Greening Sprawl

In this excellent article of the same name, the case is made for a revisioning of sprawl.

An excerpt.

“Suburban residential landscapes are popularly understood to be socially and environmentally homogeneous places where expanses of mown lawn appear in an alternating rhythm of driveways and predictably similar houses. Much has been made of suburban social pressures for conformity, epitomized by the pressure to have a perfect lawn; even, green, and weed free. More recently, the environmentally detrimental effects of lawn irrigation, pesticides, fertilizers, leaf blowing, and mowing have been widely discussed. Beyond these immediate environmental impacts of lawn culture, the more insidious societal costs associated with car-dependent suburban transportation systems are of growing concern. Social and health effects of sedimentary lifestyles and long commuting times, social equity effects of jobs beyond the reach of public transportation, as well as climate effects of greenhouse gases emitted by cars—all contribute to arguments for adopting more dense urban settlement patterns as alternatives to suburbia.

“Yet suburban development is massive and growing. In the United States, large-lot residential development covered a total area fifteen times larger than did dense urban settlement in 2000, and suburbs have continued to grow more quickly than cities. The market for suburban residential development remains a vital driver of metropolitan landscape patterns. Even if market demand for new suburban development were to disappear today, the legacy effects of the more than 5 percent of the US land area in suburban development would remain. This reality suggests that, rather than only critiquing suburbia, we should consider how low-density suburban development patterns can provide broader societal benefits.

“Viewed through another lens, the lawn culture landscape of suburban “sprawl” looks like “greening.” In city neighborhoods, greening means bringing maintained turf, trees, and gardens back into a largely paved landscape. In contrast, suburban neighborhoods, typified by expansive lawns, canopy trees, and flowers and shrubs, are green. But suburban green landscapes could provide far more substantial ecosystem services related to human health, biodiversity, stormwater management, and carbon storage to contribute to climate change mitigation. How do we “green” sprawl to deliver these societal benefits? Could design and planning guide the resources expended on keeping suburbia green differently—to achieve a stronger balance in favor of ecosystem services compared with environmental costs?

“Understanding the vernacular aesthetics of suburban landscapes as part of the land development process can suggest some answers. Respecting what residents want their landscapes to look like could help planners and designers devise development patterns that nudge suburban residents and developers to want landscapes that provide greater ecosystem services. To make suburban sprawl a deeper shade of green, designers can use the nudge concept that has become familiar in the fields of psychology and behavioral economics: giving people what they want in a landscape pattern that also embodies what society needs.” (p. 507)

Joan Iverson Nassauer (2017). Greening Sprawl: Lawn Culture and Carbon Storage in the Suburban Landscape. (pp.507-517) Infinite Suburbia (2017) (Editors, Alan M. Berger, Joel Kotkin, with Celina Balderas Guzman). Princeton Architectural Press: New York.

Posted in demographics, Environmentalism

Sacramento Needs More Buses

Yes, and this article from Sacramento News & Review makes the case.

An excerpt.

“Not long ago, a region choked with traffic was uncertain about its future. Many compared it unfavorably with Portland. It was headed down the same road as Los Angeles.

“Then voters were offered the choice of radically increasing the scope of its bus system. Today, a dense network of buses serve the city, rapid buses serve the suburbs and express buses service the entire region.

“That city is Seattle.

“Today, Seattle’s buses carry more people than ever to work, school, shops and restaurants. The same ballot measure that funded more and better bus service, also funded safe access for pedestrians and bicyclists. It helped to calm runaway traffic.

“Proof that better bus service helps everyone to achieve their dreams comes from Seattle, where 90% of bus riders have a car available. A transit rider can save $150,000 in a decade. By choosing how we get around, we are also choosing when to save and when to spend. Taking the bus to work means we get to keep more of what we earn. And we can reduce our environmental impact.

“If given the choice, many Sacramentans would make the same choice. I would.

“That’s why I started asking why so few people in Sacramento have this choice. The answer won’t surprise anyone who has seen Sacramento change. Bus service was cut by 25% during the Great Recession, even as ridership was increasing. Even a decade later, that level of service has not been restored.

“The Sacramento Transportation Authority board—16 elected officials from across the region—is debating a sales tax increase for the November ballot and a spending plan to go with it. It meets Thursday, Feb. 13. A half-cent increase could raise more than $8 billion over 40 years for roads and transit, including buses.

“If you are reading this during the commute, there are 155 buses on the road in the Sacramento region. There are 561 buses on the road in Portland, 387 in San Antonio, 418 in Salt Lake City and 550 buses in southern San Diego. Honolulu has about half as many people as Sacramento, but has 455 buses. Starting with far less bus service than many regions, we now have much less.

“Like me, you may even remember when Sacramento had a bus network similar to what Seattle has today. Express buses ran downtown from the suburbs, including Whitney Avenue, Marconi Avenue, and El Camino. Local buses served hubs at malls and colleges with connections to regional buses. For example, American River College was served by 11 local bus routes that fanned out across Carmichael, Fair Oaks and Citrus Heights then connected with an express bus to downtown.

“We need regionwide access as quick, economic and effective as Seattle. Portland has 16 bus routes that run every 15 minutes or better most of the day, every day. Sacramento has only two such routes. As our region grows, more buses would allow us to accommodate new development. The key is more buses.”

Retrieved February 13, 2020 from

Posted in Transportation

New EPA Appointment

I am not too troubled—as are many—by employees of a related business becoming government employees, as they bring knowledge to the job, which is priceless; and until proven otherwise, we should assume they will do as good a job for government as they did in their previous job.

This story from the Los Angeles Times notes a new California appointment.

An excerpt.

“Days after the Environmental Protection Agency’s top official in California was abruptly removed from office, the agency announced Tuesday that it would replace him with John W. Busterud, a former lawyer for the Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the state’s largest electric power provider.

“EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler praised Busterud’s “extensive background in energy and environmental issues” in a press release and said he was a “great choice” to lead the agency’s Pacific Southwest regional office, which oversees California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and other far West territories.

“Busterud’s appointment continues a trend within the Trump administration of staffing government environment jobs with people who have ties to the power sector, fossil fuels or agriculture — as well as other industries subject to environmental regulations.

“According to his EPA biography, Busterud has spent more than 30 years as an attorney specializing in environmental and energy issues, most recently as PG&E’s senior director and managing counsel for environment and real estate. He served for five years on EPA’s Clean Air Act Advisory Committee as an industry representative.”

Retrieved February 11, 2020 from

Posted in Environmentalism, Government

Homeless Port-a-potty Ruling

An excellent ruling, as reported by the Sacramento Bee, to sanction the public’s often well-intentioned but bad-consequences actions.

The homeless need to be helped in a organized way, directed towards getting them out of the tragic situation they are in, especially those over-running the Parkway.

An excerpt.

“A federal judge in Sacramento has rejected a request from a civil rights attorney that would have required the city to leave two port-a-potty toilets at the site of a downtown homeless camp.

“U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller denied the request for a temporary restraining order, saying in a seven-page order that “it is not clear plaintiffs have a federal case.”

“Sacramento civil rights attorney Mark Merin sued the city last week, saying police ordered the removal of a port-a-potty in January that was put there by two women hoping to help an encampment of about 30 people.

“After that toilet was removed, the women had two more installed at the site on B Street, and Merin sought an order keeping them from being removed until the lawsuit is decided.

“But Mueller wrote that she was not persuaded the fight over the toilets rose to the level of constitutional violations of the law.

“Fatal to plaintiffs’ argument here is that the danger alleged is danger to purported constitutional rights, which as the court notes are not colorable on the record currently before the court,” the judge wrote, adding the homeless citizens named as plaintiffs “have not met their burden of establishing a likelihood of irreparable harm.”

“City lawyers filed papers in the case claiming “chaos” could ensue if anyone is allowed to place property such as portable toilets on city land without a permit, and City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood issued a statement late Monday thanking the judge.

“Addressing the needs of people experiencing homelessness is one of the most pressing priorities for the Mayor and Council, reflected by the multi-pronged approach being actively pursued by the city,” she wrote. “We appreciate the court’s ruling and the swift resolution of this motion.

“The city will continue to keep its focus on housing people and providing them with the supportive services they need to maintain long-term stability.”

“Merin said he was not giving up.

“We still have our complaint and we can gather more declarations, and maybe we’ll apply for a permit and appeal the denial of the permit,” he said. “We’ll have to talk to our clients.”

Retrieved February 11, 2020 from

Posted in Homelessness

Good Intentions Often Make Things Worse

The good-heartedness of people in dealing with the homeless often makes things much worse—for the homeless and those contending with their community impact as the free feedings for the homeless in the Parkway have demonstrated in the past—as this article from the Sacramento Bee reports.

An excerpt.

“Sacramento officials are objecting to the placement of two port-a-potties on city property for use by a camp of about 30 homeless residents, saying that allowing the toilets to remain without a permit could “create chaos” and allow anyone to place personal property on city land.

“The city’s position, spelled out in newly filed federal court documents, asks U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller to reject a request from civil rights attorney Mark Merin that she issue a temporary restraining order to stop the city from removing the portable toilets.

“The dispute is the latest legal fight for the city as it deals with a crisis over how to handle a growing homeless population in the region, and comes as private citizens have begun taking it upon themselves to provide food and services such as portable toilets to the homeless.

“The court fight stems from two Sacramento women, Janice Nakashima and Robin Kristufek, placing a porta-potty against a fence on city land on the 500 block of North B Street in the River District on Jan. 16.

“Nakashima, an artist who lives in Pocket, said she and her husband regularly brought water, socks and other supplies to homeless residents and that she came upon the B Street site a some time ago and discovered it includes disabled residents and families with small children.

“I got so tired of hearing myself complain about, ‘Why isn’t anyone doing anything about potties …,’” she said. “So I just decided I’m going to get them one.”

“Kristufek, a longtime friend and retired public health nurse who also regularly helped the homeless, agreed to help and kick in part of the $360-a-month cost of renting the toilets, a figure that friends are also assisting in paying with donations.

“To me, it’s a public health issue,” Kristufek said.

“The first toilet lasted nine days before police called the company that owned it and ordered it removed.

“The toilets were observed by Sacramento police not long after their placement,” the city’s legal filings say, and police called the company that owned them and asked for them to be removed because there was no permit for them to be there.”

Retrieved February 7, 2020 from

Posted in Homelessness

Jane Jacobs, Reassessed

She wrote one of the magisterial books on urbanity, but, as this article from New Geography explains, it may no longer matter much.

An excerpt.

“As a professor who teaches about cities and the urban form, I very much appreciate the sidewalk ballets and street-corner societies that have historically existed in our nation’s urban centers. These features of the built-environment have long been powerful factors in the formation of both social capital, community, and a place’s identity. But it is a mistake to overstate the power of sidewalks and other features of urbanity in the creation of diverse ties as Eboo Patel approvingly does in Inside Higher Education when he cites Jane Jacob’s idea that “sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life may grow.”

“Urbanists, social theorists, and policy have all been looking for ways to improve our nation’s civic health and state of social capital, but writers such as Patel need to be careful when talking about Jacob’s ideas because many of her observations were shortsighted and narrow, many of her conclusions about the dynamics of city life were simply incorrect, and her work was written in a different socio-economic era where settlement patterns, economic conditions, and communal institutions were appreciably different from today.

“Data from AEI’s Survey on Community and Society (SCS) furthers the line of questioning about Jacob’s conclusions because the data reveals that those who live in cities – places with sidewalks and often have more instances of “architecture of engagement” compared to suburban and rural areas – are not appreciably closer to their communities and neighbors when compared to those inhabiting social networks in the suburbs. These have long been criticized by such scholars as Kenneth Jackson and Robert Putnam, as well as Jacobs, as places of isolation.

“For instance, the SCS survey asks about how much do the people in your neighborhood or in the immediate area where you live give you a sense of community and the differences in urban form are minor. In large cities and their suburbs, just 20% of respondents believe that the people nearby give them a strong sense of community. In small cities or towns, the figure increases a few points to 23% and climbs to 26% in rural areas. As for talking with one’s neighbors, a prerequisite for real relationships to develop, there are no appreciable differences by urban form with roughly 50% of those in rural, suburban, and urban areas all claiming that they talk with the neighbors a few times a week or more and three-quarters says a few times a month or more regularly.

“Going further, when asked about cooperating for a communal good – like conservation of electricity or water – 70% of city residents thought that it was likely or very likely that people within the community would cooperate. However, 75% of those in the suburbs and small cities thought the same. In rural areas, the number was comparable at 74%.

“Relatedly, 47% or urban dwellers and 49% of suburbanites very much or pretty much share the same values and that figure climbs to 59% for those in rural areas – which often lack the sidewalk infrastructure of community but claim to share more values. So, it is clear that urban areas are not on the vanguard of community relationships and cohesion despite the far greater likelihood of sidewalk interactions and Jacob’s idea that cities have “built-in equipment allowing strangers to dwell in peace together.”

“While sentiments about one’s community shed light on Jacob’s ideas about the import of physical structures promoting tolerance and appreciation for difference, it is valuable to examine network diversity as well. The SCS has a battery of items which ask about social network composition on a number of dimensions. The data, like before, demonstrate that those living in dense cities generally do not enjoy more diverse networks compared to their suburban counterparts.

“More specifically, the survey asks, “Of the people you interact with most regularly in your community, how many of them do you believe have different political views/religious views/are of a different race or ethnicity from yours/have a different educational level from you?”

“It turns out that it’s, if anything, the core city dwellers who inhabit a “bubble” lacking in diversity. When looking at political views, 51% of those in urban areas maintain that half or more of those in their community hold different political views from their own. Rural areas come in at 50% while the figure jumps to 57% for suburbs and 58% for small towns and cities. As for education, 63% of urbanites state that about half or more of those that they regularly interact with in their community have a different level of education than they do. The figure increases for every other spatial arrangement where 66% of those in rural areas have more diverse networks based on educational attainment. The figures are even larger at 69% for small towns and cities and even higher at 73% for the suburbs. This makes it quite clear that cities, despite their built environments, are not creating more diverse communities and networks as far as politics and educational levels are concerned.”

Retrieved February 4, 2020 from

Posted in Uncategorized

Climate Change, An Important Update

A good article from E&E News about the uncertainty in the field.

An excerpt.

“One of the most fundamental questions in climate research asks the following: What will the world look like when we reach a certain point of warming?

“How will it change after 2 degrees? 4 degrees? Even warmer?

“More than a decade ago, scientists designed a set of hypothetical scenarios to help them model the climate. Their goal was to answer these very questions. Each scenario assumes a different level of future greenhouse gas emissions and global carbon dioxide concentrations, translating to different levels of warming.

“The mildest scenario assumes a bold effort globally to reduce emissions over the coming decades where global temperatures would rise only about 2 degrees Celsius above their preindustrial levels through the end of the century. Several intermediate scenarios assume slightly higher levels of warming. And the most severe trajectory, which presumes that emissions will grow throughout this century, could result in as much as 5 degrees C — that’s about 9 degrees Fahrenheit — of additional global warming by the year 2100.

“These scenarios have been used in thousands of climate studies since they were first developed.

“Now there may be a problem with one of them. The most severe climate scenario of the bunch might be so extreme that it’s no longer a likely outcome, experts say.

“In one sense, that’s good news for the world. It means that the most extreme visions of the future, outlined in climate studies over the years, probably won’t come to pass.

“But it also suggests that climate scientists may want to rethink the way they conduct modeling studies moving forward.

“According to some experts, presenting the public with unreasonable climate scenarios could hurt global efforts to address climate change. It could suggest that global climate targets, like the goals of the Paris Agreement, are less achievable than they actually are.

“That’s one concern outlined in a comment published yesterday in Nature by University of California, Berkeley, climate scientist Zeke Hausfather and climate policy expert Glen Peters, research director at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway.

“The scenario in question — dubbed Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5, or RCP8.5 — is often referred to in climate studies as a “business-as-usual” trajectory. In other words, it’s framed as the outcome the world will experience if current conditions are allowed to continue into the future, with no future climate policy enacted.

“But that’s not actually the case, the authors argue.

“We still have a huge lift to go to get warming below 2 degrees,” Hausfather said in an interview with E&E News. “But at the same time, we’ve started to exclude some of the truly catastrophic outcomes of high-end warming.”

“The worst-case scenario, RCP8.5, was originally intended “to explore an unlikely high-risk future,” the authors say. The dangerous outcomes outlined in this scenario would require extreme emissions of future greenhouse gases, the sort that would probably have to be driven by massive expansions in global coal consumption over the coming decades.

“When the pathways were developed, that grim future was still a potential concern.

“If we go back to when the scenario was developed in 2007, what was happening in the world of energy — we saw China building up coal combustion, building an unbelievable number of coal plants,” said Justin Ritchie, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia, whose research has focused on the likelihood of high-end emissions scenarios.

“The question was, what if that continued?” Ritchie said. “If that continued for 90-plus years, then you get RCP8.5.”

“It was a possible, although extreme, scenario to begin with. But in the years since, Ritchie notes, a combination of global commitments to the Paris Agreement and changes in the global energy landscape have made this scenario much more unlikely.

“Under these present-day conditions — what might be more accurately considered the new “business as usual” — most experts estimate the world is on track for global warming in the realm of about 3 degrees C. That’s significantly less than the warming implied by RCP8.5.

“This doesn’t mean that the models used by climate scientists are wrong or can’t be trusted. On the contrary, research suggests that climate models generally do a good job of predicting how the world will respond to given amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

“If global carbon emissions really reached the levels implied by RCP8.5, the models probably do a good job of projecting how the earth system would respond. The comment simply suggests that this particular emissions scenario — the assumptions fueling the most extreme model projections — are probably no longer plausible.”

Retrieved January 30, 2020 from

Posted in Environmentalism