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sustainability


Congratulations to the students that presented Last Night in Little Havana!  Good job!

Our Department is co-sponsored, along with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a community meeting to look at the work of two groups of our senior design students who have been working with the community and a developer on a means to identify acceptable projects for the Little Havana neighborhood.  The event was held in Little Havana at the Ball & Chain, which provided the use of the back patio and the stage at no charge. The Mayor of Miami opened the “Community Discussion,” to discuss the work of the FAU students. The National Trust sent a senior staff member from New York to participate in the Discussion.

For many years there has been public and private argument about the future vision for Little Havana. Yet, in many instances there has been little graphic presentation of the components of a vision. The National Trust for Historic Preservation designated Little Havana as the 11th most endangered site in America.  The work of these students provides possible templates for mixed-use and multi-family residential development, proposals that now show what can be designed and built under current rules and regulations. The National Trust for Historic Preservation co-sponsored this community discussion to share their philosophy on urban revitalization, and as a continuation of their commitment to Little Havana — by helping the community respond to actual designs and through dialogue, hopefully reach a consensus over the next few months that will move the revitalization efforts forward in a positive manner for all stakeholders.

The students provided extensive graphics and can give you excellent options to provide visual elements to the story. This presentation marked the mid-way point of student efforts, and provided stake holders with the opportunity to review initial concepts and to comment on the proposals.  Participants saw what is allowed under current land development regulations and have the opportunity to discuss changes needed to protect Little Havana’s character. In addition, students were seeking continuing input during the Spring semester as designs are modified to address concerns of the community.

Good job students.  And thank you Frank Schnidman for setting this up!

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The Flint saga continues.  The latest is that they continue to use Detroit water, but will convert to the new Lake Huron supply in 2018. The argument now is who’s water plant will be used. The County is building a plant.   John Young notes that the Mayor of Flint wants to use their own plant.  I think we know how that worked out last time. All the non-elected officials overseeing the City say buy from Genessee County.  Should be interesting to see how that plays out.

Meanwhile Midwest regional EPA officials appear are being criticized for failing to deal with the problem in a timely fashion.  EPA delayed their emergency declaration for 7 months, but EPA says the state action prevented EPA from acting.  This is exactly what the states asked for when they persuaded Reagan to delegate authority from EPA to the states.  Then the finger pointing starts when state officials do not react quickly because the state legislature cut their budget and no one is asking about that like they did in Walkerton in 2001.  It could have been predicted especially when too many states have legislatures that want to starve the bureaucracy.  But they forget why the bureaucracy was there to begin with – because something bad happened and government reacted to it by passing laws and creating oversight.  Delete the oversight and bad things happen.  It is human nature.

That will play out, but there still is the problem of the people who made the decisions in the first place.  As the elected officials in the class I taught this summer noted, it was a political decision to save money that created this problem to start with, not an operation issue.  The operational issue came up after the elected officials decided to start up a 50 year old plant that had not been run more than 18 months in 50 years, and after improvements were quickly made to the plant, but never tested.  Not sure how the engineers (sorry) let that happen, but why is it that no elected officials have been scrutinized for their bad decisions?  It makes us all look bad and sends a poor message to the residents of the country, not just Flint.


Happy Halloween.  It is time for trick or treat.  Unfortunately the Sunday SunSentinel headline was a trick, not a treat.  “We’re Going to make them suffer,” was the headline – attributed to former Dania Beach Mayor and Commissioner, and now Broward Planning Council chair Anne Castro.  Oooops.  Now anyone driving in Broward County knows that the signals are not timed, which creates traffic issues during rush hours.  Everyone I talk to has the same complaint and similar stories.  I recall driving home late at night from my Dad’s condo realizing one street with a posted 45 mph sign, required people to go 52 to make the lights.  Wrong message.  Closer to my house, a main road required me to stop at every traffic light at midnight, for reasons still unclear to me.  No cross traffic.  No commercial activity.  Engineers with the County say there is too much traffic to fix it in Mondays paper despite the computers to simulate and controllers to adjust timing by cycle.  But my Dad pointed out that Detroit figured it out in the 1930s on Woodward Avenue, by hand.  I95 is being widened to add express lanes and improve traffic flow.

But the trick did not stop there.  The front page story followed with this nugget:  “Until you make it so painful that people want to come out of their cars, they’re not going to come out of their cars.”  Um, ok, but I think we have a penny sales tax referendum going on to help fund transit and transportation, but this is not helping.  Having worked for a transit company, people do not ride unless the buses come frequently enough that they don’t have to wait long.  It is a double edged sword which is why heavy investments (and losses) are required to get transit started.  Once people get used to using it, and it is convenient, they keep using it.  The bus or train ride length is less important, it is the wait that matters.  People will ride an hour if they only wait 10 minutes to get picked up.  And don’t have to walk far on either end because heat & rain matter.  I recall going to a Miami Heat game a number of years ago.  Taking TriRail and the MetroRail worked great, until I realized that there was no train back.  Not convenient.  Had to drive.  In rush hour.  Haven’t gone back.  It was so irritating I decided not to go. Not the solution business wants so I think maybe we need to rethink that statement.  Transit would help, but is needs to be convenient.  That’s what we should be selling.


Every water body will be different but in southeast Florida there are a couple options for Lake Okeechobee’s waters.  One option has been in discussion for years – buy back the EAA lands and restore the Everglades flow.  That has two benefits – improved water quality, and less potential for east-west releases.  The downside is cost.  But the sugar industry knows that the muck layer is decreasing and there are plans to develop the EAA into hundreds of thousands of housing units.  That was not the intention in the 1940s when the EAA was created, but trying to stop someone from developing land, especially when the lake communities are challenged economically, is difficult.  Buying the land would remove it from production, but decrease tax revenues.  And it would need to be managed with no guarantee that it would cleaned up quickly.

The alternative?  The South Florida Sun-Sentinel had a front page article that is a little scary.  The figure below is reproduced from that article.  The discussion was if there is no conservation/public purchase of land, Florida may look very different.  The impact of not buying the land is development.  More people.  More taxes.  More stormwater.  The fertilizer does not go away – it now fertilizes lawns and golf courses.  Add wastewater, and human activities.  We find that urban living and farming can have similar impacts from a nutrient perspective.  So development may exacerbate the problem and given that our modeling indicates that sea level rise imperils inland communities from groundwater, this is not a solution to coastal risk.  Given limitations with local governments inland, it may create a larger crisis.  All there things need discussion, but the question is – will the algal issues on the coast improve?

graphic-of-development

http://www.pressreader.com/usa/sun-sentinel-palm-beach-edition/20160916/281479275879132/textviewer worse?


The reliability of the assets within the area of interest starts with the design process in the asset management plan. Decision-making dictates how the assets will be maintained and effective means to assure the maximum return on investments. Through condition assessment, the probability of failure can be estimated. Assets can also fail due to a growing area that may contribute to exceeding its maximum capacity. Operation and maintenance of the assets are important in reassuring a longer life span as well as getting the most out of the money to be spent. Prioritizing the assets by a defined system will allow for the community to see what areas are most susceptible to vulnerability/failure, which assets need the most attention due to their condition, and where the critical assets are located in relation to major public areas (hospitals, schools, etc.) with a high population.

So what happens when conditions change?  Let’s say sea levels are rising and your land is low.  What would the potential costs be to address this?  Better yet, what happens if it rains? We looked at one south Florida community and the flood stage for each based on 3 storm events: the 1:10 used by FDOT (Assumes 2.75 inches in 24 hours), the Florida Building Code event that includes a 5 in in one hour event (7 in in 24 hrs), and the 3 day 25 year event (9.5-11 inches).

Of no surprise is that the flooding increases as rainfall increases.  Subsequent runs assumed revisions based on sea level rise. The current condition, 1, 2 and 3 ft sea level rise scenarios were run at the 99 percentile groundwater and tidal dates and levels.  Tables 2-5 depict the flood stage results for each scenarios.  The final task was designed to involve the development of scenarios whereby a toolbox options are utilized to address flooding in the community.  Scenarios were to be developed to identify vulnerabilities and cost effectiveness as discussed previously.

The modeling results were then evaluated based of the accompanying infrastructure that is typically associated with same.  A summary of the timelines and expected risk reductions were noted in the tables associated with storm and SLR scenarios.  This task was to create the costs for the recommended improvements and a schedule for upgrading infrastructure will be developed in conjunction with staff.  Two issues arise.  First, the community needs to define which event they are planning to address and the timelines as the costs vary form an initial need of $30 million to over $300 million long-term.  Figure 1 shows how these costs rise with respect to time.  The long-term needs of $5 million per 100 acres matches with a prior effort in Palm Beach County.

SLR costs

Figure 1  Summary of Costs over the 3 ft of potential sea level Rise by 2011, under the 3 storm planning concepts.


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“Or is running a local government like s business killing it?”

I had an interesting conversation at a conference recently.  The people I was talking to were advanced in their careers and the discussion moved toward the outlook on management in public settings. Once upon a time, most public works and utility managers were civil engineers, but often they were criticized because they were focused on the engineering aspects as opposed to the people aspects of the community.  Their focus was public health and making sure things operated correctly.  Most did whatever was needed to accomplish that.

This led to schools of public administration, which actually started educating some of those same engineers about management of large public organizations, organizational theory, human resource, accounting and planning  I did all that myself at UNC-Chapel Hill.  The goal was to understand finances, people, community outreach, the need to engage citizens and as well as public service.  The outcomes were providing good service.  That however tends to cost a little more than operations although there are opportunities to be a bit entrepreneurial.

So back to the people in the conversation.  They noted that sometime in the 1980s or early 1990s the MPAs were being replaced by MBAs as politicians were focusing on operating “like a business.”  Looking at the MBAs out there, the comment was that business schools do not focus on service, but profits to shareholders, and the training is to cut unproductive pieces that detract from the bottom line.   Hence investments do not get made if the payback is not immediate.  Service is not a priority unless it helps the bottom line.  In a monopoly (like a local government), there are no other option, so service becomes a lessor priority.

So it brought up an interesting, but unanswerable question for now: has the move to more business trained people in government created some of the ills we see?  The discussion included the following questions/observations (summarized here):

  1. Many water and sewer utilities are putting a lot of time and effort into customer service and outreach now after years of criticism for failing to communicate with customers. That appears symptomatic of the monopoly business model.
  2. Our investments in infrastructure decreased significantly after 1980, and many business people focus on payback – so if the investment does not payback quickly, they do not pursue them. How does that impact infrastructure investments which rarely pay back quickly (Note that I have heard this argument from several utility directors with business backgrounds in very recent years, so the comments are not unfounded).  It does beg the questions of whether the business focus compounds our current infrastructure problems.
  3. Likewise maintenance often gets cut as budgets are matched to revenues as opposed to revenues matched to costs, another business principle. Run to failure is a business model, not a public sector model. Utilities can increase rates and we note that phones, cable television, and computer access have all increased in costs at a far faster rate that water and sewer utilities.

Interestingly though was the one business piece that was missing:  Marketing the value of the product (which is different than customer service).  Marketing water seems foreign to the business manager in the public sector.  The question arising there is whether that is a political pressure as opposed to a forgotten part of the education.

I would love to hear some thoughts…

 

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