SmartGrowth Schools

   Here’s another link you really should check out. SmartGrowth Schools is a site that has just been put up by Nathan Norris, a longtime colleague of mine, and a fountain of more great ideas than almost anyone else I know. The SmartGrowth Schools idea operates on the principle of identifying the most important issues relating to school location and design, and then expressing them in common-sense, plain-spoken fashion (sounds familiar?) in what Nathan calls the SmartGrowth Schools Report Card.

   The Report Card steps through the various levels of competence the school board could likely be demonstrating, from A to F. For each of the grades from A to F, the explanation is clear and concise. The report card on each of the important issues is backed up with one page of explanation and resources.

   “What’s this got to do with sustainability and the Original Green,” you might ask? I’m calling this site to your attention for several reasons. First, most of the patterns are explicitly sustainable. One example is the strong preference for preservation of existing school buildings. Down The Unlovable Carbon Stair-Steps and Preservation vs. LEED are two Original Green posts that back this up. The site’s encouragement of a process that creates “Community Buy-In” can be the beginning of a Living Tradition. The site’s mandate for the “Elimination of Design Constraints” saves many acres of land, tucking the school into a walkable neighborhood. This also can prevent the need for five acres of hot asphalt on which to stack the cars waiting to pick up kids, as parents can park along streets in neighborhood schools. And clearly, mandating that schools should be built in walkable neighborhoods helps in a big way to make the neighborhood an Accessible Place and a Serviceable Place. This is enhanced by the high grades achieved by schools that have shared uses with neighborhood recreation centers, parks, and other facilities. I could go on, but you get the idea. Download the Report Card and see for yourself.

   But there’s also a second reason why I’m calling this to your attention: It isn’t just that the content of the site focuses so much on sustainability issues, although it does. It’s also because of the process that it uses. Rather than just focusing like many sites on big-picture stuff (who’s not for better education, after all) it instead breaks down school siting and design issues into a series of individual patterns about which we can all have an intelligent conversation. And because it’s plain-spoken enough, we can also likely agree at the end of the conversation. This is precisely the technique I’ve tried to employ in A Living Tradition [Architecture of the Bahamas] because I believe that such an approach empowers everyone and just might re-start a living tradition, which is the only proven delivery vehicle for real sustainability.


~ Steve Mouzon


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© The Guild Foundation 2013