Posts Tagged ‘Sustainable Cities’

Parking Gardens

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Parking lots make great settings for film noirs—I’ll give them that. But they’re bad for the environment. Their extensive paved and impervious surfaces bake in the sun, exacerbating the urban heat island effect. Virtually all the rain that falls on them is funneled into storm sewers, polluting local waterways. And they’re some of the ugliest places on the planet.

Public gardens are leading the way to greener parking lots—parking gardens—with plantings that absorb rain and prevent runoff and solar arrays that produce energy while providing shade. (more…)

More Green Cities

Monday, January 19th, 2009

While I’ve been off for the past three weeks celebrating the holidays and doing site visits for a public garden project I’m working on, news of the following green city plans has been reported, courtesy of Inhabitat

For a neighborhood of Gothenburg, Sweden, currently covered with parking lots and football fields, comes this plan for a “garden block” nestled beneath a series of green roofs shaped like undulating hills. These green roofs insulate the buildings below while absorbing rainfall that can be purified for household use. The project also includes space for community cultivation of fruits and vegetables.

Meanwhile, outside of Milan is a planned development of high-rises with stacked planted terraces surrounding a large municipal park. The complex will be completely self-contained, with schools, sporting facilities, and a shopping center, saving energy by reducing the distance residents will need to travel in the course of their daily lives. Photovoltaic panels will help shade sunny windows while generating electricity, and solar water heaters will also slash energy use.

Green Walls or Greenwash?

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

I admit it—I’m as seduced by the idea of verdant buildings as the next plant nut. On a purely aesthetic level, structures with living walls are a major improvement over the granite and glass monoliths that rise from the typical cityscape like enormous gravestones. But before we fall head over heels for green walls it’s worth asking whether they’re all they’re cracked up to be. Do they really, as touted, help insulate buildings, filter particulates from polluted city air, counteract the urban heat island effect, and create habitat for insects and spiders? Or are they just a green veneer, a 21st-century version of the fussy millwork that decorated Victorian buildings? Or worse, do they actually eat up more resources than they save? 

Even the green-minded bloggers at Treehugger and Inhabitat have been drooling over the latest designs, Daniel Libeskind’s 900-foot New York Tower, an upscale residential skyscraper with a section of glass curtain wall cut away to accommodate vegetated balconies, and Rotterdam-based MVRDV’s cluster of cone-like structures with concentric rings of boxwood-lined terraces intended for a new city south of Seoul. From a biological point of view, only one of the “11 Buildings Wrapped in Gorgeous Green and Living Walls” in this glowing review is interesting—Sharp & Diamond’s 50-square-meter green wall of wildflowers, ferns, and ground covers at the Vancouver Aquarium that seems to be based on plant associations found on cliffs, scree slopes, and other natural analogs. (If you haven’t seen it, take a look at The Urban Cliff Revolution, which suggests that these natural habitats have a lot in common with skyscrapers and other features of the modern city, and can serve as “habitat templates” for green walls and roofs.)

But what about the carbon footprint of the growing media used to create green walls, and any fertilizers used to sustain the plants? Is irrigation required? If so, is there an integrated graywater system in which used water from sinks, dishwashers, and other sources is cleansed by the plants and growing medium and piped back into the building to flush toilets? In short, do the environmental benefits of green walls outweigh the costs? I’d love to see some hard data.

Superstar City

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

If you’re headed to the Venice Biennale in the next couple of months, check out the latest figment of MAD Architects‘ imagination — Superstar, a mobile, self-sustaining city capable of housing, growing food, producing energy, and recycling the waste of 15,000 people. The Beijing-based firm conceived Superstar as an alternative to the “sloppy patchwork of poor construction and nostalgia” (if not the astonishing diversity of the vegetable markets and array of restaurants) of the typical Chinatown in cities around the world. The sparkling, three-dimensional star-shaped superstructure, which has been described as looking a little like a Cylon Base Star from Battlestar Galactica by Inhabitat, will be able to travel around the globe, providing a taste of Chinese cuisine and culture wherever it docks.