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Food For Thought, Spark Speaker Series

Resilient Design; A New Way to Think About Safety


There’s been a 67% increase in intense storm events over the past 50 years in the North East. Areas in the South West that normally get very little rain are experiencing periods of severe downpours. Meanwhile the Mid West has been suffering through record droughts. Yet despite these trends, many people continue to view climate change as a liberally biased movement, causing resistance towards the idea of sustainable initiatives.

Alex Wilson made a good case at the Green Drinks NYC SPARK speaker series January 22nd, that regardless of your politics, most likely you’re concerned with safety. This includes the safety of your home, the integrity of your energy, food and water supply, and the maintenance of essential services, should an environmental disaster occur.  Whatever your belief as to what’s causing the increase in extreme weather events, over $110 billion dollars in damage occured in 2012 from climate related events. If 2012 was not an anomaly, amounts like this are unsustainable. With preventative measures, money, property and lives can be saved.

Alex Wilson has been concerned with this issue for several years. After witnessing firsthand the effects of Hurricane Katrina, he observed how older buildings with vernacular design (Vernacular architecture tends reflects the environmentalculturaltechnological, and historical context in which it exists,) were salvageable, while newer construction that contained modern amenities such as AC units, were for the most part beyond repair. He concluded that incorporating modern materials with vernacular design, would result in more sustainable housing in the face of extreme weather events.

Initially he coined the phrase “Passive Survivability,” but the idea of surviving a disaster brought about by climate change was not getting enough traction with non environmentalists. Subsequently, he discovered the idea of “Resilience” to be more palatable among a broader range of people. Mr. Wilson founded the Resilient Design Institute in an effort to implement these ideas into new construction, and to retrofit existing construction wherever possible.

Alex Wilson recently quoted Lisa Novick, (Huff Post Los Angeles) definition of resilience, “as the capacity of a system to absorb shock and still maintain its identity and function. Resilient systems — business, social, ecological, you name it — all have redundancy so that, when a shock or increased stress occurs, there will be back up. There will be some elasticity: someone or something will be able to step in and perform when the usual relationships fail.”

The extreme weather events of late have made Alex Wilson a lot busier. However, given the effects of superstorm Sandy are still so fresh (along with Hurricane Irene the prior year,) protection against flooding is currently the main concern. But there are plenty of other severe weather and environmental occurrences to guard against such as extreme winds and high temperatures, droughts and earthquakes.  There are 100 million homes in the US. While it is far easier to incorporate Resilient Design in new construction, in many instances it is worth the cost to retrofit existing buildings.

Here are a few initiatives Resiliant Design Institute is engaged in. Cooling load avoidance strategies for high temperatures, including smart window, high performance glazings, shading techniques. For high winds; safe rooms and tie down straps. Ways of minimizing water consumption in the face of drought and water shortages. Increased photo voltaic power (solar or PV power) to combat power outages, and ways to ensure a safe food supply through  community gardens and aquaponics (a sustainable food production system that combines a traditional aquaculture ,raising aquatic animals such as snails, fishcrayfish or prawns in tanks, with hydroponics, cultivating plants in water in a symbiotic environment.

Unless you believe the severe weather we’ve been experiencing is an anomaly, and nothing to worry about going forward, you might want to start thinking about resilient design for your home, and your community. Think of it as a life safety issue, as opposed to a political issue. For more information http://www.resilientdesign.org/


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