Greenbelt 75th Anniversary Symposium: Session 5
This fifth session of the Greenbelt 75th Anniversary Symposium took place on the second day and is titled “Moving towards 100: Recent Initiatives.” Five speakers spoke about the 2007 Greener Greenbelt Initiative, GHI’s pilot program for energy efficiency, the city’s sustainability initiatives and tree preservation program, and the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area.
Celia Craze, Director of the City of Greenbelt Department of Planning and Community Development, is the moderator for this session. She has held this position for 26 years.
Carl Elefante is Director of Sustainability for Quinn Evans Architects in Washington, D.C. and currently serves as the President of AIA (American Institute of Architects) Maryland. He talks about the 2007 Greener Greenbelt Initiative (GGI). The initiative was a collaboration between the AIA Potomac Valley Chapter, Greenbelt Homes, Inc., and the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. AIA was celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2007 and gave grants to its local chapters for its “Blueprint for America” program. Elefante tells that he met Nancy Solomon, a resident of Greenbelt and an architectural writer and editor, who has been aware of challenges facing Greenbelt especially how historic preservation intersects sustainability.
The symposium takes place in the Greenbelt Community Center.
The Greener Greenbelt Initiative focused on four themes: livability, affordability, preservation, and sustainability and studied four scales: dwellings, town center, historic town, and greater Greenbelt region. The program culminated in a design charrette which took place during a three-day period in September 2007 and involved members of the community, architects, planners, and students and faculty from the University of Maryland. Elefante mentions especially an Artful Afternoon children’s design charrette and comments on “how much we unlearn during our education.” He goes over the four themes and four scales and some of the issues considered, for example, energy consumption, affordability in one of the most expensive metropolitan regions, adding to GHI units, bring new housing into the town center, and making the city more visible to outsiders.
Jim Cohen is Director of the Urban Studies and Planning Program at the University of Maryland. He chairs GHI’s Buildings Committee and here talks about a pilot program for energy efficiency. He says that he will talk about some dilemmas and issues associated with weatherizing GHI homes and will focus on the cinderblock houses as they are Greenbelt’s “architectural icons.” He talks about the six goals of GHI’s energy efficiency upgrade: (1) reduce overall energy consumption and costs; (2) improve members’ comfort; (3) emphasize the use of sustainable, environmentally friendly energy sources, technologies, and products; (4) reduce overall life cycle costs; (5) minimize disruption; and (6) maintain the unique and historic character of the GHI homes.
“It’s a tradition in Greenbelt that we argue,” Cohen says.
Seven rows are in the pilot program which has three phases: (1) baseline measurements; (2) improvements to building envelope; and (3) replacement of the aging electric baseboard heaters.
He mentions three insulation methods for cinderblock units: (1) wall insulation on the interior (preserves architectural integrity and public appearance but takes up dwelling space); (2) blow insulation into the cinderblocks and cover up in painting; and (3) external insulation finishing system. In this photo, the caption reads: “A cinderblock unit with an External Insulation Finish System (EIFS) addition that mimics the rustication (accent lines) on the main unit.” The problem with EIFS is that it costs more and may not be historically authentic (thus cannot take advantage of preservation tax credit). Cohen concludes: “We’ve got a big challenge ahead of us.”
John Lippert is chair of the city’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability (GreenACES), and he talks about activities carried out by the committee and some of its members. They include a pesticide report, the city’s Sustainable Land Care Policy, single stream recycling, recycling at the Labor Day Festival including banning polystyrene packaging, signing people up for wind energy, the annual solar homes and buildings tour, LED light bulbs, rain barrels, Kill-A-Watt meters, and thermal leak detectors. Regarding wind energy, Lippert is an independent contractor to Clean Current, a company which is providing wind electricity to a number of organizations in town including GHI’s administration building, the City of Greenbelt, Greenbelt Community Church, Greenbelt Service Center, and Greenbelt Auto and Truck Repair. The company donates money to local environmental projects. He also mentions Greenbelt Community Solar which installed a 21.6-kilowatt solar electric system on the roof of Greenbelt Baptist Church. He says that the committee’s most ambitious effort is a sustainability master plan framework document. They have worked on it for two years and are ready to produce a draft. He concludes by saying that they are trying to build a successful green team for the city to become a “Green Certified City” through University of Maryland’s Sustainable Maryland Certified Program.
Robert Trumbule is a member of the Greenbelt Advisory Committee on Trees and an entomologist for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. His talk is titled “Green Heritage: The Importance of Tree Preservation.”
Trumbule opens by showing a photo of “the iconic white pine” which is on the city logo and the city flag.
He tells about Angus MacGregor, a Scotsman who was trained on the estate of Earl of Mansfield and employed as the head gardener for J.P. Morgan. He worked as a groundskeeper during the early days of the Greenbelt project and saved trees and shrubs by establishing a nursery. The trees and shrubs were then replanted. This photo shows Virginia red cedars from the nursery planted by a newly completed row of houses.
Trumbule shows photos from the early days of the city which had many open places in need of landscaping and the present day, with 67 percent tree canopy. Here he says that the American elm by the Community Center is likely an original planting.
He also talks about threats to trees such as urban sprawl, snow storms and winds, utility company tree trimming, emerald ash borer (a green beetle destructive to ash trees), bacterial leaf scorch (a disease affecting red oaks), and invasive plants such as English ivy. He then gives a photographic tour of some of the original trees and Prince George’s County champion trees: Spanish oak at Green Ridge House on Ridge Road, Virginia red cedar on Ridge Road, black locust at Southway and Crescent Road, long leaf pine and deodar cedar at Schrom Hills Park, hawthorn on Parkway, London plane tree at Roosevelt Center, pair of ash trees on Ridge Road, and pair of star magnolias in front of the Community Center. “Wrapping it up, is it any wonder that we love Greenbelt and its trees?”
The current Advisory Committee on Trees. From left are Ethel Dutky, Bob Trumbule, Lesley Riddle, and Charles Jackman (chair).
Tracey Toscano, a member of the managing board of Anacostia Trails Heritage Area (ATHA), substitutes for its executive director Aaron Marcavitch who was scheduled to speak but cannot be here. She says that ATHA was certified in 2001 and includes an area from Washington, D.C. out to Laurel. She says that the group’s goal is to “promote heritage tourism, history, culture, and natural resources.” There are currently one full time employee, Aaron Marcavitch, executive director and one part time employee, Sarah Rogers, Director of Interpretation. She talks about Maryland Milestones, an ATHA program to promote events in the heritage area, the transportation system in the region, bringing visitors to D.C. here, and getting the word out. She says that maps, signs, and other programs are forthcoming.
In the question and answer period, David Morse says that GHI’s community energy upgrade was an important part of the 2007 Greener Greenbelt Initiative but there were many other good recommendations from the charrette that have not been taken up, such as plans to renovate the Roosevelt Center and ideas about additions and alterations to GHI homes. He asks whether the speakers can offer some insights on “how to recapture things that have fallen on the wayside.”
Jim Cohen says that there are activities related to issues in the Greener Greenbelt Initiative. One issue discussed is the lack of connectivity in the city, and Cohen mentions works by Tru-Greenbelt to advocate for bus services connecting the city’s three parts and works by the Advisory Planning Committee on a pedestrian and bike plan. He also mentions the newly formed Community Development Corporation which is considering business development at Roosevelt Center and other parts of the city.
City Councilmember Konrad Herling says that at the charrette, regarding the town center, an idea is to generate a critical mass of people to support it however many residents oppose increasing the density. He asks about ways to “bring greater sense of unity on issues like that.”
Elefante says that Greenbelters may want to pay attention to the current debate regarding Lake Anne Village in Reston, Virginia, another planned community. Fairfax County has proposed a redevelopment zone next to Lake Anne to attract new businesses, and residents fear that this will destroy the feel of the original low-density planned community. He sees the Clarendon model there which is a transit-oriented, high-density community in Arlington County. He says that this comes down to “who are you and what do you see your future to be.”
Elefante talks about the problems of single purpose zoning which separates industry, jobs, education and homes. He thinks Garrison Keillor’s St. Paul where a student walking home has “the entire world reveal to him” is a more livable community. “I think that the thing that historic Greenbelt could do that is of the most immediate impact and has the greatest impact on being able to have a reunification of life in this community is to have more residences and have people live here. The best opportunity to do that is at the Roosevelt Center, not adding a story to all the townhouses.”
Mervyn Miller says that as a visitor from England he is fascinated by the tree preservation process in Greenbelt. “The whole thing about the trees is that they define the garden city. If you don’t have the trees, you don’t really have the garden city.” He says that Greenbelt now is arcadia. He is interested to hear how preservation works. He tells that in Britain, in heritage areas, trees are automatically preserved, and he says that in older English garden cities, there is also a problem of replanting and looking into the future to preserve the greenness.
Robert Trumbule says that tree preservation is not automatic. It is localized and often a labor of love. He says there are local tree preservation committees. The regeneration effort is quite active, and diversification in planting is important as cities have lost many trees due to one or two insect pests.
At the intermission, Mayor Davis asks Virginia Beauchamp, whose photo is in the book, to sign her Greenbelt history book.
At 1 p.m. Dr. Mervyn Miller will give the keynote address of this symposium. The title is “From The British Garden City to Greenbelt and back to the English New Towns.”