Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday odds and ends

Below, firing up the economy, recycling as a liability, and the end of an era.

— The Boston Globe thinks the current age of iconic architecture may be ending, in part due to the recession, but also in part to a change in how people see architecture:

"Suddenly architecture was in. Every city, it seemed, wanted to be like Bilbao, [Spain,] wanted its own daring, avant-garde iconic building. Usually that building was an art museum or a skyscraper. Every few months, someone announced plans for the new tallest building in the world. (The current candidate is Burj Dubai, still under construction, which when complete will be approximately twice the height of the Empire State Building.) ...

"All that fever now feels passe. Architecture students, I'm told, are more interested in so-called 'green architecture,' work that responds to the global crisis of climate and resources, than they are in artistic shape-making. They're interested in urbanism, in the ways buildings gather to shape streets and neighborhoods and public spaces. They research new materials and methods of construction. Increasingly, they're collaborating with students in other fields, instead of hoping to produce a private ego trip."

— Writer Paul Loeb argues on that the way to kick-start the green economy is with highly efficient, American-made furnaces:

"I'm not saying high-efficiency furnaces solve all our economic or environmental challenges. Plugging building leaks, adding insulation and switching light bulbs give the maximum energy efficiency for the least expenditure of dollars. We need solutions that move us toward eliminating fossil fuel use altogether, like solar thermal, industrial-scale wind, advanced geothermal, ultra-efficient green buildings, and smart electrical grids. The 300,000-person Swedish city of Malmo already gets 40 percent of its residential heat (and 60 percent of its electricity) from a municipal incinerator plant and is steadily extending its district heating to the suburbs. We could do the same. But adding a high-efficiency furnace buys time — like scrapping a Hummer to drive a Ford Focus. It takes us part of the way — and if the furnaces are American-made, does so while keeping money in our domestic economy. If we could replace every furnace older than 10 years with a high-efficiency model, and mandate the same in new construction, we'd come out far ahead."

The Christian Science Monitor has a story about something that's happening here (and that I wrote about recently for the Flyer): the global demand for recycled goods has decreased, leaving many cities on the hook for their recycling costs:

"Recyclables have long been a volatile commodity, but the speed of the collapse has shocked the industry and exposed just how reliant it has become on foreign buyers, especially China.

The prices of newspaper and corrugated cardboard have fallen nearly 80 percent since last summer, when both were trading at over $150 a ton, according to Recycling Resource Magazine and The Brown Sheet, an industry pricing newsletter. Today, cardboard trades at $32 a ton and newspaper at $28 a ton."

Last I heard, Memphis was working on a deal to not get paid for its recyclables, but not pay for them, either.

From the CSMonitor:

"Still, there's some optimism that the current crisis will be short-lived. Cities can expect less revenue from its recycling operations, but recycling won't simply disappear, says Jorge Santiesteban, solid resources manager for the city of Los Angeles.

In the short term, domestic recyclers can recoup some losses by charging higher collection fees – as Fountain Inn did. And most large cities negotiate long-term contracts with minimum prices to keep revenue flowing."

And if material is recycled, it at least keeps the city from paying to landfill it.

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