How is South Main Sustainable? Intro to a Series

by on December 7, 2010 » Add more comments.

David Brower. Photo via

Last night I was reading David Brower’s Let the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run. This is a guy who founded the Sierra Club and The League of Conservation Voters, helped prevent the damming of the Grand Canyon, and was designated by the New York Times as ‘the most effective conservation activist in the world.’ In the introduction he discusses what we might do to leave an intact planet for our children and mentions that we ‘must redesign our cities at the same time’ that we mitigate other actions which have ‘monkeywrenched nature.’

Along with many other progressive-minded folks today, we believe that ‘redesigning our cities’ and redefining how we build human settlements are among the most critical tasks of the 21st century in addressing the climate and environmental crises, among other issues. I was once a “no growther,” but I can’t argue with the fact that 50 million new homes are projected for the US by 2037. (Source)

As I’ve mentioned before, the transition from “no growther” to developer was something of an identity crisis for me. But when US development patterns are one of our biggest obstacles to a sustainable future, changing them is also one of our biggest opportunities as a country and as a global community. The U.S. is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), and transportation emissions are the fastest growing category in the U.S. carbon pie, accounting for a third of our total GHG emissions. All of these trends are driven by our autocentric development paradigm. Isn’t shocking that ‘vehicle miles traveled’ increased at three times the rate of population growth between 1980 and 2000? (Source)

Will it take a lot of resources to build the “smart growth communities of the future”? Absolutely. Is it worth it? Unquestionably. Because if we don’t start doing it differently, those resources will continue to be used to build places that require us to be a nation of often well-intentioned soccer moms and commuters without good alternatives, literally ‘driving’ our country and planet to disaster. As Jim Kunstler says, the American project of building suburbia, which began around WWII is “the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.”

So How is South Main Part of the Solution?

We live in a time where ‘greenwashing’ is the norm. Every company says they’re ‘green,’ but let’s be honest, advertising conventional paper products as ‘recyclable’ and therefore green is a joke. As we get ready to announce our commitment to Energy Star Version 3.0 for homes, I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues. I’ve been relating back to my life before South Main, a time when I probably would have disregarded and resented any development that claimed it was sustainable. After all, a lot of resources go into building a neighborhood like South Main, no matter how you slice it.

So how is South Main truly sustainable? That’s what this series is all about.

Part 1 is about how we are now embracing ENERGY STAR® for Homes version 3.0, a new set of standards that is considerably more rigorous than previous versions of ENERGY STAR and actually won’t be fully required for the ENERGY STAR certification until 2012. However we like it so much that we’re going to 3.0 now.

Part 2 is about New Urbanism and the significance of good urban design to a sustainable future. It will cover private transportation energy use, infrastructure efficiency and land consumption. Despite the critical importance of these issues, in my experience, their relevance in a discussion of sustainability is far from intuitive.

Part 3 is about architecture and design and their relationship to sustainability, another somewhat counterintuitive yet hugely important connection. South Main requires traditionally-based architecture not because it looks quaint or we want to be some mountain town theme park. Traditionally-based architecture is the only design framework proven not to go out of style but rather to be loved and maintained for generations. Timeless design and durability are as important a part of the sustainability mix as anything.

So stay tuned over the coming weeks as we explore these issues more deeply. Thanks for reading!

Related posts:

  1. Why Urbanism Matters- South Main & Sustainability Part 2
  2. If It’s Not Beautiful, It’s Not Sustainable
  3. Energy Star Has Upped the Ante and We’re on Board

Find more like this: Environmentalism, Green Building, New Urbanism, Sprawl, Sustainability, Urban Design , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Todd Herzer
December 7, 2010
8:42 pm

Thanks for getting this discussion into play, Katie. Good to see you back at the keyboard!

Aaron tells me that our new row house is the second Energy Star V3.0 in the county and the first in the town of BV. Don’t know if it’s been fully certified but it certainly couldn’t have come about without the support and leadership of the South Main team!

Katie Urban
December 9, 2010
12:24 pm

Hey Todd! Yes, that is true that your home will be built to the level of V3.0. It is my understanding that we won’t actually be able to get that rating from Energy Star and will officially be under the version 2.5 due to the fact that Energy Star isn’t certifying to that level yet. We have a video of your duct sealing and pre-drywall inspections that we will post as part of the next blog post. It has been exciting to get everyone up to speed on getting to homes to this next level. Glad you’re so into it! When will you be back here? We miss you!

Todd Herzer
December 21, 2010
8:05 pm

Katie. We’ll return at the end of January. We’re enjoying the photos of Art Walk and feeling mighty homesick!

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