On the Road with Urban Green - One Week Out


Graphic by Chambers Design, Photo Courtesy of smart usa

Today is the end of the first week of my book tour for my new book Urban Green. I've crisscrossed North and South Carolina to engage as many people as I can at some of the best schools in the southeast. During the last few days I've driven more than 1200 miles, consumed about 20 cups of coffee, visited 8 cities, spoke at 4 universities and held nearly 10 events - and I'm exhausted. But during this time, I've started to get an incredible insight to what millennials are thinking about sustainability, architecture and the future of the planet. It might surprise you what I'm seeing.
Photo Credit: Neil Chambers

This week has been a mind numbing blur. Every day and evening, I get in front of people to talk about a topic close to my heart - my book Urban Green. Hundreds of people have attended the events, and I've talked about keystone species, green building, ecology and my strategies for rethinking about infrastructure. Standing in front of so many people is not my idea of a good time. I'm deathly afraid of public speaking, and yet, I can't help but go out into the world to see what others think about green building and the green movement as well as if it is headed in the right direction.


Photo Credit: Neil Chambers

Right now, I'm sitting in downtown Greenville, SC trying to figure out exactly what I've learned from the first half of the first leg of my book tour. Tonight is the last night I'll spend in the Carolinas during the tour. Tomorrow I head to the University of Georgia in Athens then Atlanta followed by a visit to Mississippi State University's Gulf Coast Community Design Studio in Biloxi, MS to end the first leg in New Orleans with a lecture at Tulane University. My impression of the schools I've visited is that they have their heart in the right place, and want to discover the best ways to both lead and teach a better relationship between nature and society. My presentation lays out three parts: where green building is today, where it mostly will be in 20 to 30 years and where it should be in 100 years.


Photo Credit: Neil Chambers

As I talk about the current state of sustainable design, I often skim topics like LEED, renewable energy and water conservation, because I assume most people know what these things are. After a few events, I started to realize that these basic practices are only partially well-known, and of those that know what they are...most have never been involved with a project that incorporates such methods into a project. Of course, many of the attendees are students - and you won't expect them to have design or construction experience. But even the professions in the crowds don't have direct expertise with green building. That's not to say that the universities I've visited like Winthrop University, North Carolina State University and Warren Wilson College don't have LEED buildings - because they all do. Most have multiple LEED projects - and even have retrofitted existing buildings with technologies like geothermal heat exchangers. But the students and professionals that come to the events aren't the people that designed or constructed the projects.


Graphic by Chambers Design

For example, grey water systems are widely understood in the architectural community, but few systems are installed on a yearly basis. Also, considering that only about 4000 to 5000 LEED buildings have been completed since 1998 - that's not a tremendous number to give lots of people first hand knowledge with the rating system. Projections suggest that number will grow to 20,000 to 30,000 projects within the next 10 to 15 years - a percentage increase any business person would see as an incredible opportunity. Of course, in light that some 7 million buildings exist in the United States, those projections won't put much of a dent in making the building stock green.


Graphic by Chambers Design">Photo Credit: Neil Chambers, Photo of Dan Harding at Clemson University

But again, that's only one way to look at it. A motley of projects are going on at higher education institutions. People want to do more than just talk about making the world a better place, they'd like to put brick and mortar to it. At the schools I've visited so far, such as Clemson University, professors like Dan Harding are creating design/build projects that bring accessibility and interconnection with communities. At Warren Wilson College, they have a strong tradition of public service, community-oriented volunteerism and a deep desire to stay connected to their agricultural roots. During a talk at North Carolina State University, I noticed that reimaging infrastructure that is created by ecological restoration grabbed the interest of the auditorium.

And I know, this is only the beginning of the tour. I have many more schools to visit. This first week has been inspiring and enlivening. For all the fear I feel before I start every presentation, I also think it is worth the time and effort to meet, hear and talk to the leaders of tomorrow.

More on Urban Green and Green Campuses
Urban Green: Architecture for the Future Hits the Road for National Book Tour
On the Road with Urban Green at Winthrop University
10 of the Greenest Colleges in the U.S. (slideshow)
Green College Rankings Now Available From The Princeton Review

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