Sustainability and surviving the Storm

On December 14 we endured a storm that initially flooded the streets of the business center and left us adrift without heat or technology. The entire island was without grid power. Houses went cold. Some of us couldn’t cook or take a shower. We went loopy when our electronics faded as batteries drained. We are thankful to the dedicated public employees and utility workers who have worked long hours, in dangerous conditions, to provide for our safety and comfort. Many millions of dollars will be spent getting us back to “normal.” And sadly for some in our region, the loss of power, flash flooding and downing of trees was deadly and not just an expensive and uncomfortable experience.

This small event should serve as a reminder of our reliance on infrastructure that is often tenuous. The storm may only be the beginning of a climate change that could make storms like it annual events. As individuals and as a community we need to become less vulnerable to the dire realities of massive power outages and other overwhelming affects storms can bring down on us.

Over the last year and a half IslandVision (formerly the MI Sustainability Education Group), a volunteer group open to all citizens, has worked with city government and the community to educate and engage on issues surrounding sustainability and its implications on policy, development, education, and business. The City Council approved the inclusion of sustainability language in the Comprehensive Plan, making a “Sustainable Community” a core value.

What does this mean? Does it mean we need to prepare to survive for 3-5 days in the event of disaster? Sure. Does it mean we build or remodel our homes to make them less dependent on the fragile power grid? Definitely! Does it mean that whenever the city does improvements to a street or neighborhood they consider implementing sustainable storm-water management principles that slow the water, filtering it into the ground, avoiding supercharging our storm-water piping system so flash flooding and slides can be minimized; and that all utilities be placed underground so when these storms do occur there is less danger from live power lines and expense to repair them? Hopefully! It also means that as a community we look out for our most vulnerable members: the young, the elderly and the infirm. In fact, it was heartening to realize that we do live in a community where we care for one another as we reached out to each other to make sure neighbors and friends were ok and provide what was needed.

Of course sustainability is not something that is implemented at the time of a disaster, but is central to the choices we make on a daily basis: In our consumption and disposal of the products we use; in the design of our city and of our buildings; in our use of construction materials and techniques; and in our modes of transportation. We are all becoming aware of just how limited our resources and fragile the systems that bring them to us are and we must work to intelligently use them to their utmost effectiveness.

Lucia Pirzio-Biroli, AIA, is an Island resident and she can be reached at 232-9147 or through her businesses web site at www.studioectypos.com.

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