Taking the LEED on smoking bans

My apartment hunt in downtown Portland yesterday brought unexpected frustration. As I strolled among modern high-rises with big balconies, surrounded by restaurants and coffee shops and independent specialty stores, I thought I’d found a perfect city for me. Yet time and again I was told that my kind are not welcome in these apartments: the residences are completely smokefree, inside and out.

I’m not a frequent smoker but I do think that enjoying a good cigar and a glass of whiskey with a close friend is one of life’s great pleasures. With Oregon’s ban on smoking in bars and restaurants coming into effect soon, my home will be one of the few places that I’m allowed to light up here. Being forbidden from enjoying a cigar or pipe even on my own deck or balcony is close to a deal breaker for me. Walking around the Pearl District yesterday, passing block after block of apartments where I would not be permitted to pursue my hobby, I felt for the first time what it’s like to be a minority facing discrimination. Admittedly I suffer for a lifestyle choice rather than for an immutable characteristic of my being, so I won’t pretend it compares to racial or sexual discrimination. But still, it was a new experience for this middle class white guy.

I assumed that these anti-smoking policies were how apartment buildings cater to West Coast nanny state types who have fantastically misinformed beliefs about the dangers of secondhand smoke. However much that might irk me, it would be hypocritical of me to deny them the right to live in the kinds of communities they prefer. I respect their rights of property and freedom of association, even if they won’t extend the same courtesy to smokers and business owners.

Then at one of these properties I learned that there’s actually another force at work. LEED certification, the seal of approval from the United States Green Building Council, now mandates that buildings be completely smokefree and ban smoking near doors and windows.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. In eco-conscious cities like Portland, it’s a marketing advantage to have a building LEED certified. Builders submit their designs to the USGBC, are given a checklist [pdf available here] of features the council looks for, and the number of items they can check off determines their LEED rating: Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum. Most of these items involve matters like energy efficiency, reusing materials, reducing water use, and other goals clearly related to environmental purposes. You might wonder what controlling residents’ smoking habits has to do with any of this. I certainly did.

It turns out that LEED certification considers six categories of evaluation, one of which is indoor environmental quality. If tobacco smoke is considered a pollutant, banning smoking is one way of addressing it. One could make a plausible case that LEED certified buildings shouldn’t allow smoking indoors, where habitual smokers could pump a lot of smoke into the ventilation systems. But in proximity to an exterior door? Or on a balcony? There’s absolutely no scientific justification for banning this. Walking by a smoker on the way into the lobby is not going to kill anyone. It’s annoying, perhaps, but it’s not a matter that needs to be addressed by green building codes.

Apparently LEED used to allow indoor smoking as long as adequate ventilation and filtering was provided. I’m not sure what led to the change, but an absolute prohibition on smoking is now a required item for certification. To put that into perspective, of the more than 70 items on the LEED checklist, only 7 are necessary prerequisites. In the indoor environmental quality category, increased ventilation, low-emitting materials use, thermal comfort, and outdoor air delivery monitoring are all optional. In other categories things like materials reuse, building with certified wood, managing refrigerants, using renewable energy, reducing water use, and minimizing the heat island effect are optional. For a project that’s primarily concerned with environmental protection, prioritizing outdoor smoking bans over these other concerns is strange indeed.

As I said before, I don’t object to leasing companies forbidding smoking if that’s what their customers want them to do. I do object, though, to the USGBC forcing bans onto anyone who wants to advertise their green building practices. Most people don’t know the details of what goes into the LEED checklist; they just want to know that a building is energy efficient, clean, and doesn’t waste resources. Banning smoking outdoors has nothing to do with that and muddles legitimate environmental concerns with restrictions on people’s personal behavior. Worse, it casts doubt on the merit of the USGBC’s other standards. If the organization has so little respect for scientific validity when it comes to smoking, it makes one wonder about the entire checklist. Is it guided by respectable science or by political correctness? Not being an expert in design, I have no way of knowing.

Update: In the comments, Matt D tracks down the full guidelines [pdf] and notes that LEED certification does allow for smoking in residential areas in certain proscribed circumstances:

OPTION 3 (For residential buildings only)
— Prohibit smoking in all common areas of the building.
— Locate any exterior designated smoking areas at least 25 feet away from entries, outdoor air intakes and operable windows opening to common areas.
— Minimize uncontrolled pathways for ETS transfer between individual residential units by sealing penetrations in walls, ceilings and floors in the residential units, and by sealing vertical chases adjacent to the units.
— All doors in the residential units leading to common hallways shall be weather-stripped to minimize air leakage into the hallway.
— If the common hallways are pressurized with respect to the residential units then doors to the residential units leading to the common hallways need not be weather-stripped provided that the positive differential pressure is demonstrated…

The third one seems like it might be the most restrictive, perhaps impractically so for high rise buildings with lots of shared ventilation. The priority given to anti-smoking measures by LEED standards still strikes me as out of touch with its mission. But it is in fact possible to get around a complete ban, and I thank Matt for the correction.

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The United States is large

Hypothesis confirmed after driving 4,700 miles, visiting more than a dozen cities, and spending 71 days on the road.

Route 2008

I’ve finally arrived in Portland, having arrived last night after a brief stop for fantastic drinks from Jeff Morgenthaler in Eugene. This week I’ll be looking for apartments and jobs while getting back to regular, hopefully more substantive updates.

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Moving to the wrong coast?

The blue dots represent cities with a surplus of single women. Tan dots are cities with a surplus of single men. Here’s the map. Richard Florida says I’m moving in the wrong direction:

By far, the best places for single men are the large cities and metro areas of the East Coast and Midwest. The extreme is greater New York, where single women outnumber single men by more than 210,000. In the Philadelphia area and greater Washington, D.C., single women outnumber single men by 50,000. I met my wife outside Detroit, where the odds were greatly stacked in my favor – single women outnumber single men by some 20,000 there.

In fact, single women outnumber single men in many large cities around the world, even though men outearn women at all ages, according to Lena C. Edlund, a Columbia University economist. One reason young women in the prime marriage years – the 25-44 age range – flock to big cities is to compete for the most eligible men. And smart women who gravitate to vibrant cities are more likely to stay single – for longer, at least – because they rightly refuse to settle for someone who can’t keep up with them intellectually or otherwise.

But women do have an advantage in the American West and Southwest. In greater Los Angeles, for example, there are 90,000 more single men than women. In Phoenix and the San Francisco Bay Area, single men outnumber single women by roughly 65,000. There are considerably more single men than women in San Diego, Dallas, and Seattle, too. Each of these regions has grown substantially over the past two or three decades, offering jobs in everything from high tech to construction and services. As numerous studies of migration show, men – especially those in regions with declining economies – are initially more likely to move long distances for economic opportunity, while women are more likely to stay closer to home and family.

At least Portland’s got distilleries. And hey, gin never turns you down and goes home with the guy who has the bigger blog.

Relatedly, here’s Tim Harford explaining Edlund’s economic theory about why big, successful cities tend to be home to more single women than men.

[Thanks to Zack for the link.]

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Sweatiest cities

Old Spice has released a “scientific” ranking of the nation’s sweatiest cities, based on simulations of how much people would sweat walking around in the summer months. Phoenix tops the list. The good news for me is the bottom three: Portland at 98, Seattle at 99, and San Francisco at 100. The case for the Pacific NW looks better and better.

Houston ranks predictably high at number 7, while Washington comes in surprisingly low at 48. Having lived in both cities, I can say that Washington deserves a much higher score. The difference is in adaptation. In Houston you step out of your air conditioned home into your air conditioned car and park right next to your destination, which of course will also be air conditioned. Even in the denser parts of downtown parking isn’t better than in DC, and if you have to walk you can do so along the extensive underground tunnels.

In DC, in contrast, you have to walk more. If you do drive odds are you won’t be able to park very close to your destination. Taking the Metro involves significant waiting time in balmy tunnels. And our buildings, being older than Houston’s, often feature much less effective AC systems. People who tell me that since I grew up in Houston I must find DC’s humidity easy to deal with have no idea what they’re talking about. Aside from playing sports or doing yard work, it’s not something you have to deal with nearly as much there. In this aspect, at least, Houston has the advantage.

[Via the Capital Weather Gang.]

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The case for Portland

I already knew Portland boasts the most breweries per capita in the United States, but this is even more appealing:

The small craft distillery scene has hit Portland, reminiscent of the microbrewery boom two decades ago. Young microbrewers and winemakers are now distilling whiskey, brandy, grappa and even absinthe. And taking a page from Kentucky’s iconic whiskey distillers, they are beginning to host tours and tastings. With 17 microdistilleries in Oregon, and eight more startups expected across the state by year’s end, spirits aficionados haven’t seen anything like this in recent memory.

Sure, boutique distilleries also dot the landscapes in Michigan and Northern California, but only in Oregon do most artisan distilleries concentrate around a city. Collectively, the distillers help shape the bar and culinary scene in Portland. The Rose City is now seeing a renaissance of classic cocktails, and some high-end restaurants are trying experimental pairings of food with spirits.

“The distillery scene here is where the wine industry in California was in the 1960s,” said Steve McCarthy, owner of Clear Creek Distillery, one of the nation’s first microdistilleries. “We are rewriting all the rules. The artisan distilleries are making up a whole new industry.”

Congrats also to Lance Mayhew, whom the article calls one of the “city’s best bartenders.”

One of the next steps I’d like to take in my drinks education is getting to know more about the production process for spirits, beer, and coffee. By that measure, Portland is hard to beat.

[Via Slashfood.]

Previously:
One year

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