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Constructing the future

Posted on June 21, 2018 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Business-as-usual practices in housing construction, land and water use, as well as how we define community and what we are working for together, requires fundamental reevaluation as we seek to adapt to the serious challenges created by rapid population growth and human-caused climate change.

Here in Sonoma Valley and the Bay Area in general, population pressures have increased and the social and cultural mechanisms previously capable of adapting to such pressure are now inadequate. Though visionary technologists such as R. Buckminster Fuller developed low-cost modular housing prototypes as early as 1927 which were factory produced, deliverable by helicopter, and highly durable, their use was never adopted. Building codes and construction trade rules alone killed Fuller’s idea, and today housing continues to be built using designs, materials and codes in use for over a century.

Post-fire housing provides ample evidence of our limited thinking and out-of-date construction codes and regulations. Wood framing, asphalt shingle roofs, central air conditioning and heating, water-fed toilets; the list goes on and contains designs developed in the 19th century and before. True innovation in housing is nearly impossible when our attachment to old habits and outdated regulation continues.

Aside from shifting from outdated materials, “green” housing construction calls for changes in energy sources, fire resistance, and accounting for the environmental and lifecycle impacts of building the housing in the first place. Green construction reduces impacts systemically, especially in relation to transportation options and integrating how people work and live.

The same can be said of the way we value and use land and water. Historically, land has been considered all but worthless if not used “productively.” Productivity of land has meant either farming or housing, and its value as wildlife habitat, natural flood control or simply a beautiful setting has been marginalized. Water has been treated as plentiful and reliably available, but that may not continue to be the case going forward. Composting toilets work well; the technology converts human waste to useable garden compost, but building codes continue to outlaw them.

Both land and water use need to be reevaluated in light of what can be sustained for the many, not just the few. The definition of “success” is going to require consuming much less than we do today. This means we need a cultural shift that runs headlong into our penchant to elevate the status of private property. The recent City Council rejection of three massive homes proposed for Shocken Hill was one step in the right direction, but every proposed development in the valley and city needs deeper consideration of its intent and design. We simply can’t afford to continue “business as usual.”

Technology alone will not save us, particularly if we continue our attachment to technology developed one hundred years ago. Green energy replacement and serious natural resource conservation measures are called for as well. Our housing crisis cannot be solved nor can we provide economic equity to low-paid workers if we don’t let 21st century creativity and technical innovation in the door. If we want to be good stewards of the land and properly safeguard our water, we can’t do it without updating our conception of community and how we live together for the sake of that community.

— Sun Editorial Board

 



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