Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Building Houses With Geological Concerns in Mind

Image Source: Pexels

When people start looking for land to build a house, the first things that often come to mind are property value and beauty. Unfortunately, it can feel like geologists often get overlooked in this part of the process. While a realtor’s job is to sell a piece of property by making it as appealing as possible, it’s irresponsible for anyone in the housing market to ignore geological warnings when it comes to building something new.

Because geologists often get ignored when it comes to home-building, far too many people make the mistake of building on land that is susceptible to earthquakes, flooding, or landslides.

So, what can geologists do to have a greater presence in the real estate industry? How can you make a difference and work with home-builders to ensure the safety and security of newly-constructed homes on the right kind of property?

Understanding the Ideal Home Location

The ideal home location in the eyes of a geologist may not be the same as the ideal location for a realtor or buyer. One of the first things you can do to get a better understanding of the risks in certain locations is to educate yourself on geologic hazards in that location. Some of the most common concerns for specific locations include:








Obviously, different concerns affect different parts of the country. So, it’s not enough to only understand some of the risks of your own area. That’s especially true if you want to branch out and work with contractors across the country.

The more you know about different geological hazards in different locations, the easier it will be to keep builders informed. Realtors constantly use the “location, location, location” motto when it comes to selling a piece of land or a home, but as a geologist, you can help them to find the ideal location that is as safe from disaster as it is beautiful.

Image credit Tony-Lam-Hoang on Wunderstock

Working With Contractors

If you contract your services out, you can work with building contractors or directly with those interested in building or rennovating a home to make sure they aren’t building on land with geological concerns. On top of that, any good contractor is sure to ask their clients questions about what they’re looking for in a project, including how long they plan to stay in their home and other expectations they might have — which means you as a geological contractor should be doing the same.

You should also ask specific questions and make sure they understand your concerns about the location they’re choosing. You can ask them how they plan to utilize the property while guiding them on some of the best practices to keep their new construction safe. That could include foundational changes, like using shock absorbers or making the foundation more flexible, depending on the risk of geological activity in a particular area. It’s important to emphasize that on top of everything else homebuyers should keep an eye out for when buying a new house, they should also be aware of where that house is located.

If you spend enough time working with contractors, you might even think about designing your own buildings and homes that are structurally sound and meant to withstand some geological problems, like earthquakes. The more you learn about the construction industry, the more you can do to keep people safe. The more the home-building industry knows about geology, the more they will take natural disasters seriously when it comes to laying the foundation for a new house.

It’s a win-win situation for everyone, but it’s especially important for any family that wants to build a new house. Without the knowledge of a geologist in a geologically-active area, that family could be placing themselves in great danger in a very short amount of time.

Image credit Alex-Siale on Wunderstock

Working With Realtors

Another route you could take when it comes to utilizing your geological skills is to work with a local real estate office. Again, realtors want to list land that is appealing in every way possible. You can work with them by surveying their land options for things like:

     Seismic activity

     Likelihood of a landslide

     Wildfire threats

     Flooding concerns

These aren’t necessarily geological hazards that would completely prevent anyone from building on a lot. But, a home-builder needs to be made aware of these issues. It might force the realtor to lower the price of the land, but transparency can get it sold faster.

There are plenty of geology jobs to consider when you’re an expert in your field. But, working with people who are about to build a house can be an incredibly fulfilling reward, simply because you could be saving lives. The more geologists that get involved with building houses, the more people will take notice of geological concerns and potential hazards.

Find ways to work with builders, contractors, and realtors in your own neighborhood to make sure you’re all on the same page when it comes to keeping homeowners safe in their new construction for years to come. Even if you start small, you can use your skills to eventually branch out across the country and help connect geology and real estate once and for all. The more geologists who take an active interest in such things, the more lives can be saved from natural disasters.

Indiana Lee is a  journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering workplace issues, environmental protection, social justice, and more. When she is not writing you can find her deep in the mountains with her two dogs. Follow her work on Contently, or reach her at indianaleewrites@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Environmental Implications of Urban Sprawl

Human activity has fundamentally altered the natural world in countless ways. Geologists and environmental scientists alike are consistently looking at the various aspects of our environment that are suffering under humanity’s watch. And although issues such as climate change and air pollution tend to get the bulk of media coverage in regards to environmentalism, we shouldn’t overlook similar topics such as urban sprawl.

                                 Image Source: Photo by Sergei Akulich on Wunderstock (license)

Today, more people live in cities than in rural areas for the first time in history. This has led to the practice of systemic urbanization, which is relatively new. While major cities certainly existed before the 1920s, it was during this decade that urbanization truly took hold. And once urban streets were literally cemented in place, it helped shape the future of urban sprawl.

 According to researchers, in fact, “once laid down, the pattern of streets determines urban form and the level of sprawl for decades to come.” This is especially interesting when you consider that sprawl predates the widespread ownership of personal vehicles. Automobile dependency is considered one of the primary characteristics of sprawl, alongside excessively large home and lot sizes.

 To some, urban sprawl might be considered somewhat of a necessary evil, or simply the inevitable product of technological advancements. Yet the expansion of cities is an inherently wasteful process, especially in regards to natural land and resources, and we can no longer afford to ignore that fact. The good news is that humans can fight back against urban sprawl, by supporting the smart growth of global cities.

Considering the Merits and Pitfalls of Urbanization

From a geological standpoint, the effects of urban sprawl are easy to spot. Urban geologists around the world have noted various environmental issues that are a direct result of urbanization. Land erosion is common in urban areas, for example. What’s more, soil erosion often causes a cascade effect wherein cities are more vulnerable to floods and potential groundwater contamination.

Urban sprawl has also left a variety of social problems in its wake, including unequal housing opportunities. As the subject of urbanization thus encompasses multiple disciplines, so do potential solutions to its negative effects. In recent years, so-called “smart growth” initiatives have gained traction as a viable means of addressing urban sprawl.

Image Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/QQtoNkv5GNE

Smart growth focuses on securing affordable housing opportunities, encouraging neighborhood beautification while avoiding gentrification. The preservation of historic architecture is also a vital part of smart growth, alongside improving community diversity and quality of life. Of course, the environment also benefits greatly: the ultimate goal of smart growth land development strategies is to preserve natural land and conserve resources.

Realistic Ways to Combat Urban Sprawl

Mixed land usage is a cornerstone of smart growth plans. Rather than investing in areas that are zoned for single-use, whether residential or commercial, proponents of smart growth focus on mixed-use. In mixed-use zoning, apartments and other residential spaces exist alongside businesses, strengthening communities while streamlining land usage.

Yet mixed land-use and smart growth can’t exist in a vacuum. To effectively combat the negative repercussions of urban sprawl, we must also acknowledge certain economic and social factors. For starters, you pay much more to live in a city than a rural community or small town.

Food is typically more costly in urban grocery and convenience stores, while commodities such as gas, entertainment, and parking also command a higher price tag. Lower-income residents may even find that they are denied a home loan for a pricey urban dwelling, only to qualify for a cheaper rural property. Therefore, to combat the spread of urbanization, affordable housing programs should be prioritized. 

The Connection Between the Environment and Your Daily Life

Investing in affordable housing and community wellbeing can help preserve natural spaces, but other factors must be taken into account. Across the U.S., public transportation in urban areas is frequently inadequate, with cars still the nation’s most-utilized form of transportation, by a wide margin. While the numbers may have altered slightly in the wake of the pandemic, before the COVID-19 outbreak, personal vehicles were used for a full 87% of daily trips.


                             Image Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/kG71BXh8KFw

Key Takeaways

The continued dominance of personal vehicles over public transportation has a detrimental effect on the air we breathe. And make no mistake: poor air quality is as much of a public health issue as it is an environmental one. By encouraging the use of carbon-neutral forms of transport such as bicycles, especially for short trips, or public transportation, fewer greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. Not only that, the public health of the community is cyclically increased by both exercise and improved environmental conditions.

In cities across the nation, urban sprawl and the use of personal vehicles go hand-in-hand. The resulting air pollution is just one of the myriad environmental implications of urbanization, alongside groundwater problems and land erosion. Urban sprawl also perpetuates housing inequality. As such, it’s our duty as scientists and global citizens to find viable solutions, such as smart city initiatives and improved roadways that prioritize efficient, affordable, and eco-friendly public transportation.

Contributed by Indiana Lee: Indiana Lee is a  journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering workplace issues, environmental protection, social justice, and more. When she is not writing you can find her deep in the mountains with her two dogs. Follow her work on Contently, or reach her at indianaleewrites@gmail.com