Wm. McDonough for the Wall Street Journal
In a post on passive design last week, I wrote "TreeHugger keeps away from big single family houses these days." Preston at Jetson Green asked why. Coincidentally, Roger Lewis of the Washington Post responded to the The Green house of the Future in the Wall Street Journal and explained it perhaps better than I could.
Focusing on hypothetical designs of free-standing houses can even be a distraction. It can mask a more serious aspect of the challenge: the diminished sustainability of low-density, residential subdivisions in suburbia where most free-standing houses of the future are likely to be situated.
House by Paul Raff in Toronto
No matter how green individual homes are, suburban sprawl is intrinsically anti-green. It generates infrastructure inefficiency; car dependency and rising fossil fuel demand; carbon-emitting, time-wasting road congestion; and, despite availability of inexpensive land at ever-greater distances from jobs, escalating development, construction and public service costs.
America has an enormous stock of single-family homes, so I see no problem with interesting proposals to cheaply and effectively retrofit such places. But there are environmental, economic, and demographic forces pushing demand away from the single-family suburban home. I think the biggest, and most interesting design challenges will be found in metropolitan suburbs, where the task will be retrofitting the entire urban landscape — working in transit, figuring out how to make car-oriented spaces walkable, and learning how best to add density in places that weren’t designed for it.