Madison's sustainability mirage

Friday, January 22, 2010

From an article by Michael Barrett on the Isthmus Daily Page:

Gleaming atop Madison's new Fire Station #12 sits its green crown jewel — a solar panel. Station #12 on the city's far west side is so green it was just awarded the U.S. Green Building Council's "Platinum" status. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz is shouting the news from the mountaintops. Here it is, a full flowering of his Natural Step program for a sustainable city.

But there it sits, in car-mandatory suburbia, surrounded by pavement and plentiful parking, walkable to nowhere. rated the fire station's address a 2 (out of 100), dubbing it "auto-dependent."

Contrast this with Fire Station #3 on Williamson Street. It's walkable to everything, deemed a "walker's paradise" with a Walkscore of 97. It is nestled between neighborhood retail and residences. It sits on one of the liveliest blocks in town. Streams of pedestrians, bikes and buses flow by. And it has a solar panel.

But this 1950s-era building will never win a green architecture award. The U.S. Green Building Council and others are too focused on new buildings, paying little heed to issues of context.

And therein lies the problem with the approach taken by Mayor Dave. The Natural Step, his citywide strategy to save energy and reduce waste, is a thoroughgoing, top-to-bottom, cross-disciplinary, holistic, green paradigm. But Madison would achieve far more if it focused on preserving natural and food-providing areas, instead of paving them over.

In the case of Fire Station #12, the car-mandatory nature of the neighborhood completely negates the green gains achieved through architecture, and then some.