On behalf of the U.S. Green Building Council, as an architect, a planner, and Chair of USGBC Rhode Island, it is our vision to create and enhance buildings and communities that will regenerate and sustain the health and vitality of all life within a generation. Our work embraces the triple bottom line of: people, planet and profit. People for our work creating healthy communities and happy citizens; planet for enhancing our surroundings for a cleaner and livable environment; and profit for building a more robust economy.
I admittedly am not a big fan of the now popular words of resiliency and resilient. That is largely because of the mindset and context of the way those words are used. Far too often the terms resiliency and resilient are used and interpreted in a most machismo sense: to build or rebuild after a disaster or cataclysmic event with something bigger, stronger, tougher. We need a softer, smarter approach to resiliency. The machismo approach costs us money and resources.
Anything we do in the realm of resiliency will help the economy. There is no question about that. But that is an ordinary approach. We can do better.
We should be doing the extraordinary. An approach based on ecology is far more intelligent, is sustainable, makes efficient use of all resources, can change and is elastic, and flows with the path of least resistance.
Bucky Fuller was fond of the term “trim tabbing” where a slight amount of intelligent force can change the movement and direction of very large objects, organizations, or entities. I suggest our trim tabbing is that we need to think and act like a Mobius strip. We can write: “natural environment” on one side of a strip of paper, and “built environment” on the other side. We can do the same with “environment” and “economy.” Twist the ends together. Something amazing happens. We are looking at a new way of thinking. We have one continuous surface throughout from what used to be two separate surfaces. Everything is a continuum, and everyone is connected and integrated into the big picture.
In 2004, according to the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, economic losses in the United States due to disaster events was more than $113 billion. Furthermore, the gap between the dollar amount of those economic disaster losses and the compensation for those insured losses is increasing at a geometric rate. There is no doubt we are experiencing more economic losses with less insurance dollar compensation, which further reduces the flow of capital into our economy.
Decent building codes are critical tools in times of disasters and increased extreme weather events. Many people regard building codes as the highest standard of construction when in fact they are a minimum standard. If building codes or our government would inform the property owner that elevating a building 3 feet above Base Flood Elevation (BFE) instead of the code requirement of 1 foot above BFE, it would save the property owner of upwards of 90 percent of their flood insurance premium. Furthermore, it would make citizens feel good about government, appreciative of that information, in addition to saving them real dollars, which might then be put back into the RI economy.
Roy Carpenter’s beach in Matunuck is an iconic coastal summer colony of some 373 cottages. For the tax appraisal of those cottages alone, not the land value, the Town of South Kingstown receives a substantial amount of revenue in property taxes. Those buildings are rather fragile structures as current building codes go. If Superstorm Sandy had hit RI as it did New Jersey and New York, those cottages are gone and then that revenue is lost to the town.
According to the New England Environmental Finance Center, using existing flood protection measures, some 150 to 300 million people will be flooded from a 0.5 meter sea level rise which is expected by the middle of this century. It is estimated that if more sustainable flood protection measures were used, including sustainable hazard mitigation, the magnitude of the people impacted by that 0.5 meter sea level rise would be reduced downward to some 1 to 10 million people. The result is not zero, but it is a significant reduction. That is real money and real human lives saved by being smart.
A penny saved is a dollar earned. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the economics of resiliency, let’s focus on the ounces and the pennies in the beginning, rather than paying with our dollars and needless pounds of cure later on. Aesop’s Fables tell us that a bundle of sticks is stronger than one stick. Let’s bundle our resources and link and tie them together. A diverse ecology is stronger than a simple ecology.
With Rhode Island’s EC3 (Executive Climate Change Council), Senate Bill 2952, and House Bill 7904, we are getting there. At a time when the General Assembly is dealing with the state budget, they might appreciate this quote from architect and legendary Brazilian mayor Jamie Lerner: “If you want creativity, take a zero off your budget; if you want sustainability, take off two zeros.”
The resiliency of our home Rhode Island, which includes our environment, economic development, and social equity, needs to be based in a holistic understanding and an embracing of our ecology. Resiliency needs to be intelligent and sustainable. If we can do that, we have taken a significant step, and our solutions will be elegant and beautiful. The promise of Rhode Island’s motto of “Hope” is powerful. Let’s make good on that promise.
(Kenneth J. Filarski is Principal of FILARSKI/ARCHITECTURE+PLANNING+RESEARCH an award winning ecology studio and design workshop. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, a Certified Planner, a LEED Accredited Professional, and a Certified Flood Plain Manager. He is a member of the RI Architects and Engineers Emergency Response Task Force 7, a disaster responding unit deployed in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and is a member of the national committee writing the codes standards for flood resistant design and construction. He is Chair of the U.S. Green Building Council Rhode Island and is Chair of the Upper Northeast Regional Committee of the USGBC.)