Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Reformulating building regulations to promote sustainability

1. Apartment building waste management systems. A couple weeks ago, we discussed an apartment complex in Toronto that now diverts about 85% of its waste stream. In order to accommodate waste diversion, building systems and waste "storage" areas need to be redesigned.

The best way to push that forward, quickly, is to change the requisite building regulations.  But because cities don't typical take responsibility for trash pick up from apartment buildings, and because private haulers may pay tipping fees to cities, so they see this as a revenue source, cities may be disincentivized to push forward better building regulations.

One resource is the Better Practice Guide Waste Management for Residential and Mixed Use Developments published by a consortium of groups in South Australia.  It calls for a much more fine grained system of collection than is typical of buildings in the US.
Waste Management in an apartment building

2. Supermarket and restaurant waste diversion. The Fillery, a boutique grocery in Brooklyn is designed from the outset to minimize waste, including bulk food sales where people can bring their own containers. ("This New Brooklyn Grocery Is Designed For Zero Waste," Fast Company).  From the article:
In the 10-block radius around Sarah Metz's apartment in Brooklyn, there are around 50 bodegas and five or six grocery stores. None have bulk bins; like typical markets, pretty much everything you can buy comes wrapped in plastic or cardboard.

Metz is hoping to change that by opening a new packaging-free, zero-waste grocery store. She was inspired in part by the fact that only a small fraction of plastic packaging is recycled—about 14%—which is one reason that between 5.3 million and 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year.

The store is designed to help people rethink what they actually need to buy. "We recognize that we cannot replace everything within a regular grocery store—and we don’t aim to," says Metz. "That’s actually part of the point—there is so much excess in a regular grocery store, which is a big contributor to both food and packaging waste."

Instead of a produce section, Fillery plans to offer a CSA pickup point where customers can come get a weekly supply of seasonal vegetables from local farmers. "Space is extremely limited in Brooklyn, which I imagine is one of the reasons most grocery stores here do not have a bulk section, or at least a substantial one," she says. "I opted to leave out a produce section for a variety of reasons: to maximize the variety of bulk items I can carry, to ensure there is room for a community learning space, to support regional farms and the slow food movement, and to reduce operational costs."
Frankly, like food cooperatives, which appeal to a hyper small segment of the consumer market, I think this isn't likely a mass solution, even though we do purchase bulk spices and other food products this way.  (Although this is more about freshness maybe than minimizing packaging.) But it's still interesting.  In the meantime, some supermarkets are diverting food waste to land-base composting systems, while others have set up biogas producing composting systems to generate energy ("Kroger Puts Dent in Food Waste With Biogas," Sustainable Business).

(I've thought too of the idea of what we might call a bulk food truck, set up sort of like one of those bottle delivery trucks, that could set up at farmers markets.)

But restaurants and other food preparation facilities could set up certain processes and practices to better divert recyclable and compostable waste in part through building regulation facilitated design.

-- "More businesses must recycle food under NYC compost rules," New York Daily News
-- "For Restaurants, Composting is a Welcome but Complex Task," New York Times
-- RecyclingWorks Massachusetts, technical assistance for businesses and institutions
-- Restaurant Food Waste Diversion Guide, RecyclingWorks

3.  Recycling water/greywater.  A certain portion of household waste water is reusable, without having to be sent to waste treatment facilities, and can be used on-site.

Out west, diverting this water, called greywater, has waxed and waned for the past few decades, depending on drought. According to the San Francisco Chronicle ("White House summit focuses on aggressive, new ways to save water") a housing development in California is being developed from the ground up to capture and reuse greywater. From the article:
Occupants of 11,000 new single-family houses under construction near Tracy will be able to recycle their shower, bath, laundry and sink water on site using a system designed by Australian water engineers, one of dozens of new water technologies the White House will showcase at its big “water summit” Tuesday.
Related to the idea of changing regulations, the City of Tracy Water System Management Plan/Wastewater Master Plan specifies the use of recycled/non-potable water for certain types of plantings and water features, development of a separate water piping system for recycled water, the use of efficient appliances using water, etc.

Also see "Water recycling debuts at new housing tract: Australia technology could save 72% of daily water use, proponents say," San Diego Union Tribune. According to the article, it costs about $10,000/house.

While it would take many years for retrofitted greywater systems to pay off, for houses getting a gut rehab, it wouldn't be too hard to install such systems.

Additionally, small new house infill subdivisions, such as the Chancellor Row houses in Brookland or the Comstock Homes development on New Hampshire Avenue NW could have installed greywater systems while constructing the development from the outset.  Or this new development in Minneapolis ("Development in north Minneapolis marks new test of real estate in city's most challenged niche,"  Minneapolis Star-Tribune ).
graywater diversion

4.  Xeriscaping/specifying yard plantings as an element of water system planning.   Xeriscaping out west is a system of planting yards that reflects weather conditions, rather than "importing" a traditional grass lawn paradigm.  Xeriscaped yards are designed to be more like "deserts."

Building regulations could specify appropriate and inappropriate landscaping treatments, based on local conditions--this could extend to requiring more use of indigenous plantings (local fauna eat local plants, not non-local plants).  Typically they do not.

The current issue of Southern Living has a story ("Houston Bungalow Garden") about David Morello, a garden design and Houston resident, who has replaced his grass-fronted yard with flowers and other plantings.  (Interestingly, he did this many years ago, see "Rock stars in the garden," Houston Chronicle.)

Photo: Alison Miksch for Southern Living.

The Edible Landscaping concept replaces traditional lawns with food cultivation ("Smart city governments grow produce for the people," Grist Magazine) and extends this to public spaces.  For example, the grounds of Baltimore's City Hall includes a herb garden.

And many water authorities and environmental agencies are pushing the concept of rain gardens, but such plantings aren't typically "required" as part of building regulations.

5. Food waste collection bins as part of the system of trash cans in the public space. While not a building regulation matter, Granville Island in British Columbia has outdoor food waste collection bins as a part of their street furniture system to waste/trash cans.

Images from Tyler Talks Trash blog.

They include information on what "food scraps" means as far as composting is concerned.

6.  Regulating food /specifying compostable containers.  Relatedly, while some cities, including DC, are banning the use of styrofoam containers, which aren't easily recycled, it's hard to know what is and isn't compostable.  For example, 7-11 claims their coffee cups are compostable, while Au Bon Pain or Starbucks use cups with a plastic lining. 

Similarly, traditional Chinese food takeout containers have a plastic lining, so they aren't compostable, but compostable Chinese food takeout containers are manufactured. 

But because they cost a bit more and aren't specified for use as part of comprehensive regulations concerning composting and recycling and "take out food," such containers aren't typically used by such restaurants. 

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At 8:55 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Well, Richard, you would be happy/unhappy -- being dragged into real world politics again.

And I hate it. Really. Activates part of my brain that I try not to use. Very animal. I try to be analytical.

Off topic: interesting book.

Good on development history of downtown.

RE: trash+recycling, yeah forcing that to be put in (instead of affordable housing) is probably a long term investment.

I got a flyer at the mayor's speech yesterday on a EOTR food co-op, sure you've written about it.

Water treatment, that is great and again need to be forced into the code.

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

don't know about a specific EOTR initiative on a food coop, but yes, I've suggested that approach (and the creation of a public market building-set up) as an alternative approach to business and service formation in an area with less capital available for business formation.

People tried to create a food coop in the H St. neighborhood, but it never went anywhere, some of the leaders of the initiative moved (to Takoma) etc.

I've mentioned the Mariposa Cooperative in Philly as an example relevant to underserved neighborhoods in DC.

But I wonder if there is enough "community capital" to pull off such a business in DC. (There was a food coop in Brookland when I first moved here in 1987.)

A food coop recently failed in New Haven, but I argue that was because they didn't understand the basics of retail leasing. They agreed to pay more rent as sales increased, even though the profit margins on food are miniscule. They shouldn't have agreed to pay more rent as sales increased. A for profit venture took over the market, which was intended to provide food access in an otherwise underserved (but well located) area.

Of course, Glut Food Coop, a business coop, not a member coop, has existed for 40+ years in Mt. Rainer, and is another example.

It might be that a business cooperative could work better, because the workers would be motivated, because their income/success would be on the line.

At 10:13 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt the book, hmm, as a planner I tend to not be fond of architects as they tend to be self-important and their approach to design isn't about the value of the ensemble.

It's probably worth checking out the book though.

2. interestingly, wrt Morgan, which has a combined architecture and planning school, I argued that they f*ed up when they rebuilt their school, because if they wanted to be way more relevant (MSU is on the outskirts of Baltimore, in the northcenter, practically in Baltimore County, in a semi-suburban setting) if they had instead moved their planning and architecture school to the Station North district, proximate to UB and MICA (and Penn Station).

3. WRT more modern Af-Am architects, I am not particularly enamored of the work of David Adjaye or Philip Freelon. But I don't see their work as somehow particularly, African-American, just other examples of modern architecture.

Both of them have done some of DC's libraries. They are nice as library buildings, but the program for those facilities are just as limited as any of the other library sites. People argue that David Adjaye had something to do with the innovativeness of the Idea Store library repositioning in London. Not true. All he did was design some of the buildings. The innovative program came from the library system. And clearly David Adjaye didn't think to try to push forward that kind of innovative approach here.

4. There is nothing architecturally innovative in the new Howard U dorms on 4th St. And HU has an architecture school...

5. Is there an African-Architecture movement comparable to the "Deaf Architecture" movement being spurred on by people at Gallaudet University?

At 10:46 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

FWIW, I added a couple of sections to the base posting, on landscaping, and take out food containers.

At 10:48 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

This is my past post on MSU.

At 11:05 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

The cop is Community Grocery Cooperative CGC

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

also, I just asked a question of you in the transit #1 entry, in response to your point about people without kids choosing to live Metrorail-convenient for jobs.

wrt DC, do you/the people you talk with see charter schools as a solution that keeps them in the city.

e.g., in our neighborhood, much of the household turnover is with families, mostly white or Hispanic, with some mixed race couples, and in general, their kids are going to charter schools.

Although in my greater neighborhood the traditional DCPS elem. school in Takoma is improving markedly, and obviously schools close to the park but east of it, like Shepherd Elem., I think Powell Elem. in Petworth, are good or improving too.

Petworth seems to have a lot of "new" families, mostly white or Hispanic. DK the nature of their school choices though.

At 11:50 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I think it is there but overstated.

Certainly seeing that effect in pre-K. In areas with good k-6 (Ross, Key, etc).

And lets be honest -- DC area is the highest income and education levels in the country. SF bay area matches it. Not getting into Ivy League is an educational failure for a lot families here.

I.e. a friend was trying to get me to contribute to a fund to help the "poor" kids at Wilson get enough money to buy squash uniforms.

Charter schools in DC aren't going to get your kids into an Ivy. Or even a Michigan or UVA. Maybe with affirmative action preference.

also see this:

At 1:00 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I used to live two blocks from the Wilson elementary (not the high school) for about 15 years... the interesting thing about the school, and of course, now I am unfamiliar with the neighborhood demographics in a granular sense, is that a lot of kids didn't really live in the area, they were grandchildren of people who did, and after school they'd get aftercare from the grandparents.

When the city did its first major check of enrollment documents, schools like Wilson lost a lot of enrollment.

2. wrt the point about the schools, I guess you're right. But even a white kid from Wilson the high school seems to be deficient, based on the Post story a couple years ago about students in college having a tough time writing papers, etc.

3. funny thing is I was thinking of Ford and Trump just before he died. Reading a bunch of the coverage in the Star and Globe, it seems like there was a lot of love/man of the people thing about him.

Too bad he was so bad for Toronto. I guess voting for the guy you can drink/smoke crack with (e.g. with the former, Bush) isn't the best way to make a decision about voting. That being said, apparently he was absolutely great about responding to constituent queries, calling people back personally. That had to have made a big difference.

Like with Menino. I can't remember the exact number, but in one of the retrospective articles after his death, the article quoted a survey that found a huge percentage of respondents, more than 30%, reporting they had personal contact with him.

nope, holy s***, the number was 54%

That kind of contact goes a long way towards retaining loyalty and garnering votes.

4. another question. tell me again your block, and the alley etc. I just had an idea about bike parking accommodation that I want to write about (in a brief piece about biking).

I've mentioned it before, but there is a different way to think about it now.

At 5:57 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: the address?

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

ahh, it's not important. I got a couple photos of some other apartment buildings. Don't need every building in the city... thx.

At 8:39 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Right, mostly I was commenting on the need for a green alley and burying the various verizon wiring. Better lighting is as always present need as well.

At 9:07 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I think the green alley program died with the Fenty Administration... certainly, "greening" was not an element of Mayor B's "Alleypalooza" initiative.

You raise a good point though about when new buildings are constructed, taking the opportunity to bury the wires.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

At 9:14 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Apparently, Massachusetts' ban on organic waste has run into problems in terms of sortation and "dirty compost" and the difficulty experienced in getting "compostable" plasticware to break down.


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