Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Designing a better world

Regular GPB contributor Karen Moser-Booth dreams about a car-less, nature-filled future for American cities.

Waiting for your town to green up can be frustrating. You want to take public transportation, but it's not a) reliable b) headed where you need to go c) convenient d) existent e) all of the above. You want your home to be off-the-grid, filled with homebaked goodies from your one-acre front-yard garden. You want a lot more green, and sometimes you just have to be patient. Or, if you're restless like me, you gotta dream.

Imagine a world filled with heirloom products, built to last. A solar-powered, whale-shaped floating garden meanders through our waterways, purify water and making it fit--and free--for all to drink. Bamboo forests filter city air. College students are encouraged to design bike-share stations. An America where it's culturally and structurally easy to be green, as Annie Leonard points out in a recent interview.

Detroit could host the world's largest urban farm, employing the thousands of laid-off automobile workers as farmers. Abandoned strip malls could be transformed into solar-energy farms. Urban planners shift their focus from suburbia to transit-oriented developments (TOD) and waste management offers shoots to pop compost down. Your neighborhood becomes dense. Net-zero-energy buildings become the norm. Toxic industrial sites become mixed-use havens that encourage an active lifestyle. Healthcare bills go down and energy levels go up. Consumption falls and happiness rises.

Does this all sound pie-in-the-sky to you? Well, you might want to whip out that ice cream and make it a la mode because these issues are real and they're already on urban designers' and architects' plates. Why? You are the reason why. How can that be? I haven't even figured out how to ditch my car/eat local year-round/garden/fill-in-the-blank.

"People are affected by what their neighbors drive, what their family thinks, what a television personality says about global warming, advertising, the attitudes of other communities and groups, and, of course, what laws are passed." Your green actions do not go unnoticed. Every time you buy local, make improvements to your neighborhood's walkability, inquire about plastic-free options, get behind bike lanes and walking trails, donate or use recycled building materials--every action causes the people who make our towns--architects, urban planners, government officials, real estate developers--to take pause and notice. Your demand for a greener lifestyle tells them to increase their supply of greener buildings, and green buildings are key to a sustainable America.

Buildings account for 38% of carbon emissions in the United States--more than either the industrial or transportation sectors--and they consume 70% of the electricity load. You can (and should) weatherize your home, use a programmable thermostat, Freeze Yer Buns Off, go manual ... and you know what else you can do? You can lower your mortgage bill by hundreds of dollars each month, practically eliminate your energy bills, and be part of the creation of 4.5 million jobs in the U.S. Huh?! Where do I sign? Online, at Architecture 2030. Architect Ed Mazria is convincing major government players to amend the Senate energy bill to include financial tax incentives for deep, major energy retrofitting in private buildings--home, sweet home!--that will actually cost the feds less and produce more jobs than what's currently on tap. If you do any online actions in 2010, let it be this one. And urge your town to adopt a greener building energy code.

This isn't just a dream--this is what we're creating. Be heard greening.


Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

That's my dream too! In some of my career-ADD moments, I think about going back to school to study urban design. I find things like passive solar design and urban farms incredibly interesting. What a future we have to look forward to!

The Raven said...

Do you know the term backcasting? I just read about the idea in Rob Hopkins Transition Towns book. The basic idea is that you dream of the world you want, then go from there backwards to figure out how to get there. In some ways it sounds obvious, but I like very much the importance he gives to imagining another future.

Daisy said...

Yes!! Keep dreaming, but keep spreading the word until that dream becomes reality.

Karen Moser-Booth said...

Ooh, I love the idea of backcasting! I've heard of that book, now I need to check it out. Thanks!


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