Tyson Domer: Green Building

n a recent All Things Considered Au Contraire opinion piece on NPR, the freelance writer Lionel Beehner focuses being Green discussion on the age old structure of rich vs. poor. Using the holidays as his cloak he complains about marketers and the luxury class using Green to satisfy their charitable conscious.

In a recent All Things Considered Au Contraire opinion piece on NPR, the freelance writer Lionel Beehner focuses being Green discussion on the age old structure of rich vs. poor. Using the holidays as his cloak he complains about marketers and the luxury class using Green to satisfy their charitable conscious. Ho ho hum. In our era of rich complexity this point of reference treads water where we should be swimming downstream (Mr. Beehner had a few weeks earlier reported on ski lodges -and their use of “green” for the NYTimes travel section and we wonder if that soured him on the luxury class a bit).

To support Mr. Beehner, if you seek information within broadcast and print media on green-ness you tend to find pieces geared towards attracting a purchasing (luxury) audience rather than point out the real life choices all types of socio-eco individuals are making. Green-ness can be used by marketers to sell products, that doesn’t make them or the people who buy them evil, nor should it be a reason for those who feel left out of the marketing plan to fall back on safety nets. There are a great many under-reported individuals, organizations, and forces, that are working within the realm of green, doing great works, and pushing for sustainability. Many of whom are not in it for the marketing, nor for the luxury lifestyle.

Tyson Domer, is one of these folks. A Green Building Consultant who focuses on sustainable living within communities. Through his company Hundred Year, he supports and promotes green and affordable housing, empowering smart choices that serve the entire demographic, making being green a choice for all of us, not just those who can afford the high ticket items marketed to the luxury market.

Wise Elephant (WE): In brief, how did you come to the position you have now?

Tyson Domer (TD): Once my partner (Sarah) and I knew we were moving from Seattle to Indy, I decided to shift my focus from one-off custom residential contracting work to community development consulting. I specifically focused on affordable housing development (done mostly by CDCs – community development corporations) as an entry point to jump starting more widespread green residential building in the Indianapolis area. I created “A Community Guide to Green Affordable Housing in Indianapolis” as a primer and position piece for CDCs and local government. The forthcoming DMD (Department of Metropolitan Development ) Green HOME Guidelines is an offshoot of that. The City finances the development of over 50 affordable homeownership opportunities annually through the federal HOME Investment Partnership program, so the reach of green building at the neighborhood level can expand very quickly as CDCs jump on board with this new City incentive program. The pilot program will be a great educational tool for smaller residential builders.

WE: Why Green Design/Build?

TD: Building and operating buildings accounts for ~40% of our natural resource consumption in this country. It makes sense to focus in buildings in the context of addressing climate change. The rest of that equation is how development patterns impact transportation energy intensity. Green urban infill makes a lot of sense to me.

Urban Density. Crowded cities are a “glass is half-empty/half-full” argument. What are important positives of urban density, ones a public might overlook as they look towards urban expansion and suburbanization?

increased housing density…

…creates the economic base for attracting providers of goods and service
…creates the tax base to pay for public improvements (infrastructure, parks, transportation)
…creates the ridership base for mass-transit, which hastens further development
…often leads to a mix of housing type, which increases diversity diversity is attractive to the creative class the creative class is attractive to employers employers create jobs and provide good and services

increased urban density….
…helps protect and restore water, our most precious natural resource (wellfields, aquifers, water bodies, wetlands, watersheds)
…preserves open space, natural beauty, habitat & wildlife diversity
…decreases the transportation energy intensity of development compared to sprawl
…leads to increased walkability, which is positively linked to better health outcomes

infill development…
…increases density
…requires thoughtful design and planning
…hastens cleanup of brownfields
…hastens adaptive reuse of vacant buildings and greyfields adaptive reuse conserves embodied energy of existing buildings

WE: What steps are needed to draw investment back into “fill-in” type of redevelopment; new building and reclaiming of older neighborhoods that have fallen on hard times?

TD: We need to make infill projects as easy and lucrative for developers as greenfield development. In Indy we are competing with Hamilton County, specifically Carmel. We need to establish a one-stop-shop where developers can plug into all of the resources that the City of Indianapolis has to offer. That list is extensive, but there is no single-point source of information and assistance. I think that’s the key to attracting high-quality developers, and high quality development. Offer added value in the form of development liaisons. We already have the Great Indy Neighborhoods Initiative (GINI) which marshals City resources under the guidance of a community vision to effect Comprehensive Community Revitalization. We need to make sure that we are actively courting developers and businesses that want to piggyback on the focused planning and investment that has come out of his initiative.

WE: Should we bulldoze the old and build the new? Are we all too nostalgic?

TD: Not as a matter of course. Preservation provides a tangible link to our collective past, conserves resources and creates character. There is “something” about old buildings that people connect with. It’s the human scale. This goes back to the issue of design. Today, human scale gives way to the bigger is better aesthetic, which manifests itself fully in greenfield development where there are no natural boundaries, like smaller infill lots and existing buildings. Granted, universal access is an issue, and people are fatter. In many cases, they not only “don’t build ‘em like that anymore” they “can’t build ‘em like that anymore.” I think the challenges of infill construction (irregular lots, existing buildings, design concordance) lead to higher quality design.

Preservation is renovation and rehabilitation. Renovation is inherently green. You’re not sending the whole building to the landfill. You’re not expending energy and resources to manufacture new materials and get them to the jobsite. It’s the ultimate in recycling, or upcycling in many cases.

Neighborhood revitalization models that prioritize preservation are more difficult to implement because you have to deal with two big unknowns: old buildings, and the people that live in them. I think the end result is more satisfying to the community, however, and creates more added value in the long-term when done well. It requires careful, thoughtful planning and design. There’s that word again.

WE: Should there be more sidewalks in the world?

TD: In a word – yes. Sidewalks are an important component of a complete multi-modal transportation network. Increased urban density relies on devoting less space to cars (widening roads & highways, increasing turning radii, creating parking) and more space to other transportation options for pedestrians, streetcars, bikes, scooters, buses, trolleys, light rail and trains. Projects like the Cultural Trail are the first step toward creating a more dense, walkable urban core. The project was sold based on the economic benefits of linking “cultural districts” (read retail districts.) We’ve managed to take space from cars and devote it to walkers and bikers. It’s only the first step. The health benefits of walking are also well documented.

WE: How much control have you had over your career vs. it taking you with it?

TD: For me it was finding a way to continue working in my area of expertise -green building- while responding to the realities of my locale – Indianapolis. It’s been a push-pull situation. Custom construction is rewarding, but the impact is relatively narrow. Affordable housing development isn’t as sexy, but it serves a very real need, reaches a wider audience, and is just as rewarding.

WE: If “feel/gut” is on the left and “intellect/reason” on the right, where in the scope of things (generally) could you put yourself when making your business decisions?

TD: Feel/gut informed by intellect/reason. Decisions mostly involve people and relationships, so that’s guided by feel, with a healthy dose of reason and ethics.

WE: Do you feel/think that your business culture is leaning towards a holistic approach, where the outside life is an important balance?

TD: I don’t drop work at 5:00 and commute home to the suburbs. I am directly linked to the people and neighborhoods where I work, so there isn’t a lot of separation. It’s very holistic. Community development work is about people and places, so it’s difficult to be disconnected and still be successful. I try to achieve balance through effective time management – making time for other activities -but I’m not always very successful.

WE: It feels like, in this very competitive business market/culture that on a scale, with corruption and greed on the left and sacrifice and altruism on the right, it takes some corruption to bring in the big bucks for decent projects. Do you agree?

TD: Not at all. The economic benefits of green and sustainable development, “green tech”, “clean tech”, etc. are well documented. It means taking a longer view when calculating ROI, and taking a broader view of “returns” on investments. Both altruism and greed are agenda driven…someone else’s agenda. Corruption is a political concept. Political realities in terms of platform priorities, funding and subsidy focus, and taxation structures affect private investment, of course.

WE: What else (if anything) do you want to be doing?

TD: I have my hands full now! I want to see some projects that I’ve been working on through to fruition, then reevaluate. There are always opportunities to teach more, reach a wider audience more effectively, etc. That’s a natural part of the process.



Learn more about Tyson Domer at his website here: LINK

Listen to Lionel Beehner’s op piece here: LINK