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Let me paint a perspective for you…in the form of a little history. I Googled that “History of the World Part I” You Tube video on the number of times boarders have changed through politics, invading armies and intervening governments. European Conflicts for 1000 Years Ukraine and almost all of Eastern Europe were consolidated under the one rule of those nasty Golden Horde Mongols until 1470’s when the Polish/Lithuanian Empire took over. Yeah I know! Poland and Lithuania! That is until the ever expanding Russian Empire pushed them right the heck outa there. That’s almost 2 decades before Columbus sailed the ocean blue! After that it was Poland and Sweden of all things! Yeah and what were they doing all the way down there! Then Russia again this time with Peter the Great, then the Ottoman Empire (Turks) then the USSR, then the Nazis, then the USSR yet again, all banging away at Central/Eastern Europe and every single Slavic state including Ukraine, right up to living history. The commonality through the last 400 years was Mother Russia over Ukraine in a sometimes testy alliance or outright subjugation of much of the country except for the territories around the shores of the Black Sea. You’ll see this all in a nanosecond in the link above.
The Ukrainian/Russian War continues today in Donbass Region , in the southeastern part of the country. Unbeknownst to us in the US, this is a full scale war ongoing today in Eastern Ukraine between Russia, Russian Separatists, Ukrainian Loyalists and a variety of political factions, at a level not seen since the Croatian-Serbian War. The official UN death toll is over 9,000 civilians killed http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/09/ukraine-conflict-9000-dead-says-un but the German Secret Service estimates more like 50,000, rivaling the Yugoslavian War of 20 years ago! https://www.rt.com/news/230363-ukraine-real-losses-german-intelligence/. I’ve covered this war in previous posts in this blog and encourage you to scroll down and learn more about this conflict. These wars and foreign influences combine together to form a broad based foundation for today’s life style, daily life and culture in all of Eastern Europe, but Ukraine most dramatically. With the constantly changing political and historical landscape, culture and politics combine to define architecture and city development. One thread that runs consistently through Eastern Europe and Ukraine is Russian and the Soviet Union. Everyone’s daily life and culture is dramatically affected, past, present and future and with fewer more limited options.
For Eastern Europe, sustainability has to do with larger more fundamental issues. Millions of Europeans with the same heritage, religion, education and background as many Americans are worried not about recycled content or little blue bins to throw their plastic bottles into or whether a train stop is 200 yards from a Starbucks or if a building is LEED Silver or Gold or where to put the solar panels. They are walking around considering how to live as lightly and cheaply and efficiently as possible out of necessity! Conservation of everything is a way of life and a long standing part of the culture. Everywhere the concerns focus on a completely different set of parameters; growing and eating healthy food, living with your extended family in which shared apartment in what Soviet (Le Corbusian) housing block, drinking accessible and clean water, having electricity and water for the entire day, being able to heat or cool your apartment affordably, building from locally available materials, respecting the existing historic city architecture, having a job that relates to your education and pays more than $200/month, getting to your job as efficiently and affordably as possible, walking around safe streets and shopping in affordable Mom & Pop shops, getting to and from schools, churches, stores, cafes, gaining access to minimal health care, having a stable and sustained political, economic and social system that can be relied on! Sustainability is not an option, it is what you must do every single day in every single thing you do. Sustainability is all there is here! There are no other options.
Sustainable living is not a point of political discourse or conversation about cost! It’s not something that you can layer onto a project or city plan or building or institution. It is fundamentally the most efficient, lowest cost, smallest footprint, lowest impact approach to absolutely everything everywhere! In every category of the TB Line (oh, that again) sustainability abounds. No matter the category: transportation, neighborhoods, urban design, eco-design, business development, locally grown food, products, investment, monetary policy, public works, buildings, heating, water, walkable streets…sustainability is the fundamental tenet on which everything is built. It’s a completely different mindset and result.
The rest of the world can learn…we in the US should learn much about a fundamental approach to sustainability from Eastern Europe. No worries about what to call it this year, it’s a necessity and practiced every year, all year. The photos in here show a world apart yet a potential world of our future. Scarcity and resourcefulness remain the mother of all invention. We Americans stop buying huge pick-ups and SUV’s in favor of Priuses when the price of gas is $4 per gallon and just return to buying them in a feeding frenzy when the price temporarily drops to $2 per gallon. Sales of SUV’s and Trucks up 20% Human nature and maybe modern society remains stuck in a reactive mode. We all too often need real crises to motivate. Minimally, designers and planners for our cities of the future must think creatively and learn from the past. What’s happening in Denver and other boom cities across the Western US repeats the past. Maybe the most fundamental definition of sustainability is thinking ahead to the consequences, planning and foresight and not just reacting to stuff as it happens. Sustainability is ultimately foresight on many levels. It’s a fundamental change in our outlook. So “Why Eastern Europe?” Because one of the best definitions of sustainability on the planet at the moment resides east of the Danube.