We always welcome guest posts on this blog, and recently, we asked Amie Vanderford, who notified us last week about the presentation, “Design for Sustainable Systems,” if she would expand on some points in her email.

We are grateful that she agreed, and the following is her commentary, which is coincidentally complementary with the theme of the week:

Why Sustainability and “Green” Development are Important to Memphis

By Amie Vanderford

This Saturday I attended a Mississippi River Corridor (http://www.msrivertn.org) organized lecture on “Design for Sustainable Systems” presented by David Yocca, RLA, AICP, LEED AP and Gerould Wilhelm, Ph.D from the Conservation Design Forum (http://www.cdfinc.com) based out of Illinois. I was inspired to think about what Memphis needs when Dr. Wilhelm began the presentation with a list of the doctrines they base their work upon:

* We believe that rain is a resource, not a waste product.
* Our opportunity for the future is born again with each new child.
* Each child should grow up with the freedom to choose what is best for themselves and their children.
* That which is loved is beautiful; that which is beautiful is loved, and therefore sustained.
* All places under heaven are unique to the earth and must be cared for.

Best And Brightest

Memphis is a city that faces major problems with crime, education, healthcare and bankruptcy, and while it has the potential to become a great city, we need to develop our creative resources to take us to the next level. We live in a world where regardless of technological advances, our natural global resources are still limited, and as such there is greater competition for those resources.

We need to focus on working together as a community to define our ‘doctrines’ and then begin to identify what our local strengths and local resources are in order to develop them in a way that allows us to sustain ourselves. I believe that as a community we already possess some of the best and the brightest, but if we ignore the ideas of our best and brightest, and ignore the development of our future best and brightest, they will move away to cities where their idealism is heralded rather than ignored, and we will be stuck in the mire of the past.

Let’s begin with education. With the “No Child Left Behind Act,” the quite obvious idea that we need to better educate our children came into focus. Yet the result of this act was a focus on standardized test scores because we need our children to pass these tests in order to obtain federal funding for our schools. Passing tests does not equal a good education.

Real Learning

We need to cultivate our children’s critical thinking skills and natural curiosity rather than their memorization skills. While it takes skill to memorize, imagine what we could accomplish if our focus was on developing critical thinking skills. If we develop our children’s, and our own, critical thinking skills we can perhaps begin to focus on creative solutions to what matters to us the most in our own community.

A variety of studies have shown that children who participate in outdoor education show improved psychological well-being, increased problem-solving skills, and an increased ability to overcome challenges (one such study can be found at: http://www.oeg.net.au/research/bibliography/mcLeod_allen-craig.pdf). I suggest that if local politicians and tax dollars are more focused on test scores and obtaining (needed) federal funding, that we work with local non-profit organizations to get our kids involved in outdoor programs and enhance the overall education received including the development of critical thinking skills.

In regards to economic development, I think we can all agree that the world is quickly moving into a global economy, regardless of how we might feel about it. How we spend our scarce dollars is a huge issue, and not just in Memphis.

Up On The Roof

Creativity and innovation amongst entrepreneurs is not celebrated, but saving money is. Cheaper has become better, and a profit today has become more important than a sustainable way of living for years to come. At Saturday’s public lecture, the Conservation Design Forum discussed the green roofs in places such as Germany and Chicago. The general idea behind green roofs is that heating and cooling bills can be reduced by 25 percent, the life of the roof can be doubled, and we can reduce storm water runoff, help clean the air, create urban wildlife habitats, and make our buildings more beautiful.

They went on to explain that if new buildings were constructed with an entire philosophy of green development (not just the roofs) with a specific budget in mind instead of just contracting out work to the lowest bidder, green ideas could be creatively imagined within the confines of a budget and perhaps save money in initial construction and not just future maintenance costs. The additional resources utilized would be the creativity of a team of people seeking solutions rather than empty costs. This in turn could lead to local job creation that aligns with the national trend, and even higher paid and more fulfilling jobs at that.

According to a November 12 article in The Commercial Appeal, “the green economy is a $341 billion industry and creates 5.3 million jobs, according to a study by Management Information Systems Inc., rivaling the chemical industry, the apparel industry and the pharmaceutical industry.” It further states that numerous cities are initiating green-jobs initiatives, and the U.S. House of Representatives has passed an energy bill which includes a provision for $125 million towards training a green work force. Regardless of whether the federal money passes Senate approval, we need to look at these types of solutions for our city and we need to do it now.

Hit The Door

Now what about healthcare? We all know that insurance rates and medical costs are astronomical and as it does not appear that we are getting much closer to more affordable healthcare, so how can we creatively find a solution to this problem, and how does this tie in to the green movement? I would say health & wellness.

Let’s get outside more! Why don’t we ride our bikes in our local parks and along our majestic Mississippi River? And for the more adventurous folks, how about some kayaking and/or canoeing on our local rivers like the Wolf and the Mississippi? We can hike through our natural areas and try things like bird watching, especially since the Mississippi River is such an incredible asset with hundreds of migrating birds coming through our fine city.

So, what do we say, Memphis? Let’s start to work together at solving what we think ails us. Let’s focus on being self-sufficient and implementing sustainable practices and working together to make our city the great place it can be. What can it hurt to dream big?