There’s a new building going up in San Francisco, just a block or so from where I used to live when I was right out of college.
It’s got all the bells and whistles of the kind of green, sustainable, fashionable and expensive development one might expect from that city, up to and including the rooftop biosphere and a habitat for endangered butterflies.
The building will have 81 apartments, with one-bedroom rental units listed at between $2950 – $4500/month. Amenities include a rooftop herb garden, an on-site car share program, living walls, rainwater harvesting and solar heating systems.
Okay, I admit that the presence on the ground floor of a Whole Foods store, the notoriously green but pricey organic supermarket, is a bit gratuitously over-the-top. And it looks like I, for one, would never have been able to afford living in this neighborhood when I was a recent graduate.
The 38 Dolores complex has come in for some criticism – its combination of high prices and all-round green gentrification (and that downstairs Whole Foods market) make it look like an over-the-top enviro-indulgence for the wealthy.
It’s fair enough to say that particular building probably only appeals to a certain socio-economic demographic. And it’s true that this young, wealthy demographic is changing the nature of many San Francisco neighborhoods, especially the Mission.
Where the media eye-rolling does actual harm, however, is in making it seem like the upscale nature of this development is reflected in its rainwater harvesting, rooftop gardens or solar heating systems. As if these building aspects are an indulgence alllowed only to the rich.
For modern urban buildings, it could be argued that it is the lack of good building water use, some form of renewable heating and/or power, or the potential for car sharing which should be considered an outdated indulgence.
And sometimes, it’s all in the marketing. Yes, an ‘urban butterfly habitat for endangered butterfly species’ sounds a bit precious. But when we know that a ‘butterfly habitat’ can be as easy as planting a few select flowers, it’s not really all that glamorous, expensive, or difficult to maintain.
I have a ‘butterfly and bee habitat’ in my garden. I call it lavender plants and bee balm flowers.
*All the endangered butterflies above are among those listed as protected by the 38 Dolores habitat.