Examples of design changes that are easy to visualize:
- Passive solar design to greatly reduce heating and cooling costs
- Neighbourhoods parks and playing fields, to increase outdoor exercise
- Trees throughout cities for summer shade and other health benefits
How we design and build our roads, bridges, homes, institutional buildings, transportation systems and agricultural systems influence whether Ottawa becomes a sustainable city. Compact cities make public transportation more efficient. Denser cities make walking easier and mixed-use neighbourhoods are safer because there are more people about the streets.
Buildings use about 40% of our energy consumption and produce a similar amount of carbon dioxide as waste. We know transportation contributes another significant amount of carbon dioxide, as does road building. Industrial agriculture also uses large amounts of fossil fuels to power agricultural machinery and fertilize crops and generates waste most seriously in the form of water pollution. Modern agricultural practices can also lead to soil depletion.
There are a number of movements afoot to help reduce the amount of energy used and pollution produced by our built environment. There are smart growth strategies, environmental design standards, improved public transit systems, organic farming, urban and suburban densification projects, improved recycling systems, and more urban and rural tree planting.
Perhaps Ottawa citizens might engage in conversation with each other about the different ways in which we can make Ottawa more sustainable and resilient. Climate change and increasing energy costs are two of the challenges facing us. Both will affect how we design new infrastructure and homes and how we grow our food and where it comes from. We may decide that using local, renewable or recycled materials in our buildings and producing and buying food locally are the ways of the future.
Cities around the world are becoming denser. Denser, more compact cities can use less energy. All around Ottawa we see new high-rise buildings going up with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. This certification tells us that there is an attempt by the designers and builders to increase the efficiency of the buildings in their choice of materials, energy and water systems. LEED certified buildings usually have better air quality too. And they are often cheaper to operate.
Other buildings might produce their own energy using photovoltaic solar panels on the roof or sides producing electricity. Solar panels can also heat water. New developments might be encouraged to supply district heating and electricity systems using renewable technologies. Geothermal systems, heat pumps that use the difference in temperature between the ground and the air to provide heat and cooling, are a good option for new developments as well as replacement systems in buildings that need to refurbish their heating systems where there is enough space to install them.
New homes and developments can make use of the latest ideas in sustainable living including roof top gardens, district heating systems, mixed use neighbourhoods that include small local businesses and community food production. The houses and business of the future will use much less energy to heat and cool than those of today. More food will be produced and consumed locally.
What about older buildings? Many of our older homes could use serious upgrades to make them more energy efficient such as increasing insulation and adding energy efficient windows. Homeowners can get various grants from government for renovations, which will reduce pollution by using less energy and also save money.
Transportation infrastructure will change greatly in future as our fossil fuel supplies become more expensive and we try to reduce the amount of carbon we release into the environment. Our transportation system will become more extensive and perhaps more varied. As well as buses and light rail, we might encourage more shared ride systems including vans, taxis and smaller buses to serve less populous areas.
Our cities might change also in the amount of green space that is created and used. Perhaps as public transit use increases, parking areas can be returned to parkland .The number of community gardens should increase in the future. Neighbourhood community centres will be offering more cooking and canning courses. We may even see neighbourhood chicken coops!
Suburban areas will probably need to become denser too. As the price of fuel increases, living in the suburbs may become too expensive unless more jobs are created. Zoning laws might change to allow more businesses in residential areas so that suburbanites can find jobs in their community. Perhaps larger suburban lots will be places for intense gardening, animal husbandry, and small energy production such as wind or PV. The possibilities are endless.
The City of Ottawa’s “Choosing our Future” initiative is looking at building a sustainable and resilient National Capital Region. They will be sharing their on going work with us and seeking input from us. We can help the city by learning more about the different models cities have developed till now. The Natural Step, Cities Plus, Agenda 21 Cities, Transition Towns and the Permaculture Movement are all models that we might look at and talk about as we come together to redesign Ottawa. The Biosphere Eco-Cities project is also a framework to share information, ideas and local projects for a sustainable Ottawa.
Let’s get come together to redesign our communities. The challenges are many but we have enough education, experience, skills, ingenuity, and creativity to meet the challenges of the future.
August 5, 2009