Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Ponzi scheme in suburbia?

First blog of the New Era.

First up - Is suburban development a Ponzi scheme? In "The growth Ponzi scheme, part 1" from New Urban Network, writer Charles Mahron makes this claim: The typical American pattern of development doesn't support itself. He writes: "The great experiment of suburbanization that America embarked on following World War II has no precedent in human history. As it enters its third generation, the flawed assumptions that were overlooked are now coming back to bite us in a cruel way."

I think Mahron is onto something, and I know he's not alone in questioning whether the country and its governments – federal, state and local – can afford to support the immense and spread-out infrastructure we've created in the pat 50 years. I know that Charlotte's Department of Transportation and its Fire Department looked at the cost-savings to be had in fire and emergency services when streets are in a connected network versus cul-de-sac-collector-type patterns.

But has anyone seen any academically rigorous studies that look seriously at this question? It's easy to hypothesize. Which is why we all do it.

Is LEED truly leading? This article in Miller-McCune, "Is LEED the Gold Standard in Green?" tells of a lawsuit against the well-known  Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system by a New York engineer named Henry Gifford.  He contends the energy savings for LEED-certified buildings can be drastically overrated.
Why is this important? As the article notes, the building sector consumes 49 percent of all energy produced in the United States, and 77 percent of all the electricity produced in the nation is used to operate buildings." Building more energy-efficient buildings is a huge need. And if the only real rating system available doesn't, after all, save as much energy as it claims, well, that's a problem.

LEED, for its part, has been addressing some of the criticisms since before the lawsuit. It has begun requiring certified buildings to track predicted energy savings versus actual savings, and it's re-inventing its rating program.

For those of you who enjoy reading academic and professional journals, here's an article in the NCMedicalJournal.com, "Barriers to Municipal Planning for Pedestrians and Bicyclists in North Carolina."  The Cliff's Notes version: There isn't enough money, and priorities are elsewhere, and it's worse in rural areas than urban ones.

As always, a link to an article doesn't necessarily mean I agree with all of it – only that I think you'll find it interesting and provocative reading.