Resiliency – The New Green Wave?

Now that most of us have come to realize that climate change will not be reversed in our lifetimes, we’ve turned to the next new thing: dealing with it. Rather than embracing doomsday scenarios, investors are beginning to realize that there’s real profit in dealing with the potential impacts of climate change. Of course there are potentially real and massive losses in NOT dealing with these same impacts.

 Hurricane Sandy, Brooklyn, 2012. Credit: Shutterstock.com

Hurricane Sandy, Brooklyn, 2012. Credit: Shutterstock.com

What we don’t know yet is how the green building movement can or will respond. For example, in early versions of LEED, we required that certified buildings not be built in the “100-year” flood plain. When I lived in Portland, OR, that meant that any new downtown office building or public facility built within three or four blocks of the Willamette River should never have achieved a rating. Unfortunately that’s where a lot of new offices, fire stations and other buildings were built – and still, many of them got LEED ratings.

What about having a prerequisite for ANY green building that it’s not built in the 500-year flood plain? We know that flood zone maps are outdated. In an age of rapid climate change, we can easily get what was the “500-year flood” on a regular basis.  (The 500-year flood is the one with a probability of an annual 0.2% change of occurrence, based on – often limited – historical data.) Can a green building be situated in the 500-year flood zone and be at risk for catastrophic flooding, and still be green? Can a green building have data centers or other key operations located at or below 500-year flood stage?

Resiliency in planning for massive flooding takes several forms. Land-use planning may be the best solution in short run. Wouldn’t it be useful to look at a map of our cities, identify four-lane roads that don’t carry much traffic and put bioswales right in the middle? Wouldn’t cost much, and we could add bike lanes, running paths, etc. We’d also cut down on the urban heat-island effect, which would serve to moderate temperatures and cut use of air-conditioning, while at the same time recharging groundwater? We could make each corner of most streets into a “mini-swale” and green park, with benches to sit and maybe even shelving for people to leave free books.

 Central Park, New York, late Afternoon. Credit: Shutterstock.com

Central Park, New York, late Afternoon. Credit: Shutterstock.com

Rather than succumbing to despair over climate change, perhaps RESILIENCY gives us a new opportunity to reimagine our cities for the next century. Don’t we all still thank the visionaries of the 19th and early 20th centuries that gave us our current highly valued urban parks – Central Park in New York, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, etc.?

I presented on this subject as the keynote speaker at WaterSmart Innovations 2018 in Las Vegas four weeks ago. If you want to see my presentation, take a look at the YouTube video and/or download the slides at SlideShare.net.