The New York Times had a great article -albeit also very disheartening, in Sunday's paper (02.08) "In Florida, Dispair and Foreclosures." The article centered around Lehigh Acres, a once middle-class exurb of Fort Myers. Lehigh Acres was born on speculation, built on acres of farm land originally bought in the 1950's by a Chicago pest control baron and partners. The developers plotted out 100,000 lots but forgot about essential things like schools, open space, parks, and businesses. It was the quintessential car oriented suburb, forcing families to travel to reach these essentials. The lots sold however, through the 80's and 90's, and so did the houses. Eventually though, the boom started to bust. By the 2000's, lots sold remained unbuilt, and houses changed hands several times in a few months. This was not a community growing any longer, but a community floundering, as foreclosures rise, and the area sinks into oblivion.
Rebuilding Green Communities
Reading this article, I thought of all the unfinished houses which now exist all across the United States. I also thought about the great green housing movement, and the NAHB's Green Building Program. And I had an idea.
Instead of focusing on new homes, that is, homes which haven't even been built yet, why don't homebuilders get with communities such as Fort Myers and figure out how to make existing communities, which have existing infrastructure, work, as well as turning the communities into green communities? It would of course mean creating a master plan for communities such as Lehigh Acres. And it would mean demolishing many of the existing homes (all material being recycled of course) to make way for essentials such as schools, community centers, libraries, businesses, open space and parks, and more. But the process would rebuild communities, create jobs, and create an economy for the community. In addition, while many of the homes are empty as the result of foreclosure, they could be rehabbed to be more energy and resource efficient. Insulate the homes better, add PV and/or solar domestic hot water, incorporate natural ventilation strategies, create constructed wetlands in open space areas, and so much more.
Making Green Make Cents
You may argue with me that this isn't possible or that it's idealistic. But personally, I would argue that it makes sense -and cents. We cannot forge a green future focusing soley on what's new and shiny; we must also fix what is broken. And there is a lot that's broken. To let communities such as Lehigh Acres exist as they are is nothing short of us shutting the door to a closet and calling it junk. That may work fine for storing old clothes and toys, but it doesn't work for the built environment. This is an incredible opportunity for us to repair and restore -which is exactly what sustainability is about.
Image is from NY Times article "In Florida, Dispair and Foreclosures"