Energy Planning for a Sustainable Future

One of the many duties that Urban Planners have, and probably the most significant, is to create healthy and sustainable communities. In order for the modern world to progress, the promotion of new energy strategies is a necessity. Therefore, Energy Planning must be factored into all decisions involving transportation, industry, agriculture, and electricity. Although “peak oil” seems afar off, that does not mean that we should right it off as if it were not a present danger. Peak oil is still a matter of major concern and should start being addressed as if it were a problem today, now. Future generations are relying on us to be altruistic. Thus, “Contemporary Urban Planning”, lists strategies that can be taken to conserve energy and lists them into four general categories: Land-use planning, changes in building characteristics, changes in transportation, and community energy sources. I will be addressing the following: land use planning, changes in transportation and building characteristics.

A land-use planning strategy that can be used is encouraging mixed-use development. Probably the greatest fueler to global climate change and oil depletion has to be suburban sprawl. Suburban sprawl has caused people to fill up their gas tanks time and time again to sustain their long distance travelings between residential and commercial destinations. The best way to combat suburban sprawl is to limit distances travels via automobile. This can be done through mixed-use development. For example, the merging of residential and commercial can decrease commuting and shopping distances, by making the destinations, such as, residential and commercial, accessible by foot, elevator and/or stairs. It also allows shoppers to live and play conveniently within walking distance, which is ecologically friendly and free.Image result for mixed-use developments

Transportation is the largest single user of petroleum, consuming more than half of petroleum quads in the United States. This is the reason why Levy lists changes in transportation as a category. One of the strategies that he explains can be utilized by planners to conserve energy is separating light rails, bicycle lanes, and automobile lanes. This therefore makes other forms of transportation more safe therefore encouraging people to leave their cars at home and take the light rail or bicycle. Davis, California, is a prime example of this. Davis, CA, has designated 25 percent of all passenger miles to bicycle lanes.Image result for davis california

Levy also lists Changing Building Characteristics as a category. The strategy listed with this category is encouraging row housing, rather than free standing single-family units. The way that this strategy conserves energy is by reducing the amount of energy used in heating buildings — it reduces the amount of surface exposure to the elements outside. Connecting houses together leaves no room for heat to escape to the outside, instead it confines heat to only the inside of that home. Another is making buildings that face the south on streets that run east and west so that buildings can retain the maximum amount of solar exposure. A “green code” could be mandate solar panels in such neighborhoods so that such solar exposure can be captured and used.Related image


Comprehensive Planning

My inspiration for planning and design comes from my family. My father is a home builder and my mother used to be an interior designer and is now a real estate agent. Growing up my sister and I have always been on their job sites as well as watching and helping our parents pick designs and other elements for the homes.

When a new job site was starting we were used to seeing so many different plans before one was finally built. My sister and I always assumed they had just been different options our parents were considering, but as we grew older our parents explained to us how they were all different versions of the same plan. They told us how each town had their own set of rules and what was and wasn’t allowed to be built.

As I got even older and more interested in the field my father further explained to me about how the changes and such were due to rejections from the planning board due to violations with zoning or other town ordinances; like we learned about in chapter 8.


Recently my father has started building a new home. His original plan was for a home that was 3,500 square feet on a 100 x 100-foot lot. The town rejected it due to the fact that the towns FAR ratio only allowed for 30% of the lot to have the home on it; meaning it could only be 3,000 square feet. However, the town told my father of an environmental clause (as he worded it) that would allow for the home to be 3,300 square feet instead of the normal 3,000. If he was to bring back a plan that had a porch with columns and stone detail instead of a basic square porch, used concrete siding instead of vinyl, and a few other changes, he would be approved for the 3,300 square foot home.

My takeaway from all of this has been that as a contractor, or anyone in the building and development profession, it is very important to know all of the town’s ordinances that you are working in. By knowing and understanding everything the municipality has in place will allow you the quickest and easiest route to a finished project.

Environmental Planning, The tragedy of the commons

When planners, engineers, designers, economists, politicians and scientists look to the future and what it will bring us, environmental protection historically has been at the bottom of the list.  With twenty first century advances and technology comes problems stemming from neglect of the natural environment and the systems that we rely so heavily on.

When we look at environmental protection the theme of “the tragedy of the commons: arises.  imagine a village field where anyone can graze his animals for free.  Ultimately the commons here being the field are destroyed because of its overuse.  If we blow up this analogy to a greater scale we would see that atmosphere and the worlds oceans as the commons.  We see that the organizations that commits the environmental damage either faces a fraction of the cost of damages or faces no costs at all.  Acting out of self interest mainly for profits results in the over use of certain resources we take for granted.

This tradition can go on no further and measures must be taken to insure a better, more sustainable tomorrow.  Planners are adopting LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental design) practices for new development projects.  It is a rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage market transformation towards sustainable design.  I personally like this a lot because of its point calculating method. Imagine getting a scorecard or a grade for that matter based on your proposed development. 

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New Jersey has adopted these practices more and more over the years and has the capacity to become a leader across the United States when it comes to more sustainable design.    LEED As New Jersey’s leading authoritative resource for environmental, economic and high-performance elements of sustainable green buildings and communities, USGBC-NJ is proud to be home to so many LEED projects. As of March 2015, New Jersey has nearly 430 LEED certified projects and almost 1,500 LEED registered projects on tap. There are also over 2,500 certified LEED For Homes right here in NJ.

Implementing these practices as standard will assure that the future of how our communities are built will coincide with our values for protecting the natural world.  Adopting these methods are not enough to solve the problems society is facing with global climate change but, it does provide a massive stepping stone in the right direction for how ready New Jersey will be facing these problems.

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Local economic development, unemployment and migration

Economic development is integral for cities, counties, states, regions, and countries. To put it in simplest terms, more economic development means better wages, less unemployment, better quality of life, better for markets to grow.  But, according to Levy author of Contemporary Urban planning, economic development decreases unemployment far less than people theoretically perceive.  Spurring economic development in a city will indeed lower unemployment for local populations but, also the immigration of people looking to get these new jobs also increases.  The immigration of people to a new area may be a detriment to locals seeking to apply themselves to a new business in town.  Also getting these often large companies and corporations to stay in a city may be a daunting task as well.

Here we examine historical economic development efforts and how they play out in reality.  Boeing the aircraft manufacturer based out of Seattle, Washington came into trouble with its workers union back in February 2014, the Boeing company employs nearly 60,000 workers in Seattle.  Boeing wanted to switch to a 401K retirement plan from their traditional pension plan.  The dispute was so acrimonious that the company threatened to pack up and relocate to a “right to work state.” The results of the tension between workers and Boeing was a 8.7 billion dollar tax break to Boeing from now until 2040 contingent on the fact that they keep manufacturing of certain aircraft in Seattle.   The tax breaks given helped to secure the jobs of 60,000 employees, a noble move by the state looking out for its workers.

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If we examine the city of Newark and its current bid to attract Amazon to come to the garden state, can we expect similar types of deals to be made?  I believe so, The positives out weight the negatives for these situations. A city like Seattle can’t afford for 60,000 jobs to over night disappear.   The immediate and long term impacts of such a move has the capacity to disrupt local economies and send them into a downward spiral of unemployment and depression.  In the case of Newark, if amazon was to start construction of its facility I would imagine a huge revitalization of the surrounding area of development.  A better downtown, improved education, and better infrastructure.  It would be evident that unemployment would decrease in the area but how much?  Newark being location in the greater New York metropolitan area we would for sure see an increased migration of people seeking to be hired from internet Giant Amazon.   Ultimately it would depend if Amazon chooses Newark to base a headquarters but regardless if it does or not these issues will exist wherever they decide to set up camp.


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Green Infrastructer

With the increase of climate change, cities all around the world have started implementing new and exciting ways to plan for these environmental issues. We have seen the catastrophic results that come with the change in climate and if we don’t do anything soon the problem will just get worse. Many cities have slowly shifted to become greener but I feel that not enough has been done. We still depend too much on cars that emit toxic greenhouse gasses, and our cities are just simply not able to keep up with the number of toxins we put in the air. One city, however, has made great strides to make sure that their future is as sustainable as can be. This city is Berlin.1320_effects-image

In the Rummelsburg section of Berlin, they have made the shift towards what is called a sponge city. In a sponge city, buildings and infrastructure are designed so that the city itself can mimic nature. When it rains, the city actually absorbs the water instead of relying on a sewer system to get the rain out of the area. All of the buildings in the area are topped with green roofs, green walls, and swales that aid in absorbing and making sure the water evaporates in the city. Once this water evaporates, it cools down the city drastically by providing a natural cool breeze which reduces the amount of air conditioning in the city.



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Urban Design (Battery park NYC)

As stated by Levy in the book Contemporary Urban Design, “Urban design falls between the professions of planning and Architecture.  It deals with the large scale organization and design of the city, with the massing and organization of buildings and the space between them, but not with the design of the individual buildings.”

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What this says to me is more about how people occupy and use a space opposed to how buildings are constructed.  The author uses the case of Battery park, New York City to illustrate some principals of his quote.  Battery park City is an infilled area (1976) on the south western part of Manhattan.  The area represents a successful urban design effort to integrate living space, commercial space, retail space, and recreational space.  I personally lived in Battery park for one year in 2000 my building was Liberty View.  Spending one year of my life as a child here was a unique experience, from the rest of New York City.  The area offered a river walk which is lined with parks, open spaces, water features & fountains, and plenty of places to recreate.  I remember having my 8th birthday in one of these parks where friends from school came to celebrate and play games in the open space.  The area was incredibly green for being in New York City, people would be rollerblading, exercising, walking, fishing, sunbathing, you name it.  Even though I was 8 years old my parents would grant me permission to walk the river walk by myself and without a cell phone.  The area was incredibly safe and well kept, with security always near riding bicycles and waste receptacles always in site.

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Compared to the rest of New York battery park was a bubble, the Battery was gleaming with life and positive energy.  But venturing out of the battery as an 8 year old was worrying.  The battery felt like a community where people were looking out for you but, the rest of New York did not have the same feeling.  It was scary venturing out because immediately you notice the loss of vegetation and the unbroken concrete and steal dominants the public view.  People’s attitudes reflected the change of scenery, people would walk straight into me “a child” and I remember losing  items from my pockets.  The fumes from industry and cars were nauseating and noise from all the hustle and bustle dominated the landscape.

Battery park was a stupendous place to live in New York City, the design itself had an influence on people’s behavior, and well being.  The layout of the buildings was visually stimulating and interesting.  The area was well though out from the perspective of the pedestrian, with a focus on paths and bike lanes and green spaces in between.  I haven’t lived in other areas of New York City but, my time spent at the Battery was hopeful, healthy and fun.

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Future of Transportation in the United States


As a future urban planner, there are many aspects of city planning that interests me greatly. One of those aspects is transportation. Throughout history, you can see how many different modes of transportation have been used and the direct effect these have had on the economy and the citizens. When railway technology took over the east coast, people swarmed to these areas due to the sheer economic development that came along with this fairly simple way of traveling. After World War II, however, things took a turn for what I believe is the worst. Traveling by car became the number one method of travel, which still holds true to this day. Major cities became blighted and people that relocated to the suburbs were separated from everything.

In the United States, around 86% of people rely on private vehicles to commute to work18kxxtwxg4952jpg and other places. While car ownership has been declining nationwide, it’s still at a staggering 91%. This overdependence on cars leaves our roads and highways overcrowded, dilapidated, and just overall inefficient. In Contemporary Urban Planning, John M Levy states that postwar suburbanization and the increase in car ownership were complementary phenomena. Widespread automobile ownership facilitates suburbanization and on the other hand, moving from the city to suburbs increases one’s need for an automobile. This has caused the U.S to suffer when it comes to public transportation.crowded-highway_1024xx2896-1629-0-158

Transportation and overall infrastructure in the U.S need a major overhaul. Due to the overdependence on cars, people felt no need to use transportation systems and unless you live in a major city like New York, you won’t receive a decent rail system. Many systems in place fail to provide a safe method of travel for people. Over the past couple of years, there have been numerous train derailments which have led to multiple fatalities. As the years’ progress, however, we see more technology being innovated that can change transportation for the better.

Even though a lot of issues need to be tackled when it comes to implementing a new robust nationwide transportation system, I am incredibly excited for what the future holds. Elon Musk has been one of the biggest proponents of new methods of travel. His plan, the Hyperloop System, will completely revolutionize transportation in the U.S. With this new system, users will travel around not by rail, but by tubes. This new concept would be able to move passengers from city to city, state to state, or even country to country at a fraction of the cost of air travel.


While it might be a while before this is steadily available in throughout the country, I feel that the Hyperloop system is what transportation should aim to be like in the future. Imagine being able to live in New York and getting to Los Angeles in less than hours. With the Hyperloop system, this is possible. I imagine a future where stations are spread out throughout the states and users can simply hop on and travel with no worries.shutterstock_532978147



Police power and Eminent domain

I can see that the government plays a key deciding role in how land use is allocated across urban and suburban environments. An example illustrating the issue dates back to 1887 in a court case Mugler v Kansas where a brewery was forced to close its doors. The local governments decided that the brewery was not in the interest of the public regarding health and well being. The local governments exercised police power to close the brewery without compensation for the owner of said business. If the government body decided to use eminent domain the business owner would need to be compensated for the taking of his privately owned business but, that was simply not the case.

A man by the name of Edward M. Bassett was regarded as the father of “zoning” here in the united states, and zoning was indeed useful and necessary for the growth of early cities.  Early buildings in Manhattan after elevators became popular would be built like children’s  building blocks, boxy and with no setbacks.  These buildings were right up against the streets and would permanently eclipse adjacent buildings in perpetual shade.  This action was leading to major losses in capitol for adjacent buildings.  The results from this complaints forced the institution of setbacks as the building increased in height, allowing for sunlight to reach ground level around a tapered spear of the top of a building.  This building design is still seen today in older and newer buildings in Manhattan.

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In 1926 we saw a famous court case the city of Eucild v Amber realty.  In this court case we saw the village of Euclid deny the Amber realty company permission to build a commercial structure in a residential zone.  The court ruled in favor of Euclid, and following the court case municipal governments expanded the power of municipalities to zone and regulate the use of property and privately owned land.  Another court case pertaining to zoning would not be brought up for another 50 years.

It is important to realize that privately owned land is beneficial to local governments for collecting taxes to increase revenue for city spending.  There must be a balance between what a private owner of land can do with his property as long as it falls within what the city deems worthy for land use, business, public health etc.  The over regulation and strictness of certain zoning can be deeply detrimental to private business.  Zoning needs to become for fluid with an emphasis on more mixed use buildings.  And local governments should force private developers to incorporate LEED practices to make a better more sustainable city for the future.

The 4th Regional Plan and New Jersey

As much as individual projects play an integral role in developing our regions as parts, regional plans themselves (and other plans of increasing scale) are also essential to  providing a larger scope for future endeavors. These regional plans lay out the framework for what many would consider to be a higher standard of development and planning for the rest of the region they cover. The philosophies implanted in these ideas can help serve planners in the future in creating a better vision for their locales.’s depiction of the Tri-state area and focal points

Previously, the Third Regional plan dated from 1996 was of a similar scope; enhance transit services and protect open spaces. The Fourth Regional Plan is extensive and ambitious, covering the area of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut (the focus of the Regional Planning Association or RPA). It cites values of equity, health, prosperity, and sustainability. A large part of this plan has specified efforts towards the repair and improvement of existing facilities and services to the public. This is an essential area of concern; rarely is there sufficient resources for a complete rebuild from the ground up of. Of course on a large scale, the core elements of this plan all involve redevelopment of entire municipalities and counties.

Additionally, the plan extensively references situations regarding climate change and ecological issues. Seeing as the issue of global warming has skyrocketed in the past two decades, it is beneficial that this plan can make ends meet with its proposals. By instilling “green” ways of thinking and development on a larger scale, this influence can hopefully trickle down to smaller localities in their own planning endeavors.

The nine locations focused on by the plan

Another core element of this plan is the planned redevelopment of the Northeast Corridor, among other components of mass transit. Fortunately in this part of the nation, the rail and road systems are decently supplanted and see frequent use, but the seemingly eternal issues of congestion and delays have wrecked havoc upon commuters of virtually any area. As a student with an interest in transportation, this subject matter fascinates me extensively, and I would be very interested to see what is in store in the coming decades for this region. Subways, bus terminals, city streets, and of course rail are some of the many areas covered under this plan. This naturally impacts regions beyond the Tri-state area also, as rail and air travel have existed largely as focal points in this region of the nationwide network of transport.

Regional planning offers us insight and perspective as to what our future may look like as inhabitants of New Jersey. It is undoubtedly a far more difficult and seemingly insurmountable task to try and plan an entire region as opposed to just a small town. Nevertheless, there is still a necessity for such a plan to exist, for without a bigger picture in mind there will be significantly more discontent among the people. We can hopefully aspire to see plans like this ignite a passion in the rest of us planners to help shape the future of our work.


Affordable Housing in Lawrenceville

Lawrence township, in Mercer county, is a center-point of the county. It is within easy reach of areas of mass transit and business such as Trenton and Hamilton, as well as popular areas to visit such as Princeton and Hopewell. Covering 22 square miles of land, the township is a fairly large diverse mixture of rural and suburban development. The unincorporated community of Lawrenceville is home to several communities and is commonly used to refer to parts of the township as a whole. One of the projects currently in the works for the township is the affordable housing in specified areas for people falling into specific income brackets.

Photo of Laurie Chauncey Trail in January


This is in effect, a form of growth limitation, enables the township to retain refined control over people who are persistent with living there, but fall into a particular level of income that would be otherwise disadvantageous to them. It does however, also enable there to be some growth as well; the township benefits from having this housing occupied financially for small businesses as well as larger ones.

This program appeals to both purchasers and renters, with many units available for outright purchase. Several of these units are also age restricted, which further refines the availability to the population. Lawrence Township as a whole is generally considered to be a fairly desirable place to live in, featuring a diverse landscape and many benefits of a higher income area (comparable to Princeton).

We learned about the impacts of urban sprawl as well as growth limitation in New Jersey extensively in this class. At best, it can be described as a necessary balance that should be maintained at the satisfaction of those personally and financially involved in the area. It is near impossible to find a “perfect” solution that is 100% equitable for all parties, but one can still make strides in the right direction with thoughtful and comprehensive planning. Lawrence Township is a good example of this; covering a diverse range of incomes but still providing housing to those who desire it. Additionally, the township maintains a strong preservation of farms and historic land that has land-marked the community.

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Eagles Chase community near Franklin Corner Rd. in Lawrenceville. One of several affiliated with the affordable housing program.