Friday, March 24, 2017

Road Speed

Ste. Elena, Costa Rica, near Monte Verde
Costa Rican engineers design streets so cars go slow.  No need for speed limits or patrol officers because the streets let you know how fast you can go.   In the center of the town, brick streets make tires rumble, parked cars on both sides narrow the lanes, so getting through requires some delicate navigation.  And people walk in the street as well as on the sidewalk.  Just outside the center paving smooths into asphalt, but the streets are narrow and people often walk along the side of the road, or ride bikes.  Drivers need to be cautious.  'Suave un toque' (easy does it)

Here's the best example that the engineers are designing road speed deliberately:  The steep roads up the mountain slopes are unpaved and rocky, even as they are generally well-maintained.   Go too fast and you get a very rough ride.   Therefore cars tend not to careen off the road into the abyss, even without guard rails, or emergency lanes, or concrete barriers.   Yeah, it's dusty, but no one dies. 


Friday, August 19, 2016

Salt Life

On vacation here in Marathon, in the Florida Keys, sitting on the patio facing a canal, I feel like Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock's Rear Window as I watch the neighbors across the canal hefting a cooler onto their boat, leaving, and returning with their catch. They celebrate a big wahoo, clean it, grill it and eat it all the while in full view.  Of course, they also see my family and I while we eat our meal on the patio. 

In Marathon every house has a boat.  The car is parked in the driveway in front and the boat is parked in the canal behind.  The house faces neighbors across the street and the back yard faces the neighbors across the canal.  No one expects privacy in either direction.  Perhaps that is part of the spirit of the salt life.  A fantasy of leisure, fishing, and socializing, without the hard edges of trying to make a living.  I imagine that salt life is lived almost in quotes, as a demonstration of the good life, a spectator sport that invites others to watch.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A circular sense of time

Here’s a hypothesis…
Is it possible that sustainability will give back to us a sense that time moves cyclically, and give us a new idea of “progress?”

“Progress,” the idea that human society advances ever forward into a better future, is tightly associated with modern thinking.  In particular the brave-new-world notion that progress in technology will always make our lives better and will always leave the past behind to be remembered but not repeated, is now almost a caricature.  The forward thrust of modern ‘progress’ mirrors the cradle-to-grave manufacturing model of making new things (out of ‘raw materials’ or ‘natural resources’), using them up and throwing them away (where they disappear).  The process moves always ahead toward the new.  Several squirrelly ideas and a fatal irony are embedded.  First, what’s new about something new? I’ll just leave that one to ponder.  Second, using things up suggests that nothing is left behind, an obvious falsehood – even food eaten up leaves poop behind and fuel used up leaves CO2 at least.   Thirdly, throwing things away doesn’t get rid of them, just takes them out of sight.  We clearly know by now that there is no ‘away,’ everywhere is somewhere and the more we insist on an ‘away,’ the more it crowds in on us.  In Freud’s terms, denying things or feelings by putting them out of sight or “foreclosing” them simply embeds them more deeply in our mind and body, until they infect our every action.
And the irony… progress implies a utopia or state of perfection always ahead like a mirage.  There, presumably everything is perfect, progress stops and time becomes cyclical again.    Hmmm.  So cyclical time is the goal.

Sustainability however proposes that we live in the world without diminishing it.  No graves.  No ‘away.’  No using things up.   It embraces the fact that everything exists before we ‘use’ it and continues to exist after.  Technology may transform materials and move them from place to place, but nothing is left as waste. Everything is recaptured and returned to the cycle.  Progress means innovation that improves the cycle in all its phases, not just the ‘making stuff for our use’ part of the cycle.  Life can be excellent, and everything returns, so that it can go around again and again.  

Thinking of materials in this way implies a cyclical sense of time: that all things return, in different forms, with an accumulation of memory perhaps, but always already present.  Same, same, but different.  We are part of the cycle of the natural world, and progressively innovate new ways to keep it strong and healthy, year after year, century after century, and millennium after millennium, always changing and, if we do our jobs well, always the same.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Rooftop Solar could generate half of Miami-Dade County's Electricity

Solar panels on the roof power both house and electric car
The solar train is leaving the station (with or without FPL).

Here are some back-of-the-envelope calculations.

The total area of roofs in Miami Dade County is:  116 million square meters. Or 1.244 billion square feet.  Or 44.6 square miles. Thanks to Jeffrey Onsted, an FIU colleague, who wrestled this figure out of the Miami Dade County Property Assessors map of 2011.

Electricity use in Miami Dade county in 2008 was about 27.3 billion KWh.  Here's the source: Greenprint
I’m sure it’s more now, but that’s a figure I could find.

A solar panel in Miami generates about 216 KWh per square meter per year, more or less. 
This figure comes from from the universal formula for solar yield:  E = A * r * H * PR

E = Energy (kWh)
A = Total solar panel Area (m²)
r = solar panel yield (%)  (usually about 15%)
H = Annual average solar radiation on tilted panels (shadings not included) (Miami is about 5.25 kWh/ sq m/day, or 1916kWh/square meter/year)
PR = Performance ratio, coefficient for losses (range between 0.5 and 0.9, default value = 0.75)

Therefore, take the total square footage of the roofs, 116 million sq. meters then reduce it by about 40% (I’m guessing) because panels must be 3’ back from the edge and roofs are populated with air conditioners and stuff.  That comes to about 69 million sq. meters

Multiply by 216 KWh/sq.m/yr.  Equals 14.9 billion KWh.

Therefore, Miami Dade County could generate about half of its electricity use from rooftop solar.  Hmmm.

I did a similar calculation for all of Florida’s energy use, including electricity, gas, oil, jet fuel etc, to figure out the area of solar panels needed.  It came out to about 2,200 square miles (47 miles per side of a square)  Here’s the map:
Area of solar panels needed to power all of Florida at current energy usage

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Half of Urbanism

Last Friday I went to dinner with some colleagues to Wynwood Kitchen at Wynwood Walls, the original group of warehouses painted in changing murals.  Always spectacular.  To walk from courtyard to courtyard surrounded by mammoth-sized Art is both stunning and urbane.  And lots of people walking around, filling restaurants and galleries that have moved into the raw warehouse spaces.  It's as much of an urban scene as Miami can produce, like Lincoln Road used to be.  
However, no one lives there.   Everyone drives in to participate in in urban life, then they drive home again.  Is that really urbanism?  Perhaps not yet.  The scene in Wynwood is just a half of city life, adrift with neither infrastructure nor a residential population, like one of Miami's many attractions invented by clever investors.  However Wynwood is now sparking development that will bring housing and perhaps offices and transit and the other elements that fill out a city, bit by bit, by popular demand.  Some residential towers are planned but none are under construction now.
Some of us in front of "Codo a codo" (elbow to elbow) by INTI

Here's the irony.  Some people drive to Wynwood from their apartments in new high-rise buildings on Miami Beach or Biscayne Boulevard.  Bus service is miserable, walking is unpleasant, and transit non-existent.  In fact, they drive everywhere, pouring out of the parking garage in the morning on their way to work and returning at night.  The towers have a few amenities around them, but not much.  They are the other half of city life, detached and adrift, tethered only by traffic.

In the fullness of time both Wynwood and Biscayne Boulevard might accrue enough of the qualities of the other to become fully urban.  But can Miami wait that long?

Expensively Empty

Last week a group of Italian students and I were chased off of the property of the "Apogee" condominium tower in the southernmost tip of South Beach.  The security guard told us it was a "private, very private building."  In fact we were not allowed to step off the sidewalk onto the circular driveway.  Geeez.  Four condo towers stand between the urban grid of Miami Beach and South Pointe Park, a beautiful terminus to the island designed by Hargreaves and Assoc. Landscape architects.  The public has access via two streets that cut between the towers, a beach walk and a bay walk. 

Entrance to Apogee, a very private residence
What struck me was that this well-defended private property, standing so aloof from the city, was also empty.  Luxury condos are often kept as pieds-a-terre for wealthy people who live elsewhere.  The buildings remind me of multi-story boat storage scaffolds, which hold hundreds of boats that people rarely use.  The condo towers similarly stand waiting for their inhabitants to return. 

The city responds in kind, offering very little to the zombie towers.  A few pricey restaurants have set up either inside the towers or nearby, but one cannot find a cup of coffee or slice of pizza short of several blocks away.  The location is so exclusive that almost everyone goes elsewhere.