structure has opened for use, since this crucial period allows building owners to monitor and evaluate the building's performance. The post-occupancy feedback is important because many factors can impact a building's ability to perform as intended. As a study of LEED building performance by the New Buildings Institute shows. According to the NBI study (the industry's broadest to date) LEED-certified buildings perform 25-30 percent better on average than comparable conventional buildings; however, there's high degree of scatter, with some performing much better than average and some much worse." Some of the variables affecting performance include systems that break or don't function as planned; variations in building management; and tenant/occupant energy use. (JL)

Atmospheric Retrofitting
Blogger rholmes at architecture-focused Mammoth struck up a virtual conversation with Worldchanging ally Geoff Manaugh about the possible futurist implications of a recent study showing relationships between land use patterns and cloud formation. According to the report, “patches of trees behave as ‘green oceans’ while cleared pastures act like ‘continents’, creating regional (mesoscale) patterns in shallow (lower) cloud cover layers”. Says Mammoth:

Cue BLDGBLOG to suggest a city built with the aim of controlling the cloud patterns above — rather being zoned ‘R-3 Residential Low Density’ a block might be zoned ‘Cumulus H-2′. ... Towers rise not in defiance of gravity but to paint the sky with subtly altered cloud volumes; city blocks are leveled and replaced with forests, in order to draw the clouds down onto them.

BLDGBLOG responds:

I hate to be so predictable, but I think it's a great idea. ...All new buildings have to be cleared with a Meteorological Bureau to ensure that they produce the right types of cloud. Atmospheric retrofitting comes to mean attaching bizarre cantilevers, ramps, and platforms to the roofs and walls of existing houses till the clouds above look just right.
Sky vandals are people who deliberately misengineer the weather through the use of inappropriate roof ornamentation. George Orwell would call it skycrime
Over generations, you thus sculpt vast, urban-scale volumes of air, guiding seasonal rain events toward certain building types – where, as mammoth's own earlier paper about fog farming suggests, "fog nets" might capture a new water source for the city.

Urban Living = Low Carbon
Shiny new data from the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) was released earlier this week showing that those living in the urban core produce much less household auto greenhouse gas emissions than those living in nearby neighborhoods and suburbs.


Although metro areas appear to be the biggest culprits (see the red?), a closer look shows that those living in denser city centers produce far less carbon dioxide.


The CNT developed the geographic data for their Housing + Transportation Affordability Index using GPS data, and has also mapped out housing costs, transportation costs and gasoline prices. CNT has mapped out 55 metro areas so far, and plans to expand that number to 330 by the end of the year. (SK)

Car-Free NYC
New York City's Mayor Bloomberg and the Department of Transportation kicked off its Green Light for Midtown project over Memorial Day weekend. The $1.5 million project, scheduled for completion at the end of the year, will reconfigure traffic patterns in the most congested areas of Broadway and Times and Herald Squares. The improvements include increasing pedestrian space, as you can see in these Before and After images for Times Square:


Bway_at_45th_Day_1.jpgThe area is ripe for complete street design improvements. According to the DOT, more than 356,000 people walk through Times Square every day -- that's 4.5 times more pedestrians than vehicles -- yet only 11 percent of the space is currently reserved for pedestrians.

The photo at right, taken by Streetsblog's Aaron Naparstek, shows what a stretch of Broadway looked like last Sunday, just 30 minutes after it was declared a temporarily car-free zone. Hopefully, this pedestrian enthusiasm is a sign of an enthusiastic transition to come. (JL)

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