Making Neighborhoods Economically Green.
“If one were to walk down any neighborhood street any where in Chicago a number of architectural issues would become quite apparent. Perhaps the first issue would be the age of the architecture. Depending upon the neighborhood, the architecture of the residential dwellings located on any given block will span more than a century of various building styles. Along with those building styles will be any equally diverse collection of building materials just as there will be just as many different construction techniques that are associated with the craftsmanship that went in to building these buildings over the course of the last century. While there very well be an assortment of add ons to the original architecture of these buildings and these add ons will have a tendency to distract one’s eye and therefore conceal the original architectural integrity of any given residential block, the fact of the matter is Chicago neighborhoods are by and large made up of some rather impressive examples of American residential architecture.”
As this is the case, many more architectural issues can also be noticed. One might very well be the spying of an old horse and buggy carriage house turned garage. Another might be the cast iron door of an old coal chute. Another might be the insulated connectors used to fasten power lines coming from an alleyway utility pole to the back of a house. Another might be an antique water hydrant that is still in service. Yet another might be an amazing set of leaded or stained glass windows placed on either side of an old stone fireplace. In fact, the more one takes the time to truly study the architecture of any given block, the more apparent it is that at one point in time theses houses were considered architecturally, socially, economically and industrially as being quite state of the art.
Yet as time has passed and today a look down the street is also filled with a rather hodgepodge collection of visual distractions that cast a rather confused essay as to what exactly is in store for the buildings in these neighborhoods, what is equally confusing is the fate of the people who occupy these buildings as is the ground these buildings are actually built upon not to mention what goes on beneath the ground beneath these buildings in these Chicago neighborhoods. With the rather enormous task of retrofitting virtually every industrial function even remotely related to Chicago’s neighborhoods staring every Chicagoan squarely in the eye, the question becomes how can we collectively focus our creative energies to accomplish the reconstruction of these neighborhoods and do so in precisely the same manner as the craftspeople of another era embraced when these neighborhoods were in fact first built.
While the answer to this question might appear to be well beyond our collective social grasp here in 2015, is it really?
Particularly when one takes the time to grasp the fact that virtually every technology needed to retrofit our homes and neighborhoods, create jobs and create a dynamic education based public dialog about these technologies stands before us all perhaps not in the manner we have unfortunately grown accustomed to but most certainly in the manner that would suggest that a new urban construction Renaissance is before us all. And, as it is, a new sense of socioeconomic responsibility is resting on our shoulders as well.
When you think about the above statement just for awhile and in doing so focus on the word responsibility, then, in turn, take another look down the street of any block in any neighborhood in Chicago and look at the very crumbling structural nature of all things that are our urban architecture, one simply has to wonder what it will take to form a city wide team of leaders who are in fact looking at that crumbling infrastructure through the lens of those who have to trudge through it on a daily basis simply to get to and from their aging residential architectural dwellings. When such thoughts are considered, it has to become apparent to all that “crumbling infrastructure” is a term that should define virtually every mechanical system that exists collectively on every block. Whether that system be the very roadway that runs down that block, the alleyway that dissects that block, the sewer or water lines that run beneath that block, the electric utility lines that run above that block, the municipal service that removes the trash from that block, the public or privately owned equipment that mow the lawns on that block, the public or private equipment that removes the snow from that block, the city bus that may or may not operate on the public street on that block, the cable or satellite dish companies that service the homes on that block, the taxi cabs that deliver passengers on that block, the food service companies that deliver foods to customers on that block, the medical practitioners who must see clients on that block, both the police and fire departments who must protect the occupants of that block, the building tradespeople who have customers on that block, the kids and adults who ride bicycles on that block, the joggers, the walkers, the dog walkers, the kids coming and going to school every day on that block – no matter what the infrastructure on any given residential (as well as commercial) block in Chicago is, or how it is supposedly defined, it is indeed operating from within an altogether failed and therefore altogether ancient notion of just what infrastructure actually is supposed to be doing for the homeowner and taxpayer in Chicago. In the same breath, the manner in which that infrastructure is currently paid for is equally obsolete and ancient whereas any form of improvements are for the most part financially unattainable due primarily to the fact that the system designed to regulate such improvements was not set up to anticipate the nature of technological change we currently have the capacity to orchestrate today across the board in Chicago.
So, as I’m suggesting that we may not have the social capacity to grasp the depth of restructuring needed to in fact get on with the task of upgrading all aspects of infrastructure servicing our Chicago neighborhoods, in fact, we again do.
Going up a few paragraphs and rereading the list of infrastructures that are currently supporting our neighborhoods is important here simply because a great deal of the infrastructures we currently rely upon for our daily Chicago living were add on infrastructures to the original architectural footprint of our original neighborhoods. As they are and we have grown accustomed to viewing a hodgepodge of contraptions mounted on our rooftops, parked in our driveways or stuffed into a menagerie of backyard storage sheds, the reason these contraptions are so haphazardly scattered is due largely to the fact that while someone came along and invented the satellite dish and went about plopping the damn thing atop the roofs of otherwise beautiful and historic Chicago based residential architecture, the finish carpenters or metal fabricators that would have assured the round nature of the satellite dish was artfully integrated into the original architectural character of a given home were replaced by aluminum ladder climbing satellite technicians who knew little to nothing about architectural detailing whatsoever.
In other words, whereas once entire neighborhoods were built with a comprehensive knowledge of every industrial function known at the time, the advent of the satellite dish represented the architectural downgrading of the original neighborhood home while in the same breath represented the architectural and economic downgrading of the master tradesmen of another much more artistically fluid era in Chicago’s remarkable architectural history. In today’s wholly non sustainable Chicago socioeconomic logic, the notion of – “Who needs to think about an unsightly satellite dish now that those who live in that house are able to mindlessly watch well over 200 television channels.” – entirely replaces the larger sustainable economic logic of viewing the dish itself as but a minute part of what most certainly can become a much larger part of a total neighborhood architectural revitalization initiative. To the point where an entire neighborhood of once beautiful homes is now cluttered with multiple satellite dishes and a host of such items as plastic lawn chairs and half erect patio umbrella tables tossed randomly about by Chicago’s wind, collectively this menagerie of non substantive economic junk in turn diminishes architecturally the actual financial value of real neighborhood property. Whereas what I am stating above might be somewhat of a stretch to comprehend or to demonstrate as being a cause for declining property values, the point is, the satellite dish is, but an analogy to a monstrously crippling obsession Chicagoan s’ as well people who live in cities throughout America have with the development of the infrastructure of cheap, instant gratification based retailing as opposed to the advanced and systematic development of economically sustainable neighborhood infrastructure.
Something such as rainwater runoff management via rainwater collection and disbursement both of which have the remarkably dynamic economic potential for creating entirely new sub construction industries in every neighborhood in Chicago that have the very clear and real potential to once again focus on the technologically advanced retrofitted and artistically restored architectural beauty of the original neighborhood home?
Fostering the growth of a multitude of artistic building trade groups while in turn providing a truly viable, neighborhood based rainwater management public utility that is easily paid for by all and is as well quite expandable to include garden watering systems, house plant watering systems?
Does the list go on and on?
By simply defining or cognitively redefining Chicago City Building Codes to reflect the fact that virtually every technology sector has a host of building trade sectors associated with that technology and whose total infrastructure based economic growth is indeed crucial for all who live and work in the City of Chicago to realize, the fluid economic result is simply without any argument whatsoever. Thus as the question of whether or not Chicagoan s are capable of socially adapting to these technologies comes with an assumption that the city’s leaders are capable of disciplining themselves to write the right laws that affect the right outcome for the right environmental reasons, these same leaders must also be writing the right laws for the right industrial and economic reasons as well as writing the right laws for the right community or neighborhood based educational reasons.
Whereas municipalities nationwide are adopting one form of green residential building code or another, the fact of the matter is that the majority of these codes are being established for energy efficiency with the outcome being the attainment of a certain set of emission standards some thirty years down the road, As this is of course an admirable goal, the broader goal of truly diversified economic development remains lacking. What good is an American city with higher emission standards if in fact it also has no job growth. As for far too long in Chicago as well as across America, building codes have been looked upon as a necessary tool to assure among other issues building quality and safety, looking upon them instead as crucial tools for economic development particularly today is both terribly exciting and in fact economically mandatory. We simply don’t have any other choice other than to view building codes as the industrial and educational as well as economic bridges they must immediately now become. Whereas talking about rainwater is but one industrial discussion that encapsulates or meets multiple socioeconomic needs, the moment the industries associated with rainwater management begin to co mingle with the personal transportation industries capable of being fueled by natural gas yet another form of industrial co mingling emerges which of course is just as economically dynamic as rainwater management.
As the point to greening a residential neighborhood is in fact establishing a certain environmental benchmark, the technologies in our possession today enable us to define that benchmark to levels never before attainable, But, as they do, sustaining the architectural character of the original neighborhood is crucial due primarily to the fact that in as much as an old horse and buggy carriage house was converted somewhere along the line to a garage that held gasoline powered automobiles, it is still more or less a horse and buggy carriage house again today. With the urban automobile taking on entirely new definitions, retrofitting the carriage house to meet the industrial needs identified within that new definition is in fact our responsibility to accomplish. Thus as the likelihood of bringing a team of horses back to that residential carriage house seems unlikely, the establishment of small scale urban farms at which those horses may work and live is not. Neither of course is the notion of taking the gas or electric car parked in that carriage house out to that urban farm to pick up the family produce and pet the horse. Then of course there is that 21st century horse manure.
As going back in time is something that is primordial in nature and inherent to everyone’s personal experience, doing do is somewhat contrary to the fact that we are as humans more or less industrial by nature and therefore inventive in motivation. While in many ways we simply can’t sit still, the fact of the matter is we often move too fast and in the process of doing so forget how to use the very tools that help us in our inventive process. When you think about that satellite dish for a minute and realize that all that it has done is to expose us all to billions of bits of more or less useless information, the old neighborhood takes on that much more meaning in that the tools that first built that neighborhood and may be somewhat obsolete are in fact the ones we stare at while sitting in the carriage house while replenishing our natural organic industrial inventiveness. With that inventiveness now more or less at a peak collectively throughout Chicago and the nation, with that inventiveness wrapped entirely around our combined understanding of a rather diverse mixed energy based utility and transportation platform, with that inventiveness compelling us to rethink the use of our roads and parks, schools and factories, retail and service sector industries, medical and food services, multifaceted urban transportation networks, it is again only building codes that can successfully define land use, zoning parameters, distribution networks, taxing authorities, funding mechanisms, mortgage instruments, etc. all of which when thought of intelligently more or less should be structured neighborhood by neighborhood from within the distant someone on a horse probably traveled daily more than a century ago.
If one thinks about the origins of Ford Motor Company and the invention of the assembly line and draw from those thoughts a blueprint for our 21st century mixed energy use economy and again establish a starting line from which all these new technologies are launched from, most likely that starting line will be found very close to the door of the carriage house that both the horse and the Model A Ford exited from during entirely different industrial periods (as well as dynamic economic cycles). If one thinks a bit further and draws into that thought process the mileage range of the typical electric car today, it is again quite uncanny that the horse, the Model A Ford and now the new electric car all had a similar mileage range and all were the focus of the construction of local roads that made that range traveled comfortable to those who rode what they rode. As the reason I am bringing this up is to point out the fact that funding for any sort of roadway improvements is virtually non existent in our current industrial and economic model today, the primary reason it is not is due to the fact that we have not built the regulatory framework that would allow all of the micro industries that are currently waiting to come on line to come online. Thus again it is the introduction of building codes and only the introduction of building codes that will direct our nation out of our 20th century industrial malaise and into our 21ts century industrial renaissance by once again focusing our economic starting point on the roads within our neighborhoods as opposed to the roads that link our neighborhoods. If the roads within neighborhoods are rededicated to fully support the basic transportation functions (albeit more technologically advanced today), the refined definition of residential as well as commercial and industrial not to mention construction related traffic on those roads will naturally include linking the roads of a given neighborhood to the roads of another neighborhood. Whereas one neighborhood may have more of an industrial transportation need than say an agricultural or medical transportation need, such transit based articulation of those needs, when thoughtfully combined clearly support the ongoing improvement of those roadbeds on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis.
The same holds true for the homes in every Chicago neighborhood. Whereas so many of these homes were built in entirely separate industrial eras out of entirely different types of raw materials, with entirely different types of tools and equipment, the ability to afford a home was made possible due to the fact that whoever did have a home built back then was more than likely employed in an industry that was directly related to some facet of the original home and community building process.
What is interesting about our nation’s residential real estate market today is that virtually no one in America is really very willing to put their house on the market. As there are numerous assumptions by a wide range of market professionals who claim to have an in depth understanding as to why nobody is willing to move off of their own front porch, there is but only one reason America, by and large, is simply staying put. – That reason is that America no longer has a functioning nationwide industrial infrastructure model – meaning no one in America has any real clue as to why it is they are doing what it is they are doing in order to make a living. As the general concept behind making money is to use that money to improve one’s overall personal lifestyle, it would clearly be a stretch to find someone today who is actually doing so.
When you really think about improving one’s personal lifestyle and a rather significant part of that lifestyle has to do with living in a neighborhood chock full of joy based amenities, when it comes to the holistic 21st century improvements the list of amenities not found in Chicago s’ neighborhoods is really quite endless. Whereas Chicago has a rather impressive network of parks, for the most part these parks are in much the same condition as the homes surrounding these parks, beautiful in stature yet obsolete in function. But then we have fledgling start up theme parks sprouting up in Chicago land. A case in point here is Chicago’s Department of Housing and Economic Development’s Green Healthy Neighborhoods initiative which is the visualization of a thirteen acre tract of land whose focus is on turning that south side Englewood Neighborhood acreage into a green urban agricultural farm.
Needless to say such an initiative speaks volumes about the overall craving Chicagoans have for dynamic interactive joy based amenities that can only really be found in Chicago’s remarkable network of city parks. Within a much larger joy based park scenario are performing arts pavilions, year round swimming facilities, conservatories and field houses, walking, running and bicycling thruways connecting city parks to alley ways while connecting alleyways with light duty alternative energy powered vehicle fleets that are of course linked to that century old carriage house once again.
As that alleyway is linked to the carriage house, it is as well linked to the house house that belongs to that carriage house As the house house is the house house that nobody in America is willing to part with and this fact is truly baffling a wide range of market professionals, again what those market professionals don’t quite grasp is that Chicagoans just like all other Americans are simply demanding that the potential beauty of there fully retrofitted home along with the potential renovated beauty of municipality anchored joy based amenities actually creates a neighborhood environment that fosters among other things an honest and professional mechanism for real property valuation, real neighborhood based micro industrial and retail growth and of course real neighborhood based long term and fully sustainable, multidimensional service sector job growth.
If one would take a look at say a typical Craftman Style Chicago home or a typical Chicago Brownstone style home and in doing so strip away anything and everything that was not first installed on that home and into that home the year it was built, you would be left with “three things.”
The “first thing” would be “a sizable amount of recyclable construction debris.”
The “second thing” would be another sizable amount of appliances, plumbing fixtures, light fixtures and electrical wiring, carpeting, vinyl products, ceramic products, metal parts, plastic parts, fiberglass stuff – stuff that will require a fair amount of processing in order to get the varied components of this stuff broken down, sorted out and then shipped off to where ever it was that the stuff came from in the first place.
At last, the “third thing” you would be left with is the original Craftsman Style or Chicago Brownstone home stripped down to the original finished home prior to any form of year 2015 post construction updating whatsoever.
What is interesting about the “three things” just mentioned is that none of these three things are actually things. Instead they are commodities and quite sizable commodities at that. As a commodity by definition is something of value that can be bought or sold or exchanged for something of equal value, each of these “three things” are trade-able commodities, or, more specifically, they are a combination of things that each have a trade factor associated with them. In other words, “a sizable amount of recyclable construction debris” is in fact a diversified collection of different types of construction materials that when treated properly can be re-introduced into the neighborhood industrial revenue stream. Once each type of building material is identified, for the most part, there are a host of construction debris based commodity markets from which these materials can not only be resold and re-purposed, but refinanced and re-regulated as well.
As what I am stating here is simply common knowledge and in fact construction materials have been recycled for quite time, for the most part, these materials are really only profitable to recycle if the construction markets needing such materials are flourishing either locally, regionally or nationally. Unfortunately today in 2015, virtually every construction sector in America is down considerably from any other historic period. As this is due exclusively to the fact that we simply do not have an operational industrial infrastructure anywhere in our America today, the question again becomes – How in fact do we create such an infrastructure whose growth is solely dedicated to the retrofitting of entire neighborhoods in Chicago or anywhere else in America?
The answer to this question is of course volume. Creating construction volume in the residential sector, the commercial sector and the light industrial sector simultaneously within a specific neighborhood or several if not all neighborhoods throughout Chicago land simultaneously.
In order to accomplish such a goal it is imperative to be able to define any and all type of construction to take place in any neighborhood as not simply the construction of or reconstruction of one individual property but to again define the entire neighborhood as a holistic construction zone in precisely the same manner as that neighborhood was looked upon back when it was first built by the whole community. Thus, once “a sizable amount of recyclable construction debris.” from one home is multiplied by a thousand homes, we truly have created a substantial, neighborhood based commodity exchange. Given the fact that an awful lot of recyclable construction debris is re-purposed and in doing so finds its’ way into our industrial revenue stream being re-purposed for roadway resurfacing, needless to say once the use of neighborhood roads and alleyways and walkways and bike ways has been re-stated and redesigned, the commodities needed to rebuild these corridors already exist within the neighborhood to do so.
The “second thing” mentioned above “would be another sizable amount of appliances, plumbing fixtures, light fixtures and electrical wiring, carpeting, vinyl products, ceramic products, metal parts, plastic parts, fiberglass stuff – stuff that will require a fair amount of processing in order to get the varied components of this stuff broken down, sorted out and then shipped off to where ever it was that the stuff came from in the first place.”
This is kind of a fun thing to think about here.
Let’s say that the Craftsman style home you are living in was built in 1910. Along with this home, several other homes on the block you are living in were also built during the same time frame. Some of these homes were Craftsman style homes such as your own, others were of another architectural style, but, by and large, your home and most of the others were built on that block say between 1906 and 1916. Again as this was happening on your block and several other blocks in your entire neighborhood at about the same time, small retail businesses were also being built just as were small to midsize factories all of which had something to do with building the homes in your neighborhood.
Considering that these homes were built between 1906 and 1916 and now today it is 2015, everything that was ever purchased for that home after 1916 represented products designed to improve the lifestyle of those who initially had the house built. Essentially with one thing always leading to another the “second thing”, – “another sizable amount of appliances,…………..” has been growing in that home, in that homes basement or attic or in the carriage house adjacent to that home for 100 years. As it is within the nature of most people to hold onto to things well beyond the time that such things have outlived their useful life, it is not the least bit uncommon to find homes filled with things that are for all practical purposes, useless.
But, are these things useless?
Considering the fact that most of the neighborhood businesses that either made or sold these things have long since been boarded up and now a substantial amount of Chicago’s neighborhoods have numerous businesses that are still boarded up, the products these businesses sold are very much still around. As in the case of an old refrigerator that no longer works and must be discarded, in order for the materials used to make the refrigerator to be recycled the refrigerator must be taken apart piece by piece and then and only then can those materials be placed once again into our industrial revenue stream. As this entire process is somewhat costly and unless there is a considerable quantity of a given material, the notion of looking upon these parts as a commodity is somewhat limited meaning that by and large, people remain stuck with the same stuff that seventy years ago was deemed useless just as it remains useless today in 2015.
But, are these things useless?
One answer of course is that they are indeed useless. Yet, in the same breath, every neighborhood in Chicago has boarded up businesses, actual pieces of historic architectural commercial real estate that is just as useless. As neither the refrigerator nor the commercial building seemingly have any contemporary 2015 infrastructural function, as they are both more or less economic drains on the neighborhoods they exist in, just like the carriage house, both of these items can be industrially re-purposed and both of these items can and should be viewed as what they once were – economic anchors for and to the neighborhood. In the same breath, both of these entities should be high technology job creators for the neighborhood while at the same be educational anchors for the community.
To accomplish this task, it is again imperative for progressive building codes to flourish within a neighborhood. As the notion of allowing building codes to flourish might be somewhat of an oxymoron. As the notion of a building code being viewed upon as something beneficial to the community might very well be met with the rhetorical and historical “How much is it going to cost me?”,or, “Stay out of my business.”, the fact of the matter remains that both the old refrigerator and the old commercial building were once a part of a dynamic industrial infrastructure that is clearly obsolete but is as well, not the least bit obsolete. Having said this, once an old refrigerator has been stripped of its innards, it remains an ice box. Just as the carriage house once held a horse, was modified to hold a Model T Ford and is now being modified to hold a battery powered car, the carriage house still needs an ice box and so of course does the community have a need to put things in the ice box, actually lots of things, all of which have a decidedly 21st century high tech slant to them.
Getting back to the unused commercial real estate property.
Let’s for a moment consider the very real possibility that very few refrigerators will be converted into ice boxes. As this might very well be the case, there is, none the less, an extraordinary amount of junk to be disposed of in a typical home pretty much anywhere in America. As that junk will have an enormous amount of raw materials all of which were manufactured during one industrial era or another, that junk must have some place within the neighborhood where it can be intelligently and prosperously managed. Thus vacant commercial neighborhood real estate that for all practical purposes was only abandoned due to the advancement in manufacturing technology remains at its core, the most cost effective physical space from which parts associated with the products manufactured actually have a place to again become a part of the industrial economic cycle once again.
Whereas the possibility of converting old refrigerators into something more modern might have a somewhat limited future vision attached to doing so, when all components of that refrigerator have a central point of economic exchange, the currently vacant commercial building that houses these parts also has the ability to house the advanced technology products that replace the old refrigerator to begin with. In other words, if ”John’s Green Refrigerator Store in Wicker Park, Chicago, Illinois” is selling state of the art refrigeration units in one part of the store while serving as a recycling point for materials stripped from old refrigeration units and in turn “artfully retrofitting” old refrigeration units, the multifaceted framework of that store’s business model becomes not only a blueprint for John’s long term private retail and service sector business growth model, but in turn becomes a blueprint for a much broader neighborhood as well as Chicago citywide “Total Waste Stream Management Platform” that once articulated into virtually every aspect of industry that had or still is manufacturing items for Chicago’s homes, simply has the proper and comprehensive regulatory venue from which to do so.
As it is again, only the adoption of multifaceted neighborhood and Chicago citywide building codes that are designed to constructively and positively guide homeowners and commercial property owners to all of the benefits of living in contemporarily retrofitted dwellings, it is as well only from within these same building codes will Chicago’s 21st century building trades have the capacity to educationally and economically expand and grow as well. In the same breath from within the framework of these same building codes, the neighborhoods and the city of Chicago as a whole will find the regulatory basis for establishing new retail shopping district modeling parameters, new inter neighborhood freight delivery parameters, new warehousing parameters and of course substantially more diverse taxation and municipal revenue growth parameters all of which are long term and constantly sustainable and/or renewable in statute.
“At last, the “third thing” you would be left with is the original Craftsman Style or Chicago Brownstone home stripped down to the original finished home prior to any form of year 2015 post construction updating or “green 21st century retrofitting” whatsoever.”
If in fact a home built 100 years ago were stripped entirely of anything that was not built in that specific era, what would be left is a very much uninterrupted portrait of a rather organic architectural past. In turn, what would be discovered is an equally uninterrupted portrait of a rather dynamic and equally organic industrial past. To the extent of what collectively was known by a rather large urban population, this time period simply represented a unique socioeconomic fluidity between the manufacturer, the artisan, the educator and the politician all of which was wrapped around a more or less organic integration of everything man made with everything earthly made. In essence, and, to coin a rather well used phrase, America was “one with nature”.
As it was, all of the man made industrial systems created interacted seamlessly with the sun, the wind, the water, the traveler’s roads, the farmer’s pasture, the butcher’s livestock, the doctor’s black satchel, the grocery store’s shelves, the lumber yard’s railroad car, the paint store’s and the hardware store’s inventory, the foundries’ pipes, the woodworker’s shop, the brick layer’s brick yard and on and on. At any rate, once that 100 year old Craftsman style home has been stripped of everything manufactured after that era, blueprinting the 21st century green retrofitting of that home becomes the issue.
A good place to start such a retrofit is in the middle of the living room floor looking out the living room window in absolute silence. The first thing to look at is the mature trees in front of the house. As those trees have wonderful shade they also have roots that over the last 100 years have more or less destroyed the clay tile sewer pipes that originally connected the house with a municipal sewer line running beneath the road in the front of this house or running down the alley in the back. As these house sewer lines are bad so to are the city sewer lines and if you follow the city sewer lines to the sewage treatment plant you’ll find the sewage treatment plant is just as bad. So, in other words, as your standing in your living room in silence, contemplating all of the ancient architectural ambiance you feel around you, the cost of replacing your sewer line begins to add up.
Standing there in silence some more, you begin to hear a drip, drip, drip coming from somewhere in the house or maybe outside the house. Leaving the living room, you enter into the kitchen only to discover the faucet isn’t turned off. Thinking that you found the drip you turn the faucet all the way off, the leak there stops, but the sound of dripping persists. Where it is coming from however is still a mystery so you head down the hall to the bathroom only to discover the bathtub faucet leaking. Needless to say after shutting one valve after another completely off there is still that dripping sound. So you go outside, shutoff the hose bibs which are leaking and again you hear the sound of water leaking. Thinking that you are going mad, you head down to the basement only to discover the drip coming from the “city side” of the water meter out of what looks like an old soft lead pipe that has been twisted and turned by the same tree roots as your sewer lines. Well with the leak coming from the city side, you call the Chicago water department and they come out to shut your water off at the buffalo box located close to the curb in the front of your house.
Now you and the city worker hear a drip. This drip is apparently coming from some spot smack dab in the middle of the street about 50 yards from your home. The city worker call his department head and soon there after an entire crew from the Chicago water department is in the middle of your street with two dump trucks, one towing a heavy duty steel trailed with a heavy duty back hoe atop it and five city workers, seven with you and the first guy you called. Together, all of you manage to dig up the street, find the leak, patch it, clean up after your selves, shut the dump trucks and the backhoe off and in silence stand around the repaired water line and hear a drip coming from about fifty yards up the road.
Twelve miles later, 130 people including yourself end up at one of Chicago’s water treatment plants only to discover the leak is actually coming from Lake Michigan itself.
Back in your living room again and this time in stunned silence, you begin to calculate the cost of replacing your sewer system inside and outside the house, your water system inside and outside of your house and the cost of doing the same for the entire city of Chicago. Needless to say, retrofitting that 100 year old Craftsman home is beginning to resemble something a wee bit more complex that calling a plumber to install some new pipes. Being a positive thinking “green homeowner” you jot down the numbers, walk around the living a bit more then head down the hallway to check out the bedrooms. Reaching for the light switch at the beginning of that hall, you turn it on and – no lights. Flicking the switch up and down a few times and still no light. Going to other parts of the house and still no lights. Looking out the front window, you notice it appears darker outside than it would normally be at the time of day it now is. Curious, you step out onto the front porch only to discover that a giant limb from the same tree that has been eating up your sewer and water lines for the last 100 years has fallen from the tree only to land on and shear from the side of your house, the electric power lines that are supposed to power your hall lights. With only a cell phone, you call the electric utility provider and report the down limb and the down wires. While waiting, you decide to take a walk down to the basement again, this time hoping to catch a glimpse at your power panel. Much to your surprise, you discover that you don’t just have one power panel but 36, each with a date written on them and the name of the electrician(s) who worked at upgrading your own personal electric utility grid inside of your home for the past 100 years.
While down in the basement, thinking about the cost of the electric work needed to be done in your 21st green retrofitted Craftsman style Chicago neighborhood home, you here of all things, another drip. Thinking that you have entirely lost your mind, you listen more intently and discover that the drip is coming from an outside corner of the basement and pooling on the basement floor on its way to the now non electrified electric panel. Fearing for your life, you decide to go outside only to discover that it is raining cats and dogs and the water that is supposed to be running off your roof into gutters, is instead dribbling down the original 5” fir beveled siding of your Craftsman style home and finding its way into your basement.
Needless to say by the end of this whole ordeal, you have come to the conclusion that perhaps Chicago might not be the place you want to live in and in your resignation go out and sit on your covered front porch to stare at your downed tree, the next door neighbors downed tree and power lines, the flooded Chicago streets swollen with rainwater because the storm sewers have collapsed, a car across the street crushed by another tree and then just a bit farther down the block you see the six guys from the water department who fixed the first leak in front of your house rescuing an old woman from slowly flooding basement waters.
Now, as the entire scenario above is amusing on some absurdly irrational level, it is as well, humorless, as it is as well, entirely true. This scenario is an absolute given in the city of Chicago. It is also an absolute given in every other city in America. As that given is all about the fact that we really, in all honesty, don’t have a functioning industrial infrastructure anywhere in our America today. Even though we have all of the technologies in the world required to fix the aforementioned calamity, it is the lack of an overall industrial infrastructure that is the problem.
For decades now we have known about the fact that our infrastructure is crumpling and there are all kinds of people in America working now just as they have been for decades on solutions to this problem, and, there have been some examples of urban successes in undertaking this endeavor, the sheer magnitude of the problem is in my view being caused by the fact that we are seeking the solution at the beginning of the problem but instead seeking a solution as an attachment to the problem meaning that just like a computer virus, these attachments are extensions of the problem that remains among other things, virtually impossible to fund. Yes, as funding is indeed at the root cause of of diminished industrial infrastructure it is only so because we are not looking at the beginning of the process in order to begin the process anew once again.
If in fact a home built 100 years ago were stripped entirely of anything that was not built in that specific era, what would be left is a very much uninterrupted portrait of a rather organic architectural past. In turn, what would be discovered is an equally uninterrupted portrait of a rather dynamic and equally organic industrial past.
As you may or may not agree with the above statement, it is entirely true. So the question becomes how do we replicate that truth in our 21st green industrial century?
Once a home in a given Chicago neighborhood is entirely stripped down to its original architectural footprint, what must take place at the same time is stripping the neighborhood block the home has been built on of all the utilities going into that particular home. At the same time, removing entirely aged and deteriorated landscape from the property must be done as well. Whereas this must be done for one home on any given block that is about to undergo a substantial 21st century green energy upgrade, the fact of the matter is that every home on the entire block should be doing the same thing in quite the same manner and for precisely the same reason over the course of a period of time than can be accurately measured (ie: five years, ten years, twenty), regulated, publicly and privately funded and used the primary model for all future 21st century neighborhood based industrial infrastructure management.
Whereas I have written quite a bit about the overwhelming need we have to establish truly advanced building codes, needless to say the nature and scope of improvements required of all aspects of our public utility infrastructure needs to adhere to even more dynamic building codes as these utilities are simply the big economic engines of our 21st century mixed energy based urban economies, or if not “big economic engines”, most assuredly they are the structural economic bridge builders of that economy. With that in mind, these utilities still need to start at the same beginning as the homeowner must start at when retrofitting his 1910 Craftsman style Chicago neighborhood home with 21st century mixed energy technologies.
As the key to this whole conversation is the ability to define just exactly what is a mixed energy technology, one really doesn’t have to go very far to find answers. In fact, a very good place to start is with the front tree that destroyed the water and sewer lines while also disrupting power to the Craftsman style Chicago house.
A tree is planted for several reasons. One of those reasons is simple aesthetics, another is for simple shade and yet another is all about watching the tree grow as one’s family grows. Whereas all of this is, on the surface, pretty much time honored in belief, needless to say beneath the surface is an altogether different story. As aging trees are causing massive infrastructure problems throughout Chicago’s neighborhoods, it might be time to incorporate a much more comprehensive educational/legislative parameter to the tree growing and planting process. Beginning with the wholesale uprooting of trees on a given neighborhood block to facilitate getting at and replacing any and all underground or above ground utilities that have been destroyed by those trees, extending to the environmental replacement of those trees to accommodate such technologies as either solar or wind energy and/or ground water and rainwater control technologies, needless to say such an endeavor is long over due.
But as it is, crafting a simple tree removal or maintenance ordinance is not in any manner whatsoever either scientifically or environmentally sound. In the same breath, the thought of uprooting so many tress throughout Chicago would be economically prohibitive. With the above facts in mind and focusing on the concept of developing mixed energy technologies, The tree actually has an industrial relationship with any underground utility or above ground utility that occupies either the air space or the subterranean space around the tree. As it does the removal of an existing tree as well as the installation of new trees are indeed a part of a neighborhoods’ broader mixed energy mandate.
Getting into the replacement of sewer lines and fresh water supply lines after the removal of trees is the next step. But one that cannot be done until an entire mixed energy audit is performed on that 1910 Craftsman style Chicago home. As within the framework of such an audit, a host of mixed energy technologies would most certainly be capable of being integrated into the architectural footprint of any home, the simple removal of a tree or two, the subsequent removal of the old underground utilities as well as the removal of all concrete pavement from the building more or less leaves nothing but the original house and the original piece of property to study and re-engineer. When one considers the above scenario for a moment, most likely it would be beneficial to research topographical maps of a neighborhood to determine just what would be involved in putting the land back to its original rolling nature. As doing so will determine the existence of such things as creek beds and natural surface water runoff patterns, it will as well determine the viability of geothermal well placement, vertical or horizontal wind turbines, ground water collection points, solar collector placement and of course the final placement of underground utilities, sidewalks and driveways as well as gardens and outdoor recreation spaces and that infamous carriage house.
What takes place in this all inclusive 21st century mixed energy technology design and engineering process is that all possible mixed energy variables are included in the broader neighborhood economic plan. As they are, all possible job requirements are identified, all possible manufacturing entities are identified, all possible regulatory parameters are fully articulated, all city wide building codes work fluidly together and not only does the 1910 Craftsman style home get retrofitted, the entire block does as well – if not perhaps immediately but most certainly over the course of a few very well staged years as I’ve mentioned before. Whereas it most certainly would be fun if the entire block was indeed retrofitted all at once, whether or not this happens, having had an entire block wide design and engineering symposium would indeed enable everyone who lived on that block to anticipate and schedule the whole house renovations slated to be executed over the course of those next several years.
What is nice about this approach is that virtually every square inch of a residential block having anything whatsoever to do with the installation of in ground or above ground mixed energy public utilities would benefit from a significantly higher valuation of both public and private property.
Think about this.
Would you rather own a 1910 Craftsman style Chicago home that was somewhat restored sitting on a Chicago city block that was virtually crumbling, or, would you rather have a fully retrofitted and fully restored 2015 Craftsman style home that was sitting on a parcel of private property connected to all other properties on that block that had 100% new utilities as well as progressive new funding mechanisms that were simply released from the 20th century public utility model that finally went broke?
What would the appraised value of a fully retrofitted city block in Chicago actually be worth?
When you consider every vacant retail store is full, every park within a neighborhood is essentially new, when bicycle paths fully integrated into the newly designed sidewalks, driveways, alley ways and streets coincide with electric or natural gas charging stations? The question again really becomes the attainable depth of municipal building code interaction with our public utilities, our design and building trades, our community colleges and/or satellite neighborhood adult education facilities and essentially the simple ebb and flow of American life once again industrially understood much the same as it was 100 years ago.
With the retrofitting of one entire block out of the way, the retrofitting of the public utilities running above or below the streets and alleyways paralleling that block begins.
Whereas the newly retrofitted homes on the newly retrofitted block have nothing but new mixed energy technologies constantly interacting with one another, whereas the advanced nature of this interaction is to add more mixed energy control systems at the receiving end of the infrastructure chain as opposed to placing these technologies at the beginning of the infrastructure chain, the reason for doing so is simply the fact that our knowledge of mixed energy technologies has evolved considerably. Thus with one neighborhood block fully retrofitted, the burden on the main city infrastructure is lessened considerably. As this is the case, the likelihood of needing to rebuild entirely something such as a city water purification plant is supplanted by the broader knowledge that far less purified water is needed when all known mixed energy technologies are integrated into or out off the treatment process all along the newly engineered pathway to that water treatment facility.
The same is true of the city’s sewer system, and, in fact, perhaps more so as the definition of waste water has been so diversified via a much more comprehensive understanding of water use, harvesting and processing. Beginning with rainwater while at the same time remembering that the retrofitted city block has been re-landscaped to a particular neighborhood’s original topography, natural paths of water travel will more likely than not dictate the location of storm water retention and management technologies. Within the same breath, rainwater from roof tops will be engineered to be stored and distributed for future irrigation while also anticipating the obvious fact that whatever is built to store rainwater will most certainly over flow thus requiring storm water spillways or spill pipes connected to spillways to be technologically monitored. Then there is gray water, the water that comes from such usages as washing clothes, washing cars and perhaps washing bodies. All of this water, not to mention traditional fresh water usage all must have a system that is more or less unto itself. As it does the mechanisms required to integrate all water into a city’s municipal water system will become far more diverse and interactional in nature requiring more task specific neighborhood based treatment facilities than traditional and currently overburdened city wide treatment waste water treatment facilities.
To address the notion again of creating a much more diverse collection of municipal public utility entities that are self funded due largely to the fact that the establishment of new definitions of such issues as storm water management create entirely new industries from which those in the private sector can profit from by owning and operating these industries and the public utility sector charged with regulating the private sector can profit from via city wide taxation.
The next utility to address as we move down the street and the alleyway towards the next Chicago neighborhood retrofitted block is electricity, and, specifically, underground electric transmission line retrofitting. This is of course a big one as electricity has so much political weight attached to its’ production and distribution, when in the same breath, the need to improve our nations overall power transmission grid is as obvious to the electrical engineer as it is to to the home owner who trips a circuit breaker each time the kitchen toaster is turned on when someone in the bathroom is using a blow dryer.
Needless to say, the discussion over retrofitting a city’s entire electrical grid is complex if in fact that discussion is anchored to traditional discussions such as rate hikes or whether or not fuel supply can be purchased somewhere out of state for a cheaper price. As these two discussions are about as pointless as introducing woven woolen Indian blankets, camp fires and smoke signals into the national discussion on telecommunications, the real issue is again the fact that we have an enormous amount of mixed energy electrical generation and storage technologies entirely capable of meeting a broad host of site specific or architecturally specific or regionally specific electrical generation and supply needs as those needs are dealt with traveling from street to street or from alleyway to alleyway all the way back to the original regional main frame electrical generation plant that of course is intricately connected to our overall national electric power grid.
Having said the above, there has never been such a time in the entire evolutionary history of industrialization where it could accurately be said that a single neighborhood might clearly have the mixed energy management based know how to produce all of the electric energy needed to “task specifically electrify” the retrofitted homes of that neighborhood. With a combination of several seemingly competing energy technologies properly integrated into our American neighborhood’s, not only is the strain on our “primary power generation central” decentralized, but through such decentralization significant clusters of extremely high tech micro-electrical co generation facilities clearly materialize.
To characterize the dynamic nature of the kind of power decentralization Chicago neighborhoods are capable of producing, I am going to once again refer to the strategic removal of trees from a given Chicago neighborhood along with the equally strategic re-engineering and redesigning of the existing topography of a given neighborhood back to a time of far less neighborhood density and excessive horticultural over growth both of which are the only real physical and economic impediments to achieving a far more advanced blueprint of neighborhood based task specific electrical energy based self sustainability.
As it probably seems to be a bit ridiculous to continuously discuss the need to remove trees from Chicago’s neighborhood’s, the discussion is none the less crucial due to the fact that the trees that have been planted in these neighborhoods were essentially planted by man in a geographical area that if left to mother nature would have never had trees to begin with. When one thinks about the above statement, and, rationally chooses to agree with the original industrial premise behind it, the trees that were planted 100 years ago were planted as an aspect of America’s total functioning industrial know how back then. Today however, not only is the tree causing serious damage to our utility infrastructure but it is in turn causing substantial damage to our actual stock of historic residential architecture. As it has been thoroughly documented, excessive accumulation of residential tree lined streets serve to completely alter the natural wind currents that would otherwise exist both at ground level and mature tree level if in fact the trees were not there.
In other words, whereas the problem with excessive mold build up in homes is of course a result of layers upon layers of “modern building materials” being improperly installed over original building materials, the actual problem, which of course is quite infrastructural in nature, is that anticipated, naturally occurring, ground level exterior air flow which 100 years ago was engineered into Chicago’s neighborhood architecture via the installation of operational basement windows that captured those air currents and drew those low level air currents into homes that allowed those same currents to rise naturally and escape naturally through the house have now all been disrupted due again to poorly designed and hopelessly over built landscape improvements over the ensuing decades. But, again, once these improperly designed improvements have been engineered out of Chicago’s neighborhood sustainable architectural plan, ground level and tree level air currents return. Once they do, vertical and horizontal axis wind turbine technology has substantially more capacity to effectively commingle with the broader neighborhood electric grid generation infrastructure.
Again in the same breath, once hopelessly industrially redundant landscape is erased from our Chicago green urban plan, solar generation rises to the same level of economically attainable mixed energy based neighborhood application as wind.
What is interesting to me about the notion of doing everything that I know we in America are capable of doing when it comes to re-blueprinting our industrial infrastructure model is that the vast majority of what needs to be done is simply ridding ourselves of concepts that came along after periods of enormous industrial growth had been understood and celebrated only to find that everything or most of everything that came about after that particular era expired was essentially industrial junk that had virtually no industrial or economic purpose attached to its manufacturing to begin with. Looking at America’s stock market today is a perfect example of how once again our nation is entirely missing the point when it comes to sustainable economic growth.
For a moment, ask yourself how many companies in America and worldwide are involved in the business of manufacturing garden shovels? In turn, ask yourself how many home improvement supply stores nationwide and worldwide are selling these shovels? In turn again, ask yourself how many homeowners are buying these shovels for some absolutely unknown reason?
After you have asked yourself the above questions and pondered your answers for awhile, consider the fact that in order to fully retrofit a Chicago neighborhood with a broad host of mixed energy technologies, tens of thousands of tons of earth would have to be moved to do so, meaning that the typical homeowner purchasing a garden shovel at the typical home improvement store would most likely be best served by returning the goofy shovel back to that home improvement store and in the process divesting himself or herself from any stock that is even remotely related to selling or manufacturing garden shovels in the first place. While this might sound a bit absurd, whats even more absurd is the stock market is climbing in value while America’s housing stock across any market anywhere in America is not and has not for several years if not decades.
Changing the subject of neighborhood based electrical co-generation to the transportation sector, the obvious focus of this sector is electric charging stations which of course are crucial to the continued growth of the electric vehicle sector. Given the fact that the electric vehicle more likely than not will maintain its origins as an effective urban based vehicle quite capable of meeting the needs of the personal family commuter, the professional service sector commuter, the professional hardware store/garden shovel delivery vehicle commuter, placement of charging stations within neighborhoods is of course a part of the whole mixed energy blueprint. Because the electricity needed to effectively operate these charging stations is most likely not going to be coming from power generated by either solar or wind, natural gas pipelines are yet another utility line that must be installed beneath the streets and alleys that run the distance of our Chicago neighborhoods. Whereas the alternative power of micro-electrical generation via natural gas consumption would produce the power needed to service these vehicle charging stations, that same natural gas powered micro-electrical generation would of course find task specific industrial manufacturing and/or service sector construction site specific tasks assigned to it as would the obvious inclusion of natural gas vehicle refueling stations located within Chicago’s vast network of neighborhoods.
When one considers the total ramifications of a fully applied, mixed energy model as that model is directed specifically to fulfilling the transportation needs of a neighborhood, virtually all such transportation needs must be included from within this blueprint. The largest of these needs, or should I say the most essential to the overall longevity or long term sustainability of a neighborhood’s mixed energy viability is the means from which those who live in the community move about the community and those who don’t live in the community get into the community to visit, enjoy and do business in. As that largest need is the continued maintenance and upgrading of the roads and alleyways that serve these neighborhoods, funding for the sustainable continuity of roadway improvements is paramount. Thus, just as the adoption of highly interactive building codes are crucial to any form of viable economic growth within any neighborhood as that growth is associated with the retrofitting of buildings, the same is true of roads and alleyways. Whereas for the past 100 years America has used such things as the now dysfunctional transportation fuel taxes to fund the never ending need to keep our roads in good repair, there is, in all likelihood, more than enough revenue associated with the application of truly multifaceted building codes to transform those ancient Transportation based fuel tax model into modern, architectural/transportation based fuel tax models. Simply put, if a portion of a building is going to be dedicated to the fueling of a vehicle, the energy being delivered to that vehicle via the building is identifiable as a transit based tax.
Thanks for stopping by.
Mike Patrick Dahlke