It's (one of) my favorite times of year here at the DJC Green Building Blog: time to head to the Cascadia Green Building Council's Living Future Conference! Starting tomorrow and lasting until Friday, I'll update you on the happenings of my favorite annual conference. If you've never heard of@KatieZemtseff for a more thorough and concise take on sessions and speeches.
This is my fifth Living Future event (which means I've been to all of them). The conference alternates each year between Seattle, Vancouver and Portland. In past years, I've heard and documented talks in this blog from Janine Benyus, Paul Hawken and James Howard Kunstler among others. This year, I'm looking forward to hearing what Majora Carter has to say. I'm also really excited to tour the University of British Columbia's Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability.
Living Future, here I come!
In case you missed it, we had a story in this week's DJC about the six-acre green roof on top of the Vancouver Convention Centre West. I toured the roof during March's Globe Conference and finally got around to writing the article and editing the video.
The article provides a nice overview of the green roof, its story and its ambiance. Basically, it felt unlike anything I have ever experienced before. The meadow is quiet and calm. When you are up there, you feel like you are in the county or on a mountain that happens to be surrounded by a bustling city, rather than actually being a part of the city. It's a pretty amazing experience.
However, when I was there, I was struck by what a wonderful space it could be for weddings or events or even soccer games. It seemed strange that so little visitors would be able to experience it the way I had. When I spoke with Bruce Hemstock of PWL Partnership, he gave me the whole reasoning behind why the roof is closed off. It's basically to create ecology for urban creatures such as bees, birds and insects. A city by nature takes habitat away from these creatures and keeping humans off the roof was one way to give it back. He provided a pretty convincing argument. There's more detail in the article.
If you have time, click on the video link to watch my (slightly bumpy) video tour. I'm still learning about videos here and am not yet an expert. Plus it can be a tad tough to take down note, take pictures and take video.
Speaking of pictures, here are some that did not make the cover of the DJC. There are more on my Facebook page here. Hope you enjoy!
I've been writing a lot about Vancouver's density recently, in comparison to Seattle's so I know I should move onto another topic. And I promise I will next time. But I just can't resist posting these pictures of my sister's neighborhood, Kerrisdale.
Kerrisdale is about a 15-minute drive away from downtown and a 10-minute drive away from the University of British Columbia. It is a sweet neighborhood, filled with restaurants and shops (but only one bar that I could find). However, what's unique about it isn't the composition of retail. It's the composition of housing types within a two-block radius. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:
This neighborhood has nearly every type of housing within two blocks, all mish-mashed up together. That McMansion above? It's located across the street from the first picture of row-houses. The mixing of housing types doesn't feel crowded; it feels like a nice, traditional neighborhood. It's a real urban village.
Seattle has neighborhoods that exemplify this mixed-use concept just as well. Capitol Hill, Lower Queen Anne, Ballard to some degree. But for some reason, the way Kerrisdale did it just felt smoother. Maybe it's primarily an architectural issue? But it feels to an outsider like the apartment building is meant to be located next to a large, single-family house.
To all my density nerds out there, what do you think is Seattle's best example of density that meshes well? It is Capitol Hill or Lower Queen Anne? Any particular street or corridor that really stands out? A really good recent example, I find, is NK Architect's latest project on Lower Queen Anne called Fourth and Roy. The DJC wrote about it last month here. Basically, the team designed it to consciously fit in with the neighborhood.
In our story, Brandon Nicholson, a principal at NK, said he tries to picture a four-plex craftsman knockoff on the parcel and does not think it would fit in with the neighborhood's character. “In a neighborhood filled with old brick buildings, it might be much more modern in aesthetics but in materials and scale, it's appropriate for the context of Lower Queen Anne.”
I'm back in Seattle and the haziness of the Globe Conference (so many conference sessions on giant, world changing ideas!) is finally lifting from my head.
However, I must return to a theme I explored last week in this post about whether Vancouver or Seattle is greener. In that post's comments, Mhays said Seattle needs to encourage density to really be the greenest it can be. "We’re doing a good job in many ways, but way behind Vancouver," he said.
After spending some time there and paying particular attention to the density issue, I couldn't agree more. Sure, Vancouver has its problems. In one session at Globe, Peter Busby explored one of these saying people in Vancouver that live near the center of the city have lower greenhouse gas emissions than those who live further out. To counter this, he proposes creating density nodes throughout the rest of the city that would allow people to live, work and play in their neighborhoods rather than having to go downtown. (More on Vancouver's stance on density here).
But when you look at the variety of housing types in Vancouver's downtown, it just blows Seattle out of the park. Basically, in Seattle, you can live downtown if you want to - or can afford - a condo. In Vancouver however, you don't have to be confined to a condo to live downtown. They have - gasp! - row houses!
Here are a few images of downtown housing types. They are just a small tidbit of the many varieties of styles I saw:
The pictures don't show the difference as clearly as you would see with your own eyes. But basically, in parts of Vancouver's downtown, you can live in units that are much more like townhouses than they are condos. This row-housing type is shown in the first image and last image. If you look closely, you can also see this type of housing at the base of the second image.
The variety of housing types is sure to attract different kind of people. Not everyone wants to live downtown in a condo... but if you could live downtown in something resembling a townhouse with a bit more private space, suddenly you attract a whole other market.
So... why can't Seattle do this? Why can't we bring other housing types downtown? What stops us from having that variety? And is there anything we could do now to encourage it?
Busby had an interesting observation. As cities grow, he said, many new inhabitants will be immigrants from Africa and other areas that are already used to living densely. Generally, he said they are used to small living areas and to lots of walking. We can take advantage of this influx, he said, to "change the pattern of organization" in cities.
Now, I don't mean to knock Seattle. We have a great city that is moving forward on a number of fronts. But as far as diversifying housing use in downtown... it seems like the same old same old. (And by diversifying, by the way, I mean doing so for different price points as well as in unit styles).
Even in Vancouver, these things aren't easy. But the important thing is to keep improving. Mayor Gregor Robertson said, "There's angst about the transition here and potential political disaster associated with that but in Vancouver, we see huge opportunities for change."
P.S. Nick Christensen of OregonLive.com has an interesting article from January on a similar topic here.
I'm in a fascinating session on sustainability and how large companies consider it to be part of their business. Let me tell you guys, there is some really interesting stuff going on in this world!
John Mitchell of Cenovus Energy of Calgary spoke about his company's commitment to sustainability. He
Here's the money quote: "We’ve moved past having to justify the sustainability payoff. This is integrated in our business this is part of what we do... that approach is a given. What we need to do is identify the right metrics to ensure we are driving the right things," he said. "This isn't a justification anymore. It's a demonstration and a delivery."
Speakers in this international session represent Herman Miller, Cenovus Energy, Suncor Energy, Novo Nordisc, and HSBC.
All speakers said sustainability makes sense for many different reasons... it increases ROI, creates value, creates trust and builds brand.
Sharon Walck of HSBC said her company doesn't think of the sustainability paybacks simply in financial terms because it believes climate change will affect everything in the future. "The business world should be under no illusion... we are now on the path to a new carbon economy," she said. "I want to contend that the sustainability payoff topic is not singlular," she said. "We believe this short term focus is quite frankly outdated. Simply put, sustainability means so much more."
Paul Murray of Hermann Miller has been working on sustainability for his company since 1992. Back then, he said one person per month would inquire about sustainable systems. Now, the environmental part of the
For the past few years, he said his company has spend a quarter of a million dollars per year on energy efficiency upgrades. That effort has a 33 percent rate of return and pays for itself every three years.
Waste is another area that has saved his company a lot of money. Last year, his company was paid $2.9 million for the materials is recycled however he said when you consider the amount of money saved and made, it is "a $15 million swing."
Herman Miller has also been working on cradle to cradle practices with Bill McDonough since 1999, which led to intellectual information that is patented. Murray said his company looks at every material in every product and if it has anything toxic in it, asks the supplier to take the toxic materials out. It can't always happen, he said, but often it can.
Additionally, the office furniture industry has been severely impacted by the recession and other business factors in recent years. Murray said every department at Herman Miller has been impacted and had cuts - except his. "My staff is still intact. I think that tells you how a company like mine values return on the bottom line."
Suzanne Stormer of Novo Nordisc in Demark also spoke about the global crisis. She said it has created an opportunity for businesses to go further in saving resources. "Never waste a good crisis," she said. "The economic recession is also forcing us to think smarter, in terms of reducing waste. When you have enough of everything you can do whatever you like but in times of scarcity you are forced to be more creative.”
Speaking of businesses, every business represented at this conference is really looking at sustainability issues, rather than just paying lip service to the ideals. Here are some of the companies here, some of which might surprise you: Dow Chemical, Starbucks, Novo Nordisc, Walmart, HewlettPackard, FedEx, Sears, Seventh Generation, Citigroup, Fito Lay Canada, Kraft Foods, Shell International Petroleum, InterfaceRaise.
I'm at the Globe Conference in Vancouver, B.C. and I'm attending a number of sessions on two themes: water and cities and urbanization.
I'm attending the urbanization sessions because it important to see how cities plan to grow more sustainably, and how they plan to be restructured over time. I'm attending water sessions because water is always
The session I'm in right now is called "Water Efficiency: Managing a Valuable Resource." Sonia Lacombe, senior manager, climate change and sustainability at Ernst & Young in Toronto, spoke about how businesses look at water and said it's changed a lot in the past few years. "In the past a lot of corporations were not dealing with water like they are now," she said. "This is now a topic that interests more and more board members."
Ernst & Young is a professional services firm. She said clients are looking for more information on managing water risk, disclosing water information, regional differentiation such as regional impacts and what regional actions are being done etc. Things driving this concern are consumer concern, competition amongst companies and the business case that companies internally see in water efficiency.
Samir Brikho, chief executive of Amec in London, said his company recently identified water issues as one of the most important areas to focus on because it sees the potential for it in the future.
Joe Deutscher of Dow Chemical Canada said competition is a big driver. His company recently created a water treatment system that replaced an outdated product that created many, many gallons of wastewater, and saved the company 25 percent in capital costs. It was industry competition that drove this innovation, he said, adding that competition is the best way to drive change. "Industry has to collaborate."
A number of companies, Lacombe said, are considering water impacts even though they are not required to do so via regulations. She is working with a few large European breweries that have considered how to produce goods with the least amount of energy and water possible. "In the absence of regulations, some corporations are really getting organized ahead of time."
Have you seen companies increasingly looking at water issues?
However change happens in the reuse and efficiency of water operations, one thing is clear amongst everyone who has spoken here: water rates need to grow dramatically for anyone to care about water efficiency and reuse issues, and for change to happen. We pay far more for our cell phone and cable bill than we do for water. How much would you be willing to pay and what would you want your government to be doing with the revenue from increased rates?
Over at HugeAssCity on Publicola, Dan Bertolet has a great overview of Vancouver, B.C.'s transportation experience during the Olympics, then connects that to Seattle's current replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct debacle. It's an interesting overview, though I have to say the post's comments are possibly even more interesting....
I'm behind the news curve on this one as I was out of the office for much of September, but if you missed the headlines elsewhere, Sadhu Johnston, Chicago's point person for sustainability, has taken a job with Vancouver, B.C.
Beginning in November, he will become Vancouver's deputy city manager, according to the Seattle PI's Strange Bedfellows Blog. His goal? To make Vancouver the region's very greenest city, a goal that Mayor Greg
I heard Johnston speak at GreenBuild in Chicago two years ago. Not that it effects his ability to help lead a city but he seemed to be a pretty charismatic and interesting guy with many, many ideas for how an urban area should work.
I'm interested to see what Johnston can do with Vancouver, and how he will work with Brent Toderian, the city's development manager. There's a great profile of Toderian and how the city's development attitude has changed in recent years here. It's fascinating to see how much power Toderian has in Vancouver, compared to how development is done here in good ole' Seattle.