Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’


the future of cities

Friday 15 April, 2011

I caught this Young Professionals event put on by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs The Future of Cities: How We’ll Live Next & boy, it showed.  Greg Lindsay was pumping up his book “Aerotropolis:  The way we’ll live next” while Jeanne Gang kept right up with him, pushing her’s, “Reveal.”

GLOBAL CITIES-As of 2006, the world officially became urban when it’s population crossed the 50% threshold, which will total 3B in 30 years.  Gang’s architecture firm is working in Hyderabad, Mumbai, Taiwan, & Shanghai.  Different climates dictate different architecture, as does culture, i.e. India’s concept of feng shui leads them to want to interact, so they design in more common areas.

SUSTAINABILITY-China is building infrastructure before it’s actually needed, in anticipation of what they’ll need.  Now we need to build cities that are more dense to concentrate knowledge.  Another advantage to density is greenhouse gases per person are lower in cities.  Water quality is another issue:  it’s a problem when city’s sewage overflows with 1/8″ of rain.  There is a zoning problem re: trains;  there is a limit of 5 story buildings above train stations, so we need to rezone density.  Low rise buildings are not a solution to preserving the social fabric because people will just move farther out.  China has buildings that look like Chicago’s high rise Cabrini Green projects, but the Chinese buildings are active & vibrant.

INSTANT CITIES-A developer in China was asked to build a city the size of Boston to house ex-patriots, so the developer incorporated the best from many different cities, but character still counts to bridge the generic with the novel;  we’ll see in 150 years if these have it.  The key is to create that social fabric while each city responds to it’s own different climate.  Governments & corporations are building cities in the United Arab Emirates.  China is moving into the interior of the country, of which Chicago is already a good example.


  • Youngstown, Ohio is an example of a shrinking city where the goal is no longer growth, rather to simply be sustainable by creating more green space in the city, etc. which can be cheaper.  There are now shrinking cities conferences.
  • There is no optimal size or upper limit for a city.  Cities violate all laws of biology, i.e. they double in size & get an additional 15% increase in productivity.  Cities are changing into communities of villages today.  They are hyper-connected with no boundaries.  Online connections are reducing the need for cars & when you do need to go someplace, people are finding it’s better to talk on your iPhone on the train rather than veg out in your car.
  • Chicago was actually an Instant City when it was rebuilt after the Chicago fire.  That same process will happen elsewhere, as there is an urgent need due to migration to cities.  Singapore understands it’s limits in resources & they were the 1st to recycle gray (disposed) water, institute congestion pricing on cars in the city, & is now getting into the consulting-to-cities business.
  • Urban agriculture is bringing food infrastructure into cities with hothouses, vertical farms, etc.  The bottom million of the world population simply wants access to these mature markets.  The biggest obstacle is the size of the area required to raise farm animals.

I realize the content here is all over the place, but that’s how the conversation went.  It’s not me.


Ireland-death of the celtic tiger

Friday 12 March, 2010

I attended this event hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs IRELAND’S ECONOMY AND THE DEATH OF THE CELTIC TIGER featuring Fintan O’Toole.  Here’s what he had to say:

Why does Eire matter?  It’s a fitting example of the current status of globalization & its sustainability.  Globalization a very complex phenomenon that is often grossly oversimplified.  Between 1995 & 2002 Ireland benefited greatly from global free trade & became the most globalized economy according to AT Kearney & Foreign Policy magazine.  There were many external effects which led to Ireland’s boom:

  • the weakening role of the catholic church, (which essentially outsourced morality)
  • a baby boom in the 1970’s led to demographic changes which resulted in a younger work force & more women working
  • investment in education was significant
  • social partnership led to less free markets
  • Ireland’s vicious cycle of mass immigration weakened its economy in the past, but when immigrants returned to Ireland, it had a positive effect.

The problems started popping up when they started to believe the hype themselves.  While lower taxes & fewer regulations added to growth, it was not sustainable.  It crowded out capacity to understand what was happening to society.  The lack of political tension created a transformation that either all had changed, or not.  5 things did not change:

  1. town hall political culture-machine politics expanded, which led to fewer choices
  2. perils of intimacy in a small society-financial corruption with impunity made decision-makers think standards no longer applied to themselves & that they were the kings of the universe
  3. unknown knowns-tax frauds were known, but ignored, which led to an incredible property boom while common sense became inert
  4. understanding of wealth-the assumption was that technology + management leads to wealth, but they returned to feudalism & invested heavily in land/property
  5. aspirations-they still wanted to become doctors & lawyers, but ignored passive recipients

Ultimately Ireland failed to engage in globalization successfully, which created a property bubble.  The political state failed to create real long term development.


  • thought leaders did not address technology-there were disconnects & massive self-delusion, ex. Ireland sold off its national telecom carrier, but it’s level of broadband penetration still needs lots of investment
  • with the implementation of the Euro, Eire lost control of its own monetary policy, which deprived them of a potential economic tool, but they’re still better off being in the Euro-zone than outside of it
  • re: fiscal austerity, Irish politicians are surprised citizens are not more upset about budget cuts, etc. even if they are not sustainable.  It is anti-Keynesian to cut spending in a recession, which could become deflationary & lead to unemployment & social resistance, but the feeling is it must be done.  Government is still investing in banks that will never lend again.  It’s difficult for the people to sustain sacrifice if there is not justice.
  • Ireland’s 2 political parties are essentially 2 slightly different flavors of Christian democrats, who rarely disagree.  A new dialogue must start from the ground up.
  • The Irish are smart enough not to repudiate their debts.  They’re embedded in the global economy & recognize the consequences could be catastrophic if they did.
  • Lack of accountability is key, but a danger of a single ruling party.  At the business level, the question is “did leaders know what was going on or not?”  Were the duplicit or complicit?

renewable German energy

Wednesday 30 September, 2009

The Germans were at it again: the GACCoM’s Annual Renewables & Energy Efficiency Roadshow took place almost all the way out in Rosemont.  Everything you need/want to know can be found here.  There’s very little left for me to do, as long as they leave these files up.  They have posted the presentations as well as the audio/video of the event, so I could post my notes, but you can see all of the original content there.

Alternatively, I’ll provide a little history of the Germans & renewable energy.  I attended an event entitled International Perspectives on Sustainability: The Western European Example in May, 2006 hosted by Chicago Green Drinks (& no, this organization doesn’t have anything to do with the Irish in Chicago).  There it was explained to me that the German government took a leadership position by creating a level playing field for new entrants into the electricity markets so that the incumbent vested interests/utility companies  couldn’t buy/crowd/squash innovative firms out of the marketplace.  Thus alternative energies such as solar, wind, & geothermal received a much-needed boost without having to worry about huge utility companies breathing down their necks.  Consequently, since then, the companies that formed at that time have grown to produce up to 20% of Germany’s electricity, a figure which most nations can only envy.  According to the Green Drinkers at the time, there was no other nation on Earth which can touch Germany’s progress & scale in renewable energies.

Since then, I’ve learned the Germans are leaders in energy efficiency as well, for example by building passive solar houses that require little/no electricity from external sources & in some cases actually returning electricity to the grid.  By using super-insulation & triple-pane  instead of even double-pane glass windows, they create well-enclosed environments that leak little/no heat/energy, etc.  We would do well to learn from the Germans.  They’re farther along the learning curve than we are & we can benefit from their knowledge & experience in these areas.


Canadian building technologies conference

Tuesday 14 July, 2009

I checked out this Building Technologies conference organized by Ann Rosen from the Canadian Consulate in Chicago.  Here are the presentations made that the presenters decided to send over to me:

Sustainable  forest products were addressed byJoel Neuheimer of FPAC, who made this presentation:  Chicago_AIA_FPAC FPAC issues a sustainable initiative report every 2 years.  Canada is the world’s leading forest products exporter, sourcing from 30% of the world’s intact forest, 70% of which is uninhabited.  Canada is 3rd in total forest area behind Russia & Brazil.  The provinces have the most jurisdiction, owning 71%; the federal government exerts indirect responsibility by owning 23%; & private owners speak for 6% of Canada’s forests.  Canada’s regulation of forests is the most stringent in the world, which is verified by 3rd parties.  Forests lose more to natural causes than to harvests.  300 Canadian communities rely on forestry for their livelihoods.

Here are a few issues they are confronting:

  • legal harvests?
  • regeneration
  • reduce/re-use/recycle-to recover 65% of paper, 90% of fibre, & return 10% to biomass
  • reduce greenhouse gases to become carbon neutral  by 2015 without carbon credits (20% of greenhouse gases come from deforestation)
  • independent scrutiny/certification
  • green procurement
  • informational tools (see their website)
  • the Athena Institute claims that wood creates the smallest environmental footprint.

CMHC Chicago presentation

Q&A brought out:

  • The use of wood is restricted in Chicago, which has a building code “from hell.”  A representative from Wood Works Chicago said they are trying to enlist support of the unions.  New York has moved to the international code-Chicago is doing a study on it.
  • Engineered wood preserves & performs.  Yellow/Alaskan cedar actually kills termites.
  • Younger trees remove more CO2 when they are 20-80 years old, so there is good sense to replacing old forests with new ones.

My take:  there’s not a lot of high technology here, but it is important as environmental concerns are becoming more important.  It’s apparent we need to change building codes not to just reflect safety/PR concerns, (reknowned Chicago deck collapse a few years ago), but simply change with the times to reflect new technologies & methods.  I’m not sure wood is the end-all/be-all the Canadians purport it to be because new materials sciences are coming up with lots of innovative products as well.