The Geography of Green

Roger Lewis is on point at the Post:

Speculating about visionary green houses is tantalizing, but much greater benefits accrue at a larger scale. Entire metropolitan regions need to be green. This means creating more compact land-use patterns; diverse transportation options that enable fewer automobile trips; greater mixing of land uses at higher densities; and, of course, greener residential, commercial and civic buildings.

Focusing on hypothetical designs of free-standing houses can even be a distraction. It can mask a more serious aspect of the challenge: the diminished sustainability of low-density, residential subdivisions in suburbia where most free-standing houses of the future are likely to be situated.

No matter how green individual homes are, suburban sprawl is intrinsically anti-green. It generates infrastructure inefficiency; car dependency and rising fossil fuel demand; carbon-emitting, time-wasting road congestion; and, despite availability of inexpensive land at ever-greater distances from jobs, escalating development, construction and public service costs.

America has an enormous stock of single-family homes, so I see no problem with interesting proposals to cheaply and effectively retrofit such places. But there are environmental, economic, and demographic forces pushing demand away from the single-family suburban home. I think the biggest, and most interesting design challenges will be found in metropolitan suburbs, where the task will be retrofitting the entire urban landscape — working in transit, figuring out how to make car-oriented spaces walkable, and learning how best to add density in places that weren’t designed for it.

Of course, even there the most significant hurdles aren’t design-oriented; they’re institutional. Fixing incentives, zoning rules, and funding formulae could help clear the way for a new wave of green urban development.


  1. Doug says:

    I suppose if the carbon return-on-investment were 100 years, then it would be right to say that free-standing homes are archaic. He is right, though, that herding suburbanites horseback into solar-powered concentration camps would be much more effective from a green perspective than double-paning their windows. Funnier, too.