The Palomar Inn (former Palomar Hotel) in downtown Santa Cruz has been the subject of considerable public discussion in recent months. Debate has centered on whether the landmark building should be encouraged to gentrify, to be restored to its glory days of the 1920’s when as a grand hotel it served as a focal point on the national convention circuit. A separate, more important debate which has not yet emerged is whether the building should be “greened”.
Greening the Palomar would mean rehabilitating the building with the latest in current sustainable building practices. Towards this end measures which could be incorporated might include implementation of plumbing improvements to reduce water usage, provision for on-site renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics, revamping the building’s electrical power and lighting systems to reduce it’s energy use, and other best practices aimed at reduction of Palomar’s carbon footprint.
It could also include green walls.
Green walls, also known as living walls, biowalls, ecowalls or vertical gardens, take advantage of vertical surfaces to provide buildings with a greater degree of ecological capacity. By incorporating living plants into the façade of a building they directly result in much-needed carbon sequestration. Moreover they filter particulates, carbon dioxide, and other pollutants from the urban airstream, and remove effluents including heavy metals from rainwater. By introducing green microclimates they not only reduce the urban heat island effect, but result in natural habitat creation as well. By selecting appropriate plants, green walls can function as vertical edible gardens. Finally, a well-designed green wall can enhance the aesthetic presentation of a building.
Aside from the obvious practical advantages to the owner’s bottom line in terms of improved energy performance and visual appeal, greening the Palomar will symbolically accomplish three things.
Firstly, doing so will send a clear and unambiguous message that the owners of The Palomar are committed to sustainability in general, and to sustainable building practice in particular.
Secondly, given that The Palomar is among the most significant civic edifices on the Santa Cruz skyline, greening the building can and will inspire other local and regional business leaders to do the same.
Finally, as an urban landmark and widely recognized symbol of Santa Cruz, greening the Palomar will enable the City of Santa Cruz as a municipality to demonstrate to other municipalities, to California, and indeed to the green movement in general that, eight years-on after passage of one of the earliest green building programs in the country, Santa Cruz still stands in the vanguard of sustainable building practice.