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From "green" houses to how about "green" cities?

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  • Christopher Miller
    An opinion piece in the Washington Post today takes issue with the preoccupation with green houses - isolated and green only in the design and technologies
    Message 1 of 1 , May 4, 2009
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      An opinion piece in the Washington Post today takes issue with the
      preoccupation with "green" houses - isolated and "green" only in the
      design and technologies integrated into the buildings themselves but
      not "green" otherwise - and suggests we need to look at the forest
      rather than individual trees and think of "greening" the whole urban
      environment:

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/30/AR2009043004501.html

      =========================================================

      How a 'Green House of the Future' Can Impede Environmental Progress

      By Roger K. Lewis
      Saturday, May 2, 2009

      It's fun to think about how innovative technology and creative design
      someday might radically change the look and performance of a fully
      sustainable single-family home.

      The Wall Street Journal got into the game recently with a report on
      concepts by four architectural firms that the newspaper asked to
      imagine the "Green House of the Future."

      But how much can cool-looking, zero-carbon houses of the future
      contribute to meeting the nation's challenges: creating a healthier
      environment; achieving energy independence; and arresting climate
      change by burning less fossil fuel to run vehicles, generate
      electricity, and heat, cool and light buildings?

      The four houses envisioned in the Journal report display inventive
      form-making and incorporate the full gamut of green design techniques,
      some currently available and some theoretical. The houses, which would
      be built with recycled, high-tech and naturally green materials, would
      depend on renewable energy sources -- solar, wind, geothermal, biomass.

      Speculating about visionary green houses is tantalizing, but much
      greater benefits accrue at a larger scale. Entire metropolitan regions
      need to be green. This means creating more compact land-use patterns;
      diverse transportation options that enable fewer automobile trips;
      greater mixing of land uses at higher densities; and, of course,
      greener residential, commercial and civic buildings.

      Focusing on hypothetical designs of free-standing houses can even be a
      distraction. It can mask a more serious aspect of the challenge: the
      diminished sustainability of low-density, residential subdivisions in
      suburbia where most free-standing houses of the future are likely to
      be situated.

      No matter how green individual homes are, suburban sprawl is
      intrinsically anti-green. It generates infrastructure inefficiency;
      car dependency and rising fossil fuel demand; carbon-emitting, time-
      wasting road congestion; and, despite availability of inexpensive land
      at ever-greater distances from jobs, escalating development,
      construction and public service costs.

      Fighting sprawl while implementing large-scale sustainability
      strategies also requires preserving, expanding and retrofitting
      existing neighborhoods and buildings, including single-family houses.
      Use of what's already built saves immeasurable amounts of energy and
      resources. Transforming neighborhoods, buildings and infrastructure to
      accommodate new functions may be the best way for architects and the
      real estate industry to help create a greener planet.

      Unfortunately, regulatory, political, market and financial hurdles
      often stand in the way of transforming cities and suburbs to make them
      greener. Outdated zoning and building codes can be obstructive.
      Citizens may oppose change, especially in their own neighborhood.
      Consumers frequently resist design innovation. And some tactics for
      making greener environments require front-end capital investment that
      stresses project budgets or violate conventional financing formulas.

      To make America greener, we must shift focus. We need less attention
      on how to shape the individual house and more attention on how to
      shape -- and reshape -- communities. And we must focus attention on
      changing rules and public attitudes that make green design harder to
      achieve.


      Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and a professor emeritus of
      architecture at the University of Maryland.


      =========================================================

      Christopher Miller
      Montreal QC Canada
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