Archives For progressivetimes

new york snow blizzardLast week’s snowpocalyspe for the Northeast underscored the growing need to address issues of resiliency across all development patterns. The combination of fast-tracked growth in new communities, an aging network of infrastructure and the possibility of increasingly frequent severe weather events continues to put the spotlight on the ability of municipalities to operate safely throughout unplanned disruptions. Though the focus often leans towards building systems and infrastructural safety, walkability can be a key component of a resilient community that can help keep neighborhoods functioning normally. Continue Reading…

high voltage wiresWhat was once a broad system of cutting edge technology has grown into an antiquated system that we rely on implicitly. In many ways, the evolution of modern society has outpaced our means for the production and distribution of power to leave the state of our world’s infrastructure punctuated by a list of shortcomings. We are still overly dependent on fossil fuels for power production. There is a growing resistance to the new centralized infrastructure where utilities can rise to a monopolistic opportunity of being the only game in town. The changing nature of our global climate highlights needs for quality and resiliency, a benchmark of performance that much of our landscape cannot currently meet. Not to be forgotten is that we still have upwards of 1.7 billion people in the world without any access to reliable electricity. While there are numerous attempts to try and bolster the breadth of the grid by fixing pieces as they wear down, there is an alternative to making a bigger and more powerful grid: making a series of smaller grids that are more agile, more robust and more adaptable. Very small. Micro.  Continue Reading…

2016 resolutionWith our feet firmly in 2016, we now have a chance to recover from the holiday revelry while helping to craft our new version of normal complete with some proactive adjustments for the new year. Whether it is crafting some new goals from scratch, finally implementing that routine that seemed so alluring for the past four months or dusting off the tasks from last year that didn’t last until February, the time for a new resolution is upon us. Some of us, hopefully many of us, may be etching some expectations for ourselves that include some environmental benefit. If that is true, I would offer the option of doubling down on those goals for 2016–not only push yourself to stick to them, but convince someone else to do it as well.  Continue Reading…

Well building standard[Editor’s Note: Below is a guest post from Jessica Glicker. Currently a Brooklyn resident, Jessica is the Special Projects Coordinator at COOKFOX Architects and a LEED Accredited Professional.]

As environmental standards for the built environment continue to become increasingly relevant and more frequently pursued, the once small pool of available building certifications has grown into a plethora of tools each with slightly different goals and degrees of intensity. This surge in options can help broaden the lens of sustainability and allow many different groups of professionals to simultaneously research, pursue and refine criteria for sustainable improvement. At the same time, a growing breadth of acronyms, ratings, points and authorities can run the risk of confusing potential participants from understanding the benefit of such certifications and also keeping the pool of programs transparent and legitimate. The tempering of market recognition with innovation is a careful yet important balance that needs to be explored with new systems that help keep our methods on pace with our capability. Continue Reading…

storefront retail doorWith summer behind us, New York City has tightened its stance against commercial entities leaving their front doors open to the sidewalk while providing air conditioning to the space inside. Though already against the law in the five boroughs, the new amendment to the existing legislation requires the display of the code stipulation in some cases and levies steeper penalties for those found to be avoiding compliance. Continue Reading…

ecomodernist manifestoAs we wade deeper into the century more eyes are turning to changes that continue to appear around us in the biosphere. Increased focus combined with more powerful tools have allowed us to study increases, decreases, anomalies and misalignments with new degrees of accuracy that allow us to assess the magnitude of some environmental problems as far greater than previously realized while finding others that we did not even know existed. A growing consensus in the environmental community is that human activity is increasingly drawing on nature’s resources faster than the collective ecology can replenish them, resulting in calls to address how we interact with the world’s natural systems. Continue Reading…

Google ExteriorOne of sustainability’s greatest shortfalls can also operate as one of its greatest strengths. As a term, sustainability has been criticized for lacking concrete definition and encompassing too many different topics and perspectives. Part of that is by design. The core components of sustainability revolve around balance and dynamic equilibrium, basic tenets of natural ecosystems–which are far from simple. The result is that the effectiveness of any efforts under the banner of sustainability can be weighed by a number of sources through a series of different lenses. While good for the environment, this can be cumbersome for parties wanting to make a “positive” impact without a series of more demanding benchmarks.

The flip side is that its encompassing nature can be used to reinforce vague or ambiguous efforts that are propped up buzz words and cosmopolitan trends while the environmental benefit is relatively small. The line between big ideas that carry many positive effects for the planet and big plans that provide little ecological effect due to lack of concrete goals is an important one for us to stay on the right side of.  Continue Reading…

grocery store aisleIn skimming through the recent articles on the Sustainable Cities Collective, I came across one that featured a story about an Austrian “Smart Buildings Program” at the University of Applied Sciences in Salzburg. One of the projects for students was probing the design for the most efficient supermarket, effectively built to Passivhaus standards–which any American architect will tell you is ambitious for a retail entity that relies so heavily on cooling. Given that our country’s food system is highly carbon-intensive, a study for how its sale and distribution can be more ecological responsive is certainly worthwhile. Continue Reading…

international green construction codeIf the goal is to limit the overcrowding of cars on the street, is it a better solution to dilute density in order to spread people out or to foster the ability for more people to carry out more of their day via alternative transit? Is the best way to avoid excessive signage and light pollution to forcibly segregate all commercial program or might it be easier to simply regulate sizes for signage and candlepower for lighting? In an effort to limit the amount of cooking odors disturbing nearby residences, would it make more sense to remove proximity of all retail business or to set standards for the design and location of cooking exhaust?

Questions like these draw into focus the difference between two mindsets for planning and design, prescriptively restrictive vs. performative. The deeper question is whether it makes more sense to guide design and development by prescribing solutions with an (educated) guess as to how they may perform over time or by simply setting standards for testing how things should actually perform? While the former has proven to be easier for governing bodies in many cases, the latter can be built on what we actually have rather than an idea of what could occur. Continue Reading…

Too often, we find ourselves in new suburban developments that are little more than a watered down model of a historic precedent. With large swaths of sub-divided into saleable parcels, the go-to combination of a windy road, ample lawns and a smattering of colonial reminiscing can get the property off the hands of a developer into the eager grasp of new tenants. But when it comes to actually fostering a sense of community, more often than not we see houses thrown up in reasonable proximity with hopes for the best. This method leaves a lot of clubs in the bag for crafting variables entirely within our collective control to produce better results. Among them is the relationship between our homes and the streetscape, with plenty of ways to promote connection rather than just proximity. Continue Reading…