Buildings—particularly large commercial buildings and multi-family residential buildings—are a significant source of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. In fact, commercial buildings alone account for 20 percent of all domestic energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions—a statistic that points to the urgency of promoting energy efficiency in the building sector. To this end, over the past few years, policymakers, academics, the real estate industry, and the environmental community in the United States have all begun to converge on a single policy mechanism for improving energy efficiency in buildings: benchmarking, or the reporting of energy performance for existing buildings.
Seven U.S. cities – New York, Austin, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, Minneapolis and Philadelphia— as well as two states (WA and CA), have passed such policies to improve energy efficiency. Boston is presently considering this legislation, and other major U.S. cities are expected to follow later this year.
Benchmarking is a way to improve the energy efficiency of individual buildings, as well as a way to transform the market for energy efficiency retrofits. Benchmarking is, at its heart, an information policy that requires building owners to disclose the energy use of their building, either to the public (as in NYC and SF), or to prospective buyers and tenants (as in Seattle and Austin). By introducing information about energy use to all parties at the time that they are negotiating the price and valuation of buildings, benchmarking is intended to transform the market for energy efficiency by eliminating the information asymmetries that disincentivize owners to invest in energy efficient buildings, systems, and retrofits that would otherwise be highly lucrative asset improvements.
Benchmarking differs from other building information policies in that it measures the actual operating performance of existing buildings. Asset rating policies, such as USGBC’s LEED system and others, are based either on a pre-set scale of points for various design features, or the performance of the building modeled by engineers. There are, however, two problems with these policies. First, point systems and building models often fail to accurately predict the actual operating performance of buildings. Second, these systems don’t incentivize building owners to implement operational changes, like training cleaning staff and security guards to turn off the lights in unoccupied offices at night, which can often be the cheapest and most effective way to reduce energy use.
Benchmarking is also a fairly cost-effective way to measure building energy performance, compared to a more detailed engineering audit. Benchmarking for a typical NYC building, which consists of gathering previous years of utility bills and making some basic building measurements, runs between $500 and $1000. In comparison, a detailed engineering audit and analysis can cost $50,000 or more. My current research indicates that benchmarking data is a highly cost-effective way to predict the different patterns of energy use between buildings, and provides a sufficiently detailed baseline for building managers and owners to work towards improvement.
Furthermore, a number of city governments are finding that benchmarking policies are an important new source of data for analysis. I am currently engaged in two data analysis projects with the cities of New York and Seattle in order to improve the quality of their data and to better inform the real estate sector in those cities on trends in energy use. For example, I recently worked with New York City to analyze benchmarking data collected as part of Local Law 84, which requires all privately-owned properties with individual buildings over 50,000 square feet or with multiple buildings with a combined square footage over 100,000 square feet to annually measure and report their energy and water use. (Read the report.) Creating city-specific datasets provides a basis for more meaningful peer group comparisons, where an owner in New York City can judge his or her building against similar buildings.
As benchmarking spreads, and the real estate industry has access to more information about how energy is used in buildings, we can expect to see continued changes. Building owners and tenants will better understand their own energy use, and opportunities to reduce it. Governments and utilities may use benchmarking data in a more targeted way to better aim their existing incentives and subsidies for energy efficiency. Third-party software companies are already being founded to provide building owners and policymakers with higher quality data and analysis of buildings.
Benchmarking is a relatively new policy, but is growing and maturing quickly. Still, as with many other areas of society that are being transformed by data, the opportunities for building energy efficiency have just begun.
David Hsu is a Penn IUR faculty fellow and assistant professor of City and Regional Planning in the School of Design.
As part of its work with the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub, Penn IUR has created the Research Digest website, a new, in-depth source of information on building energy efficiency. The Research Digest was launched in June and is a part of the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub (EEB Hub), a project established by the Department of Energy to make the nation’s building stock more energy efficient, with the goal of lowering energy use in the commercial building sector by 20 percent by 2020. Penn is one of the EEB Hub’s partner organizations, and Penn IUR was tasked with creating the Research Digest, a market-facing knowledge sharing platform. Penn IUR Co-Director Eugenie Birch is the Research Digest’s lead investigator.
The Research Digest aims to publicize the EEB Hub’s research findings, success stories, and case studies. In a press release announcing the website’s launch, Birch said, “The EEB Hub Research Digest—as a web-based knowledge-sharing platform—provides an important link among EEB’s researchers as well as all those interested in understanding the extraordinary advances being made through Hub’s collaborative efforts among industry, university, and government to innovate in deep retrofits for commercial real estate.”
Penn IUR works closely with the Hub’s researchers to develop the news reports, videos, and infographics that make up The EEB Research Digest, translating researchers’ technical findings for a diverse audience that includes those working in energy efficiency, building science, and real estate finance as well as students and the public. (For example, see the above infographic on Energy Benchmarking & Disclosure.)
Visit the Research Digest website to learn more.
The newest book in Penn IUR’s City in the 21st Century book series is Ed Bacon: Planning Politics and the Building of Modern Philadelphia, Gregory Heller’s biography of legendary Philadelphia city planner Edmund Bacon. The book, published by Penn Press, has garnered rave reviews and significant press coverage. Below is a compilation of recent articles and reviews of the book.
· “The Philadelphia Story,” a review in Architect magazine
· “On the Book of Bacon: A Q&A with Greg Heller,” in Hidden City Philadelphia
· “In Conversation With: Greg Heller on Ed Bacon and his legacy,” in PlanPhilly
· “Changing Skyline: Edmund Bacon, doer” in the Philadelphia Inquirer
In May, the Spatial Integration Laboratory for Urban Systems (SILUS), a collaboration between the U.S. Geological Survey Science and Decisions Center and The Wharton GIS Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, in partnership with Penn IUR, convened “Urban Ecosystem Services and Decision Making: A Green Philadelphia.” Penn IUR Co-director Susan Wachter also co-directs SILUS.
This symposium brought together policy-makers, researchers and practitioners involved in the provision of green infrastructure, with the aim of informing policymaking on urban ecosystem services. Based on the Philadelphia initiatives, the group identified critical research issues that need to be addressed, including incentive structures that can improve the decision-making process to support ecosystem services.
Selected PowerPoint presentations from the symposium are available below.
Urban Water: Managing Stormwater, Rivers, and Watersheds
· David Hsu, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania
· Tom Daniels, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania
· Howard Neukrug, Water Commissioner, Philadelphia Water Department
Keynote: America’s Great Outdoors and Urban Waters Initiative
· David Russ, Regional Director, Northeast, U.S. Geological Survey
Urban Green: Managing Forests, Trees, and Greenspace
· Michael Rains, Director, Northern Research Station, U.S. Forest Service
· Laura Jackson, Research Scientist, Sustainable & Healthy Communities
Research Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
· Nancy Goldenberg, Senior Vice-President for Programs, Pennsylvania
Establishing an Urban Research Agenda for Decision Ready Science: Priorities and Opportunities
· Sarah Low, Coordinator, Philadelphia Field Station, U.S. Forest Service
· Kathleen Wolf, Research Social Scientist, University of Washington
Interest in health and safety programs that focus on improving the places people live, work, and play has grown over the past decade. A renaissance seeks to move beyond a focus on individuals and lifestyle changes—for example educating people about nutrition or relying on them to always drive safely and mind pedestrians— to embrace a broader emphasis on the environmental contexts within which individuals live. This means changing and improving the very structure of neighborhoods; for example, designing sidewalks that encourage walking but also separate pedestrians from traffic, or implementing policies and infrastructure to bring supermarkets—and fresh fruits and vegetables— to neighborhoods with only a corner bodega. If done right, place-based programs have the potential to become truly transformational policies for the health and safety of large populations.
Engineers and urban planners prominently figured into some of the earliest and largest place-based public health successes. Electrical power grids, water chlorination, building codes, and roadway redesign did more to enhance the health of the public than many (maybe any) other programs, including medical care. These programs were widely successful because they focused on places or structural changes while being cost-effective and readily scalable to cover entire communities, thus impacting large numbers of people for long periods of time. For example, it has been estimated that clean water technologies alone (filtration and chlorination) were responsible for nearly half of the total mortality reduction in major cities between 1900 and 1936, and helped to nearly eradicate typhoid fever, a major public health threat of that time.
In the last decade, a select few programs that change the places people live, work and play have been shown effective at some of the highest levels of scientific evidence. One such program that I have studied is the Philadelphia LandCare Program, a joint effort between the City of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society that transforms some of Philadelphia’s trash-strewn and blighted vacant lots into clean, green, neighborhood spaces. In a study that analyzed the program over a 10 year period, my colleagues and I found that the program’s health and safety benefits reached far beyond its immediate aesthetic improvements in a given neighborhood. The transformed lots were associated with a marked reduction in gun crime, as well as improved health behaviors for neighborhood inhabitants, such as increased exercise and decreased stress levels.
The Penn effort to study urban phenomena, such as vacant properties or the Philadelphia LandCare program, has been highly multidisciplinary and growing over the past several years. Epidemiologists, statisticians, business analysts, criminologists, geographers, anthropologists, economists, and others have been involved in what has turned out to be an extraordinarily worthwhile research endeavor. Perhaps the attraction for all these different scientists, who often do not work with one another, is the potential for real-world impact that they see in this line of research. To date, several peer-reviewed scientific articles have been produced on the subject by Penn investigators.     And the enthusiasm for this topic at the university-level is only exceeded by the dedication of the many private and municipal partners who are the real impetus behind urban blight reduction strategies such as the Philadelphia LandCare program – the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development, the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections, the Philadelphia Police Department, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, and the Philadelphia Managing Directors Office.
The results of our research on the Philadelphia LandCare Program are promising, but more— much more— scientific evidence is needed to effectively design and implement future place-based programs. Such evidence would provide guidance on which place-based programs warrant research investments at the highest levels, including which should perhaps be selected for randomized trials. Successful programs should be quickly disseminated and unsuccessful programs retooled (or abandoned) as part of a larger rapid cycle learning process. As a basic guide to selection, we should consider programs that have three cardinal features: (1) they make basic structural changes to places, (2) they are scalable to large populations, and (3) they have reasonable sustainability. Programs designed to improve the health and safety of the community writ large will increase in the coming decades. This will, and should, prominently include place-based programs.
Creating vibrant, livable spaces, particularly in areas suffering from urban decline, requires that city planners, public health experts and engineers work together to create large-scale and sustainable place-based programs. Such programs do not simply grow and develop organically; they must be carefully designed and implemented—and they require resources if their impact is to be felt. The growing public policy and academic interest in place-based health and safety programs is encouraging. However, to implement such programs on a large scale will require a shift in focus toward the broader contexts of public health and safety, as well as significantly more research. Over time, this investment in time and resources has great potential for transforming urban spaces, and dramatically affecting the quality of many lives. It is an investment that will require long-term thinking, creative program design and a good deal of work. And it will require a commitment to the idea that safe and healthy places are made, not born.
Charles Branas is a Penn IUR faculty fellow and professor of epidemiology at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.
 Cutler, D. and Miller, G. (February, 2005). The Role of Public Health Improvements in Health Advances: The Twentieth-Century United States. Demography, vol. 42, no. 1, 1-22.
 Susan M Wachter, Grace Wong (2008), What is a Tree Worth? Green City Strategies and Housing Prices, Real Estate Economics, 2008, 213-239.
 Branas CC, Cheney RA, MacDonald JM, Tam VW, Jackson TD, Ten Have TR: A difference-in-differences analysis of health, safety, and greening vacant urban space. American Journal of Epidemiology 174: 1-11, 2011.
 Branas CC, Gracia N, Rubin D, Guo W: Vacant properties and violence in neighborhoods. ISRN Public Health 2012: 1-23, 2012.
 Garvin E, Branas CC, Keddem S, Sellman J, Cannuscio C: More than just an eyesore: local insights and solutions on vacant land and urban health. Journal of Urban Health 12(7): 9782-7, 2012.
 Garvin E, Branas CC, Cannuscio CC: Greening vacant lots to reduce violent crime: A randomized controlled trial. Injury Prevention 18(5): 1-6, 2012.
We are pleased to announce the release of two new books in our City in the 21st Century book series, published in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Press. The newest titles are: "Locked In, Locked Out: Gated Communities in a Puerto Rican Neighborhood" by Zaire Zenit Dinzey-Flores and "Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics and the Building of Modern Philadelphia," by Gregory L. Heller.
Many previously published books in the C21 book series are now available in paperback. You can buy the following C21 books in paperback from the Penn Press website:
On April 22, Marc Imhoff, Deputy Director, Joint Global Change Research Institute, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/University of Maryland, delivered the MUSA GIS Earth Day Lecture, titled “Urbanization in the Anthropocene: What’s Ahead for Energy, Climate and Food Security?”
Imhoff discussed how rapid urbanization, population growth and increasing per capita consumption is putting immense pressure on our planet’s biological capacity in specific ways and influencing Earth’s biogeochemical and climate systems in ways we don’t fully understand. He discussed new approaches for addressing issues of energy, climate and food security using satellite data and new Integrated Modeling Approaches that couple socio-economics, climate and energy.
As the 2012-2013 academic year draws to a close, Penn IUR will host the 10th Annual Urban Doctoral Symposium to highlight the work of four exemplary graduating doctoral students that represent Penn’s interdisciplinary urban scholarship. On behalf of Penn IUR, we would like to congratulate the following graduating doctoral students, and celebrate their excellent work.
For more information on each student's dissertation, read the abstracts below:
"Imagining the City: Community-Based Art and the Experience of Urban Diversity"
Community-based arts organizations articulate particular visions of urban diversity. In the case of majority-white, politically progressive community-based arts organizations working for urban transformation, the vision of urban diversity articulated in public is often at odds with the ways in which diversity is understood and lived within the organizations themselves as well as in the private lives of participants. Rather than simply a “failure,” blind spot, or contradictory reinforcement of white privilege, however, the visions of urban diversity advanced by different community- arts organizations point to the powerful relationship between culture and place, as well as the importance of symbolic aspects of community and the use of arts.
The tension between urban diversity as it is lived-in isolation-and as it is imagined-in interaction-is often experienced as racialized conflict, even in cultural projects dedicated to multiracial community. And yet this tension also serves to highlight the importance of the imagination for urban transformation, and the role of culture in a diverse democracy. Based on fieldwork at three Philadelphia community-arts organizations, this paper explores the way that culture influences understanding of urban diversity and offers a comparative analysis of the use of urban art in service of multiracial community.
"The Impact of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy on the Recidivism of High Risk Probationers: Results from a Randomized Trial"
This dissertation addresses the impact that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can have on criminal recidivism. Though research has shown that CBT programs are a promising intervention to modify criminogenic behaviors, the rigor and characteristics of these evaluations vary significantly. For example, there have been few attempts to conduct randomized evaluations in an urban, community corrections environment. This project addresses this gap, with a focus on reducing crime within a population determined to be at a high risk of serious offending. The Philadelphia Adult Probation and Parole Department (APPD) has partnered with researchers from the Jerry Lee Center (JLC) at the University of Pennsylvania to conduct a randomized control trial (RCT) exploring the use of advanced risk forecasting methodologies. By randomly assigning identified probationers to receive either an intensive probation protocol or an intensive probation in conjunction with life skills intervention, the impact of the CBT program can be evaluated. This dissertation reports on twelve-month outcomes, including the frequency and prevalence of offending across multiple offense classifications.
“The Effects of Intradistrict School Mobility and Student Turnover Rates on Early Reading Achievement”
A number of studies have identified school mobility as one form of school disengagement that is disproportionately harmful for young children enrolled in large urban districts. However, these findings vary substantially, with some studies actually evidencing positive associations between school mobility and academic outcomes. Researchers have attributed these highly variable results to a lack of precision in the research to date. The primary aim of this study was to respond to these research limitations from a development-ecological perspective by assessing the concurrent (recent), cumulative (number of moves), and contextual (high student turnover rates) effects of intradistrict school mobility on early reading achievement. This was accomplished using longitudinal administrative school records for an entire cohort of students enrolled in a large urban district from first through third grade. Findings indicated that students with a concurrent intradistrict school move had lower reading achievement scores at the end of each grade compared to children who did not change schools. Cumulative intradistrict school mobility was also associated with poor reading achievement by the end of third grade. Students enrolled in schools with high turnover rates demonstrated worse reading achievement after accounting for individual school mobility experiences, and this effect worsened as children reached third grade. The evidence from this study suggests that the population of students making intradistrict school moves needs to be a priority for educational policymakers.
“The Relationship Between Teacher Turnover and School Performance in New York City’s Middle Schools”
Nationally, almost fifty percent of teachers quit within their first five years (Ingersoll, 2001). In New York City, over half of middle school teachers leave their schools after three years (Marinell, 2011). Researchers have produced thousands of studies to understand teacher turnover (Guarino et al., 2006). Few, however, have explored the effects of teacher turnover on schools (Ronfeldt et al., 2013). The lack of research on the relationship between teacher turnover and school performance is not only a gap in the academic literature, but is also a practical problem for policy makers and school leaders. This dissertation seeks to fill this gap by analyzing the relationship between school-level teacher turnover and school performance in New York City’s middle schools. Multi-level, longitudinal models are used to (1) uncover the directionality of the relationship between rates of teacher turnover and school performance; (2) analyze how high levels of short term and longer term teacher turnover relate to school performance; and (3) explore how leadership quality moderates the relationship between teacher turnover and school performance. Findings show mixed results. In some cases high levels of teacher turnover contribute to lower levels of school performance, and in some cases these results are moderated by school leadership. In other cases, turnover appears unrelated to school performance. The study has implications for contextual quantitative research, the literature on teacher turnover, and education policy related to teacher turnover.
The Feeding Cities Conference is now a course on iTunes U. Videos from every session, PowerPoints, and more are available with your free registration tw.itunes.com/v02
Eugenie Birch has been awarded the 2013 American Planning Association (APA) President’s Award. The award is given every other year in recognition of leadership in the field of planning. An official press release from Penn IUR is available here.