GBD30_Print Cover

The Water Issue, Nov/Dec 2014

In our conversation, guest editor Liz Davey, director of sustainability at Tulane University, recalls returning to her house after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans: “It was so hard to figure out what to do with a partially flooded house. What could you save? What did you have to take out?” This is a powerful moment. In the aftermath of one of the greatest natural disasters this country has faced, for those who returned to their homes, there was no script. No answers. The city faced the same question, the confusion writ large. What can we save?

The rebuilding of New Orleans will take center stage as Greenbuild descends on the city October 22–24. Shortly after, 2015 will mark the ten-year anniversary of Katrina. Special events and anniversaries tend to bring with them international attention, and those who visit the city or read about it from afar will find a new New Orleans, a city still in recovery but also full of its pre-hurricane vibrancy coupled with something more recently added to the mix: a commitment to sustainability. Visitors will find solar panels mounted on rooftops and bike lanes painted on streets, as well as urban farms, riverfront parks, a slew of new libraries, and plans to turn several of the city’s canals into hard-working greenways that manage stormwater in clever, economical ways. In fact, there is so much going on in New Orleans that we published a book called New Orleans: Structure, Community, City. In this issue, we have the story of Eskew+Dumez+Ripple’s plan to bring people back to the Mississippi.

Some 2,600 miles from New Orleans, designers are tackling a slightly different water issue. The Brightwater Treatment Plant outside Seattle is one of the most sophisticated sewage-treatment plants ever created—it not only treats wastewater to Class A standards (suitable for irrigation and other uses), but offers nature walks, salmon habitat, public art, and an education center that has become a popular venue for weddings. “Yes, brides in white arrive by limo while millions of gallons of sewage per day flow by them via an underground tunnel 18 feet in diameter,” Russ Klettke writes. Brightwater refuses to bow to our cultural tendency to pretend that waste—whether deposited into a trashcan or a toilet—simply disappears and instead shines a light on the skeletons in our water closet.

Managing editor Timothy Schuler

Managing editor Timothy Schuler

Designing for water—too much or too little—cannot be accomplished without rigorous examination of accepted best practices, which is why Andropogon Associates has undertaken a five-year-long monitoring project with the University of Pennsylvania to find out whether or not the living infrastructure installed at Penn’s Shoemaker Green is performing as intended. Landscape architect Emily McCoy shares the team’s first year of findings. 

Finally, I’m thrilled to announce our inaugural Women in Sustainability Leadership Award. Leading the pack is none other than Hillary Clinton, who has pointed out that “corporations with women in leadership positions are actually more focused on sustainability.” Clinton and our other nine honorees—as well as so many other women—are literally shaping the world in which we live. In celebrating these leaders, we aim to inspire young women to follow in their footsteps—and to prop the door open.

Timothy A. SchulerManaging Editor