Sunday, June 08, 2008


From The Energy Bulletin a posting of a panel discussion about energy and urban design. James Kunstler is one of the panelists, Nikos Salingaros is the other. Part 2 is here.

Pay attention to what they have to say about skyscrapers (New York is their focus) and consider what it may mean for the Loop and Streeterville. Also, LEED certification is only as good as its practitioners. They also comment about density, and assert that skyscrapers, used to promote density, are actually very inefficient, with or without solar panels.

Rogers Park, for all its issues, is still better situated than the Loop to survive and thrive in an energy constrained future. Will we have the wisdom to build on that?


The North Coast said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The North Coast said...

I suppose we will all have to give up something we love about modern times, perhaps several things we love.

Most people will miss their cars, and I will mourn for skyscrapers.

The sight of Chicago's skyline makes me weepy. We have one of the most beautiful skylines in the world. Maybe THE most beautiful- at least I think it is.

Kunstler is most likely correct. The mega-scrapers really do have massive internal energy loads, due not only to the elevators (which can actually run on low energy), but due to the pumps required to produce water pressure at such heights.

Maybe it really isn't a good idea to have so many people living at such heights given how difficult these buildings are for first-responders, anyway. It is a real problem to evacuate an 82-year-old from the 63rd floor in a fire, or when the elevators aren't running.

The really expensive buildings will be OK, I believe. These buildings have multiple backup systems, including those for fighting fires, which are necessary because you can't get up that high with the fire dept's equipment. They also have battalions of personnel trained to deal with emergencies, and the newer luxe buildings have their own power generation, which is dependent upon gas. The people who inhabit these glossy places will be able to afford new systems employing really adventurous technologies, and they will be able to afford really expensive power in the amounts needed to keep their aeries liveable. So I'm not worried about places like the Spire or the Palmolive or No 1 Mag Mile.

I'm more worried about the moderate -income to upper-middle income people shoehorned into the sides of these really large rental buildings. Older buildings that are 30,40, 50 stories tall, like many in Edgewater and Lakeview, could end up being big problems for their owners and occupents. Those built in the 50s and 60s were constructed with no thought to energy consumption, and almost everyone needs the heat-leaking old curtainwall replaced, and often they are running on inefficient heating systems as well. Chicago as a whole is way too dependent upon natural gas, a shortage of which could render these places completely unlivable. As it is, the moderate-to-middle income owners of the older highrise condos in Lakeview and Edgewater will be hard put to keep up with the mounting utility expense, let alone the cost of retrofitting their buildings with efficient systems. They mostly can't afford to do this even now.

This could mean that Lakeview and Edewater and even downtown, could find themselves burdened with huge slums like the old housing projects we've just taken down, unless efficient ways to power these places are developed. Most of the 50s and 60s vintage buildings are pretty ugly to begin with, and rapidly inflating operating costs aren't going to enhance their appeal.

Rogers Park definately looks like a more sustainable neighborhood than those further south, and now is a good time to set down rules for new development that allow greater density, but sensibly limit height. I like the new urbanist ideal, 4 to 7 stories. This is high enough to have an attractive building with real presence, as well as the kind of density we need to support services and retail.

The North Coast said...

Having said all of the above, I feel I could add that Kunstler has a deep personal bias in favor of small towns and tends to idealize late 19th-century rural life, which is pretty evident in all his writings, but never more so than in his novel of life in the post-peak age, WORLD MADE BY HAND.

There's no way any of us can totally put aside personal biases and preferences, and we all attempt to justify purely personal choices and preferences as necessary and ideal on social and philosophical grounds.

As it happens, I have a deepset preference for life in dense city neighborhoods and a bias against small town life,especially as it was lived in pre-technological times. Moreover, I don't feel that we will be one bit better off in any way once we lose the lifestyle tied to cheap, or at least not-too-expensive fuel.

So when we assess Kunstler's views and theories, as well as mine or yours, we have to keep in mind that he is really a bit of a luddite who regards most modern tech as essentially pernicious, which I certainly do not.

While I don't believe we can simply solve problems related to resource depletion by any technological Silver Bullet, I do believe that advanced, elegant technology is absolutely essential in mitigating the worst effects of the drawdown and in making life with some level of comfort and amenity possible in the post-peak era.

Most of all, I feel that we cannot go "back" to some idylic past that never existed. A walk through history makes me glad I was born in the age of this wonderful convergence between brilliant minds, freedom of ideas, and readily available resources; and not into the poverty, filth, brutality, and stunted opportunities and abbreviated lives that were the lot of 99% of the human race everywhere in pre-tech times.

I was born with it and because of it, and I'll die with it.

That's why I'm so obsessed with resource depletion and conservation, because we really can't live without our tech underpinning, or the energy necessary to keep it functioning.