Envisioning the Future Day – March 2014

Envisioning the Future Day Blog by

Design Team Member Sean Cahill

It’s hard to believe that the 6 weeks of brainstorming, planning, adjusting and fine-tuning for our “Envisioning the Future” class day (peppered with a couple friendly nights of cocktails and team-building) have reached their conclusion.  To say that I was honored to work with such a great group of driven and hard-working people in the preparation for yesterday’s class day would be an understatement.  Despite demanding work schedules for everyone involved,  it is still amazing to me how the team capitalized on each other’s strengths and worked so well together in a common vision that culminated in a class day that we believe was informative, actionable, fully sponsored and (blizzard conditions set aside) fun.  On behalf of the team, I would also like to extend our sincere thanks to Robin and her calm, guiding influence throughout the process.

As for the Class Day itself, many members of the Class of 2014 (and indeed some of our guest speakers as well) probably heard about the region-wide school closings and, in turn, wondered if it were entirely sane to hazard the commute into the Syracuse COE to participate in this month’s class day.  But they grabbed their food donation for the Saint Patrick’s Parade Hunger Project and braved the elements anyways.  After all, we live in Syracuse, it was only 10 to 12 inches of predicted snow fall.  Probably wouldn’t even need the snow tires for that.

Our wonderful leader Pam Brunet got the day started in her usual sunny way in sharp contrast to the deteriorating conditions outdoors.  We were once again reminded of the community-minded focus of the Class of 2014 with the news of several upcoming charitable events for which are members were actively engaged.  Sally Whitney advised us of the annual breakfast to benefit the Syracuse City Schools Foundation on March 29th. Lisa Lippoldt did the same for the breakfast to benefit Welch Terrace on April 2nd.  Both individuals have promised further information by email to interested people.  We were all left to consider Russ Sturtz wearing high heels as he explained his intent to participate in this year’s “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” fund-raiser.  The class was able to congratulate Mary Nelson on the “Social Justice,” “Civil Rights” and “Community Service” awards (yes three different awards) for her generous commitment and  hard work in the Foundation she established.  We were also able to congratulate James Lloyd on his recent promotion.

After introductions and class announcements, Karen and Devon kicked the formal class day into gear by asking the Class as they listened to today’s presenters to consider “What you can do to propel us (Syracuse) into the future?”

Cindy introduced our very gracious host Ed Bogucz, Executive Director of the COE in Syracuse.  Ed warmly and enthusiastically welcomed the Class of 2014 and gave us a quick history of the site on which the current COE is located: from the original swamp before the Erie Canal; to the old LC Smith Typewriter Company factory; and more recently the repurposed building used by OCC up until 2002.  Ed inspired the group to ask “What if?” and reverted to the history of Hiawatha and the Great Peacemaker of the Iroquois Confederacy in their assertion that community leaders should be planning for the next seven (7) generations.

From here came the content of our class day.  Our intent was to lead the discussion with local leaders and visionaries as it pertained to sustainable growth in CNY, to identify plans currently in place and end with some of the municipality and corporate leaders who are bringing the visions to life.

To that end, Keith then took over to introduce our first guest speaker and sponsor for the day, Dave Bottar, Executive Director of the CNY Regional Planning and Development Board who was there to discuss the Regional Sustainability Day.  He reminded us that 20-years ago, concepts such as Fracking, Net Zero, Sustainability, Wind Farms and Complete Streets had barely even been coined, much less known by the greater community.  He presented the difficulties in planning for a population of 791,000 in CNY with only 100 to 150 planners acting in various capacities.  Difficulties aside, the Regional Sustainability Plan has identified 140 projects that include the 1-81 challenge, the inner harbor development as well as many others that were all considered “doable” with varying degrees of sponsorship, a significant portion of which were also underway.  We’d like to extend special thanks to Dave for taking the time for his informative presentation and his generosity in support of LGS as a Class Day Sponsor.

Following Dave Bottar, our next speaker was the impassioned former president of SUNY ESF, Neil Murphy.  Neil’s passion pertaining to the education of the future leaders in sustainability was apparent.   Neil challenged us with the difficulties of a future where as a planet, our current consumption of energy currently exceeds 16.3 terawatts per day and will double by 2050.  I was personally comforted by the fact that I was not the only one in the room that had no idea how many watts were in a terawatt. There are 1,000,000,000,000 of them as it turns out.  The idea of “What if?” came through once again as he presented how new technologies might take advantage of the 89000 TW of solar energy our sun provides each day, or the 50 TW of wind energy all in support of his vision of a time when we no longer need to burn fossil fuels of which we currently consume 40000 gallons per second.  He provided some insight on the benefits of sustainable construction.  Using green roofs as an example, he provided a balanced account of the success in reducing storm water run-off with some humorous lessons learned about pesky squirrels feeling the need to plant oak trees upon them.

After a short break, Keith introduced our next speaker Andrew Maxwell, Director of the Syracuse-Onondaga County Planning Agency.  Andrew, an LGS alum (class of 2009), introduced the class to the role of the joint County/City agency in their support of CNY’s various planning boards, preservation boards, and art commissions.  Andrew challenged the class to approach any project, with an eye for sustainability.  He encouraged us to consider that SOCPA exists to encourage “Smart Growth.”  Instead of a sprawling population mass that strains CNY’s aging infrastructure, SOCPA promotes consideration of development that focuses on a “Fix it First” approach.  Andrew explained that development should “Strengthen our Centers” of population and have a fundamental “Plan for People.”  He shared some recent success stories which epitomized SOCPA’s ideals like the “Creek Walk,” for which members of the class who had taken advantage, shared very positive feedback; discounting of course some confusion between a dragon sculpture and a tent located along a recently opened section of the project.  Copies of the County and City sustainability plans can be found at www.future.ongov.net<http://www.future.ongov.net/> and www.syracuse.ny.us<http://www.syracuse.ny.us/> respectively.

Nick then introduced Craig Milburn from Honeywell, our second class day sponsor.  Craig, another LGS alum (class of 2007) was a representative from our local corporate leadership that embodied the “What if” principals laid out in CNY sustainable visionaries such as Dave Bottar and Neil Murphy. At a project value of $449M, Craig explained that a “Yes we Can” approach was necessary in bringing that massive Onondaga Lake clean-up to a successful conclusion ahead of schedule with capping operations schedule for completion in 2016.  With a project team of 350 employees predominately of local residency, Craig explained how Honeywell bridged the concerns of the community with the science behind the clean-up.  The results of that massive effort is easy to discern by anyone who used to drive between the old Allied Foundry and Onondaga Lake along Interstate 690 back in the 1980s and wondered “What is that smell?” and “Is it natural for the water fowl to be glowing that?”  Today, that industrial metallic smell is all but gone, bald eagles and the inherent American pride associated with these majestic animals have begun nesting in the area, and other wild life long since displaced because of the polluted landscape has returned.  Thanks to Craig and Honeywell for the sponsorship and for a job well done.

Diane introduced us to Ed McGraw of Ashley McGraw Architects the Executive Architect responsible for the design of the COE facility where our class day was hosted.  Ed defined how our generation is nested in the transitional period between the energy hoarding and wasteful industrial age to the sustainable ecological age.  He shared his personal journey from the Skunk City along the route to sustainability and how “Sustainable Thinking” needs to extend beyond the science, to bridge the gap between just reducing energy, waste, etc. and “what is beauty.”  Using a “3c” or “Conserve, Capture and Create” approach, Ed is a leading pioneer embracing sustainable architecture.  His personal goal is to see a time where his designs (and society in general) require zero fossil fuels, zero non-renewable resources and the non-depleting use of renewable resources.  He also introduced LGS and quite possibly coined the term “redoinkulous” as he described our generation’s current rate of energy consumption and waste.  Much like the terawatt was an unknown term to me, I wonder if it is safe to assume that “redoinkulous” is defined as ridiculous to the 12th degree.

That wrapped up our morning session just in time for a Dinosaur BBQ catered lunch.  As lunch was served, the LGS Class of 2014 took the time to catch up with each other, look outside and reconsider once again the sanity of attending today’s class in light of the snow now falling in large amounts.  To the regret of Robin, Pam and the Class Day Organizers, the decision to cancel the after-class activities at Kitty Hoynes was deemed prudent and sad faces were carried by all.

After lunch, Ed Bogucz retook the podium and in much greater detail, explained the primary use of the COE as a research facility for emerging HVAC and energy saving technologies.  Remember during our retreat when we were trying to rebrand Syracuse?  As it turns out, Ed explained the horrible, sorry wild, I mean varied, weather conditions of Syracuse turn out to be a wonderful environment to test various exterior building materials and components.  Now if we could only turn that into a slogan that would attract the masses.  We then took a tour of the LEED platinum facility.

When we returned from the tour, Robin gave everyone the opportunity to get ahead of the weather and leave early if they wanted, with no penalty to their attendance.  I think its worthy of note and a testament to the Class of 2014 that only a couple of us who had long drives took the option .  Yes, we were all nuts.  One look outside should have made us realize that our cars were nothing more than igloos on wheels.  But I digress….

Heather introduced our final speaker of the day, Lauren Staniec.  As Sustainability Coordinator of Destiny USA and Pyramid, Lauren shared her passion for the everyday implementation of sustainability in a practical, “Grab the Low Hanging Fruit” approach to sustainable operations.  A believer in the 7-generation approach to community leadership, she impressed upon the LGS class the importance of a top down approach in sustainable operations and construction.  For instance, Destiny USA is a prime example of what can be done when Developers embrace a sustainable lifestyle.  Destiny USA is the largest LEED Gold retail facility in the world.  But they didn’t stop there….  As part of the lease agreement for every non-kiosk tenant in the Mall, Pyramid required LEED certification for their individual fit-outs.  Further, Lauren and her group provide the tenants with the support they need in achieving the sustainable goals rather than “leaving them out in the cold” in terms of the certification process.  Finally Lauren explained that moving forward, Pyramid is committed to adopting sustainable operations at all of the existing and future properties included in their portfolio.  One example of the “low hanging fruit” she encouraged our class to consider was replacing existing light fixtures with more energy efficient fixtures.  Lauren explained that on one recent lighting upgrade project for one of the malls in the Pyramid portfolio, energy savings in the amount of $300K per year were realized.  At a project cost of $900K of which $500K was covered through incentives, Lauren easily explained the long term financial benefits of a sustainable approach when life cycle costs are considered.

We concluded the class day with a fun exercise that shed some light on some CNY trivia.  Did you know that CNYorkers drive 7.5 more miles each in our cars to work than our counterparts in other urban centers throughout NY?  Did you know that we have over 6000 miles of waterways in CNY?

We said our good-byes and then set to helping each other digging and pushing our cars out of the parking lot now buried under a foot of snow.

I’d like to personally thank the members of the class team:  Hema Sundaramurthy, Danielle Scott, Devon Rodgers, Diane Nanno, Cindy Mannise (and her magic pen), Nick Lotito (aka Flash), Heather Gangemi, Keith Ewald and Karen DeFio.  I hope I have the honor of working with all of you again someday

I would also like to thank again our sponsors, speakers and host for the day.

Sean Cahill