SOURCE: NewCivicWorks

March 02, 2006 16:03 ET

More Energy- and Cost-Efficient Infrastructure Means Better Cities for People, Too

First in U.S.: Green Guidelines for Municipal Infrastructure Could Reduce Energy Use, Pollution, and Make Tax Dollars Go Farther

NEW YORK, NY -- (MARKET WIRE) -- March 2, 2006 -- Reduced solid waste and energy consumption, greater cost-efficiency, higher reliability and lower lifecycle costs of infrastructure, as well as improved health and safety are just some of the benefits that could be realized by applying the now well-established principles of green design to any city's public right-of-way -- that often-overlooked area comprising roads, sidewalks, underground utility pipes and conduits, and landscaping.

The first comprehensive collection of "best practices" for designing, building and maintaining this infrastructure has just been prepared for New York City: "High Performance Infrastructure Guidelines: Best Practices for the Public Right of Way" was published in late 2005, conceived and co-authored by New Civic Works' principal, Hillary Brown, and produced by the non-profit organization, Design Trust for Public Space, and New York City's Department of Design and Construction (DDC). The new infrastructure guidelines are a sequel to New York's "High Performance Building Guidelines" produced in 1999 by the same participants, when Brown headed the city's Office of Sustainable Design.

"With 20,000 lane-miles of public right-of-way (ROW) in its five boroughs -- an area larger than all of Manhattan, and much of it in need of upgrading, New York is the perfect place to demonstrate the far-reaching benefits of implementing sustainable infrastructure practices," notes Brown, who serves as a consultant to government agencies, universities and institutional clients across the country interested in integrating green design practices into their facility capital programs.

An integrated approach

Typically, municipalities divide the responsibility for infrastructure among separate, independent departments. However, to realize major performance improvements and cost reductions, all the elements of the urban environment must be viewed together as an integrated system, the components of which have complex interactions: streets, sidewalks, sub-grade systems, landscaping, and all the utility delivery systems -- for water, electricity, wastewater, and stormwater.

Critical to the development of such interdisciplinary guidelines, Brown points out, is the participation of all agencies responsible for infrastructure. New York City's Departments of Transportation (DOT), Environmental Protection (DEP), Parks and Recreation (DPR), as well as Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) were consulted, as was a regional advisory panel of northeastern city/state infrastructure planning officials.

Big benefits

Because of the interactions among the various infrastructure components, even small changes (detailed in the 160-page "Best Practices" section of the Guidelines) can add up to big benefits. Among these are:

--  reducing lifecycle costs and increasing reliability of essential
--  more breathable air, safer drinking water
--  keeping summertime temperatures bearable while lowering energy costs
--  reducing traffic accidents and crime
--  deferring or reducing municipal capital and operational costs
--  fostering economic development and community revitalization
--  bolstering property values
--  encouraging civic pride and social engagement

Specific recommendations are given in the areas of site assessment, streetscape, pavement, utility, stormwater management, landscape and construction practices. See below for examples.

Tried and true precedents

Most, if not all, of the "best management practices" described in the Guidelines have already been studied or implemented somewhere. In fact, the guidelines include a section on precedent-setting projects around the country in cities such as Seattle, Chicago -- and some even within New York City. What is revolutionary about these Infrastructure Guidelines is simply that all the ideas and information have been pulled together in one sourcebook.

Small changes - Best Practice examples

--  Lightening the color of asphalt and concrete on streets and sidewalks
    can reduce the "urban heat island" effect of high temperatures on dark
    rooftops and pavements. Lighter pavement reduces pavement heat stress,
    lowers high summertime temperatures, translating into fewer ozone-related
    respiratory problems, while its greater reflectivity increases nighttime
    visibility.  Lighter concrete can be created by using industrial waste
    materials such as fly-ash, blast-furnace slag. Using other waste materials
    for paving, such as old concrete, recycled asphalt, glass, can reduce solid
    waste, while requiring less energy and fewer raw materials than
    conventional concrete or asphalt manufacturing.
--  Adding more trees, vegetation, soil and other porous materials
    throughout the streetscape removes air-borne dirt, produces oxygen, lowers
    ambient temperature during hot weather, absorbs and naturally treats
    stormwater, recharges underground aquifers and dampens noise.  Attractively-
    planted landscaping invites people to walk and socialize outdoors more and
    has a traffic calming effect, resulting in greater safety.  Some studies
    show that the more trees you have on a street, the less crime there is.
--  Organizing utility piping and cabling into trenches with removable
    lids will ultimately minimize traffic disruptions for maintenance and
    repair work, reducing the costs and environmental impact of digging.

For more information or to view an electronic version of the Guidelines, go to The Guidelines will also be available in print for purchase from the Design Trust.

Background on key participants

--  New Civic Works is a consulting firm, headed by Hillary Brown, which
    assists government agencies, universities and institutional clients across
    the country integrate green design practices into their facility capital
    programs.  Formerly an Assistant Commissioner at New York City's Department
    of Design and Construction, Brown founded the city's Office of Sustainable
--  The Design Trust for Public Space is a private non-profit organization
    founded in 1995 and dedicated to improving the quality and understanding of
    New York City's public realm.  One of its primary functions is to
    commission research and design projects, bringing the talents of a design
    professional or "Fellow" to help a public agency or community group
    undertake a worthwhile challenge.

Illustrations are available, but the file is very large -- more than 6,000KB. To receive them, email or call 1-718-789-1500.

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