Friday, August 22, 2014

Leading neighborhood development

The furniture builders
Photo by J. Harrington

I spent part of this morning wearing my board member hat and welcoming a great crew of volunteers from Wells Fargo to the USGBC-Mn's second Dynamic Green Home on Edmund Avenue in St. Paul. As I was leaving, the volunteers were doing "loosening up" exercises before they started to cut and nail unrelated pieces of wood into Adirondack chairs for the yard. The fact that the property is a double lot makes the patio furniture a really nice touch. While driving home, I tried to put building yard or patio furniture into the context of green building priorities. If the lumber came from within 500 miles of St. Paul, the furniture might qualify for green building points for locally sourced material, but I don't think that would be its major contribution. The longer I'm involved with sustainable development, sustainable living and green building, the more I'm coming to realize that the key to success is more people than technology. If people don't care about a place or a building, it won't be cared for and that makes it not sustainable.

a rain garden in the making
Photo by J. Harrington

The yard will have three rain garden areas. Rain gardens do helpful things to manage storm water and increase groundwater infiltration. Properly planted, they also give urban dwellers a better sense of the changing seasons, depending on what's blooming. If you have comfortable furniture to sit in the yard near the rain garden, you're more likely to notice changes of what's in flower. That's biophilia mixed with phenology. Again, depending on what's planted in the rain garden, or elsewhere in the yard, the local hive of bees or the neighborhood monarch butterflies might benefit. So, as with many of the good things in life, a rain garden doesn't just do one thing. It helps us realize how everything is related to everything else by six or fewer degrees of separation. Another way to to think this is to realize that every the Dynamic Green Home makes green living more affordable for a low or moderate income family, puts a foreclosed house back in the tax base, stabilizes or increases property values in the neighborhood, provides a "green home" within walking distance of the Green Line LRT and, as an engineer friend of mine used to say "providing multi-objective, multi-benefit programming," or something like that. The rest of us can more readily remember that rain gardens and green homes create win-win-win-win... windows on and doors to a better world that we can almost whistle up.

The Whistle

By Kathy Mangan 
You could whistle me home from anywhere
in the neighborhood; avenues away,
I’d pick out your clear, alternating pair
of notes, the signal to quit my child’s play
and run back to our house for supper,
or a Saturday trip to the hardware store.
Unthrottled, wavering in the upper
reaches, your trilled summons traveled farther
than our few blocks. I’ve learned too, how your heart’s
radius extends, though its beat
has stopped. Still, some days a sudden fear darts
through me, whether it’s my own city street
I hurry across, or at a corner in an unknown
town: the high, vacant air arrests me—where’s home?


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