GOING GREEN: electric cars, green buildings, sustainable farming, and more…
The Krankies Farmers Market, which has expanded from the confines of the coffee house to Patterson Avenue between 3 rd and’ 4 th streets in downtown Winston-Salem, has been in talks with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association to become a regional committee of the group until the market attains its own nonprofit status. (photos by Engle Tillotson)
Sustainability the goal of Krankies Farmers Market by Joe Murphy
The word “sustainable” gets bandied about a lot these days, but does anyone really know what it means? Matt Mayers, manager of Krankies Farmers Market, certainly does. “Sustainability is a word that gets used a whole bunch but no one has actually reached it,” Mayers said. “For something to be literally sustainable, you can do it forever.”
The Krankies Farmers Market, which is held within the confines of Krankies Coffeehouse and on Patterson Avenue between 3 rd and 4 th streets in downtown Winston-Salem from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Tuesday, strives to achieve the status of sustainability.
“You want things to be done in a way that doesn’t do harm to people or the planet,” Mayers said.
This fall, Mayers and his fellow organizers of the farmers market are taking concrete steps to make the sustainable food movement a reality. The group is starting a volunteer program for people who want to donate their time to local farms that utilize sustainable practices.
“We want to build into the system sustainability, so we’re not using resources faster than they can be replaced,” Mayers said.
Human resources is one area of concern for members of the Triad Buying Co-op, which organizes of the Krankies Farmers Market. If only older folks are engaging in sustainable farming, and no young people are getting involved, it can’t last forever, Mayers observed. Therefore, encouraging young people to get involved in sustainable farming and building a good mix of ages of vendors at the farmers market has become a priority for the co-op. All the while, organizers look to build an economic model that allows local farmers using sustainable practices to earn a living.
“We also want to be repository of information for vendors to help them with creating good business models for themselves,” Mayers said. “It’s hard for farmers to sort out all the different things they need to do, so we’ll have a team that will put together a resource center of information for vendors to say, ‘Here are the things you need to consider if you’re going to do this.’” To ensure that local farmers continue to have a market for their wares, the farmers market has been in talks with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, a nonprofit with more than 1,000 members in North and South Carolina, to become a subgroup of the organization. Mayers, the leader of the Triad Buying Co-op, said the group hopes to become a regional committee of the CFSA until it attains its own nonprofit status.
Outreach efforts in the community have been modest up to this point, but Mayers and his fellow organizers plan to broaden their efforts in the coming year. The co-op will offer cooking classes that focus on preparing healthy, organic meals. In addition, the group plans on sponsoring a food-themed filmed series at Krankies Coffeehouse.
The farmers market, which is going into its third year of existence, remains in the early stages of creating a local sustainable food movement, but it’s an idea that is gaining momentum, Mayers said.
“The thing that makes it important, unlike other things we can choose to do, is that food is something we deal with and make decisions about daily,” Mayers said. “That’s not true when it comes to how are we going to build this building? Which car are we going to select?” “A sustainable food movement gives people a greater consciousness about sustainability, because it’s in their face, so to speak,” Mayers continued. “You can make food changes incrementally — it can be something that is on people’s minds hourly. You’re making conscious decisions on what you eat unlike transportation and other infrastructure issues, which are enormous and hard to conceive.”
Mayers said he is working on developing a program that will allow people who receive federal assistance to utilize food stamps to buy food at the farmers market “so that organic sustainable food is not only available to the well-to-do.”
Organic food at the farmers market is typically priced higher than food at the local supermarket, Mayers conceded, but shoppers can rest assured that nothing goes to waste.
“In the traditional food distribution chain, you have immense amounts of waste,” Mayers said.
For example, all the heads of lettuce at the grocery store that don’t sell are normally thrown in the trash.
“That sort of thing is largely reduced in a system like we have — people shopping in a local market,” Mayers said. “Next year, we’ll have a setup that at the end of the day that if vendors want to donate unsold items, we’ll take them off to the local soup kitchen. We’ll give that option to shoppers as well.”
The new program provides another example of how the Krankies Farmers Market continually strives to empower customers and vendors alike.
“The overarching assumption we make at the grocery store is things are they way they are, they’re going to stay that way and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Mayers said. “Hopefully that’s the big assumption we can get rid of gradually.”
Imagining commuter rail service in the Triadby Jordan Green
Imagine you could get on a train at NC A&T University in Greensboro and ride out to Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem to do some shopping, with regular service each way every hour or half hour so you could use the service at your convenience. There would probably be a stop at the intersection of West Market Street and College Road with a bus connection to Guilford College. There would certainly be stops at Piedmont Triad International Airport and downtown Kernersville. The line would go right past Krankie’s Coffee in downtown Winston- Salem with its Tuesday farmers market and through the burgeoning West End neighborhood.
That’s the nascent stage of a regional commuter rail system for the Triad, as envisioned by the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation, or PART. It already has a name: the East-West Corridor.
Will commuter rail ever get off the ground in the Triad, or will the region lag behind as the Triangle becomes the second urban region in North Carolina after Charlotte to develop a system? Will Greensboro, High Point, Winston-Salem and Kernersville capitalize on their rich transportation heritage or will decades of sprawl-development patterns and longstanding parochialism doom the region to a future of mediocrity?
The answers to those questions largely depend on political leadership and education, buy-in from the citizenry and prioritization of resources.
PART, which runs bus service connecting the three major Triad cities and beyond to Boone, Mt. Airy, Lexington, Asheboro and Chapel Hill, conducted a seven-year study contemplating a commuter-rail system from Winston-Salem to Greensboro with a price-tag of $500 million, concluding last year that the plan isn’t feasible yet. Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, a member of PART’s board of trustees, said the region does not yet have enough population density to qualify for federal funding, which would cover 80 percent of the cost, along with 10-percent matches respectively from state and local government. The board directed staff to continue studying transportation corridors to enhance regional transit.
Meanwhile, some see greater opportunity to develop commuter rail within Greensboro before moving forward with a regional system. The primary proponent of this model is Tom Clary, a credentialed urban planner and the Greensboro Community Sustainability Council’s leading expert on light rail.
A metropolitan commuter rail line might follow the Battleground Avenue corridor, which already features the developing Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway that roughly follows a discontinued rail bed.
“Greensboro is blessed, in my view, with abandoned railroad right-of-way,” Clary said. “Going back to the Civil War, it was a railhead distribution center for the Confederate Army. Now the spurs are not in use, or they’re under-utilized, underused, semiabandoned. They present golden opportunities.”
Part of the appeal of commuter rail is that it is more energy efficient than automobile transportation and it encourages more sustainable patterns of development by encouraging people to live and work in close proximity to each other. The inverse is also true: To be feasible, light rail requires a certain level of residential and commercial density to sustain demand for service. The relationship between transportation and development creates a myriad of approaches that can be overwhelming. Do you build the transportation infrastructure first so that it will spur development? Do you let the development create a demand for transportation infrastructure? Or do you invest in transportation and development simultaneously?
Clary’s vision is bold, and it would require significant public investment.
“If you bought those [railway spur] rights-of-way now you could use them immediately for bikeways connected to the downtown loop, which will be the first urban [greenway] loop in North Carolina,” Clary said. “All of this has significant transportation implications. If you got a hold of those rights-of-ways before someone else does, the city can control the rights to them. You have ground rights, below-ground rights and above-ground rights. They’re all rentable, lease-able and saleable.
“If you build a platform that’s a joint-use multipurpose development, you can build housing, eight to 10 stories — 10 might be a little bit too much for Greensboro — you could maybe have twin towers, one that would be residential and one that would be office,” Clary continued. “The city can lease those buildings, which would amortize the debt and generate income. Once you build those towers, you taper them back into the neighborhoods with town homes so it doesn’t offend the neighborhoods; in fact, it protects the neighborhoods. You’re building in your ridership.”
Clary described the Greensboro Transit Authority as the “natural contender” for administering such a system, praising its staff as professional, competent and efficient.
Rather than expand public investment and ask citizens to pay additional taxes, Greensboro’s fiscally conservative mayor and council have committed to cutting the cost of local government. The regional model poses its own political hurdles: Only about half of the 24 members of PART’s board of trustees are from local governments in Forsyth and Guilford counties. Members from surrounding counties, including its chairman, Randolph County Commission Vice Chairman Darrell Frye, might not see a commuter rail system connecting Winston-Salem and Greensboro as a priority.
“The Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation is in the process of developing long-term plans that would include regional light rail,” said Dan Besse, a Winston-Salem city councilman who strongly supports the concept. “The latest analysis that was done for them, as I understand it, said we don’t have the population density at this point to move forward immediately with rail plans. However, there’s a lot of chicken and egg there. One of the reasons we don’t have transportation density is that we’ve been in a negative pattern of sprawling development for the past several decades. If we’re going to reverse that we need to take affirmative action to encourage more compact development and encourage development in areas that can benefit from the economic boost.”
Employment patterns across the Triad argue for a regional light rail system, Besse suggested.
“When you look at our employment patterns you see an enormous amount of movement between cities and between counties,” he said. “People are now living in one place and driving to another. The impression you get of cities that we are separate is more political than it is economic. The reality is there is great deal of economic interconnection among the Triad cities.
The financial expense on the front end represents the most significant hurdle for commuter rail. Triad voters might find a sales tax referendum to pay for a commuter rail project similar to Charlotte’s Lynx system to be a hard pill to swallow.
Some suggest rail versus auto is a matter of priority. Marcus Brandon, the Democratic candidate for NC House District 60 in Greensboro and High Point, said North Carolina spends more money on highways than any other state except Texas, and could free up significant funds for rail by reducing its allocation for roads and highways from 85 percent to 60 percent.
“When you look at the overall cost of transportation, puttin in a light rail system is far less expensive than putting in loop systems, for example,” Besse said. “You hear local government and chmabers of commerce and some neighborhoods clamoring for loop systems. That takes a bigger chunk of money than rail. Billions are literally being spent on loop systems in Greensboro and Winston-Salem.”
The benefits of light rail are economic and ecological, Besse said, and the region risks getting left behind if it does not act soon.
“For our progress as a metro area, we need to join the national movement toward restoration of passenger rail service,” Besse said. “If the Triad fails to do that over the next decade or so we will both lose environmentally and fall behind in terms of our economic potential. The great advantage of regional light rail is that it helps to drive a more compact development pattern. The establishment of light rail services sets up natural nodes for new housing and economic development around the transit stations.
“You can put [transit stations] and should put them both in places that need the transportation service and in areas that need the development, as well as in areas where you can most appropriately grow,” he continued. “By doing that you help reduce future traffic congestion. You also help revitalize areas that had previously been in decline. Finally, you help reduce sprawling development into environmentally sensitive areas like key watershed areas.”
The future of the automobile: It’s electricby Joe Murphy
Anne Tazewell’s car, a Neighborhood Electrical Vehicle (NEV) made by Global Electric Motors gets her around the NC State University campus and downtown Raleigh. The NEV’s top speed is 25 miles per hour so it can only be driven in 35 mph speed zones. It takes six to eight hours to charge the battery in a typical 110-volt outlet, which lasts around 30 miles.
As the North Carolina Solar Center’s Clean Transportation Manager, Tazewell and her colleagues drive around in the NEVs that look like a cross between a Mini-Cooper and a golf cart, with have “Zero tailpipe emissions” scrolled across the door, among other vibrant decor. Tazewell says the cost is literally “pennies per mile.”
Unlike other electrical cars that can only pull energy from the main grid, Tazewell and the rest of NC State’s North Carolina Solar Center’s staff’s NEVs are capable of a two-way charge from vehicle to grid (V2G) meaning they can recharge into a — hopefully soon-to-be — smart grid that allows for a user to restore power to the grid and not simply pull from it. You could select how often and how much energy you’d like to give the grid and, presumably, the electric companies would compensate you for the amount.
Neighborhood Electric Vehicles may not be practical for long commutes (yet), but for urban environments they will hopefully soon be more ubiquitous than Vespas.
Tazewell hesitantly estimates that we are 10 years away from having the infrastructure and technological advancements, dependent largely on funding, from “affordable” electric cars.
But, as Tazewell explains, “affordable” is a variable term. “Even if people understand that it’s cleaner and better for the environment, if it isn’t easy for their pocketbooks then they aren’t going to act on it.
“I’d like to say within the next 10 years if things line up right,” Tazewell continues. “But the public will have to get behind full-size electric vehicles because they will be more expensive [than gas-powered cars]. Battery storage, charging and range are also issues.”
Tazewell admits it will be a long time before gas-guzzling vehicles built for long trips, like semi-trucks, will be gas-free.
Though the public is known to vote with their checkbooks or credit cards, thanks to stimulus funding directed to the research and development of alternative energy, the federal government is taking a more aggressive approach to funding alternative energy.
“Funding is one of the bigger barriers in advancing alternative fuel technology,” says Tazewell.
The NC Solar Center has received recent funding from both the federal stimulus package and the Department of Transportation. Alternative-energy funding was also distributed to universities, cities and counties including Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Guilford County.
The city of Greensboro purchased two compressed natural gas (CNG) refuse haulers, five Prius hybrids and one CNG station, Guilford County purchased five hybrid electric passenger vehicles an Winston-Salem purchased five NEVs and one hybrid electric utility truck.
“Natural gas is a perfect application for a refuse truck,” says Tazewell of Greensboro’s new investment. “Natural gas is cheaper and will save the city on fuel costs. It’s a good way to go for a business or city.”
Though the US government is reluctantly trying to wean the nation off of its mainline fossil fuel habit — the BP spill being the latest blatant example — for electric car technology to become prominent, we citizens will have to take an active role in participation (and if possible funding) at the grass roots level.
“The federal funding is pushing the needle a little bit and electric cars are coming out by major auto makers in the coming years,” says Tazewell. “[Government and industry] are moving along at the same time and helping each other.”
The NC Solar Center, with the help of more than $1 million from the Carolina Blue Skies and Green Jobs Initiative, will travel the state this fall preaching the gospel of alternative energy. The Blue Skies Initiative aims to increase alternative fuel 30 percent by adding 96 alternative fueling stations, 80 of which will include charging stations. The initiative will enable greater accessibility to biodiesel, propane, electric charging and CNG energy.
Upcoming local events include the GoExpo at the Benton Convention Center on 301 W. 5 th St. in Winston-Salem this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., NCSEA’s annual Making Energy Work Conference at the MC Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem all day Thursday and a Triad Mobile Clean Air Renewable Energy (CARE) Meeting at the Piedmont Triad Council of Governments at 2216 W. Meadowview Road in Greensboro on Thursday, Oct. 14 from 10 a.m. to noon. (For more information about each of these events, visit the NC Solar Center’s website: www.cleantransportation.org).
Though there is still a long way to go before we as a nation finally kick our gas habit, the future looks bright for electric and alternative energy development… as long as complacent citizens and corporate and political interests don’t block it’s shine.
Susanka’s ‘Not So Big’ message resonates with homeownersby Keith T. Barber
Sarah Susanka, author of Not so Big House and Not So Big Life, will be at GoExpo at Winston-Salem’s Be nton Convention Center on Saturday. (courtesy image)
Sarah Susanka, architect and author of Not So Big House and Not So Big Life, said it’s a new day in the sustainability movement due in large part to the Great Recession. Susanka is one of the featured speakers at GoExpo 2010, a sustainability festival to be held Saturday at the Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem. When America’s economy was booming, it appeared that homebuilders and homebuyers subscribed to the philosophy that bigger is better. Now, there is a new ethos.
“I was at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas in January and all these builders were saying, ‘We need smaller, betterdesigned houses,’” Susanka said. “I almost fell over backwards. They are embracing that message whole-heartedly and the general public is demanding it.”
Susanka, a practicing residential architect, began her book series in 1998 with Not So Big House and an emphasis on sustainability.
“I believe in energy efficiency and the materials that go into its construction so that it lasts for centuries rather than for decades,” Susanka said.
Concepts outlined in the Not So Big series allow homeowners to tailor their houses to their personal likes and needs. The series debunks the myth that you should design your house based solely on resale value. Susanka said her goal is to communicate that smaller is better for the environment and better for what we all truly desire in a home.
For example, Susanka points out that most prospective homebuyers don’t realize the importance of ceiling height. In the series, Susanka points out that although most people pick out what they want based on a floor plan, “what makes you interested in a space is the height of things,” she said.
“The heights of ceilings make an enormous impact on how we enjoy our home,” Susanka said. “For example, if you lower the ceiling over a little eating area, it increases the feeling of intimacy. It’s one of those things people don’t think about and it has a huge impact.”
Several years ago, Susanka broadened her concept to incorporate the Not So Big principles into a comprehensive personal philosophy. Her book, Not So Big Life takes the message of right-sizing one’s home and applying it to right-sizing one’s life, Susanka said.
“Our homes are in many ways a reflection of our inner lives so as you start to re-imagine your life, engage your life in a different way, you end up doing a house remodeling at the same time you do a life remodeling because they’re both a reflection of you,” Susanka said. “Part of the reason this is so important from a sustainability standpoint is only when we come into balance with ourselves, can we have a balancing influence on the planet.”
Susanka will speak at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday with a book signing to follow. For further info on the Not So Big series, visit: www.notsobig. com.
GoExpo 2010, Benton Convention Center, 301 West 5th Street, Winston-Salem Sept. 25 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.
The greening of UNCG starts with educationby Brian Clarey
That new car smell… there’s nothing quite like it, evocative of acquisition and success, a subtle selling point so lodged in our sense memories that most of us can probably conjure it up using just our imaginations.
But there’s nothing mysterious about it. The “new car smell” is just the combined odor of plastics and adhesives, and they’re not particular to new cars. Apartments, airplanes and even building can give off that distinctive aroma when they’re new.
The bad news: The new car smell probably isn’t good for you or the environment, which is why the new School of Education at UNCG, which broke ground in 2009 and should be completed by spring 2011, will not have it.
“That new car smell – that’s not a great smell for a new building,” says Fred Patrick, the university’s director of facilities, design and construction. “Even though it smells new we actually try to avoid that smell so that [the building] has better indoor air quality.”
The $47 million building, which was made possible by a $700 million stimulus plan enacted by the state of North Carolina and still faces funding challenges, will be the first on UNCG’s campus to adhere to Leadership and Environmental and Energy Design standards set forth by the US Green Building Council.
Qualifying for a LEED silver rating, Patrick says, involves virtually every aspect of the building’s design, construction and eventual use.
“About half the LEED points get taken care of during the design portion [of a project], and they anticipate things that can happen during construction.”
The certification covers things like building orientation in relation to sunlight, efficiency of building materials and, when the building is completed, overall energy efficiency.
“We’ve done a construction waste management program,” he says. “We were saving something like 90 percent of the waste for recycling. Anything that was [torn down], they’re recycling that. There’s a bioretention area to slow and filter the site’s stormwater runoff. It’s a sand filtration system, and underground vault that filters all of the water runoff so that we’re actually cleaning up the water from the site before we discharge it into the system.”
And the building materials themselves affect LEED status.
“We do use regional materials,” Patrick says. “With a state property you can’t use salvaged materials — that’s not allowed by statute — but we can use sustainable or regional materials, and of we use wood they are certified woods so that the forests have been managed in a sustainable way.
“We also use low VOC paints and adhesives,” he says. VOCs, or “volatile organic compounds,” are what gives the new car smell.
The building on Spring Garden Street, which for now is being called the UNCG School of Education, though naming rights are still on the table, represents a huge leap forward for the university’s education department, which is currently housed in the Curry Building, which dates to 1926. Inside its 110,000 square feet will be 19 classrooms, two lecture halls, several laboratories, a student advising center, the Michael Family Teaching Resource Center, the bulk of the departments for the education program and the UNCG Teachers Academy.
It will also have low-flow plumbing, cutting water use by half; regenerative elevators that use gravity and stored energy; an on-demand HVAC system with monitors that sample the inside air every 15 minutes; and automated lighting controls. These and other features should enable it to use 35 percent less energy than traditional buildings of similar size and scope.
The design even encourages the use of sustainable transportation with indoor and outdoor bike racks and low-flow showers for cyclists.
It will be the first “green” building on UNCG’s campus, but surely not the last. A residence hall currently under construction will also aspire to LEED silver certification.
“We’re on the process of certifying every building from now on,” he says, “or at least build in accordance with LEED-certified practices.”
And Patrick’s department is looking at ways to retrofit existing buildings to maximize energy efficiency.
The dining hall is on track for renovation, as are the seven buildings that make up the Quad, a project scheduled to go online just as the School of Education wraps.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Patrick says.
“The university believes it’s an important thing to be sustainable in its building practices.”