Diagramming the Original Green

Original Green diagram of characteristics of sustainable places (nourishable, accessible, serviceable, and securable) and buildings (lovable, durable, flexible, and frugal)

   The diagram above is today’s Original Green report card. Organic and bio-intensive farming advocates such as J.I. & Robert Rodale, John Jeavons, Michael Ableman and many others have done almost everything that they can do to foster the creation of a Nourishing Place, but there is much work left to do. Serenbe - A Nourishing Place highlights recent progress towards creating a moral imperative to make new places Nourishing Places. This foundation will not be rebuilt, however, until developers regularly say “it is in my best interest, including my financial best interest, to include enough agriculture in my plan that my development becomes a Nourishing Place.”

   The New Urbanism has clearly shown us how, through thirty years of work, we can build places where you have a choice of ways to get around in your neighborhood, especially including self-propelled means (walking and biking.) New Urbanists have become so influential in this regard that they are literally rewriting the transportation standards. One notable example is the joint CNU/ITE manual.

   The New Urbanism has also done much to create Serviceable Places by showing how to build neighborhoods with a diversity of uses so that you can get the basic services of life within walking distance. But until we’ve figured out how those people who are serving you those services can afford to live there, too, this foundation won’t be completely rebuilt. The New Urban Guild’s Katrina Cottage initiative has contributed to this effort; Katrina Cottage Housing is another view of this movement. Bruce Tolar’s Cottage Court in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, is the first built collection of Katrina Cottages.

   The discussion about Secure Places is a difficult one to have because so much emotion is bound up in this idea. But it’s an essential conversation to have because hundreds of American cities were almost emptied out in the 1960s and 1970s because they got this one foundation wrong. The New Urbanism’s efforts to design identifiable neighborhoods goes all the way back to Christopher Alexander’s work in the 1970s, but much work remains to be done in order to rebuild this foundation.

   The New Urbanism’s Form-Based Codes began the modern-day effort to recover the ability to build lovable buildings, beginning with DPZ’s code for Seaside, Florida, introduced in 1980. The SmartCode is the foremost form-based code. There have been several major subsequent contributors to the effort to build lovable buildings through the medium of living traditions, most notably (in the US) the Institute for Classical Architecture & Art and Restore Media, which hosts the Traditional Building Exhibition & Conference. The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment and INTBAU have been stalwarts of this effort in Europe. INTBAU USA is the US chapter.

   One would think that building durably would be as simple as going back to the old ways of building which have produced buildings that have lasted for centuries. But it’s not quite so simple as that. Today, we don’t have the same materials available as we did a century ago. Pine, for example, was once a tightly-grained rot-resistant wood. Today, it’s genetically-engineered mush. So while there are great resources showing how we once built for the ages (such as the Classicist Bookshop) we have work to do in order to figure out how to build durably again with the materials we can get today.

   Buildings have been reused for purposes other than those for which they were designed for many centuries. For nearly all of human history, repurposing a building was a relatively simple affair because the ingredients were: people, their furnishings, and their stuff. Recently, we’ve added machines, pipes, and wires. So we have some things to learn about how to incorporate these new arrivals into buildings in such a way that changes in the building’s program do not present a good excuse to tear the building down and start over. Donovan Rypkema of PlaceEconomics is one of many preservationists with a wealth of reasons why a building should be reused, and techniques for doing so.

   Frugality is best achieved using passive means first, because passive means don’t rely on technology or man-made energy inputs. Living traditions are perfectly suited for delivering passive frugality because passive measures are easily understood and easily replicated. Once passive means have accomplished all they can, then active means should be used to bridge the gap to our comfort range. This is where Gizmo Green is highly useful, because if you’re going to use equipment, by all means, use the most efficient equipment available.

   Scroll back up for a moment and look at the diagram... and notice how small a part of true sustainability Gizmo Green occupies. It is important, but it is a small piece of the whole picture. Yet this is where almost every sustainability discussion occurs today. The Original Green idea was created precisely to solve this problem by broadening the view of what sustainability really is. You can advance this cause by spreading this word to everyone you know. Ask them to subscribe to this blog by clicking the RSS button near the top of this page in the sidebar; your friends can be assured of a regular and provocative discussion they won’t yet find elsewhere... for now. If they’re on facebook, ask them to join the Original Green cause. If they’re on LinkedIn, ask them to join the Original Green group. And please feel free to join the discussion on any of these posts... just click "Add a comment" below. Because ideas always advance more quickly in a discussion.

~ Steve Mouzon

© The Guild Foundation 2013