City Living and Urban Retrofitting

Advancements in the green construction industry have enabled many new buildings to reduce their impact on the world around them. Yet reaching sustainability goals in cities will hardly be met by constructing all new buildings.

Much promise lies in what is called “urban retrofitting,” or the process of redesigning the existing infrastructure in a city to be more sustainable.

The Zion Tower in downtown Salt Lake City is currently undergoing reskinnging. PhotoL Downtownrising.com

The Zion Tower in downtown Salt Lake City is currently undergoing an exterior re-skinning. Photo: Downtownrising.com

The U.S. Green Building Council has recognized that already occupied and operational buildings are a key to reaching sustainability goals for cities. With its LEED-Existing Building: Operations and Maintenance certification, older buildings can earn recognition for their greening efforts.

And because cities bring people together and have amenities all in one place, urbanites have a smaller carbon footprint than rural residents, according to a study by the Brookings Institute. Additionally, for the first time in history, more people live in cities than live in rural areas.

These two effects make the greening of cities a way to impact a large amount of people in a concentrated area, with the potential to leave more land and more resources undisturbed.

Some initial green improvements in cities include improving existing public transit, promoting urban infill (as opposed to urban sprawl) and promoting pedestrian activities.

According to Michael Fitzgerald of the Boston Globe, other initiatives already underway around the world include:

  • Bike sharing- These programs allow people to pick up a bike at various locations for one-way rides throughout a city.
  • Smart grid- This technology would allow for energy-guzzling household appliances to be identified and managed efficiently, as well as promote pricing schemes that discourages energy consumption during peak hours.
  • Mobility hubs- These stations are used to better connect public transit options so that people can get around the city more conveniently without a personal vehicle.
  • Re-skinning buildings- By adding new thermal covers to reverse concrete’s tendency to trap heat in the summer and release it during the winter, energy costs can be significantly lowered in existing buildings.

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