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13 Ways American Cities Can Reduce Energy Use

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Photo credit: david_shankbone / Flickr

When it comes to the green revolution, cities already have a head start on rural populations. Due to the centralized nature of a city, citizens need to burn less energy to commute; Mother Nature Network reports that a rural American owns 2.2 cars, while a city slicker owns only 1.8.

The “heat island” effect of a city, furthermore, means that a city dweller needs to spend less energy heating up their home during the winter, especially if they live in a multi-story building heated from the bottom. Despite the advantages of city living, there’s a lot that most cities can do to catch up. How can major cities get in on the green trends?

1. Be Future-Proof

The gale-force winds of Hurricane Sandy pounding on the doorstep of Manhattan proved to all the world that even a great city like New York is not immune to the forces of nature. The Huffington Post calculates that Sandy proved to be the second-most expensive disaster in American history, just after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Sandy cost approximately fifty billion dollars to the public, a shortfall that could have been avoided with city planning intended to hold up in the face of a natural disaster.

In addition to the dollar value of the storm (as well as the lives lost or ruined after the flooding of the largest city in the US), Sandy consumed huge quantities of energy in the form of generators, emergency power, rescue operations, and re-starting the electrical grid of the entire New York area.

It’s difficult to build a city with the expectation that it will last against events that could happen decades or even centuries in advance, not in the least because buildings can be torn down and replaced in much less time, or because new technology may emerge that offers superior protection.

Nevertheless, taking a long-term outlook for major construction plans helps to ensure that less energy is needed to operate any given building during a time of emergency, or to get a city back up on its feet after a major catastrophe like Sandy reveals the cracks in the infrastructure. How can a city be future-proof? Often, it’s a matter of preparing for the worst-case scenario of the most likely scenario.

During the Fukushima reactor crack, for instance, the Japanese energy commission had an idea that the outdated reactors could not handle severe stress, and prepared the reactors to be able to withstand major earthquakes. Since the Fukushima reactors were brought down by tidal wave as a result of the earthquake, however, the infrastructure could not hold up.

City designers need to understand the most common disaster situations and extrapolate the worst-case scenarios to understand how to reinforce structures and facilities to avoid massive energy output when disaster strikes.

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