Friday, December 31, 2010

A Winter's Day

Sunday, December 26, 2010

December 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

125th Anniversary of the St. Louis Artists' Guild

Come on out and take a look around. There is a really great show hanging and there is an opportunity to do some unique Christmas shopping while talking with friends and artists.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

LEED for Neighborhood Development, Habitat for Humanity and our Neighborhood Stock

I am part of a group of volunteers working towards LEED for Neighborhood Development Certification for a 17 home project in Old North St. Louis for Habitat for Humanity. Our planning charrette points to certification at the silver level.

The following is a kind of intellectual odyssey that begins with the rejection of our grant proposal to cover ND certification fees of $20,000.00. I will share some of the readings I'm doing and thoughts I'm putting together while striving to understand and encourage adjustment to the way the LEED ND fee structure and grant awarding process is administered.

The journey begins with Different Spaces, a lecture by Michel Foucault, which has had a powerful effect on contemporary discourse regarding urban environments. It revolves around the concept of a heterotopia (other place). It is a plurisignitive term that becomes appropriate for the Old North community. Old North is, all at once, an old//new community, within the city limits and outside the status quo.

The idea of a heterotopia has become an important part of contemporary thinking about urban planning and geography, especially in the work of Edward Soja. Soja uses the idea as part of his work to promote 'spatial justice' (see pp31-38), among other topics. According to Soja, spatial justice begins with “…the fair and equitable distribution in space of socially valued resources and the opportunities to use them.” Looking at the history of development in the St. Louis area, one can’t help but conclude that environmental and spatial injustices have been commonplace and that seizing every opportunity to address them is important. We can do this by favoring redevelopment in our urban core that will include and attract “socially valued resources.”

In The Endless City the transformation of post-apartheid Johannesburg is described as an, “…expansion outwards … evident in a ‘doughnut-effect’ of people abandoning the city centre for high-security residential enclaves.” I can’t imagine a better description of what has happened in St. Louis in the last 60 years. It is only recently that we are beginning to make progress in the urban center, of which Old North is a crucial part. Please take a peek at the attached Sanborn Maps of the neighborhood and see the vivid disappearing act of an abandoned neighborhood in the city’s core. Edge expansion and development is so often, here and abroad, about exclusivity and exclusivity and sustainability are fundamentally incompatible practices and concepts.

I recently re-read a short piece in Multiple City called “City as Collective Memory.” In this essay Sofie Wolfrum, writes, “…it is only natural for us to read the structures of a city like a text, sometimes like a palimpsest. The city can be read and interpreted like a history book.” This is certainly true of St. Louis and, like many other cities, we have the past and present situated side by side indicating a great simultaneity and juxtaposition of texture. This is what is being done to great advantage with Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis and other partners in Old North. It is among the best of what can be done and the best what can be situated as a model for further neighborhood redevelopment with an emphasis on inclusivity and sustainability.

Kaid Benfield of the NRDC has been a supporter and follower of developments in Old North for several years and has posted numerous entries on his blog that are well worth reviewing for a complete understanding of the value of site selection in the Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis project. This is synergy to the tenth power and evidence of many parties working together to maximize the utility of each group’s efforts, in which the whole will be greater than the sum of parts.

The maps below come from Eric Fischer and US Census data. Here is the source.

The Old North work is being done by a diverse group and, like a few other parts of the city, is becoming a model of unity based on shared goals and not perceived differences.

As I consider urban spaces, environmental justice and sustainability through the filters of the LEED ND product and through the specifics of our project in Old North, I can't help but think I see a place for our build to be considered a priority in this system. At the heart of this is an understanding that in most metro areas, including St. Louis, there is little to no need for new neighborhood development while land, infrastructure, existing buildings abound in the heart of our doughnut-like MSAs (metropolitan statistical area).

Presently, however, this is not the case.

Our region has seen increases of real estate development wildly disproportionate to our population growth for quite some time. If this is an unstoppable inevitability then I am all for such developments being done to ND standards. Still, if I think in terms of biggest bang for the buck to the entire region, I am confident that the sensitive redevelopment of our existing stock of neighborhoods is the greenest thing we can do in terms of environmental, spatial and social justice. St. Louis has long been admired for its existing housing stock. (Our brick homes are legendary: see this piece in the NY Times about brick theft in St. Louis) Now we have to analyze our town from a broader perspective – from our Neighborhood Stock. The ND product makes a great contribution to this kind of expanded and more holistic thinking.

This may run a complicated course but Ariadne’s thread is not severed on this journey and I hope the USGBC will see the benefit, to an entire metro area, of careful site selection in the ND system – selection that reduces the emphasis for more development. I don’t know that it is ironic or paradoxical, but it does seem self-evident that projects like this benefit every citizen in our region, even those on the geographic edge, by reducing the total embodied energy of project construction, reducing the region’s carbon footprint, reducing the cost of living for neighborhood residents and through the uplifting of an established neighborhood that is in the midst of an extraordinary renaissance. To keep this rebirth going and provide a portion of the density required for continued recovery our project adds:

- Three new families (a total of 7 people) on the 1900 block of Hebert

- Four new families (a total of 18 people) on the north side of the 1900 block of Sullivan

- Five new families (a total of 13 people) on the south side of the 1900 block of Sullivan; and

- Five new families (a total of 16 people) on the north side of the 1400 block of Dodier.

The total number of new occupants in Old North is 54.

Our work is reversing a 60 year old trend; we are reversing the Sanborn maps.