WNC Green Building Council hosts March 28 lecture on sustainable urbanism

What is sustainable urbanism?

According to Warren Wilson College alumnus Chad Riley, it’s “about looking at the cities that we live, work and play in, and working with the existing built environment to create more sustainable opportunities in the city.” He adds, “It’s not about scraping and rebuilding. It’s about working with the existing community.”

The idea applies to Asheville and the surrounding area, where the green-building industry is thriving and interest in sustainability is high: On Wednesday, March 28, at the kick-off event for the annual Green Building Directory, Riley will report on his work for Living City Block, a Denver-based nonprofit that’s developing a functional, proven framework for urban sustainability. Riley, director of finance and strategy and a co-founder, says the nonprofit’s mission is to “create and implement a replicable, exportable, scalable and economically viable framework for the resource efficient regeneration of existing cities, one block at a time.”

In other words, Living City Block helps reorganize and restructure communities to be environmentally sustainable, energy efficient and economically viable. The nonprofit is “resource retrofitting” city blocks right now in Denver and Brooklyn.

Duncan McPherson, the lecture organizer and one of the Western North Carolina Green Building Council co-founders, hopes the party and presentation by Riley will create an all-inclusive atmosphere of learning and networking for green-industry people and the public.

“Let’s get somebody here who can really speak to not just some academic or theoretical notion of sustainability and urban design,” McPherson says. “Let’s get somebody here who can talk about real-world, problem-solving solutions that are being applied elsewhere in the country. And, let’s see how … the concepts [at least], can be used here in Asheville to make a better, more livable city for everybody.”

According to McPherson, Living City Block is just the sort of platform to demonstrate how WNC officials, builders, designers and residents can focus on sustainable urbanism. “In Asheville and a lot of WNC, people get the ‘why’ we need to do this,” McPherson said. Exploring “how” is the next logical step.

Riley explains that a major part of urban sustainability is commercial viability and profitability for the local businesses involved. Urban sustainability has to be attractive to environmentally conscious and “conventional” business owners, he says.

“The whole concept behind Living City Block and the way we approach sustainable urbanism is about creating the commercial viable market that allows this to go to speed and scale quickly,” says Riley.

According to McPherson, profitable sustainability can benefit North Carolina’s overall green construction, infrastructure and energy industries: “A lot of the things [Riley’s] going to be talking about are going to help … WNC continue to brand itself as the place for sustainability innovations, and the place for energy efficiency industries.”

Both McPherson and Riley agree that sustainability is the movement of the future — it’s what cities need to do to move forward.

“With a city that has, already, a progressive, sustainable mindset such as Asheville,” Riley says, “being able to take the framework and principles in Denver and Brooklyn and apply those to some redevelopment opportunities [here is] a great opportunity.”

The launch party is Wednesday, March 28, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Pack Place. Riley’s lecture is from 7 – 8 p.m. in the Diana Wortham Theatre. Free beer and light food will be available at Pack Place, and more than 100 Green Building Directory-listed businesses will have representatives on hand to provide information about their services.

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