This post is part of the serialization of the first chapter of the Original Green [Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability].
The Gizmo Green focus is similar to the supply side focus in that it is based primarily on things that others can do for us: give us better machines to buy and better materials to buy and use in our buildings, and we’ll achieved sustainability. Or will we? We will see later in this book that Gizmo Green is a part of true sustainability, but only a very small part.
The Gizmo Green, unfortunately, constitutes a huge percentage of today’s sustainability discussion. Buy compact fluorescent light bulbs. Buy a Prius. Buy some bamboo... and everything will be OK. Or will it?
The Gizmo Green focus allows us to ignore huge essential facets of sustainability that have nothing to do with equipment or materials. For example, why are we even discussing the carbon footprint of a building if it is built somewhere that requires you to drive everywhere? Or what is the value of the carbon footprint of a building once its parts are carted off to the landfill because it could not be loved?
Gizmo Green, therefore, is by itself a losing strategy. But the concerns of the Gizmo Green are good, but only so long as they are incorporated into a much larger strategy that provides real sustainability.
~ Steve Mouzon
This post is part of the serialization of the first chapter of the Original Green [Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability].
The trouble with consumption is similar to the problem of growth: just as our economic health is measured by the yardstick of growth, the machine that drives that growth is consumption. We know we are all consumers, and we don’t give it a second thought.
Our ancestors would likely have been horrified by the consumption paradigm. Probably half of the adages of their times had something to do with conserving instead of consuming: “Waste not, want not.” “A penny saved is a penny earned.” “A stitch in time saves nine.” “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” etc. And their stories of frugality and conservation that have filtered down to our day are nearly endless. Conservation allowed them to keep things going for a really long time: it allowed them to live in a sustainable fashion.
Consumption, on the other hand, requires us to continue extracting things from the earth, fabricating them into useful things, then discarding those things when they have lost their usefulness to us, or when we have lost interest in them. Consumption is the path from resources to garbage. A nation of consumers produces a nation full of garbage. The tallest mountain within hundreds of miles of my home in South Beach is a trash heap.
So what’s the alternative? What would an economy look like based primarily on conservation rather than consumption? Let’s try to imagine:
Conserving Sustaining Economy: Manufacturing
Some segments would clearly be smaller. If we built things to last rather than to be thrown away, the business of building appliances, cars, and even buildings with unwritten expiration dates would be much smaller.
Planned obsolescence is a scheme invented by manufacturers to make things that are meant to wear out in a certain length of time so that you have to keep buying more stuff from the manufacturer. This idea has only been around since approximately 1925, which is a significant date discussed in detail later in this book, and which I believe is the beginning of the Great Decline.
Before planned obsolescence, things were treasured because they lasted. Furniture that was well-built became family heirlooms, handed down for generations. Tools were used for an entire career, and then handed down to the next generation who treasured them as they worked with them, too. As a matter of fact, the value of a tool or furnishing derived in large part from its ability to endure.
So a conserving economy would make a lot less stuff, because the stuff it made would last a lot longer. Wouldn’t that cost American jobs? News flash: Most manufacturing jobs departed from American shores a decade or two ago. So we would be buying fewer things from overseas if we were insisting that those things were made to last.
Conserving Sustaining Economy: Maintenance & Repair
There are other implications, as you might guess. If things were built to last, then they would occasionally need help along the way in the form of maintenance and repair. But maintenance and repair jobs are full of problems for big business. Whereas the manufacturing of widgets can be done in huge quantity with a manageable and fairly predictable flow of materials and labor, maintenance and repair jobs happen one at a time... or maybe ten at a time. You really can’t predict them that well.
And whereas manufacturing can be done anywhere and the products shipped globally (for now,) maintenance and repair jobs are much more commonly done near where the product is used. Who do you know that actually likes to ship something off to have it repaired? So maintenance and repair are much harder to outsource and offshore. And because these jobs don’t fit the big business paradigm very well, they are left to small businesses most of the time. So what’s wrong with enhancing a sector that supports small business and that is resistant to offshoring?
Conserving Sustaining Economy: Life-Cycle Cost
Things that last clearly cost more, but if you divide that cost over the much-expanded lifespan of the thing, then your cost per year is much less. We will examine the idea of Millennium Buildings in detail later in the book, but their essence is this: you may spend 50% more for a building that will last 1,000 years instead of lasting 100 years. But the cost per year of the 1,000-year building is only 15% of the cost per year of the 100-year building. And most buildings built today aren’t even meant to last 100 years!
Conserving Sustaining Economy: Quality of Life
The transition from a consuming economy to a conserving economy will be expensive at first, but that should come as no surprise since the recovery from almost any mistake is costly at some point along the recovery path. But once the recovery has taken place, then our cost per year of maintaining our quality of life will be substantially less.
Why didn’t I say “standard of living” rather than “quality of life”? Because the “standard of living” yardstick is what you use to measure the vigor of a consuming economy. Standard of living is the measure of how many things we have, and how big they are. It’s a measure of what we are consuming. Quality of life, on the other hand, is the measure of how good your life is, not how big it is. A great meal instead of a super-sized meal. A conserving economy will necessarily have a lower standard of living because it doesn’t consume as much as a consuming economy... it doesn’t need to. As a matter of fact, a conserving economy might even look like it’s in recession about half the time, but at the same time be a much more stable and delightful economy to live and work within. This is because recessions are signs of sickness in a consuming economy. But if they have any meaning at all in a conserving economy, they might even be construed as signs of health, because if your life is really good, then you need less additional stuff... and so you’re buying less, but enjoying more.
Conserving Sustaining Economy: Finance
Some segments of our current economy would clearly be less necessary in a conserving economy. Chief among these is the loan side of the finance sector, because when you need to spend less money to have a particular quality of life, then you don’t need to borrow as much. But what’s wrong with less debt, other than fewer loan officer jobs?
The flip side of the finance sector is the investment side: if your cost of living is reduced because your life-cycle costs go way down because of owning things that last, then you likely have more money to invest. And so we need more brokers and investment consultants.
Conserving Sustaining Economy: Innovation
Another beneficiary of a conserving economy would likely be innovation. Here’s why: When people are stretched to their limits maintaining their standard of living, their efforts are consumed with things pertaining to financial survival. They have little time for pursuing great ideas. But when they are freed from wall-to-wall survival demands, then they have time and energy that may be used for thinking “what if...?”
My own experience follows this track. Soon after architecture school, we decided to build what was intended to be a self-sufficient homestead. For a short while, our debt was low, so we had time to think about a better world. Our contribution was going to be a house on one acre that heated and cooled itself, and that fed our little family. The heating and cooling innovations included several items, including a system I called “cool tubes.”
Here’s an image of the house. Unfortunately, the finance sector didn’t know what to do with us. The appraisers (we went through several of them) were so flummoxed by the idea of a house with no heat pump that their appraisals were ridiculously low ($25/square foot,) even though our passive system would save thousands in utility costs. And so we had to take two years building most of it ourselves to save on labor, and we got as many credit cards as we could to buy the materials to finish the job.
As you might imagine, when a house is partially financed on credit cards, its owners must struggle mightily for several years. Nearly every moment was spent surviving. And I became completely invisible in the arena of innovation.
When the tax law changes of 1986 finally had their full impact on my employer, my job was downsized and I hung out my shingle in 1991 with the early 1990s recession in full swing. Several more years of survival mode ensued as I worked to build a business from the ground up. And I continued to be completely invisible to anyone interested in architecture or place-making innovation because I wasn’t contributing any innovations. We were merely surviving; nothing more.
Finally, however, we began to achieve a small measure of success towards the end of the 1990s. And that opened a small window of available time within the demands of keeping a small business afloat. The initiatives were tiny at first. We began the Mooresville Collection of homes designed for New Urbanist neighborhoods in 1996. Our Catalog of the Most-Loved Places began humbly at first, with the photographing of a few lesser-known Alabama towns in 1997. The window opened a bit wider to include symposia at the Seaside Institute beginning in 1999, which led to the close relationships we enjoy to this day with many notable New Urbanists.
Our move to Miami Beach in 2003 was the culmination of years of house downsizing from 3,000 square feet to our current 747 square feet. And the early initiatives opened the door to high-value work we have enjoyed in recent years whereby I can work 7-10 days a month to pay the bills and spend the rest of my time writing books and working on new initiatives. Some of these include the Katrina Cottages initiative; Andrés Duany and I laid out the core principles on the Saturday after the hurricane, and we have worked to foster the movement since. Today, we’re working on far too many cool initiatives to list here. Our primary initiative, the Original Green, would have been impossible to advance in financial survival mode.
But a small window of uncommitted time can lead to small innovations, which leads to greater value of one’s time, which leads to a bigger window for more innovation. All of this is made harder in a consuming economy, but easier in a conserving economy.
Conserving Sustaining Economy in Practice
And a conserving economy isn’t just theory... Wanda and I are living it already. Our standard of living has shrunk notably over the past few years. Our new home is only a quarter of the size of our first one. We now have one car rather than two. We ride a bike to the grocery store. By the consuming economy standards of bigger and more, we must have fallen upon hard times. We must be failures.
But the conserving economy standards of quality of life tell a completely different story. We moved to paradise, otherwise known as South Beach. We don’t have to fight traffic. We are healthier because we walk and bike everywhere. I could go on for pages, listing numerous ways our quality of life has gone up, but it’s so good it would be embarrassing. Let’s just say that we consider ourselves to be extremely fortunate for a quality of life that is far beyond what we ever deserved, even though many measures of our standard of living are reduced.
~ Steve Mouzon
The next Original Green Workshop is being held March 13 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. There are two morning sessions (8:00 - 9:45 and 11:00 - 12:30.) The first will describe the operating system of true sustainability and the second will deal with sustainable places. The afternoon session is from 2:00 -5:00; it addresses sustainable buildings and the Deep Green. There are many new ideas you need to hear that have been incorporated since the Original Green Workshop in Chicago last fall.
The Original Green Workshop is a part of the Traditional Building Exhibition & Conference, which runs March 11-13, and which is hosted by Restore Media. Restore Media publishes the Traditional Building and Period Homes magazines. They also host the TradWeb database, which is a wonderful resource for restoration suppliers and fabricators.
It’s probably obvious why Restore Media hosts the Original Green Workshop, but just in case I’m mistaken, here’s the reason: The first act of sustainability should be to sustain the good things that we have. Anything that is not preserved is not sustained. So preservation and sustainability need to be understood as going hand-in-hand together. Beyond this obvious connection, there are many underlying benefits. Donovan Rypkema’s PlaceEconomics site contains a wealth of information illustrating the sustainability of preservation on several counts, from embodied energy to economic development, and everything in between.
Others have similar resources. I was a speaker at the Sustainability and the Environment: The Original Green conference hosted recently by the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. Donovan spoke, as did Mark Thaler and several others. Mark presented different but equally compelling rationale for preservation as the cornerstone of sustainability. Donovan, Mark, and others have continue to build this solid body of evidence. Mark will be speaking in Boston; Donovan was a keynote speaker at the last show. Expect many of the preservationists to hammer home the point some of them have been making since the 1960’s: the greenest brick is one that’s already in the wall.
~ Steve Mouzon
This post is part of the serialization of the first chapter of the Original Green [Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability].
Every Chamber of Commerce in the US has economic growth as one of its top priorities. Most cities aspired to grow, and grow they did, especially after World War II. Our economic health is measured by a growing Gross Domestic Product. But there is a problem: how do we reconcile the idea of growth with the idea of sustainability?
The image below shows what will happen to Florida if growth continues along current trends. In 50 years, you can see that with the exception of the Lake Okeechobee area, the peninsula will pretty much be one enormous city. What then? a half-century is a short period in the time scale of urbanism, where cities can live for two thousand years or more. Add another hundred years to the Florida timeline and it’s clear that there will be no farmland remaining anywhere in the state. And then what?
Somehow, we must come to grips with the idea that growth, as good as it may sound, and as enticing as it may be, simply is not sustainable. We cannot grow larger forever. I realize that this may be shocking to you; it was shocking to me when I first tried to get my mind around the idea. But if we are serious about sustainability, then we must figure out how to keep things going for a long time. And a path that has us running out of things (including land) in the foreseeable future isn’t going to allow us to keep things going. In other words, that course of action, by definition, is not sustainable.
If growing forever is not sustainable, what is? We will see later in this book that nature provides many excellent models. One of nature’s models is the growth model. Consider this: People are conceived as a single cell and grow in the womb until birth. We then grow to our final height at a fairly early age; often between 16 and 20 years old. From that point forward, our physical size remains (hopefully) about the same for the rest of our lives. But we can grow in many other ways: We can grow wiser, we can grow more talented, we can grow more athletic, we can grow more cultured, or more able in many other ways as we mature.
If this is nature’s way of growth, why should this not be cities’ way of growth as well? What if cities were to decide that “we’re not going to get any larger on the land, but we will get better; we will get stronger; we will become more cultured; we will become wiser.” The population could still grow, of course, but the city could accommodate that through growing more compact rather than sprawling. This is nothing new; for millennia, cities grew by growing more compact rather than growing out; they just haven’t done it so much recently.
A few American cities are already trying crude versions of this idea. Portland’s Urban Growth Boundary is the most famous. But the problem with Portland is that while it is growing more compact, the growth inside the Urban Growth Boundary is of no higher quality than the recent sprawling growth in any other American city; it is merely denser. So for nature’s way of growth to really work for cities, the quality of life must also increase, not just the density.
So let’s go ahead and face up to the fact that we cannot grow larger forever. This is the failed policy of sprawl; it is fundamentally unsustainable. But we can grow better without limits. It is nature’s way; why should it not be ours?
~ Steve Mouzon
Tuesday, February 24, 2009 - 05:18 PM
Paragraph 4 hits the nose on the head. When speaking with real estate/business professionals the only way to help wrap their head around the idea isn't to demonize "growth" so much but type of growth. This is where I channel Herman Daly and emphasize QUALITATIVE growth over QUANTITATIVE.
We've grown quantitatively for so long that is all they know, but we haven't maintained (nor could we) a proportional population growth which is the only logical reason for such growth. So instead we robbed peter to pay paul, ie the cities for the suburbs. In many American cities, neither of which are hospitable or humane to live in.
I was invited to speak at the Southern Living Custom Builders’ annual conference in Birmingham this past weekend. I promised myself years ago that I would never give the same address twice, but that I would always develop some new material each time I spoke. One of the new ideas presented to the builders Saturday is something I call “the Unburdening of America.”
For nearly all of human history, people have valued things for their durability, and for their other lasting values. Tools might be passed down for two or three generations of a craftsman’s family. Buildings were built for the ages. Recently, all that has changed. The idea of “planned obsolescence” was dreamed up by industrialists in the mid-1920s. Manufacturing according to the principle of planned obsolescence meant that you made things that were designed to wear out in a certain length of time so that someone would have to discard it and buy another. This guaranteed a steady stream of customers, so long as your product worked well while it lasted.
Planned obsolescence infiltrated architecture, too... I recall sitting in a building technology class in architecture school where the professor said “you need to make your buildings last at least as long as the mortgage, otherwise your clients will be really upset when the building falls down and they’re still making payments on it.” What an absurd proposition!!! Yet that’s exactly the way we’ve been building since World War II. If you doubt it, look at how quickly the 1960s ranch houses are being demolished.
This might sound good for the builders and good for the industrialists, but planned obsolescence condemns each generation of Americans to build their own homes. So we all have to mortgage our futures at least 30 years out, then we’re sentenced to filling up our credit cards and credit lines buying stuff that may not even last long enough for us to pay off the credit card! This burden has become too great for America to bear. The time has come to lay the burden down!
How can we do this? The Meltdown may take care of one huge hurdle. When people make lots of money, a perverse thing happens. You would think that with more money, people would demand better stuff. But when prosperity abounds, the necessity of thinking long-term decreases.
When times are tough, however, the thought of replacing a tool, a piece of furniture, or whatever on a frequent basis is really frightening... we simply cannot afford to do that. So I believe that the Meltdown will begin to cause people to think long-term again, and to begin to value enduring things.
Purchasing enduring things after a long run of buying throwaway stuff is really difficult because the enduring stuff costs more money when you buy it, even though its life cycle cost is much lower. Take buildings, for example. A 1,000-year building probably costs 50% more than a 35-year building... but over the 1,000 years, we and our descendants only have to build it once, whereas we and our descendants have to build 30 or so of the 35-year buildings. So the life-cycle cost of going the short-term route is twenty times higher than going the long-term route.
“But wait,” you say, “I’ll only be living in that house seven years! And I’ll only be alive another 30 or 40 years! Why should I possibly care about a 1,000-year building?” Good questions. There are several answers. First, when you sell that house in seven years, which do you think will produce a better return: selling a house with 20% (7 years/35 years) of its useful life drained since you bought it, or a house that’s built for the ages? Next, a building designed to last several centuries naturally has much lower maintenance than one that won’t even last as long as your lifetime. Which would you rather maintain? And doesn’t it mean something to you to ease the burden on your children, their children, and those that come after then? Of course it does. But the very same people who go to great lengths with their estate planners usually have not, at least until now, thought of the implications upon their children and grandchildren of buying things and building buildings that do not endure. But now, it really is time to remove that heavy burden from their shoulders. Let’s do the right thing, and do the sensible thing, and start buying and building to last!
~ Steve Mouzon
Monday, February 23, 2009 - 09:05 PM
This is history in action, in a sense.
The temple to Athena called the Parthenon in Athens was used as both a temple and the city treasury in the time of Athens' golden age. Later, the Christians turned it into a church dedicated to Mary Mother of Christ. Still later it was a mosque in the days of the Ottoman Empire. As it became more run-down, the Ottomans used it as a gunpowder magazine for their fortress on the Acropolis. When the Venetians bombed it in the 1500s, and blew it up, the remaining ruins were used as a shelter for a new palace and another mosque. It was only in the 19th century — more than 2400 years after its construction — that it was put into service as a spiritually-uplifting ruin, after a long series of uses that were never intended by the original builders
Friday, March 6, 2009 - 03:50 PM
Andrew, that's a classic example... thanks for making the point! It's so easy to assume that what a building is today is what it's always been, but a building that lasts 1,000 years may only serve its original program for 3-5% of its life... making building programs one of the most over-rated things in architecture today! The focus should be on building an excellent building, not on the minutia of a program that may change in some ways even before construction is complete.
I was invited to speak at the Southern Living Custom Builders’ annual conference in Birmingham this past weekend. The conference began with an address by Eleanor Griffin, who is Southern Living’s Editor-In-Chief. Eleanor listed the top ten things that would guide the upcoming direction of the magazine as America in general and the South in particular face times that are much different from what they have been for years. Her top ten items that Southern Living readers are telling her are:
1. Keep your Southern vernacular accent.
2. Build with the land. It’s a great Southern asset.
3. Quality still trumps quantity - and it always will.
4. The kitchen has retained the title of “splurge-worthy” even in tough times.
5. Lack of square footage does not mean lack of style.
6. Hardworking spaces communicate value.
7. Lack of pretension does not mean lack of personality.
8. “Green” and “sustainability” are finally making “cents.”
9. Southerners consider their back yards a second family room.
10. Never underestimate the power of a little romance.
So these were the things that the readers have been telling Southern Living as times have gotten more difficult. But then Eleanor proceeded to lay out a few other new directions, too, in which she intends to lead the magazine. The big news of the day was here, from my perspective as a New Urbanist. I’ve had a longstanding relationship with the magazine, and have been encouraging them to move toward more New Urbanist stories, house plans, etc., for at least a dozen years. Everybody I’ve ever known at Southern Living and Coastal Living has always been very supportive of the ideas of the New Urbanism, but most of them felt that it was a niche market that only a few of their readers would be interested in.
Friday, Eleanor changed all that. She said “Ten years ago, I never would have believed I’d be saying this, but we now feel that the New Urbanism is the future of American place-making, so beginning immediately, our articles about new places will be about the traditional neighborhoods created by the New Urbanism. We’ll still write about the great old places, too, of course. The first story you’ll see will be on DPZ’s New Town at St. Charles in a few weeks.”
Eleanor’s leadership in this issue is huge, because Southern Living has a circulation of 14 million, and is the unquestioned lifestyle authority throughout the South. I heartily congratulate her on this bold move and look forward to watching where this might lead. And as a matter of fact, look for follow-up news here in the next few weeks about one of the initiatives spawned by this direction!
~ Steve Mouzon
The New Urbanism was meant for such a time as this. The global meltdown has crushed the financial, real estate, construction, and architectural markets, as everyone (except for maybe a few hermits) now knows. How can the New Urbanism help with such an unprecedented catastrophe?
Many people think they know the story of the New Urbanism over the past thirty years, and how it has created compact, mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods that quickly became highly desirable, redefining the upper end of nearly every real estate market they inhabited.
Property values in traditional neighborhoods were spiking long before the general market did. We vacationed in Seaside from the late 1980s until we moved to South Beach in 2003, and for years, we toyed with the idea of buying a second home in Seaside. Dreamsicle, a tiny 700 square foot cottage on the Rosewalk, came on the market in 1994 at $290,000. We seriously considered it, and probably would have done it had the rental income allowed us to break even with the monthly expenses... but it didn’t. So for an architect who had just hung out his shingle three years previously, it was a bridge too far. Four years later, during our annual Labor Day vacation at Seaside, we saw that Dreamsicle was for sale again. They had simply flipped the digits... to $920,000. Four years later, in 2002, Dreamsicle was once again for sale, and they flipped the digits again... to $2,900,000! This tiny cottage had escalated to over $4,000 per square foot! There are similar stories on the eastern side of the Atlantic, most notably in Prince Charles’ new town of Poundbury.
For most people, the story stops there. To them, the New Urbanism has been a huge value-creation device that benefitted those who were agile enough to buy into a neighborhood early and watch the prices skyrocket. But that’s not the real story of the New Urbanism at all... the creation of unprecedented value in place after place was just a pleasant side-effect (for those who participated.) The real story is far different. The core principles of the New Urbanism are ideas that made the movement a highly enticing (and very profitable) niche when the market was good. But those same principles will be essential to survival in the long post-meltdown winter.
Being able to walk to work was once considered a non-essential nicety. But there will be a billion cars on the road in 7 to 10 years in China and India that don’t even exist today. There’s no question what will happen to gas prices when those billion cars are competing with the rest of our vehicles for fuel. And when gas prices start spiking again, people with a long commute are going to be in a serious bind, and will have to make difficult choices. Last summer, service industry people forced to live far from work by the lack of nearby affordable housing were already finding it impossible to make ends meet with gas prices hovering near $4/gallon. As those billion cars start to come online, more and more of the population will be faced with those same tough choices. The ability to make a living where you’re living is banned by law and by deed restriction in almost every American subdivision... but it’s built into the very fabric of the New Urbanism.
Being able t0 walk to the grocery, to the bank, to the pharmacy, to the hardware store, to the gym, and to the other necessities of life has for years been considered a somewhat frivolous advantage of living in a traditional neighborhood. But what about when those billion cars come online and are competing with us for gas? Will it seem so frivolous then, if you’re living in a place that condemns you to driving everywhere for everything? And think about it for a moment from the viewpoint of the merchant... you might even be one of those merchants, or work for one of them. Would you rather be in a place where the only way to get to your establishment is to drive, or would you rather have a lot of walk-up and bike-up customers, too? Which sort of merchant is going to prosper long into an uncertain future... one whose customers can only arrive by driving, or one whose customers have a choice of ways to arrive and shop? Which sort of merchant would you rather be... or rather work for?
Beyond the benefits of working or shopping in a place you can walk to, how about the benefits of walking itself? When I moved to South Beach from an almost completely unwalkable place in 2003, I lost 60 pounds. Before moving, I was a tired old man at 43 years old. Today, the characteristics most often noted about me are my passion and energy. This would not have been possible without moving to a walkable place... I might even have been dead by now, as heart disease runs heavy in my family... an uncle died of a heart attack at 37, for example. Health statistics abound as to the benefits of living and working in walkable places, and the treacherous risks of places that are not walkable. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here... and so many more... just Google... you can read all day... but don’t: get out and walk!
But health benefits are not the only benefits. Properly-designed walkable places actually bring people back together again as neighbors. See the two women visiting here? I took the photo at a New Urbanist neighborhood known as the Waters, then waited until they had finished visiting and asked the lady on the porch for her permission to use the image. She agreed. I asked “is the other lady a friend of yours?” She said “No, I was just meeting her for the first time just then.” This was possible because the front edge of the porch was a certain distance above the inner edge of the sidewalk, and a corresponding distance away from the sidewalk. And the frontage fence contributed by making them both feel more comfortable. Had the geometry not been right, the lady on the porch would have never been sitting on the porch when her future friend walked by... so she would not have met her that day. But the geometry was right, so she met her. And conversations lead to relationships, which lead to people acting like neighbors again. And as we should know, there are few things better in difficult and uncertain times than a lot of good neighbors.
So what to do? One answer is obvious. The Congress for the New Urbanism is convening in Denver this year... June 10-13. Don’t come if you’re just looking for a real estate value boost, because we all have a long post-meltdown winter ahead of us. But if you want to gather principles and techniques that will help you, your neighborhood, and your community to sustain yourselves in these times, then there will be no better place to be in mid-June than at the Congress. Sessions will include everything from the foundation principles to the specific techniques and dimensions that create neighbors out of strangers like the two women in the image above. I’ll be there... please join me!
~ Steve Mouzon
Sunday, February 22, 2009 - 06:50 PM
sounds great to me. i'm an artist/designer in los angeles. FINALLY my reduce reuse recycle is being considered by my clients and i'm able to
work being creatively enviromentally responsible.
i reuse restaurant chairs by painting them
art with found objects etc etc
thank you for great post
Friday, March 6, 2009 - 03:52 PM
You're welcome! And I'm glad that your clients are coming around. I'm guessing that when we come out of the Meltdown, there will be a lot of changed attitudes... for the better.
Thursday, May 28, 2009 - 12:14 PM
Steve, I enjoyed reading the post and am eagerly awaiting the 'Leytham' neighborhood here in Omaha, Nebraska. Herb has been working hard over the past few years and it has been great to watch his ideas unfold.
The first Leytham lot reserver (Robert)
Thursday, May 28, 2009 - 05:31 PM
Robert, thanks very much! Herb is one of those people in whom I have great confidence that he will do the right thing. I'm delighted to have consulted with Herb a little bit on Leytham so far, and hope to continue to do so... I have high hopes for Leytham. Thanks for posting!
Efficiency gains can only take us so far... or so it seems. But they can’t even do that, when you really get to the facts. Because there’s an insidious little problem known as the Fallacy of Efficiency, which states that as things become more efficient, we tend to use them more. In other words, if we’re driving a more efficient car, we’re more likely to drive it further distances. Or if the light bulbs are so efficient, what’s the big deal with turning them off when we’re not using them? This highlights the fact that it’s actually more important to change our minds (and then to change our behavior) than it is to change our gadgets.
My own experience is a good example. I once lived in a place that was almost completely unwalkable. Between the two of us, Wanda and I drove about 48,000 miles a year in two cars. We moved to Miami Beach in 2003 to work more closely with the many New Urbanists here, and our driving habits changed immediately because the place is so walkable. We live five blocks from the office; I walk, while Wanda bikes so she can carry our two miniature dachshunds in the front basket so they don’t make the trip a 30-minute sniffing expedition. Our office is within two blocks of three neighborhood groceries, and our home is four blocks from Whole Foods, so the front basket and two saddlebag baskets on the bike are good for almost all grocery trips. Our bank is five blocks from the office. The hardware store is two blocks away; the post office is across the street. The drug store is two blocks away. And once we moved here, I lost 60 pounds because of all the walking. Here’s the building where we have our office: It has a Starbucks on one end, a pub on the other, and a Crunch gym above, and lots of other businesses in between:
But I digress... the real point here is efficiency. We now crank the car roughly twice a week, and drive less than 6,000 miles per year. That’s one eighth as much as we drove before. If we wanted to achieve the same reduction in gasoline use with a more efficient car instead, while still driving 48,000 miles a year, we’d have to have a car that was 8 times as efficient as my Accord and Wanda’s CRV. Or, in percentage terms, that’s 800% as efficient. Remember the green line on the chart a few pages back that is labeled “Towards Sustainability,” but is considered an impossible dream? Well, the green line is an efficiency increase of just under 5% per year. So when we moved to South Beach, the effect was 160 times better (800/5) than the impossible dream of efficiency! Let that sink in a minute: one hundred and sixty times better than efficiency’s impossible dream!
This is not to say that we should not have more efficient cars, machines, and light bulbs. Efficiency is fine if you want to ease your conscience, but it is a losing strategy for achieving sustainability. If our behavior doesn’t change, then our machines can’t save us. And if our behavior does change, then those savings will dwarf the efficiency savings. And in my own experience, our behavior did not change because we suddenly felt that it was our duty to walk everywhere, but because it is so much fun to walk all over South Beach. Put another way, the best way to change behavior is with enticement.
~ Steve Mouzon
This is the only part of this book that will be explicitly about politics... I promise. Anyone who is a serious advocate for sustainability in the US needs to face up to the fact that we have a big problem.
Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies found in July 2007 that “... a large majority of the American public is personally convinced that global warming is happening (71%). Surprisingly, however, only 48 percent believe that there is consensus among the scientific community, while 40 percent of Americans still believe there is a lot of disagreement among scientists over whether global warming is occurring.”
I can understand that, to a degree, if this were 1999 rather than 2009. I am old enough to remember the debate in the 1970s as to whether we were going to have global warming or global cooling. That debate made me a skeptic of global warming for years. I was finally convinced, however, by the glacier photos. Remember Hemingway’s The Snows of Killimanjaro? Well, if you look at photos of Mount Killimanjaro taken in Hemingway’s day versus photos taken today (at the same time of the year) the difference is shocking. As are images of numerous glaciers around the world. I generally do not argue with evidence my eyes can clearly see.
Here’s another bit of evidence I have seen with my own eyes, and which stunningly confirmed the glacier photos: I was in Europe in 2003, and on our return flight just after the 4th of July, the pilot said “If you can, move to the right side of the plane, because you’re about to see something you may never see again. We are on a flight path further north than normal, and we’re about to fly past Greenland. This is probably the only time you will ever see Greenland.”
I moved to the right side, of course, and will forever regret that I left my camera packed away in the overhead bins. The gorgeous snowy mountains billowed away to the horizon. It was a stunning sight that shall always be imprinted upon my mind.
This year, I was in Europe again, except it was a month earlier in the year; I was returning in early June. I grew increasingly more excited as it became apparent that we were on the same flight path over Greenland on which we had been five years earlier. Anxiously, I retrieved my camera this time, and gripped it, unwilling to miss such a beautiful sight again.
But as we crossed over the coast, my anticipation turned to shock and disbelief. The landscape that had been such a beautiful wonderland just five years before melted away before my eyes. Where billowy mountains of snow had stretched endlessly on the previous flight, I now saw only rocky slopes, and the small bits of remaining snow and ice slipping off them into the sea. My disbelief was so great that my camera hung there useless... I didn’t even think to photograph what I was seeing. As for me, nobody will ever again convince me that global warming is not happening, because I have seen it with my own eyes. It is not some hypothetical possibility, but rather, it is something which I have witnessed.
But there is a problem with global warming. Hundreds of millions of Americans were not on the plane with me that day (or on the day several years earlier when I finally had to confront the glacier photos and give up my long-held skepticism,) and if the Yale study is to be believed, there are still tens of millions of Americans who have serious misgivings about the truth of global warming, and about its origins.
The major culprit in this situation is politics. It has not always been that way. Strangely (from today’s point of view,) Richard Nixon (a Republican) presided over the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. And on the first Earth Day just a few months earlier, it seemed that there was wide agreement among Americans of all political stripes that our natural environment was in critical condition.
It was not long, however, until the bipartisanship dissolved into polarization over the environment. It does not matter who fired the first shots; Republicans say it was Carter, while Democrats say it was Reagan. For the purposes of this book, it’s immaterial. Here’s why:
Democrats clearly are identified today as protectors of the environment, while Republicans are tagged as the desecrators. There are many reasons for this; some of them well-earned, and some of them pure political posturing (on both sides.) Here is this book’s most important political message:
Get over it!!!
If you’re a Republican, get over it! You lost the global warming debate, but our future is bigger than your loss. We need your help... today!
If you’re a Democrat, get over it! So you won the debate.... what’s more important now... to spend your time rubbing your opponents’ collective noses in the fact that they were wrong about global warming, or to spend your time in actually doing something about global warming?
Put another way... We need all hands on deck... now!!! If we plan to act like Americans and buckle down and get the job done, then the last thing we need is for one side to gloat, or for the other side to leave the table. So Get Over It... NOW!!! Let’s all pitch in and do the American thing and get the job done! Anything less is unacceptable.
~ Steve Mouzon
Monday, March 2, 2009 - 12:06 PM
For my part, and I believe many of those who are frustrated with the Global Warming debate, the question is not whether or not Global Warming is occuring... statistically, the Earth has seen a rise of 6 degrees over the past 600 years. The question is... to what extent are humans responsible... essentially, from what source is the cause, and with this, the role of carbon.
Please consider the following excerpt:
"... a rise in temperature will increase the CO2 in the atmosphere is supported by a hysical Chemical model. The earth’s surface is 70% ocean. Water has a substantial solubility for CO2 which decreases exponntially with increased temperature. Taking into account the volume of water, the solubility effect of CO2 (probably in the range of PPM), and the fact that the ocean is probably close to equilibrium in CO2 content with the atmosphere, leads to a model. The model will explain the fact that huge amounts of CO2 may be dissolved in the ocean with little if any impact from the burning of carbon fuels. But small changes in ocean temperature will indeed increase the CO2 in the atmosphere substantially."
I apologize for the long reply.
Friday, March 6, 2009 - 04:09 PM
Chad, let's look at it another way. Zig Ziglar paraphrased the Insanity Principle this way: "Insanity is the inability to realize that if you keep doing what you've been doing, you'll keep getting what you've been getting!" I'd like to propose the Inverse Insanity Principle: "Insanity is also the act of thinking you can do something radically different and somehow get the same result." A Jewish carpenter wrapped both ideas together a couple thousand years ago when he observed that "you reap what you sow."
So the thought that we could dump billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and it would have no effect on the climate simply doesn't square with the fact that "you reap what you sow." The important thing, IMO, is to get past the point of it being a political debate so that we can all go to work sowing different seed than what we have been sowing. Supporting big industry isn't our star-spangled obligation. Please read the blog post "The Trouble With Consumption." America's free-enterprise system was built on a Conserving Economy. The Consuming Economy we're all a part of today was only invented about 1925 with the advent of planned obsolescence, which coincides with the beginning of the Great Decline... or was the timing a coincidence? I don't think so.
Ever-increasing consumption isn't our patriotic duty... as a matter of fact, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and the rest of our founding fathers would be aghast to see how we've changed. A return to the Conserving Economy they lived and espoused would solve so many of the problems we face today.
Friday, March 6, 2009 - 04:37 PM
I'm with you on the line of thnking you've noted above. Anything done irresponsibly, especially on such a large scale, is undesirable and bound to reap negative results. This is why I support the Original Green and it's views regarding true sustainability. Where I get uneasy is when the principled reasonings as to why current practices and solutions are questionable take a back seat, and key considerations are set aside in an effort to draw in emotion and let it lead a debate. I'm not suggesting the Original Green is conducting itself in this manner... if it did, I would not continue to read. But, there's quite a lot of this going around. I guess there's a small part of me that is concerned about the OG shifting in this direction over time, to not do so would eventually almost certainly aggravate "those in the know". Regardless of what the most media reports suggest, or what Al Gore has flatly stated (yet will not debate in public), the debate is not over. But again, I don't see this as being in conflict to the goals or merits of the OG. I believe mankind should live responsibly and sensibly regardless of whether he is the driving force or a small tertiary piece in the global warming equation. I'd just rather see mankind living cleaner, more responsibly, more sustainably.
Friday, March 6, 2009 - 05:15 PM
Exactly... we can either debate, or we can get something done. I vote for getting something done. Whether or not everyone agrees that auto emissions contribute to climate change, we can all agree that the downside of driving is much bigger than the upside on so many counts.
The same goes for pretty much every other practice that most agree contributes to global warming. For example, the merits and demerits of that coal-fired power plant that runs your air conditioner can be debated, but here's something that's beyond debate: why spend more on utilities than you need to? I don't know anybody that actually wants to waste energy, or waste resources. Do you?
That's what I mean about getting beyond the debate... when you really get down to how the debate affects you personally, we're all on the same side. Because the activities that are pegged with contributing to climate change are activities that also happen to cost us money... at the gas pump, at the utility meter, and at the store. Why pay more?
There are a number of well-meaning programs in place that set various sustainability targets. And let’s be clear: I am fully in support of both programs that will be described here. But all target programs have a core problem which we’ll get to in a moment. But first, let’s look at the two examples:
I have great admiration for Ed Mazria, who has single-handedly taken a great idea and pushed it tirelessly until it has gotten onto many people’s radar screens across the US and abroad. Ed has become the model, in many ways, of what I am attempting to do with the Original Green: one person making a difference beginning with nothing but a great idea.
Ed’s great idea is an initiative that he calls Architecture 2030, the essence of which is a call for all new buildings to be carbon-neutral by the year 2030. There is much more, of course. Check out the Architecture 2030 website for details.
The British government has issued an even more immediate challenge, calling for all buildings in the UK to be carbon-neutral beginning in 2016. Other countries are adopting carbon targets; a web search returns a growing list.
So what’s the problem? Targets that may be characterized as “you should do this...” simply are not as compelling as those that begin as “I will do this...” “You should do this...” targets are a special kind of wishful thinking: they are the things you wish someone else would do, rather than the things you’re willing to commit to yourself. Even when wishful thinking targets carry the force of law, such as the British 2016 target, they are susceptible to being missed. What will the government do if the British construction industry hasn’t figured out how to be carbon-neutral by 2016 in a manner that most citizens can afford? Will they shut down the entire construction industry until they figure it out? Can you imagine any public office-holder with the guts to do that?
Targets are not without merit, and they have worked in the past. Probably the most notable success was President Kennedy’s call for putting man on the moon. Without Kennedy’s target, Apollo 11 would never have occurred. But we should not be lulled into thinking that everything’s OK just because we have carbon targets. Until people commit to “I will do this...” targets are little more than wishes.
~ Steve Mouzon
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 - 12:04 PM
This makes tons of sense. I personally believe in setting goals but I always find that rather than one huge step, I do better to break it down into bite size pieces. An example is setting a goal to run a mile, two miles then six miles, etc is much more doable than setting the goal to run a marathon, even if the marathon is where I want to end up. Maybe this is what needs to happen with sustainability.
You can read the term “sustainability” in almost every newspaper or magazine you pick up. And everywhere you go, the word seems to be on everyone’s lips. But what does it really mean?
To the thousands of companies who are currently working on proving that their products are the most sustainable thing you could buy, sustainability is not much more than marketing fluff. The problem is, most companies aren’t changing their products to be greener; they’re just changing their sales pitches so they can tell you how green they already are.
This is a practice known as “greenwashing,” which is a huge disservice to us all. Sustainability ought to have a strong meaning, and for the purposes of this blog, it does. Whenever you read the word here, you can count on it having the common-sense, plain-spoken definition, which is: “keeping things going in a healthy manner far into an uncertain future.” If it doesn’t last, it’s not sustainable.
~ Steve Mouzon
Today’s architecture students and recent graduates are really lucky... but most of them don’t realize it. Why are they lucky? Because most of them don’t have a chance of getting a job in an architectural firm. So how can that possibly be a good thing? Here’s how:
Over the course of a 40+ year career, an architect will experience a number of minor recessions, and a couple of bone-jarring ones. The current recession has the possibility of becoming the worst downturn since the Great Depression, and architecture is sitting right in the crosshairs since the epicenter of the carnage was the real estate market. There’s no doubt that your career will include at least one shattering downturn; the only question is which decade of your career that the monster shows up. We’re equipped differently at different times in life to deal with serious downturns. Here it is, by the decade, starting with the old guys first:
50s and Above
These people are right in the middle or have just passed through their peak earning years, so many of them have accumulated serious assets (for an architect, that is.) Many of my friends in this group are seriously debating retiring early so that they can protect their assets because a nest egg that might last 30 years could easily get burned up in just a year or two trying to keep a larger firm operating when there’s no business. If my colleagues in this age group thought the recovery would come quickly, they’d probably stick it out, but there’s very little hope out there that this will end anytime soon.
I’m in this group. We’ve been working hard for years, and have finally gotten some notoriety, usually accompanied by a degree of financial success. But I don’t know anyone my age who has accumulated enough assets to be able to retire. So we’ll have to keep working. Problem is, this recession/depression/whatever it is that we’re in looks like it will be pounding architecture and construction for so long that many of us are seriously looking at doing something else for a living. And when architects are forced out of architecture mid-career, they hardly ever come back.
The outlook here is equally bleak, but for different reasons. Most architects in this group have recently made major commitments, and are likely saddled with a house and a family, and some of them have started their own fledgling business. As a result, they have even less margin for error than their 40-something colleagues. They may not yet have as much to lose, but their cushion for the fall is small to non-existent in many cases. They, too, are likely to leave the profession and never return.
This brings us to the lucky ones. You’re at one point in a career where you can lose your job (or not get hired after graduation) and be nimble enough to deal with it and return to the profession later. If you do this right, it could be the best thing that ever happened to you. Here’s what to do:
1: Take a job... any job. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with architecture. The good news is that your education likely was quite broad, and the abilities you picked up should serve you well in many fields. Ideally, look for something in publishing or advertising for reasons I’ll describe later. In most cases, this job will simply be something to pay the bills. The real fun happens at night, after you get home from work:
2: Create an initiative, a cause, or a movement that pushes forward the art or science of sustainability in architecture and urbanism in some way. Ideas are the currency of the new age. Purpose to become a thought leader.
3: Build your network of colleagues. You can do this by tapping into existing organizations like NextGen or the Students for the New Urbanism, or you might create your own group.
4: Publish your work. This is why I said that a publishing- or advertising-related job might be a good idea: it puts you in good proximity with the printing mechanism. You’ll likely self-publish, which is easier today than ever before. And consider all the routes, of course, including the paperless ones.
5: When architecture emerges from this long night, you’ll likely find the upper ranks of the profession much-depleted, especially if this thing lasts for 3-4 years or more. Not only will your odds be better numerically, but you will have already made a name for yourself by assuming a position of leadership. Remember that all leaders are self-proclaimed... nobody ever gets designated as a leader by someone else. An initiative is so named because you have to take the initiative in order to create it.
So that’s the basic outline, of what you should be doing, as I see it at the moment. If you’re still doubting your luck, consider the plight of those who have preceded you. For fifteen years, the profession has gobbled up graduates at an astounding rate. Schools of architecture at the Universities of Miami and Notre Dame (which are the big-name schools with whom I am most familiar) have had multiple firms competing for each graduate on Career Day. But they weren’t hiring you to be a top designer; that’s what the partners do. Instead, once you got sucked into the machine, you found yourself doing toilet details and observation reports for what seemed like an eternity. And the profession is so all-consuming, with its deadlines and emergencies, that your chances of pursuing your own initiatives by night were very slim because you were mentally exhausted. And so while you might have made halfway-decent money after a few years, you didn’t become the leader of an initiative or cause; you were simply making a living. So don’t wish for that former reality... you’re far better off taking the big hit now and emerging as a leader.
Please comment below, and let’s have a discussion that builds a body of additional ideas about how to deal with this nightmare we’re up against.
~ Steve Mouzon
Tuesday, March 3, 2009 - 07:54 PM
Friday, February 26, 2010 - 11:41 AM
Some nice points in here and thanks for posting. I have to wonder though if this current mess and depletion of the ranks isn't more symptomatic of sustainable problems with the profession as a whole. It's long been a profession that 'eats its young' as they say and so when it becomes even more devalued as a professional endeavour you have to wonder why even pursue it any longer? This recession has confirmed for me that the really lucky ones are those that never decided to study architecture in the first place.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010 - 03:06 PM
While it's great to look for silver linings in our the stormy clouds of the Great Recession I think you might have gone to far. You probably need to talk to some recent grads who aren't able to find jobs and tell them they're the 'lucky ones' and see if they agree with you. I learned a tremendous amount in my first years of employment, the critical apprenticeship years. Architect's deal with technical matters and physical environments as their medium. I'm not sure going off and becoming a 'thought leader' is for everyone.
Friday, April 9, 2010 - 12:49 PM
Jay, I can't control or even have much influence over national and global circumstances. What I can influence is my own circumstance. For example, there's not a snowball's chance of most architecture students getting a job right now. So if I were a student, I could either choose to give up and do something else, or to make something good out of it. That's the intent of this post... to point out good that can come from the current circumstances if a person doesn't want to throw up their hands and surrender.
Monday, October 18, 2010 - 06:24 PM
Great post. There's nothing here I wouldn't really agree with. I've just finished 6 years of study in the UK and ended up as one of the top graduates in my year. I was one of the 'lucky' ones to get a job. One thing is for sure. Working at an architects is possibly one of the worse ways to use an architecture graduation. Most people working at the place were unhappy with what they were doing anyway. This was no different to 3 years ago when I was in practice. The architectural idyll never emerged. Consequently I left the job after 2 months, not because I was let go but because it was a complete waste of my education. You learn about history, sociology, politics, science, culture, art and so many other things at university. There's jobs out there such as advertising, teaching or pretty much anything else you can imagine that would make ten times more of a graduates skills than architecture that would be more rewarding and pay better. What is difficult is finding jobs out there outside of architecture that specify an architecture qualification. You need to let them know and as soon as they do they'll see you as gold dust. No other education provides people with such a rounded skill set. Furthermore, everyone knows that you're going to be hard working if you've got through in one piece. Likewise most architecture schools don't let you even consider that you could be a success outside of architecture. They want you to be the next Zaha or Gehry.
Monday, October 18, 2010 - 09:41 PM
Exactly... the massive disconnect between architectural education and practice has always been troublesome from both sides. Years ago when I had a normal practice, however, we did things so differently, both in design and production, that I finally made peace with the fact that I was going to have to train everyone anyway. I don't know of a profession out there with greater disparity between what is taught and what is practiced. What's the best explanation for this condition?
Thursday, May 19, 2011 - 04:54 PM
After having been an unemployed for two straight years- till november 2010, having a MArch (with honors) equivalent diploma (6 years study course in Romania)- I'm now over 28. I can honestly say that it hasn't been the recession alone that threw me out of the architectural work field. I got a high paying job in 2008 and quit it after abut 2 months, because I felt there was no way around inconsistency and shallowness in the design process in that organization. I had had other jobs before (construction and urbanism) and I could relate every time to the description of being sucked into a machine.
I now work in exhibition stand design to pay the bills and use as much as I can of my free time reading and thinking about urban theory, issues of urban inequality and the like. I got the opportunity to grow more on such interests because of unemployment time. I've volunteered in eco-villages and spent my time (and savings) in libraries (and their host cities) abroad. However in my job right now, there can be considerable overtime work demanded and it is likely to be similar in many fields related to architecture (production fields, deadline-driven) so ever since I decided to build back the savings I gradually became an intellectual wreck. The second important downfall- on the whole- has been a delay in my personal life (no talk of marriage, children, no house- because of course, no assets and no trace of material stability). So I still feel as though I'm in my 20s category by your classification.
In any case, in Romania the unemployment of young architects seems to be something of a tabu matter- discussions are smothered somehow and there seems to be an element of embarrassment. I've applied for advanced studies abroad and got an enthusiastic feedback (especially enthusiastic for my independent studies and activities after graduation), after suffering some rejection from the Romanian academia. For me this is all one picture and quite peculiar phenomenon...has there been no recession in the Romanian construction industry, is our culture hesitant with discussing difficulties or is it a question of professional pride and a certain ethics of behavior...
However, good post. I'll comment back in four years or more :) next two I'll immerse into an advanced masters in (international) urban development.
Thursday, May 19, 2011 - 06:22 PM
Thanks for this account, Ilinca! It's really tough to find the balance right now, but it's really important to not become the "intellectual wreck" you're describing. I've seen that happen to people, and when it becomes too tough, they usually give up their ideals... and then the rest of their life is spent just making a living. It's a really sad condition, but it happens countless times. As for the lack of material stability you describe, I have far fewer material things than I once did, and it actually feels really good. Moving from a 3,000 SF house down to a 747 SF condo required me to get rid of many things, but they were only dead weights anyway. Good luck, and please re-post here after awhile!