Just over two years ago I asked TreeHugger prez Ken and editor Meg if I could take on a time-consuming volunteer gig as President of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, a 76 year old heritage activist organization. They were totally supportive, and when term was up this past weekend, Meg suggested that I write about what I had learned from the experience. However, looking back at many of the posts I have written over the last two years, I realized that I already have, many times in TreeHugger.
I also realized that my thinking about the environment and green building has evolved significantly during that time.
Three years ago, I was preoccupied with how old buildings worked; how people kept cool, how they got light into them, how they got fresh air. I first talked about my conversion from a strict modernist in my post Building the Green Modern Home: Looking at Windows, where I finally learned how windows worked.
Sometimes I think I might even have gone a bit overboard, like with this suggestion that buildings should be shaped like letters. Certainly a lot of the commenters disagreed. More in TreeHugger
I became a bit obsessed with the Terry Thomas Building, as perhaps the best example of how you design a new building to work like an old building, an "O" building with lots of natural light, ventilation and almost no green gizmos, yet still using half the energy of a conventional building. Were architects too preoccupied with green tech? Could energy be saved by learning from the past? More in TreeHugger
Then I learned about Steve Mouzon, and the Original Green. Suddenly it all made sense; His four properties of buildings, that they be lovable, durable, flexible and frugal, really changed the way I thought about buildings. Those attributes have to apply to any structure, new or old, if it is going to be green and if it is going to last.
More in TreeHugger
I had to spend a lot of time in the town of Brantford, where a town council that worshipped at the altar of shiny and new needlessly blew away 42 historic buildings to create...nothing. It made me realize that our message was not getting through, that people didn't understand or believe that we won't always be driving our F150 pickups to the big box stores, That our world is changing.
But it also made me realize that we can't focus our energy on the single buildings, but have to look at the larger context. Only a few of those 42 buildings were architectural gems, but collectively they added up to an idea that was bigger; to the city councillors, it represented the shame of the decline of Brantford as a major manufacturing centre; to the local activists it was a part of their collective memory; to me it represented everything that was wrong in the small town mindset that would let their downtown die for a Walmart or a Tim Horton drivethrough. More in TreeHugger
While Colborne Street was being demolished I was writing for our series Minus Oil, and reviewed the recent The Urban Archtypes Project study by Natural Resources Canada. This turned assumption we have about green building on its head; it shows clearly that the biggest determinant of energy consumption is not insulation, windows or solar panels on the roof; it is where you live and how big your place is. It also proves that you don't have to live in New York City or Hong Kong, either, no matter what David Owen says; you can do it in any community. More in TreeHugger
It is not a popular position; look at the comments to this post on a "green" TD Bank in Florida, where readers write:
...I loathe these types of articles, they simply paint environmentally and sustainable minded people as extremists who can never be pleased.
...Treehugger is way too preachy, its getting really annoying.
People like gizmo green, they like reading about Tesla Roadsters. Most think that a solar powered bank is a great thing, even if it has three ATM bays. But in the course of the last two years I have become convinced that they are almost completely irrelevant.
For Saving Energy, Like Real Estate, The Three Most Important Things Are Location, Location and Location
In fact, by the time one of my students asked what they should do to go green when they have no money, it was much easier to answer; the single most important thing you can do is to live in walkable, transit oriented communities, whether large cities or small towns. More in TreeHugger
But the penny finally really dropped when I was reviewing Peter Calthorpe's new book, Urbanism in the age of climate change. He wrote:
urbanism is, in fact, our single most potent weapon against climate change, rising energy costs, and environmental degradation.
But I do not think he goes far enough. He describes his Green Urbanism, a sort of solar powered New Urbanism.
Here a more urban life is matched with efficient clean energy sources, less driving in more efficient cars, better building technology and green utilities. But I think there is yet another form of urbanism:
Heritage Urbanism, where we restore the urban fabric and rebuild our communities to work the way they used to. Where we learn from those who designed them before there was oil, about how to live after oil. I suspect that I will be writing a lot more about this in the future.