Today at Berkeley Lab nameplate Berkeley Lab
Friday, August 29, 2003


8 a.m.
Radiation Protection-Lab Safety

1 p.m.
EECS Seminar
Room Temperature Synthesized Silicon Nanowires and Carbon Nanotubes
L. Lin, UCB
521 Cory Hall


4 p.m.
College of Chemistry
Metabolic Engineering of Bacteria for Production of Terpenoids
Jay Keasling, UCB
120 Latimer Hall

Market Carvery: Moroccan Chicken with Cous Cous & Vegetable
Fresh Grille: Atlantic Salmon with Green Goddess Dressing
Menutainment: Viva La Burrito Chicken or Vegetarian
B'fast: 6:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.
Lunch: 11 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.
Full Menu
  A cooler place to live?
  Developers aim for more ponds, trees
  By Mike Lee, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

When the developers of Home Town NRH proposed the project in 1999, they made a bold claim.

The 330-acre neighborhood would not only provide a focal point for North Richland Hills and its sometimes-disconnected subdivisions. It would also use natural shade, street layout and other features to reduce the outdoor temperature by as much as 5 degrees.

Four years later, substantial parts of the project have been built. The developer still makes that claim on its Web site. And although Home Town NRH may have succeeded in creating a more closely knit community, it's still unclear whether it is cooler than the rest of the Metroplex.

"Will we be cooler than the typical suburban development? My opinion is, yeah," said Dan Quinto, one of the project's developers. But he said: "How far along that road are we? Is it measurable?"

Hashem Akbari, an expert on urban climates at the Berkeley National Laboratory in California who helped design the neighborhood, was more upbeat.

"Once this whole thing is complete, I would not be surprised to see a few degrees cooler neighborhood, a more comfortable neighborhood than the surrounding neighborhoods," said Akbari, with the Lab’s Heat Island Group.

Home Town NRH was one of several new-urbanist projects proposed in Northeast Tarrant County during the late 1990s. New urbanism calls for upending the traditional car-dependent suburb and mixing homes, offices and shops to create a more people-friendly neighborhood.

Similar projects have popped up nationwide, but only a few, including Home Town NRH and Civano in Tucson, Ariz., were designed specifically to reduce heat.

Akbari, who helped design both projects, believes that cities, with their huge expanses of pavement, trap heat and create a virtual island that stays hotter than the surrounding countryside.

He suggested using age-old techniques to cool the air naturally:

  • Laying out streets east-west to catch prevailing winds and allow the fronts of houses to point away from the sun.
  • Building narrower streets to minimize pavement, which traps heat.
  • Planting trees that will form a canopy over the streets.
  • Building ponds with fountains, whose mist will be carried on the breeze and provide natural cooling.
  • Using light-colored roofs on commercial buildings and positioning those buildings to shade shopping districts from the afternoon sun.

"It's only been very recently, with the advent of air conditioning, that these measures have not been paid much attention," Akbari said. In Spain and other countries along the Mediterranean coast, houses are often built around a central courtyard with a fountain, which provides the same type of cooling as the fountains in Home Town NRH, he said.

Gail Prososki-Marsland of Tucson, whose company, Solar Built, worked on some of the houses in Civano, said many are more energy-efficient than a typical house. But it's unclear whether the outdoor temperature is lower.

The developer experimented with a pavement made of crushed rock held together with an enzyme compound instead of concrete or asphalt. It was significantly cooler, but it had problems holding up under truck traffic.

"The idea was good," she said. "They later came back and had to blacktop part of it. There was definitely a temperature difference."

Quinto said it may take years to gauge the final effect in Home Town NRH. Several dozen houses have been completed, but none of the commercial buildings have been started. The fountains have only recently been installed, and the trees are still small.

Johnna Cook, who moved to a corner lot in Home Town NRH in April, said she loves the neighborhood, regardless of whether it is cooler than the rest of the Metroplex.

Her electric bill is lower, even though her new house is bigger than her old house, but she attributed that to better insulation.

On a recent sweltering afternoon, her front porch was mercifully shady. And, she said, it's a great vantage point for meeting the neighbors. The houses have small back yards, which makes it more convenient for neighbors to congregate in common areas.

"I know a lot of them because they walk past here," she said. That's a big change from her old neighborhood, where the neighbors tended to stay indoors.

"I lived there 12 years, and I didn't know all of them," she said.

It isn't clear whether the narrow streets help control the temperature, she said, but they definitely help control the traffic.

As for the fountains, she said: "The sound's nice. I don't know about cooling anything off."

Mike Lee, (817) 685-3858 [email protected]


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