Think About Site And Climate Before Approving Projects

<p>In response to the latest Southern California wildfires, site locations and climate must be more carefully considered by the people who build and approve subdivisions, writes Christopher Hawthorne.</p>
October 31, 2007, 6am PDT | Nate Berg
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"Since the middle of the 20th century, this is how we have developed much of our new housing in the U.S., and particularly in Southern California: by pushing deep into canyons and deserts and onto flood plains. We build reassuringly familiar-looking subdivisions, decorated with vaguely Spanish or Mediterranean accents, in locations that by land-use standards -- and by common-sense standards -- are truly exotic. We build with the unstinting belief that growth is good and that progress in the form of various kinds of technology -- new building materials, military-style firefighting, a vast system of pumps and levees -- will continue to make it possible to construct new pockets of nostalgic architecture virtually anywhere."

"But maybe our nostalgia should extend beyond red-tile roofs to include earlier lessons about how and where it is safe to build. This country's culture as a whole is in the midst of a profound shift from the unshakable confidence that marked the so-called American Century to a new recognition of risk, conservation, even fragility. Green architecture, with its rather old-fashioned emphasis on paying attention to site and climate, is part of that shift. But those who build and approve new hillside developments -- 'the lords of subdivision,' as nature writer Richard Lillard called them, the 'replanners of the Earth's surface' -- have barely acknowledged it."

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Published on Tuesday, October 30, 2007 in The Los Angeles Times
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