A New Home for the Solar Decathlon 2011

The new site for the solar decathlon was announced today.  You can read the original press release here,  http://www.solardecathlon.gov/blog/archives/731.  It was previously rumored to be moving way off the national mall south of the district and I for one, am glad that didn’t happen.  But here are a few questions that the new site bring to mind.

Firstly, the new site, West Potomac Park, is on the splot of land between the FDR Memorial/Tidal basin and the Potomac River. There are ball fields there now that get a little bit of use, and usually a great place to snag a parking spot and walk into the monuments (Lincoln, Jefferson, and FDR).  I am familiar with this part of the tourist areas as it is easy access if you know the way.  It is a beautiful area with the river to one side and the tidal basin (through the cherry trees) to the other.  There is little out there in the way of services: restrooms, food vendors, benches, etc….

Here is a sunset picture from the Jefferson end of the field that I shot last year.  Not much out there, a few trash cans and baseball backstops.  Which brings me to my first concern, there is not much out there.  Tour buses drop off loads of kids and tourists to view the Jefferson Monument just behind me (and over the bridge) in this shot.  But no easy Metro access, closest metro is about 1 1/4 mile to the Smithsonian station. Logistics will be harder to work through.

The biggest concern I have looking at the map is  http://www.solardecathlon.gov/pdfs/2011_map.pdf provided in the press release mentioned above.  They have taken the sites and rotated them 45%.  I would think that this deep into the competition, changing the orientation would be a big issue.  I would love to hear from someone involved with the teams on this as I hope that I am wrong.  Perhaps it will separate the good designs from the really great ones that are flexible enough to be reoriented.

I wish the teams good luck and hope to see great things at this year’s event.

Green Schools Challenge

USGBC SWVA (US Green Building Council Southwest Virginia chapter) is hosting a green schools challenge.  The momentum has been building since the kick off last fall.  We have schools

throughout the region paired with mentors in the community all taking part in a living sustainable science fair.  As details begin to come in it is exciting to see and hear about the great sustainable work beginning done by our local students.  From the beginning USGBC recognized that instilling sustainable habits in children did two things: bubbled up to the parents and trickled down to the next generation of community leaders.  This is a win win strategy that will have long-term beneficial effects.

Just think about recycling.  Twelve years ago (1999) it wasn’t what I would call a common practice, at least not around here.  Those first graders are graduating now and just imagine where we will be in the next twelve or even twenty-four years as the next generations of little recyclers graduate.  If you don’t think that is a big deal, just ask communities like Lexington, Va.  Their landfill is about to close.

So keep your eye on our website http://greenvirginiaschools.org/ for all the latest updates across the great state of Virginia.

As if

As if you needed another reason  to love IKEA……. they have now gone and done away with all their incandescent light bulbs.  A step ahead of  The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that will phase out all incandescent light bulbs by 2012-2014 and the first major retailer to do so.


Now just too bad that I have to drive three hours to get to a store.

Simple as a Sidewalk

Maybe it is the recent snow pushing in on the streets and curbsides; or maybe it is the obsession of one of my colleagues, a driving  one woman force, to have sidewalks installed down Brambleton Ave or perhaps the sadness I feel when driving through parts of the town that need sidewalks and are left with dirt paths, whatever the catalyst, the sidewalk issue keeps popping in my head.  One of the lessons from my Georgia Tech days, was that good cities are made from good sidewalks.  This seems to be a simple enough concept therefore I am continually amazed when cities don’t get it.

Basically the concept is this, good sidewalks promote walking within cities. Walking within cities promotes community activity.  When streets are alive with people it becomes safer and more engaging.  It quickly becomes a place that people want to be in.   Bad sidewalks discourage the same activity.  When I lived in Atlanta it was obvious to see the walkable trendy neighborhoods had developed out of good infrastructure. Less desirable parts of town were run down, overgrown weedy roadsides and usually most unfortunately the parts of town where citizens couldn’t afford cars and resorted to public transportation and walking for their transportation.  I can vividly remember the continual news stories of kids being hit by cars as they were walking on the side of the road.  Roads, almost always, without sidewalks.

The story continues in my home of Roanoke, Virginia.  Throughout the downtown area, the sidewalks are in good shape and get proper maintenance but move a few blocks to the north and the parts of town that need the sidewalks are woefully ignored.  Just take a look at 10th street.  This is a major connection corridor.  On the Williamson Rd to 581 overpass part of tenth street, sidewalks no problems.    Once under the overpass, there is more of a gutter/leftover asphalt/trail.  Every Roanoker knows the 10th street cut through, especially fire and rescue. Inches from this busy road a continuous walk path to the local convenience store is ground into the dirt and weed roadside.  Yes I am aware that 10th street is slated to be widened and sidewalks should be put in at that time.  But how far in the future is that?  It is not uncommon to see children alone walking that stretch of road.  This is not a problem that has just occurred, but has festered there for a long time.

Just opposite the aforementioned convenience store the newly paved and barely used Brown-Robertson Park and the greenway gleams  The park has a sea of concrete and the greenway has flashing lights, smooth pathway and crossing with little use.  Now before I offend the local cycle community, please let me state that, the bike paths that Roanoke has developed are wonderful!  I use several of them for recreation regularly. When they all link up that will be a great thing for the Roanoke/Salem/Vinton area.  I already know one of my co-workers that use that particular path to help get from Peter’s Creek to downtown in order to bike to work.  My point is this ……. Cities please don’t turn your back on pedestrian infrastructure in the name of  anything else including greenway paths.  I am all for greenways in addition to sidewalk development but not at the cost of them.  In the current times of increasing cutbacks and budget tightening, sidewalks (repair and maintenance) is one area that cities would do best to continue to invest.  Imagine a walkable Roanoke.

Sweaty Trigger Finger

This came to mind today when a colleague wrote and just needed to be talked off the ledge a bit.  She was about to hit the submit button to GBCI for the project she represents.  This is not the first time I have heard of LEED Coordinators being apprehensive about the actual submission.  Think about it we spend a long time watching over our respective projects.  Organizing, neurturing, team building and then if finally comes down to one last push.

Why are we so apprehensive about pushing the button that we have worked towards for so long?  Is it the moment of truth?  hero or villain? Perhaps it is because now the finger pointing can begin and it usually points toward the one that leads.  Whatever the reason, the honest truth is that after so much talking and preparation it is hard to face the truth.  Some credits will succeed and some will fail; even ones that you are 100% sure will sail through. Regardless someone must push the button.  So LEED Coordinators my best advice is buck up and hit the button!

Local Roots opens Friday

We were excited to see the progress two weeks ago.  I have high hopes for this sustainable restaurant in Roanoke.

via Local Roots opens Friday.


Jsut as a follow up on this very col restaurant in Roanoke….. the latest review.




Solar Decathalon 2009

cornellYesterday, Matt and I visited the solar decathlon on the mall in DC that is hosted by the Dept of Energy.  It was by chance that we got the opportunity to attend.  It was a gloomy drizzling rain kinda day, but that did not seem to deter the enthusiasm or crowds.  There are twenty teams competing for many different prizes.

The site is perfect for the set up.  Due to transportation limitations and construction times, the houses tend to be long and narrow.  This year not all were though.   I appreciated the round rods of the Cornel Silo house.  (They were really thinking outside the box, sorry too tempting.)  The teams have a week to construct their house on site, so pre-building as much as possible is a must.  By the looks of the group only one team appeared to have run out of time.

vt to momument

What I took away…… is that no one team seemed to have all the answers.  There are many ways to achieve sustainability in houses.  Bits and pieces from all the houses will benefit the general population in years to come.  Also that the interest in a sustainable future is strong and as popular as ever.

Be sure to check out the link above.  You can view the virtual tours and vote on your favorite.