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North American Projects Highlighted as Part of KPMG Urban Infrastructure Report

Area Development Online Research Desk (August 2012)
KPMG's Global Infrastructure practice recently presented a report entitled The Infrastructure 100: World Cities Edition, which showcased 100 innovative urban infrastructure projects that should serve as an example of what can be accomplished to those involved with infrastructure development and city leaders around the world. The 100 projects that most excelled were judged by a group of independent experts against five criteria: scale, feasibility, technical or financial complexity, innovation, and impact on society.

The report notes that cities are striving to provide critical urban infrastructure assets to support their burgeoning growth, including more effective transportation systems, reliable and low-carbon energy, safe and secure water networks, and efficient and scalable social infrastructure. With the urban population in the developing world expected to increase to 1.3 billion+ over the next two decades, it's no surprise that political and business leaders are now keenly focused on cities and their impact on everything from economic growth and social well-being to climate change and sustainability. In the developed world, too, a massive amount of new infrastructure will be needed in order to meet the growing and shifting demands of established urban populations.

The 100 projects are divided into 10 categories: education, healthcare, global connectivity, new and extended cities, urban mobility, urban regeneration, water, urban energy infrastructure, recycling and waste management, and communications infrastructure. Let's look at some North American projects:

Among those cited in the global connectivity category is the California High-Speed Rail project. The project would reconnect major California city centers with point-to-point travel that aims to reduce congestion on roads and at airports. Despite difficult public finances, California is hoping to move ahead with the $68 billion project. Once built, trains capable of reaching speeds up to 220 mph will link San Francisco and Los Angeles in as little as two and a half hours. Equally as important, city centers along the route will be regenerated with an emphasis on public transport. For example, San Francisco's planning commission has approved plans for a Transit Center District to revitalize the area surrounding the city's proposed Transbay Terminal, which would include a new bus terminal, an extension of Caltrain to accommodate high-speed rail, and a 1,070-foot office tower. Housing is also planned at all levels of affordability. Similar developments are proposed for other major California cities along the planned high-speed route including Sacramento, San Jose, Fresno, Bakersfield, and San Diego.

Also cited in North America in the global connectivity category is the $1.95 billion expansion of Calgary International Airport in Alberta, Canada, will more than double the size of the airport, and is part of the Canadian government's strategy to dramatically improve the province's infrastructure to accommodate recent and anticipated economic growth. The project includes a new 14,000-foot runway (the longest in Canada), an aircraft parking apron, taxiways, a central de-icing facility, and an international concourse that incorporates sustainable design principles.

Two U.S. cities are noted in the new and extended cities category for their transformational nature in reinventing existing cities. Tysons Corner in Virginia was a sprawling, car-dependent office and retail suburb near Washington, D.C. It has been transformed into a green city with revived neighborhoods, sidewalk culture, local employment, and local arts. The new urban center is supported by non-motorized and public transportation. Smart land use will help planners reconfigure the city of 17,000 to support as many as 100,000 in years to come.

Once one of America's leading cities and home to businesses such as General Motors and Motown Records, Detroit, which is Michigan's largest city, witnessed a steady decline of its industrial base that burdened the city with various social and economic problems - leading to unique infrastructure and municipal services challenges. Now, Detroit is uniquely trying to reverse its decline through the Detroit Works project, which is both a short and long-term planning initiative. The project aims to create a strategic framework for the city that will be used to generate sustainable economic growth, better land use policies, thriving neighborhoods, a healthier environment, improved city systems and infrastructure, and increased civic capacity. The project also seeks to achieve immediate results in three specific pilot areas.

New York's East Side Access project is cited in the urban mobility category. It is one of the largest public works projects ever undertaken. The project is the first Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) expansion in over 100 years and will connect its Main and Port Washington lines in the borough of Queens to a new LIRR terminal beneath Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, dramatically shortening commute times for Long Island and Queens residents. The development includes seven miles of tunnels and 24 miles of new track as well as tunneling and blasting in two boroughs roughly 15 stories beneath Grand Central Terminal. The city's Metropolitan Transportation Authority has taken the lead on the project. Also cited in the urban mobility category is the Port of Miami Tunnel project.

Congestion in the city of Miami, Florida, helped spur the over 30-year development of the tunnel. The $607 million project was designed to alleviate pressure on the Port Boulevard Bridge, which was the only access route for heavy commercial vehicles using the container shipping terminal. The tunnel is a mixed-use facility, accommodating cruise and cargo traffic, and provides a direct interstate connection to and from the port, reducing travel times and alleviating congestion by diverting traffic away from city streets.

In the urban generation category, the World Trade Center Redevelopment involves the regeneration of Ground Zero and reconstruction of the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York City. The 16-acre area is being turned into a vibrant commercial district and a memorial to those who lost their lives. The 104-floor skyscraper One World Trade Center is nearing completion, and three more commercial towers are planned.

The Toronto Waterfront project in Canada is a $17 billion development that has been planned for 25 years and is perhaps the largest regeneration project in North America. The revitalization is concentrated on Toronto's central waterfront, an area of 800 hectares of largely underutilized land located steps away from the country's largest financial and cultural urban core. Once it is completed, the waterfront will include 40,000 new residences (20 percent of which will be affordable housing), 40,000 new jobs, new transit infrastructure, and 300 hectares of parks and public spaces.

Launched in 2004, the People's Moss Desalination Project was recognized in the water category. It is one of three proposed desalination projects that could provide the Monterey Peninsula with an alternative freshwater source. Currently, the cities of Monterey, Carmel, and Pacific Grove rely heavily on the Carmel River. However, a statewide water crisis has caused the California state government to demand a 70 percent reduction by 2014, with hefty fines and rationing if the target is not achieved by 2016.

Interestingly, +Pool was also recognized in the water category. + Pool was launched with the ambition to improve the use of the city's natural resources by providing a clean and safe way for the public to swim in city waters. The project, described as being "like a giant strainer dropped into the river," uses a complex filter system to remove bacteria, contaminants and odors.

A biomass-fuelled heat and power research project at the University of British Columbia in Canada was recognized in the urban energy infrastructure category. The UBC Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility will be housed in a building designed and constructed using cross-laminate timber, a renewable alternative to steel/concrete construction. A collaboration between the university, Vancouver-based Nexterra Systems and General Electric, the gasification system aims to generate enough clean electricity to power 1,500 homes and reduce the university's natural gas consumption by up to 12 percent. In the United States, Exelon City Solar in Chicago, Illinois claims to be the country's largest urban solar plant. Located on a 41-acre brownfield site in the city's West Pullman neighborhood, the 10MW array includes over 32,000 solar PV panels that can generate enough annual electricity to power 1,500 average sized homes.

Two Canadian projects were recognized in the recycling and waste management category. The Energy Recycling and Waste Management Garden Project in Vancouver is the country's first high-efficiency system for producing renewable energy from food and yard waste. The $4 million project uses a number of different funding sources and will see up to 27,000 tonnes of food and yard waste per year diverted from British Columbia landfill sites. A demonstration plant will be built to generate enough energy to power up to 700 homes, while also producing high-quality compost.

And the Durham York Energy Waste Project (DYEC) in southern Ontario DYEC will process remaining residential waste following Durham and York's aggressive composting and recycling programs, while also recovering materials and energy. Durham York Energy Centre will have a maximum capacity of 140,000 tons per year.

A smaller project recognized in the communications infrastructure category is the Kokua Wireless initiative in Hawaii, which offers free municipal WiFi on the island of Oahu. This began with 15 local businesses putting antennas on their roofs and sharing their Internet access. The scheme quickly gained momentum by word of mouth and now has nearly 200 nodes. In exchange for participation, businesses receive free advertising. Every 30 minutes the Internet connection is refreshed to prevent illegal downloading; when it boots back up, the user is reconnected and routed to the website of one of the businesses housing an antenna.

Also recognized in the U.S. in this category is a much larger development: the Cisco HealthPresence project in Tennessee. HealthPresence involves advanced care at a distance via a platform that links patients and clinicians with HD video, audio, medical devices, and collaboration tools. It works with medical diagnostic equipment, such as stethoscopes and otoscopes, to capture patient information, while also allowing patients to interactively discuss their conditions with their physicians remotely. The project aims to lower the cost of healthcare while allowing more patients in rural areas to be seen by specialists who are often located in large urban medical centers.
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