The German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI), in cooperation with the American Friends of Bucerius, hosted a panel discussion on sustainable cities and urban development on November 10, 2010. At the German House New York, Peter Esser, general counsel in the office of the Representative of German Industry and Trade, Anja Caldwell, architect and owner of eco ipso LLC, and Tom Wright, executive director of the Regional Plan Association, spoke about ecological and economical challenges and opportunities that accompany city growth. Helga Flores Trejo, fellow at the Brookings Institution and head of strategic communications for sectors at the Inter-American Development Bank, moderated.
Helga Flores Trejo opened the discussion by briefly setting the context. 50% percent of today’s world population lives in cities and that this figure is projected to rise to 75% by 2030. She emphasized that the meaning of sustainability varies for developing and developed countries, depending on geographic and demographic factors, such as water quality, public safety, and green space.
In an overview of historic models for self-sustaining societies, Peter Esser showed how this century’s utopian notions have lost their agrarian character in favor of a technological vision that focuses on transportation and automation. “The modern utopian vision is of a society in which technology allows people to maximize resources and which allows for growth,” Esser said. He then pointed to modern examples of planned sustainable communities, such as Brasilia, Brasil; Arcosanti, Arizona; and Hannover-Kronsberg, Germany. Some of the common goals of these cities include greener urban centers; reliance on renewable energy; mitigation of “heat island” effects; networked and streamlined transit systems; optimization of building density; an appropriate blend of residential and commercial uses; a reduced impact on watersheds; and recapture and reuse of biosolids. “Renewing our infrastructure could go hand in hand with creating sustainable cities,” he said.
Anja Caldwell shifted the focus onto green and sustainable buildings, noting that buildings are the number one emitter of carbon dioxide ahead of transportation and industry and the school building sector is the largest construction sector in the U.S. Caldwell’s firm builds in accordance with the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED system (Leadership in Energy and Enviornmental Design) for U.S. projects and according to the DGNB system (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Nachhaltiges Bauen) in Germany. Caldwell was involved in the formulation of new green construction guidelines for public schools in Washington, DC, and in Maryland. Because they serve a variety of municipal functions, schools are hubs for communities and a great place to introduce green practices. Although green buildings come with slightly higher upfront costs, they contribute to overall savings, which is particularly important for public schools on tight budgets. In some cases, savings offset the additional costs of green buildings within half a year. “(It) showed that spending $ 250,000 on energy-saving light bulbs can save a school up to $ 460,000 a year,” Caldwell said.
As executive director of the Regional Plan Association, Tom Wright spoke on transit in the New York City Metropolitan Region. Regional Plan Association is the only organization that undertakes regional planning for the tri-state area and has been instrumental in most of the mass transit initiatives in the New York metro area since the 1920s.
New York is projected to grow by one million people by 2030 and will have to deal with even higher ridership in years to come. The planned Second Avenue subway line, will move one million people per day when it opens, but regional infrastructure is aging. The need for new models to finance mass transit is apparent and congestion pricing is an essential component, Wright said. The sustainability questions facing the Tri-state area will soon confront more areas as megalopolises grow across the country. The United States’ population grew by roughly 150 million between 1950 and 2000, largely through suburban sprawl. The country is projected to grow by another 150 million over the next 40 years, and this growth seems to be directed toward megalopolises, such as the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, the Great Lakes cities, or the Southern-California mega-region. The question of sustainable regional transit systems is, according to Wright, an indispensible one for the country’s future.
For more information on the German Center for Research and Innovation, please visit www.germaninnovation.org. For more information on the American Friends of Bucerius, the New York-based non-profit organization affiliated with the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius and Bucerius Law School, please visit www.buceriususa.org.