Research Horizons Magazine
To help developers and communities get a better grip on this multifaceted
subject, the Georgia Tech Research
Institute (GTRI) recently launched the Center for Sustainable Urban
"The revitalization of urban communities isn't just about designing buildings," says Bob Schmitter, a senior research scientist at GTRI and director of the new center. "It's a complicated mix of environmental, economic and social issues. If we can get developers and communities to think about these interrelationships and the cumulative impact of a project, such as how it affects the people who work and live in an area, then chances for that project's success will increase dramatically."
CSUR concentrates on the revitalization of existing properties, such
as brownfields, adaptive reuse and infill development. Housed within GTRI's
Environment and Materials Laboratory, the new center will provide
a formal mechanism to tap different resources at Georgia Tech, supporting
urban redevelopment in three ways:
Education. "University research isn't always disseminated
to people who can use it," Schmitter says. "We want to help
deliver knowledge to a variety of participants -- architects, attorneys,
policymakers -- so those people can better understand what's going on
and make decisions that are economically, environmentally and socially
friendly. For example, what would be the best use of a property, and how
does it factor into job creation?"
Research. CSUR will provide assistance to university researchers and also conduct research projects of its own. Two current projects include:
Technical assistance. CSUR will help communities with cleanup of hazardous waste sites and brownfields (properties contaminated by past industrial or commercial activities, such as an old gas station with a leaky oil tank).
"It doesn't have to be a Superfund issue," Schmitter notes, referring to those seriously contaminated sites that are eligible for federal cleanup funds. "A community may have a garbage dump in its backyard. We can tell people how to get involved in the cleanup process."
CSUR's first major undertaking is to assist Jacoby
Development Inc. (JDI) with Atlantic
Station, its 138-acre, mixed-use project in Atlanta's Midtown neighborhood.
A combination of retail, office and residential, Atlantic Station sits
on the former site of Atlantic Steel mill. What once was one of Georgia's
largest brownfields is now a model for sustainable redevelopment, using
building practices and construction materials that will reduce pollution
and energy consumption.
Among cutting-edge innovations, JDI is investigating the use of a plasma
pyrolysis gasification system that uses plasma arc technology. This technology
creates a form of "artificial lightning," using electricity
to convert an ionized gas, such as air, into a plasma state. The extremely
hot plasma temperature (three times hotter than fossil fuels and hotter
than the surface of the sun) can gasify organic wastes into low-BTU fuel
gases and melt inorganic wastes into an inert rock-like glassy residue.
All contaminants would be treated, and the volume considerably reduced.
The rock-like residue can be used as road gravel, aggregate or bricks.
In the process of vitrifying waste, electrical energy can be created from
the low-BTU fuel gases. About half of the energy would run the system,
and the other half would go into a power grid.
"JDI's main interest in this technology is the ability to dispose
of the municipal solid waste at Atlantic Station, Georgia Tech and other
areas so the waste doesn't have to go in a landfill," says Hilburn
O. Hillestad, JDI's senior vice president of environmental science and
senior vice president of environmental affairs at Atlantic Station. "If
such a system were available in Atlanta, it could provide substantial
environmental benefits to the city."
Because Georgia Tech has extensive research experience in plasma arc
technology, CSUR has helped JDI identify promising prototype systems that
are emerging in the marketplace.
"Georgia Tech has helped us develop relationships with the right
players," Hillestad says.
CSUR staff members have also played a role in developing goals and standards
at Atlantic Station for both overall development and tenant build-out
to maximize sustainability of the project. CSUR staff will continue to
work with Atlantic Station's development team to provide technical assistance
and applied research to support sustainability goals.
"We're very excited about CSUR," Hillestad adds. "Not only is urban revitalization a complicated issue, it's also time-consuming and expensive for developers. CSUR will provide a strong leadership presence and reduce the learning curve for developers by helping them conduct urban revitalization and better understand opportunities."
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