Plastic bags, broken bottles, needles, cigarette boxes and other debris create riverbanks of garbage along Front Street and many of its tributaries near the Berks El station in East Kensington.
A few blocks away, among the aging Victorian row homes, the crumbling brick and the peeling paint, stand two massive black boxes. A sign marked “100K HOUSE” poses a question for passers-by: “Most affordable LEED Platinum homes ever?”
A young, red-bearded man squints and leans into the wind as he walks up Susquehanna Avenue to the construction area.
“Let’s get in here,” he said, motioning toward the box on the left.
Once inside, he introduces himself as Nic Darling, the lead marketer and press representative for the 100K House project. The house’s interior looks like a gutted row home with a wide, open first floor. Upstairs, there is a rough frame for bathroom walls and two bedrooms with modern rectangular windows.
“We’ll probably be dry walling next week,” said Darling, describing the next steps for the first floor’s construction. The modern, spacious kitchen is being built the same way.
“The counter top we’re doing is very inexpensive,” Darling sad. “It’s basically MDF, which is particleboard, coated with Eco-Tuff, which is environmentally friendly and usually used for industrial flooring.”
Darling, who is from the Rochester area in upstate New York, is the first-hired employee and newest partner with Postgreen, a Philadelphia-based real estate developer. With Postgreen leading the movement, Philadelphia has become a leading city in sustainable architechture.
“It’s a prime place for beginning this because it has all the pieces in place already for us, you know because there is a lot of vacant land, which is good because we need that to build on,” Darling said.
Darling also said that since Postgreen is the first sustainable developer in the area, the possibilities seem endless.
“Nobody else is really doing it,” he said, “so it gives us a lot of space to work with.”
So far, Darling’s job as press representative has required him to clarify two important misconceptions concerning the project.
“We get a lot of people confused because it’s called the 100K House,” he said, adding that the group is working to complete hard construction costs, including materials and labor, for $100,000.
Another misconception involves the group’s intentions.
“In terms of building, it really wasn’t any desire to save the planet or anything along those lines,” Darling said. “Everyone always thinks it’s altruistic. It’s common sense.”
The truth is that anything “green” not only sells but sells for quadruple the price.
Postgreen has realized the importance of efficiency in regard to both utilization and construction.
“How can we not only build a more efficient house, but something where the process of building and putting it together is more efficient,” he said. “That’s the cost end of the whole green thing.”
Efficient heating and cooling systems sell houses, while efficient building practices save money.
Although the developers may be acting out of typical capitalistic logic, they still manage to maintain commitments to the environment.
“We have to make a lot of compromises in [building] these houses because of the price floor, so we can’t have all the fancy recycled materials necessarily,” said Darling, “but when we have to make compromises, we always make the choice to go with things that are more energy efficient and healthier. Those are our two standards.”
As Darling’s marketing skills help spread more eco-cube dwellings, one cannot help but realize the dual nature of capitalism. Change was promised in January, and Kensington is slowly but surely seeing the signs. A large wave of change has already struck Northern Liberties, and Front Street’s garbage banks may soon be overflowed by a similar wave.
Michael Podlogar can be reached at email@example.com.