Archive for the ‘sustainable’ Tag

Small Town Seeks Character

"The old Shurfine Market building will be demolished as the first step in Tyngsborough’s plans to redevelop its town center. (Photos By Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)"

"The old Shurfine Market building will be demolished as the first step in Tyngsborough’s plans to redevelop its town center. (Photos By Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)"

Towns all across America have started to realize they have very little character or sense of place. Suburbanization has left many different areas different feeling places- most notably, a few acre sized lots of suburban sprawling homes may collectively have enough land to create a neighborhood or cultural center, but instead take up lots of relatively unused land. Although towns and houses with a great expanse of land may adequately allow for some people to efficiently live on their property (i.e. farmers), it may ultimately hurt them in the long run by not having a nearby main street. Tourism does not exist to places that do not have cultural hubs, so any town without a main stopping point or center is missing out on tourism opportunities. Going for milk becomes a 20 minute drive instead of a 5 minute walk. Without a main street or economic area, many people will also be forced to drive between their several destinations of needs, and instead of having an option of several reasonable methods of transport (most importantly equitable and ecologically responsible methods like walking, cycling, and public transit).

Thankfully, towns like Tyngsborough, Massachusetts are realizing the disadvantages of having little of a town center.

Right now, points of interest in the center of town include the Littlefield Library, Winslow School, and Old Town Hall – all of which are vacant. Municipal business is conducted at the new town hall/library, located in a remote wooded area away from the center. In Tyngsborough, as some observers put it, there’s simply no “there’’ there.

“There is no ‘there’ ” is a great way to describe the decentralization of cities, boroughs, and small towns. In all likeliness, small towns like Tyngsborough were settled because of a specific reason, such as a stopping point for travelers in the days before cars, or because a train station was a drop point for supplies. Places like these have fallen into near ghost towns and have no cultural center as a result of the continuous disinvestment from the train infrastructure and the advancement of technology- namely cars, which virtually destroyed many of these stop over towns overnight.

The obstacle for urban planners is to retain the old historical features and characters of these towns while injecting new locally accepted life in and around. “‘We want to make sure we develop a town center that recognizes the history of the town, along with grasping the culture and the wants of the residents,’ Lemoine said[…] ‘We’ve never had a town center, an identity for a town.'” Community visioning is a tool that could be used to help translate the physical descriptions from the general public and place all those ideas into a master plan.

“It would be nice to have a place of social gathering, a coffee shop, a breakfast place, an eatery where people can congregate and support their local businesses,’’ said selectman Richard Lemoine. “A center of town, whether it’s just a few shops, a green space, a bandstand, something that recognizes the significance of a community, every community strives for one. That’s what we’re striving for.’’

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, VERTICES LLC

Material drawn from


Video on Sprawl

Take two minutes to enjoy this movie made by the Congress for New Urbanism. It explains a lot of the problems we all see today and should get you thinking about other ways we can help to change the earth.

New Urbanism will be a huge step forward in reducing the demand and dependence on oil, space, cars, etc. It focuses on improving the areas we already have to make them better/ safer/ more sustainable living environments.

For more information, I recommend checking out There is a wealth of logical information and solutions. To give you a taste, recommends funding for building a more sustainable America can come from several of the following sources:

  1. The $620B and counting already spent on the Iraq war
  2. A portion of the $480B/year Defense budget
  3. Hundreds of billions spent on road construction
  4. Hundreds of billions spent on airport expansions
  5. Hundreds of billions spent on new coal, oil, and nuclear power plants
  6. $300B/ year spent subsidizing oil
  7. A new ‘waste’ tax
  8. A new carbon tax

That’s a lot of money.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, Vertices LLC

From the Office to the Built Environment

Today is going to be slightly different than past posts as I will talk about the transition from the office to the outside built environment. I was glancing about Yahoo! when I first came into work and one article I read got me thinking. It talked about several ways you can make your office space more pleasant, and I found that many of the tips they had given can be transformed to work as tips for making the built environment more pleasant.

The first tip mentioned is to reuse drinking cups because some materials take a long time to break down in landfills. Lots of materials buildings are made out of can be reworked to be recycled. One example comes from one of my earlier post about Cleveland where locals took bricks from a school that was to be demolished and placed the bricks as walkway inside a community garden near the heart of the city. Not only can bricks be reused, but many of the metallic materials can be smoldered down into new products as well.

The second tip they gave was to make your lunch and bring it to work. It is a simple way to save money, but if you were to make your own food in your backyard or community garden, think of the money you can save while at the same time avoiding chemically altered fruits and vegetables. It may be a hassle to do this for many people so this idea may be out of the question for many people, but at the same time imagine if it became the trendy thing to do.

Tip number three is to breathe fresh by livening your desk with a plant or two. Countless studies show that greenery increases happiness and that as humans, we love being around nature. When we step out to our streets, it should not be a jungle of cars and the infrastructure to support them, but rather a pleasant built landscape that is comfortable and exciting to walk through.

The final tip is to dress the part- come into work with clothes you bought second hand and advertise your ways. The advertising of this part is crucial, because too many people do not feel this part is feasible/ socially acceptable/ economically beneficial, etc. By being obvious about your ways shows your confidence in your beliefs, and may persuade others to jump on board with you, even if it is slightly.

There of course are implications with these tips, mainly the economic impact it would have if a large portion of people started to employ these ways. At the same time, we should not underestimate the ability of human personality to adapt to the conditions.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, Vertices LLC

The Yahoo! article can be found here:

Vision for Visioning

Nice 4 story houses overlooking a square near centre city London

Nice 4 story houses overlooking a square near centre city London

It’s hard to have to pull together a consensus on a whole community of people, if not impossible. Determining which public inputs and ideas are better may lead to compromising some other goals determined by the community. A community likely cannot be walkable and transit oriented if the goal of the community is for everyone to own a car. The trade offs between values like these are ones where community visioners must extract the most important details from.

Talking amongst the community members may eventually take shape into an idea of what the community wants to look like, but there are other tools that are much more effective and time efficient. In today’s world of globalization, there are many communities that feature more than one primary language. Talking might not just be an option to gather a fair public input. This brings me to the most important tool in visioning: visual representation. Visual representation can be anything from charts to blue prints to computer designed buildings and areas. Upon seeing these representations, people can choose whether or not they agree the mechanisms brought forth by the visioner has a place in their community. Visual representation of ideas is the best way to communicate because there is a clearer understanding of what is being presented with little room for self interpretation and there is no foreign language that needs interpreting.  There are many more case-specific reasons visual representations are great tools for community visioning, but this should tickle the mind of anyone seeking a community visioning process.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, Vertices LLC

Sustainable design

Today’s topic comes on more sustainable design and implementing it into everyday life. Probably the two biggest obstacles in incorporating sustainable design are cost and sacrifices in comfort. However, it appears that these two obstacles are just myths, and in fact building sustainable “green” buildings may actually be cheaper to both build and maintain, as well as maintain a high level of comfort.

Spacecoast Architects of Indialantic, Florida have set a good standard in building design that I will use as an example today.

Spacecoast’s president, Lawrence Maxwell’s “protype” school design is  The Odyssey Charter School. According to an article run by, Odyssey uses only 30% of the energy required for “typical schools.”

The building scored a 95 out of 100 for the Energy Star evaluation. Buildings only need 70 points to qualify as an Energy Star. Such a high score is a tribute to Spacecoast’s dedication to sustainable design.

I want to quote directly from the article because I think it describes perfectly the point I want to get across:

“The school demonstrates how to program high-energy performance into a building’s DNA using principles of building orientation, natural lighting, natural ventilation, advanced thermal envelope design, active and passive thermal storage, and demand management.”

Orientation and natural lighting are important to schools. School activities for the most part take place during the day, so it makes sense to use as much natural lighting as possible. But, in a climate like Florida’s, it’s important to not absorb too much heat into the building. It’s hot enough in Florida and making a school into a solar hot box would not be ideal. Instead, the building orientation had many windows facing the north end of the building, where light would still come through but it would be indirect as to avoid lots of the heating inside.

Again quoting directly from the site: “This aesthetically attractive, 47,000-square-foot school also cost half as much to build as a conventional school, $70 per square foot compared to $150 per square foot, without sacrificing comfort or facilities.”

Interesting, huh?

Max Stember-Young, Intern, Vertices LLC

The related article to this post can be found at: