Lisa Selin Davis

Lisa Selin Davis's articles on architecture, real estate, and the environment, among other topics, have appeared in The New York Times, Salon.com, OnEarth, and many other publications. She's the author of the novel Belly and lives in Brooklyn, NY

Meet me at the food court

The secret mall gardens of Cleveland

Photo: Gardens Under GlassThe shopping mall is not dead. In Cleveland, in fact, it’s growing green: cucumbers, lettuce, herbs and even flowers.   In the former Galleria at Erieview mall, a project called Gardens Under Glass is taking root, part of a grand plan to transform malls into greenhouses. It’s just one of many Cleveland-based projects, suggesting that this rust belt city might have a few sustainabilty tricks to teach urban centers everywhere. Vicky Poole, who heads up marketing for the Galleria, conceived this project after looking at a photograph of plants growing in a cafe window. Hmmm, she thought, imagining …

Pimp my double wide

McMansion modular

Remember when modular homes were going to be part  of the “green” future?  In the post-Dwell, post-postmodern architecture era, pre-fab was going to be cheap, green, hot and hip.  Yes, finally, an antidote to McMansions and an affordable alternative to ballooning home prices.  As if that were not enough,  these stylish boxes were set to erase our previous connotations, where modular meant mobile home and pre-fab equaled Lubbock double-wide. Photo: Heather Lucille FlickrExcept it didn’t happen.  Modular homes, like all homes, suffered the housing crash, though as we reported last year, there never was quite enough demand to make modular …

car culture

Nothing will drive the suburbs away

Photo: FrankMaurer FlickrThe news that GM will cease production of Hummers revived the brewing argument that suburbia is in fatal decline.  Hummers are the perfect corollary to McMansions, symbols of excess, leftovers from the roaring aughts that now seem outlandish, indulgent and environmentally offensive. No buyers for Hummers plus no buyers for homes in far flung suburbs equals The End.  NPR’s Marketplace recently reported that “drive-until-you-qualify” suburbs are facing a rash of foreclosures because high gas prices make them undesirable; even a decent mortgage rate can’t compete against $3-a-gallon gas.  Ghost Town Suburbia, a made-for-TV movie in the making. Which …

Paved paradise?

Asphalt becomes a developer’s best friend

Photo: jgrimm FlickrNobody loves a parking lot, its endless heat-trapping concrete where visitors wander for what feels like eons, searching for their car. At least, nobody loved them until recently. Suddenly, greyfields–underutilized squares of asphalt–seem like goldmines. (Okay, this happens to be the title of a book on the subject, though it covers dead malls more than parking lots). In municipalities across the country, parking lots are getting reincarnated as everything from outdoor food markets to condos. But those are individual projects. In Long Island–itself a region so caked with traffic that people refer to its central highway, the Long …

Radiant Cities: Drive Through This

Can we really make the drive-thru a source of power?

My father believes that the one modern invention above all others to contribute to the downfall of the planet, not to mention our civilization, is the drive-through — or, in the spirit of efficiency on which it’s based, the drive-thru. Your idling could light this sign!Not only does it encourage laziness and obesity by tempting fast-food fans to stay seated in their automobiles during both purchase and consumption, there’s the whole car idling issue. By one estimate, every fifteen minutes of idling consumes 0.175 gallons of gas, resulting in as much as 58 million tons of CO2 dispersed into the …

Radiant Cities: LEEDwashing

Are developers making mis-LEED-ing claims?

It seems more and more buildings boast LEED credentials these days -- but are they legit? Find out where and why the best known green-building certification term in the land is being excessively bandied about.

Radiant Cities: Driving It Home

One man’s plan to re-create suburbia, sans cars

California’s East Bay — the collection of towns, cities, and suburbs across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco — has a lot to boast about. There’s the perpetually great weather, enlightened inhabitants, and a halfway decent, if in my opinion overpriced, public transit system in the form of BART. Yet despite BART’s 43 stations spanning 95 miles, most folks in the area find they need a car, too. Sherman LewisBut one man thinks his town, Hayward — or at least a part of it — can make the leap to automobile-free. “I want to live a lifestyle that’s less dependent …

Radiant Cities: Post-Fab

Recession redirects a green-building pioneer

Back around 2006, when the American Dream of home ownership was still intact and green building was officially transferred from the domain of hippies to yuppies, folks got very excited about prefab. Here in New York City, my friends and I felt our second-home prayers had been answered (not that we could afford a first home): we’d buy a plot of land in the country and plop down a bunch of panelized, pre-fabricated high modern houses for well less than $100,000 each–something stylish and healthy and affordable that would re-create the bungalow colony model. Online message boards like FabPreFab exploded …

Radiant Cities: Levittown, India-style

The folks behind the Nano take their vision to suburbia

On paper, the biggest U.S. export is capital goods–aircrafts, semiconductors, medical equipment, and such. But we’ve been exporting something else in force to developing countries: the suburban lifestyle. From American Village in the Kurdish area of Iraq to “Napa Valley,” a development outside Beijing, the McMansion and its watered lawns are making their way around the world. Meanwhile, back home, suburbia is falling out of favor and small houses are becoming more popular — at least to gawk at and be inspired by, if not yet to inhabit. So perhaps the next big thing in international architecture will be on …