Interstate highway 45 is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey seen during widespread flooding in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Richard Carson - RTX3DKUO

The Impacts of Heavy Rainfall on the Environment

The recent rain events this past week caused extreme flash flooding throughout the Northeast region. Parkways, streets, and metro or subway stations in New York, Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Massachusetts flooded leaving motorists, pedestrians, and commuters stranded and exposed to horrid conditions. I have become worrisome, not particularly of the increase in the intensity and frequency of torrential downpours, but of our current incapacity and mismanagement to handle all of this water. Every time we face intense rain, I have to think to myself: What towns or streets will face flooding? Who would want to walk through a transit system with murky water past their ankles with absolutely no knowledge of what bacteria or toxins lurk in that water? How much more can our water systems take from the toxic materials and untreated wastewater due to outdated infrastructures and sewer systems? Are we really placing public and environmental health, safety, and the quality of life for all as a top priority? Climate change has brought an increase of rain intensity and frequency. Rainfall intensity is the measure of the amount of rain that falls during a period of time while rainfall frequency is the amount of times it rains during a specified period of years. An increase in air and water temperature brings an increase of precipitation.  But we cannot isolate climate change, we must also pay close attention to the factors that it engages with. I can certainly name a few: presence of impervious surfaces, lack of greenspaces, outdated infrastructures and sewer systems. All of these factors exacerbate flooding and can be detrimental to our water systems.

Impervious Surfaces…

The large surface area of impervious surfaces like roads, parking lots, and roofs, that have replaced our natural landscape, do not allow water to infiltrate into the ground and speeds up the process of rainwater runoff entering the drainage systems. The runoff and the pollutants collected from impervious surfaces are either turning into floods or entering our water systems at a faster rate than it can be managed.

Lack of Greenspaces…

This kind of ties in with impervious surfaces. I think it’s safe to say that the more impervious surfaces we create, the less access to greenspace we have. Greenspace is extremely crucial. It provides benefits such as reducing and filtering polluted stormwater runoff, reducing soil erosion, and improving air quality. When we lack greenspace, we have to deal with a lot of preventable challenges. With a lack of soil and vegetation to absorb and filter the rainfall, we experience flooding and overloaded sewers. With a lack of vegetation, we experience an increase in air temperature (Note what I stated earlier about the effects of an increase in air temperature).

Outdated Infrastructures and Sewer Systems…

The outdated infrastructures and the combined sewer systems were built only to hold a certain capacity of rainfall. In addition, transit systems and roadways aren’t effectively updated or repaired. Poor management leads our infrastructures to dilapidate and become swamps. In the recent floods, water leaked through the concrete vaulted ceilings of the WMATA Capitol South metro station. In a few of New York’s subway stations, water entered through the ceiling and stairways flooding the stations. Combined sewer systems are typically found in older cities. When the capacity of the system is surpassed, the untreated wastewater and stormwater runoff flows into our waterways or can back up into buildings through the pipes or overflow from the storm drains onto the streets.

 

GW Parkway

Flooding on the George Washington Memorial Parkway

GW Parkway at DCA

Flooding on the George Washington Memorial Parkway

Martha Custis Drive in Parkfairfax

Flooded street on Martha Custis Drive in Parkfairfax, Virginia

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Water leaking through concrete vaulted ceiling in Capitol South Metro Station, WMATA

Capitol South Metro

Flooding conditions in Capitol South Metro Station, WMATA

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Flooding conditions in NYC Subway Station, MTA

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Flooding conditions in NYC Subway Station, MTA

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Flooding conditions in NYC Subway Station, MTA

Now What…

With climate change there will be an increase of storm intensity and frequency, but how do we plan and design for worsening conditions? As the climate changes we must adapt our habits, the way we design, and our management of infrastructure. Stormwater management practices are used to reduce stormwater runoff, control flooding, reduce erosion, and improve water quality. These practices include green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), flood control reservoirs, and tunnels (SMART Tunnel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the Deep Tunnel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin addresses flash flooding and stores millions of gallons of overflow and sewage). Green infrastructure can be used to not only address our stormwater issues but to beautify our communities by creating healthy environments. Just imagine walking, driving, or riding your bike down a green street filled with a canopy of trees, native vegetation, GSI interventions, enhanced sidewalks, public art, and other street design features. A green street utilizes green infrastructure, improves public health and safety, and can even yield economic benefits.

We also have to contemplate all of the paved vacant lots or unused parking lots. For an example, malls all over the United States have an immense amount of parking.  What can we do with these spaces? These are opportunities to implement green infrastructure and green spaces for public spaces that can incorporate activities, pop-up spaces, farmers markets, etc.

In addition to the stormwater management practices, the timely repair and maintenance of infrastructure needs to be a requirement or else it will not function properly. Also, funding should be appropriately allocated to ensure that the proper solutions are identified and instated.

The strategies will not be the same in every location because the approach should be acclimated to the specific needs of that region based on in-depth analysis, research, and community engagement. However, with careful and purposeful consideration and action we can move in the right direction. I leave you with this: How can you be a part of the movement to create safe, equitable, and sustainable infrastructures and communities?

 

Jazmin Kimble is a Geo-Designer, Urban Designer, and Architectural Designer from Long Island, NY. She has a passion for empowering and planning adequate, equitable communities through the lens of Geodesign, Urban Design, Community Development, Sustainability, Environmental Solutions, and Community Engagement. Jazmin believes the culture and the history of a community is what makes it unique. This approach allows her to design with communities from a holistic viewpoint.

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Do You Know How Smart Our City Is Becoming?

Washington, D.C. is full of smart technologies, some of which you know about (apps such as Uber, Lyft, Google Maps, Bikeshare, etc.) and others you probably don’t. This past summer, I attended an event called Smart City Symposium- “Solutions for Business Growth and Economic Development” (include a small exhibition) in downtown D.C., hosted by the DC Chamber of Commerce and Verizon.

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https://twitter.com/vorangedc         @VOrangeDC

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https://twitter.com/dcchamber        @dcchamber

The Office of the Chief Technology Officer shared some of the technologies the city is already using. Further information on this can be found on their website.

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But “5G Technology” was the key word through the whole event. For people who don’t know about 5G, it is basically 4G with user data. For example, Google will detect the amount of traffic by counting how many people are using their map at a specific location, same as they are tracking the restaurant rush hour by counting how many people are searching for it online.

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Verizon is working to engage 5G technology in the D.C. area to make people’s lives more convenient. Here are some of the great products they demonstrated:

  1. Smart trash can

I was really impressed by this new trash can. They look like unimpressive boxes, but can fit four times more than a regular trash can. The smart part is that it can sense how full the trash bin is in real time and send a signal that it needs to be emptied, allowing garbage crews to come only as needed instead of on a set schedule, emptying bins that are not yet full. It can save time, resources, and energy emissions.

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2. Home clinic

Home clinics are long-distance personal doctors. A doctor can talk with patients over video chat and then send devices the patient can use to measure their own vitals, such as blood pressure or blood sugar. After they know the patient’s health information, they can provide suggestions and prescribe medication. This will save patients time and money by allowing them to skip a trip to the doctor’s office if they have only minor symptoms and don’t need to go to hospital. The same methods can be used for other doctors, such as psychologists.

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3. Agriculture drone

Agriculture uses more natural resources and has a greater carbon footprint than almost any other sector. Agricultural drones, however, will change the way crops are produced. Drones will gather information throughout the day on weather conditions like temperature, moisture, and wind. As more information is collected, the system will analyze the data and tell other devices how much water different crops need, if a certain action needs to be taken, and so on. This will significantly reduce resource waste and improve production.

drone

4. Smart car

This program is similar to Zipcar, but it’s currently only implemented on some university campuses. It works like Car2go, where the customer can use the app to track where there has an available car. However, Verizon is still testing this technology so I do not have too much information about it.

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From what I can see, 5G technology will save people time and help make life easier and more convenient. One of the downsides, however, is that I feel less secure because our personal information is publicized and stored on the internet. The internet will have information on where we are, what we are doing, and what we are talking about. I am excited about how the world is becoming more and more advanced, but I also want to be reassured that our information can be private. This is something people should keep in mind as these types of technologies become more prominent.

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion in urban and landscape design, she also enjoy looking for the variety culture inside of the city.

Home_LEED

A Little LEED Strategy for buying home

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Recently I’ve been studying for LEED Green Associate exam and the word “density” has been hanging in my mind, this is because “density” this word throughout the whole book. The very beginning of a project is ‘Location and Transportation’. This is a new category that was added to the LEED rating system. This category put more emphasis and attention on reducing one of the main contributors to global warming: transportation. It is clarified through the ideas of reducing the cost, pollution, and depletion of resources related to the daily transportation of people and goods to and from a destination. After reading Veronica’s post last week, it got me thinking about sustainability and how it applies to our daily lives, especially in choosing where to live. I think that LEED principles can be applied to a housing search.

The book divided Location and Transportation (LT) category into 4 points: Location, Transportation, Site Development, and Health and Livability. These points are often similar to what people consider when looking for a house or place to live.

Location:

Locate within a LEED-Certified Neighborhood Development

A LEED-Certified Neighborhood usually is a sustainable site. This is because the neighborhood has to meet the qualification of LEED requirements such as walkability, green infrastructure, floodplain avoidance, etc.

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Located within proximity of surrounding density and diverse uses

“Density” is an important word in LEED. The reason behind this is to cut the distance shorter for people to travel to work or visit the building. Also, if the building is within walking distance (0.5 mile), people will not need to drive. Both ways would cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and will help reduce global warming.

 

Transportation:

Limit available parking

LEED-Certified buildings usually have limited parking, because this can encourage people to carpool or use alternative ways of travel.

DCLab6401A LEED Platinum Science Building in DC

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Develop in areas that have multimodal transportation access

This could also inspire people to take public transportation modes like bus or rail.

A Washington Metro train makes its way toward Union Station, Sunday, March 25, 2001. It's not nearly as old as some of the models housed in the Museum of American History, but Washington's subway system is about to turn 25. Amid the celebration, however, is concern about equipment and funds for a system that ranks only behind New York City's in ridership.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

A Washington Metro train makes its way toward Union Station, Sunday, March 25, 2001. It’s not nearly as old as some of the models housed in the Museum of American History, but Washington’s subway system is about to turn 25. Amid the celebration, however, is concern about equipment and funds for a system that ranks only behind New York City’s in ridership.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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Site development 

(This point is more for a someone building a home and their location selection)

Avoid developing on environmentally-sensitive land

This is for the sustainability environment. Considering the local bioregion, watershed, and community can help a project team minimize the sustainable features of the surrounding environment and to climate change. In LT category, sensitive land defines as farmland, floodplains, threatened or endangered species habitats, water bodies, and wetlands.

Locate the project on a pre-developed site

It would be an ideal area, because of the preexisting infrastructure is already in place. Pre-developed location can reduce the cost of installing new roads, sewer, and power lines.

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Locate the project on a high-priority site such as a brownfield

A brownfield is a property that has the presence of hazardous materials, pollutants, or contaminant that may affect by redevelopment if the property. Remediation and development of brownfield can avoid land waste and reduce urban sprawl.

 

Health and livability

Develop in areas that promote walkability

Sidewalk and shelter for pedestrians should be provided, these make it easy for people to walk to and from the building for basic needs and routine functions.

Provide bicycle storage facilities, shower room, and bicycle networks in close proximity to diverse uses

This encourages the use of non-motorized modes of transportation.

Capital Bikeshare rental station near McPherson Square Metro (WMATA) station, downtown Washington, D.C.

Capital Bikeshare rental station near McPherson Square Metro (WMATA) station, downtown Washington, D.C.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dc/Capital_Bikeshare_DC_2010_10_544.JPG

Provide a bicycle maintenance program for employees or bicycle route assistance for employees and customers.

This could encourage people to ride bikes, walk, or run errands during the day. This can also decrease greenhouse emission caused by vehicle use and increase the health and welfare if building occupants.

 

Other factors recommended that contribute to this field that speak to “density” are the following:

Provide pedestrian amenities

Promote connectivity

Create a diverse community

Promote access to sustainable food

Provide access to grocery stores.

 

All of these factors would reduce a number of people who use their cars in their everyday lives. This will help contributing less greenhouse emission, at the same time, provide human more options to work out and revitalized neighborhoods.

Hope these points can help you, and Veronica, with your home location selection.

 

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion in urban and landscape design, she also enjoy looking for the variety culture inside of the city.





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