Category Archives: Infrastructure

How are millennials changing cities?

The following post is by DJC staff:

Want to know more about the way millennials are changing Metro Vancouver — and other cities around the world, like Seattle?

You can catch a free public talk on the topic next week in Vancouver or watch a live webcast on Tuesday, Sept. 16, starting at 7 p.m.

The speaker is Dr. Markus Moos, assistant professor of planning at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. He will share insights into millennials focusing on their values; housing and commuting decisions; and transportation preferences — especially what this means for employers, developers, planners and other residents.

The talk is presented by TransLink and Simon Fraser University’s City Program.

Fewer millennials hold drivers’ licenses or own a vehicle.

iStock photo

If you want to attend the event it will be in SFU Harbour Center at 515 W. Hastings St. Registration to attend is required.

Millennials are the folks who started to reach early adulthood around 2000 and they outnumber even the Baby Boomers. A press release from Simon Fraser University says there are roughly nine million millennials in Canada and more than 500,000 in Metro Vancouver. They think, communicate, travel and work differently from their parents and grandparents.

SFU offers some stats about millennials:

• More than 25 percent of Metro Vancouver’s population are millennials.

• The percentage of young adults living in neighborhoods near transit is two to three times the Metro Vancouver average.

• Living close to downtown is important to millennials in cities across North America — in Vancouver, proximity to transit matters more than to downtown alone.

• Fewer and fewer millennials hold drivers’ licenses or own a vehicle, with a more than 10 percent decrease among 25–to-29-year-olds and five percent among 30-to-34-year-olds from 2004 to 2013. Young adults in 2011 used transit 11 percent more than their counterparts in 1999.

SFU says Markus Moos is a planner and assistant professor who does research on the changing economy and social structure of cities. He has examined the factors shaping Canada’s housing markets; the changing characteristics of suburbs; and the implications of change on affordability, sustainability and equity.

He lived in Vancouver from 2006 to 2010 and completed his PhD at the University of British Columbia.

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Do rain gardens work at industrial sites?

The following post is by the Washington Environmental Council:

Rand Lymangrover thought he had tried everything. His company, Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE), was failing to meet benchmarks for their general stormwater permit for the runoff from their Port of Tacoma facility. The main problems were zinc and copper: two metals in abundant supply at an industrial terminal with lots of galvanized fencing and heavy vehicle traffic.

Before the rain gardens were installed.

After failing to get below benchmarks by cleaning up and installing stormwater vault filters, Lymangrover turned to rain gardens. If it worked, he reasoned, the company would save money: at $24,000, it would cost about 10 percent of a more traditional, industrial-scale filtering system.

The contractor was David Hymel with Rain Dog Designs. The rain gardens were installed with the help of Stewardship Partners, which is working with Washington StateUniversity to install 12,000 rain gardens in the Puget Sound region.

Three years later, the rain gardens are working perfectly and are a regularly visited by other industrial businesses, city council members and many others.

After the rain gardens were installed.

“In addition to getting us below the benchmark, the rain gardens have really improved how things look down here and show that this green infrastructure feature works at an industrial level,” Lymangrover said. “You can always find a place to do a rain garden.”

During heavy rainfall, the TOTE rain gardens can handle over 160 gallons of runoff per minute.

Lymangrover invites other industrial businesses that are looking for solutions to their stormwater issues to consider a rain garden – and visit the ones at TOTE. His ultimate goal: to eliminate all stormwater runoff from the terminal.

Washington Environmental Council is a nonprofit, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to protect, restore and sustain Washington’s environment.



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Oso mudslide: Were the risks ignored?

The following post is by DJC staff:

Disaster-resiliency expert Stephen Flynn has posted a piece about the Oso mudslide on Northeastern University Seattle’s Re: Connect blog.
Flynn is a professor of political science and director of Northeastern’s Center for Resilience Studies in Burlington, Mass.

Oso mudslide

He spoke with the DJC in February about lessons from Hurricane Sandy and the need to better prepare for natural and manmade disasters.
In his post he says we tend to ignore the risk of disasters until they happen and says builders, developers and planners have a role to play in changing that.

He writes:

It is purposeful denial, bordering on negligence, which allows residential property development in dangerous areas. That negligence is fed by a self-destructive cycle that begins when builders and developers with short-term interests are granted local permits to build new homes on low-lying barrier islands, flood plains, or near steep hills in the wilderness. These homes then require investments in new public infrastructure, which in turn require additional tax revenues to build and sustain. In order to expand the tax base, towns end up approving new property development adding new fuel to growth. When the foreseeable disaster inevitably strikes, individual property owners are often wiped out and the American taxpayer ends up picking up most of the tab.

Read the whole thing here and tell us what you think.

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Crunch the numbers and preservation wins

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

New is not always better.

I have to confess that I’ve been a little put off by local historic preservationists self-righteously declaring that “preservation” equals sustainability and leaving it at that. Yes, yes, I understand that recycling buildings intuitively makes sense, but since sustainability sometimes asks us to think counter-intuitively, I needed more. At a recent Sustainable Cities Roundtable conducted by King County’s Green Tools Program, I got what I needed.

Photo courtesy of McKinstry

The previous owner used stacks of wooden pallets to keep the ceiling from falling in on this 104-year-old railroad building in Spokane, but McKinstry bought it and spent $20 million to create high-tech office space for its 150 Inland Northwest employees.

Robert Young, PE, LEED AP, is professor of architecture and director of the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Utah, and author of the new Island Press release, “Stewardship of the Built Environment.” He was guest speaker at the Roundtable. Young provided some very satisfying arguments for promoting preservation and building reuse as a sustainability strategy. In making his arguments, he gives equal weight to what he terms SEE (or what some of us have called the “three E’s”): social, economic, and environmental factors, and defines stewardship of the built environment as “balancing the needs of contemporary society and its impact on the built environment with the ultimate effects on the natural environment.”

The Historic Preservationists have been at their best when justifying conservation due to social factors, and Young does speak to this. What I appreciated is that he also addresses environmental and economic factors in an analytical but highly accessible manner. One of the areas he touched on in his talk was the idea of calculating energy recovery as part of understanding the energy performance of preservation vs. new construction. As Young notes in his book, “the argument for measuring embodied energy to justify the retention of a building is (still) met with skepticism.” He claims this is largely because embodied energy is considered a “sunk cost” and therefore not part of decisions about future expenses. I think he would also say it’s because of our societal preference for the glitter of “new” vs. the practicality of “existing,” which may not be part of the accounting equation, but certainly humming in the background.

In his talk, Young used his own home to compare the energy recovery periods required to simply perform an energy upgrade to his home, to abandon the home and build a new one in the suburbs, or to demolish and rebuild in place. When he accounted for the embodied energy in the new buildings (whether in place or in the suburbs), the energy to demolish the existing building, and operating energy required for the remodeled or new building, it became clear that the remodel was the best choice when considering true energy performance. In scenarios provided in his book, energy recovery calculations result in recovery periods that exceed “the expected useful lives of many buildings being constructed today.” And this is without calculating in the transportation energy expenses that are likely to accrue when the new building is built in a greenfield out in the suburbs.

In the economic realm, Young compared the job creation resulting from highway, new, and rehab construction. In jobs per million dollars spent, rehab wins again. Although a small part of the construction activity (Young estimated 5%), rehab creates roughly 5 more jobs per million dollars spent than highway construction, and 2 more jobs per million dollars spent on new construction. If I am interpreting Young’s figures correctly, just by turning our economic recovery lens on rehab and away from highways and new construction we could potentially create between 6-12% more jobs per million dollars spent on construction. (And we might actually reduce the environmental, social, and economic negative impacts of sprawl — even if it’s “green”)!

Young’s talk introduced some great food for thought, but I’m so glad to be reading his book. In his concluding chapter, “Putting it All Together,” he provides a list of “challenges” for stewards of the built environment, ranging from advocating outcome-based codes (since prescriptive codes are based primarily on new construction practices) to presenting project lessons learned (both positive and negative) to “decision makers and policy shapers who mediate building preservation and reuse policies.” Lots to work on.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was “cool.” She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O’Brien & Co., the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.

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Working together better – a quiet construction trend

I’ve noticed a quiet trend over the last year: more and more teams are crediting each other on successful projects.

I’m not sure whether teams are actually collaborating more or whether they just say they

are. I don’t know if it’s related to the increasing use of integrated project delivery and more open bidding methods or if its culturally related to social media. But it’s happening. More and more people I talk to are highlighting the importance of different team members.

Sustainable design is inherently related to integrating. The whole point of green building is to cut down on waste and redundancies. The idea behind collaboration and working together, is that you accomplish that goal more efficiently.

Just to give you a few examples:

In December, I went to the AIA Seattle’s forum on IPD and wrote this story called “Form Right Team for Successful Construction Project.” The story condenses a big theme from the event, which is that the team is the most important element in creating good IPD projects. Speakers said more effort needs to go towards selecting team members for IPD projects, but the lessons seem to be worthwhile for any type of project.

Dave Kievet, group president of California operations for The Boldt Co., said all sorts of questions about experience, work ethic and outside interests are asked when a company hires a new employee.  But when a contractor is hired, very little time is spent on those issues. Instead, questions are about safety record, balance statements and licenses.

“You can have the best team assembled that can be absolutely destroyed by one bad apple on that team,” he said. “It’s the people that deliver a project, not the companies.”

The forum also highlighted the importance of working together to move through negative situations. Barb Jackson of California Polytechnic State University said she often counsels her IPD teams to have “you suck meetings” so everyone can clear the air. It’s better than dwelling on problems and letting them stifle a team, she said.

Last week, I toured this $56 million new water treatment plant in Anacortes. The team

Image by Katie Zemtseff
members were practically glowing with descriptions of each other (and these were real reactions – they weren’t just buttering me up). Fred Buckenmeyer, Anacortes public works director, said the camaraderie at project meetings is real. Matt Reynolds, assistant city engineer, said everyone has been fair with each other and works to solve problems when things go wrong, rather than place blame.

Brandt Barnes of MWW, the owner’s representative and construction manager, said all team members took a partnering approach to the project that they will be proud of for many years to come.

Todd Pike, project manager at Imco General Construction, said the construction process in general is becoming more open, due in part to the influence of new contracting methods like GC/CM and design-build. But he said being open is a conscious effort at Imco.  “You (can’t) miss one person… It’s a purposeful, intentional effort on all sides of the contract,” he said. “We don’t have to have a design-build contract or GC/CM contract to reach out and have this positive, open communication with the owners and the design team.”

Image courtesy SPU
Then in the Jan. 13 edition of the DJC here, I wrote about the “swale on Yale project.” The swale is an innovative public-private partnership, in which Vulcan contributed over $1 million to a city stormwater treatment project. The swale, once comple, will treat over 190 million gallons of stormwater per year that currently flows straight into Lake Union. Jason Sharpley, project manager with SPU, said both Vulcan and city team members went out of their way to work together, and put the good of the project above anything else. Team members included KPG, KPFF, The Berger Partnership and Runberg Architecture Group.

Now, it’s not like people have never talked about collaboration before. The difference is that more team members are talking about its importance. What do you think? Do you think this is a noticeable trend?


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