The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:
After participating recently in the King County Sustainable Cities Roundtable to discuss “Beyond Net Zero: Resilience, Regeneration, and Social Justice" Ron Sims agreed to an interview for the Daily Journal of Commerce's Green Building Blog.
Q. As the King County Executive, you worked to promote sustainable development through policies, such as the green building and low impact development demonstration ordinances. And, as the Deputy Secretary of HUD, you got to see first-hand how communities across the country are addressing the issue of sustainability. From these vantage points, where do you think we should be focusing our energies?
A. The neighborhood. A well designed neighborhood correlates directly to a good quality of life. And that means things like community gathering places and safety, such as from crime, pollution; access to nature, such as street trees; and more transit options, such as walkability, and bike lending stations. It's easier to create new neighborhoods with these features than it is to redevelop existing neighborhoods, but we have to incentivize reinvestment that incorporates these design features for truly sustainable communities.
Q. How would you propose going about doing this?
A. I've never seen a developer turn down density bonuses in return for more bus stops, low-income housing, etc. We need to get creative and open the door to more thoughtful mixed development, including residential options. We can tie some of this to demolition in an area. But we need to plan further out. We need to ask the question: "What should this neighborhood look like in twenty years?"
Q. Sustainability advocates hold that sustainable development incorporates not simply environmental health, but economic vitality, and social equity, as well. Sometimes this gets lost in the development timetable. How can we do a better job of maintaining the prominence of all three legs of the stool as we try to practice what we preach in the field?
A. I repeat: We need to begin planning long term to take advantage of opportunities as they come up, and to have a roadmap in place. It's by redesigning existing neighborhoods to be healthier, safer, greener that we'll be addressing social equity, and the health of our economy. Right now, energy efficiency is "hot." But new technologies and new neighborhoods are still the domain of the well-to-do. It hasn't gone viral. If we really worked on existing neighborhoods, we'd be addressing issues faced by the poor and culturally diverse. You know, you can predict health and longevity rates by zip code. Neighborhoods should and will still have their personalities, their "feel," but every neighborhood should have the basic green features I mentioned earlier.
Q. Is there a leverage point that sustainable advocates can focus on to bring about better neighborhoods and a better quality of life for all?
A. There's actually two. Most people are unaware, but at HUD we learned that the most significant cause of mortgage defaults in this past recession was the cost of transportation -- it amounted to 42% of income. This was often in excess of the 34-36% of income of the average mortgage. If someone lost a job that required them to have a car, they were still left with a car payment. So better transportation planning (including infrastructure improvements) would help. Energy costs was another big chunk of the reason for defaults -- 28-30%, so the emphasis on energy efficiency is good.
Q. With the specter of climate change-related disasters becoming more real, there has been a greater focus among sustainability advocates on "resilience" in the face of catastrophes. Disasters seem to bring out both the best and worst of us. How do we prepare and use the opportunity to course correct for the greater good?
A. I'm repeating myself, but it's to plan, plan, and plan again. We learned a lot from the Nisqually Earthquake; we were able to apply what we learned when 9/11 happened. After the earthquake we decided we needed to build a structurally and technologically sound center that could function independently. We learned to plan for the "worst" case -- and not the best "reasonable" case. We had to plan, memorialize in writing, and train. Going forward, we need to take climate change and related disasters into consideration when we are re-designing our neighborhoods -- particularly the infrastructure side of things.
Q. Last question: What advice would you give young green building professionals and public sector advocates who are looking to be leaders in the kind of sustainable transformation you are talking about?
A. People think change is easy. I like to say, we are running a marathon, but because we've run out of a lot of chances, we need to do it at a sprinter's pace. Will this be rewarding every day? No it won't be. Will it be a long path? Yes it will be. If you believe that what you are doing serves the greater good, some day (not now) you will be able to take a deep breath, reflect on what you've been able to accomplish, and say WOW.
Kathleen O'Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was "cool." She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O'Brien & Company, the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.
- Business and technology
- Code issues
- Famous speakers
- Globe Conference
- Green events in the Seattle area
- Green materials
- Green roofs
- Greenhouse gasses
- Hazardous sites
- Integrative design
- King County
- laws and regulations
- Living Building
- Living Future
- Measuring performance
- Paul Hawken
- Puget Sound
- Regional Issues
- Seattle Department of Planning and Development
- Seattle firms
- Social Justice
- Suburban cities
- Urban planning
- Washington State Department of Ecology
- Zero emissions
DJC Green Building Blog
Welcome to the Daily Journal of Commerce Green Building Blog. Our focus is on green building issues in Seattle, the Pacific Northwest and anywhere that might interest you. If you have any comments or questions, please email email@example.com.
Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce.
PollsSorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
- The next big thing in energy conservation? Small commercial buildings
- Your patio can also be a power plant
- Living Future a Deep Dive into What’s Possible…and Necessary, says Noted Paul Hawken
- House gets a deep green remodel for $150 a square foot
- When it comes to certified wood, GSA is right to question LEED
- keylite blind on The next big thing in energy conservation? Small commercial buildings
- T. Caine on When it comes to certified wood, GSA is right to question LEED
- Washington, D.C’s Green Building Act: What it Is and What it Could Mean for the Future of Construction | Viridian Wood Products on What can we learn from D.C.’s green building law?
- Less energy: Seattle Green Home Tour 2013 | LD Arch Design on House gets a deep green remodel for $150 a square foot
- There isn’t anything better coming along. | O'Brien & Company on Crunch the numbers and preservation wins
- Earth Advantage Blog
- New Buildings Institute Blog
- Washington State University Extension Energy Program
- Best Green Blogs
- Building Capacity Blog
- Building Seattle Green Blog
- City Tank
- Climate Solutions
- Earth Advantage Blog
- GreenFab News and Media
- Jetson Green
- Landscape and Urbanism
- New Buildings Institute Blog
- Portland Architecture
- The Greenworkplace
Green Building organizations
- Built Green
- Cascadia Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council
- City of Seattle Green Building
- City of Seattle Green Building Program
- Environmental Services Directory for Washington State
- Green Infrastructure Wiki
- King County GreenTools
- Lifecycle Building Challenge
- Puget Sound Clean Air Agency Resources
- Puget Sound Partnership
- Seattle Great City Initiative
- Whole Building Design Guide
Green events in the Seattle area
- AIA Seattle
- Cascadia Green Building Council Events Calendar
- Master Builders of King and Shohomish County Built Green Events Calendar and News
- Seattle Department of Planning and Development Events