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Mark “The Matador” Hutchinson Introduces Himself

by Mark Hutchinson on May 10, 2010 · 4 comments

in Press and News

Editorial Note: Mark is the newest member of our team here at Postgreen. He earned the name “Matador” with some early dart prowess, particularly when shooting bulls. This prowess has waned in recent weeks but we await it’s return. Now, I’ll let him fill you in on the rest.

Hi Postgreen community, I am a recent addition to the Postgreen team in the capacity of pseudo-intern/head rehabber of awesomeness. This post is meant to serve as a quick introduction before I get into entertaining/boring you with geeky posts describing the rehab project that I am starting.

I arrived at this position by a pretty circuitous path which could be helpful to explain. I have a degree in engineering but my focus has always been on investing money, and I got an advanced degree and spent five years doing this in Manhattan. That all changed after I became a victim of the recent financial upheavals and in my new found spare time I was exposed to a few books on sustainability and philosophy, namely Natural Capitalism, Cradle to Cradle and Plato’s Republic. These “sustainability books” (for lack of a better term) made me aware that though we are currently consuming things faster than this planet can replace them, the technology is available to dramatically reduce our level of consumption while still enjoying all (or most) of the modern conveniences that we have come to know and love and without bankrupting our current economic system. With this in mind I decided to switch careers to implement some of these ideas in practice. After researching a few options I settled on the idea of improving buildings because they are a product that we can’t do without but they represent a very large chunk of our collective consumption. In addition, I was intrigued when I learned that we have the technology to reduce the core energy and water requirements of buildings to a fraction of their former levels, in both existing buildings and new construction, however, no one has figured out how to do this in a profitable manner on a large scale yet in the US.

I made my first foray into the space by founding a company with a friend to retrofit commercial buildings, but soon realized that I had made a terrible choice in choosing my business partner. Just when I was in the process of giving up on that venture I met the PostGreen folks at the Passive House conference. I got excited about working with them because they are obviously fun people to be around, but also believed that their niche of building affordable and well-designed eco-shelters, coupled with running an online community where like-minded builders could swap information was just the mixture of a sound business plan with a potentially large impact that I was looking for. It took a bit of pestering to convince them but they finally came to their senses and let me join them this past January.

Now that I am here I hope to add to this community in a few ways, starting with some research on other residential development projects such as Village Homes and The Woodlands that I visited on my cross country trip out to Philly. I also hope to create some excel spreadsheets people can use to quickly estimate the value of such things as solar PV, sun-shades and insulation on their specific project and I would like to become involved in the ongoing effort to convert those who still don’t see the value in green building.

Last but definitely not least, I will be heading up a new venture for PostGreen that is focused on rehabbing existing buildings. My first shell is a beautiful 3-floor, 14’ wide, brick, Philly row home circa 1920’s that is just down the street from the 100k house. Our initial goal was a 50% reduction in the core energy and water requirements relative to the average Philadelphia-area home on a roughly $100k hard construction budget, but our architects (who we will be talking more about soon) upped the ante last week when they said their goal will be to make it more energy efficient than the 100k house . . . aggressive but achievable. As usual, we will be detailing all of the trials and tribulations of the building process here for all to see. If you have any words of wisdom (or warnings) about the idea of turning derelict brick shells into PostGreen-amazingness, I’d love to hear your views in the comment section below.

If you enjoyed reading this post I can promise you'll love our new writing over at Postgreen Homes. Yeah, we know that's the same thing your favorite band said and their new album is nowhere near as good as their early stuff, but seriously, we are actually still getting better.

There also isn't much conversation to be had here . . . at least not with us. So come on over to the Postgreen Homes Blog and tell us what you think of our new(ish) digs and crazy ideas. We will be sure to tell you what we think of your opinion.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ari Scharg May 11, 2010 at 9:49 am

Mark- Great post! Looking forward to more.

2 Esteban May 12, 2010 at 12:58 am

“…my focus has always been on investing money, and I got an advanced degree and spent five years doing this in Manhattan. That all changed after I became a victim of the recent financial upheavals …”

Might you not actually be one of the victimisers?

Anyway; you once were blind…

I hope the rehab thing works and gets lots of publicity — in NYC in the 80′s the city started a programme to let people .. or groups of people legally take over derelict buildings( I think I remember it was called “Homesteading”) and rehab them … they had to be lowish income and put up some cash and organised sweat equity and live there for 5 years after completing the project. I Alphabet City (Ave’s A,B,C etc) multy family apartment buildings were rehabbed and the area revitalised.

3 Mark Hutchinson May 12, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Thanks Esteban, here’s a good Village Voice article that discusses some of these “Urban Homesteaders”:

It brings up an interesting topic for Philadelphia and many other Rust Belt cities. These cities have large swathes of unused or under-used land but as a result of the recent resurgence of interest in sustainability, as well as the old-fashioned desire to live in a place where a lot of events are happening, there is now a large amount of demand to live in these areas. The crux of the issue is that potential new inhabitants don’t want to pay a high price for the land because it is currently empty, and at times dangerous, but current owners don’t want to sell at the low prices that the market would bear because they know that the land will increase significantly in value as soon as people start moving in. We could simply continue in this stalemate with both sides losing out, as well as the environment. However, the city has an interest in breaking this stalemate because they would see a modest increase in tax revenues from real estate as well as income and sales tax on the new inhabitants while the incremental costs of serving these new occupants would be low because most of the infrastructure is already built out.

One idea would be to facilitate some type of profit sharing plan between current land holders and the first inhabitants. This plan would allow the first inhabitants to acquire the land at low prices but give the current owner a bonus payment at a future date if the land appreciates in value significantly, paid through refinancing the property at the higher assessed value.

Another idea which I’ve heard from others is to set up a two-tiered real estate tax which dramatically increases the tax on abandoned land and houses if the owner is unable to show plans to rehab or develop it at some point over the next few years. The goal would be to increase the penalty of holding unused land and thus motivate the current owners to dump this land on the market, which would mean a decrease in prices. To get something along these lines passed you would have to make very strict interpretations of “abandoned” land and also lax stipulations on the requirements for future plans that an owner would need to avoid this tax, otherwise it would unfairly harm people that use this land for otherwise good purposes such as a park or have a desire to develop the land but are held up by financing or other issues. Any politician that tried to implement this idea would find serious enemies in those who have done well under the current conditions (owners of abandoned land) but only lukewarm support from those that benefit from the new conditions (the rest of the population of the city), however, any politician worth their salt should be able to get around these issues.

Any urban planners in the audience have a view on this?

4 john dorety April 21, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Hi Mark, I salvage materials out of any structure being re-habbed or demo. I sell my newly aquired stuff cheap. I hope to be a go to guy in your worthy persuits. Grid magazine this month did a piece on me and it has brought alot of inquirys to buy stuff. I am interested in setting up a repositry of gear for use in sustainable building. I can fill any building in philly with great stuff that could in turn create jobs processing for re-use. thanks, John

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