Sunday, November 30, 2008

Is the "Green Collar Economy" energizing your community?

Is the "Green Collar Economy" energizing your community? Can you share any examples where you're seeing impacts in job creation or broader community changes, effects of the deepening recession?

I've witnessed over the last four or five years here in Vermont growing interest and positive economic energy in green collar industries, jobs and services. In our deepening recession I am concerned many gains seen over the past few years may erode in the short term plunge in energy prices and predictable return to short-sightedness and avoidance of dealing with our current environmental & cultural crisis.

To be more specific about what I mean, let me give you an example from a recent book. In Van Jones' "Green-Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix our Two Biggest Problems", a watershed book published 2008 by Harper Collins. It defines a Green-Collar Job as: blue-collar employment that has been upgraded to better respect the environment. (They are) family supporting, career-track, vocational, or trade-level employment in environmentally-friendly fields. (Some) examples: electricians who install solar panels; plumbers who install solar water heaters; farmers engaged in organic agriculture and some bio-fuel production; construction workers who build energy-efficient green buildings, wind power farms, solar farms...(among many possibilities)

Can you share positive examples of any such change taking place in your community or metropolitan area? This could be further evidenced by conversions of work forces whom are skilled in industries in decline or eliminated, but the skills and knowledge are transferrable to work in the green sector. How long has this been happening and how is the trend playing out? In Vermont, some specific industry examples are the solar industry and insulation and weatherization contractors whom are assisting homeowners and businesses increase energy efficiency.
(Just a revised note: Today 12/1, I received an email from a publicist at Harper whom extended to me a link DC blog readers a chance to preview of an e-book version of Van Johnson's Green Collar Economy. Please enjoy and let me know what you think.)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Walking and benefits to creativity

Taking walks is a way to solve problems. I find when I go for walks with friends, families and co-workers I always end up talking about something that presents a problem or challenge and by the end of the walk solutions seem to arrive as if by magic. Why is that? Anyone? I will think about this some more on walks to come and will be back with more information. Hopefully it will be more grounded with additional thoughts and perspectives other than my own.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Greenbuild 2008 in Boston

Tonight is the eve of the closing day of the 15th annual United States Green Building Council's (USGBC) Greenbuild conference and expo tradeshow. I've become reinvigorated amidst our dismal economic times and reaffirmed my belief the Green Design Movement is both here to stay and has a great deal to offer us all to help improve our situation over the long term.

We are at turning point where we will continue to see transformative healthy change being led by those in the trenches of the work, our public and the new administration. Clients, architects, landscape architects, engineering consultants, contractors, developers are all experiencing an unprecedented business challenge. In the short term we must continue pushing ahead change one building at a time. Whether small scale shifts in behavior or larger scale game changing strategies we must keep up the effort for the generations to come.

We are leaving the toddler stage as a movement and evolving into pre-teenage years and eyeing levels off maturity only yet barely envisioned by those involved. We would welcome any comments about Greenbuild. How are you finding the conference? What highlights can you offer? I will be sharing in the coming days some of my experience on a slightly deeper level.

Regards, Steve

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Edible Landscape_Edible Schoolyards

Here's an oppourtunity to expand your thinking about the potential of the sustaining landscape, one which contributes both aesthetic pleasure and pragmatic food production. Read on....

How could this effect your thinking about the interplay of the buildings within their landscapes? The programmatic oppourtunities for interweaving of uses and functions are varied as the imagination. Go check out the Edible School Yard Project link below for design inspiration. (Steve Frey)

......By Scott Carlson:
The Chronicle: Buildings & Grounds
Vandana Shiva: 'Why Shouldn't Edible Schoolyards Be on Every Campus?'
Posted: 11 Nov 2008 10:26 AM CST
Raleigh, N.C. — Vandana Shiva, the physicist and environmental activist, spoke here at the national conference of the Association for the Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education this morning. Her topic was food — what she calls “the currency of life” — and how an industrial food system has poisoned the soil and pushed people off their land.
The speech hit on a number of agricultural issues that have been widely discussed recently and made popular by writers like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver. There is no doubt that food issues will be increasingly important in coming years, as agriculture is stressed by climate change, dwindling petroleum supplies, and environmental degradation in the form of loss of biodiversity and erosion. (Read essays in The Chronicle‘s Buildings & Grounds about this topic here and here.)

Ms. Shiva said that “the issue of food has increasingly become an issue of peace” because stresses on traditional agriculture and the industrialization of food have led people to wage war against nature, against each other, and even against their own bodies, in the form of cancers and obesity. The industrialization of food has led to empty countrysides both here in the U.S. and in India, Ms. Shiva’s native country.

“An empty countryside has never been a good human design,” she said, because it means that people are cramming into megacities and are falling away from the skills needed to raise food in traditional ways.

Colleges have a big role to play in fixing agriculture because they are partly to blame for its problems: The so-called Green Revolution, which created fertilizer-dependent industrial agriculture, is a result of research done at colleges and universities. “The solutions will have to come out of the place where it started,” she said.
She pointed out that Alice Waters, the Berkeley chef and food activist, had gotten a lot of attention for her Edible Schoolyard project, in which middle-school students are learning about agriculture and cuisine by growing gardens. Colleges should start setting up their own edible grounds, she said.

“Why shouldn’t edible schoolyards be on every campus?” she asked. —Scott Carlson

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Innovation and Collaboration

Recently and reoccuringly I am asking myself and others what it means to be innovative in regards to design and design process. Parallel to that I'm wondering how collaboration feeds innovation and vice versa?

I read Peter Drucker's seminal book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Practices and Principles, (1985, Harper & Row, NY) which motivates my thinking and design process. Entreprenuers can not function without innovation. The best collaborations do not function without innovation. Often the most inspiring results occur when a client, architects, designers, engineers and other stakeholders work together bouncing ideas, constraints and oppourtunities to create something new which never existed before. Oestensibly creating a new future and new possibilities together.

Drucker writes in the preamble to section I, The Practice of Innovation..."Innovation is the specific tool of entrepreneurs, the means by which they exploit change as an oppourtunity for a different business or a different service. It is capable of being presented as a discipline, capable of being learned, capable of being practiced."

Practicing innovation often leads to 1 + 1 = 3 or 5 or some other unexpected result. Connections are made between certain design contraints which wouldn't have happened without a room-full of people sparking each other to create alternative design outcomes, what ifs, why not this or that etc and rapidly testing them together openly. You never quite know where you'll end up when you begin a new project. Controlling the tendency to make blanket assumptions or to use rules of thumb in lieu of informed assessments of design, environmental, market and other practical constraints feeds innovative thinking.

Brainstorming activities are often helpful to feed innovative connections. Approaching the task like a game is often fun and refreshing. Teams can use word or image associations when design mood or qualities are sought after as a eventual goal. Having someone ask a room full of people questions, write down the shouted out answers, looking for commonalities and divergencies is so important. Small group breakouts with focused assignments also work with a chosen representative sharing with the larger group key ideas or themes considered to help build a broader vision.

Setting up a process to collect ideas, consider and process them, develop constraints and oppourtunities, next actions is very fruitful and one which can be repeated at varying stages of design, starting at the blank piece of paper stage and ending before detailed documentation and bidding might happen. Please share your ideas on how to effectively innovate through collaboration? I'll be adding to this post strand specific examples over the coming months of possible best practices and other sources for learning about design innovation + collaboration.