Archive for August 2011

New Urbanism Feature: Narrower Roads

08/26/2011

I’ve blogged before about What Makes a Home Green?, including the importance of a green community, which I defined as one which has “ample neighbouring parks, as well as pedestrian-friendly streets and enough nearby resources to allow you to reduce car usage.” I’ve also blogged about the principles of New Urbanism before, as our award-winning community Avonlea has been recognized several times as the “Places to Grow” Community of the Year, an award which is based on Ontario’s Places to Grow Act. Part of the Places to Grow Act is about building complete, efficient communities (smart growth), and so the principles of New Urbanism come into play. New Urbanism is a design movement that we at Mason Homes support and try to build towards. The principles of New Urbanism help us create sustainable communities that provide a better quality of life for you and your family.

Walkability is one of the main features of new urbanism, and narrower streets are a part of this. (This article talks about how narrower roads often work better than wide ones.) For one, narrower roads force cars to drive slower, which makes walking safer. Other things that contribute to a community’s walkability are having buildings close to the street, having tree-lined streets, on-street parking, hidden parking lots, and rear lane garages.

Maybe not this narrow!

By promoting walkability and building narrower streets, among other things, we build communities that are family-friendly and that encourage families to stroll through their community without worry or to let their kids go biking unsupervised. Just one of the ways we strive to make your life better and greener!

Can a Green Lifestyle Make You Happier?

08/18/2011

Nature Mountains 19

Last week, I read a New York Times article written by a social scientist who moved to a cabin in the woods, joined by his wife, cats, and three boys. They don’t have power, hot water, a microwave, or a washing machine. Most shocking of all, they don’t even have a coffee maker.

Referring to the inconveniences that come with their new lifestyle, the writer explained that it takes them longer to heat leftovers, prepare drinking water (which must be boiled first) and wash the dishes.

That said, the writer seems very excited. His family doesn’t have to commute or inhale fumes. The kids in particular seem happier and have all but forgotten about YouTube and cell phones. Having taken up swimming, biking, exploring, and kayaking, the whole family feels tired at the end the day, although in a pleasant way.

I’m not suggesting everyone move to a cabin in the woods. That’s neither realistic nor enjoyable. For example, as some of the article readers point out in the comments section, the author’s idyllic retreat may not turn out to be so great once winter arrives, what with water pipes freezing and ice covering the windows and the walls.

Nevertheless, the article raises two valid points. First, most of us have grown too dependent on modern amenities. Second, reducing the intensity of this connection will not only make us “green,” but also happier and connected to nature.

I have written before about the importance of making “green” convenient and affordable. Yet we shouldn’t forget the ability of a green lifestyle to make you happier. Here are some ways to achieve this:

1. Press the “off” button. Go for a hike rather than watch TV or sit down at your computer. No need to wear hiking gear or shoes. Your local park will do.

    Green Benefit: Decreased power consumption.

    Well-being Benefit: Nothing beats stress like breathing in fresh air amid trees and plants.

2. Reconnect with food. We often forget about the pleasures of cooking. Ignore precooked meals and buy the best quality ingredients you can find (organic if possible, or from a local farm).

    Green Benefit: Less pollution from local food, which doesn’t need to be transported from far away. If you buy organic, this will result in fewer pesticides being used.

    Well-being Benefit: food will taste better. If you cook with your partner and kids, you will all relearn to derive pleasure from the most important task humans faced throughout most of our history.

3. Cancel your gym membership. We’ve come to believe that we must join a gym to be fit. But that’s not true. House chores can be a fantastic way of being active. So is shoveling snow. Consider taking up gardening and growing herbs and vegetables. Cut your grass with a manual lawnmower. Park further away from the office and walk to work, preferably someplace where you can encounter nature. Go for a sprint. Play with your kids as if you were a child yourself.

Green Benefit: no driving or commuting to a gym equals less pollution and less congestion (it also puts more money back in your pocket).

Well-being benefit: feeling tired at the end of the day because you were active beats feeling tired because you put 10k on a treadmill. Trust me on that one.

Do you have any suggestions to lead a green lifestyle that makes you happy?

The Importance of Making Green Convenient

08/11/2011

Cycling in Amsterdam

Last week, I blogged about cycling for fun, much like when we were children, in a casual manner, using comfortable bikes and clothes.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, the New York Times published an essay a few days before my post that dealt with a somewhat similar topic: that of cycling in Amsterdam.

See, besides canals, “special” coffee shops, lovely architecture, and a red light district, Amsterdam is known for its deep love of cycling. It is, in fact, considered one of the most bicycle-friendly large cities in the world.

Go for a stroll in Amsterdam, and you’ll see C.E.O.’s, kids, moms, and the elderly zipping along cobbled streets on bombproof Omafiet bikes (the same I referred to in my blog post).

As their clothes attest, they aren’t doing it for sport (it’s common to see cyclists wearing skirts and heels or a suit and tie). Nor are they doing it because it’s green.

They’re doing it because it’s convenient.

According to the New York Times article, Amsterdam, like much of Europe, deals with congestion and greenhouse gas buildup by turning urban centres into pedestrian zones, combining driving with public transportation, and expressly encouraging cycling.

This is precisely what we need to do here. We need to not just encourage people to ride bikes and walk more often, but to make cycling, and indeed all other green activities, convenient and practical.

This is why at Mason Homes we always try to design our communities with pedestrian-friendly streets and ample parks and community resources nearby, so you’ll drive less but walk and play more.

And recently, Avonlea, our community in Peterborough, won the award for Places to Grow Community of the Year for its forward-thinking planning, a combination of smart growth and new urbanism with green building initiatives.

Is there anything else you’d like builders to do to make green initiatives convenient?

A Green Way of Having Fun and Being Active

08/05/2011

Saving the planet one smile at a time.

You probably did it all the time when you were a kid. Not because it was green or because it was healthy. You did it because you enjoyed it.

Here’s what you did: you biked. And you had a blast doing it.

But when was the last time you did it? When was the last time you rode a bike downhill, the wind cooling your face? When was the last time you came back home tired and sweaty, yet happy, feeling like you’d earned the right to sit down a for a nice big meal?

Besides being lots of fun, the great thing about biking is that it also cuts down on pollution. Not to mention, it helps reduce your gasoline expenses.

These days, though, few people bike for fun anymore. Biking’s become a hobby for committed enthusiasts. They’re easy to recognize: they wear tight, bright Spandex clothes and special footwear and they ride expensive, aerodynamic bikes that make you hunch over curved handlebars.

All of which is fine, if you’re into that sort of thing. But if you want to bike for the hell of it, all the while knowing you’re helping your planet as well as your pocket, then get a commuter bike. (You can buy expensive Dutch models, but stores like Canadian Tire also sell commuter-style bikes with more reasonable price tags.)

Commuter bikes are designed so that you can sit in an upright, more comfortable position. They also typically have mudguards and a bell and a rack for you to carry stuff on.

In other words, they’re designed for life.

In Port Hope there are many biking trails. Just tomorrow there’s a group bike ride from Port Hope to Presqu’ile. The ride is categorized as smooth, low traffic, safe, and scenic. Biking in a group may not be as romantic or enjoyable as doing it with close friends, relatives, or your partner, but if you haven’t biked in a while, it’s a great way to get the hang of it again.

When was the last time you went on a bike ride?


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