what the slums can teach usWe think squatter colonies are just about the least green places on earth. They are often dirty, rank places, that (at least in our imaginations) are rife with diseases. And yet, people who live in squatter colonies have the smallest ecological footprint of any population in our rapidly urbanizing earth.
about green design
In the sanitized environment modern technology has given us, we have learned to forget that we actually live in the closed-ecosystem of a single planet. We are separated from our consumption and our effects. We are deluded and we do not realize that what we do, what we consume, what we throw away affects the whole ecosystem and that we use up finite resources or bring toxic waste into the environment.
Though I do not wish to condemn anyone to live in or to continue to live in the squalor of slums, there are a few lessons we could learn from the squatters about the principles of green design:
- Keep your s**t - slum areas do not have sewer systems, or septic tanks. In many places, raw sewage flows down the middle of informal streets and gathers in pools so that everyone can benefit from the aroma and partake of the diseases.
Why? Because most of us live with dotted lines to our ecological system. We flush the toilet and we don't know where our waste goes. (Most likely to septic tanks that leach into our aquifers or to gravity sewer systems that just lead to outfalls into our rivers, lakes or seas.) Our sanitation systems separate us from the damage we do to our environment.
Green design will take away those dotted lines, give us direct feedback (so we know where our s**t goes) and give us a closed loop system.
- Share (meager) resources - slum areas often have communal toilet and bath facilities, and communal water sources where up to 800 families could be sharing a single community faucet or 4-6 public bathrooms and toilets. That means waiting in line to get your bucket of water or to use the loo. Which also means you have to be considerate (or else) of other people waiting in line.
Why? The rest of us get our water from private taps - delivered straight to our bathrooms and kitchens. Apart from the monthly water bill, we have no real concept of how our use of resources affects others.
Green design will give us feedback on how much we consume of our shared resources.
- Reuse materials - squatter shanties are made of found/reused/recycled materials. Usually the dregs of what the rest of us throw away. They are patchwork quilts of different materials -each maximized for what it can provide.
Our "formal" buildings use up tremendous resources and tremendous energy. As much as a third of green house gas emission come from the energy we put into putting up buildings. We eat up trees to get wood, and carve up mountains to get stone and metal and sand. The paints we use, the cements, the glues, the plastics - are all toxic materials and we leave a lot of construction wastes -that wind up in landfills and in our rivers and groundwater.
We do even worse when we tear down existing buildings - throwing away the energy and resources (and often, our heritage) -so we can build new buildings that consume even more of our planet.
Green design will have us reuse materials or use renewables and use "cradle to cradle" product Life-Cycle design to plan for re-use. It will have us consider embodied energy and embodied toxicity in the materials we us.
- Minimize your use of space -the density some of our informal settlements in Metro Manila can be as high as 41,000 people per square kilometer. That means each person uses up about 5 x 5 meters of total space -including their share of public space. In practical terms, that can translate to 1.5 square meters of living space per person and extended families of 5-7 relatives share a home of under 20 square meters.
The homes of our middle class and elite take up so much space. Often this space is wasted in single function rooms that are hardly used. Most of these homes are large enough so family members can go through a day without having to see each other. -The larger the home, the bigger the ecological footprint.
Green design will use space creatively and design it for efficiency.
- Don't have too much stuff -because their living space, and their incomes are meager, squatters don't accumulate stuff and thereby consume less. TVs are shared with the whole neighborhood. Clothes are cared for -and passed on - for as long as they can last. So with other products and old furniture and appliances.
In contrast, our relatively generous spaces and our incomes let us buy more worthless stuff and lets us accumulate them (unused) in our homes.
Green design will make each item practical and valuable, and last long.
- Find value in waste -the worst squatter communities are usually cheek-by-jowl with our dumpsites and landfills. The people who live there survive on scavenging the trash for items that can still be sold or reused.
In contrast, we consume. We use once and throw away - food, or packaging, or materials (and sometimes, even people).
Green design will generate minimal waste and plan it so waste produce in one process can be used as inputs for another, moving from linear systems to looped systems.
So next time you pass by that smelly, dirty squatter community while driving your hybrid car -bow your head in humility. The squatters, in their dilapidated shanties, are way more green than you could ever hope to be (enclosed in your air-conditioned, shiny metal prius).
P.S. - How's that Lozada business going? Ready to kick out Gloria, or are you still willing to wait?