3 - the Localized Operations

restaurant worker watering plants outside Schiro's in the Marigny Faubourg in New Orleans

   Sustainability is all but impossible if we have to condition the world, but it becomes easier and easier as we’re able to condition smaller pieces of it. Look carefully at the image below. Can you see the tractor-trailer rig on the bridge in the distance? The cab is barely visible, and the driver is microscopic. But Waffle House has the unenviable task of attracting that driver (and fellow-travelers on the bridge) to come for breakfast. So what do they have to do? Let’s take a look:

Waffle House with enormous pylon sign and interstate bridge in the background

cost of operating at a great distance

   The first thing they are forced to do is to erect the 200 foot tall sign that probably costs $200,000, because travelers at highway speeds will only be on the bridge for a few seconds, and if Waffle House doesn’t entice them to exit by then, they’ve lost their business. Next, because their entire customer base arrives by motor vehicle, they must pave every square yard of their site not occupied by their building for parking to accommodate their customers’ cars (the semis must park on the street.) So is there any shadow of doubt why poor Waffle House has such ugly buildings? Of course not! They’ve completely blown their budget on the sign and the parking lot!

Main Street shop in Nantucket

benefits of operating close at hand

   Contrast that with this shop on Nantucket. The man in this picture (who happens to be renowned New Urbanist Mike Watkins) arrived on foot to this storefront, and is standing less than ten feet from the sign, which was probably procured for something much closer to $200 than $200,000. Because this store doesn’t have to operate at a wide extent to attract customers, they’re able to spend their money on other things... like being able to afford high rent in a nice building on Nantucket. Which place would you rather be?

   This issue, however, goes far beyond desirable places. Everywhere we look, there are problems that can easily be solved if we’re able to do it small, but that become very difficult if we have to do the same thing larger. Consider this extreme example: What if we were able to create clothing that made people comfortable in all but the most ridiculous environments? So if the Boise office is 35°F, no problem... I’m toasty in my enviro-suit. Or if it’s 98°F in Orlando, no problem again... I’m completely cool. Conditioning the person rather than the entire building means the cost should be much less. The example is extreme, but it illustrates the point that as the area we have to condition gets smaller, less energy is required.

Katrina Cottage VIII bed alcove

   We operated on this basis for almost all of history. Three Dog Night was a ‘60’s rock band, but long before that, it was a strategy for staying warm... and alive. A one-dog night was pretty cold, where you let one dog into your bed to sleep on your feet and keep them warm. A two-dog night was colder, and a three-dog night was the coldest night. The canopy bed (like the alcove bed in Katrina Cottage VIII) worked in a similar way... close the curtains, and your body heat (and that of your bed-mate) would keep you toasty even when it was absolutely frigid throughout the rest of the house.

   ~Steve Mouzon


   This post is part of the serialization of the second chapter of the Original Green [Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability]. The chapter is entitled “What Can We Do?” It describes principles upon which real sustainability can be based. This post is #3 in the top 10 items we can do.

Legacy Comments:

Friday, January 15, 2010 - 10:50 AM

Robert Sharp


   Excellent post.  I think that the key for people to live comfortably and abundantly while using less energy resources is to embrace the concept of point sources of heat so that a range of temperatures within a living space are provided.  I know that in the winter I am far more comfortable with a minimally heated house (say about 50 degrees) as long as I have a place that I can go and stand to thaw out, such as a wood stove or fireplace that produces "excess" heat.  Best of all is a window seat or sunroom that faces south so that on clear sunny days in the winter you can experience that burst of solar heat.  Other examples from history are the heaters that people used to place under dining tables or the bed warmers that preheated frigid beds in cold climates.

   At the other end of the seasonal spectrum is the shady courtyard with a bubbling fountain and cooling breezes and a glass of iced tea.

Friday, January 15, 2010 - 11:54 AM

Rick Duke

   Waffle House was founded in Atlanta and has a strong GA  Tech connection-note the white and gold color scheme.  Your image is very consistent with what they have represented to the public for years.

   They are making a significant departure by locating in Technology Square on the Tech campus in Midtown Atlanta.  Tech Square has a nice mix of office and retail with residential surrounding.  Take the Guided Tour when CNU 18 comes to town in May and ask for hash browns scattered, smothered and covered.

Monday, January 18, 2010 - 01:31 PM


   Rather than compare the two entirely different environments, even with your valid and logically arguable points, I would like to see the Waffle House modified in a greener way.

   What about tearing out a portion of the asphalt and planting it with grass, trees and a water feature for outdoor dining or sitting?

   How about adding a residential area adjacent to the Waffle House to bring in some mixed use development?

   Perhaps the addition of another floor above the Waffle House would bring in other uses?

   I think the problem with sprawl is that is lacks imagination and merely uses zoning laws to erect monotony.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 03:02 PM


A community with vision doesn't let the Waffle House have its corporate way with them. Our city permitted a Waffle House, but required a landscaped site, brick facade and 6 ft high sign based on a planning and design review process. Character comes from community values, not typically corporate values.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 - 02:36 PM

Placemaking Institute

For some reason this post reminds me of when Carter was ridiculed for wearing a sweater and telling us to do so rather than turning up the heat...as well as Reagan's first official act as president, which was to tear off the solar panels Carter installed on the White House roof.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - 06:41 AM

Steve Mouzon

Thanks, Robert! Rick, I'll make sure and check it out... I've heard of Tech Square, but have never been. Andy, I agree with everything except the idea of tearing out asphalt to plant with grass and trees... in a suburban setting, Waffle House needs every square yard of asphalt for its customers to park. Why not build in a place where people can walk there instead, like your other points suggest? MHCityPlanner, that's exactly right... all of the chains will eventually do what you request if you stick to your guns.


© Stephen A. Mouzon 2018