Monday, October 22, 2007

Renewable Energy: Solar Urban Development

This week we were asked to choose a particular project, place or method that attracts us and do some in depth research. In the first assigned reading, Beatley provides some examples of European cities where urban development is being designed with solar energy “at its core”. These examples give environmentalists some hope that achieving their goal of incorporating solar energy as an element of the central design is not completely impossible. One town/project that was particularly attractive to me was the city of Linz, where planners created a design for a new solar city in the early 1990’s and they predicted that residents would occupy it in 2001. According to the city’s website, in 1992 the famous Austrian planner Roland Rainer was commissioned by the municipality to create a new regional urban plan for the Linz-Pichling residential neighborhood. One year later, the city set aside funds to conduct solar studies that would be tested in the new Linz-Pichling homes. In 1994, just two years after the initial comprehensive plan, the city’s most prominent non profit construction firms expressed their intentions to fund the planning and development of low energy homes in the Pichling district. One year later eight other firms committed to the project of constructing low energy residential areas in the Pichling district. This growing project was assigned to a team of planners, architects, and engineers who have been pioneers in sustainable development throughout their careers. The final plans were completed last year and construction has begun on what some consider the “city within a city” Solar City Linz. A note about the parameters for this sustainable energy efficient development: construction and design will achieve maximum possible density, maximum use, traffic routes that promote pedestrian and cycle traffic (the entire development will be closed to motor and vehicle traffic), individual homes will be built to make the most efficient use of space with green houses and winter gardens, and the development will also demand active citizen participation in that residents will be responsible for taking care of the development and other adjacent areas including public spaces. The most innovative aspect of this development is that the homes and other buildings will not be a part of the city’s electricity grid; instead, they will generate their own energy with solar installations that will eventually allow this development to be energy independent and even return surplus energy back to the city’s electricity grid. This solar urban development has ultimately become an example of how a solar energy community can be created and sustained. Beatley provides an overview of this inspiring example and through further research I was able to explore exactly how amazing this solar city within a city is developing. This example fits nicely into our class discussion and the topics that we have explored so far. The most pertinent aspect of this project, a reality that I continue to readdress, is the differences between implementing environmentally friendly and sustainable development in America and in Europe. There are real differences in process and even more real limitations in America that I don’t think are present in Europe. Just look at the timeline of the development in Linz-Puchling. Although construction is taking some time, the process of creating a comprehensive plan that incorporated innovative environmentally friendly development, allocating funds to the project, and getting a serious commitment from developers, the city and residents took less than 5 years. In reality this type of innovative solar urban development would be resisted in any American city. In American cities there isn’t a real concrete unwavering commitment to green development and protecting the environment. What I think I learned most from this example in Linz is exactly what I am being constantly reminded of in this course. Cities that are implementing innovative plans for “green urbanism” are doing so because they want to. American cities are failing because we don’t want to implement these types of innovative plans. It's really that simple. Unfortunately, there are real implications caused by our lack of desire to change, which include things like global warming and complete natural resource depletion. And of course the list goes on......and on....and on

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