Future Living: Eco Cities
Eco friendly cities
If we are going to tackle climate change then much of our efforts should be focused on improving the way our buildings work. Buildings are the biggest consumers of energy and are responsible for up to 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainably built residential developments are superior to conventional residential construction projects over the long term in regard to environmental, economic and socio-cultural criteria. The ‘sustainable quarters’ project group draws together all the key topics from the building sector in order to provide support to urban planners and the building industry in al l areas of sustainable residential construction.
Taking an Holistic Approach to Sustainability
People often make the association between the buildings energy use and its impact on the environment. There energy usage is an important factor, but to create a truly sustainable building, the entire life cycle of the building needs to be taken into consideration, from the initial concept through to its eventual demolition. Often sustainability is an afterthought in the design process. Adding solar panels or a wind generator will not make your building sustainable. Renewable energy sources and other low energy solutions need to be designed as a complete system and fully integrated into the design of the building. But energy reduction is only one part of the equation. A huge of energy is used to produce and transport the materials used to construct the building. When specifying materials there are so many considerations:
How much energy is used to transport the material?
How much energy does it take to produce?
How long will the material last?
How much maintenance is required?
Can it be re-used or recycled at the end of the buildings life?
It is the job of the building designer to find the optimum balance between these criteria, while ensuring the finished building looks good, meets performance requirements and fulfils the clients brief.
Making Buildings Work Together
To maximise the efficiency of buildings we need to take them at a higher level, making several buildings or even whole cities, work together to share waste energy and to help manage the local climate. Making a single building can be challenging in itself, but making a group of buildings that work together throws up a whole raft of other problems. In 2011 Redditich Council announced a plan to use excess heat from a crematorium to heat the local swimming pool. The plan had people divided with headlines ranging from ‘Sick’ plan to heat swimming pool by plugging it into crematorium to Minister praises plan to heat swimming pool from fires of crematorium. On the one hand the plan to use heat from burning bodies was treated with shock and disgust. However others saw the plan as an ingenious solution to reduce costs and reduce energy use. This example is a little extreme, but it does highlight some the challenges faced when trying to make buildings work together.
Designing Eco- Cities
An eco-city takes this idea even further. The goal of the eco-city is to create a region where the city lives entirely within the means of its local environment, while eliminating all carbon waste. Renewable energies are the key to making this system work, but to maximise efficiency waste energy is shared between buildings. Eco-cities have wider objectives taking into account social and economic factors, such as population distribution, health considerations, social mobility and poverty reduction, along with the environmental issues.
The Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town is due to be completed in 2014 and will be one of the first new eco-cities, built from the ground up. The town of up to 1000 households has been designed to cope with the major issues faced by Japan. These include a growing and aging population and the risk of energy shortages. Every home will have a solar array wired to a city wide grid. To reduce traffic there will be sharing facilities for electric cars and bikes, which run on energy generated by the solar grid.