With a background in neuropsychology and a love for science, Stacey Frost set out to change the world one idea at a time. She founded Urban Re:Vision , an organization of dedicated professionals across a variety of fields committed to creating the national prototype for sustainable urban living. Urban Re:Vision sponsors a series of international competitions to gather ideas from concerned citizens and industry professionals to build a better, more sustainable world.
Staff writer Jennifer Powell spoke to Frost about green practices and how she is raising awareness through her company Urban Re:Vision.
1. How did you get interested in green building? Why is it important to you?
My interest in green building and sustainability as a whole came from a personal place. I grew up in nature and was always aware of the connection between people and place. When I began learning of the long-term health effects of children exposed to toxic materials in schools, as a mother I felt compelled to take action. I began looking at our environment as a system and realized how one component affects the others. We can take asbestos out of a school but if our drinking water isn’t safe we’re just putting a band-aid on a bigger problem. No one should be forced to endure working or living in a toxic environment. It’s not natural.
2. What are the perceived challenges of green design, and what advice can you give to builders and architects who are unfamiliar with green building on how to overcome them?
The perceived challenges are that green design is more expensive and would require extensive retraining and a complete overhaul of existing building practices. The reality is that as more companies move toward sustainability, the cost would be the same or less over the lifetime of a building in addition to the obvious health benefits for those that live and work in green buildings. With less energy needed for heating and cooling, and lower maintenance costs and better air quality for inhabitants, I think many current building practices will soon become a thing of the past. I suggest reading “Green Building for Dummies” by Eric Corey Freed [read his Q&A from November in the Green Forum]. He has been able to dissect a complex issue and create a systematic response that is both practical and forward-thinking.
3. Do you have an opinion about what the national green building standard should be?
I think LEED is a great starting point as it creates a base that allows us to look at the entire system. However, until those standards are federally mandated in all new buildings a complete overhaul can’t take place. I’m a believer in paying a little more now for benefits in the future. For instance, when someone buys a home, there are requirements that need to be met regarding termites. Why not place stricter standards on energy efficiency? Loans can be made available at the time of financial transfer that allows for specific upgrades to be made which will increase the value of the building, decrease the need for fossil fuels and create a healthier environment. As with so many things surrounding sustainability, I think it’s a matter of taking a step back, analyzing the situation and coming up with a common sense solution to the problem. It’s all about creating a win-win situation.
4. Urban Re:Vision is edgy. It’s a unique way to spark new ideas and ways for sustainable living. Tell me more about the work in which the company is involved.
When we started Urban Re:Vision, we created a very basic platform from which to pursue our goals. We asked ourselves the question, “What If?” What if we could live in an environment that is toxin-free, works sustainably and provides a direct connection between residents and their community? We are posing that question to both design professionals and concerned citizens through our six-part international competition that deals with a variety of key issues facing our urban communities. We have been rewarded with consistently innovative, intelligent and inspiring proposals.
Re:Vision is taking another look at the city block. It’s a different perspective, a different scale than people usually take in a city. We are looking at the city block as a system, or from a biomimetic point of view. We’re looking at the city as a cell, and then we’re thinking about how those building blocks, those cells, come together to make a city that can grow and adapt efficiently and in sync with the needs of its residents and the ecosystems it occupies. Our cities already have existing infrastructures, and the challenge is to take existing technologies and adapt them to meet the needs of cities now and in the future. How will we provide a high standard of living to an ever increasing population, while using fewer resources? How can population density be seen as an asset, socially and economically?
Once the city block as a system is defined ,our task will be to implement these ideas into the renovation of an entire major market city block, creating a wholly sustainable urban community. Urban Re:Vision is about turning ideas into action and upon the completion of the final project, we are confident that other cities will recognize the positive financial, environmental and societal impact of incorporating the template.
5. Tell me about the competitions Urban Re:Vision sponsors? Are they open to anyone who is interested or is it strictly for professionals?
The first four stages of Urban Re:Vision are open to anyone and we have been inspired by the number of ingenious proposals we have received from citizens as well as trained, design professionals who are appreciative of the opportunity to explore their creativity and share their vision.
At this time, we have completed the first two stages of our competition, Re:Volt, which was dedicated to implementing “clean” energy sources and Re:Route, which focused on urban transportation. The current stage, Re:Store, is based on providing green innovations for a healthy economy and is followed by Re:Connect, urban planning for people and place, Re:Construct which seeks sustainable methods of construction and finally Re:Vision which will provide sustainable architectural concepts to the project.
Given the amount of knowledge that is required for the final two stages, Re:Construct and Re:Vision, we are only seeking proposals from professionals. We are very anxious to see what the most innovative minds in the industry will submit when provided with an opportunity that is only limited by their imagination. This will be our chance to ask those working in the industry day to day, “What If...?”