Here is my take on green building in Brooklyn over the next 5-10 years. It is actually a lot wider than Brooklyn, but that is my focus.
Rising fuel costs will drive people back into the city, this means there will be an influx of people into Brooklyn. This will keep housing prices more elevated than other non inner city areas.
Rising fuel costs will also continue the growing trend of being focused on energy efficiency. Couple this with improved technology and everything from boilers to weather sealing will become a high tech and integral part of building. Gone are the days of building like energy waste didn’t matter – that R22 exterior wall everyone thought was normal will be doubled.
A greater awareness of regional building will develop. Eco Brooklyn’s fanatic focus on only NY buildings will continue to be a trend. Cookie cutter designs and building styles will increasingly be replaced by micro regional building techniques.
This will effect everything from windows to types of flooring. If it isn’t local it will have a huge disadvantage. Building supply companies will also move towards this trend. You will either have local building supply companies that provide materials suitable for that area and increasingly produced in that area.
Or you will have large national companies that take regional requirements into mind. The Home Depot in California will stock very different materials than one in Brooklyn.
Likewise the large builders will reduce their making of cookie cutter houses that they plop down anywhere from Texas to New England. This is because there will be less demand for houses not designed for the local climate (thus requiring higher energy bills) and culture.
There will be an opening for smaller localized developers who specialize in building specifically for their micro climate and culture. They will be able to move faster than the national companies and remain in touch with local trends. They will be able to quickly change their plans depending on what local materials become available.
We will become more aware of our energy supply and waste. As our energy production increasingly becomes local with solar and wind power we will become more aware of how we consume of that energy. Likewise as the disposal of our waste increasingly becomes local we will become more aware of what waste we create.
This is part of an awakening that we actually influence our environment. Most babies learn this at around two years old but by the time they grow up they have forgotten it again. Most people have no idea where their energy comes from or where their waste goes to. This will become less common as we realize the connection between ecosystems and the fact that we actually even belong to one.
The current surge in salvage and recycling communities will continue to grow. Web lists who exchange materials and local stores that act as intermediaries for used material will do well as people recognize the importance of reusing materials and saving them from the landfill.
Houses will get smaller. The house as a status symbol will become less important and Mc Mansions will become a symbol of ecological stupidity. People will realize the value of a smaller house for many reasons – impact on land, less materials used, less energy consumed, more natural land made available.
This is one of the great things about Brooklyn – we have one of the smallest house size per capita in the US. We are “limited” by the existing stock, which overwhelmingly is a 20 foot wide brownstone. This is a good thing and as most of us who are lucky enough to afford a duplex or triplex it is more than enough.
Houses will get smaller and natural habitats will get bigger. People will “redevelop” natural habitats with local flora and fauna. The park will look more like a wild life sanctuary as people recognize the importance of variety and local ecosystems. More wildlife will reside in the city, from animals to birds.
Here is proof that is happening already:
In Brooklyn we will turn the roofs – currently a barren wasteland of tar and old TV antennas – into green sanctuaries. We will remove the “Italian Back Yard” of poured concrete and replace it with greens.
There will be a trend towards sharing back yards. They will see the ecological and cultural benefit of a large back yard shared with neighbors vs. their personal small back yard. This one is one of the only things I mention in this post that I have not seen yet.
The other day on the phone with my neighbor I suggested sharing back yards with my neighbor. There as a deathly silence and they completely changed the subject. The idea was so foreign to them that they had no idea how to address it so they just acted as if I hadn’t mentioned it.
But I do see it as a possibility over the next 5-10 years. The back yards will be used for farming and larger recreational purposes – sports for example.
Along this line will be more cluster housing where houses are put close together instead of on their own little plots. This allows for larger communal natural areas and a sharing of housing resources (solar power, food from shared gardens, group composting, shared transportation, and group home improvements).
This won’t happen so much in Brooklyn where the stock is still of high quality. But it will happen where the stock is really run down and needs to be replaced.
The house as an isolated entity in a long row of isolated houses will become foolish. More popular will be a group of houses as a single entity, more along the lines of old European villages.
People will keep their houses longer. The house will no longer be an object to flip. People will start to see the house more as a home and less as an investment to buy and flip every couple years. This is a recognition that the house is in a community and that the inhabitants are part of that community. To flip the house and move on would be to leave the community they are connected to.
Because the house becomes more of a long term dwelling it means long term choices are increasingly made. Flipping the house is a very different mind set than planning on being in the house for a long time. The investment in the house and surroundings is made more intelligently and with better quality.
Gone are the days of “irrational exuberance”. The current sobering economy is here to stay. Even if people become financially comfortable again the current financially sober attitude will remain. People will be smarter and more prudent with their money, not only because it is smart but because it is more ecological.
People will become increasingly aware of the energetic impacts of their decisions on the environment and society. This won’t be isolated to what kind of insulation they buy for their house. It will apply to anything they consume, from food to entertainment.
Money is one of the main forms of energy and they will treat it with equal awareness. They will use their energy (in the form of money) to influence the environment.
This view into the future is not Utopian. It is survivalist. So much damage has been done that it will take a long time before we dig ourselves out of the increasingly deepening hole. In fact we have been charging into the hole for so long and with such destructive force that we are going to need tremendous commitment and energy to turn it around and undo the damage.
Simply reducing the waste and ecological destruction will not help turn the tide. It might slow the tide but the direction will stay the same. In terms of turning the tide it does not matter how much paper and plastic we recycle. That is not the solution.
Stopping the consumption of the paper and plastic in the first place is the solution. Producing paper and plastic that decomposes naturally is the solution. Producing paper and plastic that can be used over and over again is a solution.
But doing less of a wasteful activity is like an alcoholic saying they will drink less.
Less of a bad thing does not make it a good thing.
We have to Build It Forward: We have to focus on increasing ecological health and not simply decreasing ecological destruction. This is a proactive growth oriented process that demands we change many of the core beliefs and habits that literally have a strangle hold on us now.
A lot of the many positive elements I see developing over the next 5-10 years will be a result of pure desperation as we continue to tumble down a hole of financial and ecological destruction.
In Brooklyn there will continue be a surge of green renovations, green roofs, gray water systems, solar power for electricity and hot water, salvaging of materials, recycling, bio-diesel cars, bicycles and a general awareness that we need to drastically change our city in order for us to not become like many of the other places in the world.
These other places will be plagued by pollution, war, famine and the general apocalyptic environment that is brought on by wanton rape of the people and environment over a long period of time.
The next 5-10 years will be a good time for Brooklyn because we have all the elements of an ecological changing of the tides. We will be one of the pockets of hope in a world that is reaching a climax of destruction or survival.
If we do it right we will have an abundance and be able to take our strengths and knowledge to these other places, but that will be more of a long term process over the next 20 years and beyond. For now we will be focused on filling our pantries with honey from our roofs and vegetables from our communal gardens.
We will be busy saving ourselves and we will do it well. It is an exciting time to be in Brooklyn.