Sunday, October 28, 2007

10/28 Green Building

Beatley points out some practical programs that seems to be working in cities such as Boulder (Greenpoints) and Austin (Green Star Builders) as well as the Green House Number program in Germany and could fairly easily translate to other cities around the US. These programs seem similar to the more rigorous LEED Certification, which seems to have become somewhat of a badge of honor in the design/build community. Many of Beatley's points about America's increased housing size are still valid, however even since the book's publication in 2000, I think there has been a pretty dramatic shift towards green building here in America.

One point Beatley made was that in some cases material that is thought to be energy efficient or environmentally friendly is made less so when taking into account the concept of "embodied energy." Beatley brings up the shipment of western red cedar from Canada to the Netherlands to construct new homes with wood that can remain untreated. Beatley doesn't address embodied energy in his book but basically it is the idea that when you use a product or material you should factor in the costs (both monetary and environmental) with its construction and transportation. If you are interested in architecture and building it is important to know about because embodied energy is also used as an arguement for capturing the existing resources in and on our already developed land. So when you rehab an old building you are capturing the resources that went into all the materials, as well as the energy embodied by the workers that constructed it. Often times buildings older than 75 years old contain more green features than buildings built in the last 50 years because they were constructed with natural materials and constructed to have natural heating and cooling systems before everyone went HVAC crazy. I believe the USGBC still has not released their LEED rating system for existing buildings but I know it is in development and will rate existing buildings for the inherently green features if they exist, as well as for green features which are retrofitted. Combined with the substantial state and federal funds available for the rehabilitation of old buildings, a LEED rating system for existing buildings would create a powerful tool for restoring areas that were built basically applying smart growth principles before there was smart growth. So, enough of my preservation rant.

I appreciated the Roseland piece on Housing and Community Development very much. Roseland addresses realistic issues such as affordable housing, infill housing, brownfield development, the greening of urban areas and then offers examples of these issues being addressed in the US. In trying to keep with the assignment, I thought about, as I usually do, Pittsburgh. Reading Roseland's list of ways to address affordable housing I thought a lot about how many of the tools, such as Affordable Housing Programs like Habitat for Humanity already exist in Pittsburgh and unfortunately still aren't able to adequately address the issue. So I tried to focus on what we were missing that might help to close the gap. The first thing that jumped out was linkage payments. Roseland mentions them in Boston, and I just hears a talk by the Boston URA on their effectiveness. Great! Linkage payments in Pittsburgh! Actually, this would not be something that a smaller rust belt city can afford. The city struggles to attract developers as it is, and a linkage payment would deter not entice. Perhaps other municipal funds, or portions of other developer fees could be set towards affordable housing but I don't believe a linkage payment would be appropriate in Pittsburgh. What I did come up with was that when affordable housing is built it should be more service oriented, to empower residents. Additionally, a more large-scale tool might be the establishment of a land trust just to promote and protect affordable housing. With the highest number of foundation dollars avaiable per capita of any US city, Pittsburgh's foundations could support the land trust initially if it received donations of land from the city. Certainly something to be further explored ... unfortunately probably not by our 27 year-old mayor.

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