What Does Urban Planning Offer the Developing World?

urban planning, developing world

What Does Urban Planning Offer the Developing World?

This is an article I wrote for Sourceable.net. I was curious if, in the world’s fastest-growing cities, urban planning plays a constructive role, or do planners struggle to keep up. What does urban planning offer the developing world?

 

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

  • permaculture

Learning to Build A Rocket Mass Stove

Last Sunday, February 9, a couple dozen people gathered in a cold barn outside Erie, Colorado, to continue work on a rocket mass stove. Learning to build a rocket mass stove is easy, but there are techniques that are helpful.

Here’s a good explanation of the concept:

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If you still don’t get it, here’s the gist: you build a small, hot-burning fire with small pieces of wood. The design of the rocket-mass stove encourages a strong draft, which gets the wood burning vigorously. The hot gases from combustion are drawn through the slightly pitched “chimney,” which transfers its heat to the surrounding cob bench. Cob is a simple earth mixture of clay and sand that is ideal for thermal mass for a cob bench. Building with cob is cheap, simple, and highly labor intensive.

Mike and Avery, who led the workshop, are permaculturalists and natural builders. A few weeks ago, they led a workshop to build the “firebox” and “flue” parts of the heater. Those tasks are more complex, but definitely manageable. They based the design on the book “Rocket Mass Heaters: Superefficient Woodstoves You Can Build” by Ianto Evans and Leslie Jackson.

people stomping cob, then learning to build a rocket mass stove

Stomping cob is energy intensive, so gather as many people as you can.

 

 

 

firebox of rocket mass heater

Here’s where you build a fire in a rocket mass heater.

 

placing cob on the heat tubes

This is about 35′ of heat tubes, so the heat from the gases can migrate into the cooler cob.

Building with cob is hard work, but very low cost, nontoxic, and flexible with design.

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

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  • green cities

  • permaculture

What Does Permaculture Offer To Cities and Suburbs?

Maybe it seems obvious, but most of us now live in an urban world. We can’t just walk out the back door and be in the wilderness, or even have a substantial private space. But we can improve the spaces we have with plants, and we’ll be more successful at that by using permaculture. What does permaculture offer to cities and suburbs?

Well, besides the health benefits we get from plants, we can grow plenty of food and repair our cities. The suburbs, with their larger lots, offer a huge opportunity to turn lawns into gardens.

The Permaculture Neighborhood Center

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Mark Lakeman on Urban Permaculture: City Repair, Re-patterning the Grid, Solar Cat Palace

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Cultivating A Suburban Foodshed

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Suburban Permaculture w/ Janet Barocco and Richard Heinberg

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These are hot topics right now, though the concepts are not. City Farmer got rolling in 1978. And Mollison and Holmgren were developing permaculture concepts in the early 1970s.

screen shot of City Farmer News; What Does Permaculture Offer To Cities and Suburbs?

City Farmer News has been a boots-on-the-ground resource for urban farmers since 1978.

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

  • permaculture

Trees and Parks Make People Happier and Healthier

city park and skyline; Trees and Parks Make People Happier and Healthier

Living near green spaces provides an enduring mental health boost, this article from Smithsonian asserts.

It’s becoming more clear that trees and parks make people happier and healthier.

Moving to An Area With More Green Space Can Improve Your Mental Health for Years

This Smithsonian article presents evidence of enduring mental health benefits based on our proximity to green space.

And here’s more evidence that trees aren’t just beautiful. By removing pollutants from the air, trees give us healthier air to breathe. They also save energy by shading people and buildings, and actually cool the air around them. And they produce oxygen for us to breathe.

Urban Trees Remove Fine Particulate Air Pollution, Save Lives

More evidence here and here.

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably with

  • green building
  • permaculture
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Seeing the Bones of A Sustainable Home

In southwest Iowa, just outside the town of Red Oak, a sustainable home is under way. Architect James Plagmann of Boulder, Colorado, designed the home using sustainable materials and practices.

Here we’re seeing the bones of a sustainable home as it’s being built.

passive solar green home under construction, seeing the bones of a sustainable home

The south-facing front facade admits light for solar gain.

green, sustainable home interior under construction, seeing the bones of a sustainable home

Concrete walls provide thermal mass and tornado protection, clerestory windows provide light to interior rooms.

 

Plagmann has designed a number of extremely green, energy efficient homes. He’s used many of those energy-saving features in this home, as well, such as:

  • Passive solar design, with broad overhanging eaves, south-facing windows, and thermal mass.
  • Poured concrete walls provide protection against tornadoes, along with thermal mass.
  • Daylighting to bring light into interior rooms.
  • A heat-recovery ventilator to capture heat that would be wasted, and combined with a heat pump, helps to obviate the need for a standard air conditioner.
  • A ground-source heat pump provides heat in cold weather and cooling in warm weather, and feeds radiant tubing within the slab floor.
  • A well-insulated shell maintains constant temperature and minimizes thermal bridging.
  • Air sealing to minimize drafts.
  • Partial earth-sheltering to minimize temperature swings inside the house.

At 2,640 square feet, the house is not tiny, but part of that area is a tool room and greenhouse. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished house!

 

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

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  • green cities

  • permaculture

The Regenerative Capacity of Permaculture

What’s the potential of permaculture to repair damaged land? Permaculturalist Geoff Lawton says, “You can fix all the world’s problems in a garden.” He worked on a small parcel in Jordan, first creating a swale for water catchment, then planting a variety of trees, building irrigation, and mulching heavily. Within a few months the figs were producing. This demonstrates the regenerative capacity of permaculture. Geoff Lawton’s site is here.

Permaculture: Greening the Desert

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Here are some other examples of people able to make desert land productive:

Qatar’s Plans to Turn the Desert Green Will Leave You Astonished

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Growing Forests in the Desert

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More wildly successful examples of regenerative approaches here.

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

  • permaculture

Grain Bin Homes

What would you think of a home built from a grain bin? They strike me as sort of like a metal yurt. Grain bin homes offer some challenges, but advantages as well, such as:

  • simple to build with unskilled labor
  • pest-resistant
  • fireproof
  • wind resistant
  • maintenance free
  • recycled/recyclable materials
  • moveable/reusable.

Challenges include the different tools and skills you’d need to modify the bin.

Grain bin homes for disaster areas

You could buy a new kit, such as those made by Sukup Manufacturing, and modify it to suit your needs. These kits are produced for use around the world, especially places that have endured natural disasters. Sukup built some in Haiti in 2012, and the company says it has shipped kits to Kenya and the Philippines.

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The company says each bin is 18 feet in diameter, yielding 254 square feet. They’re made of 20-gauge recycled steel, and can be made taller if desired. Assembly by an unskilled crew takes less than two days. One kit fits in the back of a pickup truck, and 14-16 kits will fit in a shipping container. I can see delivering the loaded container to a village, building all the kits, and converting the container into a sanitary toilet building. Another container could contain interior finish materials for each bin kit, such as insulation, finished wall coverings, and so on.

Depending on the climate where the bin is built, it would be nice to have a more substantial foundation, but it would definitely not need to be a full concrete slab. Cost is reasonable, at roughly $6000 per kit for nonprofit groups.

Your dream home

You could also use a new kit as the basis for your dream home. This video shows how grain bins are built, with workers using hydraulic jacks to lift the roof, then attaching the wall panels layer by layer at ground level. No scaffolding needed for assembly.

Reusing a bin

Existing agricultural bins can be recycled, as this guy has done. If you’re handy, resourceful, and creative, you’d could create a low-budget funky home, studio, or shop.

Many more examples here.

Regardless of the size or whether it’s new or reused, a bin can be a cheap green home. You could also create a tiny house village from bins.

 

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

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  • permaculture

Metrics for Great Cities

The Most-Livable Cities Share Common Traits

I recently noticed, while writing an article about walkability, some overlap among top-performing U.S. cities in positive metrics. I think these are important because they’re all the result of good policies, not mere good fortune. What are the metrics for great cities?

Urban Forests

The urban forest is the collective tree and shrub cover in and around cities, located on both private and public land. According to American Forests, a nonprofit forest-advocacy organization, the urban forest is able to:

  • Remove air pollution
  • Produce oxygen
  • Absorb rainwater and pollutants in rainwater that would otherwise run into streams and groundwater
  • Provide shade
  • Block wind
  • Reduce energy demand
  • Reduce noise levels
  • Store carbon
  • Provide habitat for animals, and
  • Make people happier and more relaxed.

American Forests evaluated the 50 most-populous U.S. cities’ urban forests in regard to:

  • Civic engagement in maintaining the urban forest
  • Urban forest strategies and city greening to address city infrastructure challenges
  • Accessibility of urban forest and greenspaces to the public
  • Overall health and condition of the city’s urban forest
  • Documented knowledge about its urban forests, and
  • Urban forest management plans and management activities.

Why did American Forests undertake the project?

Scott Steen, American Forests CEO and one of the judges for the project, said the group wanted to “showcase the tangible value that urban forests provide to cities and their residents, including economic, aesthetic, social and physical well-being. Various studies have shown a correlation between trees and lower rates of crime, reduced levels of stress and lower body mass.”

Image #1: New York City skyline, Graham Styles

In addition, “No two cities have worked exactly the same way to achieve their place on our top 10 list, but they each serve as a role model for others,” Steen said.

Energy Efficiency

Achieving greater energy efficiency, like living in a healthy urban forest, results in a better quality of life for people. It also saves people and businesses money, and has the potential to obviate the need for more power plants as the country’s population grows.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) evaluated 34 major U.S. cities on their efforts to reduce energy use and costs. ACEEE ranked each city based on the following sectors’ successes to reduce energy use:

  • Local government
  • Community initiatives
  • Buildings
  • Utilities
  • Transportation

Boston walkable neighborhood

Walk Score

My previous article looked at Walk Scores in more detail. You can review it here. The walkability rankings were compiled by the group Walk Score. It’s important to remember that different neighborhoods in a city can have hugely disparate scores. Denver’s overall score is 55.7, but the Berkeley neighborhood on Denver’s west side, for example, at 93 is a “Walker’s Paradise.”

Here’s how the data looks when combined:

Urban Forest

Energy Efficiency

Walk Score

New York City

Top 10

69.75 (3rd)

88 (1st)

Seattle

Top 10

65.25 (5th)

71 (8th)

Washington, D.C.

Top 10

56.25 (7th)

74 (7th)

Portland, OR

Top 10

70 (2nd)

63 (15th)

Minneapolis

Top 10

55.25 (8th)

65 (12th)

Denver

Top 10

52.75 (11th)

56 (23rd)

Austin, TX

Top 10

62 (6th)

35 (34th)

Sacramento

Top 10

40.75 (18th)

43 (24th)

Charlotte, NC

Top 10

23.75 (31st)

24 (50th)

Boston

not ranked

76.75 (1st)

80 (3rd)

San Francisco

not ranked

69.75 (3rd)

84 (2nd)

Philadelphia

not ranked

54.5 (10th)

77 (4th)

Chicago

not ranked

54.75 (9th)

75 (6th)

Milwaukee, WI

Top 10

not ranked

59 (20th)

Clearly many other metrics would be useful. These three are interesting, I think, because each confers benefits beyond the individual person. Energy efficiency is good for individuals, businesses, and the environment. Walkable cities are good for people’s health and for property values. The urban forest gives people cleaner air and water, cooler temperatures, and often a sense of peace and well being.

What other metrics would be useful in this sort of comparison?

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

  • permaculture

 

 

 

Tiny Homes Can Serve Diverse Housing Needs

tiny homes can serve diverse housing needs

Here’s a link to a story I wrote about tiny homes and tiny home communities for Sourceable.net.

Tiny homes have been gaining popularity among people who want to downsize their lives, live in an environmentally responsible way, have a home that’s portable, build their own small home for a remote property, or have little money for housing.

Now a few people are working to create tiny home communities, as tiny homes can serve diverse housing needs. Jay Shafer of Four Lights Tiny Houses is actively working on “The Napolean Complex,” a tiny house community in Northern California.

Tiny homes are hot right now!

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

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  • green cities

  • permaculture

Walkable Cities Make for Better Cities

Walkable Cities Make for Better Cities

Click to read my article in Sourceable.net about the benefits of walkable cities.

 

I wrote this article, “Walkable Cities Make for Better Cities,” for Sourceable.net. The site is based in Australia but runs articles for professionals in architecture, construction, design, engineering, and property worldwide.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

  • permaculture