Rebuilding Green: Communities and Buildings After a Natural Disaster

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Another natural disaster has hit the US. Hurricane Sandy is the second major storm to wipe out a large portion of an urban area. A month later, New York and New Jersey continue to shovel out, and thousands of people are still homeless. One woman from Staten Island was on the news crying that she wanted to go home, but there was no home to go to. The house was a pile of rubble, and she was sifting through it for photographs. My heart broke for her.

Climate change and the way we build

As Sandy’s power was building up, I was thinking about disaster-proof housing, how we could build to withstand the forces of these mega-storms that seem to be the future norm. Climate change is altering our weather patterns, and I think we are going to see more and more extreme weather. There is talk of changing the ratings of storms to account for their increased intensity. It’s a scary scenario.

As Sandy hit and pictures came in of houses being washed out to sea, it became clear that durable housing was a moot point for this storm and new weather patterns. My thoughts turned to rebuilding these devastated communities.

Rebuilding green for communities made for people

When there is an opportunity to rebuild, why not build green? Here is a chance for the USGBC, Architecture for Humanity, Habitat for Humanity, Architecture 2030, FEMA, insurance companies, NGOs, appraisers and local, state and federal governments to build for the future.

Climate change is upon us, and we need the built world to reflect that. There will be changes in temperature, rain, snow loads and wind, and we need to create cities and buildings that can respond to climate and energy needs while being durable and centered around people.

Green building in the wake of a disaster in the U.S

Greensburg, Kansas did it! In 2007, most of the town was wiped out by a tornado, and what was still standing was severely damaged. With the opportunity to rebuild, city government took advantage of national and international funding that was available. The ‘new’ Greensburg was built to LEED Platinum standards, the highest LEED rating. Power comes from wind turbines, and the town center has been revitalized.

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In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Some of the poorest neighborhoods were affected, and homes were uninhabitable. Global Green and Brad Pitt opened a design contest for green homes, and they are rebuilding homes, an apartment building and a community center according to the winning design.

High profile actor and architecture enthusiast who believes in sustainable building steps up (Source: via Michele on Pinterest)

Rebuilding Together New Orleans volunteers are weatherizing to reduce cooling bills, using no-VOC paints for improved air quality, and building with sustainable and recycled materials for low embodied energy while preserving historic neighborhoods.

Rebuilding green on the international front – New Zealand

A 6.1 earthquake extensively damaged Christchurch, New Zealand in 2010. The mayor sees this as an opportunity to rebuild a green, hi-tech and low-rise city to move into the future and address climate change and disaster preparedness. The city center will be compact with businesses and residences close-in.

This is also a chance to create walkways, bike paths, and an improved public transportation system. Green space will be increased where high-rises once stood, and the riverside will be sensitively developed for residents’ enjoyment.

Forward-thinking, open-minded leadership

We are fortunate to have forward thinking leaders with open minds. From energy efficiency to urban renewal, ravaged cities can make a big difference when they rebuild. They will have smaller carbon footprints, but also be more amenable to people. Plans take years to implement, but once begun, there is no turning back.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.