Earth Day began in 1970 with a mission to steer the passions of the day into environmental protection, but things are afoot today that may finally help channel the environmental movement into its real mission: building a better future. American rivers were ablaze in 1970, and industrial cities lived under a perpetual pall belching continuously from its smokestacks. I grew up a hundred miles away from one of them, and one of our playground insults was “you stink like Birmingham.”
Recovering our skies, our waters, and our lands from the ravages of industry’s degradations was the essential first step… no doubt about it. But just as an alcoholic’s eventual goal shouldn’t just be to get sober but to live a better life, our goal as earth’s residents shouldn’t just be to clean up our messes, but to build better places.
Some people have been working on this for a long time. The New Urbanists, for example, started working out ways of building more sustainable places as far back as 1980. More recently, a number of them have taken on the mammoth problem of recovery from the addiction of sprawl.
The engine of sprawl was fueled by the 20th Century’s energy glut and the mirage of perpetual expansion, making it a bloated target for anyone interested in building more sustainably. But sustainability’s allies have also become part of the problem. The LEED rating system, for example, was created with the very best of intentions, but it has also become so flabby that there are now calls for a lean alternative. And place-making regulation at all levels of government, environmental or otherwise, has become not just a thicket, but a complete unnavigable hairball of regulatory centipedes. Conjures up some disgusting images, right?
It’s time to come lean. Fortunately, there’s a small crack team already working on that. The Lean Initiative doesn’t advocate for a complete free-for-all, but rather for “pink tape” instead of red tape… in other words, lightening the load so that more of us can get meaningful stuff done. The Lean Initiative is built on seven Foundations. Here’s a quick look at some of the lean things some of us have been building upon them:
• No equipment is so efficient as the machine that is off. Tweet
• Single-crew workplaces make many business possible in your neighborhood today that would be impossible larger. Tweet
• Build places where you can make a living where you’re living, and walk to the grocery. Tweet
• Working at home should be a basic human right. If it were harmful, humanity would have perished centuries ago. Tweet
• Do business with agreements that don’t require a lawyer to tell you what you agreed to. Tweet
• Don’t advertise. Spam has vaccinated us against ads. Be the marketing you want people to see. Apologies to Ghandi. Tweet
• Sustainable places: nourishable, accessible, serviceable, securable. Green buildings: lovable, durable, adaptable, frugal. Tweet
• Begin every rule “we do this because…” so the people know why, not just what. Consent of the governed arises from why. Tweet
• Whenever possible, set up things that regulate themselves, not requiring lots of external energy to run smoothly. Tweet
• Don’t grow regulatory “scar tissue” the first time something unpredicted goes wrong. (Thanks, Jason Fried!) Tweet
• A building for 2 people should not be regulated like a building for 2,000. In a lean world, regulation follows risk. Tweet
• Free gardens & small farms from industrial food chain regulation. They feed neighbors, not millions of strangers. Tweet
• Those making regulations should be affected by them. We have no right to burden others with loads we do not bear. Tweet
• Regulations must be regional. Green building standards on Cape Cod look ridiculous on the Gulf Coast, and vice versa. Tweet
• Generate services as locally as possible. You can borrow from your neighbors if the outage doesn’t affect them. Tweet
• Make beautiful sights and sounds with the rain, then get it back into the ground as soon as possible. Tweet
• Trading lane width for sidewalk width is one of the best infrastructure exchanges, and full of virtues. Tweet
• No sign of a vibrant, lovable place can be seen from further down the street than a line of street trees. Tweet
• Put parking on streets, on alleys, or in garages. Few things are more corrosive to cities than surface parking lots. Tweet
• Nothing reduces infrastructure as broadly and as much as doing business in your own neighborhood. Tweet
• Dispense with the gym. You can get fully fit working out on a park bench, which should be lean infrastructure's icon. Tweet
• Tell the children why, not just what. With what, you only pass or fail. With why, you can figure stuff out. Tweet
• Today’s kids will spend most of their lives on stuff that doesn’t exist yet. They must learn how to figure stuff out. Tweet
• Embed the greatest wisdom within that which can be loved, so that it may spread broadly. Tweet
• Lessons learned from things nearby stick with us easier than those from things we cannot see. Tweet
• Put homework on blogs, so each student’s work is visible to the world, and commenters help them get it right. Tweet
• Build places that put old and young together because the old are those with the most wisdom and the time to teach it. Tweet
• Combine proverbs with hyperlinks so the idea sticks with you and directs you. This might be education’s future. Tweet
That’s a lot of stuff… what are your thoughts? What parts of this make sense?
You'll receive an email from me with the subject line "Mouzon Design: Please Confirm Subscription." Click Yes to confirm your subscription for Walk Appeal book updates.
Here are my Earth Day reflections... in my opinion, the Lean Initiative may become really important in taking another step beyond recovery and toward building more sustainable places. Recovery, after all, is just about getting our heads above water again. Sooner or later, it's time to get out of the water and up onto solid ground. And that's a lot easier to do without thickets of regulation that were once well-meaning, but are now a great burden.
Wonderful tweets, Steve! Lots of food for thought. Happy Earth Day.
Steve Mouzon is always so eloquent....Follow the traditional, the simple, the human scale, that which nourishes us, and you will find the greenest way of living--the Original Green.
Lean Regulation... I work with regulations everyday and the items below resonate... I will endeavor to keep these in mind as we move forward into the brave new world of not zoning.
• Begin every rule “we do this because…” so the people know why, not just what. Consent of the governed arises from why. (I always try to do this and fellow planners can get a little miffed.)
• Whenever possible, set up things that regulate themselves, not requiring lots of external energy to run smoothly. (We have intelligible complexity in our regs. Keep it simple.)
• Don’t grow regulatory “scar tissue” the first time something unpredicted goes wrong. (Thanks, Jason Fried!) (Our scar tissue is really ugly and makes things hyper complex.)
• A building for 2 people should not be regulated like a building for 2,000. In a lean world, regulation follows risk. (We make the little guys work way too hard.)
Where are these beautiful pictures from? They really underscore your points!
Mary, I just realized I never answered your question... the images in this post are from Hawaii's Big Island, just off the north shore.
January 18, 2017 10:00am