October 2001

Volume 10, Number 10

Green Topics

Out of the Ashes

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The tragedies of September 11th are almost too horrible to comprehend. We were fortunate at EBN that no close friends or family members were killed or injured at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. Our staff joins the millions around this country and the world in mourning the loss of life that occurred that day. We hope and pray that this event does not instigate a new cycle of violence.

As the dust settles (both literally and figuratively) and the wounds begin to heal, our minds wander to the long-term impacts of this event. Can there be good to come of this tragedy? The rediscovery of community in New York City, in our nation’s capital, and throughout the country and the world is positive. But what about the building and environmental arenas?

First, there is the opportunity for creating something greener in lower Manhattan. While high-density urban centers have many benefits, particularly as an alternative to sprawl, the environmental wisdom of creating such tall buildings is dubious. The debate over skyscrapers is complicated. The vertical transportation infrastructure is immense and highly energy-intensive, yet a single skyscraper can replace hundreds of acres of sprawling office parks or houses. Let’s continue to build in compact urban centers, but let’s stop the race to create ever-taller buildings. And regardless of the height of buildings erected to replace the World Trade Center, there is much that can, and should, be done to maximize their environmental performance. We urge New York City to adopt a minimum standard of LEED™ Silver certification for any building in the City to receive public funding.

Second, the use of airliners as weapons may change forever how we think about travel. If this tragedy results in either higher cost or less convenience in air travel, it may encourage the use of teleconferencing, trains, a new generation of convenient intercity bus transit, or other—greener—alternative to air travel. It may even foster a new regionalism in which we satisfy our needs closer to home rather than skipping across the country at the drop of a hat. Such a shift would help reduce air pollution, global warming, noise, and the loss of open space that we have come to accept with airports and their accompanying sprawl. In the end, an event of this magnitude affects things in so many ways that the net result of it all can never be predicted. But we can always hope that some of the changes, be they political, social, or ecological, will be for the better.

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October 1, 2001