Snippets – City Infrastructure

Today, stories about developing and improving cities and their infrastructure.

The City of Chicago announced the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, which will leverage private investment for retrofits pending City Council approval. For the first project, they will be doing an energy efficiency retrofit of municipal buildings (via Greentech Media).

Bay Area cities begin to adjust to life after redevelopment agencies shut their doors on Feburary 1st. A blog post by SPUR walks through the impact of these changes in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.

Snippets – Waste Not Want Not

Today, I want to share a few not-quite-so-recent stories related to waste that have been on my mind lately.
Via the New York Times, a food industry alliance is planning a three-year initiative to reduce the tremendous amount of food that Americans still throw in the garbage even as they grow somewhat more conscientious about recycling paper and yard trimmings. … A substantial portion of food is thrown away while still fully edible because of cosmetic blemishes or overstocking. … According to the most recent available statistics, more than 30 million tons of food was dumped in landfills in 2009, making food by far the most abundant material there by weight, the federal Environmental Protection Agency says.
From NPR comes a story about how all that wasted food contributes to climate change. A company called CleanMetrics gathered USDA’s estimates of food loss from retail and consumers for 2009. And when the company’s founder, Kumar Venkat, fed the data into his software he found that food waste is responsible for 135 million tons of greenhouse gases every year, or about 1.5 percent of all emissions ,,,  “If you compare beef to tomatoes, beef has a much higher footprint,” says Venkat. “So if you’re going to reduce waste, you need to prioritize.”
Via Bloomberg, a story about Bank of America selecting some its most decrepit, derelict homes in Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago and paying up to $7,500 to local agencies toward demolition costs. “There is way too much supply,” said Gus Frangos, president of the Cleveland-based Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., which works with lenders, government officials and homeowners to salvage vacant homes. “The best thing we can do to stabilize the market is to get the garbage off.”
From the New York Times –  Across western North Dakota, hundreds of fires burn as companies rushing to extract oil from the Bakken shale field treat the gas as waste and simply burn it. … Every day, more than 100 million cubic feet of natural gas is flared this way — enough energy to heat half a million homes for a day. The flared gas also spews at least two million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, as much as 384,000 cars or a medium-size coal-fired power plant would emit.
And again from NPR, some insight into why cleaned wastewater stays dirty in our minds. … “It’s a very broad feature of human thinking,” Nemeroff explains. “Everywhere we look, you can see contagion thinking.” … The conclusion? “It is quite difficult to get the cognitive sewage out of the water, even after the real sewage is gone,” Nemeroff says.

Cool Roofs – Melvin Pomerantz


In Berkeley, we are fortunate to have such events as Science at the Theater, where Lawrence Berkeley National Lab researchers give talks on their work at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The lectures are free and get a pretty sizeable audience.

On Monday, October 11, I was in the audience as researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (and the beloved Art Rosenfeld) gave a presentation titled “Cool Roofs, Cool Cities.” The post below consists of Part 1 of my record of the presentation – Melvin Pomerantz gives an introduction to the heat island effect and cool roofs. All portions are included in chronological order.

An ellipsis (…) indicates that I was not able to capture the words or thoughts skipped. The presentation is transcribed as accurately as possible – punctuation choices are mine. I also added any images.

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What I’m going to talk about is a very familiar experience to a lot of you – when you go into the center of a city, it’s a lot warmer … That effect, namely the temperature … tends to be anywhere from 5-7 deg F warmer in the city than outside the city …

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The heat has not only an effect of causing discomfort, but has economic effects, too … Looking at some SMUD data … went up to about 107 degrees that day … As the day goes on, it gets hotter and hotter, and the demand for electricity gets higher and higher … finally it cools down and people turn off their air conditioners a little bit. … To get this power, you need about 5.5 power plants, but the power used in January is much less, so the power company has to have in reserve all these power plants. So there is capital involved in having these in reserve … And the ones in reserve are generally the oldest, most polluting plants … so it’s an unfortunate effect …

Another effect that goes on is that when things are very hot, there are actually deaths … Chicago in 1995, there were 739 deaths attributed to the heat wave – almost all occurred on the top floor of buildings with black roofs …

So what can we do about it? … How is the air heated in the first place? The sun does not heat the air directly … Sunlight travels very well through the atmosphere … There are opaque surfaces – the light comes in from the sun and strikes a surface … some stays in the surface and heats the surface, then the air comes along and touches the surface and heats up … The surface is acting as a converter, so if we can modify the surface, we can get a handle on it … If you have a building underneath a roof, that heat travels into the building, then you have to run on the air conditioning. …  Also pavements suffer if it gets too hot … the pavement needs to handle the deterioration that the heat causes … …

One way to look at this is to look at the solar reflectance … If you have no light coming out, it’s black … if it all comes out, it’s very bright. If the light is not all caught by the material, it has a higher solar reflectance, and it’s cooler … If you decrease the solar reflectance, the temperature can rise 80-90 degrees F over the ambient air – and you don’t want that … …

There’s another feature, which is that once the surface is warm, it radiates … there are gases in the air which absorb this thermal radiation, and it’s like a blanket. It’s blocked by the gases in the atmosphere… this is the atmospheric greenhouse effect. If we can affect the light from sticking in the surfaces, we reduces the greenhouse effect, too, and keep the planet a bit cooler …

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

What can we make cooler? … Looking again at Sacramento … about 39% of what we could see from the sky was pavements … … … If we reflect sunlight, it mostly passes back out of the atmosphere without heating the air…

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Part 2 is posted here. Part 3 is posted here. Part 4 is posted here.

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Assorted Links

Berkeley, San Francisco, and Oakland have a proportionally higher stock of older housing than many East Coast and Midwestern cities that were founded and developed much earlier — places such as Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, Hartford, Conn., Savannah, Ga., and Washington, D.C.

Stormwater from areas around the nine-county Bay Area contribute more toxic pollution to San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun bays than the rivers carrying agricultural runoff from the Valley.

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