Sunday, October 28, 2007

Affordable Housing and Sustainable Building

As the chapter in Towards Sustainable Communities states, “improving livability and fostering community is imperative for the survival of humanity.” Indeed, if we are to avoid potentially disastrous consequences of our negative impacts on the planet, we will need to learn how to be more effective as communities that synergize rather than separate. The chapter on housing and community development shows many examples of and tools for affordable housing and community development. In Ithaca, a city surrounded by many communities, can benefit from the intensification of development in existing areas. With urban sprawl on the rise, this must include imposing barriers (such as higher taxes) to new developments in undeveloped areas and providing tax breaks for new developments in the city.

In order to meet housing needs for lower-income people, Ithaca can fund the development of new affordable housing units near the city center. Making such developments accessible to the city center is important in ensuring a good quality of life for city members. In addition to tax breaks, Ithaca can further encourage affordable housing development by providing low-interest loans, assistance in forming housing associations, and resources to develop community land trusts. Ithaca can also work with volunteer organizations and examples like Eco-Village to promote replication of such housing units. Finally, to promote community, cooperative housing, urban cooperative blocks, and programs that bring residents together can be enticed.

The chapter on building designs in Green Urbanism looks at the great examples that exist in Europe of sustainable building. In northern European countries, building complexes are designed to reduce energy use, increase density, and maximize resource use and availability. From Ecolonia to Morra Park, examples of ecological building abound in Europe. Most of them make very wide use of solar energy for both electricity, lighting, and hot water. In the Netherlands, especially, the government itself sets national targets for achieving bold reductions in energy use and sharp improvements in resource efficiencies and high density. The government funds several programs that involve the public and private sectors, encouraging collaboration and incentivizing higher sustainable building standards. While there are many examples in the United States, few are as impressive as the examples in Europe, where high density and full utility of solar energy, energy efficiency, and open space are very common. The challenge for the United States is to build the capacity for radically different building standards and to create policies that will discourage energy and resource waste in buildings and encourage density, green design, and efficiency.

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