Last week, I attended a Town Hall lecture by David Owen, a columnist at the New Yorker and author of the book 'Green Metropolis.'
Owen spoke about his own experience of living in both Manhattan and in the countryside, and about which is greener (cities because people have everything they need at their fingertips).
But he also said something striking: that big, tall buildings in cities are actually the greenest projects we
For example, Owen discussed Sprint's (now Sprint Nextel) headquarters outside of Kansas City, Mo. The corporate campus, he said, consists of 15,000 employees spread among a 50 building low-rise campus. The space also has 15 parking lots and an underground parking garage, providing one parking space per worker because everyone has to drive to the headquarters in the middle of nowhere. Though the campus was planned before LEED came out, one of the buildings at the site ended up receiving LEED certification. The space also preserves 200 acres of property as open space. How is this a greener situation, he asked, then simply letting the farmland be that had previously existed?
He argued that setting up a business in a location that requires car travel is not green, even if the buildings are certified as such.
Should buildings in the middle of nowhere receive LEED certification? And should organizations that are about sustainability - like the Rocky Mountain Institute and its headquarters in Snowmass, Colo. - be held to a higher level of accountability and locate in a dense area? Or is there value to having great environmentally friendly buildings in the wilderness?
I suppose it comes down to what you prioritize and what you think the future of cities and urban planning is.
In this economy as well, it's worth noting that cities across the nation have vacant high-rise buildings that currently are not at capacity, and are likely wasting large amounts of energy.
What do you think? Is Owen right on or way off base? If Owen is right - and the greenest project is in a city be it LEED certified or not is a high-rise - than should LEED reflect this in its rating system and how so?
Incidentally, his book also argues that New York City is the greenest city in the world. That seemed to touch an interesting nerve at Portland's The Environmental Blog here.