The Public Power Coalition
Author: Meredith Busch
Institution: Washington University in St. Louis
Instructors: Patty Heyda
Studio: Climate Action Now: Energy and Design for the Cities We Need; Undergraduate Architecture; Spring 2021
Within the past 20 years in St. Louis City, the St. Louis Public School system (SLPS) has been in an unstable state with high rates of school closures. With the addition of an integration/ busing system, the VICC, and numerous new charter schools opening all over the city, more and more students are being pulled away from their local neighborhood schools and opting to travel far distances to receive their education, creating a hidden carbon cost to receiving a good education. This leaves local neighborhoods, especially in North St. Louis, disjointed with no common community organization to anchor a sense of place. With the financial backing of the proposed Federal Green Bank, the proposed Public Power Coalition aims to enter into local communities in St. Louis through local green banks situated along a federally funded corridor of solar infrastructure connecting local elementary schools (and offsetting energy costs to schools and adjacent properties). These banks will have a direct role in the betterment of their local community by providing appraisal gap loans to individuals looking to take mortgages out in areas directly surrounding local elementary schools. Increased home ownership and property values will then be captured through the collection of property taxes and redistributed by the green banks throughout the city based on need, thus creating a more equitable funding system for SLPS. With new green infrastructure physically and financially attached to local schools, they will become physical and social anchors in their area to support the residents—offset the carbon load and energy burden—and stabilize property towards a stronger local community network.
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.