Friday, April 08, 2005

Easy Being Green

Washington, D.C. and San Francisco aren’t far behind, but Chicago under Mayor Richard Daley has perhaps the most energetic campaign to make urban living appealing, that goes well beyond the Soldier’s Field makeover and the Frank Gehry stuff at Millennium Park. Daley years ago picked up the idea to make the Windy City as green as possible, putting flowers and plants along some 70 miles of street medians, planting 400,000 trees, and replacing 125 asphalt schoolyards with sod. Municipal buildings must get LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, and developers are being required to make their buildings green as well, with recycled building materials, waterless urinals, and systems for natural sunlight and ventilation. At the Center for Green Technology ( they can tell you how to make an elevator run on vegetable oil. The city is dramatically reducing parking requirements, and is home to a two-story Home Depot in Lincoln Park that has no dedicated parking. The latest building to debut with a green roof – they reduce the heat-island effect in summer and absorb runoff – is a McDonald’s. Green building has caught on in a big way in the United States, but I posed this question to Daley’s staff (he was in Cambridge this week to accept MIT’s Kevin Lynch award): won’t a bunch of new requirements for sustainable building be in conflict with the overall goal of cutting red tape for developers who build on urban infill parcels? Builders in the city need fewer rules, note more (see below). The city’s answer is to appoint a team of building-code officials who are solely dedicated to green requirements – a kind of express lane for satisfying the new codes. I suppose it’s reasonable to make sure everybody does it, but the private sector is doing a lot of green building on its own.