Monday, October 8, 2007

Green Building: Where is Our Planner Now?

Here is a new website I just came across: Green Building Blocks. It's dedicated to everything around environmentally sustainable building. As someone who has gone through a remodel recently, I wish I had discovered the site sooner. You can search across the company for green building materials, architects, designers, and everything in between. There is content to help improve your own building skills, plus great video of green designs in action for that shot of inspiration.

We did our best to build green given our budget: passive solar design of our kitchen to maximize the sun and shade, bamboo floors, energy-efficient windows, and Energy Star-rated appliances. We could have done more if the money was there – you can always do more – but every little built helps.

But this got me thinking in terms of all the new development going on in Tiverton. I live close to the new neighborhood being built off Lake Road. Then there is William Barton Preserve and the early-stage development off of Fish Road. When you drive through these (Fish Road one aside for now), what do you see? The cookie-cutter recipe for most new development: Big (really big) houses on clear-cut plots; en vogue architecture (for some; most look straight out of a Sears catalogue) in lieu of sustainable design. Granted, we can't see the inside to know what's going on, but I can't imagine most of these developers approach their projects with green lenses.

This is wrong and irresponsible. End of story. In an earlier post some months ago, I commented on a presentation I saw given in part by our town planner, Chris Spencer. He spoke of a vision for Tiverton -- one that partnered with other communities throughout the state to usher in smart growth, responsible development, and protection of our natural resources. One part of his two-prong strategy focused on “form codes” that strive to positively impact building design.

So where is that strategy in action? The Town should require—at a minimum—all new development to integrate some level of green building into its design. Eventually, remodels of a certain size and scope should fall under that umbrella as well. If you’re going to build McMansions, then they should employ some way to offset their humongous environmental footprint. Heck, with prices averaging around the $500,000 mark, these prospective buyers can afford to be at least a little bit green. (We'll save commentary on pricing out certain demographics and creating an homogeneous community for a later post. But here's to increasing the residential tax revenue, right??)

Now, I have not read through the entire town's master planning document, so I could be in the wrong. But if language is in there about building green, we’re certainly not seeing it come to fruition.

The breath of fresh air in all of this are the pockets of apparent sustainable development in and around town. Smaller designs and no clear-cut plots are a good start. Think of the neighborhood off Old Crandall Road, that new house next to the fire station on East Road, or the eventual artist’s community.

But where is Mr. Spencer? Where is the leadership? If there are obstacles, let's hear about them and figure out a way to get rid of them. In this situation, no news is definitely NOT good news. His silence is deafening.

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