29 August 2008

LEED us not into temptation

Watching a show on HGTV called "Hidden Potential" reminded me of the things that I hate most about the craze of "green building" and the likes of LEED certification. Most people might take this as a crass swipe at tree-huggers. It's not. I more than adore my flora loving friends. But, what I don't love is this mentality that we can build our way out of our environmental situation. This show, for instance, features a couple who lives in Portland, Oregon (of course), and has spent the past six years converting their home into a green paradise. So now they wanna upgrade Beyonce style, and they want it to be "green."

So the designers take the couple around to three different houses and show them how they can convert these places to be "green." Two of the houses are mid-century (20th) or later models on generous lots, apparently somewhere far away from the infamous Portland light rail. The third house is a hundred year-old Victorian that is clearly in a relatively urban neighborhood (though not by dense, big city standards). This house is dismissed by the "green" couple as basically being too urban. For those who don't know, being urban is far-more environmentally sensible than energy efficiency from solar-bio-recycled everything else. But I digress.

So after considering fantasy upgrades to make the 20th century crap homes with spacious yards green, the couple settles on a 1976 "cabin" that requires extensive renovation and major additions. The couple loves that it has a yard the size of a "major park" (with lots grass to mow, maybe using a solar lawn mower?). So let's do an audit for this couple. We need to take into account the change from a more urban location to the middle of nowhere, the costs of new construction and renovation, and of living on acreage that would normally sustain an entire third world village. When you add it up, the "green" sensibilities of the couple is little more than self-serving fiction to ease their own conscience.

Sadly, this is just a neatly packaged example of the mindset that drives the fetish known as the green-building" movement. Consider for instance, that a building can be declared LEED certified and yet be surrounded by a sea of impermeable asphalt in the outer-belt of metroples sprawl (after a farm or habitat was demolished). Consider that a building can obtain LEED certification with hundreds of water-table invasive underground parking while being located literally on top of a major transit line. Consider that a well-built/well-maintained historic home, despite being somewhat less efficient in some standards, still outperforms the embedded energy and resources required for new-fangled renovations or so-called "green building." As Don Rypkema of Place Economics appropriately observes, LEED stands for "Lunatic Environmentalist enthusiastically Demolishing."

This is not to say that I am against building new structures in a "greener" fashion. That much makes sense. What doesn't make sense is to go through so much effort and ignore the idea that a green building that requires individual, auto-centric transport is not green. What doesn't make sense is that our cities (despite some recent resurgence) overwhelmingly have more capacity in existing (vacant or underutilized) structures and land. What doesn't make sense is that people think that they can live a consumption-focused life-style on a cul-de-sac, while working in an office park, and shopping at a strip mall and somehow think that they can be "green."

No comments:

Post a Comment