What We Know After Building Generation One of Net Zero

the suburbs

Popular building low density developments like then pictured above are really bad for the environment. To truly understand how disastrous low density housing is one needs to consider the physical space taken for one household, the need for a car for mobility, the building materials, and obviously the energy used to maintain the house.

The wastefulness of suburban living led to the Net Zero movement with set out to build living and work spaces that had didn’t negatively impact the environment. The first generation of those buildings have been around for years and we’ve learned a lot from them. The first generation might not have been perfect but they have set out a better way to build the future.

Also mentioned: One Brighton in the UK, built in 2009, was the first major development built using the One Planet Living framework. While the development reduced carbon emissions by 70 percent in comparison with the average neighborhood development, that’s not 100 percent. Still, homes there sell for a 10 percent premium over comparable real estate because of their inherent sustainability and resale value. There are also other benefits: residents who move there sell their cars as they can walk and bike everywhere. No cars means much less spent on transportation and fewer carbon emissions.

As for the future of net-zero communities, Downey sees developers now dictating hard energy performance requirements. For example, in a recent RFP for a new building, Hunter College put in a 100 kwh per square meter performance target.

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Living Off the Grid in a Major City

Most people think living off the grid means living the countryside with your own well, reenable energy, and food source. The truth is that style of off the grid requires massive space to work (for example, a well needs a large area to collect water from), so that rural off the grid doesn’t work for everyone.

What is a person living in the city to do to get off the grid though?

Back in the 90s there was a competition throughout Canada to figure that out. One winner is still living in his house that is off the grid in Toronto.

“We promised to make the house self-sufficient and not use any non-renewable fuel,” Paloheimo said.

“Despite the home’s high-tech appearance, most of the products and systems are simple and straightforward,” said Chris Ives, CMHC project manager, said in a Toronto Healthy House report published after the house was built.

“Off-grid houses do not necessarily require hours of labour for upkeep. In fact, everything in the house is easy to maintain and available in today’s marketplace.”

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These Plants Clean Your Household Air According to NASA

forest and river
A few years ago we looked at a TED talk on how to grow fresh air inside. The information was based largely on NASA’s research done in the 1980s called Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement, which looked into which plants are best for cleaning interior working spaces. They first looked at what is in the air in an average office then set out to find plants that remove chemicals that harm humans.

Here’s the list from NASA and the TED talk:

  • Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
  • Weeping Fig
  • Money Plant (Epipremnum aureum)
  • Kimberley Queen Fern
  • Moter-in-law’s Tongue (sansveria trifascata)
  • Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)
  • Lillyturf
  • Barberton Daisy
  • Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
  • Rubber Plant (Ficus robusta)
  • Flamingo Lilly
  • Dwarf Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii)
  • Spider Plant
  • Chinese Evergreen
  • Ficus Alii (Ficus macleilandii “Alii”)
  • Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata “Bostoniensis”)

More information can be found here.

How Pressure from Pedestrians and Cyclists Make Better Cities

Depending on where you live you may think streets are for people or for cars. The correct answer is that streets are for moving people and not built for the need of inanimate objects. In an interesting series of videos the Toronto Star’s Christopher Hume examines the different urban design decisions between suburban and urban neighbourhoods. The urban areas that promote cycling and walking are understandably the most vibrant, interesting, and productive (economically and culturally). The impact non-car uses can have on streets is evident and something that every city can benefit from.

Unsurprisingly, Toronto’s most vibrant streets — Queen, College, Bloor — are generally narrow car-slowing thoroughfares lined with unspectacular buildings between two and six storeys tall — hardly the stuff of vehicular convenience. The major interruptions in these mostly intact streetscapes are largely the result of clumsy modern interventions beginning in the 1950s and ’60s. Decades later in what’s now Vertical City, we still have difficulty making buildings work at street level. Architects are slowly learning, but have yet to master the skills of contextualism. They prefer the silence of the vacuum and ignore the public realm whenever possible.

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Turning Homes Into Business Could Save the Suburbs

the suburbs

The suburbs are an energy-intensive housing solution that started in North America and has spread worldwide. The appeal of the tract housing the very thing that makes the suburbs detrimental to society: large lots, expansive houses, low density, and that they are reliant on individual use automobiles. With the mounting pressure of rapid climate change and urbanization of civilization what can we do to negate the poor planning of the suburbs? One solution is to rezone the suburbs to allow business to operate to make the neighbourhoods liveable.

It’s not specifically the built form of the suburbs that makes them unappealing; the buildings there—the houses—are perfectly fine. What deadens these areas is the homogeneity of the uses these buildings are put to. But a building that looks like a house can easily be altered and put to another use. Toronto’s two most iconic and walkable neighbourhoods, Yorkville and Kensington Market, were created like this 100 years ago. If the City took away restrictive zoning, suburban areas will change as local people set up stores and services in converted single family homes and these neighbourhoods will develop organically into complete and vibrant communities.

The permit office should parcel out permits to create a situation where you can go six blocks in any direction anywhere in Toronto and find one or two services. For instance, from my house in North York, you have to walk 12 large suburban blocks to get to the only services available, at Bayview Village. Why isn’t there a little ice cream store or cafe on the first floor of one of the brand new townhouses built across from Bayview Village Park, six blocks away? My home has a walk score of 38 out of 100. Gradually, the City should rezone wherever necessary until every home has a walk score of at least 50. The point isn’t to make all of Toronto like downtown or Kensington Market; just add reasonable access to services that will benefit the neighbourhood. The suburbs would still be the quietest neighbourhoods with the most green space, but they would be better off by virtue of a few local amenities. If a neighbourhood wanted to opt out of this scheme, it could cease issuing these permits altogether, or, alternatively, request that the City issue more of them and to try becoming a new Kensington Market.

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