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Neal Peirce on Green Philadelphia, Edward T. McMahon on Density Development

Water Plan for the Century: Philadelphia’s Breakthrough

By Neal Peirce

Density Without High-Rises?

By Edward T. McMahon

For Release Sunday, May 20, 2012
(c) 2012 Washington Post Writers GroupWASHINGTON — Could it be serious — a major American city makes water conservation the linchpin of its 21st-century planning, the ticket to a future that’s both “green” and economically vibrant?

Answer: yes. And that grand old city is Philadelphia. Two centuries past the time it led America in population and power, a quarter-century past a wave of crippling industrial losses, Philadelphia is consciously making water conservation a centerpiece of its economic and environmental strategy — its goal to be the country’s “greenest” city.

Elements of the plan, first conceived in the city’s Office of Watersheds, sound radically less ambitious. The focus is on stopping storm water from flooding drainage systems and sending untreated sewage and debris flowing into local rivers and streams. (Yearly, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates, more than 10 trillion gallons of untreated urban runoff flow into the nation’s surface waters.)

To stem its discharges, Philadelphia is intent on filtering out, block by block, the fast, storm-induced runoff of pollutants — litter, oil, antifreeze, pesticides, bacteria from pet waste — that accumulate on concrete and asphalt surfaces, then wash into and pollute streams and rivers.

All this matters in dollars. Federal Clean Water Act rules could have obligated Philadelphia to spend as much as $10 billion for a system of massive tanks and tunnels to hold overflows — the “big engineering” solution many cities are following. By contrast, the cost of Philadelphia’s new water-conserving, storm-mitigating green infrastructure may be as little as $2 billion.

COMMENT » FULL COLUMN »

For Release Friday, May 11, 2012
Citiwire.netWhen it comes to land development, Americans famously dislike two things: too much sprawl and too much density. Over the past 50 years, the pendulum swung sharply in the direction of spread-out, single use, drive everywhere for everything, low density development.

Now the pendulum is swinging back. High energy prices, smart growth, transit oriented development, new urbanism, infill development, sustainability concerns: are all coalescing to foster more compact, walkable, mixed use and higher density development.

The pendulum swing is both necessary and long overdue. Additionally, there is a growing demand for higher density housing because of demographic and lifestyle preference changes among boomers and young adults. The problem is that many developers and urban planners have decided that density requires high rises: the taller, the better. To oppose a high-rise building is to run the risk of being labeled a NIMBY, a dumb growth advocate, a Luddite — or worse.

Buildings 20, 40, 60 even 100 stories tall are being proposed and built in low and mid-rise neighborhoods all over the world. All of these projects are justified with the explanation that if density is good, even more density is better. Washington, D.C. is just the latest low- or mid-rise city to face demands for taller buildings.

Yet Washington is one of the world’s most singularly beautiful cities for several big reasons: first, the abundance of parks and open spaces, second, the relative lack of outdoor advertising (which has over commercialized so many other cities), and third a limit on the height of new buildings.

COMMENT » FULL COLUMN »

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