There are a number of elements that factor into the overarching principles of green building, and one important consideration is creating spaces that are low-maintenance. Yes, that's "low," not "no" maintenance. Most of the time, designing for "no" maintenance is truly a challenge.
I began pondering this recently as I considered the lifecycle of our bodies as human beings. Compared to things we install in our home that typically wear out more quickly the more frequently they are used, staying active can actually postpone "wearing out," enabling us to live longer, healthier and happier lives -- or more sustainable lives, if you prefer. Green Design, and Universal Design, support the same outcome, by providing healthy and accessible environments that support a more active lifestyle.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I joined a group nicknamed "The Monday Movers" through our local Park and Rec department. It is one of several groups facilitated by an organization founded by two Stanford University alums called "Wider Circle." Part community program, part research project and part social club, the goal of the weekly meeting is to educate participants and help them forge relationships with others that will extend far beyond the 10-week program. The group is focused on folks 50-plus years of age, or as they call us, "super adults" (a term I much prefer to "seniors"!).
At one of the early meetings, we learned about "blue zones" -- regions throughout the world with the highest concentrations of centenarians, where dementia is virtually nonexistent, and people live not just longer but also happier lives. In his book, "The Blue Zones: Lessons for living longer from the people who've lived the longest," Dan Buettner reveals Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Icaria, Greece; the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and surprisingly, Loma Linda, California as examples of such places.
The Wider Circle program is designed from research that shows a connection between a sustainable lifestyle and good physical and mental health. As explained to us, their mission is not just to add years to life, but life to years.
How is this related to green? At one meeting, the group explored how each of us might be unique and also how we might have common interests. It turns out that many in our group (including my wife and me) raise chickens. This came as a surprise to one member who joked that his only interaction with chickens has been "on a plate, or in a pot."
The discussion segued from chickens to composting, worm farming, reducing waste, and how raising chickens and gardening go hand-in-hand. Invitations were made to visit each other's urban farms, and commitments were made to help with chicken care while members traveled. This dovetailed perfectly with the curriculum as we learned about the "the three pillars": socializing, mobilizing and filling life with purpose.
Coincidentally, gardening is one activity recommended for good health because it not only provides healthy food but is also an enjoyable form of exercise. It reduces stress and promotes relaxation, and when one gardens with others, it produces well-being through social interaction.
One week, we took a guided history walk through our downtown area. It was fun walking and talking with a group composed of local natives and recent transplants. As a builder, it gave me the opportunity to take a closer look at some of the older buildings in town and find out about the evolution of our community. The buildings in the best shape were, of course, the ones that were well-maintained. We not only learned about our town but about each other as well. It also opened up discussion about forming walking groups to visit other favorite places.
I've come to realize that the green and blue connection offers a truly holistic approach to designing buildings and designing our lives: Green building promotes construction methods for healthier environments that support longevity, and these buildings actually, also, "live longer." The blue connection shows that as individuals, staying mobile and socializing, along with having a sense of purpose, will benefit us as individuals and ultimately, our communities, for years to come.