Saturday, March 21, 2009

March AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Our March program speaker, Robert Young, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Planning, Public Policy & Management (PPPM) at the University of Oregon, is a man to listen to. His presentation, Towards an American Architecture: Washington D.C., Oregon, and Green Cities, was a thought-provoking essay about the enormous challenges confronting our state and the need to move toward a more self-sufficient economy if our future is to be secure and sustainable. His message is one that cannot be ignored and has attracted attention at the highest levels of our state government.

Governor Ted Kulongoski recently appointed Robert to be a member of The Oregon Way Advisory Group. The group’s mandate is to use Oregon's green advantage to compete and win a share of the $37 billion in grants included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Obama. The group will advise and assist state agencies and other partners seeking these grants by developing innovative proposals that create immediate jobs and promote renewable energy, reduce carbon emissions, encourage greater energy efficiency or sustainable development.

Even with such a mandate, The Oregon Way is absent an overarching strategic vision that would lead to a truly sustainable economy, a deficiency that Robert will seek to remedy. He asserts that much more than an influx of federal dollars is necessary to bring the fundamental changes required within the structure of our economic systems. The fact is, even today, Oregon’s economy is primarily extraction-based. Resources and value are too often exploited for export outside of the region. Essentially, we live in a frontier state, critically vulnerable to the whim of whipsawing external forces. Oregon’s businesses are being hammered by the effects of the current recession: Oregon unemployment is amongst the highest in the nation and, according to Robert, two-thirds of our working population is at or below 150% of the poverty line. Jobs may be created or saved by the stimulus package, but many more have already been lost – some of these forever.

Robert advocates moving Oregon toward generating internal productive capacity, self-sufficiency, capital retention, and wealth generation. This cannot be achieved simply by saying the right things. We Oregonians tend to think that we’re leaders when it comes to sustainability, but it may be more a case of finding it comforting to believe our own “greenwashing” propaganda. Likewise, architects have been quick to lean on the crutch of U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification, but LEED’s major failing may be that it undervalues the meta-factors of economic stability and sustainability.

The implications for our profession are profound. Ultimately, a restructured, self-sufficient economy will favor city regions rather than national or international networks. Everything will become more local and internalized. The production of food will mostly occur close at hand. The development of future transportation networks will find emphasis at the city level, rather than at the scale of the interstate highway. Reliance upon imported sources of energy will be greatly diminished. Urban regions will grow more compactly and more responsively to the availability of local resources. An inevitable byproduct, Robert believes, may be a genuinely American architectural vernacular or, perhaps more precisely, a vocabulary of architecture eminently rooted in its place.

It’s important that architects appreciate economic and environmental policy, and the role that governance networks have in advancing the development of sustainable urban regions. Robert Young’s insights on these issues will influence not only how The Oregon Way directs recovery spending, but also the future built environment of the communities in which we work.

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This month's winner of our chapter meeting raffle prize, which is a $50.00 gift certificate courtesy of The Green Store store, was our speaker, Robert Young! Not only did he deliver a dynamic presentation, but he was rewarded for his efforts by being our raffle prize winner. For April, we have a very special raffle prize, a cozy fleece blanket courtesy of McKenzie Commercial General Contractors. Remember, your first raffle ticket is free with your paid dinner and additional tickets are only $2 each. However, you can’t win if you don’t attend, so join us at our next meeting!

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