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by Jihad Bitar, VIA Architecture

Recently, I’ve been having some trouble understanding what truly happened in COP15 (Conference of the Parties). Everything I have read or listened to thus far has described a piece of this elephant but nothing has given me any clear explanation of what really happened in Copenhagen. How successful was this expensive environmental party? How did it fail? Even the final accord fell short of what was expected from world leaders.

To make this post short, I’ll use the words of the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Yvo de Boer, to outline the issues that Copenhagen was supposed to address:

“The four essentials calling for an international agreement in Copenhagen are:

  1. How much are the industrialized countries willing to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases?
  2. How much are major developing countries such as China and India willing to do to limit the growth of their emissions?
  3. How is the help needed by developing countries to engage in reducing their emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change going to be financed?
  4. How is that money going to be managed

If Copenhagen can deliver on those four points I’d be happy,” says Yvo de Boer. [source]

But Mr. de Boer wasn’t made happy because none of those essentials were discussed. Yet strangely, another accord emerged from a last minute meeting held behind closed doors between only 5 out of the 192 countries represented at the conference. These select countries include USA, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. Without getting too political, the key points of the ‘historical’ accord included:

  1. To keep the maximum temperature rise to below 2°C
  2. To list developed country emission reduction targets and mitigation action by developing countries for 2020
  3. $30 billion short-term funding for immediate action till 2012
  4. $100 billion annually by 2020 in long-term financing
  5. Reiterating past intentions such as providing mechanisms to support technology transfer and forestry.[source]

I believe that our environment is intricately related and directly affected by economics and politics so if we can’t figure out a way to utilize these elements to improve our pressing climate problems then nothing will ever get fixed.

I also think that as long as the price of oil stays low, all renewable and green energy resources, like wind and solar, won’t develop into easily usable and attainable resources that we’re expecting it to become. So unfortunately we may be doomed to live in a fossil fuel culture until the next international summit. Let’s hope that ‘what happens in Mexico 2010 doesn’t stay in Mexico’!

Monday News Roundup

Jan 18, 2010

Accessibility vs. Mobility Redux (Planetizen)
In planning work, mobility is often wrongly assumed to mean automobile usage. Mobility is just about “moving people and goods from place to place” by any mode. Accessibility means that something is “easily approached, entered, obtainable or obtained.” That’s why we work so hard to provide multi-modal Accessibilty to our Mobility Hub designs.

Obama Administration Proposes Major Public Transportation Policy Shift to Highlight Livability (FTA)
Ray La Hood issues a promise at this year’s Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting that the new round of Federal New Starts projects will be judged by their contribution to livability and environmental benefits rather than just shorter commute times (a Bush administration policy), making way for transit projects to better respond to their land use context. Hooray!

Turning sewage into heat in Vancouver (Planetizen)
Thursday, the switch was flipped on a generator that will serve the heating needs of 16,000 residents of the Olympic Village in Vancouver. The generator transforms sewage into heat. We are really excited that our early planning work for a sustainable Southeast False Creek has now transformed from vision to reality in the opening of the district’s sewage heat recovery plant.

Amazing photographs of cities (from dangerous heights) (Urbanophile)
Stunning photos from an urban photographer, whose site “No Promise of Safety” is aptly named. Although this photographer tends to use graffitti at these sites, here is another link to a photographer who shoots “the often forgotten and abandoned history of the city of Cincinnati” and leaves the site as he found it.

Street trees increase home prices in Portland (Oregon Live)
“In a paper published in Landscape and Urban Planning, Geoffrey Donovan of the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station found that, on average, street trees add $8,870 to a home’s sales price and reduce its time on the market by 1.7 days.”

Azteca Multimodal Transfer Station (Archidose)
Nice project review about a multimodal transfer station in the municipality of Ecatepec in Mexico City, Mexico.

Bicentennial Room, Chilean National Library (ArchDaily)
Great reading room created in unused space in the Grand National Library in Santiago, Chile — scroll down to see a 360′ panorama of this unique space.

THE JOY OF LESS (Harvard Design Magazine)
Here is Wendy Steiner in Harvard Design Magazine No.30 in an article titled Joy of Less. The article starts out with this from Jack Gladney, hero of Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise (1985), as he shops with his family in the mall:

“When I could not decide between two shirts, they encouraged me to buy both. When I said I was hungry, they fed me pretzels, beer, souvlaki…. They were my guides to endless well-being…. I shopped with reckless abandon. I shopped for immediate needs and distant contingencies. I shopped for its own sake…. I began to grow in value and self-regard. […] Brightness settled around me…. I traded money for goods. The more money I spent, the less important it seemed. I was bigger than these sums…. These sums in fact came back to me in the form of existential credit.”

Two neighbourhoods face change as Woodward’s, Mt. Pleasant centre open (State of Vancouver)
A look at the changes coming to 2 Vancouver neighborhoods as a community centre and a new “Woodwards” development open in the area.

Haiti Quake (Architecture for Humanity )
A for H takes a look at the quake in Haiti and what’s needed for long term reconstruction in the area.

by Jen Kenefick, VIA Architecture
Part 1: Pre Olympics

When one thinks of the Winter Olympic Games, Ireland is not a country that would be at the forefront of one’s mind. This is not particularly surprising. We have a more unpleasant version of the weather in Vancouver, where seasons are not so well defined and where most precipitation falls as rain! So it stands to reason: no snow, no winter sports.

Having said that, Ireland has entered a team (small though it may be) in the Winter Olympics ever since the 1992 Games in Albertville, France and this year is no different. There will possibly be up to 8 Irish athletes competing in Vancouver in events such as bobsleigh, skeleton bobsleigh, slalom and cross country skiing.

Since arriving in Vancouver last June, it has been hard to avoid talk of the Olympics. Every time you pick up a paper or watch the news, there is something about it. And why wouldn’t there be? The Winter Olympics is a huge global sporting event.

Being at home for the Christmas Holidays, I was interested to see how much coverage of the Games there would be in the media. During the almost 2 weeks I was home, I cannot recall any. But people were definitely aware of it. Almost everyone I talked to mentioned it at some stage in conversation about Vancouver.

I guess a ‘foreign perspective’ depends largely on said foreigner’s origin. Being from such a small a country as Ireland, (especially relative to a country the size of Canada), and if estimations of the number of people expected  to come here during the Games are correct, I am imagining the number of people in and around the city to be absolutely outrageous! With talk of leaving town, working from home, offices closing and general avoidance of the downtown area, it sounds like the locals are expecting a tidal wave of Olympic revelers! So, I for one am looking forward to seeing just how accurate these predictions are and just how ‘crazy’ things are going to get!  

I have found interesting too, the many different opinions that are held by Vancouverites in relation to the Games, from great anticipation to absolute hatred. So as an outsider, with no allegiance to one side or the other, I am genuinely interested to see how it all pans out in the lead up to and during the Games.

Maybe a small note of irony to finish my little blog is that while Vancouver (and the rest of the world) is praying for snow, Ireland is ‘gripped’ in the biggest freeze it has experienced in 50 years and there is record snowfall in most parts of the country! 

While Ireland’s medal predictions may be slim, I plan to embrace the Olympic spirit and hope I will be proud to say that I lived here during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.

Monday News Roundup

Jan 12, 2010

We’re starting a new feature where every Monday, we’ll do a post on news or other blog posts that we found interesting from the past week.

Architecture Doesn’t Hide Bad Planning in Dubai (Planetizen)
An article from the Chicago Tribute that discusses the magnificent buildings and creations in Dubai, but the lack of an urban connectivity.

Adobe Headquarters Installs 20 Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (Inhabitat)
“The electricity generated from the turbines will eventually power an electric vehicle charging station in the garage below”

Deep Walkability (WorldChanging)
“The true test of walkability I think is this: Can you spend a pleasant half hour walking or on transit and end up at a variety of great places? The quality of having a feast of options available when you walk out your front door is what I’m starting to think of as “deep walkability.””

Fed-Up Commuter Fixes Freeway Sign Himself (Planetizen)
Great recounting of a Los Angeles commuter/artist who became fed up with poor freeway signage, and designed, constructed, and installed changes to the sign himself.

It takes a community to sustain a small farm (Grist)
“as anyone who has ever raised grain or livestock can tell you, the farmer is not the only person in the chain of players from her farm to your fork. In addition to producers, your food chain includes processors, distributors or transporters, and retailers. In other words, to have a truly local food system, we also need local butchers, bakers and millers, local truck drivers, local grocers, and a community that supports them in all their efforts.”

Vancouver Is Cascadia’s Greenest City, Who Is Second? (The Tyee)Vancouver is announced as Cascadia’s greenest city, but then the question for second place is: Seattle, or Portland? The writer notes that most people assume that Portland will take second places, but wants to dig into the individual issues deeper. No spoiler alert, but the city that takes second deserves it.

If you only started reading our blog recently, here are the top 10 most popular posts from last year that you may have missed:

  1. The case to abort LRT (in Vancouver) – a newspaper clipping saved from 1982 that talks about the new SkyTrain system coming to Vancouver, and why the government should “scrap” the system and go back to more conventional methods.
  2. Rethinking Highest and Best Use – discussion of cycles of urban decline, the decay of neighborhoods, and how urban agriculture can help.
  3. Uptown, meet your old neighbor, South Lake Union – 3 projects that are changing these two neighborhoods; Mercer Street, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Alaskan Way Viaduct (SR99) Bored Tunnel)
  4. New Meaning to Eating Local – Why low income neighborhoods suffer from higher levels of obesity
  5. How Green is your Transit System? – Architects designing transit systems sustainably have few guidelines to follow today.
  6. Conscious Consumers — one staff members goal to reduce her impact on the environment (after watching “No Impact Man”)
  7. Less Carbon, More Footprints – a discussion of walking in cities and a review of the Walk21 conference
  8. Vancouver Streetcar: We’ve Missed You – The history of the streetcar and the possibilities of reintroducing it to Vancouver
  9. The Salvation of our Environment Lies at the Feet of the Poor – A discussion about giving the poor full rights over the illegal properties they live on (discussion based on ideas of Paul Hawken)
  10. EcoDistricts 101 – the What, Why and Hows of EcoDistricts

As we begin 2010, here are some of our memorable moments from 2009:

Our Holiday Card

Dec 26, 2009

Vote: What do you think the front image is?

Vote in the poll to the right or fill out your own suggestion in the comment section.

Happy Holidays!

[Editor’s Note: This post will remain at the top of the blog until Christmas. New posts will show up below this one.]

by Krystal Meiners, VIA Architecture

Drafting environmental policy to promote better transportation networks

If the US were to reach an agreement on climate action, and specifically, an agreement on GHG reduction targets we may eventually get to see that boom in the transportation sector that we have all been waiting for. In the last year, industry professionals have been hard at work providing policy makers with the latest comprehensive research on the benefits of developing sustainable transit networks, but, without an ambitious target for GHG emissions reduction, will these projects gain priority?

Reaching the current baseline proposed by the Obama administration would mean glacial progress toward more integrated and sustainable transportation systems in the US. Legislation should be aiming higher, not lower, if we want to see real progress in the sustainability of our infrastructure and the growth of our cities.

Setting a more aggressive target for carbon emissions could mean an increased number of transportation projects like light rail and BRT in a lot more cities. If emissions reduction becomes a priority on a federal and state level, sustainable mobility becomes an important strategy in helping cities reach those targets. While the US still struggles to define or commit to an ambitious federal target, it is important for local leaders to step up and decide how their cities will address the issues of climate change; and it may be as simple (or as hard) as getting people out of their cars and planning our cities for density and efficiency.

Industry reports, such as the APTA Sustainable Transportation Practice Compendium (discussed in a previous post here), have made substantial progress in outlining best practices for sustainability in the design, construction and operation of transportation networks.

The recommendations made in the Compendium exhibit the highest levels of qualitative strategies for building better and more integrated systems. It is important to measure these benefits when considering the lifecycle and impact of transit infrastructure and how this work translates to a reduction in GHG emissions on top of reduced vehicle miles traveled.

If the US were to set higher targets for emissions reduction, these recommendations would easily become best practices and would propel our transportation technologies forward. On the other hand, without prioritizing emissions reduction, many of the strategies discussed here would be overlooked in favor of “business as usual.”

Other industry works like Moving Cooler from the Urban Land Institute, have different and more quantitative strategies for reducing emissions. This report examines several ways of bundling implementation strategies and regulatory programs based on desired outcomes and levels of achievable GHG reductions.

These bundles represent examples of how to group transportation strategies together in innovative ways to effectively reduce emissions while creating a flexible framework so that decisions can be based on time frame, intensity of reduction, phasing, and finally cost.

The report builds on what is local and available for reformation like parking and speed limits but provides a measurable component for environmental safety and priority as well as direction for next steps and how to implement more aggressive strategies.

Many states have developed their own climate agendas and are hard at work trying to integrate local policy to reflect their climate change goals. Some states have developed policy around smart growth, environmental safety, and sustainable mobility but these initiatives are not supported by federal funding, which generally favors “shovel-ready” projects that boost jobs and the economy in the short term.

If the US were to aim higher and prioritize long term sustainability, we would be well positioned in the long term green economy, as well. 

by Adam Criswell, guest blogger
Conscious Consumers, Part 1
Conscious Consumers, Part II

**Only local, seasonal, organic foods, no plastic bottles, no aluminum cans, and no paper towels**

November, I hate you, and me.

What was I thinking? I’m not sure what I was thinking initially but by about the third day I was thinking, ‘I wish I had picked a month when the fruits and veggies I LOVE are in season so this doesn’t feel like so much deprivation.’

In the first three days, my boss and cube-mate told me that if I didn’t go get a latte then losing my job was a best-case scenario and death was not far off. Apparently I can flip a little attitude when not properly caffeinated. I’d already been off of soda since the end of August, so that wouldn’t be too difficult, but clearly coffee was going to be my one vice this month and I wouldn’t be giving it up. My next thought was, ‘Dear God! Who is going to eat all the Halloween Gobstoppers on my desk if not me?’ It seemed as if the first of my concerns was to be the least of them too.

Potatoes, carrots and beets?! This was going to be the worst kind of sensory deprivation torture; the kind where my taste-buds suffer. What was I thinking? I was surprised by our first trip to the farmers market that there was so much green still: chard, kale and my personal favorite (seriously, no sarcasm) Brussels sprouts! Yes! Bonus! Maybe this month wouldn’t be so bad. Now to figure out what I was going to be able to make. Being 26 years old, the recipes that I would call my specialty may not be myriad but I am a pretty proficient cook when I want to be. However, most of my standards are fairly exotic by Western Washington standards. It looks like no Chili-lime Shrimp Tacos for November. Time to consult some recipe books and hit up PCC to get what I need. Below are some local, organic, seasonal recipes I used.

Recipe # 1: Potato + Leek soup
Result: Delectable (if you like potatoes and leeks, which I do). I bought some Washington grown potatoes and leeks at my local PCC Natural Markets store as well as some local milk sold in a glass bottle, some local chicken sausage, and – THANK GOD (and Annette) – local bread made from local wheat. The sausage came wrapped in plastic but this project is all about choices and I chose local, free-range, organic, and wrapped-in-plastic, over trucked in chicken from the other end of the country. Was it the right one? It was for me.

This soup lasted quite some time. I ate it for lunch and dinner for nearly a week. That doesn’t work for everyone, but I was so proud of my first attempt that I couldn’t be pried away from it, or is that “pride away from it”. See what I did there, little play on homophones.

Recipe #2: Whole Wheat Summer Sausage Pizza with Peppers
Making the dough from scratch – a first for me since yeast and I seem to have opposing personalities and I can’t ever get my dough to rise.

Recipe #3: Garlic Chicken with Potatoes and Fennel
The chicken was bought at PCC, the garlic was grown at home in our garden (we have a TON). The fennel and potatoes are from Pike Place Market. I stuffed the chicken with garlic cloves, seasoned it w/ coarse salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning and pan seared it then put it in a lidded baking dish. I quartered my red and purple potatoes, tossed them with E.V.O.O., salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Added in some cherry tomatoes I had lying around. I covered the chicken with these veggies and baked it at 400 for about 40 minutes. If you’re making this and your chicken is still pink after 40 minutes, it’s not done; don’t eat it.

For the fennel I sliced the blub in quarters, drizzled E.V.O.O., coarse salt and fresh cracked pepper then seared it on a grill at high heat and placed it in the oven to stay warm.

Recipe #4: Mexironi and Cheese
I used pasta that I’d purchased at Pike Place Market; about 1 lb. While the noodles boiled I made a roux in a stock pot using butter, flour and milk. Once that was ready I stirred in shredded chipotle cheddar from Golden Glen Creamery (Mt. Vernon), shredded mozzarella, and added some more milk for consistency. I then added some red pepper flakes for heat. I drained the noodles and put them in a large casserole added some sliced, cooked chorizo from Pike Place Market and poured the cheese mixture over the top and stirred it all together. Then I laid pepper jack cheese over the top. Covered it with a glass lid and baked it for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees. All the ingredients were purchased at Pike Place Market or PCC, except the pepper jack that I already had and could have come from anywhere.

I found an awesome cookbook about halfway through November called Washington Local and Seasonal Cookbook. The only problem for me was that everything seemed to be mushroom, seafood or squash based and that is pretty much the extent of foods that I try to avoid… Rough… Come Thanksgiving, it was time to talk Turkey.

Stay tuned for Conscious Consumers: Getting through the Holidays

by Annette Thurston, VIA Architecture
Click here to read Part 1 of Conscious Consumers

**No plastic, No aluminum, 2 hours of TV/Laptop time, purchase what we can carry, and dine out a max of 3 times a week**

The month of October proved much more difficult than I was prepared for. No Plastic?! EVERYTHING is wrapped in plastic. Well…everything bad for us and our planet, right? Sure there are the occasional sacrifices of using plastic. Toothbrushes. Toilet paper, paper towels; (which is completely ridiculous by the way. Paper wrapped in plastic.) It’s definitely an adjustment. One that I am still making.

The biggest issue for me in October was definitely food. Going to Safeway was traumatic. I was limited to just the produce area. Where, by the way, seeing all those rolls of plastic bags for the vegetables was just maddening. There are no instant meals in the produce area and since I couldn’t buy anything in tin, I couldn’t even get canned vegetables or fruit.

Seeing as how I’m not a cook I had no idea where to start. I felt like a stranger lost in a place I had been thousands of times. And I wasn’t even limited to local yet. I could have anything I wanted and I ended up leaving with the few things I knew how to make: potatoes and some veggies for sandwiches. At least I was able to leave with the amount of things I could carry in one re-usable bag.

But the food didn’t last long and I was at the store much more often than before and was spending nearly double the amount in a month than I had before. Not to mention I was eating out a lot more than before too. It felt like I was always out of food! I felt so out of control in my spending and had no idea what to do to curb it. I was just panicking. It didn’t help that Adam would text me (almost daily) pictures of his delicious meals that he made from fresh whole foods while I was eating an apple for dinner or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I really needed to learn how to cook.

The upside to this was that since I was only allowed 2 hours of TV per day, I had a lot more time to spend in my kitchen making something (hopefully delicious) to eat. Also, while we’re on the subject, only watching 2 hours of TV a day opens up a whole new world filled with nothing but TIME. Time to read, time to socialize, time to clean and organize, time to ponder how I’m going to get through this next year.

So October was rough. Just getting into the groove and basically detoxing myself from my life of instant, cheap, and lazy was no easy feat. Thank goodness I work with people who are already adjusted to living sustainably. They provide me with so much support and have directed me to some great resources to help me prepare. One of which was The Natural Resources Defense Council website — a great website that tells you exactly what foods are in season for whatever state you live in.

For instance, foods growing in early/late November in the state of Washington are:

Apples, Asian Pears, Beans, Beets, Blackberries, Blueberries, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Celeriac, Celery, Chard, Collard Greens, Cranberries, Garlic, Grapes, Hearty Greens (Bok Choy, Kale, Mustard Greens), Jerusalem Artichokes, Kohlrabi, Leaf Lettuce, Leeks, Mushrooms, Onions, Parsnips, Pears, Potatoes, Pumpkins, Radishes, Raspberries, Rutabagas, Shallots, Spinach, Turnips, Winter Squash

Not a bad list. Ironically enough, this (albeit limited) list made it easier for me to go grocery shopping because I knew exactly what I could buy and all I had to do was find recipes for it. So I knew eating locally in the month of November wouldn’t be nearly as difficult as the last month was. I finally figured out how I was going to get a hold on myself and stop panicking.

And that brings us to the next challenge: Eat Local and Sustainably. 

(stay tuned for part 3)