What is Greenbuild, you ask? It is, first and foremost, the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to green building. However, it is so much more than that. Green building is not just about technical solutions and energy efficiency, it is about making better places for people and creating a built environment that does its best to work with the natural environment. It’s about resiliency, historic preservation, community building, and most of all, humans. At Greenbuild, I learned about Green Communities in Massachusetts, an Urban Farming Initiative in Detroit, a discussion for model zoning code for resilient communities, and The Past & Future City.
Below: Stephanie Meeks of the National Trust for Historic Preservation speaking about the Past & Future City and the importance of historic buildings for revitalization
All of these projects have lessons for Colorado and our downtowns. A main theme underlying all of these sessions was how communities can form partnerships and use policy and governance tools to create a better environment to live in. Whether it’s renewable energy, community gardening, updating zoning regulations, or historic preservation, all of these can create more vibrant downtowns.
Colorado is full of independent communities that make up a beautiful, diverse fabric of environments, people, and opinions. I wanted to share some interesting ideas that I took away from these sessions:
> A statewide program can work with ALL types of cities and towns to advance projects that work in the context of every community as long as every community can define its own wants and needs. A statewide program creates an incentive for a community to work together towards a common goal that will benefit everyone.
> Every community goes through stressors and shocks but does our current zoning inhibit us from adapting to these situations?
- Example: Massachusetts Green Communities, run by the state, provides grants, technical assistance, and local support from Regional Coordinators to help municipalities reduce energy use and costs by implementing clean energy projects in municipal buildings, facilities, and schools. The program partners with local utilities to start energy challenges in which people participate in energy audits (designed to improve energy efficiency). If enough people sign up, the utility company often gives away grant money.
> We all know historic preservation is important in our downtowns. But did you know that historic buildings are engines that create jobs, grow the economy, and keep cities more affordable, sustainable, and dynamic? When compared to an area with all new buildings, an area with a mix of buildings has more new business jobs, more small business jobs, 27% more affordable housing stock, and more hidden density in population, businesses, and housing.
- Example: If there is an event that inhibits a historic building’s function on Main Street such as a store closure, a natural disaster, a fire, etc. Is there a place the displaced business owner can go to restart their business? Is it relatively easy to change the use of this building to something else? Is there even enough money to restore the building to modern standards? Changing zoning codes could help make solutions to these dilemmas easier.
Collaboration is at the core of solving problems and making our communities better places. If you have a challenge you are facing that you would like to solve through collaboration with other communities and industry experts, consider submitting a challenge for our Challenge Studios. These Challenge Studios will take place at DCI’s annual Vibrant Downtowns IN THE GAME Event on April 10-13 in Boulder.