Rice University logoShell Center for Sustainability
Top blue bar image
  • Shell Center for Sustainability
  • Shell Center for Sustainability
  • Shell Center for Sustainability
Facebook btnRSS


The Shell Center for Sustainability's mission is to foster an interdisciplinary program of research, outreach, and education to address actions that can be taken to ensure the sustainable development of communities' living standards, interpreted broadly, to encompass all factors affecting the overall quality of life.

 Carbon 65 Header
LYONS WEST 2045: Neighborhood Spine with mixed use towers, slabs and urban sheds in third generation plantation. 

Cities do not easily change; they need a significant catalyst typically tied to an economic imperative. Carbon 2065 anticipates the emergence of an active carbon market and the dramatic effects it will have, not only on a post-carbon economy, but on the urban environments that this economy will produce. If the old carbon city was about extracting carbon from the ground and burning it, the new carbon city will be about extracting carbon from the sky and storing it.

Carbon 2065 is a staged, fifty-year urban plan for Houston’s Fifth Ward that combines large-scale, mass-timber construction with a new form of carbon-intensive urban forestry. Integrating the built and the natural environment into a single, sustainable cycle, Carbon 2065 initiates potential solutions to two, seemingly intractable problems—blighted neighborhoods and runaway carbon pollution. Carbon 2065 intends to provide, not a single, fixed solution or “Masterplan” as much as it intends to assist in actively envisioning new ways forward. 

Carbon 2065      Registration     Program    Speakers

  Thursday, October 29, 2015

In 2013, the Shell Center for Sustainability funded the Zero Carbon Development Research Project under the first Stress Nexus 2050 call for proposals. This workshop presents the results of this research in a forum that opens up the discussion to explore the feasibility of the zero carbon development concept. 

INHABITING THE CARBON CYCLE. Carbon 2065 is a reality-based proposal. Rather than enter a "debate" about climate science (or the temperature at which water boils), the project attempts to accommodate what established science tells us about a changing climate and the urgent need to respond. Carbon 2065 attempts to envision the dramatic reductions in energy consumption that are needed to limit surface temperature rise to 2°C. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this will require a 75% reduction of the typical, per capita energy expenditure in the United States by the year 2065. (Integrating climate remediation with necessary urban renewal and growth)

REDEVELOPMENT. Adopting a Habitat for Humanity style of house-by-house reconstruction in blighted urban and suburban neighborhoods, redevelopment in the U. S. has stalled in its tracks. In the Fifth Ward of Houston, the enviable track record of its Community Redevelopment Corporation has managed to replace 300 (2%) of the Ward’s housing stock over a twenty-five year period. In the meantime, blight in the neighborhood has outstripped this replacement rate by an order of magnitude. Carbon 2065 attempts a new strategy of reconstruction using economies of scale to drive down per unit costs in a public/private partnership. The first stages of the plan focused on Finnigan Park District.  

PRESERVATION. A unique form of preservation is attempted in Carbon 2065. No-build zones or “Holdouts” of varying sizes and make-up will be established to both preserve the most valuable of urban assets in the Ward as well as serve as anchors for the new development. (The Holdouts will be determined by active community participation.) Using the Holdouts, the Ward will be subdivided into new districts and neighborhoods in order to preempt the gated, introverted type of redevelopment that is already occurring throughout the inner city. Opposed to a tabula rasa approach redevelopment, the Holdouts will preserve the historic identity of the Fifth Ward allowing the remainder of its territory to be redeveloped affordably and sustainably.  

DENSITY. Carbon 2065 projects an urban environment that depends largely on urban density as the key to the necessary cuts in energy consumption through a combination of mass transit (density) and fewer, larger and more energy efficient buildings. Mass transit densities require a catchment of 60 units per acre or approximately 10 times the present density of the city. While the plan achieves these densities over a fifty-year period, it also recognizes that it is not feasible or desirable to pile up dense new construction in the manner of Manhattan or Hong Kong. The project instead looks to synthesize new models of urban density that are systematically balanced against generous amounts of productive open space.  

CAPTURE. Carbon 2065 not only reduces energy consumption through high densities, it pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and stores it. It attempts to integrate urban development into the carbon cycle by harnessing photosynthesis and its by-product, wood. The plan exploits the necessary open space that accompanies urban density as an opportunity for large-scale tree plantations capable of pulling carbon directly out of the atmosphere. Through various species planted and harvested over varying time periods, Carbon 2065 becomes a biotic, carbon remediation facility (a tree farm) that is also a habitable urban environment. Not only making an attractive environment, the plantations will produce a carbon credit adding potential support to the community.  

STORAGE. The other side of carbon remediation is storage. In the carbon plantation, photosynthesis pulls C02 out of the atmosphere which is then stored in the wood of the tree. (Half the weight of a tree is carbon.) As long as the tree does not burn or decompose, the carbon remains locked inside. To optimize carbon capture, plantations are rotated on a regular cycle. As trees are cut to make way for younger, faster absorbing trees, the wood must be stored and protected. Using wood as a construction material for new housing allows for its preservation as a unit of carbon storage while serving a second, equally vital function as highly efficient and quite beautiful replacement housing as well as new housing accommodating the city’s future growth. Wood construction replaces the two of the most carbon intensive industries on the planet: concrete and steel.  

URBAN ECOLOGY. Carbon 2065 ties into Houston's unique riverine ecosystem that permeates the entire city though seven east/west bayous running parallel within the city limits. These natural corridors have been recently assembled into a network of continuous public spaces that together measure out to 150 miles. Known as Bayou Greenway 2020, the open space of Carbon 2065’s plantations merge with the bayou corridors (from which they draw water) in a reciprocal relationship of stimulus and re/development. As a green network, Bayou Greenway 2020 will serve as the engine of the next phase of Houston’s development in much the same way as the way the freeway network has shaped the city in the past.  

  Structural Bldg Zero Carbon Wood














 This workshop is presented by the Shell Center for Sustainability as part of its research outreach. We thank our partners for their participation and support.