Friday, June 11, 2010
For Local Businesses, the Future of Richmond is Green
Listen to the full story here.
Nearly 30 local businesses and organizations banded together last weekend, featuring everything from local cafes to companies offering free estimates to retrofit your house with solar panels, the one thing they all had in common was obvious: sustainability. They were participating in the city's “Sustainable Richmond” event, held at Gallery 5, where local businesses with a knack for going green gathered to not only demonstrate their wears, but discuss the environmentally conscious and sustainable future of Richmond.
The City of Richmond made a progressive move towards sustainability in March of this year, when Mayor Dwight Jones appointed Alicia Zatcoff as the city’s sustainability manager. The position is the first of its kind for the City of Richmond and was created in part by a grant from the federal government.
“Well I think, you know over all the purpose of having this position is to focus on developing initiatives that support the sustainability priorities for Richmond, which are to help improve the quality of life for our residents and to create a healthy environment and to enhance the economic development and job creation opportunities. So we’re taking a holistic approach to the word, the term ‘sustainability’.”
One of these initiatives was the release of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory. Zatcoff said that the report found and compiled data for the City of Richmond and assessed the amount of greenhouse gases the city is releasing. This report card of sustainability can be used to grade future sustainability efforts.
“For the City of Richmond we’re emitting close to 3 million metric tons equivalent of carbon dioxide. So now that we have our baseline we want to figure out, well how do we reduce that?”
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is key for the future of an overall sustainable city. Spach Trahan works for the Partnership for Smarter Growth, who participated in “Sustainable Richmond” and is a local non-profit that advocates for the smart growth of cities. Trahan says that while Richmond has the potential to dramatically reduce its emissions via public transit, limited access to outlying counties has proven to be a disconnect between the metro and suburban areas.
“A lot of times it’s like, well it’s either not cost effective for them to buy a bus pass, just because they might need to drive to the next stop, so what’s the point, or there just aren’t any available and that’s what we’re seeing a lot is that it’s just not reaching far enough to meet the needs of the region.”
Sustainability also means denser cities and metro areas with less sprawl and outward movement of towns. Trahan notes that while GRTC is mostly efficient and reliable within the city limits, already established outlying counties are being forgotten and forced to remain auto-centric.
“Well we realized that, you know after decades and decades of people moving out of cities that now people are moving back in and so cities are growing and we want to make sure that they’re growing smartly. We don’t want to just be sprawling out and building like we have tons of land and options out there, because we realize that the way we’ve been building in the past hasn’t quite worked out the way we wanted it to.”
For Richmond, these building practices of the past can’t support a sustainable future. Megan Miller, executive director for the James River Green Building Council agrees that reutilizing what has already been established is one of the best ways to spark life in to a city, but remain sustainable by not letting anything go to waste.
“If you look at Old Manchester and what’s happened in that area and Church Hill and what’s happened in that area, it’s slow, but I think that if more parties continue to reinvest in those areas rather than continue to build out and create more sprawl, it’s definitely going to be better for the city in the long run and for the residents.”
The James River Green Building Council works with local design firms and architects to draw plans for the future of the city. Their goal is to help grow the city in a sustainably sound way. For new developments and revitalization of old structures, they employ the L.E.E.D. system, which is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. L.E.E.D. works by use of a point system to signify whether a structure is sustainable or not.
Due to the large amount of historic and antiquated structures in Richmond, Miller says that following the L.E.E.D. system in revitalizing old buildings provides more challenges than simply building a new structure to L.E.E.D. standards.
“It’s kind of an interesting conundrum, because the ‘most green’ building is the one that’s already been built. There’s always the argument of, if you have a totally inefficient building, is it greener to just knock it down and build a whole new one, or is it greener to try and retrofit that building, and there’s no easy answer to that question.”
But building a new structure in a historic city is no easy feat. The James River Green Building Council agrees that keeping the aesthetic of Richmond and whichever city you are in is integral in keeping the public onboard with sustainability and revitalization.