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AQ Feature

Rethinking Buildings

A different way to look at resource and waste management.
Downtown Philadelphia in June 2006, submerged under the flooded Delaware River. Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty

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Cities are concentrations of people, buildings and activity. Infrastructure helps knit all of the pieces together and delivers essential services. The traditional infrastructure that supplies many of these services consists of a centralized, fixed-point service facility and a delivery network. Think energy (power plant and transmission wires), water (reservoir and pipes) and sewers (wastewater treatment plant and more pipes). Buildings and their occupants have largely been passive service recipients and end users at the ends of these spokes.

The rising need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare cities to manage the challenges of extreme weather is beginning to turn this historical construct on its head. Technological developments, such as advances in photovoltaics and big data, offer a way to address environmental concerns by thinking of buildings as energy producers or stormwater managers. When applied in the aggregate across the urban landscape, they are potentially not only a more environmentally friendly substitute for some modes of traditional infrastructure, but a more economical one as well.

A case in point is Philadelphia.  The city’s storm- water system, like many systems around the U.S., is conjoined with sewage. In other words, rainfall and sewage are collected together and the resulting mix is channeled to a sewage treatment plant.  More intense rainfalls mean more water entering the system, potentially overwhelming the capacity of the sewage treatment plant...

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: infrastructure planning, sustainable cities



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