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An equation for eco-cities that will use far less energy

From his office balcony he has a rare view of the Acropolis and part of the vegetation in the Agora, which seem like something from another world as they appear between the tall buildings surrounding them. At the bottom of Syntagma Square – where the city’s commercial inferno begins and the built environment in itself constitutes a crash course in sociology – a corner of Parliament House, the shop facades, restored or crumbling neoclassical buildings and apartment and office buildings that complete the picture are a mix of ages and styles. As usual in these cases, one thinks how chaotic our cities are, and how lacking in any concept of culture. Yet all that pales before the thought that our cities could, if not actually disappear off the face of the map, at least suffer serious damage due to an energy crisis. In a number of articles on the site www.s-ol-ar.gr, Costas Tsipiras raises the energy issue as an immediate priority, suggesting a model for resolving or at least delaying the likelihood of a crisis. The equation x=(60%+50% +40%+30%)+50%, he believes, could mean survival in an ecological crisis. Although these percentages could increase depending on the circumstances, they represent the least one can do. Sixty percent of a building’s energy requirements could be reduced simply by the way it is constructed. «The building’s orientation, insulation and typology can affect the amount of energy it needs for heating, cooling and lighting,» said Tsipiras. Producing one’s own energy needs in a building can result in savings of up to 50 percent. «Particularly in an energy crisis, which is not too far off, the average Greek thinks he won’t have a problem if temperatures rise to 52 degrees because he’ll have five air-conditioning units, but power cuts won’t just last an hour but days and weeks. If you have a small fan, you will survive. If you have a photovoltaic cell or a small windmill you can have safety lighting, a refrigerator, a burner for cooking and a television.» Forty percent of total water needs can be stored from rain water. «It is incomprehensible for buildings not to save that amount of water. Whether in the city center or the countryside, it is very easy to collect water for the garden or the toilet cistern, once it has been treated.» Thirty percent of our food can be grown in our own home. «Even on our balconies. And plants create shade,» said Tsipiras. «The remaining 50 percent stands for democracy. If we don’t have that, we can’t have the rest. And there is no democracy in Greece today. You can grow things on your balcony or recycle your water, produce energy or build your home with environmentally friendly materials, and then someone can roar along a highway alongside you. Or you enjoy the fresh air in a forest when someone comes along and sets fire to it. Or, a paint factory opens just 100 meters away from the place where you get your water,» said Tsipiras. «As long as Greeks keep voting for people who will give their daughters civil service jobs or cancel their parking tickets, there will never be democracy in this country and therefore there will never be measures to protect the environment.» «The average needs of those times that we now admire, the buildings that we are now trying to conserve and which some people are trying to spoil, were based on the idea that there should be just 10-15 square meters of built space for each person in Greece. That ratio began to change in the 1950s when people flocked to the cities and the building boom began, to the point where it is now 43 square meters and rising steadily. There are about 38 square meters per person in France, in Russia about 23 square meters and China 5.5 square meters (which is steadily increasing). The average in Switzerland is 47 square meters, the highest in the world.» According to projections of the National Statistics Service, at the end of 2010 the ratio in Greece will be higher than in Switzerland. Those square meters will not only be examples of bad architecture. They will not meet people’s needs adequately, will be mostly uninsulated, consume energy and are an insult to the landscape, the culture and everything else.» (1) This article first appeared in the November issue of the Kathimerini supplement Eco.