A more urban example is the redeveloped district of Vastra Hamnen in Malmö, Sweden, where a variety of renewable energy technologies and design ideas have been incorporated into dense housing and the ambitious goal of 100 percent renewable energy from local sources has been met. Energy production is a visible element of the community, with vertical solar hot-water-heating panels feeding into a district heating grid.

BedZED again offers inspiration with an on-site combined-heat-and-power plant fueled by wood waste from tree trimmings. In Freiburg, Germany, the Solar-Fabrik solar-technology factory burns oil from locally grown rapeseed in a carbon-neutral cycle, further demonstrating the power of combining green and local.

The energy consumed by residents and the embodied energy associated with new building materials might also be compensated for in ways that creatively restore and renew bioregions. In the U.K., the CarbonNeutral Company works with banks and building societies to offer a carbon-neutral mortgage, which provides for the planting of enough trees to cover the carbon footprint of the home and lifestyle of its occupants. In Australia, similarly, several banks are now offering carbon-neutral car loans. Habitat and place restoration can happen in many ways, of course, but local tree planting holds potential for productively harnessing the green sensibilities of people on behalf of place.

  • Tim Beatley

    Credit: Courtesy Tim Beatley

    Tim Beatley

In an increasingly turbulent and globalized world, rebuilding lost place and human connections in a host of creative ways provides solace, strength, and reassurance. Sustainable design must strive not only to reduce its overall ecological impact, but to do so in ways that enable us to be truly native to place.

Tim Beatley is the Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities at the University of Virginia. This article is based, in part, on ideas discussed in his book Native to Nowhere: Sustaining Home and Community in a Global Age (Island Press, 2004).