Rebuilding Sustainable Communities

By James Smith

James Smith

April, 27th, 2011 is a day that will forever be remembered in Alabama. A day when so much was taken from so many. A deadly tornado a mile wide cut a swathe of destruction across the state wreaking havoc on local communities and leaving a trail of debris never before seen in the area. Many families were left homeless and entire communities completely destroyed all in the space of one devastating afternoon.

The emergency response was immediate. Not just from federal and state agencies but from professional organizations, civic groups, corporations and individuals all doing whatever they could to help feed, clothe, house and comfort those in need. The outpouring of support was overwhelming and the clean up and recovery process began swiftly. Federal and state officials have been working around the clock to provide aid and many professionals, especially local architects, have donated their time to begin planning the rebuilding process.

Unfortunately there is a long way to go. Most experts expect the rebuilding process to take many years, perhaps as long as a decade or more. The first challenge is convincing displaced people to rebuild at all. As we have seen in the aftermath of many disasters before, the quickest and easiest option for victims is to rebuild in an unaffected neighborhood or buy a house that is already available rather than deal with the time consuming process of clearing debris in a ravaged area and rebuilding.

The sad reality is that many communities when hit by natural disaster never recover because the vast majority of people affected do move away and don’t return to rebuild. So what is it that brings people back? What is the magic formula that has been used in those communities that have recovered? Communities like Greensburg, Kansas that was wiped away by a tornado in 2007 and has miraculously recovered better than it was before. What lessons have been learned from other communities post–disaster that we can apply to our own recovery effort here in Alabama?

The first thing people need is a vision. A master plan of a community that is designed around its citizens. A community that is walkable and rideable; a place that incorporates parks, greenways and recreation areas; a community that provides easy access to human services for all citizens and fosters entrepreneurism and economic development. In short, a community that is designed based on the principals of green building.

We are faced with an incredible opportunity to rebuild vibrant and sustainable neighborhoods. Families that are rebuilding their homes have the opportunity to incorporate proper orientation, passive energy strategies and natural daylighting.They can rebuild homes that are more energy efficient, reduce water usage and lower utility costs. Homes that utilize materials that can withstand storms, have better indoor air quality and improve the health and safety of the families that live there.

This year’s Green Building Focus Conference & EXPO will be dedicated to this sustainable rebuilding effort. Case studies of best practices in disaster recovery will showcase communities that have emerged better than they were before. Educational tracks will include topics on financial assistance for families in need, an insurance panel discussion, workshops on strategies for designing and building healthier, more sustainable homes and examples of affordable, sustainable and livable communities.

Never before has such an expensive and widespread recovery effort been undertaken in the region. The Green Building Focus Conference & EXPO 2011 will provide a platform to educate and inform the recovery effort so that the communities affected by these terrible tragedies can be transformed.

This event is not just designed for building professionals. Anyone who owns a home and is interested in saving energy and water and living in a healthier and safer environment is welcome to attend. I invite everyone in the community to join me on September 15 and 16 at the Cahaba Grand Conference Center. There will be an exhibition of product and service providers, many networking receptions and 25 different educational tracks focused on sustainable construction trends and proven best practices.

One Response to “Rebuilding Sustainable Communities”

  1. Carole Fenn says:

    This was a wonderful conference. I attended thanks to your article in B-Metro. Too bad it wasn’t better attended. I wonder how it was marketed? I’ve been talking to a lot of Alabama contractor’s about green build and none of them have this knowledge. It needs to be in a much wider distribution of building trade magazines and in customer driven publications like Southern Living, Coastal Living, Architectural Digest, Dwell, Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping, HGTV etc.,

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