A Rural-Urban Collaboration to Grow Renewable Energy Jobs
Author: Dillon Pinholster
Institution: Washington University in St. Louis
Instructor: Patty Heyda
Studio: Climate Action Now: Energy and Design for the Cities We Need; Undergraduate Architecture; Spring 2021
I began with an examination of the economic forces behind--and resulting from--the development of wind turbines in rural areas at the local, county, state, and regional level in Missouri and the surrounding Midwest region. I concluded more or less that areas with higher wind development had higher growth rates in median income, and in areas where utility employment was high, this growth number was even larger. From here I set about to locate a site, and design a federal level policy: the Green Redevelopment Infrastructure Design Initiative. The GRID Act. By funding wind development across Midwestern and great plains states, the goal of the GRID act is to shift the American electrical grid to a highly renewable, wind based portfolio. My project research shows the high-viability of wind power in Missouri, and the Grain Belt proposal is an existing initiative to built the infrastructure that could bring wind across the state. Under my proposed GRID Act, developers are given funding at the federal level to construct the turbines and factories needed to source their parts in predetermined areas of potential. In a state where rural and urban centers stand in political and ideological opposition, this project proposes a collaboration between two towns with high poverty rates (but excellent renewable job growth potentials): Kirksville, in rural Missouri, and Kinloch in St. Louis County--just outside St. Louis City (and adjacent to Ferguson, MO). The contrasting republican\largely white rural and democratic\largely black first-ring, towns--the project sites--are chosen based on their shared conditions of vacancy, wind speed, and poverty rates.
When a renewable energy sector is created in each town, a corresponding design framework must be built along with either the factories or wind farms. This is to ensure that growth in the area surrounding these massive cash injections in each region are created in a catered, sustainable way with baseline modules of development. Three base modules are installed into each site --housing, education, and workspace. The prototype cities will each grow and benefit from their role in different parts of the wind-sector supply chain: Kirksville, Missouri for wind development, and Kinloch, Missouri for manufacturing. The design building modules are tailored to the sites by shape, density, and commute time so as to encourage a more equitable and sustainable lifestyle to accompany the jobs from the wind industry. From here the modules develop with the needs of, and growth of the population, taking on an organic pattern within the structured system applied over the sites.
Climate Action Now remakes the city according to radical—necessary—new models of renewable, public controlled, distributed energy resources. It is well known at this point that climate warming is a global crisis. Species survival relies on curbing green-house emissions within the next few years. Currently, our centralized systems of fossil energy generate 55% of the U.S.’s toxic greenhouse gas emissions causing climate warming (EPA, 2018). Climate Action Now means, not only addressing how a post-carbon city can shape new paradigms of public and private life, but innovating the policy ideas for how to actualize it. Fossil capital, after all, provides power just as it holds (political) power. To that end, we will leverage the Green New Deal—the non-binding congressional call to arms—by giving it the teeth it needs via a testing of concrete new formats of American energy post coal, oil and gas. We will speculate on the design possibilities of a truly public decentralized energy city. Can we imagine an urbanism of people over profits; planet over pilfering? Public utilities? Sharable power, distributed energy resources; ground-up micro-grids? New paradigms of subsidy, regulation; property? And how do these transformations manifest in urban space and program across scales? An ecologically connected urban and landscape design approach will envision forward thinking scenarios of the post-fossil city we have no choice but to achieve. Students will first conduct research on existing energy systems in the context of St. Louis, MO. Then they will propose new energy economy frameworks (in small teams). Finally, through individual projects, students will play out the material-spatial design possibilities that those frameworks enable across scales. The St. Louis, MO region is home of the United States’ 14th most CO2 polluting coal-fired power plant, and Missouri is the third largest consumer of coal in the United States. St. Louis has thousands of vacant lots and the region still reels from ongoing racial tension and compounded inequality. Following on Van Jones’ Green Collar Economy (the original Green New Deal call!) the studio will explore how neighborhoods long underserved could become key participants and beneficiaries of the energy transition. The deurbanized city is a prime location for this new just energy economy.