First breakout session. The choices: Energy; Water, Waste & Air; Natural Environments; Built Environments. Food sytstems, strangely, aren’t explicitly on the list.
I’ve been assigned to Water, Waste & Air, where, wouldn’t you know it, we’re talking about (food systems) strangely absent from the “official” list — as the other groups hopefully will too.
Dave Hammond observed that “waste” water (sorry, I just can’t write the word “waste” without quotes around it) contains water + nutrients + energy from which value can be reclaimed. My response: green plants do that, and need to be at the heart of this conversation — bracketed by the biological water demand of the 400-800 inhabitants of the block, and the ambient water regime (precipitation & evapo-transpiration) of the site.
Some scale questions: are we looking at a single “block” (rectangular dwelling pattern in rectilinear street grid); are we considering multi-block combinations to gain appropriate economies of scale (“Jackhammer up the street, Ma, we’re planting spelt!”); or (and) do we inescapably need to assume resource imports and exports from outlying areas (and thus a larger ecological footprint for the “block”)?
What are the parameters? Diane Dale of MBDC William McDonough + Partners suggests “balance” — but what does that mean in this context? Certainly not the historic Owens Valley – Los Angeles – Pacific Ocean system; probably not the bounded-by-the block system. So we’ll need to define “balance”. And stress (Jane Byrd’s observation) reintegrating city function with local ecosystem function.
Sergio Palleroni is thinking about the cultural ecology of engaging residents in understand what they’ve got and how they want it to work — the performance goals they’re trying to optimize — which brings my mind to the power of generative feedback (through sustainability dashboards) to let people know how they’re doing (“The Proof is in the Prius!”) and provide a shared platform for the block and city democratic process.
Back to Hammond, who’s talking about anaerobic waste water digestion. But what about aquaculture systems to do the same? No explicit energy output — but potentially significant energy offsets from not having to import that protein from elsewhere. How do we “optimize” among apparently mutually conflicting choices — e.g. for open space on the block? (Perhaps by aquaculture-in-the-basement, as we were exploring at Self-Reliance 30+ years ago.)
Sergio: Austin, with “the most aggressive energy program in the country,” plans to build no new power plants, and focus on distributed generation — but they’re finding that protecting trees may have more net benefit that aggressive PV, urban ag, or other “green” strategies. (And speaking of integration, he observes that KaoShiung and Taichung, China, is promoting organic farming at the core of city blocks — working with regional farmers who want to keep farming as the city expands.)
OK, that’s it for the moment; we’re rotating.

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