The US's first suburb, Levittown, is launching a program to encourage energy efficiency upgrades in its homes. Volunteers are going door-to-door to publicize house upgrades that could improve the community's carbon footprint by 20%. But "having a green neighborhood and a green home are two different things" --although greening the houses is a step forward, the suburban form creates much greater impacts by requiring car use.
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by Bryan Walsh
"[The high energy consumption and environmental impact of American-dream, suburban lifestyles] makes what is happening in Levittown today so important. County officials, along with environmentalists and local businesses, recently launched the Green Levittown program, which aims to persuade residents to upgrade their homes, improving energy efficiency and cutting fuel bills. Volunteers signed up to canvass Levittown's 17,000 homes starting Jan. 15. Their mission is to introduce the program and offer to schedule an energy audit (approximately $300) that can identify cost-effective renovations. Those who choose to participate--replacing an inefficient hot-water boiler, adding solar thermal power--can finance the upgrades with reduced-interest loans offered by a local credit union."
"[county executive Tom] Suozzi hopes the program--which runs through Earth Day, April 15--will enlist about 5,000 households and shrink Levittown's carbon footprint 20%. But the real benefit may be even greater. 'There is nothing more Middle America than Levittown,' says Stan Bratskeir, a public relations executive who co-organized the program with Suozzi. 'If we can demonstrate this here, we can do it anywhere.'"
"Greening house by house is already catching on--the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) extended its Leadership in Energy and Design (LEED) rating system to residences to meet the interest in more environmentally friendly homes. But the next steps will be tougher. The sprawl of the suburbs has ensured that much of the energy we consume--and carbon we emit--comes from our dependence on cars. Until we change the layout of our neighborhoods--reversing the suburban ideal of semi-isolated homes--living green won't be easy. 'Having a green neighborhood and a green home are two different things,' says Michelle Moore, a vice president at USGBC."
The USGBC has a new program called LEED-Neighborhood Development, which evaluates neighborhoods on their sustainability, including layout of the neighborhood as a whole rather than just the green features of individual buildings.
Photo credit: Jesse Gardner