March 20, 2007

The greening of Liberty Green

On localizing the green trend and why an Energy Star award portends progress for LouisvilleLiberty Green: Photo by Geoff Oliver Bugbee Workers are installing insulation in the floors, walls and ceilings of units like this one, taking shape in the east downtown mixed-income housing development, Liberty Green.Sister Lisa Stallings wasn’t planning to move. The apartment in Phoenix Hill was old and drafty, but it had character: tall ceilings, single-paned windows. You know, History. Charm. Ignore the utility bill.Stallings is a woman whose life is, quite literally, dedicated to practicing what she preaches — which is fused strongly to her work as director of worship for the Cathedral of the Assumption, and includes the need for better public housing and environmental stewardship. So when the 31-year veteran of religious sisterhood heard about Liberty Green — the mixed-income housing development currently erupting from the former Clarksdale project plot in east downtown — she decided to go for it. Roughly three cold, gusty months later, she’s paying less than half for utilities than the Phoenix Hill apartment. “I love saving money, there’s no question about that,” Stallings said. “But I also think it’s the right thing to do in terms of our natural resources.” The reason for such utility bill disparity is not simply old versus new. Liberty Green, a $233 million development and the city’s second HOPE VI project, is also a template for energy efficiency. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy gave the Louisville Metro Housing Authority an Energy Star award earlier this month, for energy efficiency in new affordable housing.That is to say, the units at Liberty Green (71 now inhabited) are and will be as much as 30 percent more efficient than current building codes require, which is especially good for the people who will ultimately inhabit the public apartments there, the ones subsidized by Metro government. “Windjammer series”: Photo by Geoff Oliver Bugbee Builders use Lansing “Windjammer series” thermopane energy-saving windows in the Liberty Green development.High-performance HVAC and water heaters. Thermopane windows. Compact fluorescent lighting. Low-energy appliances. Insulation in the floors, walls and ceilings. Tightly-sealed ductwork. These are the things making Liberty Green cheaper and less consumptive than most every other building in the city.Mayor Jerry Abramson learned about the eco-assisting construction in the mid-’90s and decided to pursue the technique (and designation) for Liberty Green. “It’s as big as the worldwide issue of global warming and attempting to be responsible and to take it all the way to the nitty-gritty of having energy-efficient units that provide opportunities for people to live in them at a less expensive monthly cost,” Abramson said in a recent interview.Though the up-front cost is slightly higher, the technology pays off in marketability and attractiveness. “I think it certainly is a trend that any builder would want to adopt on new construction,” Tim Barry, director of the Housing Authority, said. And a trend such greenness has certainly become. Everyone knows about The Man and His Slideshow; perhaps fewer people caught the news a couple weeks ago that Texas energy giant TXU is to be purchased by a consortium of “green” private firms that immediately put the kibosh on plans for eight of the 11 traditional coal-fired power plants — antiquated, hideous things that ignore both current science and conscience — that TXU wants to put in Texas. The consortium pledged to invest in “clean-coal” technologies such as coal gasification; on March 9 came news that they plan two such plants, designed to capture and store the harmful greenhouse gases that rise from burning coal (an alternate reading: the “green” consortium now has plans for five new coal-fired plants). The TXU case represents precisely our energy paradox: We know our wild consumption of fossil fuels, if continued at remotely the current pace, will cause humanity-threatening climate changes, yet we muster variations on a theme in response, different ways of doing the same old thing, perhaps with slightly “greener” iterations. Thus the importance of the local scale — because the nation is too large and enmeshed to change at once — and why the “greening” of Liberty Green might actually mean something. Abramson and Barry both said this is the new standard for Metro Government building in Louisville: three new regional libraries, three firehouses for which the city is now buying land, and the planned animal services building will all incorporate the Liberty Green strategy. Likewise, the Downtown Development Corp recently issued a report recommending that the new downtown arena be a “green” building, include a transparent façade and large windows, and seek to become a national example of energy efficiency in sports arenas. If we may, a suggestion for City Hall: solar panels on the roof. Contact the writer at