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LA’s Green Tipping Point?

THE SPEED OF GREEN - I am a relatively recent arrival to Los Angeles and have yet to fully fill in the gaps in its well-worn stereotypes with the rich complexities of the city.  So perhaps my skepticism is understandable, yet even if I rub my eyes I can’t shake the pervasive sense that LA is quickly charting a new trajectory as the modern green city of the future.   

How can this be?  City of Quartz, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, where no one walks, where smog was invented, the thirsty jewel of the Cadillac Desert  – can a city with this rap sheet really be the Emerald City for the next generation.  

It can.  It will.  It has to.  And it will happen faster than you think.  

If we set aside the missteps of the past and look at what’s happening around us, we see a dramatic shift in priorities.  The Expo Line will connect downtown to the sea via light rail.  The 30/10 initiative will expedite mass transit projects.  Solar panel prices have dropped substantially.  The Ports of LA and Long Beach have led the nation with their sustainability policies.  Local governments have committed to building only green buildings, buying green power, and reducing GHG emissions from their operations.  

The City of Long Beach is achieving remarkable results with a model water conservation program.   Cal State-Northridge uses a fuel cell to power its campus.   Campaigns are afoot to restore the LA River.  The Los Angeles Business Council collaborated with UCLA to do an extensive analysis on a feed-in tariff for solar generation.  Our business community actually asked for more government regulation because they saw a financial opportunity in green technology and design.  

Density, improved bicycle infrastructure, and complete neighborhoods are on the priority list for every city planner in the region.  Downtown LA is teeming anew with art galleries, loft apartments, bars, restaurants, and many more people.  

The Los Angeles chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC-LA) happens to be leading the nation both in greening existing buildings and in incorporating sustainability into the commercial real estate and finance community – passing the torch from the originators of the movement to the ones who will take it to scale.    

These observations are not coincidences.

Despite these clear steps of leadership, many of the recent trends toward green development and infrastructure policies have been hidden by the sharp and painful downturn of the economy and the construction industry in particular.  

California implemented the nation’s first green building code, but so few buildings have been built that its true impact has not yet been felt.  State legislation has set ambitious targets for GHG emission reductions, but cash-strapped local governments have not yet made much progress on implementation.  

But things will turn around and LA’s juggernaut economic engine will roar once again.  It is exactly these bold and aggressive policy choices that will lead the region out of economic turmoil and into a clean and prosperous future.  

And when that rollercoaster starts cresting the hill, we’ll look around and realize that we’ve been building the foundation to support this paradigm shift:  wide scale adoption of electric vehicles, mass deployment of solar power, construction of net zero energy buildings, rainwater capture and storage and aquifer replenishment, healthy places to live, work, and learn.  

Just as Silicon Valley changed the face of the American workforce just over ten years ago, so too will Los Angeles and its green economy be the face of the next generation.  We can. We will.  We have to.

An exciting stream of thought in my field of green building is biomimicry – using architecture found in nature to inform and improve our own building designs.  Coral reefs fix carbon out of the atmosphere to grow.   Air-conditioning systems that are based on the design of African termite nests use far less energy conventional systems.  Nature is truly the ultimate capitalist – there are no bailouts in the evolutionary path, only extinctions.   

However, we can also look to nature for lessons about ourselves and how we change.  Visionary thinker Jason McLennan, the keynote for the USGBC-LA’s Green Gala [link] on Thursday, Nov. 3, writes in his new book, Zugunruhe, about how there is a period of restlessness among animals preparing for migration – they sense a change is coming through subtle clues in their surroundings.  

We, too, have the ability to sense these impending changes, even if we may have forgotten how.   Look around you and try to perceive not the slight fluctuations of temperature and pressure and sunlight, but rather the local policies, the business investments, the community priorities, the changing development patterns – only then does the pattern emerge that we’re on the cusp of a change.  

We have been building the foundation for a greener Los Angeles, and soon we will wake to realize the dream.  

For information and tickets to the Green Gala at JW Marriott at L.A. Live, please visit usgbc-la.org.

(Brenden  McEneaney, LEED AP, is Chair of the Los Angeles chapter of the US Green Building Council, and Green Building Program Advisor for the City of Santa Monica. He moved to Los Angeles from the East Coast six years ago.) -cw

Tags: green, Be Green, LA Green, Green LA, Ports of LA, solar, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Downtown LA, USGBC-LA, Expo Line, UCLA

Vol 9 Issue 86
Pub: Oct 28, 2011