Sunday, June 6, 2010

Lost in Transition

Change is good, at least that is the message I've been picking up at the Cities and Towns in Transition two day conference, jointly organized by the faculties of Social Work and Environmental Design at the University of Calgary held June 4-5. My head is buzzing with ideas of how I can transition into a lifestyle that is both more sustainable and kinder to our kicked-around planet.

As we are all well aware of by now, mother earth has reached a period in existence where all the things we've taken for granted Рoil, water, food, cars, unlimited consumerism (I could go on here - what hasn't reached its peak?) are on the endangered species list. If you haven't started thinking about ways in which your own lifestyle should be altered, you might want to put that latt̩ down and start now.

I was intrigued by the message brought by Portland Metro Council member Robert Liberty who founded the influential 1000 Friends of Oregon organization that has helped to make Portland a model city, sought out by urban planners all over the world. That message was that Calgary is not that much different from Portland, up to a point. Up until the mid 70s they were pretty much on equal footing, with a similar population base, values, and physical city structure.

But then something happened. An influential forward thinking governor named Tom McCall decided he didn't like where Portland was headed. With an unlimited space for building, the city was sprawling beyond a reasonable size, making life for its inhabitants more and more dependent on cars to get around. The waterfront view was often marred by large roadways, and people were moving out further away from their place of work. The city was losing its grip on building a sustainable system. This wasn't going to be a model city that world leaders would look up to until he did something to change its course. And he had a group of willing citizens to back him up.

Why are we always so resistant to transition? Is it partly because we all just want to live a 'normal' life? Afraid to act in a way that may not be acceptable today?

The thing is, 'normal' changes.

Take the incredibly well designed Brama Project, a Platinum LEED® semi-detached inner city townhome in Calgary completed this spring. Designed by the talented David Ferguson and built by the forward-thinking Coley Homes, The Brama Project should be considered a normal house.

But right now, its not. It's spectacularly special because of two things - it's smart and beautiful. It's smart because it takes into account the fact that resources are limited, be they material or energy. Its beautiful because David Ferguson (David Ferguson Architecture) and Nicolle Pittman (Coley Homes) decided that just because a house is net-zero doesn't mean it has to be net-elegant.

The Coley Homes website is chock full of details and documentation on the design/build of this pioneering project. They've built with R-2000 construction technology, a Canadian based construction standard that goes way beyond typical building codes, 'with a worldwide reputation for energy efficiency and environmental responsibility'.

The R-2000 standard is based on the concept that a house is a system and the flow of air, heat and moisture within the home is affected by the interaction of all the components – if you make changes in one area it will affect other areas. Sounds like common sense (and a lot like how the entire ecosystem works).

The national LEED® Canada for homes rating system promotes the design/build of green homes. Since sustainability can be quantified and measured (up to a point), the Leadership in Energy and Environmental design standards were created. They comprise nine minimum conditions over six different categories and are awarded in silver, gold and platinum.

The Brama Project is one of the first LEED® certified homes in the city. Yup, one of the first. They've not been timid about embracing the new. This is what normal should be. Right now it really stands out. I'm looking forward to the day when it doesn't stand out on the block. When it's just one more house, built to a standard that we can all be proud of and that our planet will thank us for.

Let's all be more like Portland and the Brama Project. Just 'normal' places that have decided that they will not do more harm to the planet then they can help. Places that are not afraid to transition.

Come on, don't be shy. Change is good.

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