Demonstrating Capability and Scalability in Retrofitting a Sustainable Neighborhood: A Multi-Disciplinary, Whole-Systems Approach

February 17, 2015 |
12:00pm to 1:00pm
Seminar Abstract 

Background: From the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the Great Depression, urban expansion in the US was accomplished through a development pattern of gridded streets and blocks, serviced by the streetcar. Almost every city in the U.S. has extensive neighborhoods of this type, usually located adjacent to downtowns. These represent an estimated 50% of the total U.S. built urban environment. Planned and built on average100 years ago, the infrastructure, energy and water systems are in need of repair and/or replacement and the assumptions behind their design need to be re-thought taking into account the realities of climate change. These so-called ‘first-ring’ trolley car suburbs represent a huge opportunity to create greater urban sustainability and resilience at a distributed, fine-grain scale.

Project and Team: The EcoBlock is an urban sustainability experiment in Oakland, CA that brings together an inter-disciplinary team of architects, engineers, social scientists and policy experts from Berkeley, NASA Ames Research Center, Stanford, local tech firms, corporates, non-profits, the City of Oakland and the State of California. The purpose of the project is to apply an integrated, whole-systems design approach to retrofit one of these typical neighborhood blocks from a high-energy, high-water dependency, resource-wasteful through-put model, to the lowest energy and water treatment and reuse footprint possible.  

Proposition: To test the hypothesis that the block-scale is considerably more efficient and cost-effective than the individual house-scale in achieving maximum renewable energy, water conservation, and local wastewater treatment and reuse, because it aggregates the flows and efficiencies across multiple units.

Objective: To build and blueprint a pilot system that allows an efficient, affordable, neighborhood block-scale energy, water, and wastewater treatment-and-reuse platform and retrofit process that can be applied to neighborhood blocks across California, the Southwest, and the United States.

Conclusion: The severity of the climate change threat to California’s economy and social welfare makes it clear that the challenge of rebuilding our cities and solving the climate-change crisis are linked. Enabling durable neighborhood retrofits to provide: (1) grid security, (2) clean energy for homes and cars, (3) maximum water efficiency, (4) re-use of waste-streams, and (5) local food systems is an essential step toward a healthier, safer and more self-reliant future that will empower the renaissance of our urban communities.


Harrison Fraker is Chair, Energy & Resources Group, Professor of Architecture & Urban Design at UC Berkeley & Former Dean at UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design; 2014 recipient of the Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education, America’s leading award in architectural education.


Chief Environmental Engineering Specialist:

Martin Fischer is Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Senior Fellow & Director, Center for Integrated Facility Engineering at the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University.


Chief Energy Specialists:

Daniel M. Kammen is the Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy with appointments in the Energy and Resources Group, The Goldman School of Public Policy, and the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.


Seth R. Sanders is Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences and Chief Advisor to the Power Electronics Group at UC Berkeley


Duncan Callaway is Assistant Professor at the Energy & Resources Group at UC Berkeley and a member of the Windows and Envelope Materials Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory


Chief Water and Waste-water Specialists:

Craig S. Criddle is Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University.


Michael T. Flynn is Head of the Water Technology Development Laboratory at NASA Ames Research Center.


Project Director:

Anthony E. Nahas is Visiting Scholar, Energy Resources Group at UC Berkeley, formerly Research Affliate at the Presidio Graduate School, investment banker with JP Morgan, Barclays & ING Barings in London, and alternative asset fund manager in Paris.


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