Fireplace Square

City Reroutes Lost Energy to Heat Sidewalks, Public Spaces Become Popular Year-Round

The city of Holland, Michigan has more than a yearly tulip festival — it has sustained a lively downtown core in the winter months while the streets of neighboring cities stood empty. Sally Augustin over at Metropolis writes about the effect that diverting “waste heat” from a local power plant has had on the community. The heat is pumped through 120 miles of pipes under the city’s sidewalks; this means that they require no shoveling or use of chemicals, while providing residents with a cozy atmosphere and thriving public space during the winter months.

Despite ‘lake effect’ winter storms, the sidewalks stay dry and the streets bustle with activity; a phenomenon implicated in keeping the downtown core — which houses small shops — alive while other cities chose large malls over such homely strips.

Although berated over at Treehugger for being powered by a coal plant, the system keeps the community alive while providing a place for neighbors to get together for some quality time. While the critique of using coal is valid, finding novel ways to reroute waste products seems like a good idea — it’d never be Utopianist to expend energy to heat a wealthy hamlet’s sidewalks, but taking advantage of a heat source that would otherwise be lost should be standard practice. The city has also added a gas-powered stone hearth with a seating area — a feature Augustin loves for the “al fresco get-togethers” it inspires.

The Michigan Municipal League has identified Holland as a vibrant, 21st Century Community; the town’s walkability, green initiatives like LED street lighting and cultural development have all garnered it this honor.

The city of Grand Haven, also in Michigan, is in the process of sprucing up its own sidewalks with a heating system. They will use heated water from the Grand River, which is currently being created by the dumping of excess energy from the Board of Light and Power.

In another vein, a city hall in France wants to keep warm by using sewage.

It seems that there are options available when it comes to reducing man power and chemical use, as well emissions. Cities like Holland and Grand Haven will now enjoy snow-free, cozy sidewalks year-round; and the public space has thrived as a result. And while it shouldn’t be a long-term solution for using the extra energy, it makes for a novel idea right now.

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All images: Michigan Municipal League, via Metropolis

86 thoughts on “City Reroutes Lost Energy to Heat Sidewalks, Public Spaces Become Popular Year-Round

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