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Thinking about sustainable development'


Roger Barton April 29th, 2010

I'd like to comment on a couple of the features in Oklahoma Gazette's April 21 "Green Issue." Thank you, first of all, for so much information on strategies for sustainable living. However, there are ...

I'd like to comment on a couple of the features in Oklahoma Gazette's April 21 "Green Issue."
Thank you, first of all, for so much information on strategies for sustainable living. However, there are a couple of things that I don't think were sufficiently brought out.

First, Andrea Miller's article on new "green" homes ("Conscious construction") is correct in that it is fairly easy and cost-effective to use building materials with a high recycled content, and also recyclable materials, energy-efficient construction and appliances, water-efficient fixtures and so forth, in residential construction.

However, I take some issue with the idea that this automatically results in sustainable development. Sustainable development does not occur when good farmland is converted to single-family housing stock at a significant distance from schools, jobs and shopping. Sustainable development has to strive to create all the amenities for a viable community and reduce the need for the two-car suburban family that commutes to work, school, shopping, church, etc., sometimes using both cars, full-time, seven days per week, until the kids turn 16, at which time the full-time car use per family may jump from two cars to four or five cars!

This is the old argument against suburban sprawl, and it still rings true. Suburban McMansions built of recycled content with efficient systems are better than what was being built in the '80s and '90s, but it doesn't address some of the biggest issues of unsustainable development, which include the permanent loss of good farmland into nonproductive uses, the creation of more housing stock at increasing distances from the working and shopping cores, and the abandonment of existing housing stock that is allowed to deteriorate and contribute to urban blight.

Carol Cole-Frowe's article ("Efficient abodes") describes some very cost-effective strategies for upgrading existing housing for better efficiency and lower operating costs. The "greenest" strategy of all is to reuse virtually an entire house and the land on which it stands, within an established and functioning community, rather than building new housing stock further away, in an area unserved by public transportation and too far for most people to bicycle.

How much gas would you save, and how many more years would your car last, if you lived a couple of miles from the office and three blocks from a grocery store, and your kids biked to the local park to play with their friends? Friends, that's how we need to start thinking about sustainable development.

"Roger Barton
Oklahoma City

Barton, a licensed architect, is a member of the American Institute of Architects.
 
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