the Green Top 10 for 2010

night shot of cafe just outside of Plaça Reial in Barcelona

   2010 is shaping up to be a momentous year on several counts, especially for issues having to do with sustainability. Here are the top 10 things that appear likely to develop, from an Original Green perspective:

the Offshoring Reversal

the number 10 superimposed over picture of dock cranes

   Offshoring of manufacturing has had a long run, beginning in earnest a few decades ago. But as fuel becomes remarkably more expensive (see #2,) expect this trend to begin to weaken. We’ll likely only see faint beginnings of the reversal in 2010, but look for it to pick up steam through the decade. And it will eventually play a major role in our ability to live sustainably. Here’s why: Turn your head and look around the room. Most of the things you’re looking at have traveled thousands of miles to get to you, from the point where the resources were extracted to where the parts were made to where the whole thing was assembled to where it was warehoused to the store where you bought it. Common sense tells us that being green is a pipe dream if nearly everything we touch has thousands of Embodied Miles. Jim Kunstler’s World Made by Hand and Christopher Steiner’s $20 Per Gallon each tell excellent stories that support the reality of the Offshoring Reversal.

the Sustainability of Preservation

the number 9 superimposed over picture of the portico of a classical building in Charleston, South Carolina

   For several years, there has been a growing realization in some circles of the green building world that something is seriously wrong when you can get almost as many LEED credits by installing a bike rack as by preserving an entire building, and this inequity has set the preservationists against the green building industry. But until now, we haven’t had the tools to do anything about it. Now, however, a number of people are working on ways to factor in the true value of preservation, both within the US Green Building Council and elsewhere, because how can we say that we’re being green if we keep throwing buildings away? Look for several of these tools to surface in 2010 from a variety of sources.

Gizmo Green Gets Exposed

the number 8 superimposed over picture of industrial equipment at Schloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama

   Gizmo Green is the idea that all we need to be green is better equipment and better materials. There are two problems: First, Gizmo Green can’t really make us sustainable because efficiency alone isn’t enough. But if it could make us green, there’s still the fact that better equipment and better materials cost more money. That’s OK when times are good and budgets are fat, but 2010 isn’t shaping up to be a fat-budget year, and the first thing to get cut out of a construction budget is usually the expensive stuff, because people almost always choose the long, slow bleeding of monthly utility bills over up-front costs. So what works? Natural green measures, like passive heating & cooling, daylighting, etc. You know, the stuff that has always worked, since long before the Thermostat Age.

the Meltdown Vacuum

the number 7 superimposed over night shot of front porch in Key West

   There’s a silver lining to the catastrophic effects of the Meltdown on industries and professions surrounding construction: The vast machine of developers, bankers, planners, architects, builders, and real estate agents has largely been immobilized, leaving a vacuum of building design and construction leadership, and 2010 isn’t looking much better. Pre-Meltdown, this machine paved huge swaths of the country with a carpet of suburbia, but everyone who’s still operating now is doing so at a much smaller scale. On the other hand, shelter shows such as those on HGTV have never been stronger, with regular people learning more and more about the design and construction of their own homes and shops. These two trends will combine to create a much more grassroots construction industry than we’ve seen in at least a couple generations... and that’s great for sustainability because a more grassroots construction industry is far easier to infuse with the simple wisdom of how best to build green for a region’s conditions, climate, and culture. And it’s already beginning. The New Urban Guild’s Project:SmartDwelling, for example, sets out to do exactly these things for each region of the US, as illustrated by SmartDwelling I which was published recently in the Wall Street Journal.

the Return of the Garden

the number 6 superimposed over picture of fence and garden wall in Panama

   The trend of food coming from further and further away will begin to reverse in 2010, as the realization spreads that local food isn’t just fresher, healthier, and better-tasting, but it’s also far more sustainable to ship food only a few miles as opposed to today’s 1,500 Mile Caesar Salad. But this won’t be your grandmother’s garden. Rather, it’ll be full-blown Agricultural Urbanism, with everything from good-neighbor Employing Farms that can nestle tightly around cities, towns, and villages, all the way down to window gardens. DPZ, arguably the biggest rock stars of planning today, is one of a number of notables working this out. And there are already neighborhoods where these ideas are being tested, such as Serenbe in Georgia, which is fairly mature, and which I described here. Sky in the Florida panhandle and Southlands near Vancouver are in the planning stage, while Schooner Bay in the Bahamas and the Town of Hampstead in Alabama are in the early phases of construction.

the Re-Coding of the City

the number 5 superimposed over picture of archway and urban street beyond in Madrid, Spain

   I’ll warn you up front... this one is a little bit boring. It has none of the drama of the Meltdown Vacuum, nor any of the sexiness of the Return of the Garden. But it’s an essential step in building sustainable places. Sprawl not only flings suburbs all over the map, but it lays them out in such a manner that whether you want to get to the city, or whether you just want to go to the store, the office, or to school, you’ve gotta drive. And if you have to drive everywhere, sustainability is impossible. But sprawl didn’t just happen. It was planned. By devices known as Euclidean zoning ordinances. Every city has one. Until now. DPZ (yeah, them again) has worked for years to develop an alternative zoning code that reverses sprawl; it’s known as the SmartCode, and it’s based on an idea known as the Rural-Urban Transect. The Smart Growth Manual illustrates what kind of places the SmartCode produces. Their colleagues have developed similar codes, and lots of firms are geared up to implement them. And now, the cities want them. 2010 looks like it might be the year that’s the tipping point with cities choosing this very smart way to reverse the tide of sprawl and make green cities possible. Here are lists of places where SmartCodes have been adopted, are in progress, and places with other form-based codes.

the Return of Durability

the number 4 superimposed over picture of archway leading to main courtyard of College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina

  It sounds crazy, but the tough post-Meltdown economy of 2010 looks like it will finally make us buy stuff that’s better and more durable, and that just might turn the tide on a throwaway century during which pretty much nothing was designed to last. Here’s why: when cash is flowing, we can afford to throw stuff away, but when times are tight, we can’t. So although it’s more expensive to begin with, it’ll be much less costly in the long run. The Story of Stuff does a great job of showing why high consumption is unsustainable. So what’s the alternative? Using things that last for generations, rather than stuff meant to last only for a few months, weeks, or maybe even a single use. Things like reusable shopping bags are part of the story, but look for 2010 to be the year that we begin to realize that everything must be more durable... including our buildings themselves.

the Emergence of the Live-Work

the number 3 superimposed over picture of live-work buildings at the Waters near Montgomery, Alabama

   The US was originally built largely by people who lived near the shop. Everyone from the President (the West Wing is part of the White House, remember?) to shopkeepers, woodworkers, blacksmiths, and even farmers, all lived very close to where they worked until trains and then cars made it possible to commute. Today, three trends are converging: Countless people have been laid off post-Meltdown, and the scarcity of jobs has many of them striking out on their own. The Internet makes working from home more feasible than at any other point in our lifetimes. And a cadre of planners and architects known as New Urbanists have been working for years to figure out how to get workplaces back into our neighborhoods so we don’t have to drive everywhere. The Live-Work Unit, designed so you can live and work on the same piece of land, is where these trends converge. Now, you can finally “make a living where you’re living.” Look for the Live-Work Unit to be a household term by the end of 2010.

the Big Convergence

the number 2 superimposed over picture of gas pumps at old gas station in Florala, Alabama

   Three world-changing trends that need no introduction are converging right now, and 2010 looks like the year when most people realize we’ve got to think differently about “business as usual.” They are the Meltdown, Peak Oil, and Climate Change. The Meltdown has seared our consciousness like no economic event since the Great Depression. Peak Oil was once hotly debated, but now the evidence is mounting that we’re running out. And Climate Change is still debated, but not ignored. Any one of these three should be a warning that we need to change, but all three emerging at once make it clear that we have some serious adapting to do. There’s a lot of hand-wringing over all this, but I believe that if we take these things seriously in 2010 and adapt in an intelligent way, it could lead to the next Golden Age... something that would have been impossible in our previous sprawling, over-consuming, debt-ridden condition.

the New City

the number 1 superimposed over picture of two women, one standing on a porch and the other leaning on a fence, having a conversation in the Waters, near Montgomery, Alabama

   How might we live in this next Golden Age? Our cities, towns, villages, and hamlets should be nourishable, because if you can’t eat there, you can’t live there, and accessible so you can get around in a number of ways, especially including walking and biking, which the price of gas can’t touch. They should be serviceable so you can get the basic services of life within walking distance, and the people serving you those services can afford to live nearby, too, and securable from undue fear. These things make a place sustainable. Once we’ve done that, then we need to build sustainable buildings, which are first of all lovable, because if they can’t be loved, they won’t last. If they’re lovable, then they should also be durable so they’ll endure to carry that lovability long into the future, and flexible so they can be used for many things over the centuries. And they must be frugal, beginning with things that work naturally. What does this look like? It looks a whole lot like the New Urbanism, a movement which has been working for decades to figure these things out. A growing number of experts agree that the New Urbanism will be the most important green trend of 2010. I think they’re right... it’s about time!

   ~Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 - 08:05 PM


excellent as usual

most of it focus on US since there was no meltdown per se in other places but still applicable (hopefuly) to the many Western countries


Thursday, December 31, 2009 - 09:33 AM

Nancy Bruning

Steve, you always nail it.  How about expanding upon the multi-use idea and explore ways in which Original Green would improve our health?  For example, I lead a fitness walking class three times a week.  We exercise in a local park, using only gravity, our body weight, and the park features as our "equipment." This is green because it uses a space and "facilities" that are already there and being used for other purposes--so nothing needs to be built for the single purpose of working out.  On Saturdays, we walk an extra mile to a local greenmarket, getting more exercise, getting to know each other and our neighborhood, and supporting local farmers. As you point out, walking and bicycling for transportation are green, and they also help manage weight and improve our health inmany other ways.  In a ripple effect, this potentially cuts down on health care costs. Finally, being physically active  outdoors exposes us to nature, which appears to have extra health benefits, resulting in a more bang for the buck effect.

Friday, January 1, 2010 - 07:29 PM

PK Haeder

   As always these quasi-smart growth and new urbanist articles have all the flavor of the theoretical, and little is directed to the larger issues of the five e's of sustainability working through a practice of governance versus governing. Education right now, one of those e's, is absolutely necessary for a society to live in an urban world, where 200 million envirogees will be more than some TV-producer's wet dream for a reality show. Education is going the way of the three branches of government and that fourth estate, vis-a-vis the wrecking crew a la Frank. Students today are challenged with a culture of fear, a culture of dumb-downing and a culture of abuse syndrome. Without education on all levels, k-12, tech college, two-year cc's, university, professional schools made available and decidedly creative, then we will be a class of people whose rich children will be those who find those hallowed halls, and the rest who have been priced out of education will find what as the alternative?

   Peak everything (water, soil, nitrogen, you name it)  has a lot to do with how buildings are built and cities are planned. We can't allow these 10 green things to be left in a vacuum without the perspective that there will be many more haves not than haves, within this country and throughout the world. Capitalism and corporatism have largely failed, and that reality just is never really brought into planning or green circles. Slow Money is not some far-fetched concept. Relocalizing and community bill of rights and the rights of nature and the rights of the poor will continue to plague the yuppies and new urbanists who just love tidy plans and tidy mixed-use neighborhoods. This economic imbalance will cause resentment, exploitation and strife. We're talking about planners actually looking at the disenfranchised youth and the unemployed young male as part of the planning process. This is not just some workforce challenge; it will challenge civil society on all levels. 

   So, those other E's of the Five? Environment? Acidification of oceans, fisheries collapsing, and major water shortages and agricultural collapses? Our lives must be strategically planned around the fact that we need to prepare for a world that's 7 degrees F warmer, where 850 to 1,000 ppm CO2 will be the limit of our atmosphere in 90 years. Plan for those scenarios. Planners and greenies need to bit the bullet and cross-pollinate and get on political boards and start writing more letters to the editor and create their own Web TV network if change is to occur. Look, the Southwestern USA will be in a continual drought, and temperatures will be over 105 degrees 100 days straight. Chicago having Austin, Texas, like weather in 40 years? Come on, plan for this through bio-regionalism, and begin talking about climate change as real threat to all city and urbanism plans and concepts. 

   It’s too much to go over the equity issue, the other E in Sustainability. And the energy E. We do dwell on the E for Economy way too much.  But integrate these under girders into all sustainability discussions, all talk about land use and ecological and bio-regional planning. Planners need to wake up, get backbone, be activists, and fight for communities and stick together and defy politicians and lawyers. 

   So your heart and CAD images of a new urbanism world are in the right position, but you just fail to see the asymmetrical problems and unintended consequences of a culture that still suffers from a psychology of pre-investment and fails to embrace steady state economics and permaculture.  Chronic drought and chronic unemployment in spots around the world and in our country have everything to do with some grandly designed Portland or Vancouver. We have to stop a country of hyper competitive municipalities and chambers of commerce and building and construction industries that have an eye on huge financial gains. We need planners who see a world where making 3 percent profit is not the most terrible thing. New urbanism is really microcosmic. Think bigger.

Sunday, January 3, 2010 - 11:01 PM

Steve Mouzon

   Nancy, check this one: Parks and Sustainable Places

It's not all you're suggesting (I'll follow up... thanks!) but it's a start.

   PK, I'm not quite sure where to start. Your 5 e's (education, environment, equity, energy, and economy) are all highly laudable aspirations... no quarrels from me on that at all. But what this post is trying to identify is 10 important green trends that may occur in 2010, as opposed to aspirations, which may not take place until much later. But let's get back to what you said... I have no problem with anything you mentioned... except for the fact that it's all so theoretical that I'm struggling to make it real. What's bio-regionalism? We might be doing that already, if I knew what you meant by that. Embracing steady-state economics? Look at the Problem with Consumption blog post a few months ago. It crisply lays our current consuming economy against a conserving economy, which is what I think you're calling for here. Relocalizing? Read back through the blog posts here, and you'll find many calls for things resolved locally rather than globally. Bottom line is, I think we're agreeing... if I only knew what you really mean by the terms you're using.

Monday, January 4, 2010 - 06:02 PM

Chad Cooper

Excellent post, Steve!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - 03:04 PM

Steve Mouzon

Thanks, Chad! And thanks to the sites like Planetizen that have picked up this post! It's also generating lots of re-Tweets on Twitter.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 - 03:06 PM


Excellent Top 10 Steve!

I fear that we as a nation have forgotten many of the important skills we are going to need in the not so distant future (for example #10 local manufacturing, #6 Gardening etc...all 10 really!).  It reminds me of a story about places in Eastern Europe where suddenly, for some reason, there was no one who knew how to make bread in the late 20th century!  We are in an interesting position now because the majority of people alive today do not have the traditional knowledge of these basic things that were common place just 100 years ago.  Most people know how to create little or else none of the things they use and need daily. A lot has been lost and a lot has been foolishly thrown out in just a few generations.  Its tragic really.  Just as the secret of concrete was lost with the fall of the Roman Empire and not rediscovered again for centuries, our negligence as a nation is going to cause us to loose much.  Your efforts to keep traditional wisdom alive can't be appreciated enough.  Thank you.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 - 10:24 PM

Steve Mouzon

Creede, thanks so much! I've never thought of it that way. You've traced a very interesting thread that began with us all being specialists. A specialist, of course, is someone who knows more and more about less and less until they know absolutely everything about only one thing... or some would say "absolutely everything about nothing at all." So the basics of life, which we once all did, are taken out of our hands and given to the specialists. We didn't resist, of course, because all that leisure time was great! But fast-forward to the recent decades of offshoring, which is supposed to make everything run more efficiently. What happens when skyrocketing fuel costs that must necessarily come with peak oil and spiking consumption from China and India begins to deteriorate the worldwide supply chain? We find that many of the basics of life are things we've forgotten how to do! Wow... never quite put all that together until you did... but it all begins with specialization.


© Stephen A. Mouzon 2018