By Dave Majewski
Buffalo and WNY are witnessing perhaps unprecedented development projects that are in progress and certainly much more in the planning phases. We truly have the chance of a lifetime. The chance to show the region, nation and world how it can and should be done the right way. That way is through smarter design and focusing on the Economic of the Environment, or E2.
We build big awe inspiring modern buildings and give them big flat rubber lined black heat absorbing EPDM roofs that collectively generate more urban heat for us - so all city dwellers can turn their AC on at night, while in the 'burbs it is 15 degrees cooler that same evening. Simultaneously, we include the massive asphalt parking lot that generates millions of gallons of contaminated storm water runoff that we direct in to our wetlands. Oh, and we will throw in a few trees planted in the customary "Three inches of shredded topsoil" around these parking lots for good measure. Voila! Green space criteria met. Then we wonder why the plants die off in five years and nothing can grow. We also seek to blame some municipal department when our beaches close.
Economic development does not have to equate to simply building structures and roads and parking lots and developments the old way. E2 concepts are becoming much more prevalent throughout the country and world. These principles are incorporated by enlightened developers, architects, and engineers. Oftentimes they are mandated by local communities through design guidelines or ordinances.
First: maintain a continuous focus on the key objective: E2.
Reduce soil compaction during construction.
Preserve as much as the existing vegetation as possible - have it assessed prior.
Mitigate contaminated storm water runoff and erosion during construction.
Add green roofs on all flat black rubber roofs - this component also helps compensate for lost habitats.
Include Green or LID parking lots that impound and infiltrate contaminated storm water runoff - and allow for biodiversity and valuable native green spaces.
Avoid the planting of traditional turf plots - which provide next to zero to our environmental health. Use wildflowers and native grasses. Saves money with drastically minimized mowing, feeding and watering.
Avoid the fragmentation of existing green spaces - which is basic Green Infrastructure
Include constructed wetlands when feasible.
Construct "green streets" to manage runoff and increase diversity.
Plant groves or masses of native fruiting and nut trees rather than the traditional line of evenly spaced "soldiers" as the token greening.
Make your property accessible and educational - interpretive.
Why do this? It is about the Economies of the Environment: E2. The environment is worth something to a community, region and all the residents.
You ask why regenerate habitats or wetlands or use wildflowers.... Well, bee pollination for one. Yes, it's about the birds and the bees. Remember 4th grade science and nature? Well, it applies even more today and it applies even more too all of us grown ups that presumably know what we are doing with developing and infrastructure.
Bees provide a $15 billion service to our economy every year in the United States alone.
Fresh water? We put little value on it for the single most significant reason: We pay next to nothing for this life giving fluid and when we glance our across the great lakes we can't imagine that there would never be enough. Some cities charge less than ten cents a gallon to "deliver" the water to your kitchen sink. If we placed the true value on water, we would conserve it and respect it more.
Trees and vegetation? Worth trillions of dollars to our economy and our health and clean air and living soils - and vice versa.
You can't live without air, water, plants and bees.
Soil? Well, nearly everything on the planet that keeps us alive as humans is dependent on good clean and living natural soils. Isn't that worth something in the form of dollars to anyone?
Wetlands? They purify the water you eventually drink and, as Mrs. Neville used to tell us in 4th grade: they provide life giving habitats for the birds and the bees. Wetlands harbor indicator species - such as frogs, salamanders, snakes and turtles. These indicate to us how we are doing environmentally. Wetlands also provide habitats for migratory breeding birds and attract valuable insects.
We cannot continue to simply be Green and merely Sustain. Green and Sustainability are outdated. They served their time and served it well. They helped a world see things in a different light and that world take more sensible approaches to how we live. Still, they are not good enough. The word "Sustain" itself, if you look up the conventional meaning, implies to keep things on an even keel, in a sense. I realize we have attached various convenient connotations to the word sustain over the decades, but it is still merely an approach that slows the bleeding - at best.
Regenerative and Ecological Design or, "R.E.D." This is the process where we can reverse our past sustainable affects. We recharge, regenerate, enhance, improve, and so on..... It is being done in WNY. It is in the planning process of various projects as you read this. But it is not being done enough. We can do better. We have to teach industries more about RED. It does not cost extra dollars by the way - which is the oft feared nemesis of any developer or Project Manager.
RED saves money - as does Low Impact Developing, or LID. There are sufficient examples and studies on this.
If the bee pollination service is worth $15 billion dollars annually here in the United States, that could mean, in it's simplest form, that if there are 15 billion bees that individually they are worth $1 each. Collectively, perhaps much more than that. But, through colony collapse disorder, we continue to disrespect this life giving economic asset of ours - as with water.
Trees, well there is no telling the trillions of dollars' value we can place on them - but they are worth much, much more than we think. Same for soils. We need to do more than merely sustain.
Imagine, perhaps 1,000+ acres of prime waterfront real estate sitting out along the outer harbor turned in to a natural habitat, nature preserve, park, ecological outdoor museum, forest, meadow, wetlands, open air classrooms, great lakes attraction, fully regenerated and nurtured that becomes a global attraction drawing thousands of people from across the globe. We would be admired and we would be exemplified. Or, should we build some condos, restaurants, quaint shops, more roads and parking lots?
Which option is worth more to our economy and to our environment?
Intelligent and collective planning and design that respects the value of the Economies of the Environment and aims to Recharge and Regenerate at every opportunity will put us on the road to recovery - economically and environmentally.
Sustainability and Green have been admirable foundations and inspirations for how we have taken a whole new look at how we live - and how we still waste. We waste mainly because we do not put a dollar value on the resources and abundances that we simply neglect. When we look out across the expanse of Lake Erie (the smallest great lake) or across the mountain ranges of the Alleghany region (a miniscule region by national scales) we think that there are endless resources and we can never be without - so we waste them. We put no dollar value on these things so we often treat them as something of minimum value - cheap.
The environment: birds, soils, trees, air, water, moths, turtles and moles..... Are all worth something and there are projects and efforts around the world where groups and teams are now quantifying the economic value of these resources.
We can continue this critical about-face here in WNY - today and now.
Dave Majewski is the Principal of SRG Buffalo and is on the City of Buffalo's Sustainable Development Task Force. He is the project lead and developer of the Urban Habitat Project at the Buffalo Central Terminal.