What Do Empty Stores Have To Do With Green Building?


Image credit Kevin Dooley

I lurk on green building sites less than I used to because they talk about, logically, green building, endless arguments about where the vapor barrier goes in single family custom houses instead of the bigger issues of planning, density and transportation. So I was surprised to read a post by Carl Seville, the Green Building Curmudgeon at Green Building Advisor addressing those issues, and sounding positively Kunstlerian.Carl reminisces about working in his dad's hardware store, before the big boxes put all the little main street shops out of business. He then makes the "big leap".

So, what does this have to do with green building? Well, I'm not exactly sure, but I'll do my best to make a connection. It seems to me that the prevalence of big box stores is directly related to what I refer to as the recent era of "wretched excess" that our country experienced. As did most of us, I benefited from this behavior, fueled by easy credit and a desire for more, bigger, and (theoretically) better stuff, homes, vacations, and the like.

Until recently, homes increased in size every year while generally going down in cost due to improvements in material production, low labor costs, and generally poor quality control in the field. These bigger houses required more stuff to fit in them, a need very adequately filled by big box stores selling lots of stuff pretty cheap.

I don't think a lot of green builders read James Howard Kunstler; they would just hang up the tool belt. But Seville makes much the same points, that people drove too far to houses that were too big. He feels it necessary to almost apologize for making this argument on Green Building Advisor, saying "Don't ask me how I got here, but somehow I did."

But where he's got to is where the whole building industry has to get to, building smaller, closer, better and greener, and realizing that there's more to green building than insulation; where you live and where you shop matter.

More in Green Building Advisor
More Provocative Green Building Curmudgeon I liked:
Should Batt Insulation Be Outlawed?
More on James Howard Kunstler:
Interview with James Howard Kunstler
Jim Kunstler is an Optimist, Really.

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