Neighborhood Efficiency, Energy Salvation

March 01, 2011
March/April 2011
A version of this article appears in the March/April 2011 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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During his 14-year career with the Salvation Army, Captain Ethan Frizzell has followed the Army’s traditional leadership-development path, moving routinely up the ladder from leadership positions that serve relatively small populations to those serving increasingly larger populations. Since June 2008, he has been in charge of the Greater New Orleans Area Command, which covers six Louisiana parishes. In addition to those duties, Frizzell also inherited responsibility for implementing the final stages of the Salvation Army’s post-Katrina Gulf Coast recovery program, a $150 million effort, with $70 million targeted for the city of New Orleans alone, and more than half of that budgeted for home repair and rebuilding.


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Based on previous disaster-recovery experience in North Dakota, South Carolina, Mississippi, and now New Orleans, Frizzell had come to understand that conventional responses to postdisaster rebuilding were often not necessarily the most cost-effective. In New Orleans, based on his growing interest in energy-efficient home building, he began to conceive of a combined rebuilding and retrofit program that would help restore heavily damaged New Orleans communities and provide maximum benefit to displaced New Orleanians.

To help him develop his idea into a fully realized and documented program, Frizzell hired project manager Lindsay Jonker, a South Africa-trained architect with European experience who had just finished a fellowship year at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, where he completed a master’s thesis on the viability of affordable, energy-efficient housing.

One Neighborhood Makes Its Own Plans for Recovery

Five months after the storm, in January 2006, a comprehensive rebuilding strategy drawing on the wisdom of experts in all relevant fields was proposed by the city-convened Bring New Orleans Back Commission. The only sensible thing to do, the planners said, was to let abandoned outlying areas return to marshland and transform some low-lying neighborhoods into green space that could also serve as a temporary catch basin, storing overflow from Gulf Coast storms. Planners illustrated what they had in mind with a conceptual map that designated the most vulnerable outlying areas of the city as restored wetlands and the most likely candidates for inner-city green space marked by green dots. New Orleanians tend to display a surprisingly fierce devotion to both the city and their own neighborhoods. Because of this unusually strong sense of physical attachment, the shrunken-footprint plan was generally met by outrage and a burning desire to mount strong opposition.

Nowhere was that opposition stronger than in the city’s Broadmoor neighborhood, a mixed-income, demographically diverse residential area located dead center in the below-sea-level bowl that contains the majority of New Orleans’s population. Amid the general outcry opposing the shrunken-footprint planning strategy, Broadmoor’s complaints may not have been the loudest, but they were unquestionably the most organized. Within five months, Broadmoor residents organized an insurgent planning process, relying heavily on support from the Clinton Global Initiative and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Holding 165 meetings in just six months, from February to July 2006, residents and their supporters produced their own 320-page recovery plan. “The urban planners were not crazy,” says Doug Ahlers, a New Orleans native and director of the New Orleans Recovery Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School. “The level of damage and the statistics indicated no way for rebuilding. But Broadmoor really turned the corner when it realized there was no cavalry coming, that they would have to do it themselves. That’s when it became an incredibly powerful and inspiring place to study and implement recovery strategies.”

As key strategies and obvious accomplishments began to characterize Broadmoor’s recovery—including the resurrection of a local elementary school encompassing an historic retrofit and construction of two new wings, all to LEED Gold standards—critical recovery principles also began to shape Harvard’s analysis of Broadmoor’s recovery. One of these, the notion of a recovery “tipping point,” was identified as the catalyst that could help transform a struggling community still in the process of moving toward recovery into one where recovery and future stability is assured.

Concentrating the Full Spectrum of Available Resources

As luck would have it, the Salvation Army’s New Orleans administration building happens to be located directly across a central commercial thoroughfare from Broadmoor’s neighborhood association offices. So it wasn’t long after his June 2008 arrival in New Orleans that Frizzell began to hear from community leaders he was meeting with that he really should get to know those folks across the way. Soon after, an informal alliance was forged when the Broadmoor neighborhood became Frizzell’s main reference point in formulating a plan to use energy-efficient home building as a central element in community recovery.

And as he and project director Lindsay Jonker began to sketch the outlines of a Salvation Army rebuilding model, lessons learned in Broadmoor quickly became central guidelines.

Frizzell and Jonker had already begun to envision a plan that wasn’t based exclusively on building energy-efficient homes but instead envisioned a range of environmental and energy-related elements that, as a whole, were intended to instill a degree of energy-efficient awareness as an ordinary part of everyday, neighborhood life. Having previously observed projects focused mainly on energy-efficient home building and others, like the national Weatherization Assistance program, concentrated primarily on existing-home improvements, Frizzell and Jonker decided to expand the palette by adding a solar-installation program and a program of basic improvements requiring minimal levels of effort and expertise.

To tie the whole together, the pair then incorporated Ahlers’s emphasis on a recovery tipping point and decided to focus all their planned activities not just within specific communities or even neighborhoods but with a carefully chosen segment of a recovering neighborhood designated as a Green Renew Zone. Based in large part on the strength of community involvement, the Broadmoor neighborhood had achieved an 83% recovery (as determined by viable addresses requesting post-Katrina utility services) when the EnviRenew project was being conceived; in collaboration with the Harvard Kennedy School, Frizzell and Jonker set 91% recovery as the operative tipping point beyond which long-term recovery would most likely be assured.

With plans in place to distribute home performance improvements across the full scale of complexity and impact—from new-home construction to the installation of CFLs—project design shifted to engaging community and local partners to expand capabilities and ensure ongoing neighborhood support for program accomplishments (see “The EnviRenew Strategy”). Rounding out its effort to leverage limited resources and pursue replicability, the EnviRenew project emphasized diversity in its selection of community partners. In addition to the Broadmoor neighborhood, those partners include a struggling low-income neighborhood, a rebounding middle-income neighborhood, a suburban-style subdivision undergoing restoration, and a new-construction planned suburban subdivision. The project’s goal in choosing to work with groups that represent such a wide variety of contexts for rebuilding and new construction is to encourage a dialogue around project implementation that will ultimately take into account the interests of different kinds of stakeholders from different socioeconomic environments.

Design Competition Connects to Life on the Street

The Broadmoor neighborhood’s involvement with the Clinton Global Initiative and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government had also provided models of enhanced community resources. Building on those examples, EnviRenew partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council to cosponsor the USGBC’s 2010 Natural Talent Design Competition, with Broadmoor community residents involved in the final selection process of neighborhood-specific designs created for new-home construction. The design competition collaboration offered a vivid example of the extent to which the EnviRenew project has created a genuine connection between home building and community involvement (see “Showdown in New Orleans,” HE Jan/Feb ’11, p. 18).

Altogether, Broadmoor contains approximately 2,400 household addresses in three subsections; the neighborhood’s Green Renew Zone, including roughly 1,200 household addresses, covers two of those subsections. The design competition finalists will be located in the single Green Renew Zone subsection that has effectively served as ground zero for neighborhood recovery activity, with community resources that already include an education corridor consisting of a renovated library, expanded community center, retrofitted LEED Gold elementary school, and local senior center.

The four designs chosen as competition finalists will be constructed on lots surrounding that corridor, measured for performance, sold to and inhabited by local residents, and then measured once again to determine the Grand Prize winner. The four competition finalists were presented at Greenbuild 2010 in Chicago; the Grand Prize will be officially awarded in November at Greenbuild 2011 in Toronto.

Long-Term Success Depends on Planning and Design

“By experimenting with the neighborhood-focused model,” Jonker explains, “EnviRenew is designed to influence the way sustainable living and energy efficiency are perceived and implemented in a full range of building and rebuilding environments. Building in that kind of flexibility is yet another strategy aimed at achieving our ultimate goal, which is to create an easily replicable funding model for bringing energy-efficient building and renovation strategies sponsored and driven by systematic and carefully targeted investments to low- and middle-income communities located in countries with both established and emerging economies anywhere in the world.

“What we’ve done, basically, is address an economic and environmental challenge, postdisaster rebuilding, by focusing primarily on human and social recovery—enhancing the economic well-being of individual households, which in turn supports the recovery of neighborhoods and surrounding communities. By focusing on energy efficiency in the service of community recovery, we believe we can substantially improve New Orleans’s post-Katrina success, neighborhood by neighborhood.”

Roger Hahn is a freelance writer and editor based in New Orleans. His work has appeared in Civil Engineering, Historic Preservation, and Next American City.
 

The EnviRenew Strategy

The Salvation Army’s EnviRenew program is designed to encourage community transformation by focusing a limited set of resources within a narrowly targeted neighborhood footprint, identified as Green Renew Zones. By participating in four separate but related programs, Green Renew Zones will become environments in which household living costs are reduced; community stability is reinforced; and neighborhood residents become familiar with, understand, and support energy-efficient and environmentally friendly goods, services, and behaviors.

New-Home Construction Program

125 new homes / $75,000 per house / $9,375,000 total

In early 2010, the EnviRenew program joined forces with the USGBC’s annual Natural Talent Design Competition to invite the submission of neighborhood-specific designs within a basic set of parameters. Designs submitted by the four finalists are currently under construction and will serve as model homes for all participating neighborhoods. Community partners will identify appropriate home-buying candidates in each neighborhood, assigning priority to police officers, first-responders, teachers, and retired seniors. Each will then receive a $75,000 EnviRenew grant applicable to the cost of purchase.

Green Home Sustainability Program

125 grants / $7,000 per house / $875,000 total

Modeled on the national Weatherization Assistance program, the Green Home Sustainability program will rely on community partners in each neighborhood to select program candidates, while a third-party contractor will oversee initial assessments, development of a scope and budget for each project, assignment of all subcontracting, ongoing project supervision, and recording the results of energy audits before and after each retrofit. Approved program activities include installing floor and attic insulation, installing radiant barriers, replacing doors or windows, repairing HVAC duct systems, and making minor electrical or plumbing repairs.

Solar Grant Program

125 grants / $5,000 per house / $625,000 total

EnviRenew’s Solar Grant program is currently in the process of resolving final negotiations on local issues regarding requirements for installation, cost of insurance, and responsibility for ongoing maintenance of solar equipment. Program costs will also factor in the state of Louisiana’s generous solar-rebate program, which provides a 50% residential rebate, offered in addition to the current 30% federal rebate, for solar installations. The Solar Grant program will initially install solar packages on existing homes, and will install solar packages on newly constructed EnviRenew homes if funds allow, creating the possibility of installing a total of 250 solar packages in each EnviRenew neighborhood.

EcoBasket Program

125 grants / $500–$1,000 per house / $125,000 total

EnviRenew’s EcoBasket program is intended to provide small-scale, energy-saving improvements to individual households and encourage residents to become more familiar with the world of home performance activities and environmentally friendly products. Goods and services provided, with assistance from the Louisiana Green Corps—a job-training program for at-risk, urban youths that provides on-the-job experience and career counseling—will include installation of cellulose attic insulation; attic stairway insulator kits; adjustable door-sealing kits; foam sealant; CFLs; and solar-powered security lights. Residents will also receive an LG Electronics 45-pint dehumidifier; Murphy Oil Soap; and a copy of Practically Green: Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Decision-Making.

Total Investment per Neighborhood

$2,250,000 / 100 households

Overall Community Impact

$11,250,000 / 500 households
 

For more information:

To find out more about the Salvation Army’s EnviRenew program, go towww.envirenew.org.
For complete details on the development of the EnviRenew project, go to www.envirenew.org/forum/forum.aspx.
To watch a Clinton Global Initiative video, with a modern jazz score, on the rebuilding of the Broadmoor neighborhood, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5-yk0bA-nI.
For more information on the Broadmoor Recovery Project sponsored by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, go to http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/project/54.

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