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Paseo Verde and the Green Building Hall of Justice: My Heroes Wear Hard Hats

A rendering of the Paseo Verde project.

July 25, 2013
Paseo Verde and the Green Building Hall of Justice: My Heroes Wear Hard Hats
Some superheros wear spandex.  Mine wear hard hats.

As a child, I was fascinated by superheroes, Greek gods, and dinosaurs.  Anything that seemed extraordinary and powerful.  And I always loved the Hall of Justice, that grand building that was essentially the Mount Olympus of the Super Friends.  There, Wonder Woman, Superman and their bretheren conspired to save the world again and again.

Today, armed with a more realistic view of how the world works (including what we're fighting against), my heroes wear hard hats.  And there's no better example right now of a team of partners getting it right than the people behind the Paseo Verde project near Temple University in north Philadelphia, one of the locations featured on the Greenbuild 2013 tour roster.  It's slated for LEED ND Platinum and features a mixed-use and transit-oriented approach that will contain affordable housing and involved the local community from the very beginning of the project.

"They thought it was pie in the sky," says Rose Gray of Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM), the Community Development Corporation who took the lead on organizing the community input, among many other roles.  "We were at the orginal design charrette at Greenbuild years ago, and all of these experts on LEED ND weren't sure we could do it."

"You can't lose sight of how ambitious this project is," says Alex Dews, Programs & Policy Manager for the Mayor's Office of Sustainability.  "It's helping to change the character of the neighborhood in a way that respects what's here already and provides additional amenities that it deserves, all while achieving the very highest levels of environmental sustainabilty and performance.  It sets an example of how you can do LEED ND in an urban context.  It's a crowning achievement for Philadelphia."

And not just any urban context.  Rose Gray characterized the neighborhood as low-to-moderate income.  Others would call it distressed.  This isn't a deluxe development for the super-rich.  It's for regular Philadelphians, too many of whom live below the poverty line.  And the community has whole-heartedly embraced the project and taken ownership of its succces.

"It's the community's vision and acceptance of these practices and standards that make the project special.  They've been involved from the very beginning, learning about recyling, stormwater, and their role in community and environmental stewardship.  There is a palpable pride of place here, of ownership over the success of the neighborhood, and this project has helped it to grow."

With development partners at Jonathan Rose Companies who have long belived in the power of community-centered design and green building, and an award-winning design team at Wallace Roberts & Todd who is committed to sustainability, the Paseo Verde project is right on time for a September 2013 finish and a debut at Greenbuild, including a LEED ND exhibit produced with our chapter, the Mayor's Office of Sustainability, and USGBC.  USGBC helped the project along at the beginning with an Affordable Green Neighborhoods Grant in 2010, given in partnership with the Bank of America Foundation.

It's the first LEED ND project in the city, and Gray and Dews are adamant that it shouldn't be the last.  "If we can do this project in this neighborhood, there is no reason why other developers shouldn't be following suit," says Gray.

If I had a hard hat, it would go off to the whole team for their amazing work and committment to building not just buildings, but people and communities.   My vote is for Paseo Verde to be Philadelphia's Green Building Hall of Justice.

As someone who became interested in green buildings in part because they help promote social justice and equity, projects like Paseo Verde keep me going.  

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