Green McMansions?

I recently received an email from St. Louis Green, Inc. inviting me to their, “Where Grand Meets Green,” home tour.  (Excuse me while I step away from my computer so I don’t vomit on the keyboard.)  I’m sorry, but I fail to see what’s “green” about a McMansion built out in the suburbs, accessible only by car.  I don’t care how energy-efficient you make the walls or what building materials you use.  These “homes” would more accurately be called “compounds.”  I must admit that I wasted time and money driving out to Town and Country (yes, that really is the name of one of the more affluent suburbs around here) for one of their home tours in the past — never again!

I want to tour homes in the city, homes that are affordable for normal middle-class families (and I’m talking about the middle-class that makes less than $100,000/year), heck, maybe even affordable for low-income families.  Homes that are truly green:

  • Not built with outrageous square-footage
  • Built in the city, in dense, mixed-use areas
  • Easily accessible by biking, walking, or public transit
  • Include rehabs — retrofitting current buildings for maximum efficiency, not always building new

Some examples of these exist, but not nearly enough.  While many builders give a nod to this type of construction, few seem really invested in it, because it won’t make them rich.  If someone has close to one million dollars that he/she wants to spend to build an over-sized, green-washed home out in Town and Country, fine, but let’s not celebrate or reward that choice by hosting a “green” event.

Earth Hour apathy

If you blinked, you might have missed Earth Hour on Saturday night. According to the website, “On Earth Hour hundreds of millions of people around the world will come together to call for action on climate change by doing something quite simple—turning off their lights for one hour. The movement symbolizes that by working together, each of us can make a positive impact in this fight, protecting our future and that of future generations.”

I’d heard of it in the past, but it fell off my radar this year.  At about 7:30pm on Saturday, as we were preparing a VERY late dinner after a full day of hiking, Matthew happened to see something about it.  When the appointed hour rolled around (8:30pm), we sat down to a candlelight dinner.  So far, so good.  We finished eating by 9:05pm, at which point I just wanted to sit on the couch and read.

If you follow the link above to the Earth Hour website, they display before and after photos around the world.  Most of the photos focus on recognizable sites.  While it’s cool to see, and I get the symbolic aspect of it, it feels more like paying lip service to the environmental problems that we face.  At 9:30pm, everyone flips the switch and the status quo continues.  What about the other 23 hours in the day?  What about the other 364 days in the year?

While I know my attempts are far from perfect, I strive to live those other 8759 hours as “Earth hours.”  So that’s why, at 9:10pm on Saturday, March 27, 2010, I turned on one lamp with a CFL, sat on our second-hand couch, and enjoyed my library book.

Uplifting and depressing

Yes, it is possible to be both of those things at the same time.  Last week, I attended the League of American Bicyclists’ National Bike Summit.  I sat in on some great breakout sessions.  With over 700 attendees, all bicycling enthusiasts, from across the country, the summit filled the air in D.C. with energy and passion for all things bicycle.  On Thursday, we stormed Capitol Hill to get our representatives and senators on board with bills that support bicycling (and active transportation, livable communities, and all things beautiful and good).  And who wouldn’t want to cosponsor something named the ACT Act (H.R. 4722)?

The down side?  The constant reminder that I am not currently a bike commuter. At the moment, I’m a former bike commuter, a wannabe bike commuter.  As we look toward spring and really ideal bike commuting weather, this gets harder and harder to take.  I struggle more and more with the question of whether or not it was worth the trade-off — my beautiful bike commute for a job that better fit my interests.

Some kind of platitude seems appropriate here: “Live and learn,” or “This, too, shall pass.”  Or something . . . .

To end on a better note, People for Bikes makes my heart happy.  Go to the site, watch the video, and sign the pledge.