The Green "Monster"
Conservation. Environmentalism. Sustainability. The green revolution. Most people say they are concerned about the environment, but having an interest in it and doing something to safeguard it are important distinctions. In 1912, the Van Sweringen brothers designed the Shaker community as a garden-style suburb, a predecessor to today's New Urbanist, transit-oriented, or eco-communities. Given our history and recent green legislation in Shaker Heights, we should be poised to promote eco-friendly development and home activity.
If the Van Sweringens were to ask urban planners and architects to redesign our Heights communities today, what might our place look like?
Design with Nature
Natural elements, like Shaker Lakes and Doan Brook, would be prized, protected, and enhanced. Residents might be located in dense communities, within walking and biking distance to community resources and services, public transportation and green space. Physical elements along these streets would encourage these activities.
Trees, wide sidewalks and street parking all encourage pedestrian-friendly environments. Reducing car use is crucial - most exhaust pollution is created in the first three miles of a trip, and, unfortunately, nearly 60% of car trips in the U.S. are fewer than seven miles. The greenest developments would be the densest - ranging upwards of seven units per acre. The location and linkages in our community form the backbone to how green our community can become. Why so dense? In dense communities, residents are more likely to use alternative forms of transit, including biking and walking. These communities protect valuable green space and keep us active. Development that promotes green space and natural habitats are best suited to be human and environmentally-friendly. The presence of the natural environment and community centers are some of the most highly valued assets our communities offer and should be the tenets by which we design.
Green-up the Home; Build Holistically
Green building construction and maintenance pay close attention to the building's ongoing impact on surrounding habitats. Both inputs and outputs are minimized. During the lifespan of the building, the entire building could be biodegradable. Green buildings...
- Save energy. Use natural heating and cooling elements, like tree canopies and green roofs. Choose energy-efficient, EnergyStar appliances. Purchase alternative energy, such as solar or wind turbine.
- Recycle old buildings and materials. Existing materials eliminate the need for newly manufactured goods. Recycle used products. Retrofitting older buildings with green technology is a fast growing industry in rust belt cities.
- Create community. Locate buildings within walking distance of existing community resources and infrastructure.
- Protect the site. Be conscious of natural elements surrounding the built environment.
- Use low-impact materials. Choose materials from local resources (if possible) that have less resource-intensive manufacturing processes and can be recycled at the end of their lifespan.
- Save water. Use low-flow devices to eliminate grey water. Capture rain water from roofs in rain barrels. Filter water run-off in rain gardens before it reaches storm drains. Create a vertical garden that filters rain from roofs as it drains through downspouts.
- Minimize wastes. Implement a home recycling and composting program. Eliminate design elements that exist purely for aesthetic reasons.
- Improve indoor air quality. Products, such as paint, that emit high levels of volatile compounds should be reduced or eliminated. Ventilation systems ensure a constant supply of fresh air.
A green building should be set in its natural habitat. Native landscaped sites attract native wildlife, minimize inputs, improve energy efficiency, and enhance existing natural systems such as groundwater. Features like shade trees and green roofs can reduce urban building temperatures by four degrees. Natural landscaping reduces the effects of run-off on storm water management systems.
Where and how we live has never been so important. Improving the environment of our "garden" Heights communities will take time and energy, but the sum of parts will make a sizeable impact. For more information tour the Nature Center's green Visitors' Center or visit the Cleveland Green Building Alliance at www.gballiance.com.