Headshot of Laura Soma

Laura Soma

Sustainability Manager

Meet Laura

Over 1,000 people from around the world attended this year's Living Future unConference, held virtually over two weeks. The theme was Restoration and Justice.

Restoration and Justice are core topics for the International Living Future Institute but opened new ground for those in construction, design, and development. I'd like to share what I personally took away, including some thought-provoking—and honestly tough—questions.

First, what do restoration and justice have to do with construction? Let's break it down.

I used to think restoration was fixing up riverbanks and old buildings, and it is. But it's also about restoring communities. [Or our faith in mankind!]. It recognizes that the health of natural environments, buildings, and communities are interwoven.

Justice is tied in because people can be left behind or displaced by decisions made by builders, designers, and developers. Let's be honest: every business wants to make a profit, or at least break even; but how often do others lose out?

Imagine you work at a supermarket. What if your store is torn down for redevelopment, so you lose your job and the neighbors lose their easy access to healthy food? What if your 1957 rambler gets fixed up with double the rent, so you have to move, but 60 hours per week at two $14-per-hour replacement jobs won't cover the $1,800 cheapest option even with the kids sharing a room? Maybe you find a place further out and spend the rest of your waking hours on infrequent suburban buses. This is a common reality, not a fairy tale, particularly in our BIPOC communities.

So how do we turn this around? What can developers, designers, and contractors do to support restoration and justice in our communities? Discussions at the unConference included a lot of interesting ideas:

  • Should developers or property sellers help relocate tenants before buildings are demolished or renovated?
  • Can jobs be replaced onsite when others go away, including opportunities for the same workers?
  • Should contractors work harder [with union help] to hire construction workers from within 15 miles of each jobsite?
  • Can neighborhood residents have greater input in the designs of new buildings?

These conversations are starting to take place across the country. They're questions more than fully-baked solutions, and some would increase project costs, but I believe the questions and discussions are important.

It seems we agree on one thing: restoring our ecosystems, economies, and communities while focusing on Just designs and projects is the best way to align people, planet, and profit.

“As you climb your ladder of success, reach down and pull others along with you.” – Frank Sonnenberg