Life is full of opportunities, if you are too focused on your percieved goal in life you run the risk of missing chances to meet new people and learn new things. I am glad that I was in the right place at the right time and met the president of Rivercourt Engineering last week. We had a good morning to exchange some ideas about sustainable water infrastructures and other eco-conscious designs. It was that morning that the following article owe its existence to.
“Sustainable neighbourhoods” is now a buzz word often used in different cities’ master plan. It conjures up idyllic architectural renderings of suburban housing with manicured lawns, punctuated by saplings and populated by computer people. There is one right there beside us; of course, architects never seem to get these things quite right. In fact, I don’t think anyone has a clue what sustainable neighbourhoods ought to look like, since no one has ever been able to create one. I feel that I must add my voice to the cacophony trying to define “sustainable neighbourhood.”
To begin, I would like readers to familiarize themselves with terms like development charges, distributed generation and wastewater treatment. These are terms that will help in the understand of the stuff I am about to talk about.
As many of us know, one of the greatest hindrance to widespread adoption of renewable energy is that delivery and transmission for it is difficult. It’s easy to generate electricity from solar, but storing any more than you can use immediately is expensive and unreliable. Losses in transmission lines are too great for a centralized solar farm to be financially feasible or be anything more than a greenwash project. The same exists for many other types of renewable energy generation and as the old saying goes, “smoke ’em if you got ’em.” If there is a real desire to create a sustainable neighbourhood, then the first task is to solve the dependency on the power grid for electricity by providing the neighbourhood with means to self-generate its electricity, e.g. solar panels on roofs, microturbine generators at intersections and neighbourhood squares. (ed note: I cannot remember the source of this, so take it with a grain of salt, but I remember reading two years ago that research has shown if half of all the roofs in UK were covered with solar panels, their dependency on fossil fuels would be cut by 40%.)
In order to complete our sustainable neighbourhoods, we must also take wastewater treatment through the same process as the distributed power generation. Small-scale wastewater treatment plants are not new; however, the established health standards of municipal governments has to change in order to allow the water treated using alternative methods the same classification as water treated to tertiary treatment. Luckily, as I have been told recently by individuals within the industry, we are starting to see some changes to the standards that may eventually allow this to happen. Having a small-scale wastewater treatment plant in the community also allows biomass as another method of power generation. Using anaerobic combustion, extra electricity can be generated for use in business parks or areas of higher electricity consumption. In all, the idea is to create a loop in both the resource input and output to a sustainable neighbourhood. While I envision small & medium businesses will be encouraged to locate in the neighbourhood, individuals will obviously commute as they normally do to transit hubs or to their places of employment.
The first comment by critics is no doubt – how do you plan on paying for this? By showcasing these projects, once made financially viable, companies and firms will look to invest into this idea. Feasibility studies should also show that by redistributing residential development charges, ones that are currently billed to developers and passed onto homeowners, some of the initial costs of those capital projects can be lessoned.
No doubt that this exists in fantasy, I am not sure how many takers would willing live in this type of environment. To some, I am sure it sounds a little too Orwellian, infringing on people’s freedoms and all that, but maybe we need to rethink our priorities and what luxuries we are willing to part with and what necessities we must keep.
As always, comments are welcomed.