April 20th, 2009 | by Megan Brescini News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Environment

Green Is Their Color

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Portland as we all know, is the greenest, most sustainable city, like ever! So no surprise when the National League of Cities chose our exemplary city to host its first NLC Green Cities Conference & Expo.

Mayors, council members, business owners and city staffers of all kinds, representing 47 states gathered at the Convention Center today to discuss how to create sustainable cities and stare at each others' badges.

On the program for today was a discussion panel of experts offering their insight into how cites can get green.

I know what you're thinking, “I'm tired of the overuse of this green word, it's become nothing but gibberish” and I tend to agree. However, this panel included representatives from organizations not typically heard from in the green conversation. They talked about how sustainability as a goal lines up with their work, which grounds their green desires in real, selfish life.

First up: Elinor Ginzler, senior vice president of AARP's Livable Communities Strategies and Office of Social Impact. Old folks will out live their driving years by about 10 years. Ginzler studies what happens to those people's quality of life when they no longer use cars. What she's discovered is that short of becoming the passenger in someone else's car, this segment of the population is most likely to hoof it to the nearest grocery, pharmacy or friend's house. This means communities should be designed with the appropriate amount of attention given to walking infrastructure. The effects of designing cities around something other than cars are of course, quite green. So, give the old folks their sidewalks, and sustainability may follow.

Fellow panelist Christine McEntee is the VP of the American Institute of Architects, and all membership requires 18 units of continuing education a year, 4 hours of which must be in sustainable design.When asked by the moderator (Kathleen M. Novak, Mayor of Northglenn, Colorado and NLC president) what can be done to convince the non-green believers who think it's all “whooie,” McEntee stated exactly what I was thinking; “arguing climate change doesn't work.” There are still a lot of people who don't believe the science. To get through the discussion needs to address personal impact. You know, designing or retrofitting buildings for higher efficiency attracts business owners and residents who like saving money, which can revitalize an underused area, lowering crime, generating funds for the city, happy times for all!

Speaking of revitalization, Art DeMuro, principal broker for Venerable Group, Inc., knows a little something about it. Venerable Group is the historical preservation and redevelopment firm that bought the White Stag block for redevelopment. DeMuro became the most believable speaker when he said, “Let me be honest, I am a capitalist first and foremost.” He explained that yes, he appreciates the historical value of the buildings Venerable restores, but most importantly, resorting an old building is far more profitable than making a new one. Demolition, as he described it, “is a traumatic surgery to a city.”

Modern building materials, like plastics and steel, are more consumptive than old ones, like old-growth wood. Further more, buildings constructed at the turn of the century were over-engineered by today's standards, and made to be efficient in a time when there were no modern climate controls. Better ventilation, more natural light, stronger materials, all this means that retrofitting an old building is more efficient and cost-effective than building a new one. That's the kind of green that people can get behind; the color of money.

Following the panel, I checked out the green-themed books Powell's had for sale at its temporary bookstore and saw one I know well—Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert will make climate change a frighteningly reality to any skeptic. Then I roamed the exhibit hall, where businessmen were hawking their wares. At least three booths were trying to sell city officials on LED street lights. And how about a solar-powered trash compactor for the city streets? There was a Xerox booth, and one for U-Haul, and their green angle felt more like what I've become desensitized to; green as a sales pitch. The Oregon Smoke Free Housing Project was promoting the greenest of all living, affording themselves a rather liberal interpretation of the word.

Finally, in the spirit of my renewed faith in green ventures, I must take the ESRI.com booth to task. There were enough glossy paper pamphlets and brochures covering the table of its booth to line to spell out “wasteful” in letters large enough to be visible from the moon. An exaggeration, fine, but ESRI develops software for goodness sake. Surely they can find a paperless, digital means of promotion.
 
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