Build it and They Will Come. Focusing on a Better Way.

By Dave Majewski

Buffalo and WNY are witnessing perhaps unprecedented development projects that are in progress and certainly much more in the planning phases. We truly have the chance of a lifetime. The chance to show the region, nation and world how it can and should be done the right way.   That way is through smarter design and focusing on the Economic of the Environment, or E2.

We build big awe inspiring modern buildings and give them big flat rubber lined black heat absorbing EPDM roofs that collectively generate more urban heat for us – so all city dwellers can turn their AC on at night, while in the ‘burbs it is 15 degrees cooler that same evening. Simultaneously, we include the massive asphalt parking lot that generates millions of gallons of contaminated storm water runoff that we direct in to our wetlands. Oh, and we will throw in a few trees planted in the customary “Three inches of shredded topsoil” around these parking lots for good measure. Voila! Green space criteria met. Then we wonder why the plants die off in five years and nothing can grow. We also seek to blame some municipal department when our beaches close.

Economic development does not have to equate to simply building structures and roads and parking lots and developments the old way.  E2 concepts are becoming much more prevalent throughout the country and world.  These principles are incorporated by enlightened developers, architects, and engineers.  Oftentimes they are mandated by local communities through design guidelines or ordinances. 

DSC_08619.JPGIf XYZ Development needs to clear 15 acres of land for a new office park, plaza or subdivision, there’s a better way:

 First: maintain a continuous focus on the key objective: E2.
 Reduce soil compaction during construction.
 Preserve as much as the existing vegetation as possible – have it assessed prior.
 Mitigate contaminated storm water runoff and erosion during construction. 
 Add green roofs on all flat black rubber roofs – this component also helps compensate for lost habitats.
 Include Green or LID parking lots that impound and infiltrate contaminated storm water runoff – and allow for biodiversity and valuable native green spaces.
 Avoid the planting of traditional turf plots – which provide next to zero to our environmental health. Use wildflowers and native grasses. Saves money with drastically minimized mowing, feeding and watering.
 Avoid the fragmentation of existing green spaces – which is basic Green Infrastructure
 Include constructed wetlands when feasible.
 Construct “green streets” to manage runoff and increase diversity.
 Plant groves or masses of native fruiting and nut trees rather than the traditional line of evenly spaced “soldiers” as the token greening.
 Make your property accessible and educational – interpretive.

Why do this? It is about the Economies of the Environment: E2. The environment is worth something to a community, region and all the residents.

You ask why regenerate habitats or wetlands or use wildflowers…. Well, bee pollination for one. Yes, it’s about the birds and the bees. Remember 4th grade science and nature? Well, it applies even more today and it applies even more too all of us grown ups that presumably know what we are doing with developing and infrastructure.

Bees provide a $15 billion service to our economy every year in the United States alone.

Fresh water? We put little value on it for the single most significant reason: We pay next to nothing for this life giving fluid and when we glance our across the great lakes we can’t imagine that there would never be enough. Some cities charge less than ten cents a gallon to “deliver” the water to your kitchen sink. If we placed the true value on water, we would conserve it and respect it more.

Trees and vegetation? Worth trillions of dollars to our economy and our health and clean air and living soils – and vice versa.

You can’t live without air, water, plants and bees.

Soil? Well, nearly everything on the planet that keeps us alive as humans is dependent on good clean and living natural soils.  Isn’t that worth something in the form of dollars to anyone?

DSC_082011.JPGWetlands? They purify the water you eventually drink and, as Mrs. Neville used to tell us in 4th grade: they provide life giving habitats for the birds and the bees. Wetlands harbor indicator species – such as frogs, salamanders, snakes and turtles. These indicate to us how we are doing environmentally. Wetlands also provide habitats for migratory breeding birds and attract valuable insects.

We cannot continue to simply be Green and merely Sustain. Green and Sustainability are outdated. They served their time and served it well. They helped a world see things in a different light and that world take more sensible approaches to how we live. Still, they are not good enough. The word “Sustain” itself, if you look up the conventional meaning, implies to keep things on an even keel, in a sense. I realize we have attached various convenient connotations to the word sustain over the decades, but it is still merely an approach that slows the bleeding – at best.

Regenerative and Ecological Design or, “R.E.D.” This is the process where we can reverse our past sustainable affects. We recharge, regenerate, enhance, improve, and so on….. It is being done in WNY. It is in the planning process of various projects as you read this. But it is not being done enough. We can do better. We have to teach industries more about RED. It does not cost extra dollars by the way – which is the oft feared nemesis of any developer or Project Manager.

RED saves money – as does Low Impact Developing, or LID. There are sufficient examples and studies on this.

If the bee pollination service is worth $15 billion dollars annually here in the United States, that could mean, in it’s simplest form, that if there are 15 billion bees that individually they are worth $1 each. Collectively, perhaps much more than that. But, through colony collapse disorder, we continue to disrespect this life giving economic asset of ours – as with water.

Trees, well there is no telling the trillions of dollars’ value we can place on them – but they are worth much, much more than we think. Same for soils. We need to do more than merely sustain.

Imagine, perhaps 1,000+ acres of prime waterfront real estate sitting out along the outer harbor turned in to a natural habitat, nature preserve, park, ecological outdoor museum, forest, meadow, wetlands, open air classrooms, great lakes attraction, fully regenerated and nurtured that becomes a global attraction drawing thousands of people from across the globe. We would be admired and we would be exemplified. Or, should we build some condos, restaurants, quaint shops, more roads and parking lots?

Which option is worth more to our economy and to our environment?

Intelligent and collective planning and design that respects the value of the Economies of the Environment and aims to Recharge and Regenerate at every opportunity will put us on the road to recovery – economically and environmentally.

DSC_09112.JPGSustainability and Green have been admirable foundations and inspirations for how we have taken a whole new look at how we live – and how we still waste. We waste mainly because we do not put a dollar value on the resources and abundances that we simply neglect. When we look out across the expanse of Lake Erie (the smallest great lake) or across the mountain ranges of the Alleghany region (a miniscule region by national scales) we think that there are endless resources and we can never be without – so we waste them. We put no dollar value on these things so we often treat them as something of minimum value – cheap.

The environment: birds, soils, trees, air, water, moths, turtles and moles….. Are all worth something and there are projects and efforts around the world where groups and teams are now quantifying the economic value of these resources.

We can continue this critical about-face here in WNY – today and now.

Dave Majewski is the Principal of SRG Buffalo and is on the City of Buffalo’s Sustainable Development Task Force. He is the project lead and developer of the Urban Habitat Project at the Buffalo Central Terminal.

About the author  ⁄ queenseyes

Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Catalyst behind the Pierce-Arrow Film Arts Center. Throws The Witches Ball at The Hotel @ The Lafayette. Themed New Years mayhem at various locations. Next up: Porchfest... Also offers package tours of the city for groups or individuals. Contact Newell Nussbaumer | Newell@BuffaloRising.com

26 comments
whatever
whatever

Paul, he wrote about parking asphalt regarding storm water runoff, but it looks to me like he blamed only roof material choices for causing extra AC use due to 15 degree air temperature boost at night.

Even if so (assuming for now there really is big boost in Buffalo downtown's air temperature caused by combined effects of choices for roof materials and type of parking asphalt), my question would still apply -

How is it that a big summer time heat gain in downtown here is only an energy consumption negative due to extra AC use he talks about, but not at all a positive in residential heating?

Is there a science type reason, or is it focusing only on a negative of something while ignoring a positive, considering Buffalo's heating season? I don't know the answer, but that's what I was asking. The other info from you and BRL is interesting, but I don't think it gets to what I asked about.

In other words, if we could instantly change all roofs to the material he advocates, then the following year the air temperature around downtown would really be 15 degrees lower during summer nights? That's hard to believe, but even if so, then it's also claimed that the lower air temps wouldn't also be lower during heating season (which would be a bad thing if true)? Same roof materials all year, right?

Jesse
Jesse

Your statement only makes any sense if the car was only ever going to be driven to that park.

PaulBuffalo
PaulBuffalo

Whatever, he also mentioned asphalt: an important factor. Ask anyone who lives in Manhattan. When I lived there, the only escape on a hot summer day was Central Park or near the water. Grass and trees go a long way to providing some cooling, especially in the evening.

When I lived in San Francisco, I worked in one the first office buildings with a grass roof. No air conditioning was necessary and the air quality was fantastic because indoor plants were used to filter the air.

whatever
whatever

I see the difference you mean in energy needed per degree changed, but it seems total amounts (and pricetag) of energy use for heating/cooling is still in general greater for areas that most often need heating than those which most often need AC.

Maybe that means amount of BTUs used (and carbon emissions, and utility costs) are on average higher per building in a northern city than southern city? The number of degrees that change might be the main difference factor - example, cooling 90 deg down to 70 is a shift of 20, while heating from 30 deg up to 70 is a shift of 40.

So even while AC isn't as efficient per degree changed which is an interesting scientific thing, maybe still not as much total energy is usually needed for cooling to human comfort level.

whatever
whatever

Paul, what you wrote makes sense about difference of residential vs office, but still then what author Dave M wrote at the beginning doesn't add up to me. The "so all city dwellers can turn their AC on at night, while in the burbs it is 15 degrees cooler that same evening" looks like it's about residential AC.

So if roofing material bad choices really cause a 15 deg hike in Buffalo's summer night temperature (btw, still sounds to me like huge # of degrees for that), which in turn causes more amounts of residential AC here...

then how could the roofs not also cause at least some city air warming during heating season nights which would reduce amounts of residential heating?

And if it does, then do the energy use factors somewhat balance out over 12 months?

Or maybe I'm just overlooking something?

Black Rock Lifer
Black Rock Lifer

Your reference is correct, I was not real clear in my response to your initial comment, heating does indeed consume more energy than cooling overall. This is due mainly to the greater number of heating degree days versus cooling degree days in most regions of the country. The calculation of a particular regions heating/cooling load is based on climate history and is used to design capacity and project utility costs.

My point was to the inefficiency of air conditioning. Air conditioning systems consume much greater amounts of energy (electricity)to extract BTU's as compared to the amount consumed by heating systems to add the same BTU's of heat. In other words, all things being equal your furnace does a much better job of transferring the greatest percentage of BTU's from the fuel source to heat your home than your air conditioner does in using fuel to remove those BTU's.

PaulBuffalo
PaulBuffalo

Whatever, comparing houses to office buildings is a bit difficult. In NYC, for example, it's typical for HVAC systems in office/retail environments to run almost all months of the year to maintain comfortable indoor temperatures because bodies, lighting, and office equipment provide enough heat. This is typical in most office/retail environments in much of the country.

whatever
whatever

BRLifer>"All these methods require more energy to extract heat than heating systems require to add heat."

That's interesting and I realize you have expertise about this, but that and what you said about price comparisons sounds opposite of what I recall hearing reported over the years.

For example, this from NPR (not always an unbiased source, but they quoted the National Geographic's "Green Guide" which sounds reliable with green being its first word)

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=13941744

"… The answer, experts say, is that both heating and cooling your home take large amounts of energy, more than we use for any other appliance.

But according to researchers at National Geographic's The Green Guide, you will probably consume more energy heating your home than cooling it.

In colder states, heating can account for up to two-thirds of your annual energy bills, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). And, on average, heating an American home with natural gas produces about 6,400 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2, a major warming gas). Use electricity, and CO2 emissions average about 4,700 pounds. In a cold state like Minnesota, the numbers jump to 8,000 pounds of CO2 for natural gas and 9,900 pounds for electric heat.

In hot parts of the country, the calculation changes: Air conditioners become the bigger energy users. A typical centrally air conditioned home in Florida, for instance, produces about 6,600 pounds of CO2.

..."

I suppose the physics gets complicated to generalize, but you and the NPR source apparently reached opposite views if I'm correctly reading you both(?)

dave majewski
dave majewski

The very first procdess for green roof desitgn is a structural assessment and engineering report/approval. Buffalo has many concrete and steel structures that can more than bare the weight of extensive green roof systems and many can do the same for intensive systems as well.

The heat island applies at night as well. The density of a downtown area with the concrete jungles and black roofs retain the heat well in to the evening, which raises the temps. Out in, say east lancaster near vast open stretches of land, the green spaces in those areas are cooler and the night time temps are significantly lower, while in the city the ACs continue to run.

"E2" is not made up. It is a process of design and construction in Asia and Europe and has been for several years. Whereas RED - Regenerative and Ecological Design - is most credited with originating in the USA some years ago. These are very forward thinking approaches - often drastic changes - to the "Sustainable and Green" methods we are so commonly wed to.

It takes change and change takes risk and risk can cost $.

So, this is why so few do it - here anyway.

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkNA
https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkNA

@ jesse-

USDA stats vis a vis pollination services relayed here:

http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572

Why should the public care about honey bees?

"Bee pollination is responsible for $15 billion in added crop value, particularly for specialty crops such as almonds and other nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables. About one mouthful in three in the diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination. While there are native pollinators (honey bees came from the Old World with European colonists), honey bees are more prolific and the easiest to manage for the large scale pollination that U.S. agriculture requires. In California, the almond crop alone uses 1.3 million colonies of bees, approximately one half of all honey bees in the United States, and this need is projected to grow to 1.5 million colonies by 2010.

the Tallamy book is certainly a good reference. Thanks for posting this article dave!

Jay Burney

Crisa
Crisa

GREAT article, Dave.

grad94
grad94

with all due respect, it is your logic that is fallacious. carbon emissions are not a "sunk cost," they are an increasing threat. if you build that 15-acre development where no one can bike, walk, or take public transportation to reach it, you are increasing, not reducing, carbon emissions.

Jesse
Jesse

I'm sorry - you made the claim that tall buildings were more environmentally responsible, and to just state that as fact (regardless of how old you are) doesn't make it necessarily true.

It just happens to fit with your preconceived notions, but it's not the whole story, as you appear to understand (but brush off as unimportant).

Please to note I am not suggesting in any way that single storey buildings are better - that's a false equivalency that you are assigning, not me.

Villager
Villager

This article is all over the place. There are a lot of good points, but this manifesto is completely disorganized - at least it gets better after the shaky intro about black EPDM roofing.

Whereas that may be a true statement in sprawl-heavy, suburban, strip mall development, it does not really describe downtown Buffalo at all. Downtowns often can behave as heat islands, but Buffalo is different because it benefits from the cooling lake breezes throughout the warmer months. Temperatures actually rise as you drive out of the City.

Green roofs indeed are a fantastic innovation - but structural considerations need to be made for the load of system, which is why it rarely is employed in retrofit scenarios, or vintage structures.

I also have a hard time lauding ANY new build - no matter how sustainable - as more "green" than the use and reuse of the existing built environment.

Black Rock Lifer
Black Rock Lifer

Interesting article but it does not claim tall buildings are less environmentally responsible, the article simply points out there are some issues that are not clear cut. As an engineer with 30+ years in facility operation and maintenane I stand by my comment that one story sprawling buildings are more expensive to heat and cool. They also have a much larger footprint, are built with less permanent materials, and tend to located in areas accessible only by car. This requires huge paved areas that many times are larger than the building itself. One story buildings are generally less attractive and discourage the density necessary for a quality urban environment.

buffloonitick
buffloonitick

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytoremediation

Phytoremediation (from the Ancient Greek φυτο (phyto, plant), and Latin remedium (restoring balance or remediation)) describes the treatment of environmental problems (bioremediation) through the use of plants that mitigate the environmental problem without the need to excavate the contaminant material and dispose of it elsewhere.

Phytoremediation consists of mitigating pollutant concentrations in contaminated soils, water, or air, with plants able to contain, degrade, or eliminate metals, pesticides, solvents, explosives, crude oil and its derivatives, and various other contaminants from the media that contain them.

Jesse
Jesse

Dave, perhaps you should just link to Doug Tallamy's "Bringing Nature Home".

http://www.amazon.com/Bringing-Nature-Home-Wildlife-Expanded/dp/0881929921/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1327670724&sr=1-1

Way more useful for casual readers of this site than instructions on how to build commercial property with the environment in mind.

"Include constructed wetlands when feasible"

You forgot to mention the recent study that demonstrates that constructed wetlands provide only 3/4 the biological benefit than undisturbed wetlands do. (http://www.good.is/post/when-it-comes-to-wetlands-it-s-hard-to-improve-on-the-original/) My thinking is rather than a 1 for 1 exchange, destroyed wetlands should be replaced by double the acreage.

"But, through colony collapse disorder, we continue to disrespect this life giving economic asset of ours..."

Really? "We" a disrespecting bees by forcing them to die off?

Sorry, this paean to environmentalism is not very well-written. Needs focus. Fewer surprise Capitalized Words. Just making up "E2" and saying it over and over doesn't make for a persuasive essay. This is the Internet. If you're going to assert things as facts, you should link to citations (bees being a $15 billion asset, for example). We ain't gonna just take it on faith.

Black Rock Lifer
Black Rock Lifer

On the black roofs, the heat gain in summer requires that heat to be extracted by less efficent air conditionoing systems. Air conditioning systems may use chilled water, electric DX systems(same principle as residential window units), or heat pumps. All these methods require more energy to extract heat than heating systems require to add heat. The energy consumed by air conditioning is also higher cost electricity versus lower cost natural gas used to heat.

The sprawling one story buildings are the biggest problem exposing huge areas of roof to enclose the least amount of space. A high rise enclosing the most space with the least roof area is not only more environmentally responsible but is more efficient and economical to heat and cool.

Jesse
Jesse

Sorry, that's fallacious.

The automobile was built already. You could call it a sunk cost. If not a park or wild space somewhere, that car will be driven somewhere else. "Un"-developing land will always be better in the long run.

grad94
grad94

about that hypothetical 15 acre development: if you have to use an automobile to get to it, it isn't green or "e2." period.

The Boss
The Boss

I love the idea for outer harbor, more cultural tourism, and building a better and smarter Buffalo. I would love to turn our image as a beer drinking, football and bowling backwater town to a region of nature, architecture, medical research, education and arts. Of course we can still go bowling and love our football team.

The Kettle
The Kettle

I love those rain gardens. They reduce storm runoff and make the street look better. These ought to be required with new road construction.

SBSHEMP
SBSHEMP

After Buffalo's industrial past the level of toxic leftovers will forever be present.Every area of the city and along the waterfront had massive uncontrolled wastes dumped on land and in or near the waterways.Growing up in South Buffalo I can remember watching chemical plants,steel makers and foundry's dumping wastes everywhere.So if you think you can just plant a few trees and construct a "green building" think agan.

SBSHEMP
SBSHEMP

After Buffalo's industrial past the level of toxic leftovers will forever be present.Every area of the city and along the waterfront had massive uncontrolled wastes dumped on land and in or near the waterways.Growing up in South Buffalo I can remember watching chemical plants,steel makers and foundry's dumping wastes everywhere.So if you think you can just plant a few trees and construct a "green building" think agan.

whatever
whatever

"We build big awe inspiring modern buildings and give them big flat rubber lined black heat absorbing EPDM roofs that collectively generate more urban heat for us - so all city dwellers can turn their AC on at night, while in the 'burbs it is 15 degrees cooler that same evening. "

I don't know, but just asking - by that same reasoning, on sunny days from October to April, do those roofs help reduce need for heating in the city?

Might that reduced use of furnaces balance out (or even outweigh?) the city dwellers' extra use of AC to which you refer?

Also, is the 15 degree air temperature gap you imply is caused nightly by the roofs based on some real analysis? It sounds like a lot of degrees.

"Imagine, perhaps 1,000+ acres of prime waterfront real estate sitting out along the outer harbor turned in to a natural habitat, nature preserve, park, ecological outdoor museum, forest, meadow, wetlands, open air classrooms, great lakes attraction, fully regenerated and nurtured that becomes a global attraction drawing thousands of people from across the globe. ... Or, should we build some condos, restaurants, quaint shops, more roads and parking lots?"

Sounds like an interesting possibility to consider for the outer harbor, but the thousands of additional global visitors doesn't look like it quite fits in. Wouldn't trying to lure 1000's of people every year to travel extra global distances maybe be inconsistent with goal of preserving resources? All the environmental impacts involved with airplane fuel, and so on?

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