Are we using imaginative creation to its fullest extent, or are we pulling back, even shrinking from the actual challenges of facing an interactive relationship with our planetary environment?
Everywhere, the urgency of seeking sustainability is becoming an issue of growing concern. As global communication increases our awareness of problems, almost to the exclusion of other vision, I encounter article after article imploring humanity to reduce its impact footprint by conserving, and using less. This is important - I do not intend to demean the exigency of decreasing waste, or condone a retreat from the mindful examination of humanity's excessive use of resources. This writing is not to demean the worthy goal of streamlining for maximum efficiency.
But I contend that an endgame pointed to efficiency can only take us so far. The basic paradigm by which we live needs to evolve to another platform of vision.
This persistent bandwagon on efficiency eclipses a larger picture, and nearly always, narrows our view by focusing on less. The pernicious insistance that humanity must crowd itself into a corner to make room for the inevitability of more growth in turn demands that we restrict ourselves, and decrease the vitality and richness of our lives. We are offered what are touted as "green buildings" that still look like strip malls, and, while models of "sustainable use of resources" such structures still don't give back anything whatsoever to the natural world. They may use less, but they subscribe to a creed based only on taking, still.
I postulate here, that this obsession with efficiency is only a part of true sustainability. Could a truly enlightened use of our resources flower if we raise the bar higher, and view the value returned from a wider vantage point? What if humanity dared to envision an environment in which our species' footprint actually extends itself by seeking to work in harmony with the natural world? What if our buildings gave back green space, and aimed to blend our needs in a manner that stood for the benefit of all beings?
The seeds of this movement are already apparent. A striking few visionaries and municipalities are now working to make buildings fit more seamlessly into a green environment - specifically, green roofs with a living, turf cover that can support native habitat. Also, grounds in public areas that have planting geared in accord with native species. This lends the foothold to support our region's biodiversity. We have the engineering ability to make our buildings into a living greenspace - what's needed is an increased accessibility, that more people can take the choice to impliment this next step. Just as arts programs in schools have been statistically proven to raise students' attention spans, and increase learning ability and academic scores, so green space in urban environments revitalizes neighborhoods, puts people in touch with their community, and inspires them to hope and connect. If the actual buildings within our urban areas also functioned to increase the living footprint of the natural world, how could we lose? We are faced with an envirnmental makeover, in any event. The added concept of building space that can share might yield an untold range of benefits. Not only would we be providing an increase in habitat for other species, but their very presence and proximity would come to work for us.
Green roofs, and buildings with design for living green space, would increase the filtration of harmful pollutants. Plants are natural purifiers of the air, and soil captures and cleans our water. I cite as example a recent article on a survey finding that plants decrease chemical irritants in the atmosphere of buildings. Storm water runoff also would become cleaner, which would improve the water quality in our rivers and bays that flow through settled areas. Greenspace lowers the ambient temperature, and turf roofs reduce heating and cooling cost. More, children who are now growing up disconnected would gain contact with the life cycles of nature, and have a more vibrant curiosity and appreciation for the mysteries of life itself.
If we might stretch our focus beyond what we lack, and dare to dream past present paradigms that emphasize nothing else but our current limitations on resurces, our picture might embrace the opportunity of cultivating more room for life itself to thrive. Wider vision could spur action, not just accounting for our human needs, but for the needs of all living things. Nature holds the potential for healing the ills of our times, tenfold. More, the aesthetic benefits would bring a richness to our everyday, urban experience beyond our current imagining.
If healing our cities also encorporated the concept of healing of our environment within the same interactive space, we might initiate a major step forward in realizing the concept of a renewable sustainability.
Causes Janny Wurts Supports
FINCA Heifer International American Indian College Fund Trust for Public Land Doctors Without Borders Environmental Defense