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Knoxville Regional
Transportation Planning Organization

400 Main St, Suite 403
Knoxville, TN 37902

phone: (865) 215-2500
fax: (865) 215-2068

PlanET Perspectives:

Developing for Future Growth

By Glenn Richters, RA, LEED AP
Benefield Richters Co., Inc. and board member East Tennessee US Green Building Council
Posted 12/04/2013

Continued growth and development seems inevitable. It is estimated that the world population will increase by 2 billion people by 2050. In East Tennessee; population projections show an increase of 300,000 people over the next 30 years. The challenge before us is how to develop the region in a way that provides the necessary infrastructure for this growth while minimizing the negative impact this development can have in the future.  Or, better yet, can we increase the quality of life and health of our region?

Buildings are an essential part of our lives; we spend over 90 percent of our time indoors. They provide solutions to our fundamental need for shelter. They provide us places to live, learn, work, shop and play.  They shape the communities where we live and interact.

Development, however, comes with a cost. According to the EPA, buildings, their construction and operation, account for 72 percent of our electrical consumption, 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, and 13 percent of total water consumption. The impact that the development and operation of buildings has on our air and water quality, energy security, cost of living, and health is enormous. And long lasting.

Land development patterns affect our health and quality of life, and play a key role in our economy. They determine transportation patterns and, therefore, the amount time we spend driving automobiles to and from work, stores, and schools; the ease of access we have to recreation areas and infrastructure that encourages a healthy lifestyle; and the quality of our air and water.

The more we drive, the less we walk or bicycle and the less time we have for other activities, such as recreation. In Tennessee, 60 percent of adults and 15 percent of adolescents are obese. The more we drive the more pollutants we emit. In 2011, the Knoxville region was rated as the 15th “Dirtiest City” in the United States by Forbes Magazine, and was 10th for asthma. The more we drive, the more money goes to pay for gasoline, automobile maintenance, roads, and insurance; the less money is available for education, health care, recreation, and other things that make our lives better. We spend almost 32 percent of our household income on transportation.

In the broadest sense, sustainability is a way of acting that meets the needs of the present without limiting the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The East Tennessee Chapter of the US Green Building Council (USGBC) envisions buildings and communities that will improve and sustain the health and vitality of East Tennessee. To help achieve this vision, we promote buildings, communities, and landscapes that are environmentally, socially, and fiscally responsible.

The components of a sustainable development are varied and complex, but can be broken down into five general categories: site, water, energy, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. Every project is unique, and the opportunities and challenges are varied: location (urban vs. rural), site (flat vs. hilly, facing south vs. west), use (medical office vs. industrial), or budget, to name a few. There are no magic formulas or checklists to determine how sustainable a project is, but the USGBC has developed a measuring system called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Nationally, it is the most recognized method of evaluating a project and is an excellent guide to performance and design, but there are many others that can be used, such as Energy Star, the International Green Construction Code, or Earthcraft.

Sustainable design starts with site selection, emphasizing connectivity to community, walking, cycling and taking public transportation. It encourages minimizing site disturbance, providing for stormwater quality and quantity management, and limiting light pollution and the heat island effect. It incorporates responsible use of natural resources by reducing energy and water usage, recycling and diverting waste from landfills, and using renewable resources and sustainable products. It fosters healthy living and working environments by utilizing air quality plans, reducing pollutants in the air, providing individual control of heating and air conditioning, as well as lighting.

Many of the components of sustainable development do not cost more money; some do. Many save money in the long-run and have a positive return on investment. Most are win-win situations for the community, as well as the building owner. All produce a healthier, more efficient, and higher quality living and working environment.

East Tennessee is slowly incorporating elements of sustainability into our developments, but we have not yet achieved a comprehensive approach, such as LEED or the International Green Construction Code.  The pressures of meeting the needs of population growth pose a challenge to our community. In order to improve and maintain our quality of life, we need to plan and design buildings, communities, and landscapes that sustain the health and vitality of East Tennessee.

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Copyright 2013 by Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission
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