A few notes on Suburbia

I decided to add some blog posts to my company website, and wanted to do a quick piece with some TED talk references about suburban planning.  Well, half of it will go on that site.  The rest goes here.

Ellen Dunham-Jones gives a presentation on how the next 50 years will be spent retrofitting the suburbs at TEDx Atlanta (January 2010).

Facts presented:

  1. Ratio associated with carbon footprints associated with urban vs. suburban dwellers: 1:3
  2. Suburbs have doubled the amount we drive
  3. CDC has linked suburban living with sedentary lifestyle
  4. ½ of households in Atlanta spend 29% of their income on housing and 32% on transportation (2005 figures).
  5. Through 2025, 75-85% of new households will not have kids in them, meaning focus will turn toward non-family households.

She goes on further to show projects which redevelop “dead malls,” underperforming retail, empty big box.  Goes further to show how cities have connected redevelopments and created ways to restore their original ecology.  She looks to municipalities to determine what should be “re-greened,” restored, or redeveloped.  Watch the video for the good stuff.

James Kunstler has a much more critical view, filmed February 2004.  I saw him speak at SMU in 2007.  His animated, vulgar style has an effect – its up to you if it is positive or negative.  His talk at SMU was very similar, except it was about 2 hours instead of this 20 minute snippet:

From the TED site:

In James Howard Kunstler’s view, public spaces should be inspired centers of civic life and the physical manifestation of the common good. Instead, he argues, what we have in America is a nation of places not worth caring about.

This second half of this post I decided not put on my company page, so I am putting it here.  Kunstler blasts architects and the status quo design quite energetically:

“Asteroid Belt of Architectural Garbage.”  Great line.

“Words that must have been in this meeting of the architects: ‘f*** it’”

Yep, that last one made me skip it – the 4th F-bomb in a video is fine here, but I decided to keep it professional on the, uh, professional site.

His point – we’ll get to where Ellen Dunham-Jones talks about if we’re lucky.  No technological breakthroughs will allow us to keep living the way we are living – his take home: live locally – citizens have “obligations responsibilities and duties to their fellow human beings.”


TEDx: Andy Cohen

This presentation isn’t really new to anyone who studies sustainable design, but it is a good quick presentation hitting all of the highlights, and should serve as a good model for those who want to convince a client to build sustainably.  This presentation starts with the global data that is generally accepted about climate change, moves to the data supplied by the USGBC on energy consumption and CO2 emissions, covers a few mega projects that Gensler is working on, then wraps it up with the future of LEED and a little William McDonough reference.

I could not make out the references for the study of construction costs for sustainable design, but it seems a little low.  This is probably due to the fact that most of these studies cover projects that are in the top 5% of the market, meaning large projects that can absorb high soft costs.  These studies rarely indicate total project cost anyway, which by far misses the mark on giving real data on the real estate deliverable.

Still, he makes a solid point that sustainable design should fit both large and small projects.  I have personally designed and built very high performance buildings for no additional cost, but LEED certification was out of the question.  Part of his hidden point is that good architects will do this.  To reference McDonough myself, it is the responsibility of the designer (architect, industrial designer, chemist, etc) to come up with the solution – we should have to ask the user for a concession (high cost, loss of quality, more time) to get us there.