the Fate of Ought-To

two men debating an issue at a table on the sidewalk outside a Paris cafe

   Google “sustainability.” It won’t take you very long to find lengthy lists of things we ought to do. These lists are all but useless. Why is this?

   Real sustainability is something that can only be accomplished when everyone is involved, because we must all make changes. Sustainability is not something that the manufacturers will do for us; it’s something that begins with things we do for ourselves. Others can help, but they cannot do it for us, because the job is simply too huge.

   Why do people make changes in their lives? Theoretically, there are three major reasons for people to make big changes: because they have to, because they ought to, or because they want to.

   The “have to” reason is a place we don’t want to go because it means that there isn’t any other choice. During the summer of 2008 when gas briefly spiked to $5/gallon in most parts of the US, many people realized that they simply couldn’t afford to live where they were living. Had gas stayed that high, they would have been forced to make hard choices that would have been very traumatic for most of them. So “have to” works, but it’s normally quite painful.

   The “ought to” reason is used to frame most of the sustainability solutions intended for the population at large. You ought to recycle. You ought to drive less. You ought to adjust your thermostat. Unfortunately, people almost never do what they ought to do. “Ought to” sounds like a good reason for someone else to do something, but not a good reason for me to do something. So “ought to” simply doesn’t work with most people. In other words, even though we can’t achieve sustainability without everyone doing things differently, the main tool that is being used to persuade people (“you ought to”) simply doesn’t work on enough people to make a real difference.

   That leaves us with the “want to” reason, which is largely unexplored. How does it work? People want to do something because they love to do it or because they’re convinced it will benefit them in some way. In other words, because either their emotion or their intellect is telling them to do so. Wanting to do something is highly effective because it’s positive. Rather than avoiding pain like you do with a “have to” reason, you’re doing something because of the pleasure or other benefit it brings. “Want to” reasons are the foundations of the Living Tradition, which is the operating system of the only proven delivery system for real sustainability: the Original Green.

~ Steve Mouzon

Pedestrian Propulsion

vibrant street scene on narrow pedestrian commercial street in Barcelona

   Pedestrian Propulsion is a characteristic of a street that entices you to walk further than you otherwise would on lesser streets... literally propelling you along the way. It’s why you might walk for miles through the streets of Paris on a dreary day, stopping only when the showers come down, and even then under an awning at a little sidewalk cafe where you can continue on your way just as soon as the rain moves off.

   The opposite of Pedestrian Propulsion is Pedestrian Obstruction. This is what happens in the parking lot of a “power center,” where the pedestrian experience is so bad that we all get in our cars to drive from the Old Navy to the Best Buy.

vibrant street scene on narrow pedestrian commercial street in Barcelonaexcellent rambla filled with people in Tarragona, Spain

   New Urbanists talk a lot about the 5-minute walk, which is roughly a quarter-mile. In theory, the average adult will walk rather than drive to their destination if it’s less than 5 minutes away. But as we have seen, Pedestrian Propulsion can dramatically increase this distance on a network of great streets like those found in central London, Rome, Paris, Charleston, Boston, etc. And Pedestrian Obstruction can dramatically shorten it. How far do you really want to walk in a sea of parking? “No further than absolutely necessary,” is likely your answer.

   How does this work? Pedestrian Propulsion seems to depend on several factors. Foremost among them is something I call “Pedestrian Entertainment.” Simply put, the more you entertain the eyes of the pedestrians, the further they will walk. Some of this entertainment occurs simply because of geometry. If the sidewalk is closer to the buildings, then your view can change more frequently. But if the buildings are set far back from the sidewalk, then it takes a long time for your view to change appreciably. Imagine walking along a Main Street with storefronts at your elbow. Now imagine walking along a sidewalk in an office park, with the boring office buildings set hundreds of feet off the street. It’s clear why nobody walks in an office park, isn’t it?

man walking down Charleston sidewalk

   The width of the buildings matter, too. You walk by narrower buildings on narrower lots more quickly than wide ones. The interest of the building design is also important. A blank wall is deadly to pedestrian interest, while a storefront full of attractive wares probably enhances Pedestrian Entertainment (and therefore increases Pedestrian Propulsion) as much as anything.

   Interestingly, one of the things we find most entertaining is other people. Streets full of people often attract even more, while deserted streets can be spooky. It seems as if the rich get richer and the poor get poorer... pedestrian-rich or pedestrian-poor, that is. But this isn’t really true, because if you create a fabric of streets that entice pedestrians, then there will be plenty to go around. But if it’s an auto-dominated place, then nobody will walk even if there are occasional good blocks. My home is a classic example. Go north of 21st Street on Miami Beach and all you can find are cars. But on South Beach, people are walking everywhere... so much so that South Beach has been dubbed “the 21 Most Exciting Blocks on Planet Earth.”

~ Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Friday, July 31, 2009 - 10:25 AM

Ken Firestone


Has anyone done any research on this specifically?

Friday, July 31, 2009 - 10:27 AM

Ken Firestone

Besides this: 

"Measuring the unmeasurable"

I have a copy of the complete paper.

SmartDwelling I - the Invisible Things

aerial rendering of SmartDwelling I, with hot water solar collectors forming roof of Solar Shed and photovoltaic collectors forming upper porch roof

   Several elements of SmartDwelling I, published recently in the Wall Street Journal’s Green House of the Future article, are highly visible. Two of the more important ones, however, can”t be seen at all... at least from the ground. See the grey roof just to the left of the Tower of Wind & Water? Those are the hot water solar collectors that provide hot water to the entire house. See the blue roof covering the two-story porch? Those are photovoltaic collectors that provide electricity to SmartDwelling I.

   Both sets of collectors are on low-slope roofs, so there’s no way you can see them unless you’re a long way from the house. They also occupy the entire roof... in essence, they are the roof. This means that even if you’re far enough back from the house to see the roof surface, you’re still unlikely to notice anything different.

   I tried this approach first on a design for a Green Shed at Southlands, a DPZ project near Vancouver. Southlands is a place where all of the people living there will be able to get all the food they need from food grown on the property.

hideous rooftop solar collectors in Leadville, Colorado

   Contrast this with normal collectors which are usually designed for the perfect angle of maximum solar efficiency, no matter how hideous that makes them look on the roof. This attitude of getting the engineering exactly right with not a thought for design likely contributed to the demise of the first green revolution that began in the late 1960s and died in the early 1980s. Read this post to find out why.

~ Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - 10:56 AM

Michael Rouchell

I am always bothered by the aesthetics of solar panels because they always sit on top of the roof and are never THE roof, and they are always rectangular so that they never work on hipped roofs.  Finally, I wish someone would design and manufacture a solar panel that works in ambient light and doesn't have to face south.  I would like to see an entire hipped roof of solar panels that would operate on different levels of efficiency depending on the angle of the sun; even panels facing north would still get some sunlight and may not work as efficiently as the south facing panels, but at least the result would be a more unified looking roof.  

One issue that needs to be resolved is how roofers and electricians can coordinate their efforts with one another.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - 11:33 AM

Frank G. Greene

There are photovoltaic panels systems on the market now that are integrated with metal roof panels.  I believe they can be cut to shape if the roof isn't rectangular, though throwing away part of an integrated photovoltaic panel is a lot more expensive than just throwing out par of a metal roof panel. 

Your hope that solar panels can face north is, unfortunately not workable.  The amount of incident light on the sun-facing slope of a roof will be hundreds of times more than on a shaded or north facing slope and so would the amount of power generated. This is a case where aesthetics and physics are at odds.  Physics wins.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - 11:55 AM

Frank G. Greene

I do think that an unnecessary  insistence on absolute "correct" orientation for solar collectors was a factor in their lack of acceptance in the past. Collectors oriented within 20 degrees of south and within about 30 degrees of vertical angle from the latitude of the site produce about 90% of the energy of the "perfect" orientation. It's well worth accommodating the aesthetics for a slight loss in efficiency, but if you just ask the engineer he'll lobby for perfection.

The primary factor against wide acceptance has always been cost. I've seen an early 20th C. photo of Pasadena CA that shows many of the rooftops with really hideous primitive solar hot water collectors. Fuel was expensive in CA then. As soon as the cost of oil cane down, the collectors disappeared.   Ugly AND expensive is really unacceptable.

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