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Advancing Pittsburgh’s Green Building LegacyJeremy Frederick

This past Fall through Spring 2018/2019, I had the unique opportunity of participating in the Green Building Alliance’s (GBA) inaugural Sustainability Leadership Lab cohort. From the outset, GBA’s description of the program: “Architects, engineers, contractors, developers, building owners, and community planners will learn to advocate for healthy and high performing places, while leveraging their collective skills to solve the region’s most pressing challenges. From building performance analysis and rating system reviews to communications training and social equity investigations, participants will learn to translate a passion for sustainability into practice. Through this Lab, our goal is to drive change in the built environment community toward justice, compassion, and environmental well-being.”

With that mission in mind, I would break my experience down into four major components:

  • Developing the skills, language, and framework to grow and advance our region’s sustainable capacity.
  • Learning from our local champions of sustainability advancing practice, research, and community engagement.
  • Exploring places on various scales to see how sustainable movements are creating genuine community-generated change in and around Pittsburgh.
  • Practicing systems thinking both through the class project and with an integrated design process in discussion with like-minded professionals from various backgrounds.

The Leadership Lab involved an initial retreat followed by monthly day-long sessions, capping off with a final presentation and graduation in May. While each session had a topical focus, they all managed to balance all four of the above components. A presentation by Senior Education Director Leslie Montgomery would begin each session with applicable knowledge and real and current examples from our region. A guest speaker would share their work, experiences, and generate discussion on the challenges and opportunities shaping Pittsburgh’s sustainability story. Our setting would vary from a contractor’s LEED Platinum office to Carnegie Mellon’s Robert L. Preger Intelligent Workplace to Millvale’s Food & Energy Hub to Chatham’s LEED Platinum Eden Hall campus, complete with local food and tours. Additionally, each session involved time to advance the class project: imagining the neighborhood of Hazelwood as a Living Community following the International Living Futures Institute framework.

Hazelwood is a historically disinvested neighborhood bordering the Monongahela River with huge potential to reinvest both from within, and in concert with neighboring and evolving Oakland and the mammoth ground up development Hazelwood Green. The leadership lab met with the Center of Life, a community non-profit founded with the purpose of realizing that potential and shaping their community’s future. By forming small focus groups within the cohort, we explored several categories of the Living Community Challenge to gain a greater understanding of how the imperatives would look implemented in the community, and the opportunities and constraints that might currently exist due to policy, funding, or other various factors.

Within my focus group, I was tasked with the Urban Agriculture imperative. The requirement called for 1.28 million square feet or 10% of the residential area dedicated to urban agriculture in Hazelwood. From the surface, this density is hard to imagine even for a newly planned development, let alone a retrofit. However as I studied it further, I realized the investment in urban agriculture was really an investment in nearly all of the Living Community Challenge requirements at once. Urban agriculture lends itself to beauty and biophilia with plantings but also opportunities for art and sculpture. It mitigates stormwater runoff with greater infiltration and evapotranspiration, and provides opportunities for re-use of local capture for irrigation. Urban agriculture promotes human powered living by providing fresh, healthy goods that are within walkable, bikeable distances, and the potential for green networks connected by trails. The synergies go on- from composting and materials re-use, to solar powered garden amenities, the web of connections to other living community requirements seemed endless and I was excited to report my findings to the group. Giving over 10% area to urban agriculture may seem a steep ask, however if you think the rewards stop at fresh tomatoes, you’re missing the full benefit. One study at the University of California Gill Tract Community Farm found that for $75,000 in investment (think farm manager salary, equipment seeds, water, etc.), between $400,000 and $500,000 in both produce and non-marketable goods and services (food quality and access, health impacts, educational opportunities, community development, ecosystem services, cultural and aesthetics, volunteer time) were realized.

With the cohort’s findings, the resulting study of precedents, data, renderings, and overall exploration culminated in a presentation to the Center of Life, previous guest speakers, and GBA leadership with a consensus that the deliverable would prove a valuable asset long after we said our graduation farewells. This tremendous experience behind me, I’d like to commend Leslie Montgomery and the Green Building Alliance whose organization and investment into this program seemed anything but ‘pilot’ or experimental but rather well researched and orchestrated. I would also like to thank Floura Teeter for the professional development investment. I am grateful for the opportunity, and look forward to encouraging applicants for, and engaging with the next class this Fall.

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