AS THE ALTERNATIVES TEAM was finishing up this Green Buildings issue, we were also settling in to a new building ourselves. The former Public Utilities Building in the heart of downtown Kitchener, Ontario, is a three-storey stone beauty from the early 1930s, complete with Art Deco flourishes and an original grate-gated elevator. It’s also cold inside, and the owner of this heritage building faces an ongoing challenge to find ways to improve its energy performance.

Around us stands the modernist City Hall, some nondescript 1960s storefronts and a neglected hotel whose ground level stucco grossly detracts from the beautiful brickwork above it. The lavishly redeveloped Lang Tannery complex – once the largest tannery in the British Empire, and last year named Canada’s top brownfields development – is two blocks away.

What to reuse, what to improve and what to tear down entirely are key questions for environmental thinkers in cities and towns across Canada and around the world. Even if a natural disaster takes these questions out of your hands – as Hurricane Katrina did when it devastated New Orleans in 2005 – a proverbial clean slate does not remove the quandary. As contributor Stephen Svenson found during annual research trips to that city’s Lower Ninth Ward, what you build, and how it interacts with the surrounding community, can prove just as important environmentally as any other “green” efforts.

But demolishing an ageing building or replacing outdated windows won’t automatically confer an environmental halo, warns sustainable builder Chris Magwood. Before we can decide if a building upgrade is worthwhile, we have to work out not just what energy savings we can make, but also the resources that will go into creating those energy-saving measures. “Energy efficiency tends to eclipse the rest of the contract with the environment as we blindly pursue this one clause,” Magwood writes.

We revisit Saskatchewan’s Conservation House – one of the designs that led to the original Passivhaus – and take you inside the University of Waterloo’s beautiful new Environment building, for which UW is pursuing LEED Platinum standard. A building’s environmental contribution can go far beyond bricks, mortar, green roofs and solar panels, though, as avid BC cyclist John Luton reminds us: Providing good bicycle parking can help reduce resident and employee energy use. 

We are also proud to welcome guest columnist Anjali Appadurai to the pages of Alternatives. Fresh from the Durban climate talks, where she gave an impassioned speech calling for the world’s governments to take firm action on climate change and “get it done,” she gives a personal account of what it means to be young today.

Less youthful but just as impassioned, Andrew Nikiforuk looks to an inventor in gadget-obsessed Japan for powerful – and power-less – inspiration. 

And to close the door on this issue, only the wonderful Bob Gibson could piece together a story involving Queen Elizabeth II, sewage and the Montreal Olympics to remind us that being “less bad” is no longer good enough.

Given how important and influential buildings are in both our practical daily existence and our broader societal understandings, it was no easy task to design, build and furnish this issue. We thank all of our contributors for lending their expertise to the project, and hope it serves as a useful addition to our collective knowledge.

Tenille Bonoguore is a former managing editor for Alternatives Journal. She grew up Down Under singing “Rip Rip Woodchip” by John Williamson.

 

 

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