San Francisco Takes the Leading Edge

After many years of the SF Environment’s path-breaking accomplishments, including the formative 1996 Sustainability Plan whose foundation is still at the leading edge, SF Planning is also accelerating sustainability with completion of recent plans, formation of a multi-agency sustainability-ecodistrict program, and exploration of promising frameworks.

Over the past five years, some of San Francisco’s major projects have included award-winning sustainability plans. They set the stage for the current sustainability and EcoDistrict initiative. These plans include:

  • Treasure Island
  • Bayview-Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point
    • Sustainability Plan (click: Development Projects | Hunters Point Shipyard & Candlestick Point | Sustainability | then scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Sustainability Plan.”)
  • Transit Center District Plan (home page)
    • The Plan (19 MB PDF) (see Chapter 6, District Sustainability)
  • Park Merced

A year ago, SF Planning convened a multi-agency team to advance citywide sustainability through coordination and collaboration. The team includes SFPUC (water, wastewater and power), SF Environment, Capital Planning, Public Works, and the Redevelopment Successor Agency. To deepen their sustainability planning capacity, they participated in the Portland Sustainability Institute’s EcoDistrict training this past May.

The team engages in on-going dialogue with monthly program development meetings and presentations to create a common basis for collaboration and program development. Key presentation topics have included transformative energy and water infrastructure, infrastructure ownership models, new business models for smarter cities, optimizing district-scale energy and water systems, and integrated water resource management (click here; scroll down). This cross-silo group’s evolving EcoDistrict approach encompasses the district scale, neighborhood scale, and industrially zoned land. Coordinating private development and public infrastructure improvements through new modes of finance and stakeholder governance to create the next generation of sustainable urban infrastructure and planning capacity is this group’s emerging focus.

Other SF Planning initiatives include applying an EcoDistrict approach to the Central Corridor Plan (scroll down) and a pilot neighborhood (upcoming), exploring the Living Building Challenge (LBC) and the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD), and participating as a partner city in the International Biophilic Cities Research project. The LBC is an award-winning strategic framework (see BFI announcement too) to achieve net zero and restorative building and community impacts, from the room to regional scale. Also under assessment, and related to the LBC, is The Natural Step’s 20-year old transformative FSSD. It integrates tactical initiatives into a powerful strategic approach for ultimate citywide sustainability. The FSSD includes stakeholder process to catalyze needed public and private sector economic innovation that eliminates environmental impacts or transforms them into restorative effects. As a result of eliminating environmental impacts, sustainability becomes a platform for the economic innovation that creates the ecologically sustainable regenerative economy that underpins a sustainable society in the biosphere.

This past May, SF became a partner city of the Biophilic Cities Research Project, which, coincidentally, is a key component of the LBC. The biophilic hypothesis, for which there is accumulating evidence, is that humans are hard-wired to need connection with nature and other forms of life for their health. Biophilic planning and development provides that connection by infusing a city with an abundance of nature. As Professor Beatley more eloquently states, biophilic city planning and design “is about redefining the very essence of cities as places of wild and restorative nature, from rooftops to roadways to riverfronts. It is about understanding cities as places that already harbor much nature and places that can become, through bold vision and persistent practice, even greener and richer in the nature they contain,” thus meeting our human need for connection with nature.

In a related initiative, SF Planning may collaborate with SF Environment in launching their urban biodiversity program, of which two SF Planning projects may be key components: Green Connections and the Urban Forest Master Plan. A key challenge of formulating urban biodiversity programs is the degree to which pre-development ecosystems should serve as the value and decision basis for formulating the program compared to a more creative hybrid approach. The latter approach would reflect pre-development values but include new elements to forge an ecosystem that includes the built environment. Enriching, extending, and harnessing natural ecosystem services to the urban area’s metabolism and economy could be part of the design challenge of urban biodiversity programs. In addition, global warming’s likely substantial reduction in the water supply of the western United States presents the crux design constraint.

Invitation:  Are you advancing innovative sustainability planning in your city? Feature it in the Plan-It Sustainably column of the Northern News, and/or post a longer description with links on this blog. Send your idea or post to Scott Edmondson, or simply author a guest post. What is or is not working? Join the conversation; add value; move the Section’s sustainability needle!

Monthly Resources:

Sustainability Committee Update:

(NOTE: This is a cross post from the shorter Plan-it sustainably Column, Northern News, November 2012 <<link forthcoming>>, by Scott T. Edmondson, AICP, co-director, Sustainability Committee, APA, CA Chapter, Northern Board).