Free Workshop on Purchasing Clean Energy this Saturday

College Park’s Committee for a Better Environment is sponsoring a workshop on purchasing clean energy this Saturday, September 10. See more details below.

What: Free Workshop on “Purchasing Clean Energy” sponsored by College Park’s Committee for a Better Environment (CBE)

Date: Saturday, September 10, 10 am to Noon

Place: College Park City Hall Council Chambers

In this second of CBE’s energy-efficiency workshops, Dr. Ross Salawitch, a professor from the University of MD, and Michael Heintz, a planning manager for the Energy Assurance division of the Maryland Energy Administration, will answer questions like the following:

· What is “clean” (or renewable) energy, who sells it, and how much does it cost?

· How can we get clean energy into our homes?

· Is it dependable?

Several renewable energy vendors also will be present.

Free but registration is required. To register, please email evitale@collegeparkmd.gov.

Imagine: College Park/University of Maryland Arboretum

College Park has the fortune of having a unique system of trails and open spaces running through and around the city. However, there are some instances where this system of open spaces serves to divide the community rather than bring it together.

One such instance is the large, wooded open space directly north of Paint Branch Parkway and east of Baltimore Avenue. This land sits at the geographic heart of College Park and has the opportunity to serve as a gathering place for local residents and the University community. Unfortunately, this land is vastly underutilized due to difficult and unattractive pedestrian and bicycle access and a lack of visibility.

College Park Arboretum
Open land that could be used as a world-class arboretum

During my frequent runs and bicycle rides around Lake Artemesia, I am amazed by the lack of University students taking advantage of this amenity. I have come to the conclusion that the few number of students who utilize Lake Artemesia’s pathway and surrounding trail system is driven both by a lack of perceived safety and simply being unaware that such an amenity exists.

With so much beautiful open space directly adjacent to the University and many of College Park’s neighborhoods, it is unfortunate how cut off this land is from campus and surrounding neighborhoods, especially Old Town. Unfortunately, physical barriers, such as dangerous Route 1 and a sound wall along Paint Branch Road, along with psychological barriers, such as a perceived lack of safety, are currently discouraging more recreational use of this area. Additionally, though the university sits less than a mile away from Lake Artemesia, the distance seems much further due to the convoluted path system and a lack of sight lines between the two destinations.

A little planning and creativity could go a long way in creating a world-class arboretum right here in College Park. The solution to increasing usage lies in creating a highly pedestrian-oriented system that emphasizes safety and the natural beauty of the Paint Branch stream. The first step is creating a safe pedestrian crossing across Route 1 near Campus Drive. This includes curb bumpouts and pedestrian islands to reduce the distance and time necessary to cross this extremely busy road. Second, a pedestrian countdown signal and shorter light signals will emphasize an intersection that is geared toward people, and not only cars. Third, a wide, relatively straight, and well-let pathway that follows the Paint Branch Stream will shorten the distance between the university and Lake Artemesia, provide sight lines, and go a long way in increasing the perceived and real safety of this area. Finally, a high-class pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks will avoid the unsettling concrete tunnel that currently traverses below. This bridge will enhance visual interest, improve safety, and provide a new perspective on the lake and surrounding open space. In the long run, more amenities such as an outdoor amphitheatre, exercise equipment, a flower garden, and nature center could further enhance the attractiveness and desirability of the arboretum.

Artemesia
Early morning at Lake Artemesia
Dallas-Arboretum
The Dallas Arboretum


It is imperative that the university and city join forces in creating unique and desirable assets throughout College Park. We can hope than new University of Maryland President Loh will play an integral role in building this strong relationship. An enhanced and improved public space between the university and Lake Artemesia could create a much-needed amenity, serving both permanent residents and students. An arboretum could go a long way in making College Park more than just “a livable community”; it could propel it to be a top-notch college town and a regional attraction.

With the coming of the Purple Line and East Campus, College Park has the opportunity to capitalize on improved accessibility and attractive new development and provide another highly desirable amenity and reason for people to visit and move to College Park. It’s time for College Park to step out of the shadows, build upon its natural assets, and create a highly pedestrian-oriented public space that will serve as a community gathering place and transform College Park into the college town that it should be.

Senator Cardin to Speak at Town Hall on Friday

Our pal Rachel Hare from UMD for Clean Energy tells us all about a Town Meeting this Friday on Campus. Stop by and say hello to Ben.

It’s easy for America to be green on Earth Day.  It’s easy for us to support energy efficiency, encourage sustainability and demand emissions reductions on Earth Day.  The entire world is watching, and it is exactly what is expected.
But what about the other 364 days of the year?
Can America truly commit to strict environmental standards that will reduce emissions, create green jobs and promote renewable energy?
This Friday, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), will take up this question during a town hall meeting at the University of Maryland, College Park.  During the discussion, hosted by student group UMD for Clean Energy, Cardin is expected to address recent progress of federal climate change legislation that is making its way to the Senate.

Continue reading Senator Cardin to Speak at Town Hall on Friday

Energy Efficiency Loans Help Save Both the Economy and the Environment

[guest post from Lisa Piccinini UMD for Clean Energy Media Director]

In just a few weeks Maryland legislators will hold hearings for House Bill 1014 and Senate Bill 720 –  the Clean Energy Loan Programs. Introduced by Delegate Sue Hecht and Senator Thomas Middleton, the bills hold tremendous potential for Maryland’s business owners, residents, and for our environment. If passed, the bill will go into effect June 1of this year.

The bill calls for a program providing loans to residential property owners for the financing of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Basically, its aim is to help residents save money by providing means to obtain a loan for the upfront costs of increasing home energy efficiency. The bill also applies to commercial property owners.

Continue reading Energy Efficiency Loans Help Save Both the Economy and the Environment

Seeing the Forest for the Trees (They’re just trees)

hillock-treehouseIn response to Robert McCartney’s Op-Ed yesterday in the Washington Post, I decided to throw together the following as I continue to ruminate over the massive amount of debate surrounding the proposed development (also see savethehillock.com) of 9 acres of the 22 acres “Wooded Hillock” behind the Comcast Center:

As an environmentalist and former land conservationist, I mourn the proposed loss of trees as much as the next person. Also, I’m usually less than inclined to side with the University on most issues related to development in College Park. These two things being said, I continue to see no better alternative than the Wooded Hillock for the relocation of facilities on East Campus. I don’t understand how McCartney can say UMD’s examination of alternative sites for these facilities was an “apparently insufficient study”. Somehow studies always seem to be insufficient if the conclusions they reach aren’t in accordance with your own.

Continue reading Seeing the Forest for the Trees (They’re just trees)

Looking Deeper into UMD’s National Smart Growth Center Study

Sprawl in Western Howard County, Maryland has rapidly destroyed farmland over the last two decades. Photo from Google Maps.

“Single-family homes and townhouses are scattered on ever-larger lots in areas designated for dense, compact building, as lots outside those areas shrink, the study concludes. “The number of parcels developed, the acres of land developed and the average size [of lots] are all moving in the wrong direction,” it says.” ~ Washington Post reporter Lisa Rein

University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth released a milestone study (read the full report here) in the September issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association, which the Washington Post just reported about yesterday. In the paper, the researchers analyze the success of the centerpiece of Maryland’s nationally acclaimed 1997 Smart Growth legislation: Priority Funding Areas (PFAs). This planning tool was meant to prioritize state infrastructure funding in and near existing communities and thereby provide a disincentive to the sprawling development pattern that now characterizes much of the northeast.

The legislation became a national model that other states used to craft their own policies that rely on economic incentives instead of strict top-down regulation. But 10 years after the fact, did the trailblazing policies live up to all the hype? Apparently not, according to the Washington Post’s analysis, which concludes Maryland Smart Growth is “a flop”  and  “a bust.”

Greater Greater Washington goes as far as to call the headline itself “a flop.” The article even misquotes a major conclusion of the study, saying: “There is no evidence after ten years that [smart-growth laws] have had any effect on development patterns. ” The study actually says there is little evidence.” I decided to pull out some key excerpts from the study and draw on my background on the subject to get the full story.

PRIORITY FUNDING AREAS – WEAK INCENTIVES

Statewide PFAs in orange. Image courtesty of Maryland Department of Planning.

For background on PFAs, you should understand a little of the economics from the study:

“The logic behind PFAs presumes that the state pays a significant portion of the cost of infrastructure and that investment in infrastructure, particularly in sewers and roads, shapes the rate and location of urban growth.”

On the PFA incentive structure, the study says:

“Both economic theory and common sense strongly support the proposition that extending highways leads to urban decentralization and low-density development patterns. According to economic theory, land rent gradients, and thus urban structure, are largely determined by the tradeoff between accessibility and transportation costs.”

But then the authors go on to point out that the strength of incentives is just as important as the existence of incentives:

“In sum, the research to date suggests that policy instruments designed to concentrate growth in spatially designated areas can be influential. The extent of the influence, however, depends critically on the strength of the incentives or regulations and their institutional context. The limited research on the effects of PFAs is similarly mixed.  There is some evidence that PFAs do serve to concentrate urban development, job growth, and investments in wastewater infrastructure. The extent of concentration, however, varies by county, by industry, and by the extent to which local governments rely on state funds.”

SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

Relatively weak incentives leads to a situation where sprawl continues unchecked:

“In many of the largest counties… the number of parcels and the share of parcels developed for residential use outside PFAs went up after the PFA law went into effect; and in many of these counties, the number of parcels developed for residential use outside PFAs continued to average 500 parcels per year or more after the PFA law.”

As further proof of the poor performance of Smart Growth legislation:

“It is notable that the total acres developed for residential use outside PFAs increased for over half of the state’s counties after the PFA law went into effect. Further, several central corridor counties, including some with nationally prominent growth management programs like Baltimore County and Montgomery County, continue to develop over 900 acres per year for residential uses outside PFAs.”

As a percentage of all parcels developed in Maryland, the share of parcels developed outside PFAs is increasing. From Maryland Department of Planning.

MORE THAN JUST MONEY

Part of the issue may be that local or private funds have picked up where the state has left off on infrastructure spending, thus mitigating the effects of a reduction in state funding. But even in cases where state funds are spent, it seems that the State of Maryland has struggled to make spatial distribution of funds within PFAs an integral part of its budgeting and reporting processes:

“Because reporting requirements were never fully met, it is difficult to assess whether or how much state agencies restricted their spending in conformance with the Smart Growth Areas Act or the extent to which state agency spending serves to contain urban growth.”

…and later:

“Without developing an allocation process that considers how funds are allocated spatially, it is unlikely state agencies will take the steps needed to make the targeting strategy meaningful. Finally, it is unclear that a targeted state spending strategy alone will be sufficient to alter state growth patterns.”

PFAs as incentives don’t necessary also translate to PFAs as a regulatory framework at the local level. As Richard Layman at Rebuilding Place in Urban Place points out, it is extremely difficult for state-level legislation to infiltrate the thousands of decisions made at the county level where the brunt of planning and zoning occurs in Maryland. The study says that PFAs…

“…are not consistently incorporated in local land use plans, and as a result are not an integral part of the statutory framework that governs land use planning, zoning, subdivision regulations, and appeals processes in the state.”

Dense infill project proposed for College Park, MD. Image courtesy of StreetSense Inc.

A NEW ATTITUDE

It is easy to draw a big target on Maryland smart growth, take pot shots at it by point to the changing landscape and trends in development patterns, and claim these laws are a complete failure as the Washington Post did yesterday. Maybe sensationalist journalism is one way to kick Maryland politicians into action, but a basic reading of the study shows a much more nuanced picture of Maryland’s trailblazing policies.

The more appropriate way to think about smart growth is: what would would have happened had these policies not been enacted? It is clear that PFAs have not produced the intended effects over the last 10 years and sprawl marches on at an alarming pace. Maryland smart growth does have significant failingsI recognized this and did an extensive post on it back in February 2008 and concluded the following:

“Should we amend our Smart Growth legislation? Probably. It’s clear that changes in prices and incentives are necessary, but not sufficient to achieve more compact development. Changes in coordination, planning, and zoning are necessary, but not sufficient for building more livable, transit-friendly urban environments. Atrociously poor funding of public goods and infrastructure combined with our impossible expectations of developers have created a situation where the constraints to building in dense urban areas act to propel development. What people need to realize is that there are real cost constraints to development projects. Shallow lot sizes, expensive land, burdensome and unpredictable approval processes make infill development expensive, risky, and difficult.”

THE REMEDY?

To get real results, Maryland’s incentive structure needs to be strengthened and combined with stricter land use controls, better coordination between counties and the State, and more streamlined processes for dense infill and transit-oriented development. As Dru-Schmidt Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, points out at the end of the Washington Post article:

“if you continue to allow low-density sprawling development, then any developer in their right mind would say, ‘This will be lucrative,’ whereas smart growth is going to be complicated and expensive.”

Speaking of Green

Staying on the topic of “Green” financing.

The Environmental Finance Center is hosting a Financing Renewable Energy symposium. During the symposium experts from across the country will highlight the resources available for creating sustainable financing for renewable energy projects, as well as present success stories featuring agriculture waste to energy, solar, wind, and energy conservation projects.

The symposium includes a “greener” lunch.

Website: guest.cvent.com/EVENTS/Info/Summary.aspx?e=d00ab5b9-09af-4687-b243-1e57bc91ccab

Ticket Information:
Charges: General Registration $60; Student Registration $20;

Student Group Pushes Green Platform

[flickr float=”center”]3890128966[/flickr]

A student based group called UMD for Clean Energy is spearheading a campaign called Green for College Park where they plan to become very actively involved in the upcoming City elections to push forward clean energy policies.

Our campaign is to influence city politics by pushing a green platform with a clean energy policy that will set up an energy efficiency loan fund.  This would be a pool of money that would be loaned out at a very low interest rate to finance energy efficiency upgrades and home improvements for residents of College Park.

There are challenges in getting students involved in City politics and UMD for Clean Energy seems to recognize this and is taking steps to ensure a high student turnout this fall.

Traditionally, there has been poor collaboration between students, residents of College Park, and the City Council.  We want to break this trend by reaching out to the civic and community associations in College Park,

RTCP applauds this groups efforts at both improving the planet but also the Student/Resident relationship. We look forward to keeping up with their progress and working towards a better College Park for all.