Using the “evaluator programs” of SEED and LEED for “density” increases critical performance indicators. The investment process tends to make more sense at the higher end of expenditure. The ultimate measure for a market value is that it will exceed the cost. That is where the work begins. Find and assign an untaxable value sustained in the public interest.

In the LEED hierarchy, the first measure is the cost of meeting local building codes. After that, a series of performance measures “certify” projects as “Silver, Gold, and Platinum.” Steps add distinction, but discovering the “investment barrier” is the purpose.

As the 21st century began, the “Gold” measure marks the barrier, and full implementation is unlikely. Why? The need to innovate has a moral foundation because it is grounded in the market’s self-interested disregard for personal survival.   SEED recognizes return on equity and ad links to measures of social benefit factors in the long term public interest, and perhaps the health of the planet

Moral or ethical imperatives have little effect on capital investment. These choices get stuck in demand for a set of higher-risk assets to find new ways to reduce costs or increase market value without reducing consumer demand. Another issue involves how the government chooses to direct investment or guarantee risk.  Technology is sexy and moral imperatives are not.

The constructed environment presents hundreds of building and energy problems, most of them after the fact. On the other hand, SEED works to get ahead of the LEED curve by demanding an assessment that gets to choices beyond materials, energy, and waste in a tiered system. It looks at the people first. 

The demand for leadership here presses for managerial and technical innovations that make all human-made changes in the environment undamaging or a form of creative destruction.  A confident belief in market forces’ infallibility encourages the government to take risk leadership in exchange for regulation. 

Three Curves – Sigmoid, Pareto and Laffer

The graph below is taken from the Cascadia Green Building Council’s illustration of the Living Building Challenge. The site looks to the way government and charitable organizations encourage sustainable development.  In this graph, the black dot (at LEED gold) is the “investment barrier.”

Adding resources can become mandatory when public interest is clear. Without it, the graph suggests we may stay “just ahead or even with” adverse environmental impacts. The Laffer curve is then added to explore the ideas that follow.

The Sigmoid or “S” shaped curve describes processes in psychology, such as responses to learning methods and other natural processes. The Laffer curve, peaking to “T,” connects to a possible Pareto curve based on unspecified cumulative distribution of public benefits using the LEED standards.

The Pareto principle serves as a prompt for thinking in this section. It is a well-known idea that 80% of consequences can come from 20% of the causes. I see that twenty percent between the red line (costs) and blue (value) emerging from the investment barrier (black dot).

The relationship between inputs and outputs does not balance, especially regarding combinations of public and private investment. In this example, the consequences could make that margin something of a bet on dystopia.

Arthur Laffer’s curve became well known for exhibiting the dynamic relationship between tax rates and tax revenue that face a point of diminishing returns. The Sigmoid “S” Curve emphasizes that all things have an optimal period of growth that is extremely difficult to maintain. The slowing of expansion in the mashup shows the market responsiveness to the investment barrier.

The Pareto distribution curve includes the famous long tail1 graphic to describe the incidence of data relating the knowledge (or product) gained based on a shown occurrence. (It is reversed in the green area in this mash-up). In the concluding section of this prompt, I recommend using one benefit word. “water” to produce a powerful public response.

While substantiated these three graphic elements refer to many natural functions. For example, a chart measuring the height and age of trees would become S-shaped. It would show a slow accumulation of mass in the first two or three decades as it approaches an exponential growth rate. As the trees mature to zero growth, the curve flattens, the acceleration becomes negative, and the rate stabilizes. Other examples include insect infestations and drought-induced fire. The idea is that “a forest” sits on that “T” sequentially in a constant state of self-renewal.

Population growth, like economic development, is ‘density-dependent.’  The point of stabilization or zero growth rate occurs in all processes after which decline is inevitable and for us lucky humans, predictable. Therefore, the question to answer is how much decline and where.

Whether it is a stand of trees or earth covered with advanced-age humans, this is terrible news unless conditions for a dynamic equilibrium can be established between decay and renewal. This is where and how growth can become unlimited within a limited area. The “red zone” indicates the lack of restraint or caution over time. But in that “long tail,” there is a great deal to be understood and examined. Joe Guth’s paper, Cumulative Impacts, use the long tale to challenge risks for benefits that do not take natural system limits into full account. The subtitle calls out the death of “cost-benefit analyses” because it does not take the long tail into account.1

Using a single metric like carbon dioxide instead of the GHG bundle of gases is more likely to be corrupted. In this example, CO2 got renamed “an essential gas” by fossil fuel advocates, thereby confusing the public. When science is used to create a social action indicator, it becomes subject to those who would deteriorate and distort its purpose. The proof via catastrophic resolution is, therefore, not more likely. It is pre-destined. 

Remember the apple from the section on cognitive density? The diversity needed in a highly functional green space network is unknown. The urban park is clearly dysfunctional yet recreationally sufficient. Fruit trees do very well, but is it enough?

City parks and open spaces are the staunch partners of a true wilderness.  They too are the loyal seeds for advancing a life-fulfilling urban nucleus, and like seeds, hold mysteries capable of remaining viable for a millennium.  The seed is a thing undetectably alive, yet it retains the future. Perhaps, most important – they are finicky, but there are a lot of them.2

The wilderness is a great teacher. It is the past and the future of all life. Injecting this value as entirely separate yet a part of the urban form will continue to produce thousands of new ways to assure a quality transmutation from our origins, to what we have become, and what we hope to transpire.

The simple combination of ocean water to the cloud, to life on land, is an argument for the cycles of density. A priority for a continuous regional green space network is to preserve water. It particularly increases in value through the human portion of its cycle. Water drives a purposeful market and an infrastructure formulated on adaptation to larger natural systems. Water is the best and only way to preserve a natural environment, followed by staying as far from that environment with a few people as possible.

Water, water everywhere…

John Todd is an architect, engineer, and hydrologist.  His living machine model (aka bioswale) is an excellent example of an alternative. It uses an existing urban financial resource stream.  Its implementation is a practical resource for open space renewal with a pre and/or post-treatment permaculture system.

The practice of bringing potable, grey, and black water into a standard treatment facility concentrates damage. During extreme weather, the surfeit overwhelms the facility, causing damage. The bioswale idea alters this facility’s “100 pounds of cure” into a million ounces of prevention.

New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is responsible for the very first design of the ‘living machine” idea – it is called a forest. NYC’s watershed protection program and the depth of its protective reach throughout the metropolitan region is found in a series of agreements that tirelessly if not desperately, attempt to keep open space open through memorandums of whatever is necessary. Theoretically, this could also involve financial and logistical support for anti-development candidates. DEP focuses on a combination of protective and corrective initiatives to ensure that its Catskill/Delaware reservoir and watershed system remains unfiltered and sustains its “free” high quality. If it became contaminated, billions in investment for filtering would be required.3

Pay Now or Pay Later?

The value of density is illustrated in October 2015 when an 11,250-unit apartment complex (1947) is sold for about $5.3 billion. Some 20,000 residents yield a population density of about 250 inhabitants per acre which translates to well over 100,000 per square mile. A story in the NYT shows a man on a bench relieved to know that steps to retain affordable rents have been taken. Still, he is unaware that the 10 square feet under him suddenly become worth $150,000.

The New York Times story outlines the battle established by this finance, insurance, and real estate industry (FIRE) initiative. Finding ways to be politically responsible for achieving public goals is ignited in this acquisition of 110 tall apartment buildings on 80 acres in a park-like environment.

How do public policy responses to climate change, the affordability of shelter, and social and economic diversity work concerning traditional FIRE practices? The fast answer is they do not work well. The main component of FIRE is using other people’s money and their sense of risk to acquire assets.

The project reveals a series of half-measures. Half of the units are subsidized for a short time with a city fund of $250M. Solar panels were installed in 2019. The largest housing array in the U.S. I imagine it to be wired for emergency power as the entire area is in a tidal surge floodplain slowly expanding between 2020 and 2080. See map image — InsideClimate

Water Knowledge

The NYC system delivers 1.3 billion gallons per day, serving 9 million New Yorkers and 20 million people in four states. Ninety percent of New York City’s water is from this 1,600 square mile area watershed.  The upper watershed is primarily farms, forests, and small towns, but suburban development, vacation home construction remain a concern.

In 2050, the watershed tunnel system will celebrate a centennial. It is well studied but barely understood. If there is a one-word argument supporting super-density along multi-mode transit routes and maintaining super-low density elsewhere, it is water. It may take small cities and towns throughout the region dying of thirst to put dense urban clusters on top of the list of urban priority.4

The Department of Environmental Protection is NYC’s largest agency. The delivery of billions of gallons of water requires a watershed cover of 2,000 square miles. A large portion is 125 miles north and west of the city. This system is one of just five in the nation with such high quality that extensive filtration systems are not required. To protect this system, the city owns and manages about 150,000 acres, of which 60,000 are available for passive recreation.

End Notes

  1. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More Paperback by Chris Anderson
  2. Helen Rosner, The New Yorker, “How Apples Go Bad,” 8 June 2020 “When the pollen from one tree’s flower meets the pistil of the flower of another, a small miracle of creation occurs.” True, but Helen’s observation of food, includes the world: “The closer an apple is to rot, the more rot it spreads—one spoiling apple, in a crisper drawer or a fruit bowl, or a storage barrel or a cross-country shipping container, or even still hanging on the bough, speeds the rot of every apple it touches, and even of ones, it doesn’t touch. The whole bunch quickly begins to exemplify what the artist Claes Oldenburg called “the brown sad art of rotting apples”: a swamp of ferment, infecting the air with the hideous sweetness of decay. Chaucer was likely the first to write a version of the now commonplace proverb: “A rotten apple’s better thrown away / Before it spoils the barrel.” But I’m partial to Benjamin Franklin’s version: “The rotten apple spoils his companions.” The saying is often used to refer to the corruption of select individuals within a group. But the point is the fruit’s susceptibility to collective rot.”
  3. Why unfiltered?  Rainfall travels through the soil and rock of the watershed and becomes pure.  If it loses this ability due to increases in hard surface runoff, expanded use of septic systems, gas/coal mining, logging, the dense urban dwellers will have to pay $6-$8 billion for construction of a new filtration facility and $200-$300 million in annual operation and maintenance costs.  See New York City’s Water Supply System. Watershed Agreement Overview.
  4. For a link to research see pdf:

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