Plan Green: Three Powerful Voices
”May has brought a whirlwind of conferences or workshops where I have had the opportunity to hear some of my favorite speakers keynote events and analyze where we are and where we are going: Bill Reed, James Howard Kunstler and Andres Duany.
Bill Reed was both the Keynoter and Facilitator for the GreenTools Government Confluence that I critiqued in my last post. Always thinking ahead of the pack, Reed asked us to break into small groups to discuss: "If Green Buildings can get us to carbon neutral, what else is left to be done?" My group's ideas had me thinking that I was at CNU 18, the 2010 Congress for the New Urbanism conference. We proposed urban design that gets people out of cars and helps them stay healthy; walkable, mixed use neighborhoods with a mix of housing types and services; a strong sense of place; local food production; development that restores rather than degrades our streams and rivers and leaves a place for wildlife. This was all before Reed gave his inspiring keynote. In a provocative talk, Reed insisted that we needed more teamwork and integration on every design team in order to achieve the highest level of performance across every sustainability metric. We needed to go beyond, into regenerating the health of our ecological systems. I loved his prescription that a systems ecologist or biologist should be on any team and his claim that the smallest unit of design is a watershed! To work with life, he says, requires us to work with organisms rather than pieces. “Regeneration means to create anew--born of a new spirit...a new mind is needed.”
As covered elsewhere on this blog, Jim Kunstler was the keynote speaker at Living Future ’10. He spent a good deal of time reminding us why so many of us in the built environment fields are out of work today, maintaining that the banks are now choking and on the verge of collapse. The orgy of accounting fraud sent money into a black hole where it is never going to appear again. Unfortunately, that was the money we were going to use to transition into the future, he said.
While barely mentioning the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Kunstler went through a litany about why we are at the end of the oil era and why suburbia is over. He stated with certainty that alternative energy will not prop up the lifestyle we have established. Kunstler said that he identifies with New Urbanism, not so much because of its projects, but because it uncovered the techniques of the past to build walkable communities. Since the reigning paradigm of suburbia is over, we are going to have to get more local and grow more of our food locally, he said. He seemed to see his role as waking us up from the Jiminy Cricket syndrome—the make-believe world society has been engaged in for the last few years--not in offering a roadmap for the future.
Andres Duany spoke at a number of venues in Portland using several of the same themes as Kunstler but a far more hopeful approach--redefining crisis as an opportunity. He finds it, “Exhilarating that we now have a practice that involves ideas again!” Using the example of a shopping mall re-design his firm was asked to do, he said that he asked, “Why don’t we instead design the world’s most advanced community? We couldn’t have done that a couple of years ago.”While Duany did mention that he believes the Gulf oil spill is, “the Three Mile Island of petroleum,” he did not elaborate on the crisis that we are in other than to say that it was catalyzed by the form of suburban development we have pursued in the petroleum age. Rather he went on to talk about the very techniques Kunstler had alluded to in his talk--the tools for getting on with the business of re-developing walkable communities for the 21st century. With a momentary nod to others work, Duany's major focus was on the tools that he or his firm have been involved in crafting:
- Sprawl Repair Manual – by Galina Tachieva of DPZ
- Smart Growth Manual – by Duany & Speck w/Lydon
- Smart Code v 9.2 – by DPZ and other contributors
And to a lesser extent:
- Light Imprint Handbook – by Tom Low of DPZ
Duany finished his marathon trip in Portland by publishing an opinion piece in the Oregonian newspaper "Sustainable neighborhoods: Living up to our 'livable' reputation" with Michael Mehaffy.
“Oregon has a reputation as an idyllic place with enlightened planning, and a burgeoning industry of green practices. That's an economic asset that Oregon can (and does) trade on. . . But if it's to be more than hype, this reputation must be substantiated with more than bolt-on green gizmos to insensitive architecture or cookie-cutter subdivisions jammed within growth boundaries. It must include better knowledge of how to build well for the ages.”
With a recognition that the financial crisis is just beginning—making it imperative that we work on building a new economy as well as a new urban form simultaneously--it is my hope that Duany's short visit will help the public and private development community in the Pacific Northwest embrace the tools of New Urbanism—to help meet redevelopment and retrofitting challenges throughout our region in an era of “the Long Emergency.”
Mary Vogel is a Portland-based Congress for the New Urbanism-Accredited planning and urban design consultant offering sustainability services to local governments and private organizations. She is skilled in the use of the above tools to help communities become more efficient and resilient, m ore compact and walkable, more connected to nature’s services and more prosperous and self-reliant—better p repared for the challenges of the 21st Century.