Friday, December 02, 2005

Friday Hope Blogging

A new redevelopment project in Hopkins, Minnesota has a number of pleasing qualities. The original site comprised an old torpedo factory and a wasteland of parking lots:

The developer, The Beard Group Inc., converted the former defense plant complex into space for light industry -- including a fruit-juice bottling company -- and for small businesses, such as an entrepreneur who makes tear-away shoes for softball players and another who prints with vintage letterpress equipment.
I like this last detail quite a bit. Anything that contributes to the survival of letterpress printing gets my seal of approval!

The developers reused or recycled a great deal of material from the demolished site; amazingly enough, this saved money:
[C]oncrete and asphalt were crushed and recycled for nearby Excelsior Boulevard. The developers sold steel joists for reuse in a new building, and salvaged everything from door jams to transformers.

"Who'd have though that doing it in a green manner was cost efficient?" Beard said.
A better question would be, "When will the assumption that green building can't be cost-efficient be recognized as a symptom of ignorance or malice?"

A building currently under construction in Portland is considerably more ambitious than the Hopkins project. Among other things, it'll feature an interesting air-conditioning system:
Flush a toilet in the new OHSU Center for Health and Healing after the building opens next year, and the water won't go into the city's sewer. Instead, it will be used to nourish the landscaping and fill a water tower that provides air conditioning....Ventilating stairwells with natural breezes and using the natural rising of hot air and falling of cool air are among the conservation methods that will save the building's owners an estimated $400,000 a year in electric bills.
On paper, at least, this building will save its owners a lot more than energy costs:
The building's engineering bill for mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems pencils out to 25 percent less -- $7.5 million -- than the $30 million budget of a conventional office building, said Jerry Yudelson with Portland's Interface Engineering Inc.
Interface Engineering offers a free 48-page book explaining how they intend to pull off this feat.

Another article notes that green roofs are catching on - finally - in New York:
[G]reen roofs have an obvious aesthetic value amid the concrete expanse of a city. And they provide environmental benefits that are undeniable. Enough green roofs clustered together can reduce the urban heat island effect: cities are hotter than surrounding areas because of the heat-trapping properties of concrete and tall buildings. Green roofs can reduce air pollution by absorbing carbon dioxide and, acting both as insulator against the cold and shield against the sun’s radiation, they can lower energy costs of heating and cooling. Green roofs can also alleviate pressure on the city’s wastewater system by absorbing storm-water runoff.
Some of the green-roof projects in NYC are being undertaken by neighborhood organizations, which brings me to this week's final item. In an interview with Grist, Marshall Ganz discusses the importance of voluntary associations in bringing about political change:
Traditionally, membership associations, volunteer organizations, and advocacy organizations provided connective tissue between citizens and government, and public policy in general. There's been a substantial breakdown in that over the last 30 or 40 years, and it's left a vacuum.

What's replaced the traditional organizations are these mailing-list operations -- Greenpeace, Children's Defense Fund, things like that. They're like advocacy firms, where there's a few professionals [who] do lobbying, but they don't really have any kind of mobilizing capacity. They don't provide vehicles for broad participation. In these groups it's very easy to disappear into an elitist mentality where, "Oh, everybody out there is dumb, so we gotta get with people like us and figure out the smart thing, blah blah blah." Well, that's deadly to a democratic movement that needs to be figuring out how to engage the broad community.
I agree completely. This is a problem in American politics generally - the consolidation of media has, among other things, focused people's attention far too much on national races and national issues - but it's especially important when considering environmental issues. With polls showing a remarkable and consistent amount of agreement between the right and left on environmental protection, the environment remains probably the best long-term wedge issue the left has. I'd say that local environmental issues tend to be radicalizing, but this would do a rhetorical injustice to values that are actually mainstream; the vast majority of extremists are on the right, and they comprise a minority of the total population.

My reading of Ganz suggests that the current political strength of conservative religious groups may say less about the grassroots appeal of fundamentalism, than about the power of voluntary associations, period. Ganz understands that development and environmental issues remain one of the most common and effective focal points for community involvement, but he also knows that mere ideology doesn't necessarily get results; what's needed is a sense of community, and opportunities for social activity and fellowship that may only tangentially be related to politics. Accordingly, he cites the recreational activities organized by the Sierra Club as a perfect opportunity for the sort of face-to-face social bonding that left-wing groups need to offer, and has worked with them to increase personal interaction between Club members.

1 comment:

WHT said...

Interesting. Many of the torpedos and other ammunition built by Honeywell in Hopkins made its way up to the huge Twin Cities Arsenal in Arden Hills just north of TC (now run by Honeywell spinoff Alliant). Well, as you can tell by the name, Arden Hills has some hills and that ammo dump has been contaminating the lower-lying aquifer for years.

The hope is they close it down and make it into a nature preserve. Hikers who have been in there say it is quite scenic. A good candidate for our own Salton Sea.