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…And A Municipal Government Shall Lead Them: Is This 2009′s Most Encouraging Green Building Macro-Trend?

Okay, let’s move that lovely picture of Burl Ives from the previous post a little further down the page. Apologies for the long period of radio silence, here, but, um, Happy New Year? I can only hope that your holiday-period time off was 1) actually extant and 2) restorative. I don’t know if Stephen ever made it back from Virginia; they got a lot of snow, and he could still be shoveling his way to the Piedmont Triangle Airport for all I know. At any rate, while we wait for the Top Green Stories of 2009 post that Stephen will eventually be doing — and while I continue to work on my meta-masterpiece/online-performance-art Top 10 “Top 10 Green Stories of 2009″ List — let’s take a moment to check out the list on display at Greentech Media, shall we?

Michael Kanellos’ end-of-year compendium is a pretty neat list, all told, balancing micro items — new dimmers! air conditioners! — and some pretty astute treatments of macro-trends. Kanellos singles out two bigger policies that I am kind of a fan of (in that dorky way that one can be a “fan” of policies), and which I think/hope are likely to wind up being big in 2010. These are the emergence of PACE Loans (that’s Property Assessed Clean Energy loans) as a possible driver of a new green retrofit market — Kanellos discusses it here — and the more general emergence of what looks to be an enduring green building market (which Kanellos limns here). In those two micro-macro-trends, though, is a bigger development that I find particularly encouraging and worthy of note.

And that’s this: at the conclusion of a year in which the animal spirits of the Totally and Completely Free Market took kind of a large-ish poop on basically all of the world’s citizens, it’s kind of nice to see state actors actually taking the driving wheel when it comes to green development. Both because it’s nice to see goverments actually, like, doing something other than threatening filibusters and whatnot, but because green development is something both complicated enough and important enough to be left entirely to the will of the market. Which… okay, maybe a new graf for this.

The fact that green building hasn’t just kind of sprouted up in any super-meaningful way absent government pump priming shouldn’t be much of a surprise, really. Cheap-and-Fast is currently enjoying its third century at the top of the Priorities of the Market hit parade, and should continue to outpace Responsible-and-Circumspect until the sun goes out. But simply because the market for green building isn’t springing to life all by itself doesn’t mean that this market cannot or will not be very big in years to come. While the Libertarians and demi-libertarian GOP corporatists have a visceral dislike of government in general, the relative green success of New York City during Bloomberg II is proof that sensible government policy-setting and savvy incentivizing of good green behavior can do a lot to help create the sort of green real estate marketplace we all want to see. No one, or at least not anyone I know, is arguing for nationalized green building programs inna WPA stylee (although, personally, I’d be down). But as the New York Times editorializes today, state and local governments are showing the way towards a more efficient future via both progressive-minded green building tax incentives like PACE and by setting aggressive green standards in their respective fiefdoms. Both combine to establish a playing field(s) on which the market can — once the rules are proscribed and the primed-pump of government-incented benefits clear to all parties — do its thing, and which can hopefully create jobs and wealth from the bottom up in years to come. No, seriously.

I know it’s hard to feel too terribly optimistic about government in general at present, given the chaotic peacocking/obstruction kabuki playing out in Congress, but it’s nice to know that at local and state levels — and, notably, right here in New York City — governments are showing themselves capable of making the right sort of moves to guide the market in the right direction. Kanellos predicts a 20-year boom in green building, and while that would obviously be nice for about a dozen different reasons, it seems plausible primarily because of the fact that sub-national policy-makers are currently doing a pretty decent creating the conditions for it. Which, for us Keynesians at least, is kind of how things are supposed to go. I can only hope that we’ll get national policies that are equally ambitious and effective, but it may be awhile before Washington catches up to New York or California. If you’ve seen the way people dress down there, you know what I’m talking about. Take it off!

Also, one other note: as nice as my vacation was, I was sadly unable to finish David Owen’s Green Metropolis during the break. Because Amazon didn’t deliver it until after I returned home. So that’ll probably be another week or so, but aspiring book clubbers should obviously get to reading that.

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