Jambalaya of Green Notes from USGBC Greenbuild 2014 “Leadership Jazz”

November 17, 2014

All photos, PC: Tom Fee

By: Tom Fee

This year’s annual USGBC-sponsored Greenbuild 2014 Leadership Jazz Conference and Expo was held at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center, on the banks of the Mississippi. The almost mile-long trade floor was jammed with green building products, including a LEED platinum home and an Environment Education Classroom created by New Orleans-based firm Eskew+Dumez+Ripple. The event showcased an absolutely mind boggling aggregation of the latest and greatest the green building industry has to offer.

I managed to grab the continuing ed credits I needed at the USGBC education sessions – and picked up a notebook full of new ideas and resources. Here are a couple of the highlights:

  • Representatives from Ohio USGBC Chapter and the Ohio School Facilities Management Agency described the state’s remarkable green schools initiative – 340 LEED certified schools (in operation or in the pipeline) have been built or planned over the past decade, leveraged with $2.1 billion of tobacco money (Ohio has 611 separate school districts!). Results from a Chapter-funded survey measuring educational performance gains associated with Green Buildings (prepared by Battelle) were also presented. The statistical analysis compared student performance in each of the Ohio school districts that have green schools, controlling for a number of socioeconomic variables and other factors.   Disappointingly, the results were not statistically significant. The Chapter is planning to add additional data into the model and keep plugging away at trying to identify performance benefits. The green building movement desperately needs to develop this data if it’s to move beyond energy efficiency into occupant performance benefits.
    • One of HHF Planners’ “Insular ABCs Initiative” objectives is to identify ways to improve indoor environmental quality in US territorial public schools where water infiltration, poor ventilation and daylighting create challenging learning environments;  simple things like opening windows and stopping leaks will facilitate learning and student performance.
  • Speaking about green schools, Hurricane Katrina heavily damaged or destroyed 100 of the 120 New Orleans schools. Like Hawai‘i – many of the schools were over fifty years old and in need of major repairs. In part based on a $1.8 billion FEMA grant, 85 schools will be rebuilt by 2017 – all incorporating 21st Century design and high performance building features (while landbanking and closing 52 schools). New Orleans public schools were taken over by a state agency before Katrina due to chronic poor performance, and after Katrina, shifted to an all charter school model.  Institutionally, and from a facilities perspective, New Orleans has become a national laboratory for public education. A great case study is the Andrew H. Wilson Charter School originally constructed in 1909. It sustained massive damage from Katrina; reconstruction included new construction and complete renovation of the remaining shell following LEED Gold standards.
  • Not surprisingly, urban water management in New Orleans is taking on new meaning after Katrina – because all the pumps and levees are drying out the land like a drying sponge, creating a non-sustainable cycle of subsidence/infiltration/increased pumping.  The Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan took a hard look at past practices and, in consultation with the Netherlands, developed a remarkable plan to reintroduce water into the City as an “integrated living water system” – definitely something that Honolulu with its low lying coastal plain could learn from. The several reports documenting the process are absolutely stunning!

    The view from the plane underlines the water-logged geography of New Orleans.

  • A tour of the Lower 9th Ward was very revealing after years of news regarding the hardships it ha’s faced from the Katrina flooding. It’s a low density, single family, working class district to the north of the City, fronting a wonderful greenway along the banks of the Mississippi. We visited Global Green USA’s Holy Cross Project adjacent to the river that will ultimately include five single-family homes, an 18-unit apartment building, and a community center (community center and apartment complex are under construction). The photo below shows the single-family homes, all of which are very close to net zero. The Global Green staff are deeply committed to community building, working in schools and elsewhere, to promote green living concepts.
    A panoramic view of Global Green USA's Holy Cross Project

    A panoramic view of Global Green USA’s Holy Cross Project.

  • Brad Pitt’s “Make It Right” organization is building 150 single family homes inland (a relative term in water-surrounded New Orleans) of the Holy Cross neighborhood – adjacent to the Industrial Canal that breached and caused the 9th Ward flooding. To date, 100 homes have been built and all have earned LEED Platinum. While the Make It Right initiative is pushing the envelope in so many ways, the mix of space age homes seems to fall short of rebuilding a sense of community. Perhaps that will come over time as former residents move back and community-serving amenities, such as a grocery store, become available. Like the Global Green project, controls are in place to ensure only displaced local residents are allowed to purchase the homes so gentrification does not seem like an immediate concern.

    A close-up of one of the Make It Right homes.

Of course, no trip to New Orleans is complete without spending time in the French Quarter. I regained an appreciation for the urban grid and the importance of historic preservation; blocks and blocks of historic buildings, and storefronts pulsing with vibrancy and energy. The architecture, food (jambalaya, gumbo, étouffée, muffulettas, beignets), spontaneous street music, layers of history, and variety of people really create an authentic sense of place.


Aside from his role as Principal and President of HHF Planners, Tom Fee is a sustainability enthusiast and a strong believer in alternative (bike) transportation. He has been a member of the Hawai‘i Bicycling League since 2007 and currently serves as Secretary on the HBL Board of Directors. Tom strongly encourages HHF’s bicycle planning practice (e.g., O‘ahu Bicycle Plan, Honolulu Bicycle Plan, ‘Ewa Bicycle Master Plan). He’s a member of both the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals and the League of American Bicyclists, is a League Certified Bicycling Instructor and serves on the Honolulu Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Bicycling.

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