I came across an interesting article recently discussing the idea that merely creating “green” buildings is simply not sustainable. By focusing purely on increasing the energy efficiency and reducing the buildings carbon footprint does not take into account the bigger picture and is short sighted.

While the focus is on the building itself, other issues are ignored. Its occupants may have to drive long distances each day to and from work, the building technology used is too difficult or complicated to maintain or the impact of the green building stops at the property line. The use of pre-existing buildings, materials and infrastructure needs to be incorporated as well rather than focusing on new buildings, and innovative retro-fitting and revamping methods developed.

Joshua Prince-Ramus, Randolph Croxton, and Tuomas Toivonen recently co-authored an article on this, and proposed the following strategies as a way to incentivise a balance between urban development rather than sprawl, while protecting and nurturing our natural resources:

• Establish growth boundaries between city and nature that allow both to reach their full potential. Cities become more dense, diverse and efficient, while nature and farmland are protected against sprawl. Seemingly radical, growth boundaries are not a new idea in the United States. For example, the Urban Growth Boundaries established by the State of Oregon in 1973 have yielded more than 30 years of smart, sustainable development in cities such as Portland.

• Create regional and nationwide marketplaces that allow rural and suburban landowners outside growth boundaries to transfer their development rights to areas where urban growth is desirable. Again, while seemingly radical, this strategy has already been implemented since the 1980s in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to stem the destruction of Amish farmland and heritage.

• Develop a national ecological balance plan that steers development at the scale of buildings, infrastructure and ecosystem services through a comprehensive framework of guidelines and indicators.

• Devise a quantitative indicator that analyzes and coordinates population density, programmatic diversity and low-carbon travel. This metric would provide policy makers, planners, developers and citizens with a common understanding of the underlying patterns that shape their community’s carbon footprint, and inform consensus-driven systemic action, such as the drawing of growth boundaries.

• Develop new types of urban structures that, by design, can adapt to a rich variety of unanticipated uses and accommodate new construction technologies as they evolve. This new class of structures would engender the organic, heterogeneous evolution that originally shaped America’s cities.

via Green buildings won’t save the planet.

How can we make a change in South Africa, with our unique problems of needing to provide for an ever growing urban population, and our environment under increasing pressure? Perhaps you would like to share some of your thoughts below?

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