Part II: Lean, Mean and Green – The Series

Changes in Society

How has our society changed in the last 50 years? Two significant changes led to where we are today in the planning and design world. They are the advent of consumer driven cars, (and the roadways that support them) and air conditioning (and the buildings that they cool).

These two changes have significantly affected how we think about designing our communities and buildings. They have shifted us from neighborhood markets to malls and bedroom communities; and from front porch conversations to chatting online from the comfort of your living room. Both of which have caused us to have less personal interaction with one another.

Along with these two changes, we as planners and architects simply got lazy in our professions. Trading smart decisions about urban infill and using existing infrastructure, to extending utilities and roads anywhere a developer thought he (or she) could make a few bucks, effectively limiting access to pedestrians and bicycles and spreading us out where transit could not be supported. We started to design buildings with no consideration for exterior skin systems, solar orientation, ventilation and envelope. Roads, cars and air conditioning made all of this possible.

Ironically, the first roads ever built were for the benefits of bicycles. Air conditioning was invented to help reduce relative humidity in the manufacturing of paper. They were not intended to help us grow further apart and secluded from each other – as a noted politician once said; ‘Unintended Consequences.’

At the same time, we started moving from a producing-based nation to a consumption-based society. This shift began the process of mass production, imports from across the ocean, consumerism in everything, down to the food we eat. We started expecting to be able to buy things like strawberries all year long, in as much quantity as we wanted and for a cheap price.

That kind of thinking and the advent of technology such as fax machines, CAD, and now cell phones, email and internet-based project management spurred the expectations of reduced design time, cheaper buildings and faster construction. And at the same time everyone in the AEC industry started shifting responsibilities along the way. The construction booms in the last two decades have transformed what used to be a very deliberate process to one that seems to always be looking for the cheapest, fastest solution. It is not always the best long-term solution.