Last night at the Nob Hill Masonic Center Auditorium in San Francisco, the Ecocity World Summit hosted San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and former Mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, now Governor of Paraná Jaime Lerner.
Mayor Newsom started off proudly declaring that San Francisco has the highest recycling rate in the country at 70 percent, with a goal of zero waste by 2020. The city accepts all types of plastics and even provides a bin to compost all food, including meat! One of the few items not accepted are plastic bags, but last year San Francisco banned plastic bags from all major grocery stores.
The city has one of the most aggressive green building programs in the US. This is important because construction and operation of buildings are responsible for 40 percent of total energy use, 65 percent of total electricity use, 40 percent of air pollution and 38 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The building below is the California Academy of Sciences which is planned to be LEED Platinum, the highest green building rating by the US Green Building Council, opening September 27, 2008.
The “Zero Emissions 2020” Plan commits San Francisco to a clean air policy for public transit. Currently, 65 percent of public transit runs on alternative energy such as hybrid technologies, biodiesel from restaurant grease, electricity, natural gas or prototype fuel cells. San Francisco is also looking to replace the payroll tax with a carbon tax.
In the end, Newsom stated it is very easy to pass pro-environmental legislation, all it takes is paper and a pen, albeit recycled content paper and soy based ink. He emphasized we need to support political officials who pass environmentally friendly legislation, and to give them room to experiment, even if it means they may fail. Newsom concluded saying: “I look forward to making lots of mistakes in regards to environmental conservation.”
Next up was Jamie Lerner who has implemented innovative transportation and community designs to transform Curitiba from a grimy, congested state capital into one of the most sustainable cities in the world. Richard Register of Ecocity Builders introduced him as “one of the most creative people on the planet.”
Lerner began by saying that “innovation is starting” and this takes political will, strategy, and building an equation of core responsibility. Also, solidarity to make change will only be accomplished when we overcome pitting ourselves against one another.
The picture above is a boarding tube for the bus rapid transit. It gives buses the same efficiency as a subway since the tickets are prepaid and boarding is on the same level as the bus. These tubes, combined with articulated buses and dedicated lanes (BRT), increase passenger capacity four-fold. In 1974 when the program began, there were 25,000 people using transit each day, in 2000 there were 2.5 million passengers per day. Furthermore, the transit system is fully funded by passenger fare, not government subsidy. The city has also installed 75 miles of bicycle paths.
Lerner said the future of transportation must include individual transportation without private ownership. He showed a slide of these tiny cars called Dock Docks. They are half the size of a smart car, run on electricity, and work like community bike programs. They are still in concept phase but I imagine you could reserve them online or at a station with a credit card and just release them from the “dock” then return it when done.
He said each mode needs to have its own place in the city. However, part of the solution may not be space, instead it may be time. Mixed-uses of housing nearby workplaces and entertainment ensure continuous activity on the streets making them safer and more lively. In fact, Curitiba has a 24 hour street “Rua 24 Hora” and a night market. They have also created “portable streets” (picture above) which are market stalls that can be easily installed and transported to different areas of the city to facilitate activity.
They are working on a high density development, called Interbario, where 20 percent of the buildings must house plant-life on roofs and balconies. He also referenced “pas-par-tout” as a way to enclose communities or buildings in a frame. He talked about how architecture doesn’t have to be “egotecture” but can be silent architecture:
“One of the things I have learned is that we have to be committed to simplicity. There is no need to be scared of simplicity. And we can’t want to have all the answers in the world. Many cities end up putting off things because they want to understand everything. They don’t understand that innovating is about starting. Taking care of a city is a process that you start, and then give the population space to respond. There is no place in a city that can’t be better. There is no toad that can’t be a princess, no frog that can’t become a prince.”