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Disruptive ideas we're reading about

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/04/12 @ 2:27pm

Zoning is often thought to have saved cities, but American zoning fueled sprawl and left a legacy of wasteful cities, Emily Talen writes in her book, City Rules: How regulations affect urban form.

When zoning first came on the scene in the early 20th century, it was easy to read (some city codes were 8-pages long). It struck a balance between mixed uses and moving cars. But over the years, zoning was made complicated. Cities kept adding more features-like minimum parking requirments-which cleared space for big boxes. Or building 'set backs' that made it possible to window shop from a speeding car. The balance between making every day uses accessible for people in their neighborhood was lost.

"American cities are now saddled with rules that work against the formation of compact, diverse, walkable, urban places," Talen writes. "In twenty-first century America, there is wide agreement that a new approach to city building is sorely needed. Cities need to be less wasteful and more efficient, less land consumptive and more compact, less dispiriting and more vital."

Rethinking the path materials take as they flow through our economy is the idea behind the Zero Waste movement. Locally, we have a great example of reuse in Zerolandfill Cleveland, which has connected literally tons of architectural samples with artists and schools for supplies. In Pittsburgh, a new Zero Waste Certification was launched for businesses. Zero Waste Pittsburgh leads you through the process-from understanding what's in your trash to how it can be donated or repurposed (sometimes for cash).

Ohio's electric power industry blows an estimated $17.6 billion a year up the smokestack. Policy Matters Ohio says we can capture that economic potential. In its report on combined heat and power (CHP), it recommends capturing and recycling energy waste for use in the manufacturing sector. An added bonus: It could prevent tons of pollution from entering the air we breathe.

Increasing CHP by 10% would be like taking 2.3 million cars off the road, they write. "Kudos to Gov. Kasich for making CHP a priority in his energy plan; unfortunately, his approach would remove incentives for using wind and solar power, so we recommend a CHP carve-out (from Ohio's Advanced Energy Portfolio Standard) that would not get in the way of investment in other renewables."

As the city of Cleveland Heights prepares to join Cleveland as leaders in the local food security movement by allowing chickens and bee keeping, the New York Times' timely article looks at the new chicken or egg question: What urban farmers are doing with their bounty of eggs?

We can imagine (and maybe should start preparing for) a time when urban and suburban farmers will need to band together in co-ops to basket their bounty and sell it to local restaurants.

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