Top 10 Eco Principles for Communities

With the economy in turmoil, a real estate prices dropping, green communities and green building will become more important. It’s easy to see how broken our current community model is in terms of the urban sprawl; the average American commute continues to grow longer. Between 1969 and 2001, the number of vehicle miles traveled for commuting jumped from 4,180 to 5,720.

The Sierra Club notes that today’s average American driver spends what amounts to 55 eight hour workdays behind the wheel every year. Gas won’t stay at the current level so we need to look at developing more sustainable communities.

San Francisco area architect Michelle Kaufmann and Kelly Melia-Teevan came up with a top 10 (sorry Letterman) EcoPrinciples for Communities.

1. Smart Design

Some architects play God; instead of working with nature they go against it. Building orientation remains a big, no cost key, as well as designing to use less, and to collaborate with the landscape.

2. Energy Efficiency

Kind of a no brainer here. Everyone from Obama on down seems to be talking about energy efficiency. While some aspects remain somewhat pricey such as photovoltaic systems, other energy saving methods such as passive solar layouts, sealing building envelopes with super efficient insulation and glass and harnessing alternative energy sources offer not only a decent ROI but save the Earth’s resources as well.

3. Water Conservation

Here in the Bay Area we are headed for a drought. Ideas for water savings include basic ideas such as xeriscaping. Who needs a lawn anyway? Sculpting bioswales into the land, irrigating with rainwater catchment systems and paving with only pervious ground surfaces can conserve gallons without much added cost.

4. Reduce Waste

As one of the Three R’s, Kauffman suggests designing easy to access, easy to use recycling centers. How smart can it be to drive with a plastic bag of aluminum cans to the faraway recycling center? Also, she offers ideas such as integrating on-site composting, and facilitating “living machines” (engineered waste treatment system designed to process a building’s sanitary drainage on-site).

5. Healthy Environment

Everyone seems to forget this area in terms of Green Building. It won’t do much good to maintain a clean environment but have sick people living in unhealthy homes. A sustainable neighborhood will offer easy access to exercise, encourage cooking classes and establishing on-site food production instead of driving to some fast food joint for a completely unsustainable meal.

6. Diversity

Cities such as San Francisco thrive because of the richness of diversity. A sustainable community will create an assortment of residents from different backgrounds, ages and cultures. The housing will offer both market rate and affordable rate housing options.

7. Smart Location

The name says it all. Kauffman suggests building and designing for environmental, social, and economic benefits. Might builders think about building near easy access to mass transit and choosing areas near sources of quality food? Is that too progressive?

8. Respect the Land

Something that seems to have disappeared from the vocabulary – r-e-s-p-e-c-t. That’s right just like Aretha. New green communities would protect the existing landscape and ecology by adopting functional, comfortable density, minimizing site disturbance and protecting biodiversity by maintaining native ecosystem.

9. Smart Auto Strategy

As much as we’d like to rid ourselves of cars completely it just isn’t going to happen. However, we can lessen the intrusion and impact of automobiles in communities by implementing smart parking requirements, and separating parking streets from pedestrian streets and bike lanes. Constructing more narrow streets in an effort to encourage walking and biking rather than driving isn’t rocket science.

10. Shared Resources

Create more community within the community (see how that works) by introducing resource sharing (bikes, cars, tools, garden equipment, child care), establish community victory gardens, and building playgrounds, parks, athletic fields, picnic areas, etc rather than just concrete jungles.

Let the greening begin.

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