Friday, December 31, 2010

Slums and Urban Sprawl

% of urban population living in slums (data fr...
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State of the World's Cities 2010/2011 - Bridging the Urban Divide (224 page pdf, United Nations Human Settlements Programme, 2010)

Also discussed here: Cities at Their Best and Worst (The Pump Handle- a water cooler for the public health crowd, Dec. 6, 2010)

Key Quotes:

“Over the past 10 years, the proportion of the urban population living in slums in the developing world has declined from 39 per cent in the year 2000 to an estimated 32 per cent in 2010. And yet the urban divide endures, because in absolute terms the numbers of slum dwellers have actually grown considerably, and will continue to rise in the near future”

“The poor are typically driven to the least developed areas of a city, often places that are poorly integrated to the urban fabric, where dilapidated environments lead to worse health outcomes and greater risks of premature deaths than in improved and well-maintained urban areas”

“one in three urban dwellers lived in slum conditions. Many slums are located on the outskirts of cities.. The population of slum dwellers around the world continues to grow at around 10 percent every year, intensifying the problem worldwide”

Suburbanization and urban sprawl are happening in different places throughout the world, spreading low-density urban patterns and negative environmental, economic and social externalities.. features typically associated with sprawl include overdependence on motorized transport coupled with a lack of alternatives, a relative uniformity of housing options, and pedestrian-unfriendly spaces”

“Suburbanization in developing countries comes mainly as an escape from poor governance, lack of planning and poor access to amenities. Rich and poor escape to find refuge outside the city, which generates further partitioning of the physical and social space”

“child mortality rates remain highly associated with diarrhoeal diseases, malaria and acute respiratory infections related to overcrowding and air pollution; these in turn result from various environmental health hazards such as lack of sanitation and hygiene, lack of access to safe water, poor housing conditions, poor management of solid wastes, and many other hazardous conditions“

Urban corridors, in contrast, present a type of spatial organization with specific economic and transportation objectives. In urban corridors, a number of city centres of various sizes are connected along transportation routes in linear development axes that are often linked to a number of megacities, encompassing their hinterlands”

Indoor air pollution is a “quiet” and overlooked killer, and lack of global awareness is one of the primary obstacles to the widespread implementation of existing, proven responses.. indoor air pollution is responsible for some three million deaths every year. Women who cook in enclosed quarters using biomass fuels and coal are at risk of chronic bronchitis and acute respiratory infections, as are their children, who are often exposed to significant indoor air pollution alongside their mothers on a daily basis.”

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Noise Pollution Law in Europe

European Court tackles unacceptable traffic noise pollution (Strasbourg Observers, Dec. 1, 2010)

Also discussed here: Night noise guidelines for Europe (162 page pdf, World Health Org., 2009)

A recent ruling by the European Court found that the state had not done enough to provide a citizen’s “right to respect for his private life and home”. The EU has shown leadership in producing guidelines and legal opinions that focus on health impacts of noise, especially in urban settings.

Key Quotes:

“Traffic noise pollution – especially at night – is one of the biggest health risks of contemporary Europe. This kind of pollution causes inter alia sleep disturbance, cardiovascular diseases, aberrant social behavior and stress.”

  • about 40% of the population in EU countries is exposed to road traffic noise at levels exceeding 55 db(A);

  • 20% is exposed to levels exceeding 65 dB(A) during the daytime; and more than 30% is exposed to levels exceeding 55 dB(A) at night

  • Chronically ill and elderly people are more sensitive to disturbance

  • Shift workers are at increased risk because their sleep structure is under stress

  • less affluent who cannot afford to live in quiet residential areas or have adequately insulated homes, are likely to suffer disproportionately.

“Although the right to a quiet and healthy environment is not incorporated in the Convention, it is settled case-law that environmental pollution, such as noise, emissions or smells, can amount to an interference with the right to respect for someone’s private life and home”

“measures taken by the authorities consistently proved to be insufficient, as a result of which the applicant was exposed to excessive noise disturbance over a substantial period of time”

“noise pressure significantly above statutory levels, unresponded to by appropriate State measures, may as such amount to a violation of Article 8 of the Convention”

“such an interpretation of article 8 ECHR would have enormous implications for all kinds of projects that have adverse environmental effects – in particular with regard to infrastructural works that have a negative effect on traffic noise pollution”

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Noise as a Sustainable Energy Source for Buildings

Urban Transducer Skyscraper gets powered by noise (EcoFriend, July 19, 2010)

Also discussed here: The Urban Transducer Skyscraper Produces Energy from Noise Pollution (Evolo, Apr. 14, 201)

Today’s review article describes a building that works in the opposite direction to most in the urban core by capturing energy from noise, instead of using energy for heating or cooling-  and making noise in the process

Key Quotes:

“One of the most prevalent forms of pollution in cities comes from noise”

“The designers have proposed a sustainable skyscraper for Chicago that can be powered by renewable energy including noise.”

“In order to capture the maximum amount of energy from noise, the screen system uses acoustic panels that are adjusted to react to specific wavelengths of present frequencies. The Urban Transducer also has the ability to remember the most commonly occurring frequencies and their locations, allowing it to preemptively adjust in order to produce maximum efficiency

“micro wind turbines have also been integrated throughout the skyscraper, with a majority of turbines being concentrated in areas of greatest efficiency – on the top of the tower, along the train tracks and above the roads”

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Why You Should Never Google “Climate Change”

The Psychology of Climate Change (Sustainability Forum, Sep.30, 2010)

The article under review today caught my eye with its use of a modified Venn diagram (note the red ball’s stability on and the curved line). These diagrams seem to allow for a better understanding of an issue than the simpler and more usual pros and cons approach. The article looks at the stereotypical individuals that make up each of the four quadrants of the diagram, depending on how much they value is put on individual freedom vs. conforming to society’s needs and the equality factor when it comes to climate change. The same analysis could be applied to urban pollution and its remedies.

Key Quotes:

“I have a golden rule: never, ever google ‘climate change’…you enter a weird parallel universe of paranoia, anger and derision aimed at much of the rest of the world.”

“the fatalist, we can ignore because they don’t care about the environmental debate, or indeed about the fact we ignore them. Life goes on is their attitude and it is very hard to get them excited about anything that doesn’t affect them directly”

“the egalitarian, is the viewpoint of the hardcore environmentalist. The environment is fragile and must be protected. ..Technofixes will not deliver what we need.. their attacks on solutions like biofuels, feed-in tariffs and carbon capture and storage are just as withering as those on Big Oil

“the individualist believes that the environment is robust and can always absorb the burdens placed on it by man –..Individualists are optimists – they have an abundance mentality and are often very successful in business as a result. Any attempt to put limits on their ‘freedom’ is highly suspect”

“the hierarchist...the environment is robust between limits, but exceed those limits and then collapse happens.. The fundamental belief is that everything can be measured, quantified and managed. This is the typical attitude of Government employees, climate scientists”

“individualists and egalitarians despise each other and both suspect that hierarchists favour their enemy”

“But in all these battles, the individualists eventually lost. This is for a very simple reason – they’re up against the laws of physics, and in a battle between ideology and the laws of physics, the laws of physics will always win.”

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Planning Mobility for Cities in the Future

Megacities on the move (65 page pdf, Forum for the Future, Dec. 2, 2010)

Also discussed here: Report calls for radical redesign of cities to cope with population growth (Guardian, Dec. 2, 2010)

And here: Time to start work on the urban mobility systems of 2040 (Forum for the Future, Dec. 2, 2010)

And here: Smart Cities (MIT)

The report being reviewed today looks at the urbanized world 30 years from now and the needs for mobility coming using four scenarios: renew-abad, communi-city, sprawl-ville and planned-opolis on two axes: top down/bottom up and carbon fuel/renewable energy.  Solutions point toward more use of technology, especially “smart” technology, while shifting the favoured means of transportation from the private car to robo-cars and to more “pedestrian” forms.

Key Quotes:

"If we go on with business as usual, what happens is unmanageable levels of congestion because personal car ownership has proliferated,"

"Information technology is going to be incredibly important in all of this, in terms of better integrating and connecting physical modes of transport..But we're also going to see lots more user-centred ICT [information and communication technology] so it makes it easier for us to access things virtually."

City planning will also be important, creating self-contained neighbourhoods where everything is accessible by walking or cycling”

Six solutions:

  1. ” Integrate, integrate, integrate. Cities need to consider transport, urban planning, business, public services, energy and food supply as part of the same system. Good mobility solutions will offer easy access, choice, and smooth connectivity.

  2. Make the poor a priority. Most population growth in the future will take place in developing world cities, where people on low incomes are in the majority. Future urban mobility systems must be accessible and affordable to all.

  3. Go beyond the car. Current growth rates in car ownership are simply unsustainable. Cities need to be designed for people, not cars, and promote alternative forms of transport.

  4. Switch on to IT networks. Information technology can create more integrated transport systems, and offer virtual mobility solutions which avoid the need for travel altogether.

  5. Refuel our vehicles. Climate change and volatile oil prices mean we need to radically increase the energy efficiency of transport, and shift the way we power our vehicles from petrol to renewable, low-carbon fuel sources.

  6. Change people’s behavior. Better infrastructure and technology are not enough. We need to create new social norms that encourage more sustainable, low-carbon lifestyles”

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Trends in Traffic Congestion, Emissions and Health

Evaluation of the Public Health Impacts of Traffic Congestion: A Health Risk Assessment (12 page pdf, Environmental Health, 9:65, Oct. 27, 2010)

Isolating the impact of traffic’s impact on health from that of ambient and roadside air quality is challenging but the article under review attempts that and also projects this impact two decades into the future for more than 80 cities in the USA.  Although this article projects lower health impacts over the next decade, a slight increase is seen after that point as vehicle-miles traveled continue to increase. In addition, no allowance is made for the health and economic impacts arising from climate change which may be significant.

A similar study by the City of Toronto’s Public Health estimated that in that city about 1/3 of the mortality due to air pollution can be attributed to traffic as reported in Impact of Traffic Air Pollution on Health in Toronto

Key Quotes:

“Congestion arises when a roadway system approaches vehicle capacity, resulting in numerous negative impacts ranging from wasted fuel and time to increases in tailpipe emissions..the relative magnitudes of economic and public health impacts of congestion would be expected to vary significantly across urban areas, as a function of road infrastructure, population density, and atmospheric conditions influencing pollutant formation”

“Economic impacts will tend to increase approximately proportional to delay time, but public health impacts will have somewhat different dependencies, including relationships with population size and age distribution (both of which will also influence traffic demand)”

“In total, across the 83 urban areas modeled, VMT [Vehicle-Miles Travelled] is projected to increase 33% from 2000 to 2030 (an increase from 2.97 billion daily VMT to 3.94 billion daily VMT), closely paralleling projected population growth in the urban areas of 32%… Whereas 18 of the 83 urban areas were estimated to have 50% of time in congestion in 2000, 40 urban areas reached this threshold by 2030…Overall, approximately 48% of the impact over the 83 urban areas is attributable to NOx emissions, with 42% attributable to primary PM2.5 emissions and 11% attributable to SO2 emissions”

“whereas the public health impacts contributed approximately 34% of the total cost of congestion in 2000, this decreases to 14% by 2030”

“when comparing traveling conditions of congestion and freeflowing traffic in which the estimated average speed is similar, emissions during congested driving conditions are 50% higher”

“the monetized value of PM2.5-related mortality attributable to congestion in these 83 cities in 2000 was approximately $31 billion (2007 dollars), as compared with a value of time and fuel wasted of $60 billion“

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Health Impacts from Climate Change – a Canadian Perspective

MEC's green roof among others
Image by 416style via Flickr

Climate Warming Impacts Health (Canadian Geographic, Oct. 2010)

Key Quotes:

“climate change could be the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” [Lancet, 2009]

“The alert, sent out by the Extreme Heat Wave Portal to public health and emergency officials across Quebec, was generated by software developed by Gosselin’s team. It compiles real-time data on air pollution, emergency room visits, calls to the province’s Info-Santé health hotline, ambulance traffic and weather forecasts, all mapped onto Google Earth”

“between 2010 and 2100, rising summer temperatures are expected to kill 15,330 to 27,150 Montrealers and cost up to $124 billion nationally in added health expenditures and lost productivity.”

“Warmer weather will mean more cases of heatstroke and medical conditions aggravated by hot spells. It will also lead to more smog in urban centres, which is associated with respiratory and heart disease. Other health impacts of climate change include increases in water-borne pathogens such as E. coli and illnesses such as malaria and Lyme disease, which is expected to spread northward by 1,000 kilometres as of 2080”

“To reverse this effect and curtail rising temperatures, urban planners are encouraging rooftop gardens, whitepainted roofs, public transit, tree planting and green spaces. The City of Toronto has promoted “green roofs” (roofs covered with vegetation instead of tar or shingles) as a way to reduce the urban heat island effect

“There is a correlation between the warmth of a city and the ozone and fine particle matter that cause heart disease. This is the principal challenge of the 21st and 22nd centuries — we are literally poisoning our habitat.”

“Ottawa has yet to take the lead in crafting a coordinated national approach and in underwriting adaptation measures, such as reducing smog-causing emission”

“measures to curb smog would save up to 265 lives annually in Toronto by 2050 and result in up to $2.50 in health and productivity savings for each dollar spent.”


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Monday, December 20, 2010

What Drives Pubic Reaction to Climate Change?

Global annual fossil fuel carbon dioxide emiss...
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The Perception Factor: Climate Change Gets Personal (6 page pdf, Environ Health Perspect 118:a484-a489, Nov.1, 2010)

Despite the fact that “up to 98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing agree with the tenets of anthropogenic climate change outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” , the countries most responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases are having great difficulty in getting legislation passed that would lower their emissions soon enough to stabilize the atmospheric warming.

This need had been foreseen for more than three decades, going back to the first international meetings at the ministerial level: the World Climate Conference in Geneva in 1979 and the Conference on the Changing Atmosphere in Toronto, leading up to the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro which paved the way for the Kyoto Protocol in 1996). The article reviewed today looks at the reasons behind the lack of action – the battle of perceptions in the media. One conclusion is that the public needs to hear much more about the impacts of climate change on human health from recognized health authorities – an aspect that is very much behind the thinking that went into this blog.

Key Quotes:

“Climate change is occur­ring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems.”1

“Americans often are very selective about which sources of information they trust; they have incomplete, often oversimplified information; they don’t believe individual actions will make a difference; and/or they believe climate change won’t ever affect them or the people they know”

“cities in regions that are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change but that emit the least greenhouse gases.. are most likely to act to reduce their carbon emissions. On the other hand, cities in less vulnerable areas with sources that emit high levels of greenhouse gases .. are significantly less likely to agree to take mitigation action”

“This has been exceedingly well established in data that political ideology and some deeply held worldviews related to political identity are cur­rently the biggest factors that determine a person’s view of climate change”

“Perhaps surprisingly, individual homes represent a huge and still largely untapped source of U.S. emissions reductions.. contribute roughly a one-third share of total U.S. carbon emissions, accounting for approximately 8% of the world’s total and equaling more than the total emissions of any other country except China”

“One way to encourage Americans to adopt a more serious outlook toward climate change is by having medical profession­als link health issues and climate change impacts.. 60% of local public health directors asked said they are seeing health effects related to global warming, and more than 70% said they thought they would see more in the next decade”

“Public health officials have a really important opportunity to explain to people in their jurisdiction . . . that climate change is not just a problem in the future. It is a current problem that will become more pronounced, and our health will suffer,”

“We need to look at household emissions and treat them with the same amount of attention and policy resources as any other emitter source.”

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Planning for Air Quality

Planning Information Sheet: Influencing Air Quality with Comprehensive Planning and Ordinances (16 page pdf, Design For Health, University of Minnesota, August 2007)

Also discussed here: Designing communities for health: tools and resources (Kaid Benfield’s Blog, Nov. 29, 2010)

The report reviewed today comes from a program called “Design for Health” in Minnesota and deals specifically with air pollution from both mobile and stationary area sources.

Key Quotes:

“three main categories of air pollution: area sources (e.g., dry cleaners and gas stations), mobile sources (e.g., cars and trucks) and stationary sources (e.g., factories and power plants). Area sources collectively represent individual sources that are small and numerous and that have not been inventoried as specific point, mobile or biological sources”

“Key issue areas that planners can consider .. include: promoting buffering and landscape standards, developing ordinances with evidence-based thresholds, separating some land uses to protect certain groups, and creating ordinances and overlay districts that focus on polluting uses, such as dry cleaners and airports”

“Addressing pollution from mobile sources is a complex matter, with planners typically focusing on influencing land-use patterns and travel behavior. For vehicle-related air pollution: land use is linked with travel behavior (trip time, trip length, community characteristics, and speed); travel behavior is linked with vehicle emissions; and air quality is linked with health”

motor-vehicle emissions are the primary source of most fine and ultra-fine particles, which are particularly dangerous, because they can deeply embed themselves within the lungs..Health impacts are of particular concern for those living near major roadways”

“Establishing a recommended buffer distance from roadways for air-quality purposes is difficult, as results from the literature are mixed. We recommend a buffer somewhere between 200m and 500m (656-1640 ft) of major roads”

[San Francisco] objectives related to a broad range of air-quality issues, including:

  • "adherence to state and federal quality standards and regional programs,

  • reduction of mobile sources of air pollution through implementation of the transportation element of the general plan,

  • decrease in the air-quality impacts of development by coordination of land use and transportation decisions,

  • improvement of air quality by increasing public awareness regarding the negative effects of pollutants generated by stationary and mobile sources,

  • minimization of particulate matter emissions from road and construction sites, and

  • linkage to the positive effects of energy conservation and waste management to emissions reductions"

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

What Comes Next after Parking Meters

Time Expired - The end of the parking meter (Slate, Oct. 19, 2010)

Also discussed here: Prize-winning innovators Skymeter could revolutionize parking -- and eliminate traffic (YongeStreet,  Jun. 2, 2010)

And here: Skymeter

And here: Who pays for free parking? (Pollution Free Cities Aug. 23, 2010)

Congestion and air fouled by emissions from traffic on downtown streets are the result of several factors. One is simply too much traffic and one solution is to impose congestion charges as a way of reducing traffic and generate revenue to cover the large and growing costs of road repair and maintenance which was discussed in The Canadian Case for Congestion Pricing (Pollution Free Cities, Aug. 19, 2010) and Congestion Pricing in Chicago (Pollution Free Cities, Jul. 29, 2010)

. A second issue is how effectively parking on and off the streets is managed to not only reduce endless circling of cars looking for an open space, but also to generate revenue that might be put to solutions such as public transit that ease traffic volume. The article under review today looks at the history of the traditional parking meter, concluding that better technologies and traffic management techniques exist that offer more.

Key Quotes:

“Seventy-five years ago, the world's first parking meter cast its thin, ominous shadow on the streets of Oklahoma City

“a survey found that at any given time, 80 percent of the city's spots were occupied by employees of downtown businesses—the very same businesses complaining that lack of parking was driving away shoppers”

“Aaron Adiv and Wanzhi Wang produced a wonderfully detailed paper titled "On Street-Parking Meter Behavior,".. That meter occupancy was nearly 100 percent; that four in five parkers used the meters for less than an hour; that the "real cost" to parkers of fees and fines had actually declined over the past few decades; and, strikingly, that enforcement is quite low. Only 8.1 percent of violations were ticketed”

"Parking spots are the curb lane of your streets. Your streets are the primary public space in your city. They are intimately connected with everything that happens in the city."

“the advent of any number of new systems for paying for parking…pay-by-mobile-phone parking providers (for example, Parkmobile), which require drivers to put the code of a parking space into an app rather than coins into a meter..also "park and walk away" systems, like one being tested in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which essentially put the meter in one's car”

“The company's Skymeter product is a GPS-based road-use meter that is currently used in Winnipeg to bill drivers for parking (on a no-tag-necessary, by-the-minute system that eliminates the risk of parking tickets)..takes readings from the car and turns them into financial transactions, while protecting the privacy of the driver.”

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Climate Change Strategy to Curtail Short-lived Pollutants

To Fight Climate Change, Clear the Air (New York Times, OpEd, Nov.28,2010)

On the eve of yet another international climate conference (COP 16 in Cancún, Mexico) the author of today’s review article made a good point: instead of waiting more decades for countries to agree on what steps to take to reduce carbon emissions through improvements in energy efficiency and technology for long lived greenhouse gases- we have already waited 30 years with little to show- why not target particular pollutants which have larger radiative impacts and shorter lifetimes in the atmosphere. Ozone and particulate matter present a direct health hazard in addition to their effect on climate change – an impact readily acknowledged by the public - so that reluctance to taking action likely would not be as strong as that given to mitigate climate change. The actions needed for reducing short-lived pollutants are, by comparison, much easier to implement and have greater bang for the buck in terms of impact on both health and climate change.

Key Quotes:

“delegates in Cancún should move beyond their focus on long-term efforts to stop warming and take a few immediate, practical actions that could have a tangible effect on the climate in the coming decades”

“It will take decades and trillions of dollars to convert all the world’s fossil-fuel-based energy systems to cleaner systems like nuclear, solar and wind power”

“three short-lived gases — methane, some hydrofluorocarbons and lower atmospheric ozone — and dark soot particles. The warming effect of these pollutants, which stay in the atmosphere for several days to about a decade, is already about 80 percent of the amount that carbon dioxide causes”

“With relatively minor changes — for example, replacing old gas pipelines, better managing the water used in rice cultivation (so that less of the rice rots) and collecting the methane emitted by landfills — it would be possible to lower methane emissions by 40 percent”

“Ozone.. is a particularly hazardous component of urban smog. And every year it causes tens of billions of dollars in damage to crops worldwide. So pollution restrictions that reduce ozone levels, especially in the rapidly growing polluted cities of Asia, could both clear the air and slow warming”

“New air pollution regulations could help reduce soot. Such laws in California have cut diesel-soot emissions in that state by half. In China and India, a program to improve power generation, filter soot from diesel engines, reduce emissions from brick-making kilns and provide more efficient cookstoves could cut the levels of soot in those regions by about two-thirds — and benefit countries downwind as well.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

London’s Air Quality Strategy

The built up area of London (grey) extends bey...
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Clearing the air - The Mayor’s draft air quality strategy for public consultation (131 page pdf, Greater London Authority, March 2010)

Also discussed here: Air Quality (City of London)

And here: The Mayor’s backwards steps have left me with no confidence (MayorWatch, Nov. 26, 2010)

And here: London’s Cycle Superhighways (Pollution Free Cities, Oct. 14, 2010)

Key Quotes:

“In central London, 40 per cent of PM10 pollution is blown in from outside the capital. The vast majority of London is already compliant with targets for PM10, but there are a few locations in central London that are at risk of exceeding the targets in 2011 if further action is not taken”

“NO2, however, is a problem across much of inner London and around Heathrow Airport, and these areas, along with most urban areas in the UK, are exceeding targets for this pollutant.”

“The 2009 Londoner Survey1 found that pollution from traffic was one of the top environmental concerns for Londoners, second only to litter”

“around 4,300 deaths per year in London are partly caused by long term exposure to PM2.5 (which is widely acknowledged as being the pollutant which has the greatest effect on human health)”

Some of the measures underway:

  • Development of electric vehicle infrastructure

  • Congestion charging and the London Low Emission Zone

  • Smarter travel initiatives to encourage a shift to cleaner modes of transport

  • Funding and supporting car clubs (especially hybrid and electric cars)

  • Improving road maintenance (to reduce particles from road disintegration)

  • Smoothing traffic

  • Bus emissions programme..every new bus will be diesel-electric hybrid

  • London Best Practice Guidance for controlling dust and emissions from construction.

“this Strategy focuses on interventions that will reduce concentrations of PM (PM10 and the smaller fraction PM2.5) and NO2 in particular, although in most cases these interventions will result in reduced concentrations of the other five ‘local’ pollutants”

What more is needed:

  • Reducing emissions from transport: - Encouraging smarter choices and sustainable travel behaviour; Promoting technological change and cleaner vehicles; Reducing emissions from the public transport and public transport fleets; Using emissions control schemes to reduce emissions from private vehicles.

  • Targeting air quality priority locations: Adopting local measures, including trialling new processes (such as the use of dust suppressants) ; Using action days and special measures to reduce the number and length of periods of high pollution.

  • Reducing emissions from homes, business and industry; Promoting and delivering energy efficiency schemes; Using the planning system to reduce emissions from new developments; Updating and implementing best practice on construction and demolition.

  • Increased awareness of air quality issues; Improving access to information about the health impacts of poor air quality;Targeting information about poor air quality to those most at risk”

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Future Urban Energy Use - One Scenario for the USA

A Sustainable Energy Scenario for the United States: Year 2050 (31 page pdf, Sustainability 2010, 2(12), 3650-3680, Nov. 26, 2010)

Today’s review article looks at what scenario might emerge over the next 40 years as a result of action taken to make the US sustainable from an energy and climate change perspective  and what this implies for the size and shape of today’s cities. Underpinning the feasibility of such a scenario is the issue of the issue of financing. A carbon tax is assumed to be the most likely mechanism.

Key Quotes:

“suburbs are no more. They have been absorbed into mega-cities or have been transformed into highly self-sufficient eco-communities. About half of the population lives in each type of settlement..Neatly arranged throughout the mega-cities are very high density cores..Neighborhoods of attractive multi-family residences and well integrated commercial, educational and other buildings fill out the rest of the urban landscape.. Each community has its collection of vertical farms, which are multi-story structures designed specifically to grow vegetables, fruits, fish, and poultry “

“The buildings are heated by electricity, solar thermal heating systems, district steam systems, and boilers burning bio-fuels. Appliances in homes are all electric and about 25% more energy efficient than their ancestors from several decades ago”

“The transportation systems in the mega-cities are completely electrified and highly intelligent…electric taxis and buses smoothly traverse the traffic calmed streets.. most residents travel around the city via on-demand public transit

“fossil fuels are also no longer used to produce electricity. In their place is an amalgam of nuclear, concentrated solar, geothermal, wind, and unconventional hydro plants. Therefore, emissions of nitric oxides, sulfur dioxides, mercury, carbon monoxide, and particulates from vehicles and power plants have been eliminated. Tropospheric ozone is also no longer a public and ecological health concern”

“Treeless expanses of manicured turf have been replaced by oases of indigenous flower beds, garden plots, trees, and water gardens. Residents now farm these resources themselves or allow others to grow and harvest the resources for a fee..Increased use of pervious surfaces in the low density settlements will reduce urban run-off. Decreased dependence on corn ethanol and the use of lawns could reduce agricultural and urban run-off of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides”

“By the year 2050.. sprawl will have disappeared. Populations will reside in dense urban settlements or spread out over the landscape in sustainable and maximally environmentally friendly eco-communities”

“ a carbon tax that escalates over a period of time. Revenues from the tax would used to remake the built environment and the energy system.. also allow the government to directly acquire fossil fuel resources and buy-out leases to such resources now owned and held by the private sector”

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Roadside Traffic Pollution

Air Pollution in Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong
Image via Wikipedia

Roadside Air Worst in 5 Years - Renew AQO Retire Euro II Buses (Friends of the Earth- Hong Kong, Nov. 26, 2010)

Also discussed here: Hong Kong roadside air pollution hits record high (Guardian, Sept. 8, 2010)

Although the review article today focuses on Hong Kong, there are parallels to the health threats from traffic emissions in cities elsewhere where there are diesel powered buses and trucks and traffic hot spots.  What is noteworthy is that these downtown roadside emissions are being monitored in Hong Kong, unlike many cities in the USA and Canada.  Also, roadside pollution form traffic is increasingly seen as a greater and growing problem compared to ambient wide-spread pollution levels which do tend to be monitored.

Key Quotes:

“Roadside air pollution in Hong Kong hit record highs in the first six months of the year, damaging public health and economic competitiveness.. The city's air quality hit "unhealthy" levels about 10% of the time between January and June, the highest level in five years”

“Health experts estimate poor air has cost the city HK$1.18bn (£99m) in healthcare bills and lost productivity, along with 3.8 million visits to the doctor, this year.”

“while roadside pollution had grown, overall atmospheric pollution levels actually fell in the first six months.. The recording of nitrogen oxides and respirable suspended particulates in three roadside stations from Tuesday to Friday climbed over tolerable readings for a third to half of the time.”

“urged the government to retire Euro II buses of the franchised companies by 2015, which could reduce the emissions of nitrogen oxides by 23% and 16% for respirable suspended particulates along busy roads”

“40% of air pollutants in busy roads come from franchised buses.”

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Do Gains in Eco-efficiency outweigh Consumption?

Map of per capita ecological footprint for cou...
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Is Eco-Efficiency a Sufficient Strategy for Achieving a Sustainable Development? The Norwegian Case (16 page pdf, Sustainability 2010, 2, 3623-3638, Nov. 24, 2010)

From the nation whose Prime Minister (Bruntland)brought us the concept of “sustainable development” comes an article which examines the extent to which the environmental impact of consumption outweighs gains in production efficiencies. As an aside, a similar situation seems to exist in the US and Canada in the incremental increase in energy efficiency/gas economy of automobiles which is outweighed by the growth of urban sprawl which, in turn, accelerates the need to drive farther in the daily commute, resulting in greater overall vehicle emissions and degraded urban air quality. Recommendations include a need to monitor consumption with a comprehensive index such as the ecological footprint, recognizing its limitations as a policy tool or “A Consumption-Oriented Environmental Policy”

Key Quotes:

“We challenge the notion that subjecting production processes to eco-efficiency measures is sufficient for reducing the overall environmental impact.. rising consumption rates eliminate the bonus of eco-efficiency in production.”

“A radical shift in the Norwegian way of life in a more climate-friendly direction could deliver major reductions in future GHG emissions. The Commission on Low Emissions has, nevertheless, chosen not to recommend such a strategy, because, among other things, we believe it would be politically impossible to put into effect”

“What the data shows, is an indication of increased eco-efficiency in Norwegian production.

  • 39% reduction in fuel consumption per person-kilometer in air travel abroad;

  • 20% reduction in energy consumption per square meter of housing area;

  • 10 to 30% reduction in energy consumption per ton of construction materials produced;

  • 26% reduction in farmed area per kilogram of cotton; and

  • 19 % reduction in farmed area per kilogram of wheat (29).

Still, .. these improvements have partly been outweighed by an increase in the total amountof production”

“GHG emissions increased as a result of several developments:

  • person transport by Norwegians increased by 60% for all means of transport. ..Regular air transport abroad accounted for 38% of the total increase in person transport.

  • consumption of commodities other than food has increased…money spent on clothing and shoes increased by spent on furniture and household equipment increased by 87%”

“major adjustments suggested:

  1. A specific consumption focus in environmental policy should be developed, beginning with the consumption categories with the largest footprint (volume) and the most negative development (change)

  2. The environmental impact of consumption should also be monitored as part of the official sustainability indicator monitoring system, e.g., by calculating the ecological footprint

“Our point is that we need an increased focus on the consumption side, and that using EF is one of many possible positive contributions in doing so”

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Political Divides of Pollution-Free Cities

a zone model (urban planning)
Image via Wikipedia

Hard truths about why conservatives and libertarians hate urbanism (Market Urbanism, Nov.20, 2010)

Also discussed here: Why conservatives don't seem to like urbanism (Greater Ottawa, Nov. 22, 2010)

Today’s review article looks at the apparent contradiction between views held by conservatives and the pollution-free cities that could be achieved by curbing sprawl and  smart growth. Fault is found with urban planners for sometimes neglecting the power of market forces as well as the tendency for bipolar political debates between liberals and conservatives or the urban/suburban split, while ignoring more subtle compromises that do not spring from one side or the other.

Key Quotes:

“an urban environment is a delicate and organic thing, and a successful neighbourhood is inherently heavily regulated (with everything from noise bylaws to snow-clearing rules) and subsidized (with transit, police coverage, and everything else a decent city has), and leaving land-use decisions out of that mix seems like a bad idea”

“Beyond their voiced hostility towards capitalism, planners too often pass by obvious free market solutions in favor of mandates that are opposite from, but just as restrictive as the status quo.”

“when density is allowed, it is often contingent on developers getting LEED certification, offering some below-market rate housing, and building particular kinds of public space – nevermind that an expanding dense housing supply is inherently good for the environment, housing affordability, and street life”

“The costs of building transit in Europe and the US differ by close to a full order of magnitude. A regional rail line, light rail line, and sometimes even subway could be built in most of Europe for around $5,000-10,000 per weekday boarding. In the US, increasingly $20,000 is the lower limit”

Calgary, whose LRT cost less than $3,000 per weekday boarding, manages to be both very conservative and very pro-rail, with aggressive TOD near stations, extensive downtown redevelopment without parking minimums, and imported German industry practices for keeping operating costs very low”

“Some light-rail systems are a huge waste of money. But highway spending is also often absurdly wasteful and transit-oriented development is not a prelude to communism. Adhering to rigidly ideological views on city planning issues is not only polarizing but ultimately harmful to the common good.”

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Air Pollution in the World’s Megacities

Air Pollution (Effects on Humans) Policy Sub-C...
Image by SEDACMaps via Flickr

Urban Air Pollution in Megacities of the World (6 Page pdf, Atmospheric Environment, 30,5, 1996)

The article reviewed today was written 14 years ago and assesses the capability of most of the megacities of the world at that time. How much progress has been made?

Key Quotes:

“A study of air pollution in 20 of the 24 megacities of the world shows the ambient air pollution concentrations are at levels where serious health effects are reported”


  • air pollution is widespread across the megacities and is often most severe in cities in developing countries.. each of the megacities has at least one major air pollutant which occurs at levels that exceed WHO health protection guidelines”

  • in degree of severity, the high levels of SPM [Solid Particulate Matter] are the major problem affecting the megacities as a group”

“One of the major findings of our study was the gross insufficiency in air quality information in the megacities..While some of the megacities have comprehensive monitoring and evaluation systems (Los Angeles, Mexico City, New York, Osaka, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Tokyo), there were many where the air quality systems were rudimentary at best (Bangkok, Beijing, Calcutta, Delhi, London, Rio de Janeiro).. In the third category are the megacities with inadequate air monitoring capabilities which produce data of unknown quality on a few pollutants (Buenos Aires, Cairo, Karachi, Manila, Moscow, Tehran). The fourth category consists of the megacities with virtually no air monitoring capabilities (Dacca, Lagos)”

“there is an immediate need to improve the monitoring and emissions inventory capability in cities. These are prerequisites for sound air pollution management strategies with the main aim of protecting public health”

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