Green Buildings…?

Courtesy greenerworking.com

Dave and I regularly find ourselves discussing the pros and cons of our area. I’m pretty sure that most people are this cognizant about their futures and the futures of their families; or, at least, I hope they are. We wonder about the environments that our children should experience, what resources we’d like to have readily available to them, and what they don’t necessarily need at hand in order to be well-adjusted, well-rounded individuals. While we never know what the future holds, I’m the type to at least consider every option and plan for, well, all of them. I’d rather be blindsided briefly, then get up off my butt and take the future by the horns.

One thing that isn’t on our list of “must haves” is an area like this: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/01/green-building-where-you-are-as-important-as-what.php?campaign=daily_nl

This article is about the fact that it’s much more ecologically friendly for green builders to do so within city limits. While I agree, in essence, with what the article is saying — ie, that green builders should look toward cities for building initiatives since greener transportation is more viable in these all-packed-within-a-2-mile-square-radius places — I don’t think that it’s a realistic approach for (I won’t say the majority) many people.

There was a time that Dave and I were both “city people” — in thought, at least. I’ve never actually lived in a city, although I’ve spent plenty of time down in THE city. Yeah, that one. I loved the hustle, bustle, and excitement. At one time, Dave, in his search for a fulfilling career in movies and writing, saw himself in a similar fast-paced environment. While I could see both of us living successfully in a city, we’re both in complete agreement that we’d prefer a more family-friendly environment for our future kids.

Our current living situation is what I call subrural. It’s not quite suburban (the closest “city” is Utica…yyyyyyyeah…with Albany and Syracuse an hour in each direction), but we’re not hicks. No, really, we’re not. While there are times I wish I could own chickens and grow my own food, the farm life just isn’t plausible in our area’s depressed economic state (and that description doesn’t just apply to the current recession; our rural population is silently hurting, and it has been for years).

What we DO have access to in the area (not necessarily our current locale, mind you) is the ability to take a walk several blocks to library, community center, park, schools…just to take a WALK, safely. Can’t do that in many cities; can’t do that on a rural road. Getting out, enjoying where you live, being able to talk with your neighbors — that’s what we feel we must have, externally, to raise our kids.

While I’m all for eco-friendly practices, I don’t see a need for these builders to add to the urban sprawl which is killing many parts of America. What I cry, instead, is to remember the never-too-old mantra that I consider my first “green lesson” back in 4th grade – “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Building more, even with green practices, seems to go against these basic, simple ideals. It’s a new way to prove the haves and have nots without the blatantly super-sized McMansions, and it’s not what I’d like to see as a lesson of this recession. Being eco-friendly cannot be an excuse for being socially unaware or downright greedy.

What I propose, instead, is to first look at the buildings that currently exist. We need more grants, more public initiatives to update homes and already-existing buildings. I think that my deep love of our history and newer social awareness and sensitivity makes this seem like an obvious solution. Not only will our Main Streets and neighborhoods be resurrected to safe, happy, locally-run locales, but the concepts behind the green initiatives will reach a broader public mass (rather than the “haves” — who, sorry to say, are not the face of America). Education which is embedded reaches a greater number with less need for persuasion.

We’ve already seen articles and stories about the fact that the current home-buying generation is changing its concept of what they “need” in a house. For the first time in years, people are actually weighing their needs vs. their wants — their “one bathroom would be fine” vs. their “I must have a home with a soaker tub…in our master bath, of course” — even if the HGTV Home Buyer Hour doesn’t indicate such. If smaller is better, we already have a plethora of small, cheaper houses ready for the taking — and greening, in the process.

Not to say that there aren’t towns with revitalized historical sections already. There are plenty of Main Streets that are successful these days, it seems. We visit Northampton, Mass. and its surrounding areas which, to me (an outsider), seem to be doing just fine. However, during our last trip, we found that the architecturally stunning bank had been turned into a national chain clothing store. We were aghast. There are so many culturally- and ecologically-aware storefronts (within historically gorgeous buildings) in these areas, but the economic despair is showing cracks in even their brilliant facades.

There was a time, not too long ago, that every town in the U.S. had its own self-sustaining local economy, from the movie house to its grocery store, and even plenty of hotels. Just think of the Main Street in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” While they had economically-depressed citizens just as we do (hell, it was the Great Depression they were portraying, remember), they had access to a Main Street that provided all its locals needed. That wasn’t just a movie set. I’ve heard from my mother and grandparents more times than I can remember what our old Main Street was like. Just look up, wherever you live, and take notice — that faded artistic writing on the brick exteriors.

Entrepreneurs and home buyers, politicians and normal folks. Everyone could get on board. Yep, I have an idea for greener buildings. Just look around.