Cities are planning for the future. And, in the future, collaboration will be key to sustainability.
By Amy Seidman
When looking at the landscape of climate change in the literal sense, we are faced with the advent of severe weather cycles, destructive storms like Hurricane Sandy and rising sea levels threatening to consume vast areas. City and state planners have their work cut out and are using technology to discover future crisis scenarios and their solutions.
At VERGE in San Francisco, techniques using digital mapping were shown by the City of Vancouver as an effective means to identify where to address climate change. They were able to use technology to map heat problem spots (heat exhaustion or heat stroke is a rising cause of death in urban areas). By being able to "see" scenarios, the City of Vancouver was able to strategically plant thousands of trees to offset temperature rise and curb overheating.
In addition to extreme heat planning, flood risk assessment is a big part of green infrastructure to mitigate risk. This includes the City of Vancouver modifying urban design to accommodate rising ocean levels. This shift may include zoning laws requiring new buildings in coastal regions to be built three feet off the ground.
A 3D View
How has Vancouver been able to identify the dizzying number of changes to be made, and then narrow them down to an actionable to-do list? By combining intricate scans of the city, called lidar, with data to create digital visualization scenarios. Lidar is a detailed laser scan enabling a 3D view of a city within inches including size of trees, altitudes and nuances for the low cost of about $100k. It does this using a remote sensor that measures distance by illuminating the target with a laser.
By seeing where flood areas are through digital visualization, urban planners can more accurately project where they need to build, what areas to fill, where to dig canals and other proactive changes to mitigate the flooding they believe will occur. For any smart urban planner, lidar scans are proving to be a must-have to prevent disaster scenarios.
Not having visualization tools can result in ineffective building and investments – and equate to millions, if not billions, of losses. Prior to the current data visualization methods, the City of Vancouver spent over $10 million on a new seawall that was damaged in the last major storm. If they had used these tools, they could have anticipated this issue and built the wall a few feet higher.
Yet, disaster abatement is much more than seeing a seawall; it’s about developing an integrated system to allow cities to continue to function in the event of natural disasters. Floods touch every part of a city. In the case of sewage overflow, pumps can't handle more than the little overflow they were designed to process during a storm. In the case of flooding, the infrastructure that exists today just doesn't cut it.
California Adapts for Climate Change, Too
The State of California is also interested in risk mitigation and investing in preventative approaches. California is now exploring how to manage the costs and effects to coastal real estate. Places where rivers meet the ocean are exceptionally vulnerable, requiring higher walls or redesigning with floods in mind. Sea level rise data developed in collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences is one tool the State of California is using to provide rules of thumb to guide regulations to address floods.
Since the effects of Hurricane Sandy, local government has had a sober view about the possible fallout of insurance companies to meet possible disaster impact. The City of San Francisco is also taking a more detailed look at how different funds will address the economic impacts of flooding.
Being able to look at climate change within specific communities enables government to also see where attention is needed. Extreme heat days for inland communities like Riverside are a much greater issue there than in Vancouver, as it’s hotter and there is less water. And, flooding does present a huge risk for coastal communities. With 12 million more people moving to urban areas in the next decade, emissions are another important consideration.
Zero emissions is the mandate for public transportation and energy in California. The fact that we will see the effects of climate change for thousands of years to come, California is getting aggressive to accomplish transformational change as part of its current mandate so we don't go down a path of no return.
Planning for The Future Based on The Future
The state level of engagement includes a long list and variety of action plans for adaptation, collaborative thinking, as well as a distinct paradigm shift in the planning process. Rather than planning for the future based on the past, they are "planning for the future based on the future."
Funding is scant, and that’s not good news. Private entities such as The Kresge Foundation have been the biggest regional supporters in California, by truly stepping up to the plate. The recent Cap and Trade law has revenue coming into the State of California, but can only be used for efficiency versus adaptation.
Regional areas will address the bulk of adaptation, and part of their goal is to provide as much information as possible to allow for planning. As a result an information network is being created with regional collectives to stop overlap. These efforts to share knowledge show that adaptation and resiliency should be the new focus for government, and collaboration will continue to be critical in addressing these goals.
Regional organizations addressing climate change:
Special thanks to GreenBiz for VERGE and other conferences happening globally to help illuminate our paths to sustainability.
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