Monday, June 12, 2006

Hurricane Relief - Rebuilding For Sustainability

Hurricane Relief - Rebuilding For Sustainability

This is a subject of great importance to everyone living in nations subject to hurricane damage; a group that has been increasing as global sea water and atmospheric temperatures rise. In 2005 a hurricane
arose in areas where scientists had believed they never formed.

After two centuries in the Americas and Caribbean nations and more, one would think we'd have learned valuable lessons about building in places that hurricanes can reach. To look at the types of structures
being built in the Gulf Coast region of the United States, I'd have to surmise that this is not the case. The same old stick and drywall structures are being put up as far as I can tell. This point is even being
missed by charitable organizations such as Habitat For Humanity, despite the existence of lower cost and more suitable construction methods for the local environment.

I want to say here that I do not doubt the noble and decent intention of Habitat For Humanity and other charitable organizations helping rebuild in the Gulf Coast region. Far from it, they are providing very
necessary relief that is greatly needed. The issue is simply that they could be fulfilling this mission in ways that would better serve those they help in the long term. They are building the way they build now
because that is what they know.

This leads to the need for a new project, one of connection rather than direct action. What needs to happen now is the introduction of designers and architects that understand sustainable housing and these
very charitable organizations that are currently rebuilding the gulf coast. The sooner this happens, the better. I will research the sources of these types of knowledge and bring a listing of them to this weblog as
my next project.

The vast opportunity for improving the durability of hurricane-region housing is the immediate benefit of a confluence of charitable rebuilding efforts and more sustainable building technology. This is the
obvious benefit. Another benefit is that such projects would greatly reduce the energy demands of returning residents to the Gulf Coast area. This would help achieve a solution to the problem now facing all of
us, rising global temperatures that are causing wilder weather.

What we could do with the horrendous tragedy rendered by hurricane Katrina is what has often the best thing people have done in the face of nightmare; turn it into opportunity to makes things better than
they ever were. We should keep the best of what the region was alive and make it better able to thrive.The region was and is a jewel in the cultural heritage of the United States, a miracle of song, cuisine, folk
wisdom, art, history, and natural beauty. To let it change over into some homogenized replica of Everytown, USA would be purely a sin.

On that note, I include below an open letter I wrote the Mayor of New Orleans recently, as it explains further much of the ramifications of acting on this insight.


Dear Mayor Nagin,

Congratulations on your re-election. I would like to suggest to you a form of housing that is low cost, yet extremely durable and energy efficient.

I first heard of it in Mother Earth News magazine - - which has been publishing since the 60's. The article can be found in the October/November 2005 issue. (They are a bi-monthly publication.)

It is called Earth Bag construction. This could really be a good alternative around the entire Gulf Coast region. It costs a fraction of what conventional housing does according to what the article states, and is very labor-intensive. Giving all those folk who are displaced a chance to help each other build better and more survivable housing could sure lift their spirits and give them a lot of hope. It would give them all something worthwhile and healing to do, helping themselves and each other, and give them a good reason to come home. Admittedly, they would have to leave if there were flooding again, but the housing they built using this method would likely survive to be cleaned up instead of having to be torn down and re-built from scratch.

I would bet that Mother Earth News would welcome the chance to help you get a program to develop a version of this type of housing specifically suitable to New Orleans's and the Gulf Coast region's needs designed in return for being credited for supporting such an initiative. Obviously I couldn't guarantee that, as I don't work for them. Still, it would make sense for them under the right circumstances.

I would also bet that local insurance agents, if they were educated as to the qualities of this type of construction, would be much more willing to support insuring this type of home than conventionally constructed homes.

These homes are also highly energy-efficient, which would make them much more affordable foe your residents and reduce strain on the local electrical grid and gas supplies.

They take advantage of their high-mass to create what is called a "thermal flywheel"effect - absorbing heat during the day and releasing it at night, much as adobe or rammed-earth construction does.

It is estimated in the article that this type of home can withstand fires and magnitude 6.5 earthquakes in addition to hurricane force winds.

If local construction companies and people became highly proficient in building such homes, they could lead the nation in an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly housing renaissance. Given proper vision and leadership that you could initially provide, New Orleans could become a national leader in modern housing and a shining example of making a disaster of un-precedented magnitude into an opportunity of monolithic proportions.

Of course, you could choose to ignore this letter, seeing only another "environmentalist" trying to change "the way things are done." I have nothing to gain out of this. I don't own a construction company, and I live way up near Chicago. The only thing I would get out of this, if it were to happen, would be the satisfaction of my fellow countrymen lifting themselves out of the rut of destruction and reconstruction and into a position of national and even international leadership.

No one is more perfectly placed to initiate such a change than you are, Sir. You have you electorate and your people's need squarely at your back at this point in time. You have a freshly leveled city to rebuild. You stand at a unique point in the history of your city, region, and nation with many possible paths before you. A crossroad, if you will. It will be interesting to see what road you chose to follow.

I wish you and our fellow citizens the best in any regard.


Daniel A. Stafford

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:12 AM

    This comment is kind of irrelevant to your blog, but i found no other way of getting ahold of you...being a minister, are you able to perform wedding ceremonies? if you can, and are available to be in shorewood on october 28th, please let me know via email we can then talk further.
    ps--great letter and cheers!
    kristy crawford