‘What If?’ Toward a More Equitable World: Out now in EDC's July issue
Editor's note: Browse the July issue of EDC, the official magazine for the LEED Professional, and preview the piece "‘What If?’ Toward a More Equitable World" by Susan Kaplan below. Sign up today to get your free digital edition of EDC.
Since you’re reading this, you probably work hard every day to make the projects you’re involved with more environmentally sustainable. The industry has made great strides in this area, but can we say the same about making our designs more socially sustainable?
Wouldn’t it be phenomenal (to paraphrase the International Living Future Institute) if every aspect of design and construction made the world a better place: a more vibrant and more equitable place for all people?
What would that take? We’d have to look hard at not only what’s best for the owner, but also at what’s best for all the others involved in and affected by the building: the people who work and live in the building, to start, but also the contractors and maintenance crews, the design team, those manufacturing the building materials and the members of the community who are often unwittingly, and without input, the recipients of a changed neighborhood as a result of the building’s creation.
The actions that could provide a better life for all these groups vary greatly. They include anything from ensuring the best job conditions to creating more socially and economically mixed communities; setting aside affordable spaces for local residents as well as local businesses; offering training for neighborhood residents; incorporating design features that work for all people, regardless of age and health; and providing public open space for recreation and socializing. They could also include working with companies that have more social awareness in all their corporate actions. And they could include equal access to sunlight, healthy air and cultural elements that elevate the spirit for everyone.
I’m sure you are thinking, “Yes, of course—who wouldn’t want to do that?” So the next question is how can we do it?
Success in social equity starts with gathering the right people and determining what the building can accomplish for the community, especially for those who have less access to services and influence. How many times have you sat at a project kickoff meeting in which every person around the table was asked what the problems and needs of the neighborhood are or what would make the most positive social impacts on the project? That few? I imagine if I asked how many of these meetings included neighborhood members; local religious, employment and community organizations; community officials; and building maintenance workers, it would be even fewer.
We too often make assumptions and design decisions based on only a few, quite narrow perspectives, and we don’t look farther afield at the project’s/community’s issues and opportunities around the project. Has the area been hit hard by changes in manufacturing? Are there too few schools around? Is there a high percentage of senior citizens in the community without transportation access or services? Does the community hope for community garden space?
How can we solve these shortfalls or meet these aspirations if we don’t find out what they are?
Clearly, this is a huge, multiheaded and complex subject. The first step toward a solution is understanding how to approach the problem.