December 2008


The Brad Pitt-narrated PBS series e² ( “the Economies of being Environmentally conscious”) has several episodes about urban design and planning. For a general introduction to walkable, transit-oriented design and planning, I recommend the episode “Portland: A Sense of Place.” It focuses on the city’s rail transit and aerial tram, the Pearl District redevelopment, and the quality of life that can result from downtown revitalization with good urban design.

Even better is the episode “Seoul: The Stream of Consciousness” which focuses on Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project. This was a major freeway in the heart of the city that was torn down and replaced with a linear park and recreated running stream. The best thing about this episode is the sense of hope and renewal for the city that is conveyed by the residents’ pride in their new park.

These episodes are beautifully produced, not wonky at all, and will certainly hold anybody’s attention. The episodes can be viewed at www.e2-series.com. Click on “Webcasts” and scroll down to the episode titles. They are also available on DVD and from iTunes.

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The report Life-cycle Environmental Inventory of Passenger Transportation in the United States bills itself as “the first comprehensive environmental life-cycle assessment of automobiles, buses, trains, and aircraft in the United States.” The report, by Mikhail V. Chester of the Institute of Transportation Studies at Berkeley, goes far beyond counting the fuel consumed by vehicles. It considers the energy and materials used to build stations, terminals, roadways, runways, tracks, bridges, tunnels and parking, as well as maintenance, heating, lighting and more. A full life-cycle accounting of travel modes has been a long time coming; it is critically needed and tremendously welcome.

The findings on life-cycle energy use are summarized in this chart:

Read on for a summary of the findings, and a discussion of how the results are affected by urban design context.

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