I have posted on many occasions about the importance of place in green building--green buildings on unsustainable sites are simply not green. But it is never really true until the Grey Lady--The New York Times--says it is. Today, on the Times' Freakonomics blog, James McWilliams had a nice little piece on the fundamental issue of building LEED buildings in an unsustainable, car-based infrastructure.
Take the long view. From the moment of European settlement onward, American faith in Manifest Destiny has inspired aggressive development driven by land acquisition and individual choice. Sprawl started to become ingrained in the American character over two centuries ago and, as a result, middle America has inherited cities that value expansion over intensification. To an extent, this vexed inheritance turns our cork floors and compost bins into empty expressions akin to the sun-starved solar panels adorning the Merritt Center.
What McWilliams does not acknowledge is the role that regulation and tax policy has had in developing the infrastructure the way it is. Two give just three examples--the mortgage interest tax credit encourages homeownership outside of the urban core. For many years, urban neighborhoods, the most sustainable, were red-lined--you simply couldn't get a mortgage. Funding highways over mass transit means that more highways are built, making it possible to move further from the urban nodes. Finally, funding schools through property tax assessments mean that inner cities with multi-family housing and greater rental concentrations will have less money to provide excellent education, driving families with children to the suburbs.
McWilliams uses the passive voice--" Sprawl started to become ingrained in the American character over two centuries ago "--as if sprawl simply appeared, like a cancer on the landscape. Not so. Regulatory and monetary policy implemented by elected representatives caused the unsustainable circumstance Americans now find ourselves in.
We have seen the sprawl, and it is us.