National models of inclusive revitalization, smart planning, green building honored by EPA

http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/five_impressive_sustainability.html

National models of inclusive revitalization, smart planning, green building honored by EPA

Crown Square nearing completion in Old North St Louis (courtesy of ONSL Restoration Group)

One of the country’s very best, grassroots-led revitalizing neighborhoods and one of our most articulate city plans for a more sustainable future are among this year’s five national honorees for achievement in smart growth, awarded by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The other very worthy winners include a green learning center in a small South Dakota town, a green, affordable apartment building in New Mexico, and an innovative civic gathering space in Illinois.

This year marks the tenth annual EPA smart growth awards (I also wrote about last year’s awards) and, in my opinion, perhaps the best so far.

Old North Saint Louis

I have been singing the praises of Old North Saint Louis for over three years now, ever since a presentation I gave to a conference led one of the architects involved in the neighborhood’s restoration to send me some materials. I have since followed the project very closely and gotten to know a number of the principals, and my enthusiasm has only increased. I knew that the neighborhood was among the finalists for this year’s awards (I was on the jury that selected the finalists, though Old North was not in the category I had responsibility for), and was really hoping it would receive the recognition it deserves.

Tragically, in the mid to late 20th century, Old North became one of the country’s most disinvested urban neighborhoods, losing over 90 percent of its population while its buildings were abandoned. But, gradually and with determination, the neighborhood-based Old North St. Louis Restoration Group and the Regional ; install history and poetry trails (a poetry trail!); plant community gardens; and undertake an award-winning rebuild of the neighborhood’s badly decayed commercial district.

Although Old North was all-too-recently considered by many to be a place to avoid, there is nowhere in the region that this writer would now rather be. Here’s how I began what became the first of at least four articles on Old North:

“Every now and then I run across a story that is so good, that feels so right, that I thank my lucky stars for the freedom NRDC gave me to evolve my career into working for better, more sustainable communities. This is such a story, and it reveals an historic, diverse, inclusive neighborhood that is reclaiming its identity, restoring its infrastructure, empowering its residents, and securing its future. The community wins, and so does the environment, because the Old North neighborhood in Saint Louis is the very antithesis of sprawl.”

I’m not backing off. We are lucky to have other great revitalization stories in America, but I don’t know a better one. ONSL won for “overall excellence.” (I have lots of photos, maps, images and detail in my previous writing on the subject, linked above.)

Plan El Paso

I have also had the honor of writing about Plan El Paso, an impressively undertaken and articulated blueprint for how that Texas border city is planning to use transit and neighborhood-building to secure a more sustainable future. If I haven’t seen a better urban restoration-in-progress than Old North, I’m not sure I have seen a better vision (at least not in the US) to guide a sprawling, automobile-oriented place into smarter development patterns than the work in El Paso. The city should be proud, and so should my friend Victor Dover and his colleagues at Dover Kohl Town Planners, which helped the city with the planning process.

neighborhood vision for El Paso (by: Dover Kohl, courtesy of City of El Paso)

Earlier this year, I profiled a precursor to the plan called Connecting El Paso. If readers will indulge another shameless self-reference, here’s a bit of how the work impressed me (along with a note of caution):

“A blog post can’t possibly capture all the rich detail of Connecting El Paso, which is meticulous on such subjects as walkability, street connections, public spaces, complete streets, environmental remediation, green stormwater infrastructure, community character, further transit investment, historic preservation, public policy needs, and even the application of LEED-ND. More than just a collection of area and [transit-oriented development] blueprints, this document is nothing less than a comprehensive guide to smart growth design and implementation in a major US (and international) city.

“It must be said, however, that the sorry history of land use in America is littered with terrific plans that for one reason or another were not implemented to their potential or, worse, overridden and fractured by ad hoc amendments. This is long range stuff that will require sustained financial capital and political will over decades to succeed.”

The point I made then and will reiterate now is that, to succeed, you need something to aim for. There is no question that this plan has provided the right aspirations and guidance on how to get there. Last January, somehow I had the prescience to write about the El Paso planning effort, "when this year’s architectural and planning awards are handed out, look for it among the likely honorees." It is a deserving winner in the “programs, policies and regulations” category.

Maroney Commons

The winner in the rural category comes from Howard, South Dakota, population 850. Maroney Commons is a mixed-use, LEED-platinum-certified complex and “rural learning center” containing a hotel, a conference center, Maroney Commons (via Maroney Commons)a restaurant, and offices that will help rural residents learn about green jobs and technology.

Catalyzed by the growth of the wind energy industry in surrounding Miner County, the Commons is the product of a community visioning process that led straight to the revitalization of Howard’s Main Street. EPA’s citation says this about the building’s green achievement:

“One of the first LEED Platinum-certified buildings in South Dakota, the building has solar panels, a wind turbine, geothermal heating and cooling, porous outdoor pavement, rainwater capture and storage, and native landscaping. Materials gathered from demolished Main Street buildings were recycled and reused during construction; the wood floor from an old gymnasium is now the floor of the restaurant, and Maroney Commons’ siding came from an old American Legion hall. Real-time, touch-screen displays of the wind and solar energy produced at the building help visitors understand these technologies.”

Eighty percent of South Dakota’s population lives within 100 miles of Howard, making the center accessible to many small-town residents. EPA also notes that the facility hosts design:South Dakota, a team of architects and community development experts who travel statewide helping residents reimagine their rural communities through design workshops.

Silver Gardens Apartments

In Albuquerque, another LEED-platinum building is putting affordable apartments near reliable transportation options, helping low-income residents save money on energy, transportation, and housing. Silver Gardens houses 66 mixed-income homes and was built by the Supportive Housing Coalition of New Mexico in partnership with developer Romero Rose (an affiliate of Jonathan Silver Gardens (courtesy of Jonathan Rose Cos.)Rose Companies). Financing was assisted by the city’s $30-million Workforce Housing Trust Fund and the state’s Mortgage Finance Authority.

Silver Gardens has an abundance of state-of-the-art green building features, enabling it to be the first affordable housing project in the nation to sell carbon offsets. But EPA’s citation makes clear that the project’s building characteristics form only the start of its smart growth credentials:

“The project is on a reclaimed brownfield — a former bus depot and repair shop along a main commercial street in central Albuquerque. Restaurants, shops, museums, theaters, schools, and other amenities are all within easy walking and biking distance, and the transportation center across the street is the hub for city and regional buses, regional light rail, and train service. The building, designed with the input of nearby residents to ensure that it fits into the surrounding neighborhood, provides much-needed workforce housing in Albuquerque’s downtown, which was important to the business community.”

A 15,000-square-foot courtyard provides a playground, picnic space, native landscaping, and artwork for the benefit of residents and visitors.

As a condition of its financing through the Workforce Housing Trust Fund, Silver Gardens will maintain its affordable housing status for at least 90 years. In addition, revenue received in state tax credits for the building’s LEED Platinum status helps provide supportive assistance for Silver Gardens’ low-income residents, including an on-site social services coordinator.

Uptown Normal Roundabout

Originally conceived just to manage traffic, the Uptown Normal (Illinois) Roundabout, winner in the civic places category, has evolved into a gathering place that increases business for local merchants.

Uptown Normal Roundabout, before & after (via Landscape Architecture Foundation)

The anchor for a community-wide revitalization that has earned LEED-ND recognition, the roundabout (which deserves a name worthy of a community anchor, in my opinion) does more than you might think any traffic facility can do for a town. Here’s EPA:

“Normal, Illinois, has transformed a busy five-way intersection into a roundabout and an attractive, green civic space. The roundabout moves traffic at lower, more predictable speeds, which reduces the time vehicles spend idling and the areas with potential for crashes. The result is a safer and more efficient traffic flow with less air pollution due to fewer emissions. The roundabout design complements the multimodal transportation station the town is currently constructing next to it with a U.S. Department of Transportation grant. The station, which will eventually have high-speed rail service, and the roundabout take advantage of existing infrastructure, bus service, and the town’s historic central business district.

“The one-third-acre roundabout does much more than move cars. It invites pedestrians with shade trees, benches, lighting, bike parking, green space, and a water feature. People have lunch, read, and play music, and the open space invites community gatherings such as a holiday caroling event.”

To my eyes, it’s the interaction with the community, not the facility itself, that earns this award. Farr Associates guided the planning effort for the city.

My organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, has had a long association with EPA’s smart growth (now sustainable communities) office. Even during the Bush years, we – and others, from the National Association of Realtors to private developers to academic institutions to local and state government agencies – worked together in a cooperative partnership with the office. They have made a difference time and again for the environment with a softer, nonregulatory but very important approach that stresses research and partnership. Their annual awards program is one of my favorite professional occasions, and never more so than this year.

Congratulations to this year’s winners, about which you can read more on EPA’s website.

I’ll leave you with a video showing the Old North Saint Louis restoration in progress, focusing on the commercial heart of the historic district. The video is now a couple of years old, but it still captures the neighborhood’s history and can-do spirit:

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

This post first appeared in The Atlantic Cities.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment. For more posts, see his blog’s home page.

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTE: This email message is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution is strictly prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, contact the sender via reply email and destroy all copies of the original message.

The sender believes that this E-mail and any attachments were free of any virus, worm, Trojan horse, and/or malicious code when sent. This message and its attachments could have been infected during transmission. By reading the message and opening any attachments, the recipient accepts full responsibility for taking protective and remedial action about viruses and other defects. The sender’s employer is not liable for any loss or damage arising in any way from this message or its attachments.

National models of inclusive revitalization, smart planning, green building honored by EPA

http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/five_impressive_sustainability.html

National models of inclusive revitalization, smart planning, green building honored by EPA

Crown Square nearing completion in Old North St Louis (courtesy of ONSL Restoration Group)

One of the country’s very best, grassroots-led revitalizing neighborhoods and one of our most articulate city plans for a more sustainable future are among this year’s five national honorees for achievement in smart growth, awarded by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The other very worthy winners include a green learning center in a small South Dakota town, a green, affordable apartment building in New Mexico, and an innovative civic gathering space in Illinois.

This year marks the tenth annual EPA smart growth awards (I also wrote about last year’s awards) and, in my opinion, perhaps the best so far.

Old North Saint Louis

I have been singing the praises of Old North Saint Louis for over three years now, ever since a presentation I gave to a conference led one of the architects involved in the neighborhood’s restoration to send me some materials. I have since followed the project very closely and gotten to know a number of the principals, and my enthusiasm has only increased. I knew that the neighborhood was among the finalists for this year’s awards (I was on the jury that selected the finalists, though Old North was not in the category I had responsibility for), and was really hoping it would receive the recognition it deserves.

Tragically, in the mid to late 20th century, Old North became one of the country’s most disinvested urban neighborhoods, losing over 90 percent of its population while its buildings were abandoned. But, gradually and with determination, the neighborhood-based Old North St. Louis Restoration Group and the Regional ; install history and poetry trails (a poetry trail!); plant community gardens; and undertake an award-winning rebuild of the neighborhood’s badly decayed commercial district.

Although Old North was all-too-recently considered by many to be a place to avoid, there is nowhere in the region that this writer would now rather be. Here’s how I began what became the first of at least four articles on Old North:

“Every now and then I run across a story that is so good, that feels so right, that I thank my lucky stars for the freedom NRDC gave me to evolve my career into working for better, more sustainable communities. This is such a story, and it reveals an historic, diverse, inclusive neighborhood that is reclaiming its identity, restoring its infrastructure, empowering its residents, and securing its future. The community wins, and so does the environment, because the Old North neighborhood in Saint Louis is the very antithesis of sprawl.”

I’m not backing off. We are lucky to have other great revitalization stories in America, but I don’t know a better one. ONSL won for “overall excellence.” (I have lots of photos, maps, images and detail in my previous writing on the subject, linked above.)

Plan El Paso

I have also had the honor of writing about Plan El Paso, an impressively undertaken and articulated blueprint for how that Texas border city is planning to use transit and neighborhood-building to secure a more sustainable future. If I haven’t seen a better urban restoration-in-progress than Old North, I’m not sure I have seen a better vision (at least not in the US) to guide a sprawling, automobile-oriented place into smarter development patterns than the work in El Paso. The city should be proud, and so should my friend Victor Dover and his colleagues at Dover Kohl Town Planners, which helped the city with the planning process.

neighborhood vision for El Paso (by: Dover Kohl, courtesy of City of El Paso)

Earlier this year, I profiled a precursor to the plan called Connecting El Paso. If readers will indulge another shameless self-reference, here’s a bit of how the work impressed me (along with a note of caution):

“A blog post can’t possibly capture all the rich detail of Connecting El Paso, which is meticulous on such subjects as walkability, street connections, public spaces, complete streets, environmental remediation, green stormwater infrastructure, community character, further transit investment, historic preservation, public policy needs, and even the application of LEED-ND. More than just a collection of area and [transit-oriented development] blueprints, this document is nothing less than a comprehensive guide to smart growth design and implementation in a major US (and international) city.

“It must be said, however, that the sorry history of land use in America is littered with terrific plans that for one reason or another were not implemented to their potential or, worse, overridden and fractured by ad hoc amendments. This is long range stuff that will require sustained financial capital and political will over decades to succeed.”

The point I made then and will reiterate now is that, to succeed, you need something to aim for. There is no question that this plan has provided the right aspirations and guidance on how to get there. Last January, somehow I had the prescience to write about the El Paso planning effort, "when this year’s architectural and planning awards are handed out, look for it among the likely honorees." It is a deserving winner in the “programs, policies and regulations” category.

Maroney Commons

The winner in the rural category comes from Howard, South Dakota, population 850. Maroney Commons is a mixed-use, LEED-platinum-certified complex and “rural learning center” containing a hotel, a conference center, Maroney Commons (via Maroney Commons)a restaurant, and offices that will help rural residents learn about green jobs and technology.

Catalyzed by the growth of the wind energy industry in surrounding Miner County, the Commons is the product of a community visioning process that led straight to the revitalization of Howard’s Main Street. EPA’s citation says this about the building’s green achievement:

“One of the first LEED Platinum-certified buildings in South Dakota, the building has solar panels, a wind turbine, geothermal heating and cooling, porous outdoor pavement, rainwater capture and storage, and native landscaping. Materials gathered from demolished Main Street buildings were recycled and reused during construction; the wood floor from an old gymnasium is now the floor of the restaurant, and Maroney Commons’ siding came from an old American Legion hall. Real-time, touch-screen displays of the wind and solar energy produced at the building help visitors understand these technologies.”

Eighty percent of South Dakota’s population lives within 100 miles of Howard, making the center accessible to many small-town residents. EPA also notes that the facility hosts design:South Dakota, a team of architects and community development experts who travel statewide helping residents reimagine their rural communities through design workshops.

Silver Gardens Apartments

In Albuquerque, another LEED-platinum building is putting affordable apartments near reliable transportation options, helping low-income residents save money on energy, transportation, and housing. Silver Gardens houses 66 mixed-income homes and was built by the Supportive Housing Coalition of New Mexico in partnership with developer Romero Rose (an affiliate of Jonathan Silver Gardens (courtesy of Jonathan Rose Cos.)Rose Companies). Financing was assisted by the city’s $30-million Workforce Housing Trust Fund and the state’s Mortgage Finance Authority.

Silver Gardens has an abundance of state-of-the-art green building features, enabling it to be the first affordable housing project in the nation to sell carbon offsets. But EPA’s citation makes clear that the project’s building characteristics form only the start of its smart growth credentials:

“The project is on a reclaimed brownfield — a former bus depot and repair shop along a main commercial street in central Albuquerque. Restaurants, shops, museums, theaters, schools, and other amenities are all within easy walking and biking distance, and the transportation center across the street is the hub for city and regional buses, regional light rail, and train service. The building, designed with the input of nearby residents to ensure that it fits into the surrounding neighborhood, provides much-needed workforce housing in Albuquerque’s downtown, which was important to the business community.”

A 15,000-square-foot courtyard provides a playground, picnic space, native landscaping, and artwork for the benefit of residents and visitors.

As a condition of its financing through the Workforce Housing Trust Fund, Silver Gardens will maintain its affordable housing status for at least 90 years. In addition, revenue received in state tax credits for the building’s LEED Platinum status helps provide supportive assistance for Silver Gardens’ low-income residents, including an on-site social services coordinator.

Uptown Normal Roundabout

Originally conceived just to manage traffic, the Uptown Normal (Illinois) Roundabout, winner in the civic places category, has evolved into a gathering place that increases business for local merchants.

Uptown Normal Roundabout, before & after (via Landscape Architecture Foundation)

The anchor for a community-wide revitalization that has earned LEED-ND recognition, the roundabout (which deserves a name worthy of a community anchor, in my opinion) does more than you might think any traffic facility can do for a town. Here’s EPA:

“Normal, Illinois, has transformed a busy five-way intersection into a roundabout and an attractive, green civic space. The roundabout moves traffic at lower, more predictable speeds, which reduces the time vehicles spend idling and the areas with potential for crashes. The result is a safer and more efficient traffic flow with less air pollution due to fewer emissions. The roundabout design complements the multimodal transportation station the town is currently constructing next to it with a U.S. Department of Transportation grant. The station, which will eventually have high-speed rail service, and the roundabout take advantage of existing infrastructure, bus service, and the town’s historic central business district.

“The one-third-acre roundabout does much more than move cars. It invites pedestrians with shade trees, benches, lighting, bike parking, green space, and a water feature. People have lunch, read, and play music, and the open space invites community gatherings such as a holiday caroling event.”

To my eyes, it’s the interaction with the community, not the facility itself, that earns this award. Farr Associates guided the planning effort for the city.

My organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, has had a long association with EPA’s smart growth (now sustainable communities) office. Even during the Bush years, we – and others, from the National Association of Realtors to private developers to academic institutions to local and state government agencies – worked together in a cooperative partnership with the office. They have made a difference time and again for the environment with a softer, nonregulatory but very important approach that stresses research and partnership. Their annual awards program is one of my favorite professional occasions, and never more so than this year.

Congratulations to this year’s winners, about which you can read more on EPA’s website.

I’ll leave you with a video showing the Old North Saint Louis restoration in progress, focusing on the commercial heart of the historic district. The video is now a couple of years old, but it still captures the neighborhood’s history and can-do spirit:

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

This post first appeared in The Atlantic Cities.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment. For more posts, see his blog’s home page.

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTE: This email message is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution is strictly prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, contact the sender via reply email and destroy all copies of the original message.

The sender believes that this E-mail and any attachments were free of any virus, worm, Trojan horse, and/or malicious code when sent. This message and its attachments could have been infected during transmission. By reading the message and opening any attachments, the recipient accepts full responsibility for taking protective and remedial action about viruses and other defects. The sender’s employer is not liable for any loss or damage arising in any way from this message or its attachments.

Sustainability – Building Sustainable Communities | NRDC

http://www.nrdc.org/sustainable-communities/

Sustainable Communities

Environmental Issues: Sustainable Communities

Fruitvale

More than 83 percent of Americans live in cities or their surrounding metropolitan areas. In fact, our metro regions comprise 37 of the world’s 100 largest economies. As a consequence, the choices we make for our ”people habitat” have enormous impacts on our well-being, economy, and natural environment.

The good news is that communities create efficiencies that reduce per-person resource consumption and pollution. They are critical to any credible approach to environmental quality. But for decades we have allowed our older communities to deteriorate while allowing our newer ones to gobble up the landscape with suburban sprawl. That must change: by making our neighborhoods, cities and metro regions stronger, more livable and more efficient, we can save money, protect natural systems and dramatically improve our quality of life.

We have an important challenge, but also an important opportunity, right now: over the next 25 years, America’s population will grow by 70 million people (that’s equivalent to adding the population of Germany). And more than half the buildings that we will have in 25 years are not yet on the ground. This is our chance to get things right.

What is a Sustainable Community?

In its most basic form, a sustainable community is one that can continue in a healthy way into an uncertain future. More formally, a sustainable community reflects the interdependence of economic, environmental, and social issues by growing and prospering without diminishing the land, water, air, natural and cultural resources on which communities depend. Housing, transportation and resource conservation are managed in ways that protect economic, ecological and scenic values.

For more on what an ideal sustainable community might look like, visit A Trip to Sustainaville.

At NRDC, we address sustainable communities at three important scales: neighborhoods, metropolitan regions, and city systems.

Sustainable neighborhoods

Most people experience "the environment" first in their neighborhoods. This is where incremental changes are constantly taking place. Sustainable neighborhoods are walkable, offer transportation and housing choices, conserve resources, and provide convenient access to shops, services, parks and schools. Local officials, citizens’ groups, and private business all have roles to play in creating better neighborhoods, and NRDC is helping.
Read more >>

Sustainable metropolitan regions

The shape of our metropolitan regions – cities and suburbs – defines our footprint on the landscape, the length of our commutes, our ability to interact and function economically. A sustainable metro region replaces poorly defined sprawl and traffic congestion with strong central cities and suburbs, efficient transportation networks for getting around, and respect for natural systems. NRDC pursues good metropolitan planning that promotes the environment and economy, distributes infrastructure logically and efficiently, and minimizes intrusion on nature and the working landscape.
Read more >>

Sustainable city systems

While it is critical to engage in holistic planning to improve our neighborhoods and metro regions, it is also important to address important specific issues that affect quality of life and the long-term health of our cities. Innovative approaches are now available to improve, for example, urban stormwater management, food access and health, transportation, waste management, park access, air quality, and other city systems. NRDC is at the forefront of developing and promoting these approaches.
Read more >>

Action Center and Solutions

At NRDC, we develop and advocate sustainable solutions to the environmental challenges facing our communities. We place special emphasis on innovative approaches to improve older neighborhoods, inform plans for residential and commercial development, contain harmful suburban sprawl, and demonstrate sustainable practices for key urban components such as food systems, green infrastructure to prevent water pollution, and transportation. We work for the innovations of today to become the standard practices of tomorrow.

Blog Posts from NRDC Experts

last revised 2/6/2012

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTE: This email message is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution is strictly prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, contact the sender via reply email and destroy all copies of the original message.

The sender believes that this E-mail and any attachments were free of any virus, worm, Trojan horse, and/or malicious code when sent. This message and its attachments could have been infected during transmission. By reading the message and opening any attachments, the recipient accepts full responsibility for taking protective and remedial action about viruses and other defects. The sender’s employer is not liable for any loss or damage arising in any way from this message or its attachments.

Sustainability – Building Sustainable Communities | NRDC

http://www.nrdc.org/sustainable-communities/

Sustainable Communities

Environmental Issues: Sustainable Communities

Fruitvale

More than 83 percent of Americans live in cities or their surrounding metropolitan areas. In fact, our metro regions comprise 37 of the world’s 100 largest economies. As a consequence, the choices we make for our ”people habitat” have enormous impacts on our well-being, economy, and natural environment.

The good news is that communities create efficiencies that reduce per-person resource consumption and pollution. They are critical to any credible approach to environmental quality. But for decades we have allowed our older communities to deteriorate while allowing our newer ones to gobble up the landscape with suburban sprawl. That must change: by making our neighborhoods, cities and metro regions stronger, more livable and more efficient, we can save money, protect natural systems and dramatically improve our quality of life.

We have an important challenge, but also an important opportunity, right now: over the next 25 years, America’s population will grow by 70 million people (that’s equivalent to adding the population of Germany). And more than half the buildings that we will have in 25 years are not yet on the ground. This is our chance to get things right.

What is a Sustainable Community?

In its most basic form, a sustainable community is one that can continue in a healthy way into an uncertain future. More formally, a sustainable community reflects the interdependence of economic, environmental, and social issues by growing and prospering without diminishing the land, water, air, natural and cultural resources on which communities depend. Housing, transportation and resource conservation are managed in ways that protect economic, ecological and scenic values.

For more on what an ideal sustainable community might look like, visit A Trip to Sustainaville.

At NRDC, we address sustainable communities at three important scales: neighborhoods, metropolitan regions, and city systems.

Sustainable neighborhoods

Most people experience "the environment" first in their neighborhoods. This is where incremental changes are constantly taking place. Sustainable neighborhoods are walkable, offer transportation and housing choices, conserve resources, and provide convenient access to shops, services, parks and schools. Local officials, citizens’ groups, and private business all have roles to play in creating better neighborhoods, and NRDC is helping.
Read more >>

Sustainable metropolitan regions

The shape of our metropolitan regions – cities and suburbs – defines our footprint on the landscape, the length of our commutes, our ability to interact and function economically. A sustainable metro region replaces poorly defined sprawl and traffic congestion with strong central cities and suburbs, efficient transportation networks for getting around, and respect for natural systems. NRDC pursues good metropolitan planning that promotes the environment and economy, distributes infrastructure logically and efficiently, and minimizes intrusion on nature and the working landscape.
Read more >>

Sustainable city systems

While it is critical to engage in holistic planning to improve our neighborhoods and metro regions, it is also important to address important specific issues that affect quality of life and the long-term health of our cities. Innovative approaches are now available to improve, for example, urban stormwater management, food access and health, transportation, waste management, park access, air quality, and other city systems. NRDC is at the forefront of developing and promoting these approaches.
Read more >>

Action Center and Solutions

At NRDC, we develop and advocate sustainable solutions to the environmental challenges facing our communities. We place special emphasis on innovative approaches to improve older neighborhoods, inform plans for residential and commercial development, contain harmful suburban sprawl, and demonstrate sustainable practices for key urban components such as food systems, green infrastructure to prevent water pollution, and transportation. We work for the innovations of today to become the standard practices of tomorrow.

Blog Posts from NRDC Experts

last revised 2/6/2012

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTE: This email message is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution is strictly prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, contact the sender via reply email and destroy all copies of the original message.

The sender believes that this E-mail and any attachments were free of any virus, worm, Trojan horse, and/or malicious code when sent. This message and its attachments could have been infected during transmission. By reading the message and opening any attachments, the recipient accepts full responsibility for taking protective and remedial action about viruses and other defects. The sender’s employer is not liable for any loss or damage arising in any way from this message or its attachments.

3 Reasons to Gradually Go Green: Healthy Homes Chicago

Gramata Development Corporation - DesignBuild ChicagoRecently I posted on the Four Categories to a Healthy Home:

1) food & nutrition 
2) furnishings  
3) finishes & fixtures  
4) systems

If one of these components is not a part of your healthy homes decision matrix then you’re probably not living a fully healthy lifestyle. Most of us are aware of the food and nutrition category but what about your home furnishings? Your couch probably contains flame retardant chemicals used on the upholstery which when absorbed can be harmful and some research indicates cancer-causing. How about your home finishes such as the volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the paint you just bought for the kids bedroom? They may contain ingredients known to cause illness too. Did you know a low or no-VOC paint is available in most cases for the same price which is a healthier option?  And what about your home systems such as your furnace? I am not talking about whether they operate but how can they be improved over time with a healthier indoor environment mind?
Some or all of these are often overlooked but critically important to a fully healthy home lifestyle and the focus of this book. Most people are not aware of this nor what options are available to them.

That is one of my goals. To make you aware of some of the options and then how to begin to implement them into your lifestyle so you can gradually go green towards a healthy home lifestyle. 

Why should we care about making our homes and communities healthy and what questions should we be asking to make sure we are comfortable that the answer is a resounding “yes”? 

It begins with awareness and knowing what important questions to ask.

Some Questions to Ask:

  • What can I do to make my home healthy?
  • How can I define my goals of a healthy home?
  • Who can I trust to help me with those decisions?
  • What resources are available to help me establish and reach my goals?
  • What decisions will have the greatest impact on my healthy lifestyle?
  • What investments or decisions will have the greatest economic return over time?
  • How can they add value to my home in addition to the health benefits?


The association between our health and our homes has been known for centuries. People spend over 90% of their time indoors including both at home and work. If your home environment is unhealthy or unsafe, it can lead to illnesses that can appear immediately or in other cases it can lay dormant and lead to illness or even death in the months, years and even decades to come.

The quality of our housing effects our quality of life. Our home can and should support both our health and our well-being for the benefit of ourselves and our communities.

Why?

According to the US Green Building Council buildings consume 14% of potable water, 40% of raw materials and 39% of energy in the United States alone consuming over 15 trillion gallons of water and 3 billion tons of raw materials annually. 

There are three general reasons to work towards healthy homes and communities.

1) Health Impact: improving our indoor air quality by reducing the emissions and chemical mixtures released by the products, furnishings and stuff we fill our homes with can have a huge impact on our lives and the development of our children. Focusing from the building envelope inwards and down to the finishes and fixtures is the only way to being the steps needed to live in a healthy home. 

2) Savings: “healthy green home systems and materials reduce energy consumption, which in turn reduce your energy bills. They can also increase asset value and profits and decrease marketing time; making your dollar go further for longer.”

3) Environmental Impact: “Implementing green practices into your home or office can help reduce waste, conserve natural resources, improve both air and water quality, and protect ecosystems and biodiversity.” 

Create a list in your daily routine which focuses on one or all three of these components and start going green over time in your life!

 

8 Elements General One-Pager.pdf

A green and healthy home supports the well-being of the people living there in many different ways. Ensure your home is clean, healthy and safe home by following GHHI’s 8 Elements of a green and healthy home.

Check out this PDF outlining these principles:

http://www.greenandhealthyhomes.org/sites/default/files/8%20Elements%20General%20One-Pager.pdf

Thank you.

Jim Gramata
Managing Team Broker
The Gramata Realty Group
@properties
www.GramataRealtyGroup.com

Mission Zero House: A Net-Zero Retrofit

http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/book/export/html/22465

A rehab project in Ann Arbor turns a house in a historic district into America’s oldest net-zero residence

There really is nothing more challenging that I can think of than taking a home in a historic district and taking it to net zero energy. But it sure helps to start with the right home.

Good bones
When I asked Matt Grocoff, “Why this house?,” the first words out of his mouth were, “Good bones!” Despite the home’s age, the foundation and structure were sound.

“But the beauty of this home goes well beyond the structure,” Matt is quick to add. “The interior finishes were original and appealing, the overall layout was classic and functional, and it’s in an ideal, walkable, neighborhood. And with the street running due north-south (as well as the eaves) and a near 45° roof pitch at 43° latitude, the home is a near perfect fit for a pretty large PV array.”

Honoring the history
While Matt and Kelly were determined to get to net zero on their home, it was definitely going to be by working with the home and its history, not against it.

“Creating energy is not the reason we live. It’s simply something that helps enable us to enjoy the things we live for: beauty, stories, joy, knowing your neighbors, honoring our interconnectedness and the past,” says Matt. “We feel connected to the families that lived here before us. Gertrude Gauss’ name [the original owner] is written in chalk on our basement ceiling. While we are here to stay, so are the Gausses as part of the stories of this home.”

Matt feels that this quote from Wendell Berry sums up their historic net zero energy home: “When looking back makes sense, we are going ahead.”

Getting to zero
Matt explains that there were two key elements of getting their home to net zero energy: vision and leverage. “We worked closely with our energy performance company, Meadowlark Energy and the non-profit Clean Energy Coalition, to analyze all the loads and map out a course. We knew our goal was to consume no more energy than we were capable of producing. Every decision we made was guided by this vision. After a few years of consumption data, we knew we were ready for solar.”

Matt describes the other key part of getting to zero as leverage. “When an opportunity arose that was part of the plan, we went after it immediately,” Matt relates. “When we began restoration, there was no tax credit for ground source heat pumps. But since rolling the cost into our mortgage gave us an immediate positive cash flow even before we had our insulation done, we took the opportunity while we could. As soon as our utility offered up their PV incentive (a $19 K upfront renewable energy credit and another $20 K over 20 years), we had The Solar Specialists calculate how many panels we could get on the roof. We could only leverage those opportunities this way because we knew ahead of time exactly where we were going and how.”

But Matt has a very strong addendum to add to the way he and Kelly approached getting to net zero. “While Kelly and I are completely committed to energy efficiency, we are not sacrificing comfort or convenience.”

For example, Matt switched out every single light bulb in his home from incandescent to CFL (and is now converting to LED), but he had his electrician Dan Delzoppo wire every light switch with LeGrand Wattstopper occupancy sensors. Matt and Kelly were all for low-flow showerheads and faucets that significantly reduce hot water demand (by over 11,000 gallons per year), but they had to be WaterSense models that did not compromise on performance.

“Another key element of this approach was to choose a home that was well-proportioned for our needs and made smart use of space. A large part of our load management is wrapped up in just 1,300 square feet of living space (2,500 square feet of conditioned space),” says Matt. “It’s no accident that the 8.1 kW of PV taking up our whole south-facing roof is just what we needed.”

Dealing with his state and local historic commissions
“Since we were not doing a gut rehab or an addition, we really started off on the right foot with our historic commissions,” says Matt. “We removed the asbestos shingles and restored the original clapboard siding. The biggest issues boiled down to our windows and the PV on the roof. We restored the original windows [see below] and used the SunPower Signature Black solar panels as the least obtrusive and best match to our asphalt shingle roof. It also helped that a gable faces the street and the PV-laden eave is perpendicular to the street view. Ultimately, the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission voted unanimously to approve the system.”

But believe it or not, Matt needed to add their conditioned attic to the list of historic preservation issues. Kelly and Matt applied to the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to receive a $20,000 historic preservation tax credit, so the restoration needed to meet strict U.S. Secretary of the Interior preservation standards. The SHPO denied the application because of the Grocoff’s decision to use open-cell spray foam on the attic ceiling to create an unvented attic.

Matt says they are appealing the decision because “bringing the attic into the thermal envelope of the house eliminated the potential harm to the structure from the poorly vented attic (temperatures were measured at 125°F in April) as well as the danger of wind-driven rain through the gable windows.” The SHPO believed the spray foam would be detrimental to the roof structure, was irreversible and impairs the “essential form and integrity of the historic property.”

Matt says that while he does not believe spray foam is appropriate in all projects, he believes he has compelling data to support his decision that this was the best choice for his restoration.

Tracking net zero
Matt and Kelly are just about as transparent as you can get about just how their Mission Zero House performs — you can track their total and real-time electrical production from their website: Matt and Kelly’s Live Energy Production.

You can view annual and daily PV production and, with the micro-inverters you can see the performance of each individual panel. And Matt regularly posts updates on their total annual consumption: “While we are running a bit off of our projections for energy production, we are also running a bit lower on our total electric consumption. And removal of an obstructing (and invasive) Norway maple will boost our production.”

Matt is quick to add that that one maple is more than offset by the unburned coal and the seven fruit trees he and Kelly have planted. In 2012, using an eMonitor, Matt will begin posting his consumption down to each appliance.

Not really leaving the windows alone…
The trick with historic double-hung windows is to make it look as though you have left them alone when in fact you have improved their energy performance.

“I was really lucky to meet Lorri Sipes of Wood Window Repair Company,” says Matt. “Lorri set up a clinic at our home to help train others in this lost craft. Our work brought the original sashes up to fully functional, airtight performance with a 70% total whole-house air leakage reduction. After the 7 steps in Lorri’s workshop, we added to the window performance with Trapp air-tight, low-e storms. These high-performance storms have a baked-enamel color finish that blends in with the original sash.”

NOTE: I asked Sipes about how her business addresses lead safety, since I did not see anything on her company’s website on this subject. Sipes has been trained in EPA’s Lead Safe Workplace and follows all requirements to protect her clients from lead dust. She also uses EPA’s Renovate Right when working with do-it-yourselfers.

Matt and Kelly also like the way that their new EcoSmart insulated cellular shades are a perfect addition to the appearance and the performance of their windows. “Again, we really like products and systems that honor the character of our home, boost its performance, and do so with steady or even greater convenience.”

What’s next for Thrive
Matt is definitely a “practice what you preach” kind of guy; Thrive is his net zero consulting collaborative. “There has been a lot of interest in achieving net zero in existing homes. One project we are excited about is the historic Felt Mansion in western Michigan in the Saugatuck Dunes. When built in the mid-1920s, the property was powered by 16 wind turbines and even had a wave undulation machine that pumped water from Lake Michigan up to the house — in this case, we will be taking the project back to net zero!”

The Atlantic called the Grocoff’s home “sustainable perfection.” But Matt says “I won’t accept such praise until our home actually restores the environment rather than steals from it. I am also really excited by the fit between my net-zero work and the Living Building Challenge.” Kelly and I are working hard to move our Mission Zero home to zero water and waste, as well as energy — Amory Lovins says that ‘if it exists, it must be possible’. We’re proving what’s possible — so stay tuned!”

Lessons Learned

“We have a ‘wish list’ for our Mission Zero home," says Matt, "but it turns out that just about every single wish item is related to meeting the Living Building Challenge”:

  • Rain barrels to cistern: “Our rain barrels are really not anywhere close to the capacity we need to keep what we need on site. So we need to figure out a cistern system for our home and land.
  • Induction cooktop: “We need to eliminate the gas combustion and double the efficiency of the stove from 45% to 90% to keep our electrical loads down.”
  • Dual plumbing system and composting toilets: This will be a big part of controlling the size of our cistern; just need to find attractive, convenient composting toilets!”
  • LED lighting in every fixture: “Phillips and The Home Depot have really helped out here; you can buy a full range of LED bulbs now with some under $20!”
  • Green roof for front porch: “This will look great from the second floor, won’t be visible from the street and will keep the summer heat off the porch and front rooms.”

Thanks,

Jim Gramata
Managing Team Broker
@properties The Gramata Realty Group
773-270-2474
2214 N Lincoln Avenue Chicago, IL 60614
www.GramataRealtyGroup.com

LOVE.LIVE.DREAM