11/01/2014: Greenbuild 2014 began with Ivan Neville, son of Aaron Neville, setting the tone at the Superdome opening plenary with a dazzling jazz performance. The Superdome, which housed thousands of refugees during hurricane Katrina, was a perfect setting to tell the story of the renaissance of New Orleans. Now the Mercedes Benz Superdome, after a 180MM restoration, the dome inspired the first New Orleans Saints Super Bowl victory and helped launch the city's rebirth.
Greenbuild this year was titled Leadership Jazz. Rick Fedrizzi, the founder, cheerleader and passionate guru of the USBGC, explained that leadership, in our time, requires the improvisation, multiple voices, and collaboration found in Jazz music. Along with some great sounds, Greenbuild provided a treasure trove of information and educational experiences that was inspiring and long-lasting.
It was interesting for this observer to hear, a few weeks earlier, NY architects’ hubris about how they are rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy in a more sustainable and resilient way than New Orleans did after Katrina. City planners and leaders from New Orleans would quickly dispel that notion. Sustainable rebuilding efforts are found everywhere throughout this enchanting city. From the rebuilding of homes in the ninth ward spearheaded by none other than Brad Pitt, to the expanding of the oldest streetcar system in the US and putting the city on a ‘street diet’ while adding over 89 miles of bike lanes.
The bike tour was one of my highlights and although I didn’t explore all 89 miles of new lanes, I was able to see these initiatives firsthand.
We saw how some builders, expert in the Passive House System (a building and rating system similar to LEED), can make a building that is unbelievably high performing - twice as energy efficient as a standard structure. These builders push the energy efficiency envelope to a point where the building can generate more energy than it uses. A ‘Larsen’ truss attached to the exterior walls allows for super-insulating these ‘thermos’-like buildings.
One of the most inspirational sessions told us about an enthusiastic middle school science teacher who single-handedly created a new program that integrates a STEM curriculum by creating project-based learning opportunities. His projects relate and build on the lessons being taught in the general education classes. Students have become more engaged and excited about their history class when they grow papyrus and make paper while learning about ancient Egypt. His students created a water cycle demonstration project that turns ‘fish poop’, into fertilizer for hydroponic plants while also purifying water. The class actually grows vegetables for sale and raises money to pay for many of their engineering projects.
There was a lot more on Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) which are the new nutritional labels for materials. Many manufacturers are realizing the importance of being transparent regarding the environmental and human health impacts of their products and are delivering this information to the marketplace.
Greenbuild New Orleans left this one traveler enthused and exhausted exploring the wealth of knowledge and successful examples of sustainable strategies on display. USGBC thankfully provided a ‘rejuvenation lounge’ complete with an oxygen bar (see inset photo).
No visit to New Orleans would be complete without a tour of the WWII museum. A ‘Higgins’ boat is on display which, as ‘IKE’ is remarked to have said, won the war for the Allies.