Having lived in six 100-year-old homes over the last 25 years, autumn always makes me carefully consider what it takes to keep these beautiful elders operational and up-to-date. As we were going through the process of winterizing this year, I am reminded of our recent attempt to modernize by making one small addition that would connect the kitchen to the garage without going through the basement or outdoors. However, a quick look at our development by-law told me that our house is currently “legal non-compliant” because it’s built too close to the house next door. In fact, most of our neighbourhood is the same. So a simple addition along the same lines as the existing footprint is a no-go, even if my neighbours give special permission. This makes our historical housing stock seriously marginalized because it’s illegal to update.
Not so long ago, in a conversation about technology and green building, there was mention of some high-tech green building models coming out of Europe. Models that, according to reports, perform so well that even if you factor the embedded energy of a previous structure torn down to accommodate them, they still come out ahead.
That’s a potential game changer, at least in terms of selling high-tech green, and I’m not sure it’s one that I welcome.
[Originally run Sept. 17, 2010] Hi. I’m Hazel and I was a Sprawlaholic.
If you’ve been reading awhile you may recall that, with the loving help of my friends and family, I went cold turkey, dumping life in a Florida subdivision for the intense urban charms of downtown Winnipeg. It was a life-changing move with no regrets. Yet, as good as it’s been, I’m finding that puritanical denial of guilty pleasures is sometimes out of sync with life’s reality.
And by reality, I mean kids.
The places we inhabit are rarely if ever arbitrary. They’re the products of intention. Personal. Economic. Environmental. Religious. We choose for ourselves, individually and collectively, the kind of places we want and — through leadership, policy, investment, advocacy, action and, at times, inaction — those places begin to take form.
It’s a complicated dance of complementary and competing interests. Making it something that happens for us, rather than something that happens to us, requires, perhaps more than anything, a shared understanding of exactly what it is we’re talking about. A common language.
As we re-populate our downtowns, and watch the crime statistics drop, people are seeing safety in numbers. Jane Jacobs was right about eyes on the street reducing crime. With the sense that it’s indeed safe to be in cities again, it appears that citizens are re-learning how to be connected in an urban context. Downtown’s street cafes, shops and plazas, filled with activity, are proof that we’re succeeding in bringing people back downtown. Safely.
This wasn’t always so.
In most physical and policy planning, triple bottom line benchmarks focus on environment and economy, and tend to skim over the subject of society. That’s probably because urban design impacts are much easier to measure with respect to profit and planet than they are with respect to people.
Any good MBA professor preaches, “What gets measured gets done.” For several generations, we’ve been proving that point with our relentless focus on measuring our collective success via a host of global economic indicators. Since An Inconvenient Truth, environmental factors have joined the economic mainstream as well, sparking a whole new breed of Eco Warriors.
While it’s admittedly dated in relation to internet time, this recent Upworthy post resurrects a 2009 New Scientist article comparing the environmental footprints of household pets vs. those of various vehicles. Its soundbite takeaway? Your medium-sized dog has roughly twice the footprint of a Toyota Land Cruiser.
Guess it’s time to issue some formal letters of apology to the owners of plus-sized roadsters and start setting up euthanasia camps for our former furry friends and their silent agenda to destroy the earth, right?
Deep in an April 14 New York Times story on the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami was mention of an iPhone app called Yurekuru that gives warning of an impending quake. The name, said the Times, translates into English roughly as, “the shaking is coming.”
Before the March 11 quake, the app attracted 100,000 users. Now: 1.5 million.
In a sense, living organisms could always be fairly certain that a shaking of some kind was on the way. Life on earth has been shaped by violence, by sudden upheavals and reversals of fortune for one hapless population or another. Foreboding is written into the human psyche. It’s only recently that we’ve felt entitled to be spared.
In 1992, Rage Against the Machine’s Zach De La Rocha offered a dire warning to a restless but aimless Generation X: “If we don’t take action now,” he sang, “we’ll settle for nothing later.” An anthemic rallying cry and yet, just ten years thereafter, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard was introducing those same listeners to “the sound of settling.”
While the idea of settling carries with it some pretty unsettling connotations, its execution is proving nothing of the sort. In short, the settling down of Generation X, whose youngest members are now turning 30, may very well prove to be a pivotal baby step towards the construction of a more resilient future.